What challenges are secondary schools facing around skills gaps?
The new 9–1 grade system makes it difficult to set standards
‘Currently, in all subjects, there is a general feeling of uneasiness about what 9–1 looks like in that subject, so teachers are lacking confidence in making assessment predictions before these GCSEs have even been sat. Therefore current school-generated data is likely to be more inaccurate for the next few years as the reforms and the associated standards bed in for both teachers and students.
Issues with data accuracy and identifying next steps
‘The actual data gathered on low-attaining students is unfortunately just that. It tells us that they are less able. We know that they achieve poorly in tests and we know that this is down to literacy problems and other circumstances but we do not have any mechanisms to fall back on once these problems have been identified.’
‘Currently, low KS2 attainers are supported by the SEN department by having regular intervention with assigned staff. This tends to affect any of their timetabled lessons over a fortnight and therefore hinders them in other subjects, whereas in previous schools I have worked in with larger SEN departments it focuses on them during language lessons only.’
Strategies for catch-up intervention
Intervention groups or classes
Schools are setting pupils, placing lower attainers in smaller classes with additional adults for support, and attaching teaching assistants to specific children where possible.
Sessions can be held outside school hours, including summer school, or be substituted for another lesson, often MFL or a second MFL, where the child is withdrawn from other areas of the curriculum.
A range are being used including Read, Write, Inc., Accelerated Reader, MyMaths, Mathletics, Catch-up Literacy, and assessments such as CATs and those published by NFER, FFT, and GL Assessment.
Schools are trying to engage parents in the process for their support or involvement in their child’s learning.
Schools allocate teachers to classes carefully, for example assigning specialists or those with additional training to lower-attaining classes, or giving a class the same teacher over a period of years to ensure consistency. Some staff are trained in this area – e.g. in terms of a subject specialism or SEN qualifications – but this training may have been in-house training rather than external/accredited, since cost is a barrier to external provision. This is the major use of catch-up funding and it’s expensive. The EEF toolkit suggests this is not always effective, though.
Pupils are given ‘fine-grained curricular targets to work towards’, or participate in short-term programmes (e.g. ten weeks) for quick impact. In schools where the majority of the cohort was lower attaining at KS2, little intervention may be done and class teachers will be expected to pitch work appropriately.
Communication with primary schools
Instead of only receiving or relying on KS2 data, secondary schools are trying to improve the sharing of information with feeder primary schools to enable the identification of pupils needing intervention as soon as possible in year 7 on the basis of year 6 teachers’ professional judgements and previous SEN information.
How can schools ensure progress is made?
The uncertainties surrounding new GCSE grades make it very difficult for schools to know how well students are doing: it’s hard to measure progress when we don’t know what the target is. At the other end, mistrust of new SATs data compounds the issue. Schools need better guidance and more comprehensive assessment data to measure progress. But measuring progress is only one part of the story: what should schools be doing to ensure it?
The study shows schools using well-founded methods – arranging groups, training and assigning teachers – as well as working more proactively with parents and primary schools. However, the newer teaching approaches described by these 50 schools involve using assessment data to target specific aspects of the curriculum where students are failing. This targeted intervention draws on the well-founded methods, but, by adopting a more strategic approach over a longer period, helps to ensure that students who arrive in Y7 with weaker literacy or numeracy skills have the most appropriate staff and resources assigned to help them.
Schools also requested:
- A better idea of what attainment looks like at GCSE according to the new 9–1 grades, and help in mapping year 7 performance to these to predict outcomes or create target grades.
- A consistent approach across the school, instead of many departments using their own approach or strategy.
- A way to resolve the issue of workload relating to data entry, and the problems of not being able to do this while off-site.
About this research: SchoolZone consulted with 50 secondary schools in December 2016 to ask them what issues they faced in helping students struggling with basic skills when they arrived in Y7 and how they would like to be able to address them. Research was commissioned by SAM Learning, who provide a cost-effective framework for Targeted Intervention. Click here to find out more.