Narrowing the gap in secondary school attainment
Posted: Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:13
The attainment gap in education is as persistent as it is striking: 6 in 10 young people from low income backgrounds leave school without a minimum of 5 GCSEs – A* to C.
Within this bigger picture, the problem is particularly acute amongst young men from white British and black Caribbean families.
The reasons for this persistent underachievement are varied and complex – however, research shows two clear factors which underpin this gender gap. Boys are consistently less engaged with learning than their female peers and are far more likely to behave disruptively.
This means, for example, that twice as many boys as girls say that they never or rarely read for enjoyment and that boys are around 3 times more likely than girls to be suspended or permanently excluded.
The situation is particularly bleak where gender and economic background intersect, with 11-year-old pupils eligible for free school meals around twice as likely not to achieve basic standards in literacy and numeracy as other 11-year-old pupils – boys fairing worse than girls within this group by around 10 percentage points.
This attainment gap has led to a raft of policy and delivery interventions targeted specifically at boys.
Many interventions which seek to address the attainment gap begin from the assumption that a student is engaged in learning, but just needs extra support to thrive. Our experience with many boys at primary and secondary schools is that this assumption doesn't work.
Instead, we believe that an effective intervention must begin with engaging young men with learning. And this engagement can best come from putting these students' passions and interests at the heart of their education.
So, at FBB we asked ourselves, if there is a particular issue with educational engagement for boys from low income backgrounds, what might be a solution which is attractive to this group? Is there anything that could create engaged students from across this group? And what are the things that many of these students are passionate about?
For us, there was only one answer. Football.
In secondary schools across England, there are young men who dislike school but love football. The question we ask at FBB is how can we take that passion for football to create more engaged students? And how we can do that in the most crucial time – years 7 to 9 – when engagement drops most sharply and challenging behaviour increases most quickly?
Our approach is built around our football-themed, project-based Key Stage 3 Literacy Curriculum. Each of the different projects are football-themed and include modules such as 'Football Commentary', 'Player Profiles', 'Player of the Year' and 'Football Coaching'.
Each project takes a full half-term to complete with each group working collaboratively to complete the project brief across six weekly sessions. Every project finishes with students presenting their completed projects to a real-life, external audience, whether at FBB's set-piece events, at the offices of FBB's corporate partners or to their teachers and parents.
While each of the projects has a football theme, all learning objectives are focused on the development of the literacy skills which these students will need to achieve in their GCSEs.
Our offer to schools is simple: by putting a young person's passion for football at the heart of their education, we will develop students whose attitude to learning and behaviour for learning is significantly improved.
The reasons why boys struggle at school are complex. However, we believe there is potential for football to have a significant role in addressing this issue.
You can find out more at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZyInyXecVc
Jack Reynolds is Head of Operations at Football Beyond Borders