Social class 'determines child's success'

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The Independent Online

Children's social class is still the most significant factor in determining their exam success in state schools, the Government's head of teacher training acknowledges today.

In an interview with The Independent, Graham Holley, the chief executive of the Training and Development Agency, said: "The performance of a school and a child in it is highly linked to social class.

"If you turn the clock back on pupils in school today 15 years and predict their outcomes from where they were born, you can do it.

"We need to change that. It's not something this government has done. It's not something the last government has done. It's something that has been there since the Second World War and probably even before that."

Mr Holley also warned that as many as three in every 10 secondary schools (around 1,000 state schools) were "arguably still performing unsatisfactorily". But he distanced himself from the claim made by Gordon Brown that schools that failed to get 30 per cent of their pupils to achieve five A* to C grade passes at GCSE were "failing".

"I'm not saying they [the three in ten] are failing and I'm not saying that these schools all have a challenging intake. There are some schools whose results do not look bad on paper that are complacent and coasting and they're not doing as well with their children as are schools in very similar circumstances.

"We have to ask why is that? It is not down to individual teachers' competence. It is down to they way they are managed."

Mr Holley was speaking after presenting his views to a high level private meeting of senior educationalists in an attempt to improve the impact teaching can have on the quality of children's lives. He called for moves to ensure the most highly qualified teachers were persuaded to teach in the country's most disadvantaged schools.

He said the Training and Development Agency was examining ways of achieving this – including the prospect of paying "golden hellos" and "golden handcuffs" (where newly-qualified teachers are paid extra provided they sign a contract committing themselves to working for a certain period of time in a school). But he insisted: "It's not just about money. We need to ensure they have the professional support to deal with issues as they arise.

"It takes some time to manage a class well and control and manage behaviour – including poor behaviour. It is quite possible to tolerate a level of disruption in a class and for there still to be learning taking place. Also, just because pupils have stopped throwing things about, it doesn't mean they're now learning well.

"It is a very difficult challenge for a teacher to learn this. They will not have had this experience and they will need continuing professional development."

Mr Holley also called for more investment in schools offering extended services – such as breakfast and homework clubs – to help deprived children overcome the handicaps of working at home. "Children are turning up to school, cold hungry and not in the right frame of mind to learn," he said. "There also may be nowhere for them to do homework at home – their parents may be working or a single parent could be pre-occupied with other things."

He also revealed that the agency is increasing the number of "enhancement" courses to boost the number of maths and science teachers in schools. Under this initiative, graduates with an allied degree – in engineering or, say, oceanography – can spend up to six months topping up their skills to become science teachers. They would be paid a bursary of £225 a week while on the course.