Research School Network: Addressing Educational Disadvantage in Schools and Colleges: The Essex Way New book available now


Addressing Educational Disadvantage in Schools and Colleges: The Essex Way

New book available now

Few national challenges deserve greater priority than closing the disadvantage gap in education. This book provides carefully considered, practical and impactful advice for schools.

David Laws, Schools Minister 2012-2015

This book aims to provide support for colleagues in schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities across the country in their ongoing endeavours to address the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on learning. 

Marc Rowland, Unity Schools Partnership’s adviser for improving outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils is engaged in extensive partnerships at increasing scale working with schools, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and Research Schools across the country.

This most recent publication captures, synthesises and narrates a longstanding commitment from Essex County Council to improve the life chances and life choices of disadvantaged pupils being educated in Essex, and shares the county-wide strategy that emerged from his work in partnership with them and schools across the local authority.

The book sets out a strategic, evidence-informed approach with pupils, families, teachers, leaders, system leaders and wider agencies which puts learners first. This approach is rooted in best practice. It centres on improving the day-to-day learning experiences of disadvantaged pupils, leading to better long-term choice and opportunity.


This is the most helpful book on addressing disadvantage that I have ever read. I have never shouted 'yes!' at a book more. It makes my heart sing and affirms all I try to do in my school. Far from recommending short-term interventions, Marc has beautifully explained - and evidenced - the complexity and the importance of whole school culture, ownership and buy-in to address disadvantage and offers many really practical case studies.

Kate Frood OBE, Headteacher, Eleanor Palmer Primary School, Camden

These children don't lack aspirations - they lack the route, tools, knowledge, skills and resilience to get them there! The strategy in Marc's book has the potential to be life changing if those who teach apply the principles and practice. It is an evidence-based approach to address the inequalities and barriers to enable disadvantaged children to achieve and fulfil their aspirations. Not only that - it's good pedagogy for all pupils!

Andrew Smith, Headteacher, Lyons Hall Primary School, Essex

Marc's passion for addressing educational disadvantage alongside his depth of knowledge drawn from years of working practically with schools come across clearly in this new publication. Rooted in evidence and experience, Marc shares the Essex Way, weaving threads and themes which can effect real and meaningful change to the pupils and families we serve. It presents a blueprint rich in case studies and review tools to helps schools reflect, challenge assumptions and beliefs, and drive change within their unique context - a must-read for school leaders.

Tammy Elward, Director of the Derby Research School at Wyndham Primary Academy

Unity Schools Partnership and Essex County Council hope the recommendations outlined in this book will support continued and determined efforts to address the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on learning in schools nationally.

Read the foreword

Addressing disadvantage in our schools and classrooms is challenging. Inequality is endemic in English society, and Essex is no different. Inequality impacts on pupils’ learning over time. It is a process, not an event, and affects every individual differently. But we are not powerless with this, and nor should we be indifferent. We cannot allow our education system to be contaminated with an acceptance that disadvantaged pupils cannot attain well. Challenging the status quo will be difficult and, at times, uncomfortable. We must not accept that disadvantaged pupils are destined to underachieve. Socioeconomic disadvantage does not have to be an anchor on attainment. Inclusive teaching and learning can change lives, and every interaction matters.

Every interaction with our disadvantaged pupils and their families has the power to bring about positive change. In the Essex strategy, we have set out a structured way to address educational inequality, with the ambition that every pupil, irrespective of background, feels like they belong. This applies in our Early Years’ settings, and in our special, alternative, primary, secondary schools and colleges.

Marc Rowland
Unity Research School

Disadvantage is at the forefront of the discourse in Essex. There are a number of key questions that need to be clearly understood to undertake a journey of reflection and ultimately improvement of outcomes within our educational settings. The first in this context is to be clear on what we mean by the term disadvantage’. Often it is the case that within education we define this as the group of young people that are identified for the Pupil Premium grant. Yet, as we have started to explore this issue in more detail, we have come to a recognition that the definition needs to incorporate a much wider group of pupils, some of which haven’t traditionally been discussed, such as boys with absent fathers. We must ensure that our pupil needs, not labels, drive strategy.

We have also undertaken a journey to challenge ourselves on what we mean by inclusion. We know that this question remains at the heart of our work and resounds with many different elements of school life, not purely our disadvantaged cohort. We have developed the Essex strategy with the value of equity at the heart of our work. While the Essex strategy highlights the benefits for our disadvantaged pupils, the evidence base used illustrates the impact of this approach for all learners. To this end, it should benefit across our education system, not only within our areas of deprivation.

We hope that the Essex strategy gives a strong base for the development of practice, as well as supporting your programme 8 Addressing Educational Disadvantage in Schools and Colleges of professional development and future iterations of your school development plan. Its aim is to enable us all do our best for those for which the quality of education matters most. Throughout the Essex strategy we have focused on national, evidence-based practice starting from the requirement to analyse and understand pupil need.

Identifying and understanding the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage on learning – and addressing the associated gaps in learning – is critical for building a package of support in each of our schools and colleges.

The strategy relates to both the short- and longer-term solutions to removing the barriers of inequality through the power of positive relationships. This should happen within our educational establishments, as well as within the communities that we serve. The strategy will help schools to plan, implement and evaluate an effective strategy for addressing disadvantage – from system leadership to the classroom. It provides a system-wide framework for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, leading to better life chances, life choices and opportunity.

We recognise the need for an interconnectivity between all of our strategies to ensure that they bring about the best outcomes for children and young people in Essex. This strategy is one part of our development of support for schools and colleges. The Early Years and Childcare Strategy, which encompasses all services that support young children and their families from pre-birth, is an integral part of this work. Therefore all the core elements are embedded within the Essex Early Years and Childcare Strategy 2021 – 2026.

The aim of this strategy is to help us to better identify need, develop evidence-based practice and ultimately raise outcomes for our disadvantaged pupils in Essex. We are committed to walking this journey with you.

Philippa Holliday
Assistant Director
Education Directorate
Essex County Council

Read more about Marc’s work in his blog Addressing the Catch Up Conundrum’ here.

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