For many years, the achievement gap has been recognised as a problem of differences in average standardised-test scores, grades, drop-out rates and other measures of academic performance in school children of different gender, racial and social backgrounds (Barton, 2010; Ansell, 2011). Whereas much improvement has been observed in relation to racial and gender achievement gaps, the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students has expanded significantly over the past half-century (Reardon, 2012). Closer investigation of such tendency led to conclude that White working-class pupils became the least performing group among all other ethnic minorities (Strand, 2014).
Being based upon poverty trends, the achievement gap is detectable as early as at 2 years of age. It reaches 24% difference at the age of 5 and widens even further as the child progresses through education stages (DfES, 2006). According to the UK statistics, those low-income family students (especially, white working-class boys) who struggle to achieve anticipated level of literacy and numeracy by the year 6, are only 34% likely to gain five GCSE A*–C grades at the core subjects, as compared to 68% of the overall population (House of Commons, 2014). Hence, such students are less likely to graduate from school, receive proper qualifications at the graduation level and significantly less likely to enrol in higher education as compared to middle-class students (ratio 2:1) (Connolly, 2006; Munn, Lloyd, & Cullen, 2000).
Being at such educational disadvantage leads to various negative life outcomes for students from low-income families. Education has been consistently shown to predict social mobility, while social class is a well-known predictor of future life chances (Blustein et al., 2002). Thus, low socio-economic status (SES) students are deprived of any future success opportunities, as their qualifications do not allow them to meet the changing standards of the UK labour market. However, even upon successful school completion, their qualifications are valued much less than those of middle-class students (Dunne & Gazeley, 2008). Being trapped in this vicious circle, low-SES children are more likely to have poorer health outcomes, have higher rates of teenage pregnancy and be involved in more cases of post-school criminal activity (Raphael & Winter-Ebmer, 1999). Moreover, their chances of facing unemployment, having lower levels of job performance, income, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction are much higher than of those of middle-class (Phelan & Phelan, 1983; Meeks & Murrell, 2001). Some cases of underachievement because of working-class status could also impose certain stigma on individuals and affect their psychological well-being (Maxcy, 2005). Besides severe individual life consequences, underachievement of low-income family students has major impacts on society and government, threatening the state of economy and welfare of the country.
The causes for the poor achievement of low-SES white British pupils are broad and multifaceted. The obvious factor affecting underachievement in these children is the low-SES of their families. The family SES affects a range of important predictors, such as availability of necessary resources and social capital, along with child’s state of health, availability of high-quality school resources, after-class activities and summer experiences (Sirin, 2005). Parenting style is another important predictor of educational success. Low-SES families in which children experience a lot of family-related stress tend to experience underachievement (Lee?Corbin & Evans, 1996). Similarly, family’s disengagement from child’s education, lack of communication, poverty of expectations, and negative attitude towards education prevent an effective development of the skills necessary for child’s efficient academic performance (Dornbusch et al., 1987). In more specific, school-related context, however, factors such as teachers’ low expectations and inadequate handling of disciplinary issues by head-teachers were shown to directly affect low children’s attainment (Demie 2003). As well as that, researcher have noted a negative peer pressure, inappropriate teachers’ expertise that fails to encourage and motivate, lack of support provided by teachers and inability of the national curriculum to understand the needs and interests of students coming from low-income families (Gillborn & Youdell, 2009) among factors to affect student disengagement from learning. Despite such a variety of external factors, the most critical factor to affect child’s low performance lies within the child. The theory of identity-based motivations has shown that children from low-income families tend to build a self-concept that contains underachievement attribute as a personal characteristic to which they adhere (Oyserman, 2007).
As it has been shown, the problem of underperformance of children from low-SES is not only a problem for children. Parents, whose participation in child’s development directly affects child’s performance at school, play a crucial role in the composition of education reform strategies. Educators are also involved in the formation of achievement gap statistics as they are interested in teaching the students not only to achieve a certain test score but also to realize their full potential as an individual. The business community is specifically concerned with wide-ranging consequences of low academic achievement, as it leads to an increased level of unemployment and poverty in society and makes it unable to compete in the international labour market. Lastly, policymakers and legislators are involved in the issue of underachievement as they are responsible for establishment and management of academic standards and the distribution of necessary resources. Thus, to ensure the welfare of individuals and community they have to rely on accurate statistical data related to teaching and learning (SEDL, 2011).
Since achievement gap is a widely recognised problem, and involves numerous sides, the attempt of the government to reduce the gap was primarily directed on schools. Specifically, governments established fundraising organisation called Pupil Premium which is aimed at identifying schools with the biggest percentage of disadvantaged students (including ethnic minorities and disabled kids) and allocating them more money to tackle underachievement (Laws, 2013). Besides fundraising organisations, there are also organisations established, like The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO), that manages local, regional and national statistics on academic performance to help coordinate the help (Sharples et al., 2011). Additionally, there are many programmes organised, like Summer Schools Programmes, to help underachievers improve (Laws, 2013). Despite some evident efficiency of such foundations, poor achievement among white British students should be addressed more directly by focusing on the fundamental social-emotional forces and students’ individual experiences of schooling.
Thus, to summarise the problem definition:
Achievement gap accounts for disparities in measures of academic performance between different groups, like low-income and high-income family students. Having been identified as the most poorly-performing group in the UK, low-SES students were consistently found to be less likely to gain a desirable score in tests and enrol in higher education, as compared to all other groups. Whereas some of the students’ experience underperformance as based on ethnic or gender factors, the main causes of low achievement of children from low-SES come down to factors such as limited resources to afford high-quality education, parents’ engagement into education, schools and teachers preparation to manage disadvantaged kids, but also child’s own perception of his abilities. Thus, the issue of low attainment of white British children involves various parties. Students, teachers, schools, parents and business community – all have been affected by achievement gap consequences, and so targeting them would play a crucial role in managing disparities in academic performance. Despite governments attempts to reduce the achievement gap, an intervention more specific to the issue of individual motivation associated with child’s perception of the self and academic-related motivations should be proposed, and this essay suggests such an intervention.
As it was mentioned before, there are pervasive and persistent achievement disparities between socially advantaged (high status) and socially disadvantaged (low status) groups (Major, Mendes, & Dovidio, 2013). Besides basic structural difference brought about by social status, it was shown that disparities endure even after accounting for these differences (Smedley et al., 2003). Such findings imply that there is more to the issue of academic performance than structural differences. Those are believed to lie within the notion of identity-based motivations (IBM). IBM theory has been used to explain many intergroup processes as based on one’s identity. Interventions based on IBM have been applied across numerous spheres, such as education (Oyserman, Bybee, & Terry, 2006; Oyserman, Destin, & Novin, 2014), health (Oyserman, 2007; Oyserman et al., 2014), planning and giving (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015).
IBM model argues that when behaviour is based on identity salience, engaging in this behaviour bears a positive sentiment of inclusion in the in-group (Oyserman, 2007). Because a part of individual self-concept is constructed through social identity, it is important for individuals to belong to a certain group (Haslam & Reicher, 2006). Individuals are prompted to pursue the goals that ingroup members they share their social identity with pursue using common means. They are motivated to preserve their membership and justify social entity on which they rely, even when disadvantaged, because the system provides them with a sense of meaning, as argued by system justification theory (Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004). Thus, when social identity is made salient, the choice of behaviours will be influenced by identity consequences rather than academic consequences. Depending on what behaviours are identified as in-group, identity-based behaviours can have both positive and negative consequences for academic performance.
Although it might seem that there is nothing a pupil might find as preventing him from engaging in academic enhancing behaviours, Hyman (1993) argues the opposite. In his study on the value system of different social classes, he found that working-class individuals tend to perceive education as less valuable than people from middle-class. They perceive demanding work in a school as irrelevant, place a lower value on high achievements and tend to avoid taking a risk of higher education as it will have a relatively little payoff (Sirgy, Rahtz, & Portolese, 2014). As Hyman (1993) believes, working-class people create self-imposed hurdles to achieving more prestigious positions, because they believe they have fewer opportunities and lower capabilities. Such belief is deriving from a psychological experience of the social devaluation of their belonging to working-class (Major, Mendes, & Dovidio, 2013). Consequently, a stereotypical view of underachievement being a working-class attribute becomes accepted by its members. They perceive underachievement as a part of their social identity and thus the goal to perform well at school is not realized (Oyserman, 2007).
The reason why such self-conception is harming to the child’s academic performance is straightforward, although some complex. The theory that has incorporated the concept of the self into its model to influence academic performance was proposed by Eccles et al. (1983) and is called expectancy-value system. It offers an explanation to motivational gaps in education and sport and can be applied in health communication research, marketing and economics. Accounting for group differences, it can also explain specific achievement disparities between genders (Eccles et al., 1983), and will be applied to group status differences in the current intervention.
Although the initial expectancy-value model of attainment performance and choice included many constructs (such as cultural milieu, differential attitudes of a child, previous experience and its interpretation as well as affective memories), for the present analysis such constructs as socio-economic background, beliefs held by others, child’s self-conception, the expectation of success, task value and achievement related choices were chosen to influence academic performance measured by GPA. Expectation-value model is based on the presumption that individual activity choices are influenced by one’s interpretation of reality rather than actual reality (Eccles et al., 1983). The basic premise of such model is that socio-economic status and stereotypes impact child’s self-conception. This consequently affects child’s goals, the expectation of success and achievement-related choices (Atkinson, 1957; Eccles et al., 1983; Wigfield, 1994). Having appropriate achievement-related choices leads to a successful academic performance and to the attainment of high grades. The definitions of the construct, as well as the causation links, are going to be explained as follows.
Whereas a view that others hold of a child is based upon a stereotypical view of a disadvantaged group as underachieving, a notion of specific self-conception of a child forms off several factors. Primarily, the focus has been on the concept of ideal self and ability beliefs (i.e. beliefs about that one is good at performing different activities). According to attribution theory (Weiner, 2001), the ability is viewed by an individual as a stable characteristic of their self-concept. This is especially important to school children because the understanding of their abilities and expectancies of their success in specific activities develops in the aggregate (Harter, Whitesell, & Kowalski, 1992). Thus, seeing oneself as “dumb” and unable to achieve crucially undermines a self-concept.
Undermined self-concept influences child’s goals. Those include both short-term and long-term projections of the self. A concept of oneself as underachiever restrains a child from attaining to appropriate future strategies. Complemented by years of failure to create a perception of a gifted self, the child ends up abandoning the goal (Oyserman, 2007). Thus, when a successful future self is not achievable it eventually rots off. In result, keeping a hold of a failed self-goal produces a negative effect on child’s self-evaluation and expectancies of success (Kruglanski & Higgins, 2007) and decreases performance.
The expectation of success is another concept that needs clarification. Though highly resembling with the concept of ability belief, the expectancy of success was defined as a child’s belief about how well he will do on forthcoming task, or how likely he is to achieve a desirable outcome performing a given action, whether it is in the near or distant future. Studies that looked at the expectation of success in relation to math performance, found that one’s expectations of future math performance predicted decisions about taking a mathematics course (Eccles et al., 1983). Thus, the expectation of success significantly impacts academic-related choices, and if low, can lead to negative outcomes.
Along with expectation of success, subjective task value has a direct effect on the achievement-related choices. Subjective task value was recognised as consisting of several components. Those are attainment value (importance of carrying out the task well), intrinsic value (enjoyment from performing the task), utility value (how well the task performance is congruent with child’s future plans) and cost (that is, how much performing the specific task will limit the access to another more preferable task; and assessment of effort) (Eccles et al., 1983; Battle, 1966). In the current psychological intervention, subjective task value will not fall under the effect of the intervention. However, as it has a well-established effect on achievement choices and achievement itself (Chiu & Wang, 2008) it will be included in the model.
Lastly, achievement-related choices directly affect achievement and performance, according to the model. These choices are conscious and non-conscious decisions and their possible enactments with consideration of expended time and energy (Eccles et al., 1983). Such choices typically incorporate behaviour like being attentive in class or doing homework and certainly impact grades attainment.
In this way, the model has explained how child’s belief about the academic success has impacted his intentions to succeed and resulted in behaviours related to academic performance. Therefore, coming from a low-income family and holding a belief of belonging to an underachieving group, a child sets low goals and expectations to succeed. These goals and expectations prompt child to disengage from class activities, resulting in low GPA.