Schools can make a difference to social mobility

There is a strong correlation between a child’s socio-economic background and their performance at school. Levels of parental of education, occupation and income are key factors affecting how well a child achieves at school. However, there are a growing number of schools that are managing to break the link between educational attainment and disadvantage. In 2011, for example, there were 203 secondary schools in England where the proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving five A*-C GCSE grades including English and mathematics is at or above the national average for all schools[a].

The impact of schools on attainment can, therefore, be significant. Although there  clearly are issues influencing social mobility that are beyond the control of the school system, schools can still make a significant difference to the life chances of disadvantaged students.

“Carefully designed school improvement interventions, which pay attention to research about ‘what works’, can help schools to narrow the gap in attainment between more and less advantaged pupils.”[b]

It was against this background and the growing significance of the Pupil Premium that ASCL commissioned me to write a guidance note for school leaders on promoting social mobility through closing gaps in attainment. The guidance is based on research evidence and the practice of school leaders with a proven track record in this area. It focuses on seven main issues.

  1. Establishing a strong culture of high expectations and achievement for all pupils
  2. Identifying the performance and progress of FSM pupils
  3. Analysing and understanding the issues blocking progress
  4. Reviewing and selecting potential interventions
  5. Setting success criteria and agreeing how to measure impact
  6. Implementing interventions
  7. Developing the roles and skills required of school leaders

The guidance provides a good framework for thinking about how to plan and deploy the Pupil Premium as well support schools in strategically identifying individuals and groups of students that need specific support. At the end of the guidance note there is a checklist for school leaders.

Checklist on closing gaps in attainment for school and college leadersThe school leadership team should review each statement (individually and then collectively) and assign a value to each statement.1 = Strongly disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Not sure; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly agree
The school/college has a strong high expectations culture that is visible to staff, students and parents and reflected in its arrangements for impartial information and guidance

The school/college has a named individual on the senior leadership team who is responsible for championing and driving forward action in relation to FSM pupils

The school/college uses data well at whole-school and year group and subject level to identify and track the performance and progress of FSM students

In discussion with students and the involvement of all staff the school/college has identified the main within-school factors contributing to gaps in attainment for FSM student 

The school/college understands the relative merits of different strategies and interventions for supporting disadvantaged students and has adopted strategies to meet the specific challenges identified

The school/college has set challenging achievement goals for all FSM students in partnership with them and their parents

The school/college has resourced, carefully planned and secured support for the intervention strategies it is going to use

The school/college has monitored and evaluated the impact of interventions, using a mix of methods

The school’s/college’s strategy on closing gaps in attainment for FSM students is integrated into its self-evaluation and the school development plan

The school ensures that where setting or ability grouping is used, pupils in different groupings should have equal access to high quality teaching and learning

The school/college has carefully considered its criteria for allocating bursary awards to ensure that it has identified and targeted those students that are most disadvantaged 

You can find a full copy of the guidance at

ASCL has also published a further paper and literature review by Professor Becky Francis of Kings College London that addresses the broader changes that need to tackled both within society and the wider education system if all young people are to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential irrespective of the circumstances of their birth. The papers are available on the same site.

[a] Collins, K, 2012, I’m on the side of the ‘hopeless optimists, TES 4th May 2012

[b] Ainscow, M, et al, 2010, Insight 2 Social inequality: can schools narrow the gap?, British Educational Research Association



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s