This week, the Head of Research at EPI, said that the attainment gap between the wealthiest and most disadvantaged pupils almost disappears by the end of primary school, before reappearing at age 16. Analysis by data site SchoolDash shows that pupils from poorer areas draw level with their more socially advantaged peers by the end of KS2, but the gap widens again by GCSEs. This was one of the topics that I discussed with Chairs of Governors on Thursday evening, whilst looking at the Camden data, where the same pattern exists. There could be a number of responses to this conundrum, and a working group is currently looking at gender and disadvantage in Camden and considering a position statement and theory of change.

I am currently reading Poverty Safari-Understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass, by Darren McGarvey, where he shares his experience of poverty and the devastating effects first hand. In one chapter, he shares his experience of being a reader, recognising that he was not a habitual reader, though a regular consumer of words. The author found it difficult to ingratiate books; light weight books being deceptively small, hard backs books off-putting due to their bulk and weight, depending more on listening to other people discuss and debate as a way of grasping what might have been learned in books. The new Ofsted framework explicitly recognises the importance of reading as the key to accessing the knowledge and skills for the wider curriculum. However, our challenge in schools is how we provide the structure to early language acquisition and promote a love of reading, so that it is seen as a leisure activity and not a necessary evil!

The other poignant moment was at the beginning of the week where we welcomed Jean Gross CBE to Camden, to speak to early year’s teachers and phase leaders. Jean is steeped in research, early years practice and was the government’s communication champion for children. Jean outlined the concept of the word gap that has emerged over the last ten years for children, capturing the research with more than 1,300 teachers in the UK. Over half of those surveyed reported that at least 40% of their pupils lacked the vocabulary needed to access their learning. Worryingly, 69% of primary school teachers and 60% of secondary school teachers believe the gap is increasing. In schools, language underpins progress, impacts on attainment throughout primary and secondary years, affects self-esteem and behaviour and plays a huge role in a child’s future life chances. Without enough language – a word gap – a child is seriously limited in their enjoyment of school and success beyond. There is always plenty for us all to consider and incorporate, which includes using the learning and strategies from the oracy work that has taken place over the last two years, the takeaways being:

  1. Continuing to bring vocabulary practice into mainstream class teaching
  2. Focusing on key subject vocabulary, and learning language in the context of use
  3. The importance of conversations and wider reading in the classroom and at home

Finally, just to say a huge thank you to all of those schools that were visited and engaged with the SEND inspection over this last week. It has been an intensive period of time and we really appreciate how schools and colleagues have responded, provided information, attended meetings and pulled together parent/ carers groups at short notice. Once we have the outcome and findings from the inspection, we will of course share these with you all. Thank you.

Jon Abbey

Managing Director, Camden Learning

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