Raising Outcomes for Disadvantaged Learners – the Continuing Quest in Surrey

“The language gap is the disadvantaged gap”.
Marc Rowland 2021

The relentless focus by schools to understand the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on learning continues. However, we know that one of the consequences of the pandemic is that the group that we may once have identified as ‘disadvantaged’, has expanded both in number and diversity. Our challenge endures.

As many colleagues in primary and secondary phases will know, SAfE has been working in close partnership with Marc Rowland over the past year, to learn from his expertise and insight into this stubborn and complex issue.

Marc works with and advises the Department for Education on addressing educational disadvantage in schools. He has worked with over 600 individual schools nationally, including over 35 in Surrey, to support leaders and practitioners with strategies to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

Speaking to over 12,000 school leaders addressing disadvantage at local, regional and national conferences and building from this evidence based learning and insight, Marc has recently worked with the DfE to develop the template for pupil premium use (and guidance), that schools must adopt to publish their strategy for the pupil and recovery premium from December 2021.

The centrality of literacy

One of the messages that Marc frequently shares with us is that ‘the language gap is the disadvantaged gap’.

Without a secure grasp of literacy, children do not have the tools to learn. They need to be able not only to decode to read but also to develop receptive language; the ability to understand and interpret what they read. As a child progresses through their educational life with limited language ability, the divide between learners who have the tools and those that do not can only deepen.

Paul Kinder at Warlingham School was inspired by Marc Rowland to lead a number of school-based projects that sought to begin the complex task of understanding the issues and undertaking the cultural shift that will be part of the long-term response in mitigating against the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on learning. We have asked Paul to share some of the thinking behind the work at Warlingham with us in a blog for SAfE next week. Please look out for next Friday’s SAfE blog which will reach you in your emails, or visit SAfE’s Thought Leadership webpage next Friday to find this blog and Paul’s follow up blog!

Helping every learner in the classroom to ‘ride the tide’

At a recent Surrey session with Marc, we reflected together on the EEF review of the impact of using cognitive science approaches in the classroom. This is particularly important, as we know that the very best bet for learning success is effective teaching in the classroom. Therefore, the stakes for making the very most of these teaching and learning opportunities is high. Marc uses a powerful analogy about learning for disadvantaged learners, by using Jan van de Cappelle’s ‘Vessels Moored off a Jetty’.

Marc compares the variety of vessels off the jetty to the learners in a group. As the tide rises, each vessel will rise with it, regardless of size. Surely then, in the classroom, we are just talking about ‘quality first teaching’ – get it right for one learner, and we are likely to get it right for all.

However, what we don’t see beneath the water line is that some of the vessels are anchored to the ocean floor. As the tide rises, anchored vessels will become overwhelmed. Marc’s point is that not all learners are ready to ride the tide. Some need to be set free from the anchor that disadvantages their learning. Perhaps this involves ensuring that they have the prior knowledge that we might assume they already possess or ensuring access to use of ambitious and technical language that they will encounter. Knowing each learner and understanding the challenges they have when it comes to learning is fundamental to the success of the learning experience.

So, the questions I pose for reflection are:

  • Who is anchored to the ocean floor in your class?
  • What is the anchor(s) that could limit learning success?
  • How can you lift those anchors so that those learners can rise with the tide of learning that you have planned?

Michele Miller, SAfE

Thanks to Marc Rowland for his support and contribution to SAfE’s work with Surrey schools.

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