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CE Blog 7: Education, Equity and Equal chances?

CE Blog 7: Education, Equity and Equal chances?

There have been a number of events I have attended recently where the idea of equity within education has come up. The first was a few months ago, at the launch of the OECD report ‘Equity in Education’ hosted by the Education Policy Institute. This report showed not only that the academic gap between advantaged and disadvantaged starts as early as 10, but that achievement gap could still be seen at 25. Schleicher, from the OECD, mentioned that the gap for the UK is actually still growing.

Commenting on the UK findings, Natalie Perera, Executive Director of the Education Policy Institute, said:

“[These findings] highlight how compared other developed countries, disadvantaged pupils in the UK are more likely to feel less socially integrated at schools, less satisfied with life, and more likely to suffer from test anxiety. While overall academic gaps have been closing in recent years, in order to make further progress it is essential that policy-makers pay greater attention to supporting pupils’ wellbeing”.

(More about the OECD report can be found here: https://epi.org.uk/news/oecd-equity-report-epi-response/ )

The other was at the Schools and Academies Show in Birmingham, where I listened to The Right Honourable David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute talk about a similar issue, along with workforce pressures and off-rolling. He highlighted that the UK has the largest gap between advantaged and disadvantaged of the richest nations, and by the time disadvantaged pupils leave school they are on average 18 months behind their advantaged peers.

 Mike Kane MP (Shadow Minister for Schools) was the next speaker, and he mentioned the disadvantage gap while discussing the National Education Service – “a plan to provide the best education for each child”. While there were some political shots, there were some good ideas – like removing year to year budgeting, and budgeting for 3-4 years instead.  However, there was no mention of support staff and the role they could play in reducing teacher workload pressures or increasing retention of teachers.

A few weeks later I had a very positive meeting with Lord Watson (Shadow Education Minister for Labour) and I asked him why this was – he said they had not got to the detailed planning stage yet, so there may well be yet. As Mike Kane MP is married to a librarian I am hopeful – something he pointed out when I asked about school libraries in the NES picture! (As an aside, my conversation with Lord Watson resulted in him mentioning school libraries in the debate on school funding in the House of Lords – something you can see here: https://t.co/kjzFoNeeu3- so thank you to Lord Watson for his support!). *

I hear all these conversations going on about education and it is increasingly apparent to me that everyone discussing this is missing a trick – the role of school libraries. A school library is a space that feeds the mind, and finds the nutrition to take children to the next step in their journey. School libraries should be funded and staffed because having access to a range of reading materials, and someone to guide them through the selection leads to one of the most successful interventions – reading for pleasure. This study indicates that improvements in reading can still be seen ten years later: https://home.kpmg.com/uk/en/home/insights/2018/11/the-impact-of-reading-recovery-ten-years-after-intervention.html

 But the staffing is as important for the delivery of information literacy – providing the skills to find and use information, and ultimately to fully participate in society. The awareness of bias, ethics, plagiarism and referencing are as important in the real world, in the digital world and in academia. School libraries improve pupil outcomes; I know from personal experience this is the case.

In schools which fund their school libraries, and whose library staff have access to training and support, those pupils will have more chances. More chances to find a book that makes them tick; more chances to engage with research; more chances to learn independent learning skills. More chances full stop. And that has been recognised by some schools – like the free school which is fundraising for a school library, and some of the top independent schools.

The SLA is here to support all school libraries, and everyone involved in running them, whether you do it in your own time or as a career, whether you work in the library or run the PTA. We will support anyone involved in promoting reading for pleasure, and anyone involved in delivering information literacy. It’s about the children, and we will do everything we can to ensure that each person maximises the opportunities they are given.

We need to start effectively engaging with education – we’re here to support them, and it’s about each child. Finding what’s right for them to maximise their life chances. We need to make the case that poorly supported or understood school libraries don’t maximise a child’s chances – diminishing their access to reading material, reducing their creative spaces and limiting their engagement with information will not close the gap. School libraries aren’t the single answer, but they could and do, play a part.

 

*Just for the sake of balance it’s worth pointing out I also had a very successful meeting with Justin Tomlinson MP, which resulted in correspondence from the Department for Education, but it was before I started the blogs!

 

 

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