Research School Network: What have we learnt about tackling educational disadvantage? Some reflections from training programmes we have led this year.

What have we learnt about tackling educational disadvantage?

Some reflections from training programmes we have led this year.

by Durrington Research School
on the

This year Marc Rowland and I have led a variety of training programmes as a part of partnerships with a number of local authorities, focused on tackling educational disadvantage. During these programme we have looked at:

Exploring the evidence from the Tiered Approach to establish a strong understanding of the challenges faced by disadvantaged children.

- Thinking about implementation to support school leaders to make decisions and implement change.

- Reviewing the current PP strategy to ensure it meets the needs of the school’s disadvantaged children.

So what have we learnt about tackling educational disadvantage through our discussions with these school leaders? Here are some reflections.

Improve pupils as learners
– model to pupils how to plan, monitor and evaluate how they are going to tackle a task. Use questioning and feedback to support this.

Don’t assume prior knowledge
level the playing field’ by making sure all pupils have the prior knowledge required to learn new material.

High expectations are fundamental
– have the highest expectations in terms of behaviour, pupils can learn and the quality of work they can produce. This will require careful scaffolding and support, but we need to have that belief.

If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

Sylvia Plath

Quality first teaching is not enough
- this phrase is too general and makes too many assumptions. Grow a shared understanding of what inclusive and evidence informed teaching looks like. Talk about teaching a lot!

Assessment not assumptions
- use a range of approaches to assess what the challenges to learning will be. Don’t assume what the challenges will be, simply because of a pupil’s background.

Learning led, not label led approaches
– linked to this, intervene to the learning need, not the label. For example, if a child has limited tier two vocabulary, intervene with explicit vocabulary instruction approaches.

Intervene early
- the earlier we intervent, the better. So for secondary schools, don’t wait until Y11. Start addressing the challenges faced by pupils in Y7.

Start with the problem, not the solution
– establish what the challenges to learning are first and then plan the best approach to address these challenges e.g. reading intervention. Don’t start with a shiny new approach and try to find a problem it will address.

Secure a collective responsibility
– it’s key that everybody in the school understands their role in the pupil premium strategy. Teachers, TAs, office staff, pastoral staff etc all need to how they will support tackling educational disadvantage. This fosters a sense of collective responsibility.

Avoid bias
– we all have biases. The best way to address them is to acknowledge them and then prevent yourself from acting on them.

Consistency and quality of relationships matter. Classroom interactions are key
– the most effective teaching approaches such as questioning, feedback and develop pupils as metacognitive learners are dependent on interactions and relationships. For example, we are much more likely to act on feedback from someone we trust and feel is invested in us.

Scaffold oracy and discussion
- use sentence stems or collaborative group work for all pupils. This will make disadvantaged learners feel safe and secure but also challenged.

Have clear routines and structures
– all pupils feel safe and secure when the are confident they know what’s coming.

Plan the curriculum carefully
- Is the curriculum relevant, challenging and based on previous learning.

Set pupils up for success
– There should be plenty of opportunities to feel successful and fewer opportunities to feel like an outsider. Receiving meaningful praise from an adult will improve self-esteem and promote future engagement.

Address the language gap
– the language gap is the attainment gap. Focus on incidental vocabulary instruction, relating to tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. So read rich texts, but stop to discuss and explain the vocabulary. Having explained the meaning of the word, ask pupils to use it in a sentence.

Reading is key to success
- think about disciplinary reading. How do scientists read scientific texts? How do historians read historical texts?

Avoid a deficit discourse around disadvantage. Issues may not always lie with pupils and families
– for example, avoid comments like a lack of parental aspiration and parental engagement inhibits our pupils chances of success from the start of their time with us’.

Give teachers the support, knowledge and skills to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils
– the solution to tackling educational disadvantage lies in the classroom. This requires a sharp focus on effective professional development that is focused and sustained. The EEF guidance report is excellent on this.

See life through the lens of disadvantaged pupils
- ask yourself the question, what’s it like to be a disadvantaged pupil in this school?’ Are things equitable? Are some pupils made to feel different’? What can you do better?

Decouple evaluation from accountability
– evaluate don’t prove. If we just think about accountability, we’ll find ways to prove that things have worked. Think about how you will objectively evaluate impact from the outset.

It’s always great to receive feedback about the training we offer. Here’s what one West Sussex MAT CEO had to say:

We have been lucky enough to be part of the Durrington Research School’s Disadvantage Project’ this year and it has been sensational. Each time my colleague returns from a session, she is full of enthusiasm for the next stage and it is clear from her work in school that this project is contributing towards a much more coherent approach to Pupil Premium provision at Field Place. Already we have seen an improvement for those children in outcomes and experiences. The whole school review by Marc Rowland was both instructive and developmental. His manner with the staff and children was excellent and the erudite way he fed back to us showed we were learning from an expert here! At a time where CPD is often seen as an overlooked aspect of school improvement, thi
s project has shown that with high quality provision, professional development can be the engine of success.”

Dr Paul Jones (Field Place Infant School & Orchards Junior School )

Here are some reflective questions for school leaders to consider when thinking about tackling educational disadvantage:

1. What are the challenges to learning faced by pupils in your school who may have experienced socio-economic disadvantage?

2. How do your teachers use the best available research evidence to ensure that their day to day teaching addresses these challenges? How consistent is this across the school?

3. Teachers need to be experts in the children they are teaching and then use this to shape their teaching, if we are to truly tackle educational disadvantage. To what extent is this the case in your school?

4. How do leaders across the school support teachers to improve their teaching in these areas through effective professional development?

5. How do leaders ensure that the curriculum is designed to support disadvantaged pupils? Can you give some specific examples of this?

6. How do you know if this is having an impact on disadvantaged learners?

7. How do you ensure that disadvantaged pupils feel included in all aspects of school life?

8. Does everybody in your school know their role in the pupil premium strategy?

Shaun Allison

Next year we are running a one day workshop on tackling educational disadvantage.

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