Closing the Gap - A collaborative project across Leicestershire Teaching School Alliances
About this project
Tackling disadvantage is a challenge. It is widely acknowledged that increasing educational attainment will improve life chances and promote social mobility. Much has been researched and written over a number of years, and government continues to target disadvantage with significant amounts of funding. Despite this, gaps in Leicestershire remain wider than those nationally at all key stages, and in 2016 they had widened further (see Fig 1).
The six teaching school alliances (TSAs) have worked together over the past academic year to develop a series of case studies and range of materials which exemplify aspects of effective practice based on closing the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils. These case studies and related resources represent a snapshot of some of the work that has been undertaken and are shared here in the spirit of collaboration with all schools in Leicestershire. They reflect some of our learning: what has worked and what has not. The project has involved early years, primary and secondary schools.
About these resources
The resources are organised into six key themes. Each tab/theme includes a short introduction and a series of links to practical resources and one or two case studies. The ‘Useful links’ are a range of research and reports that are already available elsewhere but which have been used during the project.
Not all case studies are published online but all teaching schools alliances are happy to be contacted by anyone who would like to find out more. Contact details for each alliance are included in the information here.
Summary recommendations – what have we learned?
A principled approach:
- Senior leadership commitment to co-ordinate and drive the project
- A project leader with specific responsibility to plan and implement the action plan
- A clear starting and end point which includes analysis of need and time for evaluation of impact
- School based learning with a focus on research and development and effective models of professional development
- Flexibility to shape individual projects to the distinct needs of the school(s)
- Regular face to face meetings with a commitment to attend and to share learning and resources
- Using existing research and evidence as the starting point
- Not everything needs additional funding – look to use existing resources
- The project followed a simple but important structure of analyse, plan, do, review. This project was planned in four key periods of time
- Summer Term (first half) – analysis of a range of information to identify the specific needs of this community. Agreeing the issue that needs to be tackled.
- Summer Term (second half) - identifying a range of options based on research and evidence and then refining a clearly structured action plan linked to strategic priorities.
- Autumn and Spring terms – implementing the action plan including regular checks on progress and making any amendments based on findings and linked back to research. Leadership oversight to ensure that project remains on track.
- Summer Term – evaluating the impact of the project through outcomes analysis and other monitoring such as pupil attitude surveys, questionnaires, etc.
- Leadership of Closing the Gap
- Emotional Health and Well-being
- Reaching out to Parents
- Promoting Reading
- Early Years - Communication and Language
Leadership of Closing the Gap
The following ideas and resources are taken from a range of case studies. Although no case studies focused specifically on leadership and management, throughout the project is theSome recommendations for leaders
- Identify key staff throughout the school to lead on disadvantaged pupils – create a ‘team’. (Groby Community College has clear lines of reporting and accountability and this has made a difference to practice and outcomes)
- Choose those who are keen to take on a project and make sure that they have time to plan and implement the agreed actions. (Husbands Bosworth identified a member of staff who was passionate about Emotional Literacy to lead, using the school’s access to professional expertise and training through the TSA)
- Ensure that professional development is built into the performance management cycle and linked to outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. (Broom Leys made significant inroads with a school-wide performance management approach which focused primarily on closing the gap)
- Use the Education Endowment Fund toolkit as the basis for teacher led research. Use this approach to identify which strategies work best for your school take the same ‘action research’ approach. (Kibworth CofE Primary used the EEF toolkit as the basis for school-led research and development)
The four case study links here are examples of how leaders in different circumstances have optimised opportunities to combine research and teacher-led learning.
- Thomas Estley Teaching School Alliance combines a range of leadership projects all of which focus on closing the gap – click here
- Kibworth CofE primary school uses the Education Endowment Fund as the basis for action research in school - click here
- Broom Leys uses performance management as a lever for whole school engagement in closing the gap – click here
- Heather Primary School has been involved in Achievement for All - click here
NFER (2015) Building Blocks of Pupil Premium Success
Emotional Health and Well-being
Emotional health and well-being featured strongly in all the project work. This is unsurprising given that we know how important it is to ensure that pupils are feeling safe and have the resilience to face new learning challenges.
The ideas and resources in this section focus on whole school strategies to develop children’s emotional health. The Department for Education published guidance for schools in 2016. This highlighted the following ways in which schools can promote pupils’ mental health:
- A committed senior management team
- An ethos of setting high expectations of attainment for all pupils with consistently applied support
- An effective strategic role for the SENCO
- Working with parents and carers as well as the pupils themselves
- Continuous professional development for staff
- Clear systems and processes to help staff who identify children and young people with mental health problems
- Working with others to provide interventions for pupils with mental health problems that use a graduated approach to inform a clear cycle of support
- A healthy school approach to promoting the health and well-being of all pupils in the school
Schools in the Oadby Learning Partnership worked together to share ideas about supporting pupils with emotional and mental health needs. They developed and used a tool to track well-being and a one page profile. They also focused mentoring programmes on this target group of pupils.
At Kingsway primary school leaders used the links to the Virtual School to develop an Emotion Coaching programme, with a particular focus on children in care. This improved pupils’ readiness to learn and adults’ repertoire of strategies to support pupils.
At Husbands Bosworth CofE primary school, the project focused on training for Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSA). The ELSA leads a focused intervention programme to which is tailored to meet the needs of pupils.Case study links
- A whole school evaluation tool based on DfE publication, Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools – click here
- Risk and protective factors – information that could be used as the basis for early identification – click here
- Children’s happiness scale – click here
- Mental well-being toolkit – click here
- Well-being survey for children and young people – click here
- Mental health and behaviour in schools – click here
Reaching out to Parents
The following ideas and resources are taken from a range of case studies and tools that schools involved have used. Parental Engagement was the most challenging of the areas selected.
NFER produced a useful guide to parental engagement in 2013 which we have included in the resources as well as tools and case studies that project schools have developed.
Key messages from NFER Teacher Guide (NFER 2013)
- Use evidence to choose the best parental engagement strategies for you school
- Give your parental strategies the best chance of working (time/commitment/listening to parents’ needs)
- Evaluate the success of parental engagement strategies
- Prioritise communication
- Maximise choice, minimise barriers
- Provide advice, emotional support and training to enable positive parenting (with a non-threatening, non-judgemental approach)
- Work with others
- Don’t forget fathers
The Department for Education also produced a lengthy but useful review of best practice in parental engagement in 2011. This may seem a long time ago but much of the information still stands.
The case study vignettes below identify some ways in which schools in primary and secondary school have engaged with parents and families in different ways, using the research findings above as a basis for their project work.
King Edward VII, Coalville used social media as a way of engaging those students, including disadvantaged students, who do not readily commit to additional learning. This included a weekly blog, Twitter and questions posted on Instagram.
Richmond Primary School increased the number of meetings with parents of disadvantaged pupils, rather than relying just on the termly parents’ meetings. The additional meetings were less formal and more of a dialogue to build positive working relationships.
Robert Smyth Academy prioritised parents of disadvantaged pupils first when booking appointments for parents’ evening, as well as targeting poor attendees, focusing on the EEF toolkit and working with other local schools.
STEP teaching school alliance focused on developing better transition arrangements with pre-schools so that disadvantaged families were more quickly identified and conversations could include the benefits of applying for Early Years Pupil Premium funding as well as building positive relationships with vulnerable families.
Case Study - King Edward VII, Coalville - Click Here
Parental Engagement tools and ideas
- Self-evaluation tool – Engaging parents – Click Here
- Mapping parental engagement – Click Here
- Parental support action plan – Click Here
The ideas and resources in this section focus on ways in which schools have developed and improved reading. We know that getting children off to a good start in reading is critical in ensuring future success. Mastering early reading skills, developing fluency and enjoyment of books are fundamental. However, for some pupils, these skills and competencies remain tricky to achieve.
There is a wealth of reading material available and many schools are revisiting their approach to reading, developing whole class reading and with an increasing focus on vocabulary development.
The Education Endowment Foundation has highlighted the most promising approaches based on the evidence of their research as:
- Oral language interventions which focus on spoken language and verbal interaction. This will benefit both reading and writing.
- Phonics approaches that are embedded in a rich literacy environment, recognising that this is only one part of a successful literacy strategy.
- Reading comprehension approaches which focus on learners’ understanding of the text. This includes explicit teaching of techniques that enable pupils to comprehend the meaning, such as inferring the meaning from context, summarizing, using graphic and semantic organisers, etc.
Additional information on the EEF website is regularly updated as more research is evaluated (link below).
Most project case studies focused on interventions where pupils had fallen behind.
"King Edward VII used Lexia as a short term targeted intervention with Year 10 and 11. This included regular reading sessions at home, breakfast reading and structured learning conversations with tutees. Outcomes improved significantly."
"Manor High School and Loughborough Learning Alliance used links to Premier League Reading Stars to create reading programmes to support and motivate reluctant and struggling readers."
"Newbridge High School focused on support for pupils in Year 7, using a range of interventions and ensuring that parents were informed through meetings about how to support their child."
Case Study Links:
Early Years – Communication and Language
The project at STEP teaching school alliance focused on early years and looked at a range of issues relating to early years. The main focus was to develop some training and resources for communication and language.
The Education Endowment Foundation has a specific early years toolkit which can be found at https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/resources/early-years-toolkit/
As part of the project STEP ran additional training sessions for to support the development of communication and language. A set of ‘small talk’ resources were developed. These can be found here
Links to key research and reading
Case study directory
The project has generated a range of case studies which are listed
Mandi Collins – Thomas Estley Learning Alliance
Helen Joy – Forest Way Teaching School Alliance
Teaching School Project Co-ordinators
James Brown – Affinity Teaching School Alliance
Heidi Mailiff and Leanne Fahey – Forest Way Teaching School Alliance
Jo Beaumont and Peter Hayes – Loughborough Learning Alliance
Jan Knox and Vanessa Mehta – Oadby Learning Partnership
Jess McClelland and Kirstie Randle – STEP Teaching School Alliance
Cathy Cornelius – Thomas Estley Learning Alliance
Finding out more
The six teaching school alliances will be running Teachmeet sessions this term to share in more detail the learning and ideas that have emerged as part of this project as well as other work that is underway to tackle the challenge of closing the gap.