Take Away the Barriers
Every child does matter not just every grade.
Pupil Premium, bridging the gap, closing the gap, whatever you want to call it, is a matter at the heart of most primary and secondary schools across England. Everyone is looking for the ‘magic cure’, if you do x, y and z the gap will close and your results will increase tenfold. Unfortunately there is no such thing out there and it is not a one size fits all solution in terms of schools and students who are classed under the pupil premium category. So, it then makes sense that there isn't a blanket ‘cure’ to close the gap.
This knowledge though doesn't mean there aren't things we can do and work together on to help improve the achievement of pupil premium students and ultimately bridge gap. First things first though, we need to view these students as people and not just grades. Pupil premium students often come from backgrounds where nobody ever asks what is going on in their day, or they have a lot bigger issues concerning them. How are they going to get a meal? Where can they find a pen to come to school with? Sometimes it is the small things that we take for granted that can make these students time at school difficult.
We need to be taking away these obstacles. For example I have a set of 10 pencil cases set up ready for use in my class. The students know where these are and have access to these with no fuss involved. The students respect this and I find equipment is better looked after. I have taken to naming these pencil cases with famous mathematicians. Seemingly the students argue over who gets Euler, don’t ask me why. This method does have another strength as it gets students asking questions of who these people are and students show an active interest in maths.
Pupil premium students can often feel undervalued and that nobody ‘believes’ in them, whether this is the case or not. To overcome this I go out of my way particularly when taking on a lower ability class to have discussion with my students and make sure they know I do care about more than just there grade. I often sit with them and talk through their concerns and issues with a topic. If you give this small amount of time to the students, they give a lot back. You have to gain students trust. When their world is already full of worry and stress, you need to create a safe environment where the students can trust that it’s okay to make mistakes as you will support them and you believe in them to get it right eventually.
All these things above are great but I bet you’re sat there still reading this thinking my gaps still there. Yes it more than likely is, however I hope it has narrowed at least a little. Although your students will hopefully be feeling a little more confident and a little less worrisome about coming to your lesson. How can we tackle this issue though and bridge this gap once and for all.
Many schools are giving pupil premium students 1-1 intervention and taking them on special funded trips away. I bet many teachers are sitting nodding their heads at this thinking ‘yep that’s my school’ or they've heard of it. I also reckon there are a few sat there thinking it’s unfair all of the extra’s the pupil premium students sometimes get in comparison to those who non pupil premium. The money is there though to support these students and needs to be spent wisely.
Homework can be a big barrier to learning for many students. They simply have no access to a conducive learning environment or don’t have the support systems at home to allow them to complete the work. As a school and teacher you need to be looking at offering opportunities for these students to complete this work. Sometimes there is need to take away the decision of when to complete the work. I have one student that on Thursday after period 2, when I set the homework, he stays in my classroom and completes it then. This then takes away the stress for him and it is now routine. The student doesn't fuss but gains both the environment and support he needs. Simply put I have taken away his barrier, however this won’t have an impact on the gap if the homework doesn't have a meaningful value.
As a school we have one big barriers to learning spreadsheet that tracks all underachieving year 11 PP students’ barriers to learning. This means that when it comes to spending the money allocated to each student, we know specifically for each student what needs to be put in place in each subject. This could mean having access to a reader, receiving extra support on certain topics, access to technology facilities, homework clubs offered to the students, this list truly is endless and is very specific for the individual student’s needs.
Rewards, praise and more rewards. I can’t stress how important it is with all students, and even more so with the disadvantaged students, to offer opportunities to gain responsibilities and also to receive praise and rewards. To allow me to give rewards on a small or large scale I have developed ‘measure for success’, a numeracy across the curriculum resource, which allows me to rate achievements differently from being helpful to giving an outstanding answer that blows you away. See here for more information.
In summary, I'm by no means no expert and I haven’t given any instant ‘cures’ to narrowing the gap or subject specific solutions. However I hope I have given you food for thought on how as an individual teacher you can help a student overcome their barriers to learning and help increase their grades in your lessons. The above has worked for me and shown in the results of my classes. Find what works for you and your students. My main advice is take away the stresses of learning by praising, providing equipment, nurturing, developing trust, caring, praising some more and providing positive learning environments. Ultimately, treat your students as more than just a grade, greet them at the door, wish them a nice weekend and make sure the purpose of work and homework is clear. Remember, every child does matter not just every grade.