'Contrary to the demands of unreasonable politicians, there is no quick fix for the underperformance of disadvantaged kids'

9th November 2015 at 17:30
Underperformance of poor kids

Learning is a journey, and turning around the educational attainment of the most disadvantaged in our society is a longer journey than most. So it is proving to be with the pupil premium, according to a report by the National Foundational for Educational Research (NFER), published last week.

The report contains four key findings:

  • Schools have used an average of 18 strategies to support disadvantaged pupils since the Pupil Premium was introduced in 2011. Greater success was associated with schools using fewer strategies;
  • The way schools implement their strategies is important. The research identified seven distinct ‘building blocks of success’ (see below);
  • Schools’ typical pathways to improvement take around three to five years;
  • Certain school characteristics have a strong relationship with disadvantaged pupils’ performance, but there is wide variation between similar schools.

The seven building blocks of success can be found in the NFER report’s Briefing for school leaders, much like the twelve strategies for success found in my July 2015 blog.

It is particularly good to read from an authoritative body such as the NFER that effective reform takes time. Contrary to the unreasonable expectations of so many politicians over the years, there is no quick fix and no single magic bullet in any field of educational endeavour – especially in turning around the fortunes of children whose families may have had generations of low achievement, unemployment and all the issues that accompany these background factors.

The pupil premium started in 2011 and the first Ofsted survey in 2012 reported that schools, which were largely unprepared for this new funding stream, were spending the pupil premium on more teaching assistants and subsidising school trips, without any evidence of impact on progress and attainment.

Since then, schools have gradually begun to use evidence of what works best with disadvantaged learners, notably the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, now used by 64 per cent of schools.

Some schools have been slow to embrace the power of this evidence, but many are using it to good effect and also tapping into the available evidence on the websites of the most successful schools, notably those that have won regional and national pupil premium awards.

What works for one school, however, does not necessarily work in others. There is no short-cut to analysing the barriers to learning experienced by pupil premium learners and implementing successful strategies to help them overcome those barriers.

With a twin focus on individual need and high quality teaching, attainment of disadvantaged students can be raised and the gap narrowed.

But it won’t happen overnight.

John Dunford is a former general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL and a former pupil premium champion for the DfE

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