Does Culture Change Start In Schools?

Does culture change start in schools? There’s a very short answer to this: No. Culture change starts in the home. It’s the culture and values of someone’s family that creates change. That said, schools have a significant role to play.

Schools are the first big institution most of us have contact with. It’s the place where most of us are introduced to influences our parents have no control over (especially secondary school). They are in a very good position to drive culture change and make it more inclusive.

My experience versus my children’s

Before I look at the data that’s available on this subject, I have noticed some significant changes between my experience at school and the experience of my children. My kids, for instance, think nothing of having wheelchair users in their classes. There are lifts and ramps in schools and children with physical or educational needs get the support of teaching assistants.

This simply didn’t happen when I was at school. Anyone with special educational or physical needs would have been packed off to a specialist school.

I can also still remember the day my eldest child came back from school one evening and started moving her hands rhythmically in front of my wife and I. After a few moments I realised she was doing Makaton sign language. The very basics of which are taught in most English primary schools for the first year or two (and a great shame it isn’t taught for longer).

Ethnic and cultural diversity in schools

The other big difference between my education and my kids’ is that I attended schools in rural areas. My children, meanwhile, go to schools within the orbit of London. While predominantly an ethnically white area that we live in, it is much more ethnically diverse than the area where I grew up. My children’s classmates and friendship groups also reflect this.

There simply weren’t the opportunities to mingle and learn from people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds when I was growing up (A few people from the USA, maybe one or two from France but that was it). I received a crash course in multi-culturalism when I was 16 and spent a summer working in a hotel in central Paris. What a crash course it was: I was a teenage country boy having my first ‘big city’ experience hundreds of miles away from my parents in a different country. (There are many other blog posts I could write about this experience, the majority of which are not suitable for Find Your Flex)!

Speaking from personal experience, yes, individuals who attend inner city schools and suburban schools probably will have a more organic view of how diverse society is. What, however, does the data say?

I tried to find out, but the data simply doesn’t exist. I could find nothing comparing ethnic and cultural diversity within rural and urban schools. That said, the Office of National Statistics has some very interesting data on school performance (what follows applies to England only).

Looking at the data

Based on data from 2017/18, 67.3% of rural school children left school with English and Maths GCSE at grade 9-4. The figure for urban schoolchildren was 64%.

In a strange twist, 22% of urban secondary schools are rated as outstanding by Ofsted, versus 18% of rural schools. That said, 26% or urban schools were either deemed inadequate or requiring improvement compared to just 20% of rural schools. (I say “just,” that’s one in five rural schools and just over a quarter of urban schools that need major improvement so the numbers are very worrying).

When it comes to educational attainment, individuals from ethnic minorities often perform very well. London’s schools are renowned for their GCSE success. White British pupils make up 34% of London’s school children. This compares to 84% in the rest of England. Data from a study carried out by Bristol University found London’s pupils outperformed their English peers by eight GCSE points on average. The very same study said the diverse ethnic make-up of London’s schools may explain their success.

What can really have an impact on educational performance is social deprivation. In the most deprived urban areas, 49.1% of schoolchildren will obtain GCSE maths and English at grades 9-4. While for rural areas, the figure is 46.6%. In the wealthiest urban areas, 81.9% of children attain maths and English at grades 9-4 while the figure in rural areas is 80%.

What can be done to make schools more successful and change culture?

The evidence shows some interesting patterns. Rural schools are less diverse than urban schools but they are more successful. The most successful schools of all, however, are in London and they happen to be the most ethnically diverse.

One factor will determine your school performance: Social deprivation. Your ethnicity counts for nothing if your family is deprived. It also doesn’t matter if you are a city or village dweller. If you’re deprived, you’re likely to underperform at school.

It’s the Government’s job to deal with social deprivation. Schools, meanwhile, can and should promote different cultures. This is particularly important in rural locations where students simply won’t have the opportunity to mingle with those from other backgrounds.

Author: John Adams, Find Your Flex editorial team and Founder of Dad Blog UK

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