I saw a comment on Twitter questioning why there is such a high proportion of pupils on free school meals in bottom sets for English & Maths. The tweet prompted a discussion about the merits of setting and mixed ability teaching. While this is an interesting debate and may well be a factor, I couldn’t help feel that something I heard at a recent CPD event might be more pertinent in addressing the question. It certainly challenged my thinking. I’d be very interested in any professional discussion and views from the pedagoo community on the following:
Dylan William at the CPD event was explaining what he called ‘the multiplier effect’. He began illustrating this in the context of Canadian Professional Ice Hockey. Statistically, professional players were four times more likely to be born in January, February & March. The reason? The cut off dates for beginning training!
Children who reached the required age in the first quarter of the year were older, more likely to be taller and coordinated and so were often selected for teams and training. Those selected received more specialist training and were put up against tougher opposition. The effect being that by having a slight age advantage was multiplied to be a greater advantage over a 10 year period.
Dylan then discussed the same effect in education. Children from more educated / affluent background often know the ‘rules’ of the classroom and the language of learning before they come to school and consequently were better learners from the outset. He illustrated this jokingly by saying you can tell the class of a family by the questions they ask their child in a supermarket.
‘Middle class’ parents tend to ask questions like: “Which is the best price /value? ”
A lower class parent would ask :”‘Do you want a smack?”!
I know the issues are more complex than merely that of money and perceived class but the point was challenging to me. It really brought home to me the importance of teaching children to learn.
He also said that the most effective way to reduce this multiplier effect in a classroom is to use a ‘no hands up’ approach. This way all pupils have to think and contribute and learn the language of learning in the process. With hands up the gulf widens, as the children with their hands up are usually those who know the rules and those who don’t become passive in the process.
Whilst reflecting on this I also realised why I was so uneasy with elitism and competition in schools. I now realise that I am not ‘anti competition’ or opposed to the most talented pupils being selected to represent schools as some colleagues have interpreted my reservations as. However, I feel that I do want to challenge this multiplier effect and the self fulfilling prophecy that often ensues by changing my own practice. I also want to encourage colleagues to reflect on their practice too.
I’m particularly interested in the role of education in social mobility as a result of my own upbringing and background and would welcome comments / views on the issues this raises and other strategies you use to level the playing field for our pupils.