Should We Focus on Schools or The Home to Improve Social Mobility?

Should We Focus on Schools or The Home to Improve Social Mobility?

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With a leadership election and a cabinet reshuffle looming, the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP’s speech at a Reform event last week on social mobility will likely be his last. It continued to be shaped around his flagship “seven key truths about social mobility” that he pioneered while chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. It focused on five areas of disadvantage: ethnicity, language, place, the home and childhood adversity. Most significantly, Hinds placed emphasis on the influence of the home (“the last taboo in public policy”) that he had noted a year previous as having the strongest influence on disadvantage. But what was new in this speech, what will be the legacy of Theresa May’s Government on social mobility and where does the future lie?

Home is where the disadvantage is
A heavy emphasis was placed by Hinds on early-stage development – if, what and how children are taught in the home via their parents. Hinds used an eye-opening statistic: Children who experience parental disengagement at home are the equivalent of nine grades lower across eight GCSE subjects than their peers. The promise on how this will be resolved was an ambiguous, but not “patronising and lecturing” programme to help support parents that will arrive in July. This follows on from Hinds’ promise last year, made during his first few months as Secretary of State for Education at the Resolution Foundation, that the development of apps to help parents create a home learning environment for children would be encouraged. The result of that reached its first stage in February 2019, where parents in 12 pilot areas across the country were given interactive learning tools and tips via text message to help support their children’s early language and literacy development. 

There was also a heavy emphasis on mental health, with Hinds celebrating the increased attention given to the issue across all cross-sections of society. Mental health is a much-needed area of focus that has also been given heavy significance by the review of the Government’s Children in Need policy paper, which focuses on the most vulnerable children. Measures announced to support children included a plan to ensure new teachers in England are trained in how to spot the early warning signs of mental illness, with better sharing of information between councils and schools and tackling of absence and exclusions. 

The elephants in the room
Yet the elephants in the room were apparent: positive and encouraging moves in early stage development and mental health are only being hindered in other ways. Hundreds of children’s centres which are key support systems for disadvantaged families and key environments for early investment in children are being closed across the UK as a result of cuts to council funding. Total school spending per pupil has also fallen by 8% between 2009-10 and 2017-18, and schools have only been too vocal about the limit this has placed on support staff such as school counsellors in what has been deemed a “mental health crisis” in schools.

Too cool for school
While Hinds is correct when he states that “schools cannot do everything”, they are just as character-forming and as developmental a space as the home. When schools remain underfunded, they won’t be able to even meet the margins of their responsibilities towards disadvantaged students, and most importantly the generations of disadvantaged students of today who are too late to garner the benefits of early development initiatives. Without adequate levels of funding for schools and local councils, the positives of the Government’s measures will only be cancelled out.

This is viewed only too clearly through the establishment of the Pupil Premium, brought in in 2011 as a grant to help schools in England decrease the attainment gap for the most disadvantaged children. Despite this, school funding has been cut back since 2010 and according to Education Datalab, in 2017, the attainment gap between the long-term disadvantaged (those on Free School Meals) and other groups grew. 

There is also the argument used by the All-Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility in its 2019 report, ‘Closing the Regional Attainment Gap’, that stated that evidence was growing behind the stance that the “single most important factor” in raising a disadvantaged pupil’s attainment is the “quality of the teacher providing the instruction”. Hinds’ “seven key truths about social mobility” also points to the fact that education can break the multigenerational cycle of disadvantage and that the most important factor in education is the quality of teaching.  

But schools in England continue to face teacher shortages, with teacher-pupil ratios rising from 15.5 pupils per teacher in 2010 to 17 in 2018. Teachers also face heavy workloads, and many Science & Maths teachers were found to not have the relevant degrees. While the Education Endowment Foundation recently published new guidance for schools on where to invest the Pupil Premium and identified investment in teachers as the first tier of investment, this is limited to primary and secondary education. The needs of higher education and specifically colleges, which a high proportion of disadvantaged students attend, are neglected. 

The two sides of progress
There have, of course, been steps made towards social mobility in the past year, most notably the commitment made by UK universities to invest in programmes aimed at widening access, which Hinds challenged them to last year. There has also been an increase in awareness and interest towards apprenticeships and further research commitments to understanding social mobility and its web of influencing factors. Hinds’ commitment to exploring this web of factors – the complex interplay between home and school – is a positive and encouraging approach to social mobility rather than just being purely focused on academic learning. However, focusing on one to the detriment of the other is an injustice to the millions of disadvantaged students in underfunded schools today, and replacing positive initiatives solely with apps is an injustice to the millions of disadvantaged families both in the present and the future.  

Shortly before Hinds’ speech in April, the Social Mobility Commission’s annual ‘State of the Nation’ report rang loudly in the ears of all working towards social mobility with its statement that social mobility has remained stagnant for the past 4 years. As Theresa May exits No 10 with her legacy of £27bn for education in the next spending review in tatters, and the sound of leading man Boris Johnson’s pledge to ensure every secondary school in England receives at least £5,000 per pupil (despite the fact that schools are already supposed to receive a minimum of £4,800 per pupil), it remains to be seen whether progress on social mobility will be music to the Government’s ears in the future. 

GT Scholars is a not-for-profit social enterprise and registered charity. Our after-school tutoring, mentoring and enrichment programme is designed to help young people aged 11-18 achieve their academic and career aspirations. Visit our website if you’d like to know more about the GT Scholars Programme and how you can make a significant difference in young people’s lives.

Nature vs Nurture: Are gifts and talents down to a child’s natural ability or can they be nurtured?

Nature vs Nurture: Are gifts and talents down to a child’s natural ability or can they be nurtured?

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Young people discover their gifts and passions as they grow. As they discover their abilities, should parents take an active role to nurture these abilities, or should it just be left to nature?

In this context, nature is defined as the innate disposition of someone or the inherent attributes of a person – simply put, it is what makes up the person. Nurture, on the other hand, means to actively care for or develop someone so that they certain skills or abilities.

Each child has natural abilities that may depend on biology, genetics or the environment they grow up in. Abilities that depend on biology and genetics are usually to do with physical attributes – for example, for a child to excel in basketball, it would be easier if they are tall. It is not impossible if they are short, but it is far easier.

Natural abilities are part of what a child is made of and may play a role in their personal identity. They usually manifest themselves in the early stages of a child’s life. However, these natural abilities are usually just seeds waiting to grow, and as with any other seed, they need to be nurtured and nourished to grow and develop into a plant.

Hence, as your child grows, you can play an active role in nurturing their natural abilities to grow into fully-fledged abilities and talents. You can make sure that they are exposed to the right environment and experiences, that they are receiving enough resources and support from someone that can help them such as a teacher or coach, and that they are guided in the right direction.

You can also help your child to explore and discover their natural abilities by being observant of what they excel in, providing opportunities for them to explore various things from creative to academic, and getting them help from a guidance counsellor or insight workshop if need be.

How you can nurture your child’s gifts and talents
Like anything in life, a gift cannot grow on its own, it requires deliberate and intentionally guided steps to develop it to its maximum potential. However, when nurturing a child’s gifts, it’s important to listen to their needs as well. Here a few helpful points when helping them to discover and develop their natural abilities.

  • Give them time to discover their natural abilities by themselves. Generally, children like to explore, and they do this better without a parent’s preconceived ideas of where they would like their children to go in life. Give them time to do what they are interested in without being directly involved but just being there to observe and guide them
  • Provide them with resources and opportunities that will help not only unlock their gift but further develop it. Resources could include a musical instrument of their interest or identifying opportunities where the child can showcase their gift in front of an audience, even if it is just family members or at school. This can also help to build up their confidence. You can also play an active role in helping them practise their talents, for example, if your child’s talents lie in playing chess, you can buy them a chess board to practice with and you can play with them to develop their skills. If you don’t have the skills, you could also get someone else to play with them which will develop a healthy competitive element in them
  • Be their biggest supporter. They may not always feel inspired to do what they love, especially if they fail to perform at their best, so it is up to you to encourage them. They need to be taught that sometimes it’s okay to fail, it doesn’t mean they are bad, it just means that they learn from their mistakes and improve on that. As a parent, it means the world to your child when they know you support them. Whether you know much about their gift or not, let your child know you are there for them
  • Enlist the help of someone with more knowledge regarding their gift to guide them. Professional help goes a long way especially if your child wants to make a living out of their gift. Finding a coach or teacher to provide specialised support/guidance is important as it helps to identify the child’s strengths and areas that still need improvement so they can perform at their optimum.

In conclusion, one would say that, for a child to fully realise their potential in any area of their interest, both natural abilities and the nurturing of these will play an integral part. It’s only when the gift has been identified that one can help further develop the talent by providing the right environment and ensuring the child gets the necessary support. This support can either be in terms of the supply of resources/tools or emotional support.

GT Scholars offers many opportunities for young people to discover and develop their gifts and talents. We run after-school and weekend programmes that help young people achieve their academic and career aspirations. Our programmes include tutoring, mentoring and enrichment sessions for young people aged 11-18. Contact us if you would like to know more about any of our programmes and courses.

7 Practical Tips For Online Tutoring

7 Practical Tips For Online Tutoring

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In a world dominated by technology, online tutoring has become a convenient and reliable solution for young people seeking a tutoring programme. 

Although mostly similar to the classic method of in-person tutoring, there are a few differences that both the tutor and the student need to adapt to. This will ensure that they are able to reach their academic goals and get the most out of the tutoring programme.

Here are a few tips that tutors can use to make online tutoring work best:

  1. Set up the perfect learning environment
    Since the tutoring will be done online, most of the ‘human feel’ can be lost. However, this can be overcome by creating a more natural and relaxed environment for your student to feel welcome and not feel like they are alone in a room. Doing simple things such as asking the student to get a cup of tea or a glass of water can make them feel more at ease.
    You should also ensure that you have chosen a quiet and private place to do your tutoring so that you are not disturbed or bothered by loud noises. This helps you to remain focused and make the student feel like they are your first priority. Any distractions can cause your student to be unfocused, so you can also ask your student to put away their mobile phone so they are not tempted to check their messages or play games. Remember, young people will follow your lead so you should remove all distractions from your side as well.
  1. Be well organised
    To make sure that your time is used efficiently, ensure that you have structured the lesson well by making a lesson plan that is well organised. You should focus on reaching specific goals, while also allowing sufficient time for interaction and for the lesson to digress a little as you want it to feel more relaxed and not too rigid. However, if you find that the lesson is digressing too much, gently steer the conversation back to the problem at hand. You should also ensure that you have additional material in case you have a fast learner or if tutoring went by swiftly.
    On the technical side, ensure that your laptop or computer is fully charged and that there is no lag or delay with your internet connection. No one wants to be tutored if they have to keep waiting for the screen to stop buffering. If there is a technical glitch, ensure you have already established a back plan so that you and your student are aware of what to do should you be disconnected.
  1. Be easygoing and open while still maintaining professionalism
    The best way for a student to feel relaxed and at ease is to be open and easygoing, while still maintaining a level of professionalism. Finding the right balance can be hard, but with time, you’ll find it easier. You can use ice-breakers to make things lighter. You can also mix in a bit about your personal life in the conversation, but you don’t need to reveal too much about it. For example, it is fine to share some of your hobbies but it is not appropriate for you to share your dating plans. You should also keep conversations age-appropriate and avoid letting your personal problems from affecting your lesson as young people can sense when you are not in the right space of mind.
  1. Encourage discussion and interaction
    Always ensure that you set aside sufficient time for discussion and feedback. You can even allow for a few minutes of downtime by doing something that can allow them to refocus. It can be difficult to monitor their engagement during online tutoring so ensure that you make use of props, charts, or objects to help keep the student engaged. You can also find something that will allow you to connect with your student, such as music or making reference to movies or to a hobby that they may be interested in.
    You should also set realistic expectations, as each child has unique learning capabilities and will learn at their own pace. Do not rush through each lesson but rather be patient and remain focused. It will also be useful to develop an understanding of the kind of student you are tutoring. Some can be very direct and will give you a lot of feedback, while others can be more reserved and prefer that you do most of the talking.
  1. Set objectives and specific targets
    When planning your lesson, you should also set objectives and targets that you can use to measure your progress. Try to be slightly ahead of your targets so that if you fall behind a little, you will be able to easily catch up on your lessons. You should also ensure that you do not rush through your curriculum and that you adjust your lesson plan depending on the speed at which your student is learning. This means that your lesson plan has to be tailored to suit each student to ensure that you cover all sections of the subject that you are tutoring. You do not want to be rushing the last section if you did not plan correctly.
  1.  Prepare tests and quizzes
    The best way to measure your student’s progress and ensure if they have understood your tutoring is to set tests, quizzes, and assignments. Setting tests can help train the student to utilise their time well for their real exams. It can also help to specifically see where your student is excelling or falling behind. Tests can be scheduled ones so that your student can prepare for your test but it is also beneficial to set a spot test or two to ensure that your student is able to understand the work rather than just memorise it. Assignments help to allow the child to work independently and figure the work out on their own.
    Don’t set too long assignments or tests as this can deter them from doing the work since they already have homework from school. If they do fail the test, do not get upset or angry. Rather be supportive and encouraging as students thrive better in a positive environment. Use words like, “Let’s see where WE went wrong” or “Let’s see how WE can find another way to arrive at the correct answer.” Always be optimistic.
  1. Know your student and make tutoring fun
    Part of making online tutoring a success is to make sure you fully understand your student and what their needs are and how much can they retain before they become disengaged or uninterested. It is also important to keep tutoring fun so that the student is excited to learn and does not feel anxious or stressed for the tutoring session. Everyone retains much more when they are having a good time, so make sure to keep sessions exciting.

With these tips, you should be able to make your online tutoring sessions productive, impactful and useful so that your student can reach their academic goals.

GT Scholars is a not-for-profit social enterprise and registered charity. We run after-school and weekend programmes that help young people achieve their academic and career aspirations. Our programmes include tutoring, mentoring and enrichment sessions for young people aged 11-18. Contact us if you would like to know more about any of our programmes and courses.