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Inner-city English start to take French leave

Nearly 1,000 researchers gathered in Seville two weeks ago for a conference that mixed flamenco and flying cockroaches with a desire to fan awareness of their work across Europe. David Budge reports. The growing pressures of the education "market" may cause experienced teachers to flee from England's inner-city schools and seek less demanding jobs in more affluent areas.

Marilyn Osborn, of the University of Bristol, told the Seville conference that there were signs that London's education service was beginning to suffer from the exodus of mature teachers that bedevils French inner-city schools.

Dr Osborn, who has taken part in two comparative studies of inner-city teachers in England and France, said: "Despite the efforts of teachers to maintain a commitment to working with children in difficult social circumstances, the pressures resulting from restructuring may be becoming too great.

"When teachers...are judged solely in terms of measured outcomes rather than pupil progress...they may seek a move to a school where life is easier. "

Dr Osborn and her colleagues, Patricia Broadfoot, Claire Planel and Andrew Pollard, have been attempting to gauge whether recent educational reforms in England and France have made it easier or more difficult to create the sort of school that inner-city children need - a safe haven that provides a challenging learning environment.

They have found that in both countries there are substantial external constraints that make it hard to achieve the ideal school. In France, new teachers are still being posted to schools in less privileged areas even though experienced staff would be better suited to this work. In England, there has been a high-profile drive to raise standards, but this appeared to be leading to the marginalisation of the most disadvantaged children rather than their inclusion.

The first of the comparative studies, conducted in 1985, revealed that the French and English inner-city teachers had a different approach to their work. The French worked towards the same mainstream goals as the rest of the education system, emphasising basic skills and the acquisition of academic knowledge. In contrast, the English were more likely to say that their pupils had different needs from children in richer areas and place less emphasis on academic objectives.

Both the French and the English have, however, modified these positions over the past 10 years, Dr Osborn said. One Marseilles teacher who taught North African children typified the new French approach. She told the researchers that although her first aim was to ensure that her children reached the necessary academic level, she also wanted to see them "laugh and be relaxed at school" because she knew they came from families where there was often violence and conflict.

The English teachers, unsurprisingly, were more concerned with academic objectives than they had been in the mid-1980s although they retained their concern for the whole child.

One teacher said he wanted to "bring some poetry into the children's lives" and give them some stability.

"For children from round here, school is probably the only time in their lives that they do get some sort of structure, some sort of reliability. They know it's Tuesday so they're going to do PE . . . because you feel that when they go home, they don't know if they're going to be let in, if they're going to be fed tonight, or if they've got to go over to Gran's."

Social class, educational opportunity, and equal entitlement: dilemmas of schooling in England and France, by Marilyn Osborn, School of Education, University of Bristol

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