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Funding cuts hurting Islington primary school children

Lack of money ‘the biggest issue’ in under-performing pupils

19 October, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Alex Pascall: ‘The money factor is huge, there needs to be more funding in schools. Also, we need ways for parents to be more involved in their child’s education’

SCHOOLS need more funding to help under-performing primary school pupils, it has been warned, after a report revealed that children from black Caribbean and low-income white British families in Islington are falling behind their peers.

Teachers and community leaders have also said the curriculum and pressure for schools to perform well in Key Stage 2 exams has also had an impact.

A report due to be considered by councillors last night (Thursday) said that although the results for all pupils in the borough had risen slightly in the last year, the gap between black Caribbean youngsters and the Islington average had widened.

Provisional results from the Year 6 exams show the proportion of these pupils achieving the expected standard across the three key subjects – reading, writing and maths – fell from 50 per cent to 48 per cent this year, compared to a 68 per cent average across the borough.

Caribbean-born broadcaster Alex Pascall OBE has called for a conference with parents, the council and schools to discuss the issue.

Colin Adams

Mr Pascall, who lives in Crouch Hill, said: “A conference on the matter would really help get an understanding of what’s happening especially because of a vast change in communities over the years in Islington.

“The money factor is huge, there needs to be more funding in schools. Also, we need ways for parents to be more involved in their child’s education.”

One teacher, from an Islington primary school who did not wish to be named, told the Tribune that “communities that are hard-hit by racism often do not do well in tests designed” for a “middle-class paradigm”.

“The reading texts for the KS2 assessment in the last couple of years were about as far away from the life experiences of a child on the Hollo­way Road as you could get. We have a curricu­lum designed to fit chil­dren to that paradigm. It can’t be a surprise when some of them don’t.”

The gap between poorer white British pupils and their peers has narrowed slightly from 20 percentage points in 2017 to 19 points this year and the proportion of students meeting standards rose from 46 per cent to 49 per cent.

Joe Calouri, the Town Hall education chief, said: “There’s problems with both groups and it has knock-on ramifica­tions further on in the lives on those young people. It’s a key performance indicator for us to close that gap [for black Caribbean pupils] and we are just not doing it. It really needs a lot of focus over the next few years.

“The government need to fund schools in inner city areas appropriately so they can work with a range of pupils from really wealthy privileged backgrounds through to those who experience poverty, deprivation, overcrowding and discrimination.”

Cllr Joe Calouri

Isabel Roberts, a Year 6 teacher at “outstanding” rated Ambler Primary School, in Blackstock Road, said they are addressing gaps by directing extra provision at the groups, including through extra tutoring, after-school clubs and parent workshops.

“A general lack of funding is the biggest issue because with all these things, we have so much need in different places in school, whether it’s special needs or many different things, and there’s no specific funding that goes on projects like this,” Ms Roberts said.

About the curriculum she said there was an important but “heavy focus” on literacy but added: “Having said that there’s a lot of focus with the pressure of SATs that the children are learning for these statutory tests whereas the emphasis on being a well-rounded child or learning life skills has taken a back seat because the SATs are everything.”

The pupil premium, introduced for pupils that qualify for free school meals by the coalition government in 2011, has contributed to covering some extra measures, she said.

Colin Adams, who worked in the equalities and diversity unit of the Department for Education for 25 years and now manages Brickworks Community Centre in Crouch Hill, said he believes schools are under so much pressure to do well in SATs league tables, they cannot always focus on pupils falling behind.

He added: “I also think there are other factors to take in, like those outside of the school’s control that may be impacting on children’s performance. I think the council are do­ing a great job under the pressure they are under.”

The council has set up a “working group” to assist schools where black Caribbean pupils consistently under­perform.

The Department for Education did not respond at the time of going to press.

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