Closing the gap

I have just completed the 2 compulsory Face-to-face sessions at the IOE London as part of my NPQSL. I thought it’d be helpful to share what I’ve learned from these days (carefully NOT breaking the professional confidentiality we all agreed on) and what ideas I’m taking back to my school as a result.

Firstly, we were given this quote to consider (unsure of who it’s by) and I want to share it, just so that in a culture where we’re so caught up in acronyms and labels, we don’t forget that we’re dealing with humans:

“Treating pupils who are labelled as belonging to a particular group as homogenous is simply misleading. Despite the clear trends and averages associated with these groups, each of the pupils is unique and it is not possible to predict the extent to which their circumstances might define their potential”

In-school variation is the greatest factor in determining the causes of gaps in achievement. All of the “closing the gap” initiatives happening in schools right now, should be about addressing this. Don’t be concerned with what the school down the road is doing, the real problem to be tackled is much closer to home. Successfully doing this, though, remains a stubbornly difficult task.

All schools should be investing in their greatest (and yes, costliest) resource; TEACHERS. Get all of your teachers to be performing at their absolute best in the classroom, with every child and guess what, you might not have any gaps at all. In practice though, what does this look like? High-quality CPD, greater staff ownership of their CPD, all teachers as researchers, enhanced and purposeful communication between your departments/faculties in schools, a collective ethos of reflective practice, embedding a culture of everyone wanting to succeed.

Keeping up, not catching up

How many of us agree that most “interventions” tend to happen at KS4? They’re a sort of “knee jerk” reaction to the “this child is going to leave school without a certain amount of GCSEs unless we do something fast” kind-of-thing. Already now, this is TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. We need to do more to stop the gaps opening up so wide (if at all), as students progress through their years at secondary. Getting them at Year 7 is crucial. Getting them to be “keeping up” with their learning and not “catching up” later on. Yet, as we know, most schools priortise their staffing at GCSE and put their best teachers in these classes. KS3 can often be a mish-mash of non-specialist subject teachers, shared classes and cover lessons.

Strategies

How am I going to lead on intervention and closing the gap in my MFL faculty at school? Well, we’re already seeing improvements in results, year on year, because my priority right from the start was sorting out the Teaching and Learning. When I took over the faculty 4 years ago, there was high staff turnover, lack of subject specialists in KS3 French and no consistency of practice at all, between teachers and classes.

The teaching and learning that goes in every classroom is crucial for student success. Other things can be effective “add ons”, but unless you (we) address what happens behind closed classroom doors, any bolt-on “interventions” are ridiculously futile.

Some things to consider:

  • High quality teacher-student relationships
  • Careful teacher monitoring of student progress
  • Go beyond “monitoring” your staff; allow more peer-to-peer observations, support, professional dialogue, team teaching, high quality in-school INSET
  • Higher levels of parental involvement
  • Staff as learning mentors for key groups of students (FSM, PP, SEN etc)
  • Access to revision/homework/lunchtime clubs
  • Seating plans- think about whether or not you inadvertently “group” certain students together?
  • Purchasing extra resources (revision guides, ICT, study days, trips etc)

Leadership to close the gap- is this just SLT’s “job”?

A final point to consider; the best attaining schools tend to be those where there is effective distributed leadership. From West-Burnham (2011): Learning Centred Leadership. A point which I thought makes real sense: “Redefine leadership in schools so that it is seen as situational (school, team, classroom) rather than linked to hierarchical status”. Empower all of your staff, within a school and work together as a team, with a shared goal. It really can be that simple.

If you’re asked about interventions for, say, Pupil Premium students, it might be worth reading this: Sutton trust

Don’t forget as well, it’s a statutory requirement that all schools receiving PP funding publish on their website, a breakdown of how it is spent.