June 19, 2024

How do we tackle the complexity of poverty in our schools?

Guest Blog: Sean Harris, Trust Improvement Leader and doctoral researcher with Teesside University

In my early days as a school leader, I vividly recall an Executive Headteacher introducing me as the ‘Pupil Premium Champion’, followed by a remark emphasising that the performance of all disadvantaged pupils was my sole responsibility. Perhaps I should have donned a superhero costume and told the entire school community that ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’. I might have had more impact.

My primary takeaway as this so-called ‘champion’ was that poverty is more complex than I had ever realised as a teacher or leader. Arguably, it is more complex than any other issue facing school leaders and teachers. It cannot be solved through the efforts of a single champion.

There is no silver bullet, but there are principles that might guide our approach to addressing the hyperlocal impacts of poverty in our school communities and classrooms.

The story so far

Last year, I had the pleasure of working with Headteachers and school leaders across Norwich as part of the VNET network. This was a valuable opportunity to delve into the complexity of poverty and examine what research reveals about major trends in child poverty and educational disadvantage in our communities.

Despite the bleak statistics and hard-hitting facts, there was a genuine sense of optimism and a strong desire for change among the leaders at the conference. Leaders and teachers discussed the need for genuine collaboration and moving beyond simply addressing the perceived symptoms of poverty at the school gates. This built on the work that Mark Rowland and the Research Schools Network had carried out with leaders the previous year, challenging us to move from assumptions to assessments when recognising and addressing barriers to learning caused by poverty.

The long train journey back home to the Tees Valley in the North of England left me with a sense of hope and an urge to collaborate further with these leaders. While the Tees Valley and Norfolk are regions apart, they share similar challenges concerning the multifaceted and complex nature of child poverty and its impact on learning in our schools.

Understanding Disadvantage

In the Autumn term of 2024, Tees Valley Education will collaborate with VNET to deliver an online professional development programme. This programme aims to support leaders and teachers in understanding the complexity of educational disadvantage and developing long-lasting methods for tackling it.

We know that leaders and teachers are working at full capacity and striving to serve their communities. Therefore, we have designed the programme to be virtual, incorporating effective principles of CPD design as established by research. The sessions will facilitate collaboration, providing easy access to current research and guidance on applying this knowledge in schools to address educational disadvantage.

The sessions will be interactive, offering participants opportunities to engage with the taught and shared content. Additionally, we will provide a workbook to support learning during and between sessions, enabling schools to continue their learning independently and critically assess the research and concepts presented in our modules.

Learning journey

Three modules have been designed to support leaders and teachers, regardless of their experience levels, in understanding and tackling disadvantage in terms of policy, practice, and pedagogy. While we do not offer ‘silver bullet’ solutions, we will share a range of approaches and best practices to support teachers and leaders in your school.

Session 1

Tales of the Pupil Premium

  • To know current research trends regarding poverty and educational disadvantage
  • To understand the limitations of using the PP as the only proxy for tackling disadvantage
  • To know current research trends for making more effective use of the PP in schools to understand and tackle educational disadvantage
  • To evaluate the extent to which our PP strategies in schools are ‘poverty informed’.

Session 2

Doorstep disadvantage: understanding and responding to local need

  • To know the value and importance of understanding hyperlocal need as part of tackling disadvantage
  • To know current research trends regarding poverty and educational disadvantage
  • To identify where to find additional sources of information/data to support this in schools
  • To explore and know a range of strategies to help understand and ‘diagnose’ local need through the day-to-day work of being an operational school
  • To begin to make use of stakeholder/partnership network maps to tackle local need.

Session 3

Crafting curriculum with disadvantage in mind

  • To revisit the principles of curriculum design with poverty and neurology in mind
  • To explore the principles of the SHINE project to curriculum design developed by Tees Valley Education
  • To know the technique of pre-mortem in lesson and curriculum design
  • To practise the use of pre-mortem for curriculum design to better diagnose and tackle misconceptions in the curriculum for disadvantaged pupils.
Join us

We believe that expertise does not develop in isolation. If you share our commitment to social justice and equity in education, consider joining this collaboration. It is more than an online CPD offer; it is an invitation to understand the complex issue of disadvantage in our school communities and how to tackle it.

To find out more about the project please click here.

Sean Harris

Tees Valley Education
Education leader, doctoral researcher and journalist Sean Harris reflects on the complex issue of poverty and disadvantage. Whilst the issue is hard, Sean offers some hope and approaches to further understanding these issues in our roles as education leaders.

Share this post

Similar Posts

How do we tackle the complexity of poverty in our schools?

Guest Blog: Sean Harris, Trust Improvement Leader and doctoral researcher with Teesside University In my early days as a school leader, I vividly recall an …

Read More →

Pupils’ voices: Navigating multiple perspectives in dialogue

Guest Blog: Dr Victoria Cook, Chartered College of Teaching The pupil voice movement, which has become a worldwide movement of change in education (Rudduck and …

Read More →

Race, Identity and School Leadership

Guest Blog from Viv Grant, Founder & Director of Integrity Coaching

Read More →

Creating a coaching culture in schools

Help to create a supportive climate where everyone can flourish… Creating a coaching culture in schools can, ‘create positive and supportive organisational climates for personal …

Read More →

Leading Primary Writing Effectively

Rising to the challenge in Norfolk In 2022/23 Norfolk schools are seeing attainment gaps in KS2 writing expected standard of 7 points below national average, …

Read More →

Does raising aspirations help raise pupil outcomes?

Does raising aspirations help raise pupil outcomes? A lack of aspiration can be cited as a reason for poor student outcomes in areas of high …

Read More →