When it gets to the point that you’ve done enough research, spoken to enough stakeholders, collected enough hard and soft data to be aware of the attainment gap, and who needs support, it becomes time to intervene. Part of this is working out how the funds available to your school should be allocated, and how they can be used most effectively.
There is some more detailed support about the range of interventions available on the Education Endowment Foundation, but for now, I will explore some key concepts around interventions, when to do them, and how to go about them.
Thinking about what is actually needed is really important. Breakfast clubs have been a hugely successful measure in many schools to tackle punctuality. But that doesn’t mean they work across the board. One school that tried running a breakfast club, only to be met with almost no uptake, realised that their students would be more motivated to come early for school by a funky exercise class such as kick-boxing or karate.
Keep in mind at all times: quality over quantity and that more expensive is not necessarily better.
Think about the time frame. You want your systems to have a long-term effect, so the marathon, not a sprint approach is a good mantra to keep in mind when it comes to interventions. It’s important not to expect immediate results as it takes time for even the best of programmes to come into effect. Ofsted is more interested in a demonstration that there WILL be improvements to the attainment gap within the next three years than they are expecting to see quick wins from interventions. That said, don’t forget about your programmes once you have implemented them. Try and find the golden mean of being laid back, but on top of your interventions. Make sure they are being reviewed continually.
Ok, so it’s all about the long-term, be patient, wait it out. Right? Often, but not always. It is also possible to have a quick win, which can come in the form of a small group of students or a very specific problem, tackled with SMART targets over a period of a few weeks. If you think about a pupil, their needs and potential interventions, how to track them and who will be doing the admin then you can easily compile a table with these categories for multiple students.
How do you know if it’s working, and what do you do if it isn’t?
Interventions won’t work perfectly, and that’s ok. They can also be hard to measure. For example, expensive maths support sessions may not be directly increasing performance but may be having a positive effect on students’ confidence, and willingness to engage in lessons (and this will eventually have a positive effect on results). One way you could think about the success level of the intervention is to do a value calculation by dividing the cost by either the level of impact or the number of people impacted. If a programme is not succeeding, think about whether or not it’s being run well, and whether or not attendance is good enough.
Think about whether the root issue has been correctly understood, and whether the intervention is addressing it sufficiently. Consider approaches that aren’t necessarily based on purchasing new things. For example, peer-to-peer mentoring schemes are free and highly effective. Another important option is to invest in additional time and support for existing staff. For example, bringing the SENCOs and TAs together with yourself to develop a comprehension may allow it to be more accessible to all the members of the class, as there are more perspectives and more stakeholders involved, giving their opinions.
But what should successful intervention spending look like? Here are some examples of some personalised interventions that were found to be outstanding by Ofsted:
- Getting a new road bike to lend to a student who was always late for the first lesson of the day, despite getting the first bus across town. Because the first lesson was always maths, the student quickly fell behind. The bike allowed the student to be on time every day, all year round. It cost the school £250 and could continue to be used for other students in the future. It was a particularly thoughtful intervention, as many schools might see a bad maths performance and think that the student needed additional maths support. Or even, when they realised attendance was the problem, they might have tried to incentivise the student to be on time with rewards or penalties. Only when there was further investigation into seeing that the student was often late because he was caring for his younger siblings, meaning that he missed the bus, was the successful solution of the bike thought up.
- Getting a nutritionist for a student who was constantly tired, and used fizzy drinks for short energy bursts which didn’t last out the day, meaning the student struggled to focus. The nutritionist gave the student a food diary and recommended what foods to eat. Following the introduction of slow energy release breakfast bars, the student felt less tired and recommended this diet to other students.
- Paying for a hotel for the mother of a student who wouldn’t have been able to sleep on the year six school trip otherwise. This allowed the student to see her mum before she went to bed, and partake fully in all the planned activities for the trip after a good night’s sleep.
There are also examples of less personalised, but still effective out-the-box options for intervention that are worth considering. For example, one school’s solution to the attitudinal problem that students had towards their maths lessons was to take a group of difficult students on holiday to the Lake District with their maths teachers, for some fun, but also for some maths. When they got back, they were far better bonded with their teachers, more enthusiastic about maths and had ironed out some of their basic mathematical shortfalls.
Increasing student’s self-esteem by sending them for interesting work experience in a business environment, where they are invited to meetings, and given a taste of management and leadership can be highly effective.
A really ingenious solution to the need for a new learning space for a school in an area with lots of high-rise social housing was to put a disused aeroplane on the school field, and create a learning space inside it, that was much cheaper, and far more exciting than building a new classroom could ever have been.
When it comes to interventions, let yourself think outside the box. Be creative. At the same time, don’t go throwing money around. Remember that it’s quality over quantity and that more expensive is not always more successful. As with most things to do with lowering the attainment gap, give yourself time to see the results of programmes or interventions, and don’t expect immediate results. And be sure to take pride in any successes, of any size.