by Tricia Hartley
Today’s Ofsted report suggesting that Pupil Premium funding is having little impact on schools is disappointing but not surprising. Schools are struggling to cope with budget cuts, so using these funds to plug the gaps would be a logical strategy. However, the survey on which the report is based asked schools about how their practice has changed rather than what impact the additional funds have had, so we may hope that some schools have simply used them to enhance strategies which have already proved effective in raising attainment amongst poorer children.
Comment in the press and online focuses on the lack of Government guidance on how Pupil Premium funds should be used. However, as Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers pointed out on this morning’s ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4, an excellent resource exists specifically aimed at helping schools make choices by summarising research findings and ranking strategies in order of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. This is the Sutton Trust’s Pupil Premium Toolkit, which can be found at http://www.suttontrust.com/research/teaching-and-learning-toolkit-july-2012/.
This shows that popular strategies such as employing more teaching assistants sadly have little impact on achievement of disadvantaged children, but that the top two most effective strategies in raising achievement are using prompt, targeted and encouraging feedback on pupils’ performance and metacognitive (‘Learning to Learn’) strategies which help pupils reflect on their own learning and manage it better, taking greater responsibility and setting personal goals. Research demonstrated that each of these strategies can help pupils make between 7 and 9 months’ worth of additional progress in a year, at very modest cost: the key change needed is to the approach taken by teachers and pupils in the classroom, so appropriate training and support for staff is vital.
This reflects the Campaign for Learning’s 11 years of research in schools and Colleges, which demonstrates that use of Learning to Learn strategies and effective feedback can improve results, enhance pupils’ enjoyment of their learning, leading to improved behaviour and attendance, and massively improve teachers’ morale. The skills and aptitudes pupils develop through using Learning to Learn approaches are those both Universities and employers say they most want to see new recruits demonstrating: these include problem solving skills, teamwork, communication and critical thinking. Yet many institutions do not routinely include training in these techniques in the initial teacher training curriculum, and there is still scepticism in some quarters about their impact.
Eighteen months ago, the Campaign for Learning undertook a short term intervention programme in the London Borough of Harrow in which Learning to Learn approaches were combined with greater involvement of parents in learning with their children. The results were dramatic for the under-achieving pupils in our target group: 15% were achieving their predicted SATs levels before the intervention, but by the following year 73% were doing so. Relationships between parents and teachers were also greatly enhanced. With the support of the Education Endowment Foundation, we are now conducting a two year research programme with 55 schools across the country to examine whether the outstanding results we achieved in Harrow with this combination of strategies can be replicated in other places. Alongside this we are running a range of training to help schools engage parents and report effectively to parents through digital technology. For more information, visit our website at www.campaignforlearning.org.uk/cfl/fl/projects/digitalfamilies.asp
Tricia Hartley is Chief Executive of the Campaign for Learning