We are in quite a disadvantaged area of Middlesbrough with 76 per cent of the school community eligible for pupil premium funding. As a school, we strive to ensure that all children, regardless of context, perform and attain well.
Since coming back in September our attendance rates have been as high as 95 or 96 per cent and we have had regular meetings on how to secure further improvements, with staff and with trust leaders. The children’s attitudes towards learning has been fantastic since they have returned to school and they are happy and thriving.
During lockdown we checked in regularly with our children and when they were allowed back into school we knew there was going to be a lot of lost learning. Since they have come back we have been looking at the emotional and social needs of the children and making sure they are engaged.
As part of our curriculum, we place personal development at the core to ensure that all of our children are ready to learn; we support their needs be it on an individual or class basis. So a lot of the work that we have done, from the pupils coming back after Covid-19, was to work around their mental health. We allocated some of the ‘catch up’ funding to a whole school thrive approach which has been implemented throughout the school.
Once the children had been back for a couple of weeks, we needed to get an indication as to where they were academically. We didn’t do that straight away, because obviously, our priority was that the children were back and that they were happy and engaged in school.
We carried out some diagnostic assessments because it was important for us as a school and as teachers to address the gaps in lost learning. We have implemented the Partners In Excellence (PIXL) approach in school and used their resources to determine how much learning had been lost and where the knowledge gaps were.
Initial analysis was that our children were working in line with other PIXL schools in reading and grammar but maths needed more focussed attention. However, because of the breadth of the mathematics curriculum, we know that a deeper focus will be required in this area to account for learning loss caused by Covid-19.
We have also implemented a detailed remote learning strategy to ensure that all children who aren’t in school are able to access education, linked to their classroom learning, on a daily basis. Additionally, if the situation arises where a whole class needs to isolate, they are taught live over Microsoft Teams.
We have allocated some of our catch-up funding to the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) and work with Third Space Learning. They provide a clear assessment at the start and you can gauge the impact of the work that the children have. We’ve worked with them before and have seen maths results improve by 30 per cent over the last three years at key stage two.
We’ve looked at marginal pupils within a group who need that extra support. These pupils have tuition sessions weekly, and we use the impact reports from sessions to inform teaching within the classroom.
Tuition is delivered online, and I think the fact that it is delivered over the internet is engaging, and the children talk about it as a group afterwards. So much so that the word really spreads between the children and they all really want to have an opportunity to do it. It’s almost that there is envy in the cohort, but actually it’s positive because they’re talking about maths and talking about their learning. They are establishing those relationships, with their peers and their tutors.
It’s impressive in terms of the way the children speak about maths, but also to each other and to the teachers. There is a positive relationship between staff and pupils- something we have worked relentlessly on for some time.
My advice to any school leader considering whether to use the NTP or not, is to make sure that any intervention is really tuned into the needs of your children. Don’t just jump in on something because it’s really popular at the moment, be sure of what outcomes you want to achieve and your vision for the programme.
The NTP is really effective in that capacity and it has a positive impact on the children. Everything we do and everything we implement is tailored to the needs of the pupils, and the tutoring and Third Space Learning really complement that.
One reason we do tutoring is because the data improves. But that’s not the only reason. It’s teaching the children enthusiasm for and confidence in maths. As a result of school closures and lost learning, a lot of the time children lost confidence in themselves. This gives them the opportunity to regularly speak to somebody and establish a relationship.
The children develop their oracy as well and we have seen a change in how they speak and talk about maths, and their wider learning in general. We don’t have the hard data but you can see within our classrooms which children are accessing the tutoring because of their ability to articulate their learning. I think it does show that tutoring can impact positively, in terms of pupils being good citizens and being able to talk to different people from different contexts.
I would have thought that the NTP is something that has the capacity to run for more than a couple of years. I don’t think we should just stop because we’ve seen some gains. If we have the capacity to improve attainment over two years, what can we do over five years or ten years? But it’s not a decision that lies with me!
Mike Foster is the Assistant Head Teacher at Thorntree Academy, a primary school in Middlesbrough. Thorntree Academy uses Third Space Learning.