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The 'Golden Thread' for closing attainment gaps

Our project at Birchwood High School involves looking at ways to try to close the gap with our disadvantaged students. We are specifically looking at our year 11 students and the progress data from the beginning of the academic year. We have introduced a range of different classroom strategies and teachers are currently trialling these strategies in their lessons.

When looking for ideas for different strategies we looked at the research surrounding disadvantaged students. Key factor that emerges from all the research is involvement of the parents and raising the parents’ aspirations.

Emerging research in the UK suggests that schools are adopting a number of promising strategies to improve outcomes for children living in poverty.

These include:

  • rigorous monitoring and use of data

  • raising pupil aspirations using engagement/aspiration programmes

  • engaging parents and raising parental aspirations

  • developing social and emotional competencies

  • supporting school transitions

  • providing strong and visionary leadership

Importantly, parents and carers should be actively engaged by schools to support their child’s development and learning. Breaking cycles of low aspiration and disenfranchisement with education is an important step for narrowing attainment gaps.

Parental involvement in school, and their aspirations for their children, emerged as some of the most important factors associated with lower educational achievement, even controlling for family background (Blanden 2006; Goodman and Gregg 2010; Sodha and Margo 2010; Strand 2007). This is particularly relevant to children from low-income families as parental aspirations and attitudes towards education vary significantly according to socio-economic status (Goodman and Gregg 2010; Sodha and Margo 2010).

Breaking cycles of low aspiration and disenfranchisement with education is, therefore, seen as a key strategy for closing attainment gaps for these groups. This resonates with the findings of the ‘Narrowing the Gap’ study, which highlights ‘working in real partnerships with parents and families and building on their strengths’ as a key strategy (or ‘Golden Thread’) for closing attainment gaps (NFER 2009).

School strategies to engage parents that have been reviewed included:

  • providing regular communication with parents (particularly targeting so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ families);

  • using ‘parent forums’ as a means of gaining parental feedback; and

  • encouraging parents to join their children’s learning through initiatives such as Family Reading Projects and booster classes (DCSF 2008, 2009a; Demie and Lewis 2010; Ofsted 2008).

Jo Ryan, Birchwood High School

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