Schools should invite local celebrities into classrooms to improve performance


Last updated at 07:17 03 January 2008

Schools should invite local celebrities into the classroom to improve the performance of white working-class children, according to the Schools Minister.

Jim Knight revealed new figures which showed that the gap in performance at GCSE between white working-class pupils and those from better-off homes was higher than for any other ethnic group.

The figures showed the percentage of white pupils on free school meals with five A* to C grade GCSE passes was 33 percentage points fewer than that for other young people.

"For other ethnic groups, it is a lower gap," he said. For Bangladeshi youngsters, for instance, the gap is just three percentage points.

"We have been improving the attainment of Afro-Caribbean youngsters by trying to understand their culture and making use of mentors from that culture who have succeeded and can act as role models," he told The Independent.

"There is no reason why we should not do that for white youngsters as well and get schools to invite in people from the community who have succeeded."

He cited the example of two schools in Barking and Dagenham in east London that had already adopted this initiative.

Barking Abbey School had invited its former pupil, the singer Billy Bragg, to address the pupils.

Robert Clack Comprehensive School invited former England rugby union team coach Sir Clive Woodward, who had been brought up locally, to inspire its youngsters. In both cases, the schools had seen an above-average improvement in performance from pupils, particularly boys.

Mr Knight is anxious to move towards one of the targets for the Department for Children, Schools and Families set out in the Government's comprehensive spending review - to reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor students.

A recent report by the Sutton Trust education charity revealed that social mobility in the United Kingdom had stagnated in the past 30 years.

The gap in performance between young people from rich and poor homes places the UK at the bottom of an international league table for social mobility along with the United States.

"I would like to see other schools following these examples and make use of these inspirational and aspirational people," Mr Knight said. "These young people can succeed and these people can show them that."

The Schools Minister also wants to see a drive towards getting more parents to take a greater interest in their children's education.

Other initiatives planned by the Government to narrow the attainment gap in schools include the offer of 10 hours of extra tuition in maths and English for the bottom 5 per cent of pupils.

Mr Knight said: "It has been a source of frustration that while we have seen steady improvement in results and general improvement in education standards across the country, we've not had such an effect in reducing the attainment gap between advantaged and less advantaged pupils.

"We now have evidence that the attainment gap starts to emerge at pre-school - at age 18 months. Cognitive tests start to see a divergence at that age."

As a result, ministers will also start providing up to 200,000 nursery places for two-year-olds in 2008.