Closing the attainment gap: lessons in action

| No responses | Posted by: James Teasdale | Theme: Social Innovation & Investment, Youth & Education

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) recently published a summary of the ‘key lessons learned’ in its first six years and an in-depth analysis of the attainment gap in England, which the EEF characterises primarily as the disparity in academic attainment between young people who face disadvantage and their better-off peers. The report had many important and useful findings for organisations working to improve the prospects of young people who face particular challenges because of their economic circumstances when growing up. The Young Foundation’s Young Academy programme helps early-stage education charities, social enterprises and mission-driven businesses to play their part in levelling the playing field, by equipping them to develop more effective products and services for schools and young people and to become more sustainable organisations.

We were encouraged to see that many of the EEF’s findings echoed our own experience of working to tackle educational inequality through the Young Academy since 2014. In that time we have supported over 50 organisations and invested several hundred thousand pounds in some of the most promising, to help them increase their positive impact on young people, particularly those facing disadvantage. We have also worked with dozens of teachers and other sector experts, to ensure that the products and services our ventures are developing address the most pressing educational challenges and really help schools and communities to improve young people’s outcomes and future prospects.

Echoing the lessons learned

Many of the ventures supported by the Young Academy are working to improve education provision in ways that echo some of the key lessons learned by the EEF in its first six years. A few examples of these include:

  • The huge promise of early years education in preventing the attainment gap before children start school. The EEF highlight the important role that professional support and training for early years workers can play. We supported and invested in Moti-Lab, a pop-up laboratory for experiential and sensory learning across early years foundation stage and primary education. Moti-Lab not only provides a hands-on approach that engages all children in learning science and maths, but also aims to build teacher and practitioner confidence and ability to deliver engaging lessons in these areas of the curriculum.
  • The EEF highlighted the significant positive impact of improved teaching quality on the attainment gap, but also the limited supply of high-quality teacher training. The Teacher Development Trust seeks to improve the provision of high-quality CPD for teachers, while The Happy Teacher Project works with schools to help boost teacher retention and motivation.
  • Small group interventions were found by the EEF to have the potential for the largest immediate impact on attainment. We supported the charity Talent-Ed, which has developed a low-cost and effective year-long programme of weekly small group sessions for high ability students from low-income backgrounds, in order to improve grades and academic and career options. Talent-Ed’s model has the added benefit of keeping teachers in the system, as the programme is delivered primarily by retired teachers who are local to the school.
  • A small number of Young Academy ventures focused on post-16 attainment, which the EEF highlighted as being a particular issue for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.We invested in Infused Learning, which provides Access to Higher Education diplomas in a flexible, tailored way that provides continuing education for adults who face difficulties accessing learning through traditional routes.
  • The EEF found that teaching assistants, an education asset worth £5 billion annually, can improve pupil progress if they are properly trained and supported. Inclusive Classrooms, which participated in the Young Academy in 2015 and aims to transform the efficacy of teaching assistants, has developed the UK’s first ‘on the job’ professional development and training programme that focuses specifically on their role.
  • Many Young Academy ventures, such as Inspirational Youth and Revolution Hive, focus on helping young people develop life skills and character, which the EEF points to as being important in influencing life chances. Alongside our evidence partner NPC, the Young Academy helps skills development organisations to better understand and articulate how their work improves academic attainment, by supporting them in creating a ‘theory of change’ and a framework to evidence their impact.

Meeting pupils’ needs effectively

The EEF’s report makes several interesting observations about the manifestations of the attainment gap. For instance, it finds that the gap is consistent across all types of schools, regardless of their Ofsted rating, meaning that this is an issue for all schools. It also finds that there is not a direct and straightforward link between school funding and pupil attainment. While a good level of funding is important to allow schools to do a good job for their pupils, and especially their disadvantaged pupils, this point highlights the significant role that schools using their resources as effectively and efficiently as possible plays in the outcomes their pupils achieve. The Young Academy aims to help school leaders make more informed commissioning decisions and therefore more discerning use of funds by helping the ventures they engage with to become more impactful and to better articulate that impact.

The report also points to the boost that pupil premium funding gives to school leaders to specifically focus on raising the attainment of disadvantaged young people, some of which is used to buy in specialist support from organisations we support on the Young Academy programme. We have been very encouraged by the benefits realised for secondary schools in the East Midlands that buy in Think for the Future’s behavioural mentoring programme, which has reduced pupil exclusions and saved the schools money.

Innovative approaches such as Think for the Future’s support the EEF’s call for schools (as well as early years and post-16 settings) to consider how all their resources can be used to close the attainment gap, representing a more strategic approach to meeting pupil needs. Promising solutions may originate within or outside the school. The EEF’s toolkit provides a valuable analysis of the impact and cost-effectiveness of many different approaches, and their recently launched implementation guide will help schools to embed and sustain new models and interventions effectively. The Young Foundation will soon launch a Commissioning Guide for Schools, which will help school leaders buying in support from external providers to engage them effectively and ensure they are delivering on outcomes and providing good value for money.

A collective challenge

One of the EEF’s key lessons is that sharing practice between schools – and building capacity and effective mechanisms for doing so – is key to closing the attainment gap. We agree that teachers are best placed to support schools in applying the findings of research and new approaches to the classroom setting. However, schools and teachers should be supported by others to engage with new and best practice, because we all have an interest in helping them succeed: closing the attainment gap is central to ensuring that every young person can flourish and contribute fully to our society. The Young Foundation’s aim is for the Young Academy to do even more to support schools and external organisations to work together in ways that are most likely to improve outcomes and close the attainment gap.

Help us find our next group of exciting education ventures!

Do you know an early-stage charity, social enterprise or mission-driven business working in education that could benefit from Young Academy support? Applications for our spring/summer 2018 programme are open until 9 am on 19th March.

Please visit the programme website for more information and details about how to apply.

If you have any further questions about the Young Academy, please contact


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