The progress of pupil premium students has been a hot topic over the last few years, even for the humble history teacher.
Arms length control
The government have spent millions on this vulnerable group of students and want to see bang for their buck. This pressure has been passed down the chain. Ofsted report on it, school leaders therefore worry about this vulnerable group and, in some schools then ‘kick’ their teachers and bemoan the lack of progress here. And historically progress is patchy, stubborn even.
In fact this arm’s length control from central government and paranoia from SLT has even reached the trainee history teacher
Last term I was helping a PGCE student think-through her Master’s Level assignment. Harriet had to demonstrate how she could apply all of her recently acquired professional knowledge to her teaching practice. This was to be achieved by creating a scheme of work and evaluating it.
Her curriculum focus was helping students understand causation in history, and her pedagogical focus was to address ‘the gap’ between pupil premium (PP) and non-pupil premium students. Urgh! That phrase, that focus…
A history leader’s lack of influence?
As a history leader I will not get a penny of the ‘pupil premium’; the part where the government gives extra money for such students. I also know I won’t get a teaching assistant for SEND students, nor get more than 1 hour curriculum time a week for year 7, 8 or 9 students. It is also unlikely my capitation for history will rise much more beyond the miserly £1.09 allocation per student, per year. Despite the emerging E-bacc era, English and Maths still consume most resources. Urgh! (again).
Without anything ‘extra’ being given, closing the gap between PP and non-PP has to be about access and challenge. I put a question to Harriet to test her understanding of the issues in hand. “Harriet, what are the barriers that stop PP students attaining the same as non PP?”. The answer seemed too obvious, but she hit the nail on the head.
“Attendance, homework and literacy”.
Together we came to realise we cannot rely on those three things, those three vital elements to progressing in history. Bugger!
So, we talked through tackling poor attendance.
In my school this is a whole school issue, but what can I do? The answer was simple: plan for it.
Since joining the History Resource Cupboard (HRC) in 2015, I have been forced to radically re-think my medium and long-term planning. It used to rely on attendance as a given. My medium and long term planning looked something like a spiral (diagrams). We would have a year’s focus broken down into a 6-week enquiry question which would be chunked down into tasks.
At the end of the 6 weeks the students would answer the enquiry question and we would assess it. If students missed a lesson or too, they may well be lost in time.However, Richard, Neil and Alec made me realise the benefits of the small-chunk, bite-size enquiries. Enquiries that last no more than three- four lessons.
Once I taught from HRC resources the rationale was obvious. The cries of “I don’t get it, I wasn’t here last lesson” evaporated. And thus, an attendance barrier was partially removed. I was pleased, but not satisfied.
More manageable chunks
The bitesize ‘chunking’ approach didn’t sit well with me at first, having been long-time a fan of long-term planning. In time, I realised I wasn’t seeing the big idea. The lessons DO link together through thoughtful long term planning, but it won’t hinder access or challenge too much if the link is broken or a piece is missing. Each HRC lesson is self-contained but also part of a chain.
Clever! Were Richard, Neil, Alec were pupil premium masterminds? Or just bloody good history teachers?
Discussing this with Richard, I was told that years ago the three of them used to use longer enquiries, influenced by Dale Banham’s work on King John. This long term enquiry helped most students make progress – apart from what we now know as pupil premium students. The types of school’s Alec, Neil and Richard worked in had high levels of poor attendance. This meant that if long enquiries were carried out, the most vulnerable kids were often lost on their return because they were sporadically absent. Also, spending 6 weeks or so on one enquiry caused barriers for motivation: ‘We not still doing this are we?’ Three or four hours was often enough to get across the substantive knowledge needed. More was often injected for homework. Motivation and understanding increased.
Harriet and I tried to visualise it. We drew standalone circles, that slightly overlapped – like the Audi logo.
The benefit of attending the previous lesson was to take part in a quick recap at the beginning and the knowledge gleaned here is enough (just) to tide over the non attenders so they could help access the rest of the lesson. As the enquiries are only 3 or 4 lessons long, the chances of them getting lost in time are much slimmer.
Cost in cash? Zero. Cost in time? Immense.
Luckily all HRC lessons are designed around the Audi design. It was a winning formula, particularly when you think of the your big picture planning too.
By the way, Harriet’s assignment nailed it – an MA ‘Distinction!’