Research School Network: Keep up, not catch up


Keep up, not catch up

by Research Schools Network
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Pauline Brown, Governor for Pupil Premium at Glusburn Community Primary School, describes their keep up’ strategy using the 1stClass@Number programme.

At Glusburn Community Primary School, catch-up is embraced slightly differently with the Headteacher, Richard Hunt, adopting the phrase Keep up’. There is a subtle but important difference: keep up’ is less pejorative and applies to all children, where-as catch-up’ can have negative connotations. Undoubtably some children, and most notably our disadvantaged, have fallen further behind their peers during partial school closures, but the model of keep-up’ highlights the on-going commitment to getting on with the learning for all.

Keep up’ also fits with the school’s use of the tiered approach to school planning: whole class teaching – the simplest, yet hardest thing to maintain in a pandemic – is the biggest lever we have. This can then be complemented with targeted academic support and other wider school strategies. This approach was echoed by the NCTEM’s Director Charlie Stripp in his September blog. Stripp cautions against the use of the term catch-up’ as it can encourage a tendency to speed through maths topics – which is not an approach likely to lead to long-term understanding. Stripp makes two important pleas to schools: to focus on calm consolidation in teaching maths and the careful implementation of catch up to supplement, not replace, whole-class maths teaching. These were also key principles in our implementation.

Identifying priorities

The first stage in our keep up’ strategy was to identify the priorities. Maths and English were obviously an immediate concern, particularly amongst younger children in Key Stage 1 who, relative to their age, had lost more school time and had found remote learning more logistically challenging than older children. To check these priorities, class teachers conducted diagnostic assessments of children as they returned, while focusing on resuming routines and re-engaging with the joy of being back at school with friends and teachers. Following this period of settling back into class, teachers were confident that most children’s gaps’ could be addressed with whole-class teaching and some curriculum adjustments. However, it was clear some children – in particular the disadvantaged and those with SEN – would need further targeted support.

In KS1 maths, the Head of maths used existing data from Spring and teachers’ accounts of children’s engagement and confidence with number work while learning remotely and as they returned to the classroom, to focus on children who were at risk of falling further behind. The children identified as needing additional targeted support were in Year 2 and needed specific support with number and calculation – vital foundations needed for successful progression to KS2.

Fit and Feasibility

The next stage of effectively implementing targeted academic support was to research an intervention programme that would meet children’s needs in maths. Through the EEF’s Promising Project’ evaluation, 1stClass@Numberwas selected for its focus on this age group’s mathematical needs. In addition, the availability of an existing enthusiastic and experienced Year 2 teaching assistant, who could facilitate the crucial cross-over work between class and additional support, meant this was a good fit for our school.

Keep up sessions

With an evidence-based programme selected and a teaching assistant who works with Year 2 ready to be trained, the next questions were when to deliver the sessions and what the entry and exit protocols would be. To give the programme the best chance of success, we wanted to have fidelity to the programme’s delivery: 30 half-hour sessions to a group of up to four children, for 1015 weeks. It is important that these sessions will not compromise whole class maths teaching and therefore they will be rotated in short afternoon sessions and pre-school sessions.

Intelligent adaptation and flexibility

Planning for the delivery, the biggest challenge to success is the ability to complete the programme with higher-than-average absence rates as children self-isolate. Flexibility in access and exit procedures will need to be made, including contingency planning if the programme needs to run beyond 20 weeks. 

With any new programme or practice, there will of course be further unseen challenges that the implementation team will encounter, but on-going monitoring and delivery check-ins should ensure any problems are quickly identified and addressed.

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