Upton Primary School found the children in their Challenge the Gap target cohort were challenged by a lack of confidence and resilience. In this interview, Noel Toledano, assistant headteacher at Upton Primary School and Challenge the Gap school team leader, describes the impact of a range of strategies their team to develop soft skills as well academic competency across reading, writing and maths.
Q: What strategies did you use to support the progress of disadvantaged pupils in your Challenge the Gap target cohort?
NT: As part of Challenge the Gap we developed a bespoke package of interventions that are differentiated to meet the needs of individual pupils in our target cohort. This includes:
- Staff mentoring for hard to motivate pupils - intensive work outside whole group activities
- Outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, to develop language for learning and resilience
- Art based learning to develop aspiration
- Presentation and debating skill sessions for pupils targeted for greater depth
- Bespoke reading, writing and maths support
Q: Can you tell me about any short-term outcomes of Challenge the Gap that you have identified?
NT: Our assessment system has six steps within an academic year. We set an aspirational target of six steps per pupil per year. This means at this point in the year we expect four steps of progress. The data has shown:
- 100% of pupils in the target cohort have achieved four steps meaning all are now on track to meet age-related expectations
- Moreover, two children are on course for greater depth
The following proportion of pupils in the target cohort are showing accelerated progress having already made six steps of progress:
- 40% in reading
- 27% in writing
- 20% in maths
… and this is only ⅔ through the academic year!
Q: What else has have you found has gone well?
NT: More broadly pupils were taught to develop an understanding of the learning journey and the accompanying language of learning. We provided a memorable metaphor for learning process. For instance, we took the children rock climbing, using the climbing metaphor to build learning language. Children could refer back to the imagery and consider the steep mountain in the context of a difficult learning challenge.
One other nice story was that in a painting activity called ‘imagining schools for the future’, we asked pupils what education they would like for themselves. One boy said he really wants to be a journalist and wrote to the headteacher to ask to set up a newspaper club. The pupil showed real initiative and a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve - he just needed the tools to do it. He now runs a newspaper club on a Friday supported by a member of staff. There's a lot of prejudice that all disadvantaged pupils have no aspirations but this is not always the case.
Q: Can you tell me about any times when you have felt well supported in your workshops?
NT: The main thing to highlight is the great communication - both Melissa and Owen, our programme facilitators, are always anticipating our needs and checking in with regular emails and timely reminders. We are kept motivated and on task. Spot on and helpful.
Owen’s school visit where he sat in with our deputy head was really helpful - we found Owen’s coaching style particularly helpful and supportive. The positive feedback was a real boost.
Sessions tailored to leaders were really useful not just in the context of the programme, but also in the wider context of leadership development. There are lots of opportunities to apply these skills and re-visit.
Q: What would be the “even better ifs”?
NT: The current climate of schools meant staffing issues affected team consistency - this was beyond the school’s control.
I would like to see a bit more pupil voice by inviting pupils to come and present at workshop, creating an experience where all get together with the children.
Q: Can you say in one sentence what you think of Challenge the Gap and the impact it is having in your school?
NT: Challenge the Gap has given us the opportunity to refine and personalise strategies to support disadvantaged pupils - it is clear that as a result of doing this, the children have now made good or better progress.
Upton Primary School took part in the Challenge the Gap programme this year as part of our Greenwich Cluster (South-east London). To find out more about the Challenge the Gap programme and how you can get involved please email [email protected]