Closing The Gap Is At The Heart Of Our Culture As A Trust

Date: May 19th 2020

CEO Jane Fletcher was interviewed by the FT for an article on whether the lockdown will have a permanent impact on the most disadvantaged?

She told the paper “Closing the gap’ is at the heart of our culture as a trust. It’s one of the phrases that is in our DNA. Our aim is to leave no pupil behind.”

You can read the article published today in the Financial Times here. Here is more detail on our approach to closing the gap during lockdown that couldn’t be included in the short article:

The suggestion that Covid-19 will widen the attainment gap is a very valid one. It’s sadly what we would expect to happen from what we believe we know as practitioners. We know that disadvantaged children make less progress already than their peers. We know that those disadvantage children are often (but not always) harder to engage with additional support out of hours, with independent work at home, with summer schools etc.

Understanding why is the critical factor because it ensures that we use our resources effectively.

There’s no straightforward answer; multiple things combine to create this effect – it’s not as simple as a lack of technology.  To stop here would be to miss the point.  Perhaps some of the tangible ones include:

  • Resources: yes laptops, tablets, internet connectivity, sufficient network to be able to download and watch things, enough capacity for all the family to have access – but also a desk, a chair, a quiet place to work
  • Parental involvement: rarely does a parent not want to help their child but not all have the confidence or the skills to do so
  • Parental expectations/aspiration – how a parent portrays the value and importance of education; what they aspire to for their child and what they teach their child to hold as their own aspiration. Do they expect their child to work at home?  Do they help them build independent learning skills?

All schools in areas of disadvantage will be grappling with these issues and putting in place many strategies to overcome these gaps.

‘Closing the gap’ is at the heart of our culture as a trust. It’s one of the phrases that is in our DNA.   Our aim is to leave no pupil behind.

We are intentional in our tracking when we are in school and we have followed through with the same intentionality during lockdown.

What have we put in place to try to bridge these issues during Covid?

  • We’ve bought laptops, chrome books and dongles for our students with the support of the Aldridge Foundation
  • Schools have distributed their school laptops to students to take home
  • Our IT team has remotely supported hundreds of parents to enable them to learn how to access the programs students were working on from home and to overcome technical issues
  • We have been doing remote teaching using Microsoft Teams for as many of our classes as we could cover. Our masterclasses have teams of Trust leads on them so that they can respond to questions and review work as students do it – it’s understanding student misconceptions and addressing them that is key.  Students can do hours and hours of work but if no-one fixes their errors, it will not have the level of impact we are looking for.
  • We use software such as Century Tech which uses AI to create bespoke curricula for each child following an online diagnostic test. This allows our teachers to see what students do know and what they do not know and to close these gaps in the feedback they send.  We can then focus the virtual lessons we teach on the greatest gaps in learning shown through other remote work done.
  • We gather data at Trust level weekly on the amount of remote work being logged by our students across all schools and share this with our school leaders.
  • We’ve made sure to send work packs home for students where there is no IT facility in the home.
  • We’ve made use of school Facebook pages, twitter etc to share individual subject challenges and ideas from trust teachers to their students. We’ve also used them to celebrate excellent work.

What does this look like in practice? Here are just three examples from around our family of schools:

At Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Mark Poston, Principal, set up a tracking system so that the school can tell which students are not engaging with work. A senior teacher responsible for student welfare calls those families and supports them where children are not engaging. Mark also surveyed his families early on in lockdown to ensure that he heard from them about the provision the school was making and how he could most make this accessible for parents – many of whom are juggling family, work and a range of responsibilities. We need to be aware of the pressure on parents currently.

At Sudell Primary School, in Darwen, Lancashire, (the 14th most deprived area out of the 317 districts and unitary authorities in England) Assistant Principal Lauren Brookes, phones home every day to students who haven’t logged on to Century and talks parents through how to do this and builds their confidence. The school monitors student time on Century daily. It sends celebration texts and phone calls and also calls those not logging on daily. As a result, it has built its engagement through lockdown so that the latest daily data I have shows between 60% and 81% across years 4-6.

And at nearby Darwen Vale High School SENCO Sharron Pollitt has scheduled teaching assistants to work remotely with students to support them in completing the work they have been set where parents are not comfortable they can do so.

Donna Gray, a teaching assistant at Darwen Vale, is engaging some of the most disadvantaged and disengaged students with remote 1:1 support and encouragement. Sharron says that her virtual time with these students is vital to motivate them to work by showing them how much she cares about their learning and success.

Darwen Vale keeps daily tracking information on student engagement. Through close partnership between pastoral and academic staff, all families are contacted instantly when engagement is not there. Principal Matthew Little shares the engagement profile with both students and parents via ClassCharts and has moved engagement up to 79% over time through the intentionality of what he does.

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