Today’s focus in our lectures at BCU was all about education, specifically the areas of special education! Although I am very far from an education major, I found the information that we received to be quite interesting, and even spark some questions of my own into our research.
Our day began with a lecture by Elizabeth Titley, who provided us with an introduction to the British education system. We learned that children first enter primary school at age 5, then transition into secondary school at age 11. This was quite similar to elementary and middle school in the United States. At each important stage of life, important assessments are given, such as a baseline assessment at age 5, a phonics test, and various Statutory Assessment Tests (SATs). By age 16, students take their GCSEs, which if passed permit them to leave school. What I found most interesting was the clause that states that students must still pursue some form of education until the age of 18 if they leave, meaning that they could take up an apprenticeship or part time study along with their work. This form of flexibility is extremely freeing, especially for students who are lower income and eager to enter the workforce earlier. I like that there are multiple ways to achieve an education, versus the States where you must receive a GED to pursue an education. An academic plan like this is such a great way to help reduce educational inequality and better the education of the future workforce.
The National Curriculum was introduced in 1988, which created a set outline for what subjects should be taught and at what time. Doing this attempted to increase equality so that all students could achieve the same education. In comparison to the United States, I thought that this was a great idea! In college, I remember having so many conversations with my peers where we spoke about all the different things we learned in high school, and how different everyone’s quality of education was, despite being expected to pass the same common core benchmarks. When we visited Stratford, I had noted that I had only ever read one piece by Shakespeare, while others had read many and could even quote him. By creating a nation wide plan, students who move around won’t be displaced or lost in the curriculum, and helps to lower discrepancies, even though there still may be issues in the effectiveness of the information being taught.
When looking at the infographic, we could see that there were some key identifiable issues and statistics within education. The performance gaps on age 11 SATs by students receiving free lunches and those on SEN plan was staggering, and a focal point that officials continue to tackle to this day.
After our morning lecture, we spent the evening focused on special education. Jess White came into the classroom to talk about how the SEND program worked. The program was created to help children with learning difficulties and disabilities. In a quick overview, students who were identified as struggling in the classroom need a referral, and are observed for at least two terms to identify what provisions they may need in a classroom. Then they are assessed and an individualized Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) is created for them, which will contain any accommodations that they may need. In comparison to the US’ 60 day requirement, it was shocking to me that students were often left waiting a year or more for a diagnosis, left to make their own accommodations in school while waiting.
As my group’s research was focused on immigrants, and since there are no metrics that measure the performance of immigrants or use immigrants as a focal group, we looked at children classified as EAL, English as an additional language. Vina explained that children’s baseline tests were meant to be assessed in their first language, whatever that may be. Sometimes in the system, this data is skewed due to disparities in understanding. The system does have a slight bias towards English, and although places with linguistic diversity may have better understanding, areas that are predominantly English do not have these provisions. This can cause some students to appear to have cognitive disabilities, which can result in unnecessary referrals and delay the process for those that truly need it.
When speaking with Jo Gibbs, she also highlighted something that I had not really thought of before. While racial health disparities and systemic racism in education are still major harmful occurrences in Britain, there are many more problems focused around class than race, in comparison to the US focus on race rather than class. She worked in Stockport, an area 92% white, and found that the most exclusions and underperformance came from white working class boys. This identifies that there is an issue with lower economic status and educational performance, and teams such as Jo’s are working to combat it daily.
Overall, my largest observation is about Britain’s structure of their systems. Education, healthcare, and social work are so much more interconnected and all work together to create large impacts on their communities. The US is so disjointed in their approach and I really hope that they can take a page out of Britain’s book one day.