We must act now to close the widening educational attainment gap
By Katie Bareham, Doorstep Library Director
We must act now to close the widening educational attainment gap between rich and poorer children. UNESCO states that: “the biggest single indicator of whether a child is going to thrive at school and in work is whether or not they read for pleasure”. Which is why at Doorstep Library we focus on reading for pleasure, in the home – to allow children to experience the joy to be found in the pages of a great book and to give them the best possible opportunity in life to reach their full potential. Supporting children at home is proven to greatly improve their performance at school and enables us to help close the attainment gap.
With many children returning to school at last, it is deeply upsetting to read that the educational attainment gap between rich and poorer children has now stopped closing. It is also extremely frustrating to all those who work in the education (and periphery) sectors like Doorstep Library, who have been working so hard over the past decade to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are given the same opportunities to learn and thrive as their wealthier peers. According to a recent 2020 study by the National Foundation for Educational Research “the gap in England between some pupils and their wealthier peers widened by 46% in the school year severely disrupted by the Coronavirus lockdown.” (1.)
With so many months of face-to-face teaching missed due to the pandemic, it is vital that a return to classrooms is prioritised by the government. It is not just a case of return to class and have a quick catch up session, the impact of the lost learning time will have a long-lasting effect. Without targeted government action to close the attainment gap there is a real risk of a generation of children missing vital learning, undoing decades of progress in tackling educational inequalities. The creation of a National Tutoring scheme, to help children catch up on time out of the classroom, is welcome news, but in order to be worthwhile, it must work to ensure that the most in-need children are encouraged and supported to take part.
Doorstep Library was founded 10 years ago, with the aim of bringing a love of reading for pleasure into the homes of families living in some of the most disadvantaged areas in London. Armed with research about the many educational (and other) benefits for children who read for pleasure, regularly, in the home, and whose parents engage in reading for pleasure with them, we set up a simple, home-reading, volunteer-based programme. The aim is to give children the opportunity to step inside a story and to have access to books in the home. Since 2010 we have worked with over 1,300 children, and have set up projects in Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Lambeth. Our aims are to offer simple tools and tips for parents around reading for pleasure with their children from a young age, to give families easy access to books, and to ensure children are reading outside of the phonics, learn to read schemes.
Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, we had set out aims to work with more families across London, we are now realising that we need to implement these plans as soon as possible. The concept that charities are #nevermoreneeded is really true. Since March 2020, we have had to put a pause on our weekly home-visits and have moved to a digital offer of online story-telling, interactive reading sessions and of sending books directly out to all the children we currently “see”. We are now looking at how we can move to a blended model, incorporating some version of home-visits and book-swapping, with a programme of interactive online story sessions. In developing this new model we hope we can continue to benefit and offer additional and much-needed support to as many children as possible.
According to The Centre for Economic Performance “There are serious concerns that the pandemic will push Britain’s young people under the age of 25 – the ‘COVID generation’ – into a dark age of declining social mobility because of rising economic and educational inequalities.” – May 2020.
As the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has said:
“If the choice has to be made in a local area about whether to keep pubs or schools open, then schools must always take priority.”
For Doorstep Library our priority, as always, is to share a love of reading amongst disadvantaged children, we will do all we can to get our committed team of volunteers back to visiting families in the safest way possible, but alongside that, we will work to add to our model by reaching out to new families online. We know that our services are indeed #NeverMoreNeeded and we will continue to reach out to families and help to close the widening educational attainment gap in every way we can.
- National Foundation for Educational Research – ‘The challenges facing schools and pupils in September 2020’.