"The white working class can be the most challenging [culture]," said Sidwell, during a school visit to Norwich. Speaking to the Guardian, she added: "In the inner city, where there are all sorts of cultures, it stirs the pot. "In a mono-culture, in particular seaside areas and coastal areas, they don't have the energy – they haven't come from a culture where they've got work, they think there's a more limited range of things they can aspire to. "You have to open their minds that they can go to the city, they can go abroad. You can't turn around a school without turning around a community."
Department for Education figures show that white children from low-income families performed worst at GCSEs last summer. Just over a quarter of white pupils eligible for free school meals achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths. A third of African-Caribbean children eligible for free school meals achieved that number of passes in 2010, with 45.7% for Asian children and 68.4% for ethnic Chinese children. When comparing children from more affluent homes, pupils of Chinese origin still performed best but white children were ahead of African-Caribbean children and nearly level with Asian pupils.
Sidwell made her comments on a recent visit to the Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessy, a working-class neighbourhood just outside Norwich. She was supported by the school's headteacher Rachel de Souza, who said it was vital to win a community's support. De Souza spoke of the importance of "getting the mothers to turn off the PlayStations". The school reopened as an academy last September, and this summer 62% of its pupils obtained five good GCSEs including English and maths compared with 38% last year at its predecessor, Costessy High.
The school has introduced a uniform designed on Savile Row, and innovations such as "pizza nights" when children come to after-school clubs to do homework over a takeaway. It ran maths revision days ahead of exams when teachers toured pupils' homes and escorted them into school in a minibus. GCSE attainment in London, where schools are more likely to be ethnically mixed than elsewhere, is above the national average. Dylan Wiliam, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, attributed this to investment in the capital's schools under the last government's London Challenge strategy. However, the racial mix is also a factor, he said. "In comparison to other rich world countries, London is the only capital where [pupils'] achievement is above the national average," said Wiliam "I think the evidence we have is that most immigrant families seem to have high aspirations for their children. "Because London does have a relatively high proportion of recent immigrants, the aspirations of their parents are likely to be higher."
Wiliam said that struggling schools in coastal areas were related to faded resorts with a low-income population. "I think it's resort areas, it's to do with the kind of population you have there. For many people its one of the cheapest places to live in." Sidwell, a former headteacher, was given the role of leading the intervention in failing schools in January. Her task is to nudge local authorities to ensure they have programmes in place for dealing with struggling schools and work with academy sponsors to identify schools that will become new academies. A total of 45 sponsored academies opened this month, replacing weaker schools in poorer areas of England. Eleven of the schools are in coastal areas.
An analysis of these schools' catchment areas reveals that these are predominantly in working-class, ethnically diverse areas with lower than average incomes and house prices. Asian people constitute 7.8% in the catchment area, higher than the 5.9% figure for England as a whole, with 4.9% of people hailing from African-Caribbean backgrounds, 3.1% for England. Relatively high proportions of the working adults in these communities are employed in skilled trades, customer services or factory work. Patrick Tate of CACI, a market analysis firm that researched the catchment area demography for the Guardian, said: "These academies appear to be doing what they set out to do, providing an alternative in areas that have the greatest need."
Sidwell also said pointed out 17 sponsored academies that are "not transforming fast enough". "As soon as I started looking at all the academies, [I noticed] how many weren't quite all there. That's about 40 out of 300 [sponsored academies]. Really difficult ones – 17." She added: "These are schools that have been stuck; secondaries that have been stuck for a long time and no one's found the answer. We're expecting them to find the answer in two years. Its just a case of talking it through, really finding a solution."
Sidwell said the education department's focus now is to improve primary schools: "We've got a lot of primaries in trouble, 1,400 that are not performing as we would wish, 200 that are performing really poorly, that's the big focus for us, looking at a sponsor for those. "If you start with a child when they're five, you can identify problems, identify their abilities, really work with them, carry that right through. So I'm a great advocate of the all-through schools – getting primary and secondary working together so the child doesn't have a dip." Sidwell said that the freedoms academies enjoy – which include being able to set aside the national curriculum – helped headteachers turn around a school's performance. She gave the example of a headteacher who was able to say: "I can't teach languages for a year, I've got to teach them maths – an academy can do that. "Another [non-academy] school will say – I've got to keep slogging away at French when they can't even speak English."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/23/education-chief-white-working-class-challenge Friday 23 September 2011