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"How can I avoid some children being written off? Well, unfortunately, even in today's schools where there's more inclusion than ever before and there's a real focus on making sure that working class kids and those from disadvantaged backgrounds don't get written off, it still happens.

Lack of Understanding

I know because I was one of them - as a teenager I was full of huge anger because I could see that others around me, things seemed to come easier to those, they have didn't have the barriers to learning, of being the eldest of eight children in the house with nowhere to work and with a mum who was working so hard that she couldn't support me in the way that I needed.

There was a lack of understanding around the challenges that I faced at home, and I also was faced with quite a lot of low expectations as a teenager as well.

I remember particularly an interview with a careers advisor who when I expressed that I’d like to be a national newspaper journalist almost laughed in my face and told me that kids that come from the estate that i was from just didn't do that.

Worrying Statistics

I left school in 1999, so some may say ‘you know things have changed since then’ but as an educator in a school I still see things like this happening now.

I think as a society and in education, we are still failing to serve the needs of every single child. Some of the statistics are quite worrying to be honest- by the time that students leave primary school, the gap between the free-school-meal children and their peers in literacy, writing and maths is huge.

By the time they get to secondary school, the most disadvantaged are an average of two years behind their learning.


The OECD did a study in 2017 which showed that particularly girls in the top 10 percent for attainment who were also in the bottom 10 for income with an average of three years behind their more well-off peers.

I was that bright, but poor kid and I'm passionate now to make sure that no child gets left behind in today's education system.

I think the most important thing we can do first of all to try and stop this, is to recognize that being working class is not a failure.

You know, we need to recognize that but this can be hard sometimes because we believe in what we're teaching that the curriculum itself has an inbuilt middle class prejudice.

Middle-Class Experiences

The whole cultural reference in the exams, particularly my subjects in English, relate to middle class experiences about theatre, about classical music, about politics current affairs, travel - all these things that are very middle class.

We need to be breaking down the barriers to learning, by helping the working class kids have similar experiences as their middle class counterparts. We need to give them the opportunity to gain the knowledge that they need to be able to understand the cultural references and exams but, don't bulldoze. It's not about forcing out working class culture.

Students have to see themselves in their work as well to really take it on board and understand it. I think also as well we need to stop promoting universities as the only success that students can have.

Of course make sure university is there for those that want to go and to enable them to visualize themselves in that kind of atmosphere as we need to be aspirational, but it isn't the only option.

A Sense of Self

As educators we need to provide more vocational opportunities, as well as academic. Encourage students to be ambitious in whatever form that actually takes, it doesn't necessarily have to be the traditional going away and doing a levels and going to university.

Most importantly for me really in making sure that no child is left behind is being able to build that sense of self, that sense of belonging.

For too long students have been told that if they don't achieve a grade four they are a failure. At the moment i'm doing a PHD and my thesis will be about children getting left behind who have to resit, resit and resit in college.

A Grade is a Pass

But to go through that kind of debilitating, humiliation of never being able to pass that exam because all they've been taught is that grade four is the be all and end all. However, any grade at GCSE is a pass whether that be a one, two or a three.

Some students will never be able to pass their English and Maths no matter how much we plough into them.

Stigma of Failure

We've got to encourage students to do their very best that they can and if that isn't grade four then we need to take away that stigma of failure so that they can build some self-efficacy, some self-confidence in them as a literate learner.

As educators we must strive to create the opportunities that they'll have to drive resilience for all children, regardless of where they come from.”

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About the author

Haili Hughes

Haili Hughes

Haili is an Independent Thinking Associate, educator and author with books on areas including diversity, mentoring and supporting early career teachers. She has a particular passion, born from her own experience, of supporting children and young people from more challenging backgrounds.

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