Closing The Attainment Gap In Schools

How to implement the main findings of the ‘Education Recovery in Schools: Spring 2022’ in your school. 

In April this year, the government published a report called ‘Education Recovery in Schools: Spring 2022’ which outlined the findings from school inspections across the country. It focused on the most prominent issue in schools at the moment – the attainment gap which has widened since the onset of the pandemic.

As a result of lockdowns and the gaps in formal education, the attainment gap is bigger than ever, and it falls on the schools to close this gap through various strategies. It may seem like a daunting task, so here we have shared the main findings of the report, and what is working well in other schools.

Where is the attainment gap most prominent?

The areas reported to be the most severely affected were:

  • mathematics
  • phonics
  • reading
  • writing stamina and handwriting
  • languages, particularly in pupils’ speaking and listening skills
  • physical education (PE)

The areas that were most affected were subjects where new learning built on previous knowledge. If the basic understanding of these subjects was not there, then pupils would struggle to progress.

Have any year groups been affected more than others?

Children in Reception were affected the most, with many leaders expressing concerns about their speech and language development. 

Also, children with special educational needs and/or disabilities as well as disadvantaged children were more likely to be on the lower end of the attainment gap. 

How are schools closing the attainment gap? 

Schools did well when they had a clear intention for the curriculum and knew exactly what needed assessing before learning began. They used a range of informal assessment practices to identify what the pupils already knew and had learned over the past few years. 

They used these findings to adapt the curriculum and go over subjects and content which had not been learned well. They taught the most important knowledge first and went from there.

It was also important for these assessment practices to highlight any pupils or groups of pupils who needed more support. They were using tutoring and one-to-one interventions. According to the report, most schools used the school-led route offered by the National Tutoring Programme. 

examination to help close the attainment gap

What kind of practices are not effective and what should schools avoid?

Practice was less effective when leaders were:

  • Assuming pupils had gaps in knowledge but were not identifying what this was exactly.
  • Focusing only on core-subjects and not on others.
  • Using standardised, high-level assessments that did not check that pupils have learned what has been taught. 
  • The assessments were not helpful when they merely provided scores – they needed to highlight the actual gaps. 
  • The findings of the assessment must then be used to adapt the curriculum otherwise it is pointless doing it.

How exactly is assessment being used to close the attainment gap?

Both formative and summative assessment practices were used to give schools information and allow them to monitor success.

They were able to see how any changes and adaptations they were making as a school were working and where the gaps in learning were closing. 

Regular assessments took place such as:

  • regular knowledge retrieval activities
  • targeted questioning
  • low-stakes quizzes
  • revision tasks to carry out their prior learning checks
  • mini tests

What did the report find were the most effective assessment methods?

  • Leaders needed to have a clear strategic plan, and to clearly define what essential knowledge needed  assessing.
  • Making sure that knowledge was secure and using assessment to confirm understanding before the pupils moved on.
  • Adapting the curriculum to cover any gaps in knowledge.
  • Reviewing routinely what pupils had learned in previous years, not just in recent units.
  • Assessment should be used in both core and foundation subjects and catch-up sessions in each subject where gaps are apparent.
  • Providing more feedback to pupils.
  • Using more peer and self-assessment.
  • Timely attention to pupils’ needs and adaptive teaching when gaps were identified.

“Having a well-informed understanding of the curriculum and strong subject knowledge helped schools use assessment effectively to identify gaps in pupils’ knowledge.”

How schools can use this report to implement effective catch-up strategies

Raising attainment has always been an important topic within schools, but more now than ever. In 2015 we posted a blog which discussed The Cambridge Primary Review, and educational inequality. We looked at how social background can affect attainment in schools and how teachers can become more mindful of this. 

The effects of the lockdowns and missing school have impacted these groups more than any other. But all pupils have suffered some kind of loss of learning over the past few years. 

The findings of this new report can be used to implement new strategies and inform curriculum planning across the school. It is important that these gaps are addressed as quickly as possible so that the children can catch up and not be affected in the long run. This will add a lot of work and pressure to schools, so we hope that the above tips can help. 

The full report is here

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