Closing the attainment gap in mathematics at KS2, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, through developing excellence in pedagogy, subject knowledge and leadership

Balcarras School

1. Overview

The project aimed to close the gap in KS2 attainment in mathematics, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, in 23 schools in Gloucestershire. The gap was due to groups of pupils having poor arithmetic, reasoning and/or problem-solving skills.

The project set out to reduce this gap through developing excellence in pedagogy, strengthening leadership of mathematics, improving teachers’ subject knowledge, embracing the principles of teaching for mastery, and implementing same day/same week intervention strategies in the classroom.

In addition to these overarching aims, intended outcomes included children having a secure, deeper and sustainable understanding of mathematical concepts, and a belief in their ability to achieve in the subject.

The targets set in relation to pupils’ attainment were a reduction by at least 20% of the cohort average of the gap between pupils in the supported schools and nationally, and a narrowing of the gap between disadvantaged pupils in these schools and the national average.

The main vehicles for achieving these improvements were collaborative universal events, bespoke onsite support, action research and ‘train the trainer’ activities.

A further intended outcome was the establishment of a network of local champions and specialists who could sustain the impact of this work beyond the life of the project.

1. Good practice to share with others interested in running school improvement projects to ensure projects deliver the intended outcome.

The project lead makes the following recommendations based on elements of successful practice that featured in this project:

  1. Professional development events, and ongoing support, for senior leadership teams to establish and embed the principles of the project, are critical
  2. A project focused on principles, not products, is crucial
  3. Use a blend of universal professional development and bespoke onsite support
  4. Individual school support must be tailored to need and context
  5. Provide opportunities for the 'improvement officers' [ie leads within schools and/or SLEs] to meet, provide feedback to project lead and inform priorities for the next phase
  6. Produce clear term-by-term milestones and expectations for schools and 'improvement officers'
  7. Celebrate early successes via events, emails, newsletters
  8. Use locally credible system leaders with a strong track record of school improvement for onsite support
  9. Hold a well-publicised, impactful launch event that emphasises the importance of the project to the participating schools
  10. Make onsite support in year 2 of the project ‘bespoke’ - moving from 'implement' to 'empower'

3. Lessons learned - What the project may do differently in the future

If designing a project again, the project lead would:

  1. Ensure all supporting organisations understand the principles and strategies of the project
  2. Make sure that any data collection requirements are manageable and that there is no/minimal extra workload
  3. Check that data requested/collected is purposeful and focused on supporting the deliverable outcomes of the project
  4. Check that all tools (for example online self-evaluation tools) are fit for purpose

3. Sustainability measures taken by the project to ensure improvement are sustained beyond the funding period

The project has put in place a range of sustainability measures, some systemic and others more specific.

The systemic measures are:

  1. That there was a focus on strengthening leadership as a key action throughout the project, to ensure all senior and middle leaders are empowered to sustain and embed improvements beyond the period of the project
  2. That the project focused on developing systems and infrastructure that provide sustainable foundations.
  3. That year 2 of the project focused on ensuring there was coherence across each school to support sustainable improvements
  4. That the project engaged all stakeholders - leaders, teachers and teaching assistants - to ensure there was full 'buy-in' to the principles (essential for sustainable improvements)
  5. That the project focused on changing the mindsets of staff and leaders and 'removing artificial ceilings', especially for disadvantaged pupils

The specific measures are:

  1. A session at the end of project celebration conference focused on reviewing and completing the project programme’s self-evaluation, to inform the schools’ maths improvement plans for 2019/20
  2. Project schools produced and shared 'stories of change’ at the end of project celebration conference, to inspire each other and provide ideas for sustaining and embedding improvements beyond the period of the project
  3. A ‘TransforMaths Local Champs’ network has been established to support project schools beyond the project
  4. The project has worked closely with the local Maths Hub (GLOW) and all schools have been invited to be part of the Maths Hub’s Mastery Readiness Work Groups or Primary Teaching for Mastery Work Groups, working with a GLOW Mastery Specialist, in 2019/20