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Using cooperative learning to close the gap

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Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to

This is the fifth of our Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to series. During the series, you will hear from practitioners and leaders who are presenting at this year’s Achievement Show – giving you a preview of what to expect from their presentations.

This taster focuses on St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy, Sunderland and how they undertook a whole school, year-long project that focused on closing the gap through classroom practice.


Zone: Teaching and Learning
Presentation: Using cooperative learning to close the gap
School: St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy
Presenters: Jude Wallis, Teaching and Learning Coordinator and Marie Lanaghan, Assistant Headteacher

A whole school, year-long project at St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy focused on closing the progress gap through classroom practice. Through the use of in-house CPD, the school trialled a number of cooperative learning techniques and spread the use of those they found worked best for these teachers.


Teaching and learning coordinator Jude Wallis, and Marie Lanaghan, AHT responsible for CPD and partnerships, will tell Achievement Show delegates how they implemented this approach, the reactions and the key outcomes of this collaborative cross-departmental work to close the gap between pupils eligible for the pupil premium and their peers.

‘We started with some very simple examples, such as pupil rallies, in which pairs of students have to take turns in naming, for example, the kings of England,‘ Jude explains. This requires them all to participate, and avoids a few pupils dominating the class.

In order to avoid some children struggling to keep up the rallies, the teacher gets them all to write down their ideas first; while they are doing this s/he walks around the classroom, quietly suggesting some ideas where the pupils are stumped.

Pupil rallies (a bit like tennis) require them all to participate, and avoids a few pupils dominating the class

Each teacher monitors the progress of their pupil premium cohort against the cohort as a whole. ‘This is not a scientific experiment, of course,’ Jude adds. Pupils’ progress is tracked from their recent start points such as key stage gradings, and PP students’ progress is compared with their peer group.

How are staff supported in implementing this?
All the academy’s teachers take part in teaching and learning (T&L) groups. Mutual observation by pairs of teachers has also been found very effective – it is the observer who usually gains most from the experience, and the discussion after each observation that has most value.

It’s a non-threatening way for people to progress, Jude and Marie agree. In the last CPD session of the academic year, T&L groups discuss what benefits they gained from this work and what their classes gained.

In the last CPD session of the academic year, T&L groups discuss what benefits they gained from their mutual observations and what their classes gained

These discussions also use data on each pupil’s social skills, which is important for those on pupil premium. How do you assess social skills?

The teachers look for pupils’ confidence in offering their opinions and suggestions (rather than having to be cajoled into speaking); and their relationships with others in the class. How well do they work together?

Part of the CPD programme is introducing staff to a variety of cooperative learning techniques. Each teacher is expected to apply one of three techniques with a particular class at least once each fortnight.

Teachers again observe each other and discuss their observations. ‘Most teachers get really engaged with this,’ says Jude. In total some 10 of these techniques are now practised at St Anthony’s.

Each teacher is expected to apply one of three techniques with a particular class at least once each fortnight

The outcomes so far have been encouraging, with lower ability pupils’ performance in a mixed-ability A-level class dropping below their peers’ less than they did previously.

One student said, ‘I was struggling with that, but actually now I get it!’ Jude comments, ‘It’s that kind of response that really makes a difference.’

St Anthony’s planned next stage is to take part in an EEF-SSAT trial on assessment – the school’s next priority – with the aim of developing ongoing assessment within the classroom to improve pupil progress.

Jude and Marie plan to offer delegates at their presentation examples and instructions for the cooperative learning techniques they have been working with – ‘and anecdotes about what happens in practice!’


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