In England, Pupil Premium Grant is allocated to school pupils and students considered by Department for Education as disadvantaged: meaning students who in the last 6 years were eligible for free school meals (referred to as Ever 6 FSM), looked after children (LAC), that is children in the care of or provided with accommodation by an English local authority as well as children who used to be looked after (in England and Wales). According to the government, in 2015-16, secondary schools will receive £935 per an FSM child. In reception and primary schools, this rises to £1,320.
Pupil Premium (PPM) grants were introduced by the Coalition Government in 2011. The government has published research pointing to the rather sizable gap in attainment between children who receive FSM and those who don’t. The data available from Impact Indicator 7: Attainment gap at age 11 between free school meal pupils and their peers states that in 2014 the percentage of pupils eligible for FSM achieving level 4 or above in reading, writing and mathematics was 63.6%, which is 18.1% lower than all other pupils (81.6%). Similarly, in 2014, only 33.5% of students eligible for FSM achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) as opposed to 60.5% other students (according to GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics, 2013 to 2014 (Revised) published by the DfE.
However, care needs to be taken when applying these findings to English as an Additional Language (EAL) students. A recent – very insightful – report published by King’s College London entitled New migration, new challenges: Eastern European migrant pupils in English schools, has found the following (see the report’s page 14) – the images below use the data as provided by the report:
The same report notes that pupils in certain language groups with the FSM status actually do better than those who are not eligible for FSM. Whilst stating that differences between groups are not statistically significant, the report’s authors mention that in 2012-13 a slightly higher number of pupils eligible for FSM from Russia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) than those not eligible for it. The report goes on to say such findings suggest that “Eastern European families’ trajectories and experiences may place them outside of the traditional British categories of social class, which also applies to other minority ethnic groups (Archer and Francis, 2006)”.
Now, this rings very true with me and instantly piqued my interest. Why? Well, first of all, over the last year, I was diligently recording, in line with my school’s expectations, the progress of my EAL students in my withdrawal groups on what we call Class Analysis Sheets. Similar to the findings above, the progress of the EAL children seemed to have very little to do with their FSM / PPM status – at least in my EAL intervention group. In fact – and indeed in precise accordance with what the King’s College London’s report states – some of the students making the greatest amount of progress were PPM.
Below, I am discussing some of what I now believe should be considered when analysing the progress of EAL children who might be in receipt of the pupil premium grant.
(i) social class in Poland
I am Polish, was born in Poland, and spent the first 6 years of my life teaching English Language as a mainstream secondary subject at high and middle schools in Poland. Achievement in English schools has been linked on numerous occasions to the belonging to a social class (see this Guardian’s article: It’s official: class matters, for instance, or this RSA’s report, which claims that social class is the strongest predictor of educational achievement in the UK). However, in Poland, for instance, the idea of a social class is completely different. Whilst I was still living in Poland (up to 2007), I didn’t think that social class played anywhere near as important and significant a role as it does in the UK. In my view, this is simply because of the tempestuous history that the country had in the 20th century – going through the World War 2 first, and then undergoing the lengthy period of communism, where private enterprise and private anything really was not accessible to ordinary people, most people made similar amount of money regardless of what they did and how hard they worked, and it was only the privileged few (with links to the government) who enjoyed what would often be referred to as the riches. In essence, it was either those who had the money (very few) or being everyone else.
I decided to have a look at some of the articles written more recently in my own mother tongue, however, to verify my claims that in Poland social classes play a far less significant role than in the UK. The article Social classes in modern Poland in Obserwator Polityczny [Political Observer], for instance, does claim that the idea of social hierarchy implies division into social classes, and claims that capitalist sociologists have perceived it as a natural map of differences within a society without which any society wouldn’t be able to function. It wouldn’t be a society the way we know and understand it. However, the authors then say that the misfortune of the Polish society lies in the fact that the social classes in Poland are still being formed after the drama of two world wars, restricted (by the Communist rule) sovereignty, which forced a social system based on the promotion of lower classes. The power was to be given to the working people in cities and the countryside. The article goes on to say that once the system was brought down, what occurred was the emergence of wild and brutal liberal capitalism with its commonly known maxim “the first million has to be stolen”. As a result, the authors of the article claim, after the 23 years of economical deprivation of the society brought to poverty by socialism, the country is only beginning to form the early stages of an upper class.
Yet another article (Class games or how to divide the Polish society, written for republika.pl, a large paper in Poland) does attempt to suggest what kind of salary might be linked to which social status (class), e.g. the lowest class would be earning up to 600 PLN (per calendar month), the lower class between 600-900 PLN, lower middle class earning up to 2,500 PLN, “proper” middle class up to 7,500 PLN, upper middle class up to 15,000 PLN, with the upper class earning 30,000 PLN or more. The type of lifestyle as enjoyed (or not enjoyed) by each of these classes is suggested at each step. Aspects of belonging to the classes are discussed by asking questions such as: where do you live? what do you drive? where and how do you buy clothes? where do you eat? where and how do you spend holidays?
However, much like the previous article discussed, this one also says that Polish social structure is not as permanent and stable. Sociologist Jacek Wasilewski is cited as saying that in the Communist era higher education did not translate into being more financially secure. Yet again, yes, the new social classes in Poland are emerging, and the distance between classes is widening, but it’s nowhere near the state of matters in the UK.
The fact that social classes in Poland are only forming points to it potentially playing less of a role in the attainment of Polish children in English schools. Perhaps, I would argue, other aspects of the Polish communities are more important to consider: perhaps the FSM status and social class are not as strongly linked as they might be for White English learners, simply because of the Polish students’ backgrounds and cultural expectations. For instance, numerous mainstream teachers have pointed out to me that many Eastern European learners exhibit high “working ethics” standards. Indeed, my conversations with the parents of some of my Polish EAL learners indicate the same – the number of times I have been asked to provide them with twice as much homework as that that is given to them at the school is quite telling. Indeed, the King’s College London report finds the same using the data from the interviews with some of the pupils from that part of the world. Over half of the mainstream teachers in the study described Eastern European students’ attitude to learning as keen and positive. Many parents in the study were found to see England as offering many educational and professional opportunities. All parents believed, for instance, that it is easier in England to get access to universities than it is their original countries. A number of parents held the view that getting good grades at school and their children’s hard work would enable their children to achieve their aspirations.
Could such cultural, historical and social differences be responsible for the striking differences between the national gap and the gap for Eastern European children? Perhaps the free school meal status and levels of poverty are not the deciding factor in the attainment of these children? Could it be that hard work ethics, the levels of literacy in the first language (Cummins’s Dual Iceberg Model, anyone?) and different aspiration levels of the families and the communities be responsible?
(ii) Archer and Francis’s (2006) insight into Chinese communities in the UK
I didn’t want to limit myself to considering only Eastern European children, however. Therefore, I followed up and read upon one of the references in the King’s College London’s report – Archer and Francis’s article on similar themes but regarding Chinese communities in the UK. Their article Challenging Classes? Exploring the Role of Social Class within the Identities and Achievement of British Chinese Pupils adopts a sociological class analysis regarding to the ‘success’ (p.42) of British Chinese pupils. The researchers found, for instance, that the main strategy deployed by parents and pupils was using a family capital – parents and families turned themselves into a resource of their own. For example, the children’s attendance of supplementary schools was seen as a way of increasing their linguistic skills. High aspirations and social competition between families brought about the motivation for academic achievement. Likely the most important factor was, the scholars find, that there was a discourse among the families of the Chinese valuing education: that is, the children functioned in the communities and environment where educational achievement is something that “people like us” (p.43) do regardless of the current social class. In Archer and Francis’s study both working class and middle-class parents perceived the economic capital to support children in their learning as the priority. This meant that the families would pay for private tutors or private schools outside of the mainstream schooling or didn’t want for their children to be involved in their family businesses (which in cases of many non-professional parents meant working long, hard and unsociable hours) to get more learning time instead. Families, therefore, were resources in themselves enabling their children’s social mobility.
Perhaps this excerpt best illustrates the point the scholars are trying to make:
The importance of mobility through education was also recognized by pupils, such as Laura who said, ‘My dad is a bus driver, and my mum’s a house-wife. The jobs aren’t really quite good, that’s why they push me so hard.’ This marks a contrast with many white working-class families who, research indicated, may value ‘holding on’ and ‘not getting above your station’ (e.g. Archer and Leathwood, 2003; Lawler, 1999), and who are less likely to ‘plan ahead’ (e.g. Reay and Ball, 1997).
The excerpt above is about a working-class Chinese family, and indeed Archer and Francis found in their study that they spoke a number of times about ‘the future’ and ‘escaping’ (p.40) from the families’ current economical circumstances (such as working in a laundry business, for instance). The study also found a similar discourse amongst the middle-class/professional families (e.g. parents in the catering trade) who didn’t wish for their children to ‘fall back’ (p.41) on the catering trade, but rather, in their view, reach for more; and that reaching for more, in their view, would be through education.
The findings of Archer and Francis’s study suggest that in many cases the social class is not the only driver of the attainment of EAL children at school. In the case of British Chinese students, families operate as a resource enabling their children to ‘get on’. Whilst the parents in the study felt they lacked the cultural capital with which to support their children in terms of their education, the economic capital was widely used to support their children’s achievement. Sometimes it resulted in the students studying on all 7 days a week (i.e. 5 days at a mainstream school and two other days in a supplementary school or being privately tutored). This economic support functioned, yet again, irrespective of social class.
Discussion and suggestions
By discussing the research into the Eastern European, Polish and Chinese communities in Britain above, I am not suggesting that there is some type of uniformity to how education, social class and aspirations are viewed by parents and their children. Far from it: doing so would be stereotyping, and I am not intending to stereotype either the white English communities or any minority communities. Rather, I am suggesting that economic status and social class might not be the most important factor – and certainly not the only factor – in EAL children’s attainment at school. The FSM status and thus the PPM status should therefore be treated with care. The National FSM gap vs Eastern European students FSM gap exemplifies this very well.
School systems are often found unprepared for students such as EAL ones due to the simple fact that a lot of flexibility and adaptations are needed to include them. I wrote about this issue before in one of my previous posts. The word system in itself suggests rigidity and adherence to rules and policies. EAL learners with their rich and complex histories and trajectories might very often not fit into this system: they might have arrived from war-torn countries, might be refugees or asylum seekers; some might have received excellent full education and are extremely literate in their first language, but some others had never been to school before. Some might have beautiful handwriting, but some others might have a difficulty holding a pen or joining letters. Families might have completely different expectations of schooling and of the role of teachers. Some students have been, of course, born here in the UK, and live in ethnic minority communities, and as members of those communities might have different aspirations and motivations for their future lives. I could go on, of course: the list will never be exhaustive. The point is that they are all different. Unfortunately, our school system likes numbers quite a lot. As teachers, we engage in crafting our spreadsheets full of numbers on a daily basis. Whilst a lot of it serves, without a doubt, a very useful purpose, it can also be damaging in that it can reduce people to numbers. We cannot do that: we need to consider our pupils, all of them, as individuals and not be drawn into the comfortable lure of seeing them a 3c or level 2= only.
Social class and economic status in ethnic minority communities, as we have seen above, might play a considerably less significant role in other cultures and communities. The FSM gap still exists for EAL learners, but clearly is much smaller (at least for Eastern Europeans), so using the British understanding of social class and applying it to EAL learners and their varied lifestyles and histories might be a mistake. NALDIC writes that pupils from underperforming ethnic minority groups have similar aspirations regardless of their FSM status. Since the gap is still there, certainly do take it into consideration, but consider also what other factors contribute to underachievement of some EAL learners such as:
- Their literacy in their first language – Can L1 be boosted so that SLA (second language acquisition) improves?
- Are parents (and their cultural capital) be supported by the school to support their children?
- How is school work valued by the community from which your EAL learners come from? Is education a priority in their lives? Does school come as a no.1 priority or is it further down the line? How does this affect your students’ performance at school?
- Specific language support in school – How many teachers in your school actually do differentiate and actively support your (underachieving or not) learners in their content subjects? Does language pervade the life of your school, thus boosting the chances for attainment of your EAL learners? Are your teachers trained in supporting EAL learners? Do they understand the underlying issues behind the EAL strategies used (if they deploy them in their lessons)?
- Do you analyse your data according to ethnicity and languages? Do you look only at FSM/PPM or do you, as a school, consider the attainment of various ethnic groups so you know which students from which minority groups (not just new EAL arrivals!) need to be supported? Do you consider under-performing FSM students and their linguistic and minority backgrounds?
As I wrote above, I saw very little correlation in my own teaching work between the pupil premium status of the induction group EAL children I teach and their actual attainment. Make certain that you do not consider your EAL learners in a one-dimensional PPM-status kind of way, but take into consideration their histories, trajectories and support they receive from parents or guardians at home. Make certain you support them with what they need and do not confuse their eligibility for FSM with their social class – which, as we see above, might be either non-existent, of little significance or transcended in certain communities.
Yes, do have a look at the attainment gap in your school between those eligible for FSM and those not eligible. Is there a difference in attainment? How sizeable? Should your teachers devise strategies for those students based on their pupil premium status or rather based on their language and literacy basis?
Just something for you to consider.