Karl Robbins, head of year 11 at Broadway Academy, describes how they identified and implemented the strategies to successfully reduce the gap in disadvantaged students’ GCSE results
Last year, the average progress for disadvantaged pupils was compared to the +0.05 progress their peers made in the 2018 GCSE results. Attainment data does not make for better reading: last year, disadvantaged pupils were around half as likely to get a grade five in maths and English than their peers. For this reason, I was thrilled to see SSAT have made social justice their main issue this year.
In the summer of 2017, I was eagerly awaiting the results from my first term as a head of year 11. Overall, we had performed quite well as a school, but something bothered me: I was disappointed that our gap for pupil premium was a huge -0.35. These students had performed poorly compared to their peers. After being given the post again the following year, I was determined to improve outcomes for our disadvantaged students. In 2018, we reduced the pupil premium gap to -0.06 and our initial look at the 2019 results suggest that we now have no gap at all between the two groups.
Understanding the challenges faced by disadvantaged pupils, and how we can overcome them as educators, has been my main focus for the past two years. I think this is where social justice begins for schools. Put simply, doing our best to ensure that students perform to the best of their ability regardless of what home they come from.
With this in mind, I would like to share the following strategies that helped our school get from a pupil premium gap of -0.35 to (hopefully) zero:
If your school targets nothing else to close the gap, target this. We found that giving these students a separate tutor, holding parental meetings at the start of the year, having minibus pick-ups and being relentless with sanctions led to a target group of students attending 28.5 more lessons in year 11 than they had in year 10 on average.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of working with disadvantaged students is trying to get them to care about their education. Many of them have attitudes and beliefs passed on by parents, which are not conducive to thriving in school. Confidence is often very low too, which is especially true for boys and perhaps, the white working class.
I am a huge fan of the Gatsby Benchmarks: in order to win the battle, you must paint the picture of what’s to come at post-sixteen and beyond. Disadvantaged pupils are often not taken to open days by their parents. They don’t seem to understand what happens after school and they don’t link education to future income or wellbeing. As such, they tend to place little value on it. Thus, making sure students understand their choices and the difference between a level 2 and a level 3 course, and that they will have to retake maths and English if they don’t perform, is crucial. Most students will face 20-30 exams over a few short weeks. The stress of this along with the monumental effort needed to succeed is incredibly arduous. Help them create a goal that justifies such a sacrifice, or suffer the daily battle of disruption and malevolence right up to July.
There are plenty of debates as to how often this should happen and how it correlates with teacher workload. However it is done, you need to use it to know your pupils inside-out. For example, we used online revision and homework platforms for year 11 because they simplify tracking engagement along with behaviour, progress and attendance. Based on this information, we used interventions including tutoring, subject revision, change of tutor, parental meetings, career meetings and behaviour sanctions.
Many of these strategies were adapted from those used by winners of the Pupil Premium Awards. Reading the case studies from these schools, alongside the academic literature and student polls, helped us form a sensible, research-based approach.
Next year, we will be taking a closer look around February and March, to find PP students who are most likely to engage with the resources that we provide and thus actually contribute to closing the gap. It has also caused me to come up with the following, refined model, for narrowing the gap next year.
Narrowing the gap: different groups, different tactics
|Low progress, low effort disadvantaged pupils||Medium progress, high effort pupil premium pupils|
|• Tutor group with member of SLT, to ensure strenuous tracking of attendance and academic performance• Early careers interviews and full plans for post sixteen created in first term
• Collected for P6 daily
• Take part in small metacognition workshops
|• Tutoring – 2 students to each tutor, with action tutoring, every week• Compulsory attendance to the weekly intervention for any subject where they are not making progress
• Take part in small metacognition workshops.
Above all, it is crucial to know the barriers facing your disadvantaged students: what exactly is causing the difference in progress and attainment? And how can you address it head on, with effective interventions?
Learn more about SSAT’s fight for deep social justice in the education system.