Keynote Address: Ian Thompson

Tackling Social Disadvantage through initial teacher Education

Associate Professor Ian Thompson – University of Oxford

Pupils from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, or with disabilities, are more likely to do significantly worse at school than their peers. They are less likely to be in well-resourced and successful schools and far more likely to be excluded from schools. Factors of social class, ethnicity, and socio-economic status remain the most prominent variables for all aspects of well-being such as education, health, and access to public resources. Over the past 30 years in the United Kingdom a tension has emerged between policies designed to achieve educational excellence and policies seeking to achieve inclusive practice. Policy changes in England in particular have resulted in perverse incentives for schools to not meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils. Competitive practices can lead to performative professionalism as teachers and school leaders feel the pressure to improve overall school grades often at the expense of disadvantaged students’ well-being. These practices can undermine the capacity of education professionals to meet the needs of disadvantaged social groups and perpetuate deficit models which blame perceived shortcomings of the child. In such situations, pupils who do not or cannot follow the rules or behave in a manner deemed to be acceptable can become the casualties of performativity.

England is the only jurisdiction in the United Kingdom where education is directly controlled by the education department of the central UK government. It is also, arguably, the jurisdiction where neo-liberal rhetoric and neo-conservative practice is most entrenched and where social inclusion is most threatened.  For these reasons, England is an interesting context in which to explore the challenges for initial teacher education programmes to respond to rapidly changing and increasingly exclusionary policy and practice in the schools that preservice teachers may encounter in their teaching practice and future employment. In this keynote I will argue that it the responsibility of schools, teachers and ITE programmes to help reduce inequalities and promote social inclusion. I will address key issues related to teaching pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and draw on research evidence to explain some of the links between poverty, special educational needs, literacy and educational achievement. I will critically examine the lessons from previous policy and practice and explore some pedagogic implications for teachers and teacher educators.

Ian Thompson is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Oxford and PGCE Course Director.  He is currently Deputy President of the International Society for Cultural- historical Activity Research and co-editor of the journal Teaching Education. His research focuses on issues of social justice in education, English education, and initial teacher education. His recent research projects include Collaboration for Teaching and Learning, The Effectiveness of Arts Based Approaches in Engaging with Disaffected Young People, and Excluded Lives: Disparities in rates of permanent school exclusion across the UK. He is currently Co-PI on the ESRC funded project The Political Economies of School Exclusions and their Consequences.  Ian is author or co-author of the books Tackling Social Disadvantage through Teacher Education, Designing Tasks in Secondary Education: Enhancing Subject Understanding and Student Engagement, andLearning to Teach in England and the United States: The Evolution of Policy and Practice.

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