Tackling low school attainment
Research by Iram Siraj-Blatchford and colleagues (2011) shows that successful students are those who are helped by people around them, and who therefore develop a resilient sense of being able to learn and achieve things. This is as true for the minority of students who do well against the odds as it is for the minority whose upbringing gives them social and material advantages. By contrast, students who are relatively unsuccessful at school, from high as well as low socio-economic status families, have little protection against risks they encounter.
Four groups can be identified.
|Socio-economic status||Attainment compared with statistically modelled expectation|
|Higher than expected||As low as expected|
|Group 1||Group 2|
|At least as high as expected||Lower than expected|
|Group 4||Group 3|
|Summary for high attainment: enabled||Summary for low attainment: deprived|
John Bowlby (2005) explored with colleagues how different child-rearing experiences give rise to different patterns in individuals’ making and breaking of relationships. Children who do not form a healthy attachment with their main caregiver grow insecure, anxious or aggressive. They tend to become immature, over-dependent, or exaggeratedly self-sufficient teenagers and adults. Well-nurtured children develop curiosity, confidence and capacity to enjoy themselves, becoming mature, cooperative, self-fulfilling teenagers and adults.
Taking account of material, social and emotional forces in your teaching
Your teaching can embody a belief that your students can influence spheres of their lives where they have some control, and so can be better able to bring about the futures they want and forestall the futures they do not want. This is what Albert Bandura calls self-efficacy (1997): confirming what your well-supported students are already inclined to believe while encouraging and guiding those who do not have that advantage.
Groups 2 and 3 are likely to find it harder than groups 1 and 4 to feel at ease with what they want to achieve and with what school asks of them. Students who lack confidence or social awareness find it challenging to fit in with others and assert themselves in healthy and constructive ways. Your school systems and teaching can try to be sensitive to this, keeping your eyes on the goal: enabling your students to meet personal and public standards through enjoyable and effective learning.
You can help groups 1 and 4 continue to develop the capacities they show in the right column below, and help groups 2 and 3 move in that direction from dispositions and behaviours shown on the left (see Carol Dweck, 2000).
|Finding it difficult to learn, they:||Wanting to understand and do well, they:|
You promote learning for all by providing and bringing attention to good models, by supporting and praising moves in the right direction, and by focusing on the difference these positive attitudes and behaviours can make to how your students feel and how well they do.
In these ways you can try to make your teaching serve your students’ shared and differing needs. Your confident and well-supported students tend to take for granted that they can make progress, albeit with continuing guidance. Their less-confident and less-supported peers can be helped to see that they too can make progress. This is not sentimentality or a deception: they see through both. They need hard evidence that they can do worthwhile and increasingly difficult things: your task is to provide opportunities and help them take up the challenges.
- Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: WH Freeman and Co.
- John Bowlby (2005) The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (London, Routledge).
- Dweck, C. S. (2000) Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
- Siraj-Blatchford, I. and others (2011) Performing against the odds: developmental trajectories of children in the EPPSE 3-16 study (Effective Provision of Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education). Institute of Education, Birkbeck (University of London), University of Oxford: Department for Education - Research Report DFE-RR128.