Speech patterns and educational achievement

restricted and elaborated speech codes explain social class differences in achievement.

Speech and language are important aspects of communication and a child’s ability to learn is related to their ability to communicate effectively with adults and other children.

A child with more developed speech and language skills can learn faster than those with less developed skills, and thus will have better educational achievement.

Moreover a child’s ability at language (in English Language key stage tests, for example) is in fact a measure of their level of educational achievement, so in one respect, a child’s ability to communicate (at least in formal tests) is the same as their level of educational attainment!

This post summarises and evaluates Basil Bernstein’s work on speech patterns.

Speech patterns

Basil Bernstein (1) developed the theory that there are two different types of speech patterns, or speech codes: the restricted code and the elaborated code, the later having a wider vocabulary and more complex grammatical structures than the former.

He theorised that the working classes were largely limited to speaking in the restricted code, while the middle classes used both the elaborate and restricted codes, and that the limited use of the restricted code by working class children explained their relative underachievement in education compared to middle class children.

A comparison of the restricted and elaborated speech code

The restricted speech code

Bernstein stated that restricted speech codes are characterised by ‘short, grammatically simple, often unfinished sentences’.

This code has limited use of adjectives or adverbs and meanings are often conveyed by gesture and voice intonation.

The restricted code tends to operate in terms of particularistic meanings – it is usually linked to a specific context and utterances only make sense to people in that immediate context.

It is a sort of short hand between close friends or partners that have a shared understanding of a social situation such that there is no need to spell out meanings in any great detail.

The elaborated speech code

Elaborated speech code has a wider vocabulary and uses more complex grammatical structures than the restricted code.

It provides more in-depth explanations of meanings than the restricted speech code does and thus operates in terms of universalistic meanings: listeners do not need to be embedded in a specific context to fully understand what is being communicated.

To illustrate the difference between the two speech codes consider a cartoon strip of four pictures:

  1. Some boys playing football
  2. The ball breaking a window
  3. A woman looking out of the window and a man shaking his fist
  4. The boys running away.

A middle class child speaking the elaborated code would be able to describe the pictures in such a way that you wouldn’t need the pictures to fully understand the story, everything would be explained in detail. The explanation here would be free of the context, universal!

A working class child speaking the restricted code would refer to the pictures so that you would need to see the pictures to understand the story. The explanation here would remain dependent on the context.

Speech patterns and educational attainment

Formal education is conducted in the elaborated speech code, so working class kids are automatically at a disadvantage compared to middle class kids.

The elaborated code is necessary to make generalizations and to be able to understand higher order concepts.

Bernstein found that middle class children were much more able to classify things such as food into higher order categories such as vegetables, or meats, for example. Working class kids were more likely to classify them according to personal experiences such as ‘things mum cooks for me’.

Evaluations of Bernstein

His concept of social class is too vague. Sometimes he refers to the working class, others he talks about the lower working class. He also puts all non-manual workers into ‘middle class’ thus ignoring variation between the middle classes.

Bernstein also provides only limited examples of the two types of speech code. He does not make a convincing case that either of them actually exist in reality!

Labov (1973) criticized Bernstein for alluding to the elaborated code being superior, whereas in reality working class and middle class speech are just different, it is only the cultural dominance of the elaborated code in education that makes it seem superior.

Ebonics

The language of African Americans and White Americans can be very different, but it is historically Anglo-American English which is taught as standard English in schools.

Thus African American pupils in the USA have had a particularly negative experience of language in school, often experiencing school as a linguistically and culturally alienating environment.

Rather than their children feeling alienated, some activists adopted ‘Ebonics’ (the language of African Americans) as a medium of instruction, celebrating their linguistic heritage and pointing out differences with the ‘standard’ Anglo-American English.

Ebonics has highlighted the following:

  • it has indicated the extent to which language plays a role in educational success or failure.
  • It raised questions about the appropriateness of standard English in assessments.
  • It highlighted cultural tensions between several minority pupils in schools and the school curriculum.
Signposting

This topic is relevant to the sociology of education, especially the issue of social class differences in educational achievement.

Sources


(1) Bernstein (1971) Class, Codes and Control, Volume 1.

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.

Why do Males and Females Choose Different Subjects?

parental and teacher stereotypes combine to reinforce gendered subject images!

Despite gender becoming more fluid in recent decades, students continue to choose subjects aligned to stereotypical, traditional male and female gender identities.

While it is true that subject choice is becoming gradually less gendered, gender stereotypical subject choices are still apparent when we look at the statistics in the 2020s.

For example, 95% of candidates studying Health and Social Care BTEC are female while Computer Science and Engineering are dominated by males.

For a more in-depth dive into gendered subject choices at different levels of education in 2022 please see my post on gender and subject choice.

Explaining gendered differences in subject choice

There are three broad explanations for why boys and girls continue to choose gender stereotypical subjects:

  • factors external to the school such as socialisation in the family home and peer group pressure.
  • In school factors such as the gender of the teachers teaching certain subjects and gender stereotypes held by teachers.
  • Ingrained gendered subject images which is a result of home and school factors.

Socialisation and gendered subject choice

Some research suggests that the gender stereotypes of parents still influence what toys boys and girls and play with, with some parents believing that certain types of toys are only really suitable for boys and girls.

Girls being steered into playing with dolls from an early age may influence their choice to study health and social care later on as teenagers, with its focus on child care.

Similarly, boys being steered towards toy tools and trucks may result in a higher proportion of them choosing to study engineering at university.

More generally, socialisation differences may result in different levels of self-confidence for boys and girls.

The results of laboratory experiments also suggest that men are more likely to enter competitive arenas than women because of higher levels of confidence (Gneezy et al., 2003; Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007).

Colley (1998) found that peer groups often subscribe to gender stereotypes and may encourage girls to choose more traditionally feminine subjects at GCSE and vice-versa for boys.

Teacher Labelling and gendered subject choice

Traditional beliefs about masculinity and femininity may still be held by teachers, lecturers and careers advisors, especially in mixed schools.

Some contemporary sociological research suggests that teachers’ gender stereotypes result in girls being less likely to choose STEM-related choices within high school and beyond ((Lavy and Sand, 2018; Lavy and Meglokonomou, 2019; Terrier, 2020).

There is a gender divide based on the subjects taught by men. Male teachers are more likely to specialise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and PE, whereas women are more likely to teach humanities and languages. A lack of educational role models in STEM and PE can put some girls off taking these subjects. The effect is particularly visible among teenage girls who feel that male PE teachers cannot understand their needs properly (Gender Trust).

The fact that subjects in secondary schools such as English are more likely to be taught by women, and girls may feel more drawn to such subjects because they prefer the discursive style of female teachers. Similarly, subjects which boys are more likely to choose at GCSE and A-level, such as computing and physics, are more likely to be taught my males lower down in secondary schools, and boys might be more drawn to these subjects because of the more matter of fact way they are taught by male teachers.

Colley (1998) notes that girls in single-sex schools are twice as likely to study maths at university. This could be because the cultural pressures to not study maths are less likely to exist in single sex schools

Gendered Subject Images

The combination of external and internal factors above results in subjects becoming gendered: they develop an identity as essentially male or female.

This makes it harder for boys to choose ‘female’ subjects and girls to choose ‘male’ subjects.

Colley believes that the gender-identity of subjects may well shift with curriculum changes. For example the introduction of more technology into music is correlated with more boys choosing to study it.

Conclusions: Why do gendered differences in subject choice persist…?

Boys are more likely to choose traditionally male subjects and vice versa for girls as a combination of home and school factors such as gender stereotyping held by parents and teachers, which affects boys and girls self-concepts which are in turn reinforced by peers.

In a review of the literature Skelton et al (2007) noted that ‘gender stereotyping’ and ‘differential constructions of gender among pupils and teachers’ are probably the most significant factors in explaining gendered differences in subject choice.

It is very difficult to pinpoint one main causal variable for gendered differences in subject choice, the reasons are due to a multitude of factors.

Signposting

This material has been written primarily for students studying the education option as part of their A-level in sociology.

Free School Meals for All London Pupils

All primary pupils in London schools are going to get Free School Meals from September 2023 according to an announcement from the Mayor of London on Monday.

This new policy will cost £130 million, save the average family £440 a year and benefit around 270 000 children.

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme (20/02/2023) Henry Dimbleby, former head of the government’s national food strategy, explained the benefits of universal free school meals and the ideological barriers which have prevented this policy being enacted at a national level.

Trials had been done under the Labour government way back in 2013 in some local authorities including Newham, Durham and Islington which revealed that providing universal free school meals to all pupils significantly improved the academic performance of children who had previously been on free school meals, but the the performance of ALL children improved.

Those who had previously been on free school meals saw the most academic improvement, one theory for this change being that when ALL pupils can access free school meals it changes the culture of the school, removing the stigma of poverty at mealtimes and thus makes poorer students feel more included.

What about the rich kids who don’t need free school meals?

All children already benefit from free education which includes access a whole range of other material resources such as text books, so adding on free school meals isn’t that big a deal!

There is also evidence that all children benefit from this policy and it closes the inequality gap: A more recent study from Sweden showed that the introduction of universal free school meals improved the lifetime income of poorer students by 6% and the richest people’s only rose by 2%

The biggest drag on our economy is long term sickness, and the biggest cause of this is poor diet.

Why don’t we have free school meals in England?

According to Henry Dimbleby the current Tory government are ideologically opposed to universal benefits and this is the main reason we do not have free school meals for every child in England and Wales.

Both Nick Clegg and Michael Gove were in favour of universal free school meals when we had a coalition government, but since then neoliberal ideology means the government isn’t prepared to find the money to care for the poorest children in society.

Signposting

This material is relevant to the compulsory education aspect of the AQA’s first year of A-level sociology.

It is especially relevant to the topic of social class differences and education, as universal free school meals seem to be one of the most effective policies which can reducing the effects of material deprivation on educational achievement.

It is also a reminder of the continued harms of neoliberal education policy.

Sources/ Find out More

The Guardian (20/02/2023) London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year.

Gender and Subject Choice

The most female dominated subjects are performing arts, health and social care and sociology, the most male dominated subjects are computer science and I.T., construction and engineering.

Subject choice in post-16 education remains heavily influenced by gender in 2022.

If we look at the total numbers of students taking A-level and BTEC subjects we find that girls and young women are still more likely to choose subjects which conform to the norms and roles associated with females, such as performing arts and health and social care.Boys and young men on the other hand are more likely to choose subjects which align with traditionally male gender norms and roles such as physics and computing.

However these trends are just generalisations and there are of course exceptions, and the ‘traditional gender-divide’ in subject choice has been reducing over time.

This post explores some of the differences in subject choice by gender in 2021-2022, focusing on A-levels, BTECs, higher education and apprenticeships. (I don’t look at GCSE level or below because students do not have freedom of subject choice until they pass their GCSEs and pursue post-16 education.

  1. Computer Science: 80% of pupils are male
  2. Physics: 75% male
  3. Further Mathematics: 65% male
  4. Design and Technology: 64% male
  5. Economics: 63% male.

The most female dominated subjects at A-level are:

  1. Performing arts: 90% of students are female
  2. English Literature: 78% female
  3. Sociology: 77% female
  4. Art and Design subjections: 75% female
  5. Psychology: 74% female
  6. Spanish and French: 74% female.

Most other subjects have a much more equal gender balance, so are best characterised as gender neutral.

Gender and Subject Choice at BTEC

Subject choices at BTEC also remain heavily gendered in some subjects. For example:

    • 90% of students choosing health and social care are female.
    • 85% of students choosing Information Technology are male.
    • 75% of students choosing Sport BTEC are male.

Business BTEC is more gender neutral with nearer a 60-40 split in favour of males and Applied Science is the most gender neutral subject with almost equal numbers of male and female students in 2022.

The gender divide continues into Higher Education, once again with subjects broadly divided along stereotypical gender lines:

The top five degree subjects for females are:

  • Subjects allied to medicine
  • Social Sciences and psychology
  • Veterinary sciences
  • Education and Teaching
  • Design and Creative and Performing Arts.

    Five subjects where there are more males studying them than females are:

  • Engineering and Technology
  • Computing
  • Architecture
  • Physical Sciences
  • Mathematical Sciences.

Gender and Apprenticeships

The traditional gender divide is somewhat apparent when it comes to the types of apprenticeship men and women choose, but it less dramatic than with subject choices at A-Level, BTEC and University.

    Females dominate in health and social care and education apprenticeships. Males dominate in construction, manufacturing and transportation. But many apprenticeships are gender neutral such as retail and public administration.

Signposting

This material is relevant to the gender and subject choice topic within the Education topic of A-level Sociology

You might also like to read this post on why males and females choose different subjects in education.

Sources

Name Gender, Achievement and Subject Choice in English EducationHESA Student Enrolments by Gender Gov.uk Apprenticeship Data by enterprise and learner characteristics

PREVENT: Discriminating Against Muslims?

PREVENT discriminates against Muslims

PREVENT requires schools to monitor pupils for their potential to become radicalised into extremist views and become terrorist.

While PREVENT doesn’t specify that schools should focus mainly on preventing Muslims from becoming extremist, an increasing body of research suggests this is what happens and as a result PREVENT as a policy is discriminatory.

What is Prevent?

PREVENT was introduced in 2015 and today forms part of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy. Schools are among those institutions which are required to prevent young people from being drawn into terrorism.

The government notes that terrorism is often driven by extremist beliefs and for the sake of prevent defines extremism as:

“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” (1)

PREVENT requires Local Education Authorities to use terrorist risk profiles to assess the risk of certain students being drawn into terrorism, and where necessary take appropriate action, which might mean sharing information with other agencies such as the police themselves.

However for the most part PREVENT requires that schools teach British Values and the importance of community cohesion.

Problems with PREVENT

In 2015 the Muslim Council of Great Britain raised a number of concerns (2) that the way PREVENT was being deployed in schools was both discriminatory against Muslims and having a harmful effect on mainly Muslim children.

They noted that 60% of referrals under PREVENT had been against Muslim children, even though they only made up 5% of the population, while only 10% of referrals were for white extremists, despite the growth in far right views in Britain.

They cite a number of case studies such as:

  • A two year old with learning difficulties being referred to social services after singing an Islamic song and then saying “Allahu Akbar” spontaneously afterwards.
  • Two students were referred to Senior Leadership Team at one school for making way for a female student and lowering their gaze as she went past.
  • In one school a physics teacher referred a Muslim student to the PREVENT team because he asked how to make a bomb, he hadn’t made a similar referral for a white student who had asked the same previously.

Human Rights Watch (3) argues that the implementation of PREVENT has violated students’ right to education and freedom of expression, making many Muslim students feel as if they cannot freely discuss religious and political issues for fear of being referred to the police.

The report cites the case of one eight year old who was subjected to an interrogation by authorities because a teacher mis-identified a name in Arabic on his T-shirt.

The main problem has been relying on teachers who are not well trained enough to identify the signs of radicalisation in children. Because of lack of training and mis-interpretation, some teachers end up alienating mainly Muslim students.

PREVENT and Islamophobia

Even though the 2021 update of PREVENT guidance doesn’t specify that school policy should be specifically focused on preventing Islamic extremism (NB the 2015 original version of PREVENT did), in practice PREVENT is usually interpreted through an Islamophobic lens.

In other words, schools mainly target Muslim students with PREVENT policies.

Jerome et al (4) cite survey research which found that over half of Black and Ethnic Minority students feel stigmatised by the PREVENT policy and feel as if the policy has made the creation of an ethnically inclusive school environment more difficult.

Signposting and Related Posts

This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within the sociology of education.

Sources

(1) Gov.UK (2021) Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales.

(2) Muslim Council of Great Britain (2015) Concerns on Prevent.

(3) Human Rights Watch (2016) Preventing Education.

(4) Jerome et Al (2019) The Impact of the Prevent Duty on Schools: A Review of the Evidence.

Education Policy and Gender

How have education policies addressed gender differences in society and school?

If we take a longer term historical perspective, education policies have tended to reflect the dominant gender norms within society, and for the most part have served to disadvantage girls in relation to boys.

It wasn’t until Feminism and the 1975 sex discrimination act that research and policy started to address what was then the underachievement of girls.

And since the 1988 Education and the National Curriculum there has been more concern with boys underachievement than girls.

Historical education policies are also very traditional in terms how they deal with gender: they focus exclusively on differences between males and females. There is a serious lack of research on the experiences of LGBTQ pupils in schools and no explicit policy initiatives to improve the experience of LGBTQ pupils.

This post focuses on the history of education policies designed to address gender differences in education from the early 19th century to the 1988 Education Act.

Education and Gender in the 19th and early 20th Centuries

In the 19th Century there was a distinct division between male and female gender roles in society, with men working and women being consigned largely to domestic roles. Women also had no political power as they were not allowed to vote.

In the middle classes women were encouraged to marry at which point they effectively became their husband’s rather than their father’s property, and women were not allowed to divorce.

Education policies for the middle classes reflected these gender power differences. Public and grammar schools were for boys only where boys learned the skills required for politics and/ or work.

Middle class girls were educated at home by governesses, and their education largely consisted of learning the skills to be a lady within society.

The Education Act 1870 made state education free to all pupils irrespective of gender, but the experience of education was gendered, different for males and females, for many years to come.

Even women getting the right to vote in 1918 didn’t do much to change the heavily gendered experience of education

The Tripartite System and Comprehensives

The 1944 Education Act introduced single sex grammar schools, and this introduced a gender divide which benefitted boys because there were more boys grammar schools. Boys thus needed lower 11 plus scores than girls to get into a grammar school.

Some secondary moderns were single sex, but not all, these were more likely to mixed.

The 1965 education act saw the abolition of single sex grammar and secondary modern schools and all pupils were educated in mixed sex comprehensive schools.

However the experience of education still remained very gendered – with girls and boys having different experiences – subjects were often determined by gender stereotypes with girls being pushed into needlework and boys into metalwork, for example!

Education policies designed to address differences in achievement by gender

1970s -80s Feminist inspired research into gender inequalities in schools

From the mid 1970s Feminists started to take an interest in the differential experiences of girls and boys in education, why girls were so much less likely to do hard science subjects and maths, and the underachievement of girls.

Whyte (1975) looked at gender stereotypes in the primary curriculum, finding that the representation of men and women tended to reinforce traditional gender roles.

Sharpe (1976) looked at gender sterotypes in secondary schools and how they encouraged girls to act in feminine ways and develop lower career aspirations.

Spender (1982) researched the marginal position of girls in classrooms, suggesting this reflected their marginal roles in society.

Curriculum Changes in the 1980s

The 1980s saw a few policy initiatives to improve girls underachievement and their low numbers in science subjects.

Girls Into Science (GIST) ran from 1979 to 1983 which investigated the reasons why so few girls were going into science and technology subjects and encouraged teachers to develop strategies to get more girls doing these subjects.

Genderwatch was an initiative which encouraged teachers to monitor gender differences in schools and develop anti discriminatory practices.

The problem with these policies were that while they may have worked for some middle class girls, they were very individualistic, offered very little in the way of real guidance and also provoked a male backlash.

The backlash was partly due to the myth of girls underachievement – despite their low take up of science and maths girls did better in English and Modern Languages at O-level and got better overall O-level Grades at A-C.

Gender and the 1988 Education Act

The 1988 Education Act was not concerned with any kind of equality of educational opportunity, just pure competition.

The publication of GCSE results showed gender differences in achievement more clearly than ever, and from the late 1980s it was clear that girls were outperforming boys in most subjects.

Since the late 1980s both boys and girls have improved in education, with girls generally improving faster than boys, hence the gender policy focus in the 1990s switched to helping boys improve.

Signposting

This material is mainly relevant to the sociology of education topic.

Sources/ Find out More

This is a great historical post on boys, girls and science subjects in the 1970s and 1980s.

Transgender Education Policies in England and Wales

There is little specific formal guidance for schools and more than half trans pupils feel like they can’t be themselves in school.

85% of schools report (1) they have seen an increase in the number of pupils identifying as either trans or non-binary, that is pupils identifying as a different gender to that which they were assigned at birth.

Schools have a long, historical tradition of being organised along a simple male-female divide which does not recognise trans identities, the most obvious examples of which include:

  • gendered school uniforms
  • gendered sports teams
  • male-female toilets.
  • Some schools are even boys and girls only schools!

Such simplistic traditional gender-divisions are potentially discriminatory against the increasing number of pupils with transgender identities, and this post explores the extent to which policies in schools are adapting to this increasing diversity of gender identities.

Government Policy Guidance on Transgender Children in Schools

The House of Commons Library last published guidance on how schools should support transgender children (2).

The briefing follows the Equality Act of 2010 stating that schools must not discriminate against pupils who are undergoing gender transformation, which doesn’t have to involve physical surgery, so any student transitioning to another gender is protected by law.

However besides this there is little central laying down of rules about what schools should do to support transgender pupils.

For example schools don’t have to provide gender neutral toilets or changing rooms, and they are free to continue with a traditional male-gender divide in P.E lessons.

The uniform restrictions are the most stringent as schools need to provide flexibility to accomodate cultural diversity, so transgender pupils are already covered against discrimination here in most cases.

The Home Secretary Seems to be Transphobic

Yet another generational disconnect that doesn’t help trans pupils is the fact that the current Home Secretary, Suela Braveman (*) comes across as Transphobic.

As far as she is concerned people under 18 cannot obtain a gender recognition certificate and so schools are under no obligation to recognise or support trans children in any way at all (4)

She has explicitly stated that schools don’t have to recognise students by any name other than that assigned at birth, and that they MUST provided single sex toilets, she has also suggested that schools are obliged to out transitioning pupils to their parents if they are not aware of this going on.

(*) I deliberately misspelled her name as she clearly thinks names don’t matter.

Support for Trans Pupils in schools is lacking

The latest survey data on how supported trans pupils feel in school to feel comfortable with their own (rather than birth-assigned) gender identity is from Stonewall in 2017 (3) which found that between one third and two thirds of trans pupils don’t feel supported.

  • While 75% of trans pupils reported that they were allowed to wear a uniform which fitted in with their identity, this is almost irrelevant as an indicator of discrimination as most schools today have gender-neutral uniform options – that is girls can choose to wear trousers if they want to .
  • Most shockingly of all one third of transgender pupils reported not being to use their own name in school, which is just about the most basic aspect of one’s individual identity I can think of, which is pretty hard evidence that one third of trans pupils feel like they are being directly discriminated against.
  • Finally, the majority of trans pupils report not being able to use toilets or changing rooms or feeling comfortable with sports suited to their gender.

I can understand that schools might find it difficult to find sports options that trans pupils feel comfortable with, given that most traditional school sports are spilt along traditional gender lines, and there might be resource restrictions on offering a wider variety of gender neutral options, providing discrete changing rooms and gender neutral toilets are relatively minor changes which could be made quite easily, and clearly by 2017 most schools hadn’t made these changes.

In terms of pupils feeling they can’t use their own name, that strikes me as just an unwillingness on the part of schools to make a very easy adaptation.

However, many schools are very supportive

It’s five years on since Stonewall’s last research on this issue, and even though we have a disconnected ageist and transphobic home secretary many schools do have policies in place which do support trans pupils.

A google search for ‘trans policies in schools’ yields several policy documents from schools which show a clear willingness to put in place mechanisms to make sure trans students feel comfortable, so thankfully many schools are more inclusive than central government!

Signposting and relevance to A-level Sociology

This material is designed to update the ‘gender identity’ topic within the sociology of education.

Clearly when it comes to trans identities schools were lacking in their support for trans pupils in 2017, and central government is not at all supportive, but it will be interesting to see what future research shows on this issue in the coming years – I’m sure there will be more support in place, but we’ll have to wait for more data to know for certain!

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources

(1) Sex Matters (April 2022): Most Schools Now Have Trans-Identified Pupils

(2) Home Office Briefing (2020) Provision to Support Transgender Children in Schools

(3) Stonewall – The School Report 2017.

(4) The Week: Where Schools Stand Legally on Children’s Trans Rights.

Homeschooling in England and Wales

how many children are home educated, what are their characteristics and what are the challenges of increasing home education?

The number of children being homeschooled has more than doubled since 2015, with most of these children being between key stages 2 and 4. While the trend towards homeschooling is part of a broader process of postmodernisation in education, we still have only 1% of children being home educated in England and Wales, meaning this isn’t a significant trend.

How many children are home educated?

There has been a rapid increase in the number of parents choosing to homeschool their children in recent years in the United Kingdom.

Between 2013 to 2018 there was a 130% increase to bring the number of homeschooled children to just over 57 000 by 2018. (1)

In 2019 another survey found that there were 60,544 registered home educated children in England. This is an increase of around 15% compared to 2018 (2)

However, with a total of 9 million children in school this is less than 1% of children who are being home-educated.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) produced a more
recent estimate of around 81,200 registered home educated children in
England as of October 2021. This was based on survey responses from 124 out of 152 LAs and so may not be representative.

The ADCS further estimated that around 115,500 pupils in England were known to be home educated at some point during the academic year 2020/21.

Taken together the above data suggest that the number of homeschooled children in England and Wales is increasing, but we need to be cautious with recent numbers as the pandemic may have skewed recent data upwards. Also, Homeschooling maybe a temporary status for some of these children, rather than them being homeschooled for their entire school career.

(1) Oxford Homeschooling: The Growth of Homeschooling

(2) House of Commons Library: Homeschooling in England

(3) Education Otherwise

What kinds of children are home educated

The Department for Education does not routinely collect data on all the characteristics of home educated children but we do know that 0.9% of home educated children have EHC plans, meaning they have a formal statement of special educational needs.

We also have data by age in 2020 which shows us that most home educated children are between key stages 2-4.

  • 1.3% of home educated pupils are early years
  • 10% are key stage 1
  • 28% are key stage 2
  • 30% are key stage 3
  • 27% are key stage 4
  • Only 3% are key stage 5.

So this suggests there is a pattern of parents pulling children out of education at key stage two and then home educated kids going back in to formal education by key stage 5.

There are no available data on gender, ethnicity or sexuality, or social class, but for later I think it’s reasonably safe to guess that we are talking about mainly middle class parents doing the home education given that they are the ones who are going to have the material and cultural capital to home educate.

Why do parents choose to home-educate?

According to a 2021 House of Commons Research briefing (2) in which parents were asked to state the top three reasons for home schooling, the main reasons parents in England and Wales opt for home schooling are:

  1. Covid related concerns
  2. Philosophical or lifestyle choice
  3. Physical and mental health
  4. No reason provided
  5. Disatisfaction with the school
  6. Did not get school preference
  7. Other reasons such as bullying, avoiding exclusion, but both of these are less than 1% of choices.

So if we discount the recent Pandemic, the two stand-out reasons are philosophical or lifestyle choices and the mental and physical health of the the child.

I’m not sure if ‘religious or cultural belief’s comes under the philosophical statement above, but that’s also a commonly stated reason on most home-education web sites.

What’s interesting about this is that these are pro-active choices, rather than re-active choices – in general parents are home educating because of their deeply held values or for the health benefit of their children rather than reacting to what they perceive as sub-standard schools.

What are the challenges of home education?

While it is every parents right to educate their children as they see fit, there is a risk that children who are home educated are going to receive a lower standard of education than their school educated peers and achieve lower exam results, but of course that all depends on the quality of schools available in the local areas.

An increase in home education could mean a more fragmented society as there will be more diversity of education, but as long as parents are encouraging their children to be reasonable and responsible human beings this shouldn’t be a problem.

Home educated children may also miss out on broader socialisation into friendship groups, but if the kind of children being home educated aren’t interested in this then I guess this is a net gain.

To my mind one of the biggest problems is inequality of opportunity – home education is really only available with the middle classes who have the resources to do this – if you’re a lower income family where both partners have to work full time home-ed just wouldn’t be an option!

This recent blog post by Schools Week suggests there has been a move towards parents pulling children out of school to avoid fines for poor attendance, and a move away from religious or cultural/ ideological motivations.

This could mean more low quality home education with schools left to fill in the gaps of anything the children miss out on.

Home Education – Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This material is mainly relevant to the education aspect of the A-level sociology course.

Home-ed is part of the postmodernisation of education, but TBH it is such a minor trend it is socially insignificant at time of writing, but interesting to observe nonetheless!

All pupils to study maths until 18…?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of making all students study maths until they are 18?

Rishi Sunak wants every student in the U.K. to study maths up until the age of 18 (1)

In his first speech of 2023 Sunak stated that he wants people to better equipped with numeracy skills so that they are better equipped to deal with an increasingly data-driven society and to manage their personal finances.

A further argument for making some kind of maths or numeracy lessons compulsory until 18 is that doing so should make British students more competitive internationally: many other countries which are higher up the PISA league tables do so, such as Finland and Canada.

Approximately half of 16-18 year olds currently do maths or science subjects at A-level, but most of these are those who achieved lower than a C grade at GCSE and are forced to resit their GCSE.

Only a minority of students who get C and above in maths go on to do a maths related subject at A-level, there are currently at least 400 000 16-18 year olds in Further Education institutions who are qualified to maths or science subjects but aren’t doing them, having opted for humanities subjects instead (20)

The speech was thin on details but the government has ruled out making A-level maths compulsory at 16-18 and has suggested that developing some innovate approaches to teaching numeracy post-16 will probably be required.

Increasing Maths Teaching: Supply and Demand Challenges…

On the supply side, the government is currently 5000 maths teachers short of its recruitment target.

A brief look at the statistics illustrates this: there were only 35 771 Maths teachers in state secondary schools in 2021, compared to 39 000 English teachers, with one in eight maths lessons being taught routinely by a non-specialist.

It seems unlikely that the government is going to be able to recruit more maths teachers given the 24% real terms pay cut teachers have been subjected to since 2010 and the current below inflation 5% pay increase being offered by the government for 2023.

And jobs in teaching are going to be especially unattractive for maths and science graduates, given that maths and science degrees tend to be gateways to higher paying careers.

A related supply problem is that sixth form colleges have seen drastic real terms funding cuts compared to other sixth form providers in recent years, being 20% underfunded in comparison, so these probably don’t have the funds to boost 16-18 math provision effectively.

On the demand side there is the problem that most students simply do not want to do maths related subjects beyond the age 16, and forcing all students to spend an hour or two a week studying a subject they don’t want to is a waste of resources, and so increasing maths provision could come at the expense of teaching students a broader range of subjects that they think will actually be of use to them.

There are a whole load of other subjects students could be usefully taught besides maths, such as critical thinking, political issues and debating contemporary news items civilly, for example.

And besides this A-level maths is actually the most popular subject already, with entries having increased from 83 000 in 2018-19 to almost 89 000 in 2020/ 2021. (3)

Finally, forcing 16-18 year olds to do maths won’t help the 8 million adults in the UK who only have primary levels of numeracy.

Signposting

This post is most relevant to the sociology of education, especially education policies.

Sources

(1) BBC News (January 2023) Rishi Sunak Wants All Pupils to Study Maths Until Age 18.

(2) The Guardian (January 2023) Multiplication of Teachers and Funds Needed for Sunak’s Post-16 Maths Policy.

(3) Gov Data on STEM A-level subject entries, accessed January 2023.

Learning During Lockdown

students from independent schools did 7.4 hours more schoolwork per week during lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools.

Students from higher socio-economic backgrounds had significantly more support from their schools during lockdowns compared to students from lower economic backgrounds.

This is according to the latest findings from a contemporary longitudinal study (1) being carried by the Sutton Trust which is analysing the short and longterm consequences of the disruption suffered by students during the Covid lockdowns.

Social class differences in learning during lockdowns

Better of schools (in terms of FSM provision) were able to adapt much more quickly during Lockdown one to minimise disruption to student learning compared the most deprived schools.

Students attending independent schools (compared to state grammar and state comprehensive) and students attending the least deprived schools by FSM provision were more likely to receive online lessons during lockdowns; more likely to get more frequent online lessons; had more access to teachers outside of lessons; and suffered fewer barriers to learning such as lack of access to laptops at home.

By lockdown three the support offered to students by the more deprived schools had caught up with that of the least deprived schools, but significant differences remained.

For example, by lockdown three:

  • Students from the least deprived schools were doing 2.9 hours more schoolwork per week than students from the most deprived schools.
  • 71% of students from the least deprived schools reported having 3 or more online lessons per week compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived schools.
  • Only 6% of pupils from higher managerial backgrounds reported only having a mobile device (rather than a computer) to access learning compared to 14% of pupils from routine/ manual/ non-working backgrounds.  

Teacher contact during lockdowns

73% of students from independent schools reported having contact with teachers outside of lessons at least once a week during the first lockdown compared to only 43% of students from comprehensive schools. This gap had narrowed by the third lockdown with 77% of students from Independent schools and 52% of students from comprehensive schools reporting teacher contact.

Students from the most deprived quintile reported more teacher contact than those from the least deprived during the first lockdown and there was almost no reported variation during the third lockdown.

Hours of schoolwork during Lockdowns

Students from independent schools did almost twice as many hours schoolwork per week during the first lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools. The gap was narrower during the third lockdown with independent school students reporting 23.7 hours per week compared to 16.3 hours per week for comprehensive school children.

Pupils from the least deprived quintile did 3.2 hours more schoolwork per week during the first lockdown than pupils from the most deprived quintile and 2.9 hours more during the third lockdown.

Provision of online lessons during lockdowns

During the first lockdown 94% of independent schools provided online lessons compared to only 64% of state comprehensive schools. By the third lockdown state comprehensives had caught of a lot but there was still a large difference with 96% of independent schools providing online lessons compared to 87% of comprehensive schools.

By the third lockdown 95% of the least deprived schools (by FSM provision) were providing online learning compared to only 80% of the most deprived schools.

The above differences are significant but if we look at the amount of online learning which took place (immediately below) we find that independent schools and the least deprived schools were much more likely to provide MORE online classes…

How many online classes during lockdowns?

84% of pupils at Independent schools reported having more than three online lessons per day during the first lockdown, compared to only 33% of students from state comprehensive schools. The figures were 93% compared to 59% respectively during the third lockdown.

71% of students from the least deprived quintile reported having access to three or more online lessons a day during lockdown three compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived quintile.

NB this basically means that students attending the more deprived schools were more likely to get very little in the way of online learning, just one or two lessons a day, while students attending the better off schools were more likely to get three or more lessons, closer to a regular school day.

Barriers to learning during lockdowns by social class

Students faced several barriers to learning during lockdowns including:

  • Minimal provision of online lessons or, in some cases, no online lessons.
  • Internet connectivity problems.
  • Inability to access teachers during the lockdown periods.
  • Lack of access to desktop or laptop computers and having to rely on mobile devices.
  • Having to share a device with siblings.
  • A small percentage of students didn’t have any devices to access online learning
  • Lack of a quiet study space.
  • Parents who lacked the confidence to help students with learning during lockdowns

Students from lower social class backgrounds were more likely to suffer barriers to learning during lockdowns compared to students from higher social backgrounds.

For example 34% of students from higher and professional managerial backgrounds reported infrequent teacher contact during lockdowns compared to 39% of students from routine/ manual/ never worked backgrounds. The figures for having to share a device were 9% and 15% respectively for these two social classes.

Pupils without a device during lockdowns

Only 2% of pupils from independent schools reported not having access to a suitable device by lockdown three compared to 11% of pupils from state comprehensives.

5% of pupils from the least deprived backgrounds reported no access to a suitable device during lockdown three compared to 19% from the least deprived quintile.

Conclusions and policy implications…

15-18 year olds doing GCSEs and A-levels suffered just as much learning loss as younger students, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds suffered proportionately more learning loss. Thus the pupil premium should be extended and paid out for 16-19 year olds for a couple of years. ATM Pupil Premium ends with year 11 students.  

By lockdown three 30% of all year 11s who needed a laptop had received one, which was significant. However, HALF of all students who lacked a laptop or didn’t have access to one during the pandemic still haven’t received one.

Sources

Cullinane, C., Anders, J., De Gennaro, A., Early, E., Holt-White, E., Montacute, R., Shao, X., & Yarde, J. (2022). Wave 1 Initial Findings – Lockdown Learning. COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study  Briefing No. 1. London: UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities & Sutton Trust. Available at: https://cosmostudy.uk/publications/lockdown-learning