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Poverty and Educational Achievement | Literature Review

This assignment will review the paper written by Anne West ( 2007) entitled ‘Poverty and educational achievement: why do children from low income families tend to do less well at school?’ The assignment will identify the key elements in the research and discuss the research methods used. The authors’ conclusion will also be discussed.
West (2007) claims that the evidence which she has found while researching the links between poverty and educational achievement suggests that poverty alone is not the only reason for low academic achievement. West argues that other factors, outside of school, including the family environment, have a greater influence on a child’s educational achievement.
West researched many articles in her quest to prove that low educational achievement is linked to poverty. However, the research was not committed to using poverty as the only source. Others factors were included such as income, social class and socio-economic status. In attempting to find an explanation for the differences in educational achievement between children from low and high income families west examined pre-school, school, family and parental involvement.
The majority of the research used to support west’s argument is quantitative. She has taken data from institutions such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) and DfES.
The OECD through PISA gathers data from 15 year olds in schools across the world in reading, maths and science. The quantitative data shows large differences in academic ability between pupils whose socio-economic status differed. However, a factor which seemed to greatly affect this outcome was the way in which some countries, such as Belgium Germany and Hungary, divided and separated pupils according to ability. These countries had a far greater gap than countries with a comprehensive system of educating children such as Finland and Iceland (OECD, 2001 cited in West 2007)
West argues that the quantitative data gathered by the DfES ( 2007, cited in West, 2007) provides clear evidence that poverty and educational achievement are closely associated. The data showed that children who took advantage of free school meals (those from low income families) were less likely to reach the expected level in national tests than those from higher income families (48% low income – 77% higher income).
West also includes reference to a key study by Gershoff et al (2007, cited in West, 2007). The Gershoff et al analysis of THE US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) suggests that children from higher earning families have better cognitive skills because their parents spent more money on educationally enhancing resources such as books and outings. These findings appear to be supported by a study from George et al ( 2007, cited in West, 2007) which indicates that 3 year olds from low income families have much poorer expressive language skills than children of the same age from higher income families.
In west’s discussion she suggests that that there are many reasons why children from poorer families do less well educationally than their wealthier peers. These reasons include family life and financial resources. However, it can be argued that the link to a poor family life and less financial resources are actually due to the lack of money which leads back to poverty being the reason behind low educational achievement.
West discusses the many reasons she feels that children from poorer families do not achieve well at school. These include pre-school provision, or the lack of it, and early year’s education. West includes the provisions which the government have put in place in an attempt to lessen the gap in attainment levels between rich and poor, such as sure start centres and early years provisions. Although these schemes may be of benefit to many they could be seen to exclude those people most in need. This could include families who live in rural areas who do not have the financial resources to take public transport or run their own vehicle which would allow their children to attend the schemes offered.
Parents may suffer from depression or have a disability which would make it either difficult to ensure their child could attend or difficulties in physically getting their child to the school. Therefore it could be argued that the children from low income families are at a disadvantage from an early age even when positive steps are put in place in an attempt to improve their educational outcomes.
It may be the case that the children for whom these provisions would most benefit are the least likely to be able to attend for various family, medical and financial reasons. Therefore, it could be argued that the government should take further steps to ensure attendance. This could include, for example, chaperoned mini-buses to collect children from their homes and return them when the session has finished.
West concludes that family involvement is a major factor in lessening the achievement gap; however she also states the many obstacles that stand in the way of family involvement, especially those from low income families. Parents are often unable to help their children as they were also classed as being low educational achievers, they may work unsociable or long hours and many do not like the fact that their private, family life is, in a way, being invaded. West also suggests that financial and material resources are a significant factor in lessening the achievement gap. It could be argued that west is actually stating the obvious as the whole paper is actually pointing to the fact that poverty is the main cause of educational under achievement with all of the other factors interlinked.
West indicates that the government focuses its policies on schools in an attempt to lessen the gap. However, she suggests that the money would be better spent on helping to raise the income levels of less well off families.
Word count 979
References DfES. (2007). National Curriculum Assessments, GCSE and equivalent attainment and post 16 attainment by pupil characteristics in England 2005/06(Revised) Statistical first release 08/2005. London: DfES.
George, A., Hansen, K.,

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