Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Investigative journalism - why have you forsaken us?

I’m unsure at what specific point in time investigative journalism was given its P-45. For the likes of the Daily Mail, I’m not sure such a concept has ever existed, but since the advent of 24-hour news television, the print media seems to have become more shallow and vacuous in content, as pressures in meeting deadlines and delivering an exclusive has resulted in a greater reliance on the re-iteration of a press release than developing a fully informed news article. Or they’ve simply replaced journalists with ‘commentators’ who, more often than not, are self-aggrandising, po-faced, twunts. Take the following story from Friday’s Daily Express, for instance:

Whilst we should all probably be joyous that the Express has decided to focus on something other than the death of Diana (for once), you can’t help but wish the article was better informed with the use of easily accessible, publicly available evidence. For all of Chris Roycroft-Davis’ musings about the pressure of having so many non-English speakers impacting on the quality of schools, he hasn’t actually looked at the outcomes for such a group, which would help advocate if this is a bullshit line of enquiry, or not. Surely an investigative journalist would corroborate ones opinion against such evidence, to validate its robust authority?

So a quick trawl of the Key Stage 2 and GCSE data published on the Department for Education’s website reveals that: attainment in English and mathematics at Key Stage 2 has been slightly lower for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) compared to other pupils for the last five years; however, by the end of Key Stage 4 attainment at GCSE is generally in line with that for other students nationally. In addition, compared to other supposed groups of disadvantaged children and young people (those eligible for free school meals, children in care, and the group Roycroft-Davis probably doesn’t want to see here, white working class boys), those with EAL are easily out-performing such groups.

So, what does this mean? Well, the problems of failing schools are less likely to lie with a high-proportion of children on roll who have EAL, because their outcomes are generally in-line with the national cohort. If such a group were having a major impact on the declining quality of schools, they would not be reaching the level of attainment recognised. Social and economic deprivation is, clearly, a greater indicator of concern. This evidence also identifies that as pupils with EAL progress through the school system, the attainment gap narrows. Perhaps being bilingual is a pretty useful benefit for such children, even if they struggle at the beginning of their educational journey. Furthermore, perhaps the teaching of this group of children is already well-embedded in most schools, contrary to what the article presumes, allowing for them to flourish in such a way that is not currently benefiting other low attaining groups. After all, this is a fairly appropriate hypothesis to make, based on the data showing the lack of an attainment gap in GCSE outcomes for EAL pupils...

All fairly obvious stuff, you would think, for the lay investigator. Not Roycroft-Davis, though, who persists in his own definition of the data to make a laboured point about the state of immigration in England. Chiefy, he identifies such children as non-English speakers, and here is a fundamental flaw. Data from the annual school census is not categorised in such a way or by the level of English spoken, but only by the EAL grouping. Yet Roycroft-Davis presumes that those simply labelled EAL have a poor grasp of English language and literacy; a fallacy, as being EAL is not an indicator that a child will be unable to speak English alongside their home language (see the attainment of said group already discussed). In particular, the EAL grouping is something of a misnomer for the GCSE dataset. Most of these children at the end of compulsory schooling would likely be speaking English just as well as their contemporaries (only a very small number of asylum seeking children of this age would prove a difference to the rule).

Perhaps the Government has, therefore, used this evidence and wisely decided to remove the ring-fenced funding to improve the literacy of children and young people with English as an additional language as successful school-based interventions have already been well established. You would hope that this funding has not just disappeared into a black hole, but is instead now being used to develop and support better arrangements for more underachieving groups when it comes to attainment in English - those eligible for free school meals, children in care and white working class boys.

So, when you next advocate that Tower Hamlets should be renamed ‘Tower of Babel’ it would help if you buried the Ofsted report of Marion Richardson Primary School somewhere out of public view (along with the many others that counters Chris’ insight). For there’s no conceivable way a school where nine-out-ten of its pupils are identified with English as an additional language could possibly hope of being outstanding, right? Oh. Just because 54 different home languages might be spoken by the pupil cohort, doesn't mean they all fail to understand or speak the universal language used in the classroom. No doubt the inspection system is broken in this instance, in the Express’ anecdotal world-view… twunts!

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