Two things happened yesterday; both made me quite sad, albeit for different reasons. Sad moment number 1 was prompted by a retweet of someone sharing the instructions received regarding the ‘handling’ of PP (books and children). Sad moment number 2 occurred when I found out about the home life of one of my pupils in school. Both moments are somehow relevant to PP, and I’ll try to explain why.
Oh, before I do that, just a word of caution: I’m a trainee, hence there’s lot I don’t know and am still learning (sometimes the hard way); anything contained within these pages is my opinion/point of view/take on the topic discussed and, essentially, my tuppence worth and it might be complete bollocks. So here it goes.
PP AS A PARENT.
I need to make this clear: as a parent I knew nothing about PP. All I was told at the time (vaguely explained by a rather embarrassed KS1 teacher) was that due to a series of ‘circumstances’, some children were entitled to PP. So far, so good. So I went on the school website and read about their use of PP and I thought: well, that’s not bad, I guess, because PP means more resources to go round, etc etc. And that was that.
PP AS A TEACHER, PART ONE.
Fast forward five years, and I’m sat in a chemistry laboratory with other secondary trainees, discussing the highs and lows of our first placement.
Uni tutor: has anyone dealt with any PP children yet?
Random trainee: oh, yes! In my school PP books are identified with a yellow star and they have to be marked before all other books.
Everyone nods knowingly, but I’m sat there listening to this exchange and I don’t understand it, so I ask the dumb question. I’m told it is quite customary that schools of the land identify PP books, mark them first, and generally identify PP children prominently when passing on data. And then I get a bit of a lecture on how PP is fantastic and helps support disadvantaged children, etc etc. So me being the very compliant trainee I was (I hadn’t read Daisy Christodoulou’s book yet!) I nodded along; but still, it didn’t make sense, so I just put it down to being thick.
PP AS A TEACHER, PART TWO.
Fast forward one more year, and I’m sat in a mini-meeting with my mentor and the class TAs, discussing the week ahead. We talk phonics and reading intervention (yep, hello primary), and discuss how the groups of children have been split between levels. I know nothing about phonics so I just try to listen and find my way through phases and phonemes and whatever else. And then mentor says that, of course, John is in group 2 and, to be honest, will always be in group 2, considering his parents are illiterate. I do a double-take, because I think I misheard; I ask, how do you mean ‘illiterate’? This is the UK in 2018! So I pull the disgusted face (I know, I know, I told you I’m still learning, didn’t I?) and my mentor says that, yes, John’s parents can’t read or write, so he will get no support at home. All he has is school. All he has is me. He’s in my reading group, and a massive penny finally drops; I realise why his book remains unread, why he struggles so much. And then I do that thing where I start thinking that he’s a truly lovely boy, and he deserves better, and I’m sad, I’m so very sad I can’t quite contain myself.
Later I go home and I can’t shake the sadness; I know I’ll have to, eventually, or I couldn’t cope. How many children like John are out there? And suddenly I’m not just sad anymore, I’m angry; not at anyone, it’s more anger born of frustration. Because I know that there will be no time for me to help John like I want to, and what I mean is that I actually don’t have enough hours of the day to support him and 28 other children, including four who receive PP. The uni tutor’s words from a year back come back to me: ‘PP is fantastic’; ‘PP supports the disadvantaged’. But then I think: no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t! I’m adamant it doesn’t! I even say it out loud. Then I start remembering that I saw a series of blogs, or maybe a presentation, by someone who knows far more than I’ll ever know about PP and schools in general, and she said that PP doesn’t work (in a much more eloquent and evidenced way than me!).
Now, back to the retweet I was telling you about; it said that, beside marking PP books first etc, you should gift (to entice and enthuse, I guess? my words here) your PP children with tales of your life because ‘they are intrigued so tell them about your career path’. But also, why not, ‘discuss their hobbies’. Which is, of course, all well and good, and it can be done, by all means, in an informal way here and there. But what’s that got to do with obtaining a decent education? You receive PP, which means that you already start behind a lot of your peers, how is discussing your hobbies going to make you bridge that gap? Hi, I’m John, my hobby is watching people play Fortnite on You Tube (no joke). No, just no. I refuse to comply about something so utterly wrong.
The only thing I can do (I will do) is give it my absolute everything so that everyone in my classroom stands a chance to properly read and write and do maths (and more), no matter what, despite/regardless of/beyond the odds they got given at birth or otherwise.
That’s my pledge.
ps for more insights from the woman that knows, start here