Social blend drives results

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Children's attainment is boosted if they attend socially mixed schools, researchers at Heriot-Watt University have found.

From their research into the link between home ownership and attainment, the authors of the study have concluded that if children from middle-class backgrounds attend school with predominantly children from the same background they will do less well than if the school has a social mix. The same applies for children from deprived homes who attend school alongside children in similar circumstances.

Noah Kofi Karley, who carried out the study with Glen Bramley, said: "The important thing is the social mix - they learn from each other. They tend to benefit from each other in a way that slightly improves upon their education. The reason is that education is not necessarily about kids being in school and learning alongside other people like themselves - it is about learning about various cultures.

"Where the social mix is a full mixture, kids tend to do very well, rather than if they are from middle-class backgrounds alone or very poor backgrounds."

Dr Karley and Professor Bramley, who work at Heriot-Watt University's Centre for Research into Socially Inclusive Services (CRSIS), conclude that the creation of socially mixed housing areas which include relatively high proportions of owner-occupied homes improves the "social capital" of an area by creating a greater sense of community.

Margaret Thatcher's "right to buy" legislation in the 1980s may therefore have brought benefits by giving people greater financial security and one of the benefits is better educational opportunities, they suggest.

Their study states: "More households could become owner-occupiers, given the right opportunities, and this would (over time) influence their attitudes, behaviour, stability and security so that their children would be more likely to succeed; and secondly, more mixing of tenures, with non-owner-occupiers in previously poor areas, should influence neighbourhood peer group valuesbehaviour within school ethos, process and expectations so that attainment is improved for both owner-occupiers'

children and other children."

The study also found that the effect of home-ownership is stronger in the primary school sector than in secondary.

The report, carried out on behalf of the Scottish Executive Education Department, states: "A stronger test of the home-ownership hypothesis is to see whether schools with more home-owner children help all their pupils to do better, including children who are probably not from home-owner families. Our attempt to test this is not perfect but it does appear to support the hypothesis in the primary sector, but not in the secondary sector."

The finding that children from owner-occupied homes do better educationally is in line with wider research into the impact of poverty and related factors on attainment. However, this latest piece of research suggests that home ownership also has effects on factors which operate at school level, such as ethos, expectations, parent involvement and behaviour.

The researchers state: "It is interesting to speculate as to why owner occupation appears to be more significant in the primary sector. Primary schools are smaller, potentially more homogeneous, and more tied to neighbourhoods. Primary children may be more susceptible to influence and less set in a particular achievement trajectory."

They conclude: "Ultimately, the case for owner occupation rests not just on these collective school or area-level effects, but also on possible causal linkages at the individual household level."

The researchers maintain that non-school factors such as gender, ethnicity and class tend to be the "dominant drivers of attainment".

"Arguably the most important non-school factor is poverty, which can impact on children through lack of material resources and support in the home, through stresses leading to behavioural difficulties and through wider psycho-social processes of expectation, stigma and subculture which operate more at neighbourhood level. These latter factors are important because schools are to varying degrees tied to neighbourhoods," they say.

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