Mind the gap

Proven strategies for improving the performance of pupil premium students

National winners of the primary category of the 2015 National Pupil Premium Awards, and Educational Establishment of the Year at the 2016 Education Resources Awards, Parkfield Community School in Birmingham has been recognised for significantly improving the attainment and education of its disadvantaged pupils. Helen Hackett, Assistant Headteacher, Maths Lead and Specialist Leader in Education, outlines some of the strategies used to close the gap between pupil premium pupils and their peers. 

Our school is a large, inner-city, primary school, with 768 pupils aged from three to 11, from a wide range of minority ethnic groups with the vast majority using English as an Additional Language. More than a third qualify for pupil premium, which is well above the national average.

We have always taken a robust and systematic approach to identifying the challenges our pupils face and the impact that these challenges have on their learning. We exhibit a relentless focus on closing performance gaps – tracking, measuring and tackling gaps based on pupil premium as well as ethnicity, cultural background and gender – and have made significant progress in doing so. 

We did a great deal of research before deciding which strategies to use. As well as involving ourselves with various university research projects, I conducted more informal interviews with pupils who were falling behind in maths and struggling with homework to identify their particular problems. Frequently this included difficulties accessing a computer at home and finding a quiet time and place to complete their assignments.

Armed with all this information, we embarked on a raft of strategies, key among them being to set up breakfast, lunchtime and after school maths clubs using Mathletics from 3P Learning. It is an award-winning, curriculum-mapped digital resource for maths, designed to increase learner engagement, confidence and motivation using a ‘gaming-style’ challenge and reward system and has significantly improved our maths results.

Our pupil premium children are given first option to attend the breakfast club at 8.30am every morning, and other pupils can fill any remaining spaces. We run the club in our ICT suite which has 30 computers running Mathletics and combine that with a high level of adult support – typically four teachers and teaching assistants who support and guide the children in their work. 

Eighty per cent have attended breakfast club regularly. Further access to Mathletics is available at our lunch time and after school homework clubs and on an ipad during registration.

I am very proud to say that the outcomes have been stunning – the evidence shows that extending school time – when used to deliver additional academic support that is stimulating – can be an effective approach.

In 2015 SATS, 99% of the pupils achieved their Level 4, 64% achieved Level 5 and nine per cent Level 6. Pupils receiving pupil premium met their challenging target in maths – 80%, at the end of KS2. In year three, our pupil premium children made more progress than non pupil premium children and achieved above the national average in maths.

Ten top tips for pupil premium success

  • Use breakfast, lunchtime and after school clubs to extend the school day 
  • Review the take up of resources such as Mathletics regularly and sort out any instances of low participation immediately
  • Know every child – I am very aware that there are disadvantaged children who just miss the PP classification so I am continually looking to plug any gaps in maths which could be linked to disadvantage
  • Engage parents by providing a range of fun workshops
  • Be rigorous about attendance and support the children in catching up immediately following their return to school
  • Be serious about punctuality – we started a walking bus which has enabled pupils to arrive at school on time 
  • Raise aspirations – primary school children are not too young to visit a grammar school or a university, we take pupils all the time 
  • Remember children can be totally switched off maths before they are 11, so it’s important to act early 
  • Garner support from the governing body – a governor who shares your passion for maths can be an invaluable ally and support 
  • Make sure staff are fully aware of the many features and benefits – I’m always dismayed to find a school where they are not making full use of their resources
  • Get some competition going between staff, not just the children – it really works!

Helen Hackett is Parkfield Community School’s Assistant Headteacher, Maths Lead and Specialist Leader in Education.

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