National offer day

National offer day was March 1st.  This was the day when Local Authorities in England communicated offers of secondary school places to parents of children due to transfer to secondary school in the coming September.  However, it was only recently that detailed statistics relating to national offer day were published. Each year, parents whose children are due to transfer to state secondary school the following September apply to their Local Authority for a place for their child. Parents express a minimum of three preferred schools, listing the schools in order of preference.  Some Local Authorities enable parents to list up to six prefered schools while others allow only the minimum three. Overall, according to the statistics released by the Department for Education, 85.3% of families received an offer for their first preference school.  When an offer is made to one of three prefered schools this figure rises to 95.9%,  and increases to 97.6% where families are made an offer for a place at any of their preferred schools.  In other words, across England as a whole the vast majority of offers are made for schools identified as the families’ first choice.

A selection of news headlines serves to illustrate that the media gaze is on those not offered a place at their first choice of school.  The Guardian ran with One in seven pupils miss out on first choice secondary school, while The Independent interpreted the figures slightly differently in its headline of One in six miss first choice school.  Meanwhile, The Telegraph proclaimed its displeasure with its statement of  Children ‘forced to accept unpopular secondary schools’ .

These news reports also highlighted regional disparities which show that a higher percentage of places at first preference schools are offered in the North East while the lowest percentages are in London. The Telegraph however, chose to ignore the North East completely in its article.

Figures, by Local Authority are available from the Department for Education’s research and statistics pages.  The regional breakdown is shown in the following table.

Region

% 1st preferences offered

North East

95.1

North West

90.8

Yorkshire and the Humber

91.2

East Midlands

93.1

West Midlands

81.3

East of England

86.5

Inner London

65.8

Outer London

68.4

South East

84.9

South West

91.7

While it seems that if you live in the North East of England you will have the greatest chance of being offered a place at your first preferred school, this is not the case in Middlesbrough where the figure is  79.9%.  However,  you can be almost certain of an offer at your first choice of secondary school if you live up the coast in Hartlepool.  While London is identified as the worst place for getting into the school of first preference, there is, in contrast to the overall inner London figure, a relatively high chance of securing your first place if you live in Newham where 82.4% of places were offered to schools of first preference.  Making these comparisons between regions and between authorities is limited without further context knowledge about the socio-economic context in which preferences regarding school choice are made.

The discourses surrounding the publication of these figures equates preferred schools with ‘good schools’.  It is assumed that the higher the number of pupils who are offered a place at their 1st choice of school means the high the number of ‘good’ schools available in that area.  It is the rhetoric of the education market place.  This was expressed by the Minister of State for Schools,  Nick Gibb, when releasing the figures:

“Parents are faced with an extremely competitive and stressful process for securing a place for their children. We want to ease this pressure by creating more good school places, which is the driver behind all our reforms to the education system” (DFE, 2012)

However, this simplifies the process of school choice, in particular avoiding any recognition of social class differences in choosing secondary schools  (as discussed in the selected sources below). There is more analysis that can be done with these figures beyond the simplistic, but appealing comparative analysis provided in the mainstream press.

Continue reading “National offer day”

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High School

High School, a three part reality series following a year in the life of Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow began on BBC One in Scotland this week.  It is made by Friel Kean Films who also produced The Schemewhich last year the Daily Mail described as “jaw-droppingly grotesque”, running with the unimaginative headline: “Welcome to McShameless”.  In the broadsheets the response was also less than enthusiastic with Iain McDowall in the Guardian describing the The Scheme as “poverty porn”.

Head teacher Tom McDonald

So, is High School any different?

In the opening scenes of the first episode we hear a young pupil announce:

“My instinct just says, punch him right in the mouth”

If this comes over as an attempt to draw on a stereotype of Glaswegian temperament it is soon dispelled. When shown in context later in the programme the remainder of the scene reveals that boy in question, Liam, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has been experiencing bullying from some of his classmates.  Thus, in this scene he is eloquently articulating what he considers to be the most appropriate response to this situation.  Liam doesn’t conclude that physical violence is the ideal way forward.

Alec Newman (who plays head teacher Michael Byrne in the BBC drama series Waterloo Road) narrates, showing us VIth form students contending for the positions of school captains, the departure of a well-loved  deputy head and an enthusiastic candidate for his replacement. Muslim and Sikh pupils are heard expressing how inclusive they feel the Roman Catholic school to be, while it respects their religion they also attend mass. When a new pupil, Gabriel arrives from Romania, he has little English and struggles to settle in to his new school, leading to truancy.  Staff meet with him and his mother, and consequently his attendance is monitored until it improves.  Finally, towards the end of the first episode we see Liam settling in more and gaining popularity amongst his peers.

Prosaic reality is dramatic enough for those involved without the  succession of explosions, attempted and actual murders designed to make TV school dramas more compelling viewing than watching an actual school.  In short, this is not poverty porn, but is likely to portray experiences shared by many schools.  As a spokesperson for BBC Scotland said:

“Many of the stories and issues covered will have a resonance for other pupils, teachers and parents across Scotland. We hope the audience will find it an engaging series.”

You can catch up with the series for as long as it is available, on the BBC  High School website.

Who is getting the Pupil Premium?

The office of David Lammy MP this week released analysis of the pupil premium – funding given to schools and targeted at supporting the most disadvantaged children. The analysis suggests that, rather than the additional funding going to the most deprived areas of the country, more affluent areas are seeing the greatest benefit.

Analysis has revealed that Buckinghamshire and Surrey, with 11% of under 16 year olds living in poverty will see a doubling of the pupil premium.  In contrast, in Tower Hamlets where over half of children under the age of 16 are living in poverty the premium will increase by  60%.  At the other end of the country, Middlesbrough is also among the ‘biggest losers’, seeing an increase in the pupil premium of 54% while 35% of it’s under 16 year olds live in poverty.

Data can be downloaded from the Guardian’s Datablog page:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/16/pupil-premium-child-poverty-data

Wake Up!

This short advert comes via Sociological Images on the The Society Pages where it is highlighted for its problematic reduction of high school dropouts to individual laziness. Declaring that “every 26 seconds, a kid drops out of high school”  it implores an African-American teenager to “wake up” and continue in school in order to avoid an uncertain future.

The advert is part of a campaign run by StateFarm, a US insurance company, and the National Basketball Association NBA which aims to reduce the dropout rate in US high schools.

The advert is problematic for reducing the factors that contribute to the high dropout rate in some US high schools to individual motivation.   It may be tempting to conclude that individual young people are responsible for their own educational fate.  They should simply wake up and get themselves to school. It is presented as a personal choice.  Consequently, educational failure can be seen as an individual responsibility.

However, if we have a sociological imagination to draw on, we can explore other explanations and come to an understanding that the lived experiences of individuals are inextricably linked to wider, social factors.  So, in this case, we know that individual responsibility for high school dropout rates in parts of the USA is not supported by the evidence.

A recent study by Leventhal-Weiner and Wallace (2011) highlighted the differences in dropout rates between different ethnic groups in the USA.  Overall, Hispanic students drop out at a rate twice that of Blacks, who, in turn drop out at a rate approaching twice that of Whites.  As they point out in their research, the schools with the highest rate of dropouts are to be found in the poorest communities in US urban areas, with poor employment prospects, poverty, residential instability and low level of education in the community, all to varying extents contributing to high dropout rates.

This is not to say that individuals are determined by these structural factors. Individuals have agency, though that agency might be constrained by their social context.  Indeed, across the USA there are attempts to mitigate the impact of the social context of pupils considered at risk of dropping out by motivating students and building resilience.   However, as Hopson and Lee (2011:2227) argue:

“Policies that place the responsibility for academic success of students living in poverty solely in the hands of schools and teachers prevent meaningful progress.”

In other words, interventions at school or individual level, while they might mitigate some effects of poverty are no panacea.  Nothing short of structural reform will solve this problem.

Continue reading “Wake Up!”

School forgets location of time capsule

In 1989 a time capsule commemorating the silver jubilee of Mattersey Primary School near Doncaster was buried somewhere in the grounds of the school.  As the golden jubilee of the school is approaching in 2014 it is intended that the opening of the time capsule will form part of the school’s celebrations.  The plan is for the capsule to be reburied alongside a second capsule containing material indicative of more recent years in the school.  Both capsules will then be opened twenty-five years later.

However, these plans are threatened as the location of the burial site is unknown. According to a BBC News report while there is a photograph of the capsule being buried, the location has been forgotten.

While artefacts of school life may be buried in these time capsules, historians may, in the future be more interested in the everyday lives of pupils of Mattersey Primary School.  The time capsule buried in 1989 clearly has not featured prominently in the everyday life of the school.  Nevertheless this could prove a useful lesson in history. When it is found, the contents examined, and reburied alongside a new one, some thought could go into how the contents of the new capsule might capture the story of the school.  The school might also want to make a record of the burial site.

Enforcing School Attendance with Tasers

Earlier this week, in Mount Sterling, Ohio, police responded to a mother’s call for assistance with her nine-year old son who refused to go to school.  While authorities are not releasing full details, it is alleged, that during the course of the visit an officer used a taser gun to subdue the child.

In response the Police Chief has been suspended for allegedly withholding information about the incident from village leaders.

Mount Sterling Police Department Shut Down