At Whole Education’s 2019 Annual Conference, Preparing Young People For Their Futures, one session focused on the academic underachievement of white working class boys in English secondaries.
Below you can hear edited versions of the inputs from our brilliant speakers. If you’re in a hurry we’ve also collected some of the key things we learned from each input below.
David Crossley’s opening remarks (5 minutes)
David Crossley is Whole Education’s Associate Director and leads our curriculum and peer review programmes.
- We need to challenge ourselves – do we measure success as making white working class boys ‘more like us’?
- We should focus on making sure at least one adult knows every child and their potential. This will make a difference.
- Vocational education is a key opportunity – but we need to focus on the pedagogy as much as the courses, teaching it in a distinctive and engaging way.
Professor Ruth Lupton – poverty, neighbourhoods, changing labour markets and ‘values dissonance’ (10 minutes)
Ruth Lupton is an academic at the University of Manchester who works on poverty, inequality, education and neighbourhoods. She is head of the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
- Pupil premium’ label can hide the reality young people are facing (hunger, damp, cold, parental stress and anger, bereavement and housing insecurity).
- Many white working class boys will have grow up in disconnected neighbourhoods with “prominent local narratives of decline“.
- “They have aspirations – it’s a lot harder for them to see how those aspirations might be realised than it was for previous generations.” Ruth challenged the idea white working class boys lack aspiration. Changes in the youth labour market means many know there are less employment and progression opportunities.
- Ruth argues our focus on raising aspiration often has the opposite effect – creating a perception of a values dissonance between students and teaching staff, a sense teachers want to make them ‘more like them’, or even look down on them.
Dr Mary-Claire Travers – what can we learn from the positive experiences of white working-class boys who succeeded in education? (6 minutes)
Mary-Claire Travers is a researcher at the UCL Institute of Education. She wrote ‘White Working Class Boys: Teachers Matter’ based on interviews with white working class boys who ‘bucked the trend’ to find out what had helped them achieve academically.
- All the white working class boys Mary-Claire spoke to had positive experiences early in their education – someone had made them feel good about themselves.
- They stressed the importance of a teacher ‘mentor’. These hadn’t been formally assigned mentors, but adults that knew them, encouraged and believed in them.
- This helped them build positive learner identities – meaning they were resilient even when faced tough circumstances.
Jenny Williams – how can vocational education and work experience build white working-class boys’ work identities? (6 minutes)
- Powerful knowledge is a vital entitlement, especially for white working class boys – but we have to challenge the assumption we need to have done it all by 16 or 18.
- Instead, we need to support lifelong learning, so students can continue to discover the powerful knowledge they need throughout their lifes, when they need it.
- Identity formation is a key developmental task in adolescence. Developing a coherent and realistic work identity is key to making a successful transition to adulthood. Vocational learning is an important of way of supporting students to develop these work identities.
In summing up, David reflected that the main theme was the importance of meaningful relationships. If every student feels there is at least one adult in their setting who knows them, is interested in them and believes in them, that will make a difference.
— Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) February 28, 2018
This is one of the key principles of Whole Education’s Spirals of Enquiry programme. Find out more about this enquiry framework to support vulnerable groups of learners.
Leading a Whole Education at Secondary supports your WE lead to develop your curriculum around local need and context, focusing on vocational education and the vocab gap – both identified as key issues facing white working class boys.
Our 10th Annual Conference, Leading Into the Future, is taking place January 29-30th in Central London. Find out more and join the waiting list here.