How about a parent premium?

Following the results of a Department for Education study, I’ve no doubt that somewhere in UKIP central someone is formulating the right quotes to whip up fury over the under-achievement of working-class white kids as compared to their ethnic minority peers.

It’s classic UKIP fodder isn’t it? Perhaps they will try to lay the blame at the door of immigrants flooding our education system and taking valuable teacher time from students born and bred in the UK. Maybe they will play the left-wing conspiracy cooked up by teachers card. But you can guarantee they won’t discuss the detailed findings of the survey.

It’s not fair to simply say our schools are failing white working class kids and that there are inherent systemic problems within school. The study, rightly, places a lot of emphasis, on what parents bring to the table. As the Guardian reports:

While schools can play a role in raising attainment, the report points out that parents and family are a far more powerful influence on a child’s outcomes, with ethnic minority parents more likely than white working-class parents “to have attitudes and behaviours” that increase their child’s attainment.

The report found that parents within some disadvantaged ethnic groups were:

  • more likely to have paid for private tuition or additional schooling
  • more involved with their child’s school
  • apparently able to inspire higher aspiration within thier children

It’s far from clear why the parents of white-working class don’t exhibit these “attitudes and behaviours”, however it’s important to redress that imbalance as best we can. In the short term this means supporting under achieving white working-class kids – and I think the Liberal Democrat inspired pupil premium must be part of the answer.

Schools have been using the pupil premium – which is simply additional funding for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – in creative ways. From loaning a student a cycle, to providing a nutritionist or maths tutor, or just basic neccesities like clothes and shoes.

If aspiration is truely an issue then the pupil premuim could be used to give access to mentors for under-achieving white working-class kids. And if additional teaching is required then the premium must be targeted on giving those children that extra tuition.

But, if the DfE study is to be believe, then the pupil premium is not the whole of the answer. A longer term solution is to address the needs of the parents of under achieving kids as well. To support them to become more involved with the schools thier children attend. If, as the authore of the DfE report suggests, white working-class parents do not believe in the value of education, then they need support to understand that education is the key to so many opportunities in life.

I’m not sure what support I’m even describing here. But it can’t be patronising. And it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach because each situation is a unique set of circumstances. But as the pupil premium is awarded year on year to support specific students, then might it be possible to offer a similar parent premium, year on year, to support parents?

The government is already running something akin to the kind of thing I’m thinking of. The troubled families initiative targets the ‘hardest to help’ families with complex needs. But the parent premium, on the other hand, would target familes who are not neccesarily ‘troubled’ but whose kids consistently under-achieve.

This initiative has saved an estimated £1.2bn of taxpayer money, costing a measly £448m. If the Conservative government were serious about lifting kids out of poverty and giving them a quality education, it would take the money being saved through this initiative and spend it on families that don’t cause trouble, but who need a helping hand to get the best out of education.

I’m not saying give parents a wodge of cash and leave them to it. But parents have aspirations of their own. Perhaps they want to buy a PC and internet connection but can’t afford it. Perhaps they want to be trained in a particular skill but can’t afford the course, or child care for when the course is being run. I don’t know, but I do know that if the government can reach in and apparently turn around the lives of thousands of familes with huge social problems, then they can sure as hell do the same for everyday familes who cause no trouble and who just get on with life.


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