Closing the attainment gap has been a common goal in the education sector for years. Prior to the pandemic, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers was gradually narrowing, however because of the difficult circumstances surrounding COVID-19, a study in 2020 found the gap had grown by 46% since the pandemic. There were difficulties maintaining progress at a normal rate due to the disruption of routine, accessing online learning, isolation away from school and staff shortages. This ‘learning loss’ caused pressure on teachers, headteachers and pupils to find new ways to increase or maintain performance as well as provide a stable learning environment.
Reasons for the low-level achievement for disadvantaged students were gaps in learning and understanding due to remote learning and disengagement with school, as well as the strain on mental health, for both pupils and those working in education. Deputy director of the Department for Education’s pupil premium and school food division acknowledged that school closures and ongoing educational disruption may undo the progress that has been made in the past decade, suggesting the disadvantage gap could widen as much as 75% as a result.
So how can the education sector look to tackle the issue post-pandemic?
Focusing on the future
Improving the outcomes for disadvantaged pupils involves playing ‘the long game’ and implementing a 3–5-year strategy. By no means is this a quick fix scenario. Multiple areas of a child’s relationship with education must be addressed. According to a research report published by the Department for Education, the most popular strategies, and those that schools considered to be the most effective, focused on teaching and learning. This included paired or small group additional teaching; improving feedback and one-to-one tuition. Therefore, utilising the funding provided by the government means tutoring, summer schools and digital device support are all vital tools in supporting the attainment gap.
Speak to our team at Education Boutique about tutoring.
Technology played a huge part in education throughout the multiple lockdowns, however there are disparities in access to technology, as well as levels of potential support within a stable home environment. Disadvantaged pupils are less likely to have access to digital devices at home and therefore, if remote learning continues to play a part in the school-system, digital support for parents and pupils would need to be provided.
In a study undertaken by NFER on raising standards and attainment through evidence-informed teaching, research suggests teacher quality directly impacts the outcomes of disadvantaged pupils. Therefore, supporting educators to be able to provide high quality teaching is paramount. This involves taking steps to improve the mental health and wellbeing of educators and developing the role of Teaching Assistants so that educators can provide the best quality teaching and mentoring to be beneficial role models for the next generation.
Furthermore, research undertaken by the Department for Education found that reading for pleasure is the single most influential factor in indicating pupils’ future success. The study showed that boys are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to reading for pleasure, with considerably less engagement than girls and access to books also factored. Facilitating reading for pleasure increases social-emotional development, improves skills to manage mental health and is key for personal fulfilment.
Read our article on how to nurture a love of reading for tips and advice.
Next steps to improve
The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the attainment gap and the social and educational inequality disadvantaged pupils face. As Covid continues to be a concern for the country, a strategy for closing the gap has come into sharp focus. Essentially, government funding is integral to implementing these strategies and new, evidence-based teaching methods will need to be trialled to provide better outcomes for all children.
Over the next term, we’ll be publishing articles that explore the wide range of strategies that could aid closing the education attainment gap. Topics will cover mixed ability groups, evidence-based strategies, improving feedback, paired or small group teaching, one-to-one tuition, digital device support, supporting quality teaching, data tracking, changes to curriculum, addressing attendance and behaviour, self-reflection, personalised learning, setting high expectations and the benefits of one-to-one check ins.
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About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Tammy now works for Eteach as Content Marketing Executive, where she can combine her passion for education and writing.