Schools don’t usually group all disadvantaged pupils together and deliberately teach them badly. A lack of progress by this sub-group maybe a result of more generic issues across the school; disadvantaged children are just impacted on more.
It’s always interesting to visit other schools. Increasingly I’m being asked to support schools that have fallen on hard times due to an Ofsted inspection. The Pupil Premium Review is one such support device; I tend to operate from an ABC perspective as I’m digging around and chatting to people.
Let’s start with the basics; if the pupils aren’t in the building it doesn’t matter how great your teaching is they are not going to benefit from it. Attendance has to be step 1. There is often, understandably and rightly, a lot of focus on reducing persistent absence but not so much on the below average attenders. The 90-95% group’s attendance is not bad enough to attract attention but not good enough to really help accelerate their progress. This group needs strategies that impact with minimal effort; they are a large group – see here.
On average disadvantaged pupils’ attendance is below their more advantaged peers. There’s a double affect here: they miss more lessons and potential learning opportunities leading to more gaps in their learning. As the years go by the gaps become cumulative and exponential. This may explain why their attainment, over time, diverges from pupils from more affluent backgrounds. New knowledge is being built on increasingly fragile and disconnected prior learning; too much of it falls through gaps in prior knowledge.
Assessment becomes the vital tool in your armoury. Problem is for the school under intense external accountability pressures that leaders become obsessed with grades, letters or numbers; in fact, anything that might show progress is being made. Often the systems show nothing of the sort in reality but it may just convince an inspector or two to buy the school some precious time.
Teachers are so worn out creating and feeding data up though the system this data they don’t have time to do the basics. Identify the learning gaps, find out what pupils don’t know and teach them it. The “don’t know” might be the pre-requisite knowledge needed for a new topic.
It won’t happen overnight and people will need to work together but imagine building a set of start and end of unit assessments. Gaps in learning for all pupils, on average more prevalent for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be addressed at the start and end (and hopefully in the middle) of a scheme of learning in a systematic way.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are a diverse lot but then so are those from more advantaged backgrounds. Maybe our current obsession with sub-groups, driven by data analysis and accountability systems, isn’t actually that helpful. Might be worth thinking about how we can get all children to attend more and then ensure they know what they should and need to by continually filling those gaps in learning.
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