As the participants filter into the room, conversation is flowing - it's not often that the head teachers and deputy heads of Surrey get a chance to compare and contrast their experiences - but the Schools Alliance for Excellence (SAFE) has gathered representatives from 125 schools for the first programme learning event targeting Primary Disadvantaged Pupils in Surrey.
This is an area of key concern for Surrey schools, where the county is falling behind other local authorities in meeting expectations.
Whilst Surrey is performing well overall, with 84% of all pupils meeting national expectations for the Phonics Screening Test at the end of year 1 – placing Surrey at 21 of 150 local authorities – only 63% of pupils entitled to free school meals met expectations. For these pupils, Surrey is performing much worse, placing at only 136 of 150 local authorities.
As SAFE's CEO Maria Dawes tells the room, there have been efforts to help support this critical group of pupils over the last seven or eight years, but unfortunately, the numbers are going the wrong way.
70% of all pupils in Surrey met national expectations for reading, writing, and maths at the end of Key Stage 2, placing Surrey at 22 of 150 local authorities; but only 46% of disadvantaged pupils met these same expectations compared to 51% nationally. That places Surrey at 117 of 150, and shows a decline of 1% compared to 47% the previous year.
So, if the current approach isn’t working - is it a matter of reconsidering the solution, or the problem?
"Broadening the curriculum is not an additional luxury" – Christine Counsell
Opening the event, independent consultant Christine Counsell makes a stirring argument for a need not just to support the smaller cohorts of disadvantaged children in Surrey schools, but to rethink how we teach every student.
Christine paints an evocative image of a new way of approaching the curriculum - a version of teaching reading and comprehension built on a foundation of a broad, applicable knowledge.
In this new approach, the curriculum becomes a progression model that builds and layers thorough knowledge for pupils that gives “power” to Surrey’s disadvantaged pupils so that they are not left behind their peers.
“Nothing is intrinsically difficult, nothing is intrinsically boring, it's as interesting as what your brain brings to it,” Christine argues.
For disadvantaged pupils, it is an opportunity to bridge the gap in vocabulary and knowledge that blocks them from future opportunities and success. “Our responsibility is higher than even just what we think is going on in front of us with these children,” Christine explains.
“It was inspirational,” one head teacher said, “it was the best two hours that I’ve spent, and it’s had an impact that I will take back to my school.”
Another agreed that they had been inspired by what they’d heard, “you just want to go back and change everything!”
In the afternoon, Kirsty Godfrey, HMI, the Ofsted national lead for phonics and early reading, works through the ways in which we can support the lowest 20% of readers and the evaluation criteria under the new Ofsted framework.
Formerly a Primary school head teacher herself, Kirsty’s valuable insight of the Ofsted process and how phonics is approached and inspected provides actionable information for a practical approach towards improving the teaching of phonics.
Building on Christine’s picture of a broader curriculum, Kirsty addresses the importance of phonics as a cornerstone for teaching reading, particularly for pupils that could find themselves left behind without these key skills early on.
Consistency and practice are major themes for Kirsty, who outlines the process of Ofsted inspections of reading under the new framework introduced last year, and provides an opportunity for participants to pick her brain with a questions and answer segment.
The atmosphere among the educators is lively and engaged as they chew over what they've heard.
What is SAfE doing to support disadvantaged pupils in Surrey?
Many schools have already signed up to participate in the programme, which will allow them to focus on either their curriculum or foundations of reading.
SAfE is building a nexus for these leading figures to work together and collaborate to bring each other forward and address the key needs in Surrey. A touchstone for every school in Surrey, SAfE is a not-for-profit company that allies with schools and other partners to deliver a coordinated, school-led improvement.
This is an opportunity to create a new approach to this key issue, and SAfE is working to bring schools together and provide them with the tools they need to support and elevate both their own schools, and Surrey as a whole.
But this workshop was just the first step - through four sessions, SAfE will be helping to guide schools towards real, applicable means to improve their outcomes.
How can our school get involved?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about SAfE’s programme or to confirm your school will be participating and what your preferred focus would be.
SAfE is here to support you. Every Surrey school and academy is eligible to join SAfE – for more information, please visit our website.
We also invite you to subscribe to SAfE. Subscription is 89p per pupil – all maintained primary schools have automatically subscribed through the de-delegation of funds agreed at Schools Forum in autumn 2018.
Your subscriptions help build SAfE into a stronger network that benefits all of its members. Subscribers will get exclusive access to Christine Counsell’s inspiring presentation from the event in the coming weeks.
Author: Hana Stewart-Smith
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