Educating Disadvantaged Children: Part 2 I Oxford Open Learning
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Educating Disadvantaged Children: Part 2

Tackling Toxic Cultures In Schools

So, in Part 1 I discussed my experience of working in an academy with disadvantaged and SEND children in the UK. The main problem I identified was a toxic culture, which means no amount of investment alone will fix the issue. Here are my proposed methods of improving the culture and laying the foundations for success.


As I said, these are the primary building blocks of success. Building without sorting these out is not going to make a stable structure. Unfortunately, my number one building block isn’t cheap and I don’t think there’s a way around it. Many of these children do not get the constructive adult attention they need at home. A class with up to 30 children means they have to work independently a lot of the time. This is not something they are always capable of. The foundation of productive learning for these students is very small groups. Not only this, but in those groups (or 1-1 if possible), they need to work through the deeper issues.

The Deeper Issues

Many of these children, as I said, don’t have a nice environment at home. That is not a factor that the school has much control over (short of reporting it in extreme cases). What they can control, however, is how they deal with the fallout that this deprivation causes. If a child is angry because their parents are not supporting them emotionally, they often can’t just slip into the back of a 30-strong Maths lesson and get on with work. This particularly applies
when students haven’t yet seen any use for a given skill in their lives. The anger they feel is far stronger than any interest they may have in a school subject. The best way to vent that anger is to disrupt the class and create confrontation.

How To Implement This

Obviously, students can’t all have 1-1 psychologists to get them started in the morning. But we can make some inroads into these issues. The inflexibility of the curriculum blocks a lot of this, however.

If students are allowed to focus on what they enjoy at school, it can help them to gain confidence and emotional stability. Maths is a particular problem, as it is difficult and abstract. It caused a number of my students to lose their temper and be thrown out every lesson. These students would then sit around for an hour, before getting a detention. That means they lose around 2-3 hours of their time. Was the Maths lesson that important?

In my experience, when students find their passions, the rest can be filled in later. I’m not advocating dropping Maths or anything so extreme. I would just say that giving educators flexibility to think outside the box could make some difference.

That could mean taking a term off a subject to experiment with alternative activities at which they excel, mixing age groups when necessary, letting students teach the lesson, getting them to build something genuinely useful. Anything can work, it all depends on the context. No one dislikes everything, after all.

This must be connected to close, personal attention – at least some of the time. As students grow in confidence, I have found that high expectations – when related to the student’s abilities and interests- lead to high achievers. Ever-so gradually, this can change a culture.

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Hi, my name's Phil. I am a Content Writer and Producer. My background is a mixture of education, social media and management. I've spent a lot of my career working in Latin America and Spain, and I have a love for languages and education. I also have my own blogsite:

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