This past week has been number crunching time again: looking at the progress of the children across the school. All in all, our children are doing well, but we still need to work on closing the gap for our “disadvantaged” children. Over a period of a couple of years, the progress of these children can best be described as, well, unpredictable. There are definite peaks and troughs in their performance which don’t seem to follow any trends. I suppose this can, in part, be attributed to the ever changing cohort: the list of children receiving Free School Meals does seem to change incredibly regularly, which of course means that the list of Ever 6 children is rapidly increasing. But we can’t attribute everything to this, and regardless of the reasons for the non-gap-closure, we need to do something about it.
I do find it difficult that we have to focus our attention specifically on a cohort of children: I believe that we need to have a much broader focus and ensure that every child is performing to the best of their capabilities. However, we have to ensure that our Pupil Premium money is being spent wisely, and that, sadly, comes down to the numbers on a page.
As part of my analysis this week, I had to look at progress measures for these children in reading, writing and maths. As far as reading and maths go, the story is quite favourable. But writing, which we consider to be our greatest strength as a school, is less positive.
So why could this be?
Historically, in the days of good old-fashioned levels, we invested a lot of time in moderating writing across the whole school, and became very au fait with what levels looked like. We never became quite as familiar with reading and maths, relying far more heavily on tests to inform judgements. Could this be the reason? Have the results of reading and maths been inflated somewhat by tests? Or have the children all been assessed less favourably as they had underperformed in their test? I’m not sure this is the reason: while we did often use tests to give us an idea of a level, there was still an element of teacher assessment involved. Not as much as perhaps there should have been, but that will all be changing in September…
I think the reason we aren’t closing the gap in writing is because we are lacking a good, structured intervention programme to help our struggling writers (whether they receive the Pupil Premium or not). We have invested a lot of time and money to provide quality interventions for maths and reading, through the IGCC programme (In Gloucestershire Children Count) for maths and Better Reading Partners. Both of these have proven to be very successful. We also run Dancing Bears sessions to help children and phonics support for those who need it. But we are still lacking something to help with writing: using punctuation correctly, grammatical structures and sentence types. The quality of our teaching in literacy is very good: we use Alan Peat’s exciting sentences to make our work interesting and the introduction of short, snappy SPaG lessons is developing the children’s grammatical awareness. As a school, the quality of our writing has improved dramatically, but just not enough for a few children.
I read on Twitter a few months back about Slow Writing, and have tried this in class myself. We produced some amazing results and the children loved it. I have since introduced a few colleagues to the idea, and they too have found it to be really successful. This week, it occurred to me that Slow Writing could provide exactly what we need in an intervention: it can be tailored exactly to the needs of an individual or small group, it practises perfect punctuation and uses the sentence types or grammatical structures that the children need to develop. The length of the session could depend entirely on the size of the text the children are writing. It doesn’t take long to explain the concept behind a Slow Write to anyone who isn’t familiar, so staff could be trained to deliver it relatively easily. I have identified three very small groups to work with a TA: it will take me a few minutes at the weekend to prepare the activity, but hopefully the results will be long lasting. I have spend many a long hour looking for other interventions, but it seems that this could possible be the answer.
If anyone else has trialled Slow Writing as a small group intervention, or has any other recommendations for writing support, I would really love to hear from you.