Over the past three years, one of my accountabilities has concerned accelerating the progress of disadvantaged students. We’ve learned a lot, and this is the data (I took up post in September 2013):
In a nutshell, our Pupil Premium students are making better progress and a greater proportion are attaining better grades. This is within a national picture where the attainment gap remains stubbornly static and the LA gap is increasing.
Of course, this is a complicated area and it is difficult to say which interventions and changes have really made the most difference. If you’d like to read our evaluations, visit our website. What is clear, however is that the following have contributed (in no particular order):
1. A relentless focus on the quality of teaching and learning in individual classrooms.
Without a doubt, the biggest difference is made in classrooms. We trust teachers to identify students and support the core subjects with coaches. We don’t believe in withdrawing young people from classrooms, but in providing extra support alongside classroom teachers. This is coupled with before and after school coaching sessions and catch up. Key is the careful targeting of young people, and every department has an individual target to close the gap for every year. I provide data around this for each head of department and use it to start conversations.
In addition, the rather blunt tool of an appraisal target is used, particularly for the higher attaining students. Our outcomes told us that staff expectations for this group of people were too low and we reinforced the fact that disadvantaged students are mixed ability learners. This was supported by a thread of CPD that ran through all of our events, from 15 minute forums to INSET days and teacher learning communities. In addition, research bursars explored the research linked to PP students in homework, feedback, metacognition, visual strategies and attendance, including parental engagement and reading.
We turst teachers and staff to be professionals and the Pupil Premium Referral form has been a great lever for classroom teachers to access funds:
This gives ownership to classrooms teachers and other staff, who can be more responsive. Of course, group interventions make up the bulk of our input. Here are some of the things requested.
The advantages of this system is that it automatically generates a case study, as well as making the member of staff accountable for their progress, we have to give access to the support.
- Year group leaders meet with a targeted cohort of students every week to talk about attendance. This throws up all sorts of issues that we can then deal with. Students who meet targets and maintain an improvement trend are invited to breakfast one a half term to receive recognition from senior members of the team. These conversations lead into bespoke interventions, home visits and further conversations.
- Parental meeting and drop in sessions run by our councillors that are held off site. This is slow going but we are gaining numbers and the word is getting around that we are looking after the students.
- Breakfast club and bus passes – many of our PP students live out of catchment.
It’s clear to me that if we invest in our new intake and furnish them with high expectations and powerful habits, the gap will close significantly. Interventions into Year 10 and 11 just don’t work as well as taking a longer term view. We can’t let Year 7 be part of the wasted years.
A key shift in focus has been from attainment to progress (personally I’ve never been driven by grades but by the journey from starting points). Below is a summary of the PP strategy (all of this is in the pupil domain on our website).
This has been informed by research into our own school community rather than relying upon national trends. Our research into Grit and character is showing some strong trends (look out for this is September) and it is clear that while teaching and learning is the key, children come to us with their own geographical rucksacks and we need to do something extra in order to remove barriers to learning. What is clear is that big conferences fail to give the most effective strategies and they seem to advocate spending big money on external providers rather than focus on shifting the culture of young people.
I wonder what successes your school has had in closing the gap, and the most effective strategies for doing so?