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Research School Network: Everyone is ignorant, just about different things…


Everyone is ignorant, just about different things…

by Oldham Research School
on the

When educators discuss the knowledge gap we usually mean parts of the curriculum that pupils are missing despite having been taught’. Ofsted use the analogy of Jenga blocks; some pupils are missing key powerful’ knowledge earlier in their education and blocks have been added that make the structure of their knowledge and understanding much less stable. The role of background knowledge as a key element of reading comprehension is well established, low prior knowledge of the topic can reduce the comprehension scores of all readers and the inverse can raise comprehension (see this paper by Neuman, Kaefer and Pinkman). There are many strategies to support pupils’ background knowledge: knowledge organisers, low stakes testing and, of course, the new Ofsted framework, but one of the limitations of pupils’ knowledge is the knowledge of their teachers.

In our last blog we talked about the curriculum choices that teachers make particularly in subjects such as the arts and humanities but it needs to be acknowledged that we can only choose from knowledge we already possess. How can I choose to teach what I do not know exists? There are Jenga gaps in all our knowledge that influence firstly our choices and secondly our pedagogies.

The 2014 Sutton Trust report What Makes Great Teaching identifies teacher subject knowledge as the number 1 component of effective teachers. This seems obvious, if we have poor knowledge then we may make mistakes ourselves or fail to anticipate students’ misconceptions within a single lesson but how might these missing Jenga blocks affect our curriculum intent, our implementation of the sequence of teaching?

I ask these questions because after 30 years as a teacher it has been the most neglected form of professional development I’ve received. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t happened, as a history teacher I’m lucky because of the Historical Association which has consistently provided me with my CPD that not only fills my missing Jenga blocks but shows me they are there in the first place, but this has been self directed not required or supported always by my schools . The HA is not the only excellent subject association out there, how many of us are members? How many of our schools support staff/​subject leads to access these sources of professional learning?

So suggested next steps… as a primary we have undertaken a staff survey of qualifications at GCSE, A level and beyond to help us spot where we may have missing Jenga blocks (although this a very broad brush approach) so we can start to identify CPD opportunities to support our staff. All schools could look at subject associations and supporting staff or departmental membership; the Chartered College has a good list as a starting point. Finally think about books….even with the amazing Historical Association nothing fixes subject knowledge deficits for staff (and pupils) like reading, resourcing a small staff library might be a place to start.

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