Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils

A new report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) outlines the characteristics of schools successful in raising performance. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell considers the key findings from the research.

Introduction

The pupil premium has been with us since 2011. Its critics suggest that it has not yet managed to deliver the much hoped for transformation in the attainment of those pupils it is designed to help. Research was commissioned in November 2014 to find out more about those schools that were making it happen.

The research report — Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice — addressed three areas of enquiry:

  1. Whether there are any common features of schools that have narrowed the gap successfully.

  2. Whether there are any possible groups/clusters of schools that have narrowed the gap and why this is the case.

  3. What are schools that have narrowed the gap doing compared to other schools? What leads to them doing well? What lessons can be learnt from them?

The Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit has already identified a number of strategies that have evidence to show they work. The NFER research report indicates that schools are using the EEF material and applying the strategies recommended there.

However, some schools are using them more effectively than others and the report looks closely at the individual school characteristics that perhaps make the difference between an effectively applied strategy and a less effective one.

Common features of schools

The research team looked at success from the angle of schools’ current attainment and schools’ improvement over time. They used:

  • Key stage 2 (KS2) SATs results

  • capped average point scores (CAPS) achieved by disadvantaged pupils at Key Stage 4

  • the percentage of disadvantaged pupils achieving five A*–C in GCSEs and equivalent qualifications, including English and maths at Key Stage 4.

The report identified the positive and negative associations that exist for both primary and secondary schools. For primary schools, positive associations included:

  • being located in London and the North East

  • being a teaching school and being a strategic partner in Teaching School Alliances

  • being a converter academy

  • having a higher proportion of pupils from Asian and other white minority ethnic groups

  • having a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils

  • having a higher prior attainment.

Negative associations included:

  • being in the South East, South West, East of England, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, North West

  • being a sponsored academy

  • having a larger number of pupils in the year group

  • having higher proportions of pupils with special educational needs (SEN)

  • having a higher level of pupil absence.

For secondary schools, positive associations included:

  • being located in London, the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside

  • being a teaching school and being a strategic partner in Teaching School Alliances

  • being a Faith or a selective school

  • being a converter and sponsored academy

  • being part of a small or large academy group

  • having a higher proportion of Asian and mixed ethnicity

  • having a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils

  • having a higher prior attainment.

Negative associations included:

  • being in the South East, South West, East of England and North West

  • being in a rural area

  • being a sponsored academy

  • having a larger number of pupils in the year group

  • having a higher level of pupil absence.

There were some differences between primary and secondary schools. Sponsored academies were found to have a positive association with the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools but not in primary schools. Converter academies had a positive association with both types of school.

It was found that pupils with higher prior attainment in both primary and secondary schools were positively associated with successful schools and that having a higher proportion of children with SEN in a primary school, was not. The researchers found that disadvantaged pupils’ performance at KS2 was strongly associated with success at Key Stage 4.

The strategies in use

Schools were using on average 18 different strategies to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. About 64.3% of schools sourced the strategies from within their own schools but 30.5% were using the EEF/Sutton Trust materials to help them identify what strategy to use.

he more successful schools were more likely to have:

  • introduced their strategy early and before 2011 when the pupil premium was introduced

  • funded it through the pupil premium since the introduction of the PP

  • targeted it on a wide range of pupil groups including the high attaining

  • used pupils performance and/ or independent evaluation data to evidence its impact

  • fewer additional staff to work specifically with disadvantaged pupils.

More successful schools were less likely to indicate that the strategies they were implementing were aimed at improving behaviour, attendance or engagement. It seemed to the researchers that these improvements had already been made by the more successful schools and that they had moved on to a more advanced stage of development.

The top three most popular strategies and those considered to be the most effective were the following.

Most popular and effective strategies

Strategy

Percentage using the strategy

Percentage identifying the strategy as being the most effective

Paired or small group additional teaching

95.2%

18.8%

Improving feedback between teachers and pupils

86.5%

18.7%

One-to-one tuition

85.3%

15.6%

There were some strategies that schools were using that were not identified as being the most effective. For example, 80.9% of schools stated that they were arranging/subsidising trips to cultural venues but this was identified by less than 1% as being their most effective strategy.

There were also differences between primary and secondary schools with more primary schools identifying additional teachers and teaching hours as being their most effective strategy. A higher proportion of secondary schools identified one-to-one tuition as their most effective strategy.

The building blocks

The researchers identified seven what they call “building blocks” for success from the research they had conducted.

  1. Whole-school ethos of attainment for all.

  2. Addressing behaviour and attendance.

  3. High-quality teaching first.

  4. Meeting individual learning needs.

  5. Deploying staff effectively.

  6. Data driven and responding to evidence.

  7. Clear, responsive leadership.

The stages of development

The stages in the journey are described as “Pathways to success” in the report and are labelled as follows.

  1. Basic — the very first stages when schools are addressing attendance and behaviour and establishing quality teaching and continuing professional development (CPD). They might be choosing appropriate strategies and supporting social and emotional needs alongside teaching and learning strategies.

  2. Intermediate — more focus is place on individual learning needs and staff training is a high priority. Accountability becomes a key feature and there is more engagement with families.

  3. Embedded — there is more emphasis on independent learning, collaborative and peer learning. Pupils’ attainment is assessed on entry and early intervention is applied.

  4. Continued development — even higher expectations are set and links are made with other schools and national networks.

Throughout the report, there is an acknowledgment that there is no “one-size fits all”. Schools must customise and adapt strategies, emphasise the importance of quality teaching and learning throughout and constantly reflect on their interventions and performance.

More information

Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research report was produced by Shona Macleod, Caroline Sharp, Daniele Bernardinelli for the National Foundation for Educational research in conjunction with Amy Skipp (Ask research) and Steve Higgins (Durham University) and can be found here.