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Forget league tables and put best teachers with toughest pupils, schools told

Schools should ignore league table pressures and allocate their “best teachers” to the pupils most at risk of exclusion, a report published today recommends.

The most able staff ought to be running “nurture groups” with lower pupil-teacher ratios for young people “who are likely to find it difficult to adjust to the school environment”, according to the paper written by the Inclusion Trust charity and thinktank LKMco.

It highlights the plight of what it terms “pushed-out learners” – the thousands of young people “marginalised from conventional schools”.

Where such pupils do stay in mainstream schools, the report advises heads to dedicate their top teachers to providing “a focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills, core academic subjects and social, emotional and behaviour development”.

Loic Menzies, LKMco director, said that by best teachers he meant staff who excelled at academic achievement, pastoral support and behaviour management.

“There is such a high risk of these kids falling through the net that we can’t afford to let anything slip by,” he said. “But under the current [league table] system there is a prioritisation of C-D [GCSE grade] borderline kids, which means that schools are often tactical in targeting their best teachers at those middle sets.”

But he said that the government’s new "Progress 8" secondary school GCSE accountability measure – designed to give schools credit for all grades and launching next year – should improve the situation. “We think the perverse incentive will go away and we hope our recommendation will push things further in that direction.”

However, today’s report also highlights the lack of capacity in schools to deal with the most vulnerable pupils.

“Most teachers just don’t have the bandwidth,” Anna Smee, UK Youth chief executive, is quoted as saying. “You know they all have…almost without exception, exactly the right aspirations and intentions but how can we expect them to do a nine ‘til four in class, go home to prepare all of the lessons and around this provide social care and wraparound support for these kids.”

Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said: “I think schools go to great lengths to try to help the most vulnerable pupils by giving them support from teachers and support staff with the most appropriate skills to work with them.

“But the fact of the matter is that small classes are very expensive indeed and to put small numbers of pupils in nurture groups at a time when hard decisions are being made about budgets may well be unrealistic even though it might be desirable.”

The report follows Department for Education statistics which revealed last month that just 1 per cent of students in pupil referral units or other alternative provision achieved at least five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths in 2013-14.

It says that "pushed-out learners" are “characterised by their struggles in adjusting to school, their vulnerability due to personal or family circumstances and the gaps they have in their basic needs and skills”.

Duza Stosic, education director at youth charity Kids Company, said: “If they don’t have anywhere to sleep, if they don’t have beds at home, if they don’t have food…how can you expect them to achieve academically?”

Related stories:

A school of hard knocks – and second chances – 16 January 2015

Exclusions push pupils into 'risky' behaviour, says Barnardo's – 26 November 2010




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