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Can enthusiasm overcome disadvantages?

This study aimed to analyse the various approaches and previous research on the closure of the Pupil Premium (PP) gap within secondary schools, using means that are non-financial in nature. There has been a considerable amount of research conducted on the poverty gap within schools and how it is best minimised, but most of this research has been aimed towards whole school financial actions, rather than individualistic teacher-led approaches.

This research aims to improve the overall attainment and progress made by Year 8 pupils that are placed on the Pupil Premium register. The research was undertaken at a comprehensive school in mid-Essex, where the proportion of PP students is higher than the overall average of Essex. This school is placed in the centre of an area that is in the bottom 7% of the income bracket in the county. Because of this, ensuring the attainment gap between PP and non-PP students is minimised is a target of high importance. The research focussed on 10 pupil premium students; 4 males and 6 females; that came from the same Year 8 mixed ability class. Control data was collected through the observation of progress in a similarly composed year 8 class.

The hypothesis postulated by the researcher was that students would be able to receive the supportive enthusiasm for the subject that the lack of resources at home, such as books and other educational materials, would fail to provide. This sponsoring of interest would allow students to identify better with the subject, and feel that the lesson subsidised their personal interests and development. Enthusiasm for a subject is a prerequisite for increased effort, and it is the researcher’s theory that this effort to sponsor enthusiasm would ultimately translate into higher attainment and progress being measured over time. This would take firm steps in the direction of closing the attainment gap between pupil premium and non-pupil premium students.

There is an extensive amount of UK-based research analysing the link between poverty and attainment. Collectively, these studies create a reliable picture of the correlation between low attainment and socio-economic class, and also investigate their association with other factors, including gender, ethnicity, parental factors and school environments. Although the relationship between poverty and attainment is well considered, there is less understanding of what actually works in terms of strategies for raising attainment for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and very little that is specific to white working-class boys, which is our most vulnerable group. Most of the UK evidence in this area is based on observational studies, case studies, surveys, policy evaluations and other non-experimental research.

The experiment involved 10 students that were randomly chosen from the tally of pupil premium pupils within a specific year 8 class. These students were at no point aware of their selection or of the research at all; it was deemed ideal that a completely blind test would reap more reliable results. Students underwent an initial assessment, comprising three structured paragraphs of historical writing. This was then repeated at the end of the study’s duration. During this time, efforts were made to focus on pupil’s enthusiasm for the subject, with three key methods being used to test their effectiveness.

The first method was building formal relationships, and ensuring students could feel comfortable in the classroom. This required extensive time getting to know the class, and understanding the data surrounding them, to create a more accessible lesson. Secondly, exploratory marking was used as a way to give students a buy-in to the lesson, and increase their responsiveness to the content as well as their own interests. This comprised of dialogue within the marked books, as well as the students being allowed to ask two questions surrounding the content of the lesson each time the researcher took their books in for marking. Finally, in an attempt to tackle the issues associated with poor attendance, efforts were made to formally help pupils that had missed lessons to catch-up and collect resources etc. from the researcher. It was the hypothesis that these three methods, being areas of key focus for enhancement with PP students, would produce a measurable improvement in progress from the 10 pupil premium students.

It is ideally important for students from backgrounds of disadvantage and poverty to be provided with opportunities to offer evidence of their expertise, utilising a range of modes and task styles However, due to ethical constraints and a desire not to alter the curriculum, it was decided that the before and after assessments would be identical to assessments the entire class would be expected to complete on a half-term basis. The method of assessment was identical in both the primary and final examination, which was centred on the writing of a history skills based essay that used the same marking criteria. This was crucial to the study, as ensuring a standardisation of results from both before and after the variables are introduced allowed for a certain degree of reliability from the results. That being said, both examinations were conducted on different topics that the class had been studying, and individual proficiencies may still have played a role.

This data was then collected and standardised between the other year 8 classes, all of which undertook the same assessment. Another classes’ data was used as a control group, with a random sample of 10 pupil premium students being used with the same data available.

When taking into account the difference between the results of the first and second assessments, there was a clear trend of progress amongst the year 8 pupil premium cohort that was studied. This progress, when converted to the new 9-1 GCSE grading levels, shows a trend of exceeding the expected escalation of progress over time. The immediate conclusion would be that this means the experiment could be considered a success, and that the original hypothesis was in fact correct. There were outliers to this trend, with 2 of the 10 students regressing to a lower mark than that which was achieved in their previous assessment. This outlier could be down to many factors, including stress, disengagement and poor revision stratagems. The data from the control group further cements the success of the experiment, with a considerably less positive level of progress being made across the exact same time period and curriculum. It can be argued that this is a rather simple way of looking at the data, and that further experimentation would add more to the reliability and usefulness of this research’s results.

While this study has been valuable in identifying the usefulness of non-financial actions towards the end goal of closing the gap in educational achievement for students in poverty, future studies may benefit from considering the isolation of individual methods rather than using a scattershot of different methods. Isolating these methods and focussing on their potential to further close the achievement gap could provide a much-needed insight into the individual actions that should be undertaken by teachers at every level. This can further refine the educator’s toolbox when dealing with poverty in the classroom. While teachers are under an immense workload already, these actions are low cost and low effort, and according to the data achieve disproportionately desirable results when applied to a class. The pupil premium grant cannot and should not be the only means with which we tackle the effects of child poverty, and this is an excellent step in the right direction.


Education Endowment Foundation (April 2016) A Marked Improvement? A Review of the Evidence on Written Marking. University of Oxford pp. 18

Hattie, John (2017) Pupil Premium – Monitoring what works In Wallace, Isabella; Kirkman, Leah (2017) Best of the Best: Progress. pp. 12-13

Rowland, Marc (2017) On Social Mobility Policy in Rowland, Marc (2017) Learning Without Labels: Improving Outcomes for Vulnerable Pupils pp. 35

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