On 7 October 2018 I wrote to the Fair Education Alliance. This is the gist of what I wrote (italics).
It is important that pockets of low school attainment are effectively addressed. I refer you to this blog post from the internationally respected UCL Institute of Education and the comment from my colleague John Mountford. The IoE are right to identify the varying quality of parent/child communication in the home as a key issue related to language development and that this correlates negatively with social disadvantage. However, as John Mountford points out, it is very difficult and costly to implement effective social interventions.
For example, while ‘Sure Start’ provides valuable support for economically disadvantaged mothers, enabling their access to the workplace, the expected long term educational benefits have failed to become evident. Dr Christine Merrell of Durham University Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, responsible for a long-term study into the effectiveness of Sure Start was reported in the Daily Mail of 19 April 2012 as stating, “Given the resources put into early years’ initiatives, we expected to see a rise in literacy and numeracy scores in schools. So it’s disappointing that there’s been no improvement”.
There is, in contrast, a huge amount of evidence in support of school-based interventions, but they have to be soundly based on genuine educational research, not the sort of deliberate statistical misinformation regularly churned out by the DfE.
The problem is that the sort of market-based interventions favoured by the DfE, as proposed by The Sutton Trust, Social Mobility Foundation, the Education Policy Institute and the DfE’s favourite Academy Trusts, while often appealing to ‘common sense’, actually retard deep learning and cognitive growth.
Put simply, the pressures applied to ‘low performing’ schools in terms of SATs and GCSE results, arising from league tables and OfSTED, incentivise cognitively retarding, rather than cognitively developmental teaching and learning methods, so resulting in the ‘Attainment Gap’ getting worse rather than better over time.
In contrast, evidence strongly suggests that P4C rolled out in primary schools and ‘Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education’ (CASE) in secondary schools, would produce dramatic improvements. In our view, Local Authority schools and Multi Academy Trusts would be wise to support such developments in all their schools, starting with those serving the postcode pockets of lowest attainment.
What is actually happening is that the DfE is encouraging Academy Trusts to introduce cognitively damaging punishment/reward based interventions that will, in the long term, limit rather than enhance the life chances of children affected by social and economic disadvantage.
We must, however, be clear that measures that enhance the acquisition of cognitive growth promoting deep learning will not ‘close the gap’. This is because, although P4C and CASE have been proven to significantly accelerate the cognitive development of slower learning students to dramatic effect, the most cognitively able students also benefit. Performance outcomes by humans in all contexts always lie on a ‘bell curve’ distribution. The reason for this is embedded in the nature and origins of all life on earth, the evolution of which is driven by chance processes. Wherever there is chance, ‘bell curves’ will be found.
So, if the DfE wants our schools to turn out individuals that are uniformly talented and competent, then it is doomed to permanent disappointment, and a good thing too. Where would we be without the likes of William Shakespeare and Albert Einstein?
Section 1.3 of my book comprises a discussion on how human variation is compatible with equality and fairness.