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Research School Network: Tackling Educational Disadvantage This post explores a seven step approach to tackling educational disadvantage


Tackling Educational Disadvantage

This post explores a seven step approach to tackling educational disadvantage

by Durrington Research School
on the

This year I have had the pleasure of working with Marc Rowland on a number of partnership projects with groups of schools aimed at tackling educational disadvantage. In June 2019 the former CEO of the EEF Sir Kevan Collins described closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers as the greatest challenge facing English schools. He went on to say:

The gap is stubborn because its causes are entrenched and complex and most lie beyond the control of schools and educators.”

Fast forward two years and a pandemic. I think it’s safe to say that the scale of this challenge has grown considerably, as a result of the disruption to learning that has happened in schools up and down the country.

Through our work with schools we have tried to crystallise the active ingredients of an effective approach to tackling educational disadvantage. This seven step approach that Marc has developed provides leaders with a useful framework when thinking about their Pupil Premium strategy.

1. Readiness


Is the culture of the school right? Do all teachers and leaders have the highest expectations of all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds? What does this look like, day in and day out? This blog explores the idea of high expectations in the classroom. Are strong relationships fostered in the school, between adults and children but also with adults and their peers and children and their peers? Does the leadership team of the school have the capacity to really drive this improvement work forward? These are key questions for school leaders to ask themselves and outline the foundations for tackling educational disadvantage.

2. Assessment of need


There are many factors that will potentially impact the learning of pupils from a disadvantaged background. Many of these are out of our control, so we need to ensure that we are focusing on the factors that we can have an element of control over. So a key question for leaders to consider is:

How does educational disadvantage impact the learning of the children on your school?

What is within your gift as a school to address this?”


We can have an influence on factors such as reading, vocabulary development, self-regulation, memorisation, classroom discourse etc. so this is where we need to be focusing our energies.

3. Adopt a tiered approach to tackling educational disadvantage


The EEF suggest a tiered approach to tackling educational disadvantage. This involves a focus on:

– High quality teaching – an evidence informed approach to teaching (including the aspects of teaching mentioned above), supported by high quality professional development.

- Targeted academic support – structured intervention, small group tuition and one to one support.

- Wider strategies – behaviour and attendance approaches, breakfast clubs and other extracurricular and/​or holiday activities.


4. Evidence check


Having identified the issues that you are going to focus on to tackle educational disadvantage in your context, it is important to look to the evidence to find out what is most likely to work. Sources of evidence might include:

- The Teaching & Learning Toolkit and The Early Years Toolkit

- Guidance Reports

- Promising Projects

- This page contains a link to a number of other useful research papers.


5. Produce an effective implementation plan


Effective implementation is key to the success of any new approach in school. The EEF have produced an excellent guidance report on effective implementation and a number of other excellent supporting resources. They are all available here. These resources explore the four stages of effective implementation:

- Explore – define the problem you want to solve and identify appropriate programmes or practices to implement.

- Prepare – create a clear implementation plan, judge the readiness of the school to deliver that plan, then prepare staff and resources.

- Deliver – support staff, monitor progress, solve problems, and adapt strategies as the approach is used for the first time.

Sustain – plan for sustaining and scaling an intervention from the outset and continuously acknowledge and nurture its use.


6. Set clear milestones


As a part of your implementation plan, you should set yourself clear milestones for monitoring how effectively the strategy is being implemented in terms of:

- Fidelity – is the new approach being implemented across the school in the way that was intended?

- Reach – is the new approach having an impact on all pupils across the school?

- Acceptability – is the new approach becoming embedded into the day to day practice of all teachers?


The outcome of these monitoring milestones should then shape the future direction of the work.

7. Robust evaluation



At the outset, consider how you will evaluate the impact of the new approach. For example:

- Is it changing the knowledge and understanding of the staff in terms of the approach and the research evidence behind it?

- Is it changing the decisions that happen in the classroom and therefore what happens in the classroom?

- Is it changing the learning behaviours of the pupils?

- Is it making a difference to what pupils know and are able to do?

- Is it making a difference to pupil outcomes


If you are a school leader who would like to learn more about this approach, Marc and I are leading a training programme on it next year – details here.

Shaun Allison

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