Despite the attainment gap narrowing over the last 20 years in England, the gap between pupils living with disadvantage and their more privileged peers remains stark.
The Education Policy Institute’s annual report (2020) found that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had stopped closing for the first time in a decade. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and closed our educational establishments for four months, denying children education in the more traditional sense.
Many schools did a great job providing synchronous and asynchronous learning at home, however this simply compounds the issue for the most disadvantaged young people as they are the most likely not to access it, either by choice or otherwise. This will have inevitably widened the gap.
So what works in terms of supporting children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds?
- High quality teaching
- Role models
- STEM culture capital
- Equality of opportunity to access enrichment
- Careers and transition support and high levels of parental participation.
The majority of these were taken out of the hands of schools and teachers earlier this year as pupils were unable to attend school. This meant they received varying levels of home support.
STEM Learning has been supporting schools and colleges for many years. We provide 50,000 hours of high quality CPD per year and support schools in opportunity areas and local authority districts five and six. Additionally, we provide schools with role models in STEM subjects through our STEM Ambassador programme and Project ENTHUSE helps support schools with the careers and transition aspect. These are projects everyone at STEM is passionate about, but we have to go further at this most challenging of times.
Analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) charity found “the closure of schools to most pupils over the last three months is likely to reverse all progress made to close the gap since 2011”.
Educators pulling together is a must, and organisations such as ours must intensify the support for schools and colleges in their goal of narrowing the inevitable increased gap, while providing a flexible model in doing so.
We want to provide schools and colleges with further bespoke support. That's why we’ve started to develop a section of our STEM website dedicated solely on initiatives, professional development opportunities and resources which schools and colleges can access to support their Pupil Premium and FSM pupils.
We’ve adapted our high quality CPD so it can be delivered remotely and at different times of the day - meaning staff can still improve their knowledge and skills, which ensures their pupils are receiving high quality teaching.
The Department for Education (DfE) has outlined its plans to support schools with a £1 billion ‘catch-up’ package, with £350 million of this set aside for tutoring pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. STEM Learning has further developed resources and CPD suitable to be utilised by these tutors, teachers and mentors, whether in a school or home learning setting.
As the pandemic continues we will continue to provide home teaching and learning materials through STEM Learning and the NCCE, who are working hard to replicate the teaching computing curriculum online. This is via the OAK National Academy platform - meaning a student can seamlessly move from learning at school to learning at home.
Transition from KS2 into KS3 would have been particularly difficult this year - and we know this impacts pupil premium students the most based on evidence from UCL (2008). A bespoke remote course to support teachers with transition in science has been created.
Also, STEM Ambassadors are teaming up with Brightside to provide digital mentoring to support 2,000 Year 12 students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This initiative will complement existing provisions, guide students as they navigate the next steps in their education pathway and help them to make informed decisions about their future.
Over the summer months STEM Learning, with the support of the RAF, devised and delivered four catch-up camps to groups of Year 10 pupils in Essex who are living with disadvantage - and we have further camps pencilled in for future terms.
These are just a few of the initiatives we have launched in our quest to support schools and pupils during these highly challenging times - which are even more difficult for pupils living with disadvantage. We must work to mitigate against the gap widening for our most vulnerable students.
For more and upcoming initiatives check out our new page: