Talking Point: First steps

Written by on 12 September 2014

By sheer coincidence, as I stepped into the education brief for Holyrood, my daughter started her school career. Like many parents, I imagine it was probably a more traumatic experience for me than her, waving her off into a system which will dominate her life for at least the next eleven years, hopefully more, knowing that forces outside my own control can shape her education, attainment, and ultimately her choices in life.
Research has shown social mobility has declined since the 1970s, and the recently published Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study shows the UK’s key institutions are dominated by graduates from private schools and Oxford and Cambridge. Commission chairman Alan Milburn said the country’s top jobs remain “disproportionately held by people from a narrow range of backgrounds.”
It makes depressing reading for someone who has lived the majority of his life below the official poverty line, pondering the opportunities he might provide for his child. As pointed out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in May, Scotland’s attainment gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds is wider than in many similar countries, and parental socio-economic background has more influence than the school attended. Latest exam results by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools showed the gap in attainment between state school students and those educated in the private sector has widened.
While the intention behind policy direction can be seen as positive, in the form of Curriculum for Excellence, Formative Assessment and the Early Years Collaborative, JRF pointed out there is still “insufficient data, evaluation or evidence to build useful practical knowledge of what works.” That will be no surprise for most teachers I know, who say they are exhausted by several years of a changing curriculum and increased workloads. For them there has been little time to stop and evaluate.
One thing which has a solid evidence base is the benefits of parental involvement. Whether my daughter’s school will welcome the inquisitive eye of Holyrood‘s Education Correspondent remains to be seen. However, while the chances of a private education and an Oxbridge degree for my daughter might be slim, she’ll not be short of a bedtime story and a word of encouragement.

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