The wheels of education research and policy continue to turn even when school’s out… To help you catch up and prepare for the new academic year, NACE Education Adviser Hilary Lowe summarises key takeaways from this summer’s education report releases.

School cultures and practices: supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils

Department for Education, May 2018

This qualitative research study compares cultures and practices in schools that perform well and less well for disadvantaged pupils, in and outside of London. It provides insights into practices that could be encouraged to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

Five key cross-cutting findings are identified:
  1. School cultures and practices vary more by a school’s performance than by location.
  2. Lower-performing primary schools outside London are most different from other schools.
  3. High-performing schools, regardless of location, adopt a wide range of approaches to supporting disadvantaged pupils.
  4. High-performing schools, regardless of location, are positive and solutions-focused.
  5. There is a subtle but discernible “London culture”.
The main characteristics of high-performing schools for disadvantaged pupils are identified as:
  • Shared sense of purpose
  • Use of data
  • Engaging parents
  • High-quality teaching
  • Strong and visionary leadership
The report gives specific examples in these five areas and makes recommendations for further research.

In the coming academic year, NACE’s own research will include a focus on effective practice in Challenge Award-accredited schools which perform well for disadvantaged more able learners.

Use and perceptions of curriculum support resources in schools

Department for Education, July 2018

This report examines:
  • The curriculum support resources being used most often by schools and teachers
  • How teachers judge the quality of curriculum support resources
  • Gaps and priorities for the development of future curriculum support resources
Some common trends are identified from interviews with schools:
  • The development of formal whole-school curriculum plans/schemes of work is more common in secondary schools. In primary schools planning relates more to broad themes to be followed according to year group/key stage.
  • Individual lesson planning is undertaken by teachers at both primary and secondary level to structure day-to-day delivery and tailor content to the needs of particular classes.
  • The importance of collaborative working and shared resources is emphasised by teachers and senior leaders in both primary and secondary schools.
  • Social media is growing in popularity as a means of accessing resources and gathering peer feedback. This is particularly the case among early-career teachers who often use social media to share practice, ask for advice and provide tips on finding and developing resources.
  • Resources need to be adaptable to meet the needs of a range of learners and abilities, across a range of areas, including challenge for high-ability learners and those with English as an additional language. It is important to be able to adapt resources to reflect individual teaching styles and learner needs, but also important that resources engage learners and motivate them to think independently.
  • Apps and online software are mentioned as useful tools in maintaining learner engagement through a range of visual, audio and textual aids. Teachers are often able to adapt these resources to match the progress and targets of individual learners.
  • Textbooks and hard-copy resources remain important for providing content, but digital resources are easy to access and often an engaging way for learners to develop skills and understanding. Textbooks are often used as a framework for lesson planning and as a reference tool for learners when conducting independent enquiry. Additional activities are used to supplement textbook content and add differentiation.
  • Overall, it is generally accepted that a range of resources, formats and approaches should be used (rather than teachers depending on one type/format) to ensure curriculum delivery is high quality and works well for both staff and students. Although teachers can access existing resources easily, these are generally viewed as a starting point; they still need to be adapted to meet the needs of learners and to align with individual teaching styles.

Potential for success: fulfilling the promise of highly able students in secondary schools

Sutton Trust, August 2018

This report analyses how high-attaining students fare in secondary schools in England. It also explores approaches to maximising the potential of high-attaining young people through analysis of literature and case studies of good practice in schools that do particularly well for these students.

Important points highlighted include:
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be in the top 10% for attainment in English and maths at the end of primary school. Disadvantaged students are three times less likely to be in this high-attainment group than their more advantaged peers: only 4% of disadvantaged students have high attainment at KS2, compared to 13% of non-disadvantaged pupils.
  • Disadvantaged pupils who perform well in primary school are much more likely to fall behind at secondary school, compared to other high-attaining students, across a range of measures. While high attainers overall make about an average level of progress between KS2 and KS4, those from disadvantaged backgrounds fall substantially behind.<
  • They are also less likely to achieve the top grades: while 72% of non-disadvantaged high attainers achieve 5 A*-A grades or more at GCSE, only 52% of disadvantaged high attainers do. If high-attaining disadvantaged students performed as well as high-attaining students overall, an additional 1,000 disadvantaged students would achieve at least 5A*-A at GCSE each year.<
  • High attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds who are white have the lowest level of attainment at GCSE compared to their peers in any other ethnic group. Only 45% of disadvantaged white students with high prior attainment gain 5A*-A at GCSE, compared to 63% of black students and 67% of Asian students from similar backgrounds.
  • Students with high attainment do better at GCSE in schools with lower proportions of students on free school meals, schools in London, in converter academies, and in schools with higher numbers of other previously high-attaining students.
  • Disadvantaged students make up a much smaller proportion in grammar schools, compared to comprehensives, with disadvantaged high attainers only half as likely as high attainers overall to enter a grammar. In grammar schools, only 1 in 17 of all high attainers are from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to 1 in 8 high attainers in comprehensive schools.
Read NACE’s response to this report.


The government recently announced the creation of a national Centre of Excellence for modern languages, to be supported by leading schools in the field which will become language hubs. Of the nine schools named as language hubs so far, two have attained the NACE Challenge Award – The Broxbourne School in Hertfordshire and Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Buckinghamshire.

In July, the government also announced new online resources designed to help schools reduce teacher workload, freeing up time from “unnecessary and time-consuming tasks” so more time can be dedicated to teaching. The workload reduction toolkit is available here.

For more research and reports of relevance to schools working to improve provision for more able learners, log in to our members’ area.

Image credit: © Budda ID 6590988 | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Tuesday, September 4, 2018