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  • Part 3: Qualitative Case Studies

    How low SES families support childrens learning in the home

    Authors: Iram Siraj-Blatchford, John Siraj-Blatchford, Brenda Taggart, Kathy Sylva,Edward Melhuish, Pam Sammons and Stephen Hunt

    The focus of our qualitative case studies is on the experience of low SES familiesfrom five ethnic groups: White U.K., Pakistani, Black Caribbean, Black African andBangladeshi. The broad objective of our analysis has been to establish how (andwhy) some poorer families in each of these communities are able to provide bettersupport for their childrens learning at home. Department for Education and Skills(DfES, 2006) evidence shows that Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black African and BlackCaribbean children are more likely to experience deprivation than White UKchildren:

    For example, 70% of Bangladeshi pupils and almost 60% of Pakistani andBlack African pupils live in the 20% most deprived postcode areas (as definedby the Index of Multiple Deprivation) compared to less than 20% of WhiteBritish pupils. (DfES, 2006, p.5).

    This part of the report begins by identifying the context of the study and providesa rationale for the loose theoretical framework that was applied in the initialstages of analysis. The EPPE project (Sylva et al., 2004) has shown that variousspecific parental activities explain (in the statistical sense) a substantial variance inattainment. On their childs entry to the EPPE study, over ninety-eight per cent ofparents were interviewed based on an 11 page interview schedule. Whencompared with child attainments, analysis of this child/parent/home dataidentified a range of indicators of disadvantage. In terms of child characteristics,for example, children tended to be disadvantaged where English was anadditional language (EAL), where they lived in large families with 3 or moresiblings or were born prematurely, or with a low birth weight (below 2500 grams).

    Although the parents SES and levels of education were also strongly relatedto child outcomes, the quality of the home learning environment (HLE) wasfound to be more important. At age 3 years and onwards strong associationswere found between poor cognitive attainment and a less stimulating HLE. Bycomparison there was only a moderate, positive association between the HLEand parents SES and qualifications (r=0.3). For example, the children of parentswho reported that they regularly taught/played with the ABC had pre-readingscores 4.5 points higher than children whose parents did not teach/play with thealphabet. This could be compared to the impact of social class where it was foundthat the difference between the lowest classification (IV and V) and highest (I) wasonly 2.4 points (Sammons et al., 2002). In other words; EPPE found that it is whatparents did that was more important than who they were (Melhuish et al., 2001).New evidence on the importance of the HLE has been included in earlier sectionsof the report.


  • As we have seen from the evidence presented in Part 1 and 2 of this report:

    The provision of positive early HLEs are still associated with children achievingmore in terms of both cognitive and social/behavioural development at age 10.

    We have found that members of some ethnic and socio-economic groupstend to provide lower HLEs. The reasons for this may be associated with bothmaterial and the less tangible aspects of poverty (e.g. related to social capital)experienced by many ethnic and socio-economic groups.

    Given the strength of the evidence for these two findings, if we are to reduceunderachievement, it would seem that there are two practical responses thatshould be considered:

    a) that efforts should be made to try to improve young childrens HLEs

    b) that schools and pre-schools should provide greater educational supportfor those children who need it.

    In preparing this report we have taken the view that ideally we should be lookingfor strategies to achieve both of these objectives in addressing the Every ChildMatters agenda. The Governments aims for Every Child Matters are for everychild, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support thatthey need to:

    Be healthy

    Stay safe

    Enjoy and achieve

    Make a positive contribution

    Achieve economic well-being

    As we shall see, these are also the aspirations that our minority ethnic andworking class parent respondents have for their own children. But the biggestquestion still remains: How are these ends to be achieved?

    Some readers may feel uncomfortable in discussing the quality of HLEs providedby some social and minority ethnic groups and we therefore felt that it wasimportant for us to acknowledge from the start that there are legitimate concernsto be addressed in this respect, perhaps especially for policy makers. Notionsof cultural deficit have been voiced in the past and it is therefore essential inour discussions of the HLEs that we shouldnt be seen to be blaming thoseexperiencing educational underachievement for their own problems. In mostacademic circles theories of cultural deficit have been rejected, thanks in mostpart to the efforts of conflict theorists who have argued that schools should domore to recognise the strengths that minority ethnic and working class childrenbring with them into school.

    Effective Pre-school and Primary Education: 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11) A longitudinal study funded by the DfES


  • But educational research concerned with parent partnership and participationremains a controversial area and a wide range of understandings of parentalpartnership and participation have been applied in educational literature andpractice. Bastiani (1987) identified conceptualisations that ranged fromcompensation (or deficit) models to those proposing a more genuineparticipation. But as Croll (2004) and others have noted, despite the rise ininterest and in the establishment of partnership initiatives over the years,professionals often continue to see parents more as problems than as equalparticipants. Pugh et al., (1987) may have been among the first to offer aparticipatory account for early childhood although Basil Bernsteins paperEducation cannot compensate for society was published in New Society in 1970.In order to clarify our position we would argue that the perspective that we takeon these issues is entirely congruent with those of Bernsteins when he wrote:

    It is an accepted educational principle that we should work with what the childcan offer; so why dont we practise it? The introduction of the child to theuniversalistic meanings of public forms of thought is not compensatoryeducation it is education (p.345).

    We need to distinguish between the principles and operations that teacherstransmit and develop in the children, and the contexts they create in order todo this. We should start knowing that the social experience the child alreadypossesses is valid and significant, and that this social experience should bereflected back to him as being valid and significant.

    But as Jones and Allebone (1998) have argued, initiatives continue to be developedthat appear to offer parents the opportunity to participate in the culture of theschool while offering no real opportunity to recognise the contribution that theirown knowledge and social background might be making to the childrenseducation. Yet:

    More recently projects have developed in which there is a more equalnotion of partnership developed between the school and the community and inwhich the richness of the home environment is recognised. (E.g. Bouchard etal., 1998; Civil, 1996; Macbeath, 1996) (Op cit, with our emphasis).

    To start where the child is, or to be child centred, is to acknowledge and valuethe childs home culture and experience. It may also involve us supporting thefamily in their development of a more positive HLE. The solution to this apparentcontradiction is to recognise that this is not an either-or situation. The parents thatwe interviewed saw no contradiction and neither did the children. The child canbe successful at school and simultaneously true to their roots and community.In fact they may ultimately be better equipped to serve their community interestsprecisely because they have achieved academic success.

    In recognition of the role played by an often quite wide range of extended familymembers in providing for the HLEs that we investigate, we have chosen to referthroughout this report to the participation of families rather than to parentsalone. We have also recognised the weakness of theoretical models that failto account for the agency of the children themselves in the construction ofHLEs (Edwards and David, 1997; Runyan, et al., 1998; Harpham et al., 2002).In conducting the study we have therefore been concerned to provide thechildrens own perspectives.

    Effective Pre-school and Primary Education: 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11) A longitudinal study funded by the DfES


  • Apart from EPPE, a number of other studies on family involvement in the earlyyears of schooling for Reading and Literacy development (see Hewison, 1988;Spreadbury, 1995), suggest that childrens educational development can beenhanced with long term positive effects. However, other researchers suggestthat some forms and patterns of parental involvement can constrain and evencontribute towards the reproduction of social inequalities (Brown, 2000).In working with parents then, this suggests that pre-school and primary staffrequire careful preparation and planning. The research also needs to be lookedat carefully and critically. In fact the literature continues to provide a range oftypologies and particularly influential among these have been the large-scale andlongitudinal studies conducted by Joyce Epstein (1987; Epstein & Dauber, 1991)in the United States. Epstein (1996) p


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