top of page

Raising Achievement in Pupil Premium Boys

This is the first blog from our second cohort of the joint CTSN/IoE Research programme 'How do we know it works?'. The programme which will run between 30th January and 3rd July 2019 aims to provide a supportive and reflective forum for 14 middle leaders from primary and secondary to explore how to:

  • robustly evaluate the impact of initiatives run in departments and within school

  • share knowledge about excellent middle leadership practice within and across schools

  • provide the space, conditions and support for staff to grow and develop their practice

  • bring about evidence-informed change in pupil learning

  • better understand the relationship between improved learning and outcomes

  • better understand and develop the leadership conditions in schools that develop and embed cultures of outstanding practice.

A great deal is known about the importance and potential impact of middle leaders in schools but the challenge remains of how to fulfil the role effectively in practice. In a culture of continuous school improvement, middle leaders are charged with the responsibility to ‘make it happen’. As a result, they are often caught in an ‘implementation trap’ with little time to evaluate whether new initiatives are making a difference.

Chrissie Birrell is the first participant to write her initial blog for CTSN Research.

After attending the first session of 'How do we know it works?' it was clear that my initially generalised ideas needed to be clarified and that the research itself needed to be clearly structured.

Research is an iterative process so these early steps will inform the initial process but not determine the final approach.

1. The first step will be a literature review concentrating on recent studies that identify relevant issues. The initial literature review has covered contextual issues such as the nature of ‘social class’ (Payne, 2013); gender relevant pedagogy (Bristol, 2015) and potential intervention strategies, such as instructional practices and parent support (Lam et al., 2016) or teacher encouragement (Alcott, 2017). Given the time constraints, the literature will be extended to overlap some early (benchmarking) data gathering.

2. Interventions inevitably have limitations, not least in respect to factors outside the teachers or even school’s control, so the choice in respect to the intervention and measures of outcome will take effect size (Balow, 2017) and local resources into account.

3. Benchmark data will be drawn from the school records. This will include current achievement, attendance and behaviour measures. These are already available at time points across Year 10 (in the case of subject achievement) and further (in terms of behaviour). This means that any existing rates of change - hopefully in the form of progress! - can be compared to rates of change post-intervention, producing a time-series, repeat measures, field experiment.

4. Primary data collection will extend this to quantitative measures in relation to motivation and attitudes of staff and students. This will use an online questionnaire based on Likert scales to efficiently gather quantitative data. Focus group interviews will be used to elicit qualitative responses. The latter will be used initially to provide emic responses facilitating access to unanticipated issues, but will not be subject to in-depth analysis due to time constraints. The intention is to avoid reliance on extra data collection by other members of staff in recognition of colleagues’ busy lives! The measures will mean that this aspect of the investigation take the form of action research, since it is neither practical nor ethical to split the groups in terms of interventions.

Chrissie Birrell

Leader of Technology


Alcott, B. (2017). Does Teacher Encouragement Influence Students’ Educational Progress? A Propensity-Score Matching Analysis. Research in Higher Education, 58(7), 773–804.

Balow, A. C. (2017, June 15). The “Effect Size” in Educational Research: What is it & How to Use it? Retrieved February 22, 2019, from

Bristol, T. J. (2015). Teaching boys: towards a theory of gender-relevant pedagogy. Gender and Education, 27(1), 53–68.

Lam, S., Jimerson, S., Shin, H., Cefai, C., Veiga, F. H., Hatzichristou, C., … Zollneritsch, J. (2016). Cultural universality and specificity of student engagement in school: The results of an international study from 12 countries. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(1), 137–153.

Payne, G. (2013). Models of Contemporary Social Class: The Great British Class Survey. Methodological Innovations Online, 8(1), 3–17.

bottom of page