Title: “With Reference to Davis (2000), critically comment on his explanation as to why some schools in Britain perform better than others”
There can be many reasons that arise when discussing why certain schools or types of schools tend to excel and prosper whilst when it comes to other schools it is a different story altogether. In this essay I will be focusing on Nick Davis’s book: The School Report, where I will be looking into his views and his argument of the truth about failing schools and why some schools perform better than others and also I will be discussing particular views that stand contrary to Davis’s (2000) line of argument. The essay will explain some of the factors and discuss the root problems and issues which make a school a underachieving or failing school.
There can be listed numerous reasons and factors to why certain schools achieve better than others. However in Davis’s book he discusses a few of theses issues and these factors. One of the main theme or idea in Davis’s book to why schools fail or succeed is based on the intake of pupils of the school. Also the case of poverty and social problems of the children, not to mention the government’s tactics to pretend to try and help improve underachieving schools. In the essay I will be particularly looking into the government’s strategies which in effect have put the deprived schools into a worse condition than before Schools with serious weaknesses’. And the inequalities that can be clearly seen when it comes down to certain schools from the intake of pupils to the amount of resources available to the teaching methods.
In Britain, a ‘failing school’ is defined as having poor student achievement, low quality instruction, operational inefficiencies and poor provision for student needs. Or defining failing schools using a recent terminology as having more than one of the following features in order to state that a school is in fact a ‘failing school’. They are; unsatisfactory teaching in 25% or more of lessons, pupil attainment low and progress poor compared to pupils in similar schools, absence rates exceeding 10%, significant leadership or management flaws and poor student behaviour. (The Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education 1998). Extracting the information from the above text, it can be seen that majority of the factors which contribute to the unsuccessful school is based on the intake of the pupils.
As Davis (2000) mentions and reminds everyone throughout his book that the main factor that determines the schools performance is the pupil intake. So in other words; if the schools intakes pupils from advantage rich backgrounds then the schools outcome or succession is likely to become and vice versa when it comes to schools with children who come from disadvantage backgrounds. “…the age of egalitarianism is now over.” Kenneth Baker (Secretary of State for Education), 1988 (cited in Meighan and Siraj-Blatchford, 2001, p398.) So as predicted social class has a role to play in why some schools fail and others prosper.
From 1979 until the present day childhood poverty has increased to such an extent that there are around one-third of Britain’s children, more than four million children who are now classed officially as living below the poverty line. (Smith 2001). What Davis (2000) tries to point out, is the direct correlation that exists between educational performance and poverty, poverty which is haunts the school and slowly demoralizes it. As Davis phrases it in a metaphoric way “The poverty invades the school like water flooding a ship, reaching into every weak point”. (Davis 2000, pp10-11). It is quite obvious to acknowledge and see that when a school is lacking is basic resources from the maintenance of the school building to the equipments available to the children and teachers in order to teach effectively, then it spells underachievement.
Research from Bryne et all, (1974) suggest the level of educational success or achievement can be shown to have a certain pattern with a schools spending levels, therefore the increase of resource input, the likelihood of higher educational attainments and the greater educational opportunities within that area or school. According to research conducted by the Department of Education, schools with the poorest GCSE results are found in leafy suburbs as well as in inner cities and not necessarily in deprived areas or majority immigrant areas (Bhandari, 2000) However, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Local Educational Authority (LEA) officers feel the government is underestimating the link between poverty and poor school performance.
As New labour still carries on to state that poverty is still no excuse and the Labour government has attacked this type of approach as providing an excuse for educational failure. (Smith, 2001). To somehow try and escape from the poverty issue is somewhat unrealistic and to take a blind eye towards it as it is something which has insignificance to the performance of schools is like walking on thin ice. As Davis (2000) has pointed out in his articles in the guardian concerning the big poverty factor, that he is not discovering something new but more to exposing something that ‘no one with power would admit’ or The great unmentionable. Poverty is looked into in depth by Davis (2000) when he describes Abbeydale Grange School, where the pupil’s background is reflected upon the school, and the immense social problems and difficulties faced by the children in their households.
The Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett had proclaimed that the government would put in 19 billion pounds in education between 1999-2002 in order ”to give everyone in our society (a chance) to realise their full potential”. Blunkett had emphasised that this was the ”fulfilment of our (New Labour government) pledge that education would be number one priority”. And the extra resources were to change standards in the education sector, boost literacy and numeracy for those under 11 years, cut truancy and exclusion by a third, and give half a million more people access to higher and further education (Bhandari, 2000).
However now it is 2003 and funnily enough still no sign of this extra 19 billion pounds, as Davis (2000) names it as ‘The ï¿½19 Billion Lie-How Mr Blunkett fiddled the figures’. According to Davis the Labour government had used creative accounts to pretend huge extra amounts of money being put into the education system when as a matter of fact the only actual extra funding available was a measly ï¿½1.2 billion for education. And this extra money was for targeted grants, which is quite hard and complicated for schools to get their hands on.
So once again we can see that why some schools tend to prosper when these schools receive bonus funding such as when the Liberal Democratic Party Spokesman for education, Don Foster had found out that surprisingly that those schools with pupil intake from advantage backgrounds or with affluent pupils , “were receiving grants worth between ï¿½326 and ï¿½1,264 per pupil [$482-1,870]”, while schools with pupil intake from disadvantaged backgrounds, which had the most deprived pupils and (with more than 40 percent eligible for free meals) received “no more than ï¿½791 [$1,170] per pupil”( Smith 2001). So it is now clearer to see why some schools flourish when why not? With all the extra funding for each child compared to the poorer schools with even more lower funding. Instead of the government helping and encouraging the disadvantaged children and their schools it is more or less working towards the other end by helping the even more prosperous schools excel through aiding with financial support.
The action perspective ideology to education and explanation to why some schools fail is entirely based on blaming the school and primarily blaming the teachers that they are inadequate to teach and it is due to their lack of effective teaching that schools fail. As this is the view and attitude of the right wing politicians and the British government. As Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead Stated …”If standards are to rise further in primary schools, then primary teachers must have better access to high quality training designed to deepen their own subject knowledge”. (Cited in Bhandari, 2000). One important factor which Woodhead fails to do is look at the holistic picture and maybe mention the intake of children or the social problems faced with the children and their back ground.
As Davis (2000) draws his attention to the research done by Dr Phil Budgell, former Chief Inspector of Schools in Sheffield. Where Budgell had come up with some statistics based on all the schools and their table ranking according to their pupil intake, this showed some hidden facts, as a pattern arose The pattern was clear: more than 90 percent of the difference in exam results between schools was accounted for simply by reference to the poverty, gender and final-year attendance of the children enrolled there. Schools were only able to influence 5-10 percent of the outcome. (Smith 2001) so from the evidence given it can be seen that the school blaming and teacher accusing is the same as to the poverty as no excuse argument, which of course is nothing but a cover-up with no hard evidence.
To ask why some schools perform better than others, well it must be asked what have the previous and present government done to help or prevent schools from failing? Unfortunately the government has introduced new ways in favour of the middle classes and the schools that come high on the so called league tables. The Conservatives had made education policy deliberately advantaged those schools in better-off areas, encouraging them, where possible, to “opt-out” of local authority control. (Smith 2001) examples of the conservatives in action, the legislation gave parents the “right to choose” their child’s school, but obviously this heavily favoured those with greater incomes.
As a result, better-off parents began sending their children to better achieving Schools, as in Davis (2000) book, the case with Silverdale, and so the vicious circle began, one school prospering as the other declined (Abbeydale). . Not to mention when the Conservative government ordered that exam results had to be published as part of a national schools’ “League Table,” (Smith 2001) this made matters worse as the parents decided by the schools attainment success. The catch with the so called league table is that, yes they may show which Schools has had the best exam results but they never revel the hidden success (Davis 2000) or how the schools intake of pupils was like.
“The evidence in Britain since 1995, however, suggests that troubled schools are not destroyed by special measures, rather they are revived by them” (The Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education, 1998) however where is the evidence? As it cannot be seen, looking at the example with the case of Stanley Deason School in the chapter called ‘Money Matters: A tale of two schools’. The special measures had put the entire school in pressure and did no good for the school, the pupils or the staff of the school, instead it had brought more frustration and stress which nearly collapsed the already damaged school.
After looking into Davis (2000) work and other relevant information. It can be clearly seen that the reasons behind why some schools fail is quite simple and easy to understand. Schools fail due to many factors and just to say that it is primarily based on one specific factor cannot be justified, for example to point the finger to the schools and just to leave it at that will not benefit anyone, let alone the pupils or the schools performance. However to uncover the reasons and as to why schools fail and to admit that the intake of the pupils have a major impact on the outcome or schools overall performance and to do something about it, that should be the way forward.
From this essay it can be seen shockingly that the government has had its fair share in not helping all schools to prosper, but as a matter of fact gearing education towards the middle classes. So yet again the inequality in the British education system is present and to change the situation of the damaged schools, all need to own up and admit that they had made errors and try to resolve the matter or else sadly we will be left with countless underachieving schools on one end of the spectrum and fully excelling schools on the top of the so called league tables.
Bhandar, N (2000) ‘Wide Education Gap In Multi-Cultural Britain’, Inter Press service.
Davis, D. (2000) The School Report: Why Britain’s Schools are failing. London: Vintage.
Meighan, R And Siraj-Blatchford, I, (1997) A Sociology of Educating, London, Cassell.
Myers, K. and Stoll, L. (1998) ‘No Quick fixes’ Falmer press: London.
Smith, L.(3rd February 2001) Review of ‘The School Report: Why Britain’s Schools are Failing – a book by Nick Davies’ The Guardian
The Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education, ‘Rescuing Troubled Schools (1998)’. http://www.saee.bc.ca/. April 25th 2003