Closing the Gap: Test and Learn

We are very excited to be involved in a national research project on an unprecedented scale. Over 750 schools, representing 190 teaching school alliances will be participating in the scheme over the next two years to test interventions that may help to close the attainment gap.

What is it?

Closing the Gap: Test and Learn is a new scheme from the National College of Teaching and Leadership providing grants for schools and teachers to get involved in rigorous research. The goal is to help improve the evidence-base for what works in closing the attainment gap (CTG) for disadvantaged pupils and also to stimulate robust research and development in schools. The scheme should also strengthen relationships between schools and higher education institutions.

Around 700 schools are taking part in the trials, co-ordinated through around 180 teaching school alliances.

The scheme has two stages: a consultation to decide which interventions will be trialed, and a two-year programme of testing in schools. The first stage identified a group of six interventions to be trialed in up to 1000 schools. The design team at CUREE and Durham University consulted widely in the system asking what area of teaching and learning would have the most benefit in closing the achievement gap and what approaches schools were in use and were sufficiently promising that they are worth trying out on a larger scale.

What do you mean by intervention?

Our working definition of an 'intervention' is:

A set of specified and designed pupil facing activities likely (as shown by existing evidence or a plausible extrapolation) to achieve positive outcomes for a given:

  • population of pupils for whom the system faces CTG challenges or;
  • subject or topic which a subjected where it is hard to CTG
  • population of schools where there are particular challenges in CTG;

supported by a set of teacher/school leader facing protocols/tools/activities for effective implementation and contextualisation of the pupil facing strategies/activities.

The research will compose of a set of Random Controlled Trials focusing on specific interventions. Our alliance will be involved in the following projects:

Teaching School: Bulmershe School
Alliance Name: Wellington College Teaching School Partnership
Phase: SEC
Intervention: Response to Intervention
Teaching School: The Holt School
Alliance Name: Wellington College Teaching School Partnership
Phase: SEC
Intervention: Research Lesson Study (year 2)
Teaching School: Waingels College
Alliance Name: Wellington College Teaching School Partnership
Phase: SEC
Intervention: Response to Intervention
Teaching School: Wellington College
Alliance Name: Wellington College Teaching School Partnership
Phase: SEC
Intervention: Growth Mindset

What are the Test and Learn interventions?

1st Class at Number
First Class at Number is delivered by trained teaching assistants to small groups of children who have fallen behind at mathematics. Teaching assistants work from detailed lesson plans, adapting them according to information gained from structured assessments. They help children to think and talk about their mathematics. First Class at Number has a Post Office theme: children use letters, parcels, postcards and house numbers to support their mathematics and write postcards to tell their class teachers about their achievements.Teaching assistants are supported by a link teacher, who may be the Numbers Count teacher or another teacher chosen by the school. The resources for the lessons are all provided in a sturdy box and the school will only need to find a few items of mathematics equipment such as some cubes and coins.

Research Lesson Study
Lesson Study is a structured professional development process in which teachers systematically examine their practice and work together to improve it. Teachers work collaboratively on a small number of "study lessons", in a plan-teach-observe-critique cycle. Teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore to provide focus and direction to this work. For Test and Learn it would be possible to consider specifying particular lesson foci catered for teaching approaches e.g. differentiation, content, year group, ability group, or improving the quality/depth of teaching.

Inference training
Inference training helps students make meaning as they read. This involves learning vocabulary, using their background knowledge, making inferences and building up meaning. It helps weak readers to get the full message from the text, making reading more enjoyable for them. In each session students: consider their prior knowledge; define and elaborate on words; ask questions; fill in a missing sentence; create images of their reading; and summarise and predict. Teachers need to choose a variety of texts for the sessions which are engaging for pupils, and at an appropriate level of difficulty.

Achievement for All
AfA is a whole school improvement framework focused on the 20% of vulnerable and SEND learners. It works through 4 dimensions: Leadership of Achievement for All, Teaching & Learning, Parental Engagement and Wider Outcomes. Schools identify and champion who is an SLT member & target year groups.

Schools are supported with initial needs analysis, action planning and evaluation through training, a structured conversation with parents and fortnightly visits from an Achievement Coach and a School Handbook.

The coach and School Champion develop a programme which meets the school's needs building on existing successes. Initially AfA focuses on 2 target groups of pupils but then the practice is expanded to the whole school.

Growth Mindsets
Approaches to teaching and learning aimed at creating 'growth mindsets' have developed from the research by Carol Dweck, which shows that teacher and student beliefs about intelligence impact on learning. Where students believed intelligence was innate they were less likely to persist in the face of challenge, where they believed ability on a task could be improved, they saw difficulty as a natural part of learning and persevered with tasks. Strategies for developing growth mindsets include:

  • asking open-ended questions to solve a problem
  • using specific feedback to identify what the student has accomplished
  • encouraging students to take a risk
  • teachers modelling persistence themselves
  • emphasising the learning to be gained from mistakes and when things don't go well.

The Numicon approach is built on the work of Catherine Stern, using multi disciplinary/ multi-sensory, using apparatus and focusing on Action, Imagery and Conversation. The programme of activities with Numicon Shapes and rods helps children understand number relationships, spot patterns and make generalisations. The Numicon Shapes and rods help teachers and children to communicate their ideas. Children are encouraged to work together on activities which emphasise applying understanding to solve problems. It is helpful to all pupils and particularly beneficial to those with short term learning problems e.g. Down's syndrome

Response to Intervention
Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behaviour needs. The RTI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. A variety of staff are engaged in the process, including classroom and specialist teachers. Progress is closely monitored and decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on individual student response to instruction.

An interim report from the National College will be published in September and disseminated to partner schools. There will also be the possibility of schools attending training round days for conduction small scale research in schools from next year. A final report on the trials with recommendations will be published in 2015 by the National College.

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