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Ensuring Pupil Premium Students Thrive in Maths

Blog by Ameeta Jandu. Associate Assistant Vice Principal at Wath Academy in Rotherham and former Head of Mathematics at Kingswood Academy in Hull.

Mathematics is a universal language; one that does not discriminate between language, and background is no different. Mathematics is accessible to all, and we at Maltby Learning Trust work tirelessly to ensure this is the case for all students educated by us.

Pupil premium students, on average, do not perform in line with their non-pupil premium peers. This gap has undoubtedly increased throughout the pandemic, due to lack of positive home environments and learning resources. This has made the drive to close the gap between non-pupil premium and pupil premium students even more paramount.

In mathematics, teaching ‘from the top’ has several benefits that ensure our pupil premium students thrive. The basic fundamental of this strategy is to never assume anything and to always respond to individual student needs. Too many times I have heard the assumption from teachers that ‘my students will have never seen this before’. However, have we considered a student may have gone above and beyond and looked ahead to their upcoming topics? Have we ever considered a student may have an elder sibling that teaches them as part of their learning? Have we ever considered a student may explore the vast amount of free online maths resources further than what we explicitly tell them to?

This is where baselining comes in to play.

Baselining is a form of AFL whereby students are assessed at the start of a lesson to demonstrate their knowledge of the lesson’s topic before it is taught. We assess them on the highest-level skill to begin with. Why? Because we assume nothing.  If a student can demonstrate their understanding of the highest skill within the topic area, this student must be stretched and challenged immediately to ensure maximum progress, rather than listening to teacher-talk of lower order skills. Once the students who have demonstrated understanding are challenging themselves with application of the skill, we can then spend time intervening with the students who need support and modelled examples. Modelling the highest-level skill will interleave the skills required in the lower-level skills, thus students will still gain the foundations of the topic as well as the intricacies found in the more complex skill level. Through this process, every students’ needs have been identified and responded to.

Baselining every single lesson is also incredibly beneficial for mathematics. In maths, you are very rarely the highest ability or the lowest ability in the class for every single topic. Many times, some students excel at number but struggle with geometry, whilst another student may excel in geometry but struggle with statistics. At the risk of repeating myself – we should never assume anything!

How does this benefit my pupil premium students?

One of the most common factors of underperformance of pupil premium students is expectations. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are too often cast off as the lower ability students, the more troublesome, harder-to-teach students. This structure of teaching ensures every single student is set the highest of expectations by their teacher. Every student has the opportunity to thrive at the very beginning of every lesson. In fact, every single student will thrive at the very beginning of every lesson, because attempting, grappling and failing with something is equally as important and worthwhile than succeeding first time. Baselining builds resilience and encourages problem solving, which are two prominent characteristics in successful people.

What about those topics that are so unique and new?

Circle theorems I hear you shout – ‘a student would never know this before I teach them it!’

So why not extend our expectations even further. Flipped learning has always been a valuable and effective tool in the education setting. It provides students with the responsibility to learn before they are taught – a key skill to set them apart in their future.

Letting students in on your scheme of work topics for next week or next month, gives students the opportunity to go away and learn about this before the lesson, meaning baselining is even more important.

My pupil premium students probably don’t have a laptop to research it.

Is that those low expectations creeping in again?

As a teacher, it is our role and responsibility to break down barriers of learning, not to give up at the first hurdle.

Homework club, Maths club, computers at lunch time… an array of options to open up the internet to our pupil premium students. And the internet is not the only option. Have you considered putting worked examples/key information and formulae/knowledge handouts in your classroom for students to access at any time of the school day?

Students do find flipped learning a difficult task – it leaves them independent and responsible without the immediate support of a teacher. However, the more we baseline in lessons, and show the purpose and benefits of flipped learning, the more students will engage in it. Planning is crucial too – sending students away with a topic title will reap little benefits, however, guided and structured resources will allow students to see their own progress.

In summary, we should have the highest expectations of our pupil premium students and only intervene with scaffolding if we have seen evidence of them needing it. Pupil premium students must be stretched and challenged in the same way we know they must be supported. Baselining as a form of AFL allows us to do this effectively.

Mathematics is a universal language that is accessible to all. We need to implement this principle every day in our maths classrooms.