Closing the Gap – Social Mobility at the heart of education policy

Social mobility at the heart of education policy – no community left behind

In December we saw the publication from the DfE of  Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential – a plan for improving social mobility through education.

The Dfe have four key ambitions to close the gap on disadvantage,

  • Closing the ‘word gap’ in early years, focusing on the development of key early language and literacy skills for pupils who are disadvantaged or not achieving their full potential
  • Closing the attainment gap in schools while continuing to raise standards for all, a focus on intervention where it is now most needed
  • High quality post 16 education choices for all young people, a focus on the ‘technical education system’ being a part of the drive to raise standards
  • Everyone achieving their full potential in rewarding careers, improving the provision of careers advice through effective Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG)

This is a very early stage document with laudable intentions. It will, however, take a long time to become a reality.  There is a promise of substantial sums of money to support some of the suggestions. There is also planned research to ascertain the extent of the problems that exist and where they exist.

One of the observations included in the report is that often the best way to make a difference is to have a look at where schools and partnerships across the country have developed strategies that are creating significant change and are closing the gap.  So, in the spirit of trying to find solutions that can be put into practice now, I have had a trawl around to find examples of good practice.  The themes are fairly uniform across a wide range of research and are what one might expect.  You can download a list of the research papers I have used here.

The main points that emerge are:-

  • Early years intervention can make a significant difference to the life chances of learners especially in supporting the development of explicit literacy instruction and the setting of clearly defined, consistent teaching objectives.  One to one support is also highlighted as is the use of phonics based programmes for struggling readers
  • Making effective use of data can have a profound impact on identifying and addressing under-performance and will help schools to understand the reasons why.  This is especially true when learners are able to use information about themselves to self-evaluate. Data is also seen to be useful for tracking progress or the lack of it and as an essential part of effective formative assessment strategies
  • Raising aspiration is a recurring theme.  How do we ensure that learners believe in themselves and are prepared to have faith in their own ability? The use of ‘Growth Mindset’ theory and other similar interventions are making a significant difference in some schools and across school partnerships or MATs
  • Engaging with parents and raising parental aspirations about their offspring can have an impact on the extent to which learners will see their potential beyond that of the ambition of previous generations.  There are some interesting approaches being applied across the country
  • Developing learners’ social and emotional competences through strategies that raise self-esteem, develop communication and social skills and nurture deep and profound thinking around some of the important local, national and international issues pertinent to the 21st century are proven to have an impact
  • Ensuring there are focused strategies so that pupils do not fall behind at times of transition where there is a well-documented dip in performance for many learners especially between years two and three and years six and seven
  • Where there is strong, visionary leadership that focuses on zero tolerance and a determined and consistent whole school approach change happens
  • Poor literacy skills continue across a raft of research to be at the heart of low achievement, this is especially highlighted in science and the STEM subjects but is a problem across all learning
  • Developing the meta-cognitive (‘learning to learn’) skills of learners is an essential element for success.  Where learners understand how they learn, listen well, think with clarity, have good comprehension and recall skills and can communicate and learn through co-operation with their peers learning and improvement takes place
  • Creating a common language and a consistent strategy to issues around discipline makes a difference
  • The use of technology especially interactive whiteboards and other whole school technology interventions is also seen to improve learning for all

None of the above say anything new or different.  Successive governments have highlighted the fact that there is a persistent group of disadvantaged learners who do not achieve as well as their peers.  The reasons are also well-documented and to some extent obvious.  There are, however, some amazing examples of good and outstanding practice that are making a difference.  We do need to learn and apply these strategies to ensure every school across the country supports every learner to achieve and exceed their full potential.

Learning Cultures are working with several successful schools who have begun to make big strides in this area.  Our own programmes focus on how to cascade and share good and outstanding practice and we can support schools, MATs and alliances who want to develop highly effective strategies that will ‘close the gap’.

Some of our courses also address one or more of the themes above and will go into much greater detail than we can here.  I have put together a comprehensive list on a PDF that you can download here.