The power of positive thinking
Or, alternatively, the lack of it when the press get hold of reports which analyse the performance of schools.
When we wrote three blogposts last July on the progress made by disadvantaged pupils we received calls from the press about two of them, with their questions focusing completely on the problem — low progress for disadvantaged pupils.
The blogpost which did not attract any attention from the press was the one which showed that some schools, albeit a minority, were helping disadvantaged pupils to make very good progress.
I was reminded of this when listening to George Osborne’s interview on Radio 4 this morning about the Northern Powerhouse Partnership report, and looking at the headlines in articles about the report. In all the reporting I have seen on this the focus is on the poor performance of pupils — and in particular, disadvantaged pupils — in the Northern Powerhouse area when compared to the south, especially London.
As we show here, it is the performance of minority ethnic pupils which accounts for almost all of the London difference, when it comes to how disadvantaged pupils do. For white pupils, the issues are systemic rather than geographical.
In every region there are some schools which are enabling disadvantaged pupils to make very good progress. We reported on two such schools here. Interestingly, both schools are in Sheffield and, therefore, in the Northern Powerhouse area.
If I didn’t know any better I might conclude — after reading headlines such as those referred to above — that schools in the Northern Powerhouse area are all failing their disadvantaged pupils and that they need to learn from others outside their area.
What, however, might the reaction be if the press made more of an effort to publicise some success stories. Might it have been something like “Yes, there are major issues, but some schools are bucking the trend and the solutions might lie closer to home than we think”?
I’m not arguing for the press to report only good news — but balancing broad and negative generalisations with a bit of positive reporting might lead to genuine improvement rather than frustration among those working in schools.
Mike Treadaway is an associate research fellow at Education Datalab.