Case study

Heathfield Community School: Improving literacy and numeracy for Pupil Premium students

Heathfield Community School is a community secondary school in Taunton with 23% pupil premium students. Challenge the Gap (CtG) supported the school to test and refine effective interventions for improving numeracy and literacy for their Pupil Premium cohort.

Our school challenges

Pupil Premium (PP) students typically were not achieving what we hoped and expected them to, especially in comparison to the national average. Our aim was to implement ideas to narrow the progress 8 gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. As the Pupil Premium Coordinator role was new, we had the challenge of establishing the department and then promoting the work we do for PP students within the school. Our biggest challenge was creating effective lines of communication for the PP cohort and ensuring that all teachers were well-informed. Parental engagement of our PP students continues to be a focus, and we are working on initiatives to promote parental engagement within school. 

Our goals for Challenge the Gap

Our main focus was to implement initiatives aimed at improving literacy and numeracy barriers for the PP cohort. We also wanted to learn how other local schools with varying demographics were supporting PP students, how they planned to narrow their attainment gap, and whether we could implement any of their ideas for our own cohort. We also valued the opportunity to take time away from school with teacher specialists to focus on ideas and discuss the issues we wanted to address.

How the Challenge the Gap programme supported us

CtG has allowed us to understand what practices other schools have in place for PP. The first session was soon after the department was formed and provided us with a good understanding of our own barriers and those experienced in other schools.  

We enjoyed hearing about the differences of PP students among other schools, and what they had done to overcome their barriers. We found it beneficial to hear about the impact other schools had achieved and to think about interventions they had put in place that we had not yet considered. It was also beneficial for us to put forward our ideas to be critiqued by colleagues of other schools, to enable us to think in more detail about our future plans.

What we did

Our focus was on introducing a literacy and numeracy initiative. The appropriate subject specialist plus one PP coordinator supported each initiative.

Our literacy focus was aimed at enhancing the vocabulary of year 8 PP students and, in particular, increasing the frequency of tier two vocabulary in their work. In order to achieve this we gave each table of students in the class a word of the day, they looked this up in a dictionary, explained it verbally and then used it in a sentence. Students achieved epraise points for using their word and extra points for using another table’s word. We took copies of English work pre and post intervention to see which tier two words students were already using and also carried out a ‘confidence questionnaire’ pre and post intervention to see if students knew the definition of words. We had great results and found that all students began using this new vocabulary in their work, with two students also beginning to use it verbally.

For numeracy, we looked at ways to develop independent learners in a low attaining Maths set. Students were monitored in lessons on their participation as well as their ability to take control and improve their own understanding. They were then asked to acknowledge times within that lesson that they had taken control of their own learning, or participated in the lesson without being ‘cold called’.

As part of the different sessions, we then benefitted from workshops and discussions led by Karl and Stef, the course leaders. We particularly enjoyed learning about mentoring and coaching which forms a significant proportion of our day-to-day role. It was really beneficial to learn and practice some of these skills as part of the programme

The impact

For literacy, the whole school have now implemented a literacy word of the week initiative, and we hope to review and measure the impact of increased frequency of tier two and exam focused vocabulary. This originated from the positive impact that arose after implementing the word of the week for our PP students. We found that all of the students in the target cohort began using new vocabulary in their work and that two out of the eight students also began to use this language verbally. We also saw an attendance increase from six out of eight students, one has complex child protection issues and one student’s attendance remained the same.

For numeracy we decided that our concept was too complex for what we were trying to achieve in the lesson time given. However we did build positive relationships with PP students in that year group which has proven to be of enormous impact when dealing with behaviour, attendance and aspiration with these students, who are now in year 10. We are expanding our original idea for numeracy and will be monitoring disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged progress in KS3 Maths, and this idea would not have been developed without our time on the CtG programme.

What we learnt

It has assisted us in a plan for the future of PP in our school and allowed us to find out which interventions work most effectively for our cohort.

  • Find out more about our programme to support disadvantaged pupils here.