Some schools take the kitchen sink approach; throw everything at it. Others are so underfunded that Pupil Premium funding is essentially used to ensure they can deliver a core education. Many schools have latched on to the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching & Learning Toolkit. Collectively, however, we are failing to have an impact. The statistics are clear and stark.
Even once you have the evidence from the toolkit, understanding what is required and implementing it consistently across the school can be a massive challenge. For example, an element of the feedback intervention is feedback to the teacher and the teacher responding to it in terms of adjusting their teaching. Yet this intervention is often primarily viewed as feedback to pupils which then gets caught up in the greater quagmire that is marking. Metacognition and self-regulation, which we’ve talked about a number of times within the Trust, tends to leave many teachers looking at each other blankly. Their faces say, “Sounds great. What the hell do you think it is? Anyone have a clue how this works in the classroom?”
Mastery Learning (third on the list) caught my eye; at least the first part of the sentence. This has been the focus of a lot of our teachers’ and leaders’ work over the past two years.
However, despite our best efforts with re-teaching and differentiated small group intervention work in class, the second part of the sentence would be more likely to read … “which are pursued until most objectives are achieved by a good few pupils.” The pupils who don’t achieve are statistically most likely to be those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their underachievement becomes cumulative and exponential as each learning gap makes future learning more difficult. As teachers we just too often move on to the next part of the curriculum. As leaders we actively encourage this approach or by our silence condone it; curriculum coverage is king, mastery is secondary. Pupils who fall behind are put into lower groups or sets and less expected of them; it’s a negative spiral.
Making the Private Public & Systematic
Developing and planning a mastery curriculum on its own is unlikely to be enough. In stark contrast to England, the highest performing countries, states or cities around the World pursue mastery of fewer concepts and also crucially believe the vast majority of pupils can and should achieve. The worst excesses of this type of approach can be seen in hours upon hours of private or additional tuition late into the evening. I’m not advocating that but what to do when pupils inevitably don’t all progress at the same time or at the same rate?
In England, the relatively modest levels of extra private tuition are reserved for those with more than modest salaries. The advantaged become more advantaged. I’m wondering whether it would be possible to bring private tuition in-house and make it systematic? The idea is bouncing around in my head.
Disadvantaged pupils are not a homogeneous group some are doing just fine, in terms of progress, others not so. Identifying the “not so” in our academies’ assessment system is relatively easy; RAG rated with red identifying a lack of progress against the curriculum.
The information about “pupils’ specific needs” (point 1 above) is available due to the way class teachers analyse assessments. The class teacher has it at their fingertips and though transferring it to another person, for example, a private tutor, would be possible it would be cumbersome.
The best person to deliver the extra tuition would be the class teacher. That’s going to be problematic if we want to manage workload. One option would be to offer it as a separate contract; essentially pay teachers to give additional tuition to small groups of pupils from their classes, out of school hours. We could run two 45 minute sessions from 3:30 to 5:00 pm. The next assessment point could be used to determine whether the pupils have or haven’t caught up. Apart from finding the money (I’ll worry about that later; Opportunity Area Funding would be well spent in this way or divert Pupil Premium Funding) there is the issue of making it systematic so any pupil who required remedial support would get it. You couldn’t require a teacher to do it; it’s not part of their contract but additional, hence the need for a separate contract with extra pay. There are other options but I’m not up for unpicking and rewriting teachers’ pay & conditions.
We’re Currently At First Base
In terms of the progress being made by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (Pupil Premium Funded) they made: a third of a grade more progress at St. Mary’s when compared to disadvantaged pupils nationally and at Christ the King progress in Reading and Mathematics was positive and statistically significantly in the 2016 Key Stage 2 SATs for this sub-group.
We’ve still some way to go as their positive progress means they have only just caught up with/are catching up with, but not yet passed, their more affluent peers in terms of overall attainment. It’s a start but I’m wondering how to link Mastery Learning with systematic remedial work for small groups; Early Years to Year 13. I think this approach might just allow us to steal second, third and possibly even fourth base.