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Achievement and Under -achievement: A sorry tail?. Professor Martyn Rouse [email protected] The long tail of underachievement: Some key questions. Why is there concern about underachievement? Who underachieves or gets excluded? Why does it happen? What are the consequences?

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Achievement and Under -achievement: A sorry tail?

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Achievement and under achievement a sorry tail

Achievement and Under -achievement:

A sorry tail?

Professor Martyn Rouse

[email protected]


The long tail of underachievement some key questions

The long tail of underachievement: Some key questions

  • Why is there concern about underachievement?

  • Who underachieves or gets excluded?

  • Why does it happen?

  • What are the consequences?

  • Why focus on achievement AND inclusion?

  • What is being done to close the achievement gap and to increase participation?


Why achievement and inclusion the broader context

Why achievement and inclusion? The broader context

  • International comparisons of participation and achievement for different groups of children

    • PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)

    • TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study)

    • PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study)


Why achievement and inclusion the broader context1

Why achievement and inclusion? The broader context

  • The role of schooling in achieving public and private human, economic and social development goals:

    • Social cohesion and inclusion

    • Security and safety

    • Prosperity

    • Subjective well-being

  • In the context of:

    • International competitiveness

    • Globalisation and migration

    • New patterns of employment


Why achievement and inclusion

Why achievement and inclusion?

  • Many countries have groups of children who are excluded and/or underachieve

  • This leads to long term economic and social consequences for all of us

  • The economic and social returns from education are complex….but:

    • There are clear links between poor educational outcomes, poverty and additional support needs

    • Tackling underachievement and exclusion is the right thing to do, it makes sound economic and social sense

    • This is an international movement


Who underachieves or is not included

Who underachieves or is not included?

  • In UK it’s associated with ASN/SEN (especially behaviour), class, poverty, ethnicity, language, gender, mobility and ‘looked after children’

    • See:

      • ‘More choices,more chances’

      • Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland (OECD 2007)

      • Others international studies (PISA, PIRLS)

      • UNICEF study, Children’s well-being in rich countries.


Where do we stand

Where do we stand?

  • The highest achieving pupils in the UK compare with the best in the world

  • Scotland does better than England ….BUT

  • The UK has one of the longest tails of underachievement in the developed world

  • Scotland has high levels of disengagement from education post 15

  • The UK is at the bottom of international comparisons of ‘children’s well-being’


How serious is underachievement

How serious is underachievement?


Gap between average pupils and low achievers s4 trend over ten years

Gap between average pupils and low achievers S4: trend over ten years


But how do we compare

But how do we compare?


Mean student achievement in best and worst classrooms across countries

Mean student achievement in best and worst classrooms across countries


What are the causes

What are the causes?

  • An emphasis on sorting, sifting and predicting

  • School structures

    • Streaming, banding and setting

  • Inequalities within and between schools

    • Who gets the ‘best’ teachers?

    • Who gets the ‘best’ students?

  • High poverty students/ low achieving pupils are more likely to get less experienced/less well qualified teachers

  • Resource inequality leads to an ‘opportunity gap’


Causes continued

Causes: continued

  • Competing policy initiatives

    • How are schools judged?

    • Whose achievement is valued?

    • How is achievement assessed, recorded and reported?

    • What kinds of achievement are valued?

  • School cultures and reward systems

  • High and low status work

  • Attitudes, beliefs and stigma

    • “Us and them” ……..worthy and unworthy children

  • But where do these notions come from?

    • Embedded beliefs about social class?

    • Reinforced by the media?

    • The need to classify, categorise and pathologise?

    • Beliefs about human differences?


The real culprit

The real culprit?


Some consequences of bell curve thinking

Some consequences of ‘bell curve thinking’

  • Focus on the measurable

  • Reification

  • Unwarranted status because of its elegant mathematics

  • Makes it difficult to demonstrate learning

  • Comparisons with inappropriate populations

  • Leads to beliefs about ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ people

  • Deterministic thinking about learning

  • Limits expectations

  • Associated with the notion of prediction and POTENTIAL


Consequences continued

Consequences: continued

  • Intergenerational low aspirations

    • When translated into school level expectations

  • The achievement gap leads to an educational debt across generations for certain groups

    • Think of the ways in which the annual trade gap leads to the national debt across the years

  • Used to justify streaming, tracking, ‘leveling’ and FAILURE

  • Leads to negative social, emotional and behavioural outcomes


Disciplinary climate gap between best and worst mathematics classrooms

Disciplinary climate: gap between best and worst mathematics classrooms


Why confusion about assessment

Why confusion about assessment?

  • Lack of clarity about the purposes and nature (especially ASN)

  • Beliefs about the predictive power of testing

  • No shared meanings for concepts of…….ability, aptitude, attainment, achievement, standards, and potential

  • Lack of understanding about the differences between formative, summative and ipsative assessment

  • AND between norm-referenced and criterion referenced assessment


When the rules change

When the rules change….


It s not all bad news what s been achieved with achievement and inclusion

It’s not all bad news: what’s been achieved with achievement and inclusion?

  • Real progress in some schools, BUT problems remain

  • Inclusion does NOT necessarily have a negative impact on the achievement of others

  • Some schools are inclusive AND high achieving

  • Getting it right for children who find learning difficult, brings benefits for all

  • Schools which add the greatest ’value’ often serve the most disadvantaged communities


What are they doing

What are they doing?

  • Recruiting and retaining good teachers

  • Reviewing and clarifying roles

  • Investing in support for teachers as well as students

  • Believing that all children can learn

  • Defining achievement broadly

  • Recognising that learning takes place outside school

    • Connecting with the community

  • Getting involved in collaborative research

  • Providing meaningful alternatives

  • Using the curriculum flexibly to keep pupils connected


What are they doing1

What are they doing?

  • Connecting pupils and families to the school

    • Creative arts

    • Extra curricular activities

    • Peer tutoring

    • Homework clubs

    • Learning mentors

    • Community outreach

    • Quality vocational education

  • Raising aspirations and expectations

  • Redefining additional support…the current definition:

    ‘provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children……’


Redefining additional support

Redefining additional support

  • Enhancing what is ‘generally available’ by using the principles of universal design

  • Dealing with difference from the outset

  • Recognising that inclusion is not a denial of difference

  • Not waiting for ‘failure’ before intervening

  • Developing inclusive pedagogy and systems of assessment that recognise progress

  • Focusing on learning, teaching and participation

  • Developing skills for working with other adults

    • Classroom assistants

    • Voluntary sector

    • Parents


A framework for participation

A framework for participation

  • Participation and access (being there)

  • Participation and diversity (recognition and acceptance)

  • Participation and collaboration (learning and working together)

  • Participation and achievement (recognising and celebrating progress)

    Adapted from: Black-Hawkins, K., Florian, L. & Rouse,M. (2007) Achievement and Inclusion in Schools. London: Routledge


So where do we go from here

So…where do we go from here?


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