Closing the gap – what’s the secret?

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By Guest Writer
on 05 January, 2015

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The recently released primary performance tables reveal that we’ve just had the best ever results for our children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; some local authorities are doing exceptionally well with none of their schools below floor target.

How do they do it? For 22,000 of our poorest pupils it’s a good news story, with the latest DfE figures showing a significant increase in the numbers of pupils reaching government targets in maths, reading and writing at key stage two. The number of disadvantaged pupils achieving a Level 4 has risen from 61% of pupils in 2012, to 67% in 2014. This increase has been due to the sheer hard work schools have undertaken to support their disadvantaged pupils and families no doubt with the help of the pupil premium grant and these efforts were rightly praised by Ofsted’s Michael Wilshaw.

But what about the remaining disadvantaged children, what else can we do? The figures also highlighted the local authorities that have been pulling up their proverbial socks. It led me to ponder what exactly it is that Blackpool, Camden, and North Tyneside, to name a few, do to close that famous gap and ensure all their schools meet the 65% target. What is the secret and what are the barriers that prevent all schools succeeding?

My recent experiences in successful schools suggest that the starting point is a commitment and belief from the whole school that all children will be effective readers, reading age-appropriately, by the end of their primary years. Every member of staff, from the headteacher to the school administrator, is clear that reading is a key priority for every child. Schools have to know their children well. They need to have a clear understanding, through detailed assessment and close monitoring, of what each child is able to do as well as what they need to do next in order to develop their reading skills. Through well developed and structured catch-up support, early intervention is prioritised and targeted support is available so that every child has access to a tailored programme that will meet their specific needs. The tailored support and intervention is closely monitored and where children fail to progress, this is identified and acted upon swiftly, identifying what else needs to be done. ‘Provision mapping’ is a key part of the school planning process and an emphasis on ensuring all staff supporting pupils are trained well in order to deliver quality support for pupils.

As a Reading Recovery teacher, this is close to my heart. Whilst working in schools for many years, both teaching pupils in Reading Recovery and advising schools on developing their intervention support, all too often, the best laid plans come unstuck. With the best will in the world, staff absence, or other immediate school priorities, impact on pupils in programmes, such as Boosting Reading Potential or Inference Training, and essential sessions are lost. What successful schools seem to manage well is whole-school provision and they acknowledge that the intervention that has been planned will be as effective as the time and expertise given to it. Planning, monitoring and absolute determination is the key!

Authored by Jane Sowerby

Reading room

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