Securing strong outcomes for disadvantaged students.

A case for investing in teacher development to help the most disadvantaged students in our schools.

In December last year I was approached by Bury Council and two Mat leaders who asked me to design and deliver a 6-part professional development programme for experienced headteachers, who were mentoring newly appointed headteachers. We had our last session this week and I have had a blast with this group of expert leaders who have a phenomenal collective knowledge. Last week, I met the mentee heads, who my group have been supporting and I led a session for them on effective teacher development models. I loved doing this for three reasons:

I wish I had thought more deeply about teacher development sooner in my own school leadership journey and it helps heal that regret to support others to do so.
I was able to get some feedback on the impact of the mentoring programme on the mentees.
I believe that we can close the achievement gap between our most disadvantaged students and their more privileged peers through high quality professional development for teachers.
It’s number 3 from the list above that I will explore in more detail in this blog. The Sutton trust assert that:

‘The most rigorous academic papers find consistent and significant results: having a very effective, rather than an average teacher raises each pupil’s attainment by a third of a GCSE grade…The effect of having a very effective teacher as opposed to an average teacher is the same as the effect of reducing class size by ten students in Year 5 (ages 9-10) and thirteen or more students in Year 6(ages 10-11)…The effects of high-quality teaching are especially large for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who gain an extra year’s worth of learning under very effective teachers compared to poorly performing teachers.’ (Sutton Trust, 2011)

Now let’s just consider this a bit more. The most privileged children in our society benefit from small class sizes for 4 main reasons:

High frequency input from adults in lessons
Less disruptions from peers
They feel more at ease with sharing their ideas
Pupil-teacher relationships are more likely to be strong
All the benefits of small class sizes, can be created in other ways, and here is where we unlock our ability to enable disadvantaged students to compete in an socioeconomically unfair society. What small class sizes do not guarantee is expert teacher instruction. Put simply, great teaching beats small class sizes, hands down. As a headteacher, I had to address the underachievement of disadvantaged students urgently and after carrying out a lot of research, I decided to focus on developing teachers. I imagined my teachers were race horses and my senior team were the coaches, handlers, trainers and care team. With tailored professional development, coaching and bucket loads of cheering and support, we closed the pupil premium gap in every single year group by at least 20% every year I was head there. By the time I left the school, disadvantaged pupils were achieving national expectations or better. My teachers worked hard, really hard. But they knew how to teach, they thrived on clarity and their own improvement journey mirrored the rate of improvement in outcomes for our students. All my senior leaders are now leading their own schools. So when it comes to the issue of improving achievement of disadvantaged students, while I fundamentally believe the answer lies in a fairer society, I have first hand experience of what we can do with a razor sharp focus on teacher development. I now work with schools, MATS and LAs in the UK, developing approaches to coaching in schools as well as research led CPD programmes. My top tip for all headteachers is to stop talking at teachers in after school staff meetings, it doesn’t work. Think big and be bold so we can respond in our own way to the injustice that society presents for so many young people.

Nadia coaches Headteachers 1:1 and supports schools with teacher development programmes.

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