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Improving English and mathematics planning and intervention for all groups of pupils

Improving and then maintaining school improvement at any time is challenging; no one can deny that this is even more so during the current pandemic. Our own experiences as school leaders, and recent research (e.g. Education Endowment Fund), has evidenced the negative impact of the lockdown on the progress of all pupils, with our most vulnerable being in an even more disadvantaged position.

One solution is the effective deployment of a programme of interventions. With the Government now providing a Covid catch-up premium and access to a National Tutoring programme, getting it right for the pupils (and ensuring it is value for money) is essential. In this respect, Element 4 of the Quality Mark framework, is clear: interventions cannot stand alone in any school improvement agenda; they must be part of the continuous improvement cycle, rooted in the school improvement plan with school leaders, subject leaders, class teachers and support staff all playing their part in the process.  

Where schools have responded robustly, there is clear evidence of rigorous self-evaluation. Using external assessment, validation and challenge the school has real clarity on its own strengths and areas for development. This continuous, strong knowledge-base ensures that leaders know their school, a knowledge based in strong links with their community and a detailed understanding of the individual pupil’s learning.

Find out more: Improving standards of English and mathematics

All interventions must ensure they are part of a coordinated process, not simply an event within the recovery or improvement timeline. A shared understanding of where the intervention sits within the curriculum, class planning and the child’s individual needs is paramount. Strong schools value the interventions, whilst at the same time, continue to focus on developing a school where the learning in each class provides ever strengthening foundations. All planning aims to impact rapidly on progress and so enable immediate identification of those who are not progressing. The culture of high expectations sits alongside best practice, informed by a detailed, yet appropriate, assessment process, detailed gap analysis rather than just a data drop. Strong schools gather an ongoing, detailed understanding of the child’s needs as a basis to draw up an effective plan of interventions. The aim is to have a profound effect upon the individual pupil’s learning, embedding a consistent approach to quality in all aspects of school improvement and ensure quality first teaching.

Audits of strengths and gaps for the cohort gives clarity for each ‘quality first’ lesson with teachers enabling every pupil to take part, supported by focused, timely interventions, tackling specific gaps or misconceptions. The strongest schools do not, and never have had, a ‘bolt on’ approach to the teaching of the groups of pupils through interventions. From this basis, strong schools undertake sympathetic but diagnostic assessments into pupil learning. Individual pupil’s gaps and barriers to learning are known and the school plans interventions accordingly, both in the shorter and longer term. As a result, this approach doesn’t just involve the SENDco, class teacher and Teaching Assistant/Support Staff, but the whole school. With the Covid catch-up premium and Tutoring programme, linking these interventions to in-class delivery will be key.

In other words, to be truly valuable, an intervention must also have a profound effect on class teaching. Assessments may not effectively show what has been forgotten compared to what has never truly been grasped, so there needs to be a balance between effective ‘revision’ and time spent ‘relearning’. The importance of pre teaching and post teaching as a support mechanism for learners, prior to interventions, should enable the pupil to have a ready set of resources to support access to the main learning and the intervention.

Those adults deploying interventions are not seen in isolation - accountability goes through everyone. Strong schools reflect a shared accountability, within in a detailed and reflective analysis of all the elements that make up effective progress i.e.  analysing the quality of the initial delivery within class, evaluating the supporting resources to ensure they provide a foundation on which the intervention must rest. The training and abilities of the individual delivering the intervention is known i.e. do they have the right training and skill set for the task at hand? Is the intervention delivered effectively, timely and accessibly? Is the relationship between the adult and pupil productive and the pupil actually enjoys the intervention as well as understands it in relation to what is being delivered in class – or are the two poles apart?

For all interventions the link between the intervention and classroom practice is vital. The NASWT “Effective Interventions: Promoting Learning and Tacking Workload” highlights, amongst other things, the issues around  poorly considered and implemented interventions and the workload of teachers. It could be argued that interventions with a strong educational value, implemented well should reduce workload, enabling teachers to  focus on what works for their pupils.

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We know connections, using and applying is the key to evidence understanding, so, as part of the intervention process, pupils who can verbalise what they are learning (versus what they are doing) and can express how they will use their new learning in class is in a strong position. Those who are then encouraged and expected to deploy this new learning, through careful planning and questioning by their class teachers, are in a far better position and avoid issues around cognitive overload.

Interventions that include strong aspects of metacognition and self-regulation when working in groups can have the greatest impact (EEF identifying up to 7 months of progress). Tight learning objectives for each session, married closely to the class expectations, have longer term impact. The individual delivering the intervention must truly know what they are looking for within each session, so that they can identify it when they see it and feedback effectively to both pupil and teacher. Such practice supports the pupil’s understanding of what has been taught and encourages further application. Alongside this there must be increased expectations from the teacher within the class, expecting and planning for the pupil to use and apply the skills/ concepts taught. Implemented poorly, the pupil may enjoy the extra time but does not link the activities covered with the expected deployment in another setting, i.e. the intervention ‘activities’ are completed, but with no comprehension of the learning behind them.

Along with this approach and robust improvement plans, strong schools have developed a climate that enables exemplary implementation. Notably, these schools have high expectations for all pupils, in all groups. Tracking the pupil is ongoing, providing a short, sharp and impactful process. Strong schools have an evidence based culture. Work is regularly reviewed for suitability; from material content, to resources, to people and to timings, all are used to support engagement and enable pupils to relate to the subject matter, and see the value of the skills and concepts covered. All staff understand the aims and expectations of the intervention – and the time taken for impact to be evidenced. There is no rapid change of intervention, but a balanced approach to adjustment. The child does not move from intervention to intervention.

Understanding the gaps in learning and barriers to progress and attainment with a close analysis of how the pupil learns, include subject vocabulary and how the teachers teach, can support the subject leaders work with staff in order to deliver effective interventions;- the right person – with the right training and expertise, with regular review, tracking results, and ensuring effective co-ordination. Pupils can then be assured that they are not missing out on in class learning and in class application.

When interventions are less successful, schools can further delay progress. Removing pupils from the main core subject teaching session to undertake ‘catch ups’ actually excludes the pupil; providing little access to the class teacher or the opportunity to share learning with the very group of peers who can model both understanding and application. As a result the pupil falls further behind and can find themselves supported by poorly trained/ inexperienced individuals who also get limited access to observing quality teaching taking place in the classroom.

Achievement for All ‘Interventions in the Classroom’ highlights the issues for children looked after, but the issues identified can reflect the issues for any child with a ‘disrupted educational experience.’ A child who has moved schools and then fallen behind their peers may then find their learning further disrupted through leaving the class for a set of poorly designed and unrelated interventions.

Often poor practice is identified when the focus is more on this catching up rather than keeping up. Where things go wrong, the school inadvertently settles in a pattern of putting pupils onto an intervention programme with little or no regard to the specifics of the child’s needs. The school may have heavily invested in the programme, but the links between what the pupil needs is overtaken by what the school has always provided, inadvertently a ‘here is the learning – fit in with it’ approach.

Element 4 is embedded within the other areas of the Quality Mark, enabling schools to develop and maintain good practice. The approach supports the school focus on:

  • effective analysis of need
  • identification of targeted staff and effective co-ordination
  • pupils receive appropriate support with the delivery impacting directly on progress
  • appropriate intervention matched to pupil need, (personalised, engaging and integrated)
  • inclusive practice based in identification of the underperforming pupils.

Best practice can be summed up through providing effective Identification, robust gap analysis and an ongoing assessment, quality, relevant provision and review culture. Ensuring evaluative programme tracking to evidence impact during, not after, the event. Short sharp directed and targeted interventions support the pupil and bring both rewards, pupil confidence and progress. Responding to pupil need through effective interventions has always been an important part of a school’s provision but, in such unpredictable times, one thing schools can be certain of is the lost learning time and the importance of the well-considered and implemented intervention.

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