In DfE newspeak, the official language of Sanctuary Buildings and the Great Smith St pavement outside, where officials go to smoke, “disadvantaged children” are those that:
- are in the care of a local authority (“looked after children”)
- were previously in the care of a local authority but are now adopted
- have been in receipt of free school meals at any time over the last 6 years (newspeak calls these the “ever 6” children) and are thus eligible for Pupil Premium
- Children eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium (these are a subset of 3).
I have no problem with the content of this. These are children of disadvantage, and we gear a lot of our policies to meeting the needs of these children. According to a briefing last week from Milton Keynes Council, the percentage of “children classified disadvantaged” reaching the national benchmarks for progress at KS1, KS2 and at GCSE are much lower in MK than our statistical or near neighbours. In some cases, horrendously so. We have work to do to close the gap, or at least “diminish the difference.” Nationally a report from the Education Policy Institute in August claimed that we would need 50 years of current progress to close the gap, and that children classified disadvantaged as a group are two years behind their peers at age 16.
In addition, we all know families who are eligible for Pupil Premium but who do not claim it, and these too we include when thinking about disadvantage. They are the poor and feckless, often, whose parents don’t have the skills to apply for and make use of the funding for their children, or they are children of mild neglect, no matter how wealthy.
There are others, though, beyond the DfE definition. Children who never learn that they are part of a precious community and have a right and expectation to give and receive from that community – they too are disadvantaged, to the extent that they will become individualistic in their thinking and learning. Children who are taught to achieve highly in English and maths, and so will never figure on the DfE’s matrices of disadvantage, but who have never been introduced to great art or beautiful music, or who have not had the opportunity to learn how to paint well or learn a musical instrument or create with their hands, or cook – these too are disadvantaged children.
However, what the DfE will never classify as disadvantaged, are those children, who, on leaving school, have never been told or have never heard that the God and Father of Jesus Christ who created the world and gives life to every living being, loves and cherishes them, gave His son to die for them, and in raising Him from death has invited them to join His son in his new Kingdom of joy and peace and contentment inaugurated through the resurrection.
Children who never hear this message, who never grow up in the expectation of being able to walk under God’s hand of love, every day, are seriously disadvantaged, and it is part of our missional purpose as a church school to redress this disadvantage as best we can.