What is ‘the gap’?
Schools are striving to ‘close the gap’ between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils, as in many settings there is a gap in the progress made between the two groups:
‘There is a huge gap in our school between the progress of non-PPG (Pupil Premium Grant) students compared to PPG students.’
Why is there a gap?
Many schools have identified pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds as also having low levels of parental engagement. They are seeking ways to overcome this by providing academic support for pupils at home as well as pastoral support.
‘Better support around the child outside of school with clear communication between all relevant agencies involved would add to improvement. More parental accountability around attendance and support for child’s development socially and educationally would be welcome.’
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are often considered to have lower aspirations, which can impact negatively on their academic performance: ‘Raise their aspirations and remove the fatalistic and deterministic attitude.’
Access to learning materials
As one senior leader commented, schools should ‘address material deprivation so they can focus on learning’. Providing consistent access to learning materials, such as revision guides, books and computer devices was considered an essential component in closing the gap.
Strategies for closing the gap
1. Senior members of staff to do additional data analysis
Many schools now employ a member of staff to do in-depth performance analysis of disadvantaged pupils. This data is shared with the teaching staff, discussing strategies to accommodate the needs of individual pupils
2. Additional teaching / support staff
Many schools are also employing additional teaching or support staff to provide 1:1 or group intervention. These can take place during lessons, after school or on the weekend.
3. Published schemes or intervention programmes
Some schools have invested in published programmes such as Accelerated Reader or PiXL. However, investment in such products is typically determined by needs, so more bespoke interventions, developed by the teacher, seem to be more common.
4. Classroom layout
Teachers make sure that disadvantaged pupils are easily identified during lessons, by seating them in specific places. This ensures that the pupils are known by the teacher and that they can receive differentiated support or learning materials if needed.
5. Free or reduced-cost learning materials for students
Schools provide free learning materials to pupils, such as revision guides. For those who don’t have computer access at home, the school also offers them access after school hours.
6. Parental engagement meetings
Sessions to engage and support parents are often offered by schools.
‘Have a dedicated PP coordinator who identifies the progress of all PP students in KS4 and targets underachievers for specific intervention. This can vary based on the needs of the student and the area of underachievement. These might be buying extra resources and equipment, taking students out for one to one work or others.’
‘There really aren’t any hard and fast strategies for raising attainment but we are all aware of the PP students in our departments.’
‘This is both an academic and a pastoral issue. As both a teacher and a senior leader in the school, we want to produce a conducive learning atmosphere for all pupils. That said, one is always aware of the particular challenges for disadvantaged pupils and we look to provide both academic and pastoral support when it is needed.’
Impact on progress
The strategies outlined above seem to be yielding mixed results for different schools. In some cases, pupil premium students are out-performing their ‘non-disadvantaged’ counterparts as a result of the measures put in place by the school, but in other settings the impact is much less apparent.
The attitude of the pupil is also vitally important, so academic solutions should sit alongside a programme of pastoral care and parental interaction. Regularly reviewing the impact of these strategies seems to be key, and this highlights the importance of close collaboration between senior leaders who analyse performance data and class teachers who implement many of the approaches.
Many senior leaders recognise that they already offer disadvantaged pupils a good selection of academic support tools, but would like more provision for pastoral care, for example:
- More opportunities for parental involvement
- The option to offer home tuition
- A place for students to go and have food, and do their revision or home learning
- More interaction with primary feeder schools, so that there is less of a gap when pupils enter year 7.
They suggested that the above could be achieved through increased staffing and time to work with students on a 1:1 basis.
One respondent noted that to provide any additional support for disadvantaged pupils would be ‘beyond the schools’ remit’, indicating that they weren’t sure how much more they could offer.
About this research: SchoolZone consulted with 50 secondary schools in December 2016 to ask them what issues they faced in closing the gap for disadvantaged students and ensuring they could be targeted effectively to achieve progress. Research was commissioned by SAM Learning, who provide a cost-effective framework for Targeted Intervention. Click here to find out more.