I was going to reply directly to a post by Katie Ashford, Assistant Head at Michaela, but the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was. Having been thinking about the ongoing investigation into the “London Schools” effect, I thought I’d join the two together to see if I could make four.
Katie’s post is here: https://tabularasaeducation.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/pleaseteach/.
I thought it was quite negative, and I instigated a discussion via Twitter here:
This is interesting on many levels, not least because Michaela School is in London. As we keep being told, London is a huge educational success story with a huge change in the achievement of its school-age children over the past fifteen years or so. Whilst many have argued why this might have happened, it is certainly true that the capital’s children do well at school when compared to children elsewhere in the country*. So why would Michaela’s students have been let down so badly by their - London-based - feeder primaries?
London’s success begins early in primary school
The reports into the London Effect have suggested that the biggest change has not been at secondary level. It turns out that the London Challenge, Teach First and various other initiatives – largely focused on 11-18 education between 2005 and 2015 – have not been the driving factor in children’s improved educational outcomes within the M25. In fact, it appears that much of the improvement at 16 can be traced to improvements in prior attainment of children entering secondary schools in the Capital.
The latest report on the London Effect identifies the change between the age of five and seven as the key difference. It would appear that many children in the capital start school with relatively limited English, and proceed to make good progress throughout Primary school and beyond.
Brent, where Michaela is based, has a significant ‘ethnic’ population (i.e. those who identified themselves as not ‘British white’ or ‘Irish’ on the 2011 census). Almost two in every three people identifies as Black, Asian or minority ethic, as compared to just 14% of people in England and Wales as a whole. Just over 20% of households have no English speakers, with around one in six households have some non-English speaking adults at homeꭞ (see page 11 here).
Michaela’s children are therefore a very mixed group, with multiple different paths into education and school.
How do Michaela’s children get on in school?
Michaela, being a very new, has little or no publically available data. Its nearest neighbour is Ark Academy, which had 55 pupils in Key Stage 2 in 2015. Of these children, none were assessed by their teachers to be at Level 3 for reading, maths and writing. Just two (4% in total) of the school’s Year 6 children were assessed at Level 3 by the KS2 external Reading SAT, with 49 (89%) assessed at Level 4B plus. Reading ‘Value Added’ was just less than 100 (98.2 with a confidence interval of 97.6 to 98.8). Whilst these numbers are fuzzy, they suggest that children reached a good level from a low start, exactly as predicted by the Blanden et al study.
With little else to go on, it would be reasonable to suggest that children in Michael’s part of Brent are likely to be similar to Ark Academy. Some will have limited support in English, and therefore reading in English, at home, and many children will speak and read in languages other than English within the home, with parents who are likely to be proficient in languages other than English.
It would therefore be reasonable to suggest that many children enter school with relatively limited proficiency in written and spoken English as compared to most children in England and Wales. It would also be reasonable to suggest that, by the time they finish Primary school, many children in Brent (and now attending Michaela) will have worked through early challenging circumstances, and, exactly as Blanden et al predict, be ready to make the excellent gains which children in London schools make through the secondary phase of their education.
Michaela’s approach to reading will almost certainly help the children they teach, and their ambition and effort is to be congratulated. To use their highly unusual circumstance to pour scorn on those who have taught children in the primary phase of their education seems a tad mean-spirited, however. To use the story to suggest that children are 'let down' by teachers who 'don't teach reading properly' seems simplistic in the extreme. There is a positive story to tell - you appear to have helped your students to develop into confident readers through a great deal of hard work. Why not tell that?
*The good news is that this is largely due to the efforts of those who live and send their children to school in London, and – even better – the effect is slowing appearing outside the capital too.
ꭞKatie’s post suggests that the family in the anecdotal case she describes do speak English, although there is a suggestion that the frustrated father’s spoken English is not standard English - it’s hard to say whether this is because the family speak other languages outside of school or not, and of course there is no particular reason why Katie should reveal any more than she already has about the family.