Why class is still a classroom issue

4th October 1996 at 01:00
Pupils in predominantly working-class secondary schools appear to be given many more time-consuming reading and writing tasks than children in middle-class schools and have less opportunity for classroom discussions, the European Conference on Educational Research was told last weekend.

A two-year study of four schools in a Scottish education authority has revealed that teachers of English in the two middle-class schools were more likely to give a reading or writing assignment as homework, leaving time in class for feedback and redrafting written work.

The Seville conference heard that three University of Stirling researchers, Sally Brown, Sheila Riddell and Jill Duffield, followed two classes in each of the four schools through their first two years of secondary education. They observed 204 lessons and found that children in the two working-class schools spent between 3 and 6 per cent of their time in discussion compared with 17 to 25 per cent in the middle-class schools.

Jill Duffield said she believed that the explanation for the difference could be traced back to the teachers' desire to maintain order in the classroom. "The long writing tasks were very much associated with control and the lack of discussion was, I believe, also to do with teachers thinking that the children couldn't really manage to discuss things among themselves."

Children at the middle-class schools were positive about the individual help they received. But a typical response from a pupil in a working-class school was: "I'd rather get right into it, get on and let them mark it, and if there is something wrong, do it again."

Jill Duffield added that although social class had been pushed off the research agenda by the focus on school effectiveness and improvement, this study indicated that it still needed to be investigated.

The University of Stirling team's paper, Classroom approaches to learning and teaching: the social-class dimension, will be available next month.

A full report of the European Conference on Educational Research will appear in next week's TES.

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