A group of schools also emerged from our research that perform well on a number of measures, but have had persistent attainment gaps that are significantly larger than the national average. These schools have many strengths, such as a highly academic ethos, flourishing sixth forms, and good reputations locally. They also have high proportions of students from both affluent areas and the most deprived areas of the local neighbourhood. Often these two groups are quite distinct in terms of where they live or their ethnic backgrounds and we followed one school leader in calling them “two-in-one” schools.
Two-in-one schools are more likely than other schools to focus strongly on cultural capital through, for example, offering extra-curricular activities or and engaging extensively with local communities. It may be that this benefits students from higher-income families more than their less affluent peers, which then has a knock-on negative effect on progress data. To show how some of these challenges can be overcome, we include here an account of a school that is successfully engaging its local communities to support students of Somali heritage in particular.
- For a community worker to act as a bridge between local communities and a school, it is vital that they understand in depth both the English school system and the cultural and linguistic heritage of the families they work with. Cotham has been fortunate that it was able to employ someone with the right mix of skills for this position. This seems to have been crucial to its success.
- Some parents do not find it easy to navigate the English education system. A school can do many simple things to help. These include; sharing details of revision guides and internet resources; changing times of meetings; and reducing school jargon. It is important that a school’s communications initiative need is designed around the needs of the community it serves and focuses on finding out what information parents’ need, as well as delivering that information.