Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education

supporting inclusion, challenging exclusion

frequently asked questions about raising the achievement of all pupils

developed in collaboration with Kick Start Enterprise


Our school is rated very highly for pupil achievement and our results reflect this. How do these frequently asked questions apply to us?

Even in schools where the majority of pupils achieve very high grades, it is possible that some pupils do not perform as well as they could, or that individual pupils are not expected to do well. Most schools will have well established systems for tracking the learning of pupils eligible for Free School Meals or pupils who frequently face prejudice (for example black and minority ethnic pupils including asylum seekers and refugees, those for whom English is an additional language, those from Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities and other Emerging Communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils or those who have learning difficulties or sensory or physical impairments). There may also be other pupils in school who experience barriers to learning and participation, for example those who have mental health problems, who have been bereaved, are in care, are victims of neglect, or living in homes with domestic violence or substance misuse, those who are young carers, young parents or young offenders. The Ofsted report “Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on” (June 2013) noted that “a large minority of children still do not succeed at school or college, becoming increasingly less visible as they progress through the system. This unseen body of children and young people that underachieve throughout our education system represents an unacceptable waste of human potential and incurs huge subsequent costs for all of us.” This is an open invitation to schools to make all pupils visible, see each one as unique and equal, demonstrate respect, promote the well-being and support the learning of every pupil. When schools focus on improving learning for a particular group of children, the changes that are made usually benefit all pupils. Last but not least, remember that inclusion is a process; it is not so much what you do but how you do it that makes the difference.

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What more can we do to raise achievement other than organising extra lessons?

Sometimes no matter how good, or how plentiful, the teaching is, pupils are not in a good position to learn. Schools that are effective in raising the achievement of all learners track pupil progress and scrutinise this data, identify which pupils would benefit from additional support and consider how best to help each one. Other than extra lessons, meaningful interventions can take the form of pastoral care, improving pupils’ well-being, sense of belonging and safety in school, helping pupils understand how school work can benefit them, or offering additional support to improve organisation, learning strategies or use of English. Assessment data can also feed into staff development or be used to challenge low expectations which some staff may have of their pupils. Schools that raise the achievement of all pupils tend to have strong leadership teams which value and celebrate diversity, and teachers who are well prepared to respond to diversity, have a strong sense of professional identity and feel empowered. They have high aspirations for all their pupils, knowing what they want them to achieve and how they are going to get there, ensure that nobody in school feels unsafe, belittled or looked down upon, and take every opportunity to challenge prejudice and stereotypes. Through providing a safe and supportive learning environment, teachers’ high expectations are reflected in young people’s belief in themselves and, ultimately, their performance. Responsibility is understood to be shared among all staff, not just pastoral or support staff. It is also important to involve parents (see below) and to have a curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to all learners and is responsive to diversity.

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Some parents are hard to reach, what can we do?

Parents may appear disinterested or disengaged for a number of reasons; some may work very long hours, may not be confident English speakers, may have had unhappy school experiences themselves or may be inclined to leave their children’s education “to the experts” without considering that they, too, are also experts on their own children. Making parents feel welcome in school and seen as partners in their child’s education can help to keep the door open for them. Many parents value events which help them understand how, for example, reading, maths or another subject are taught in school; this may be very different from their own school experience or what they had imagined. It is important to try to make such events accessible to all parents, for example by providing interpreters, to ensure all parents can be empowered to support their children’s learning at home. Such events can also provide opportunities to get to know parents and encourage them to become involved in school life. Connect the curriculum to the experiences and backgrounds of these communities and see them as a rich learning resource that is valued in the school. Engage settled community members to support new arrivals.

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We are expecting a new pupil who speaks little or no English, what can we do?

It is important to get things right from the very beginning and a rigorous induction process, differentiated for families with different needs and clearly laid out in an induction policy, can help ensure this. It is important that every new pupil gets the same quality of welcome, even if this is through a different process. For children who speak little or no English it is all the more important to ask their family pertinent questions about the young person’s background and home circumstances, so that class and subject teachers can have access to a full range of information about their new pupil. It is also important to seek the help of interpreters in order to assess the learning of children who speak little or no English. It is important to remember that, in addition to language barriers, young people that have recently arrived to the UK are likely to feel homesick, overwhelmed, confused and may come from a background that has very different understandings or expectations of education. Finding out about these things and responding accordingly can make it infinitely easier for young people to settle in. It is vital not to lose sight of high expectations for all learners.

Following the induction process it is important to keep lines of communication open between school and family, and to continue using interpreters for as much as possible. It is essential that all staff feel confident to respond to the full diversity of pupils who make up the school community and to challenge any assumptions, prejudice or stereotypes. More detailed practical support can be sought from the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC, www.naldic.org.uk) or from local ethnic minority achievement (EMA) teams.

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Some learning disabled pupils cannot achieve at the same level as their peers, is it OK to have lower expectations for them?

Unlike attainment, which is linked to particular benchmarks, achievement is a relative concept linked to individual circumstances. Schools are well accustomed to negotiating realistic learning objectives that are meaningful and relevant to each pupil. This applies to learning disabled pupils as well. Subject-specific learning objectives may be different from the objectives of most of their peers, and will need to be negotiated in relation to each young person’s particular strengths and needs. In addition, some learning disabled young people may need help to learn important life lessons which their peers often learn from experience. Skills for living and learning together, or interpersonal skills necessary for successful relationships, are among the skills that some learning disabled children may need help with; for example learning to make and keep friends, or to negotiate and collaborate with others. Whatever the learning objective, however, reaching a goal is always an achievement. Raising the achievement of learning disabled pupils is every bit as important as this is for anybody else, if not more so! Learning disabled pupils had been left out of ordinary schools for historic reasons and raising social and educational aspirations for them is long overdue.

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We have no Gypsy, Roma or Traveller communities in our area so why should we have to consider issues about them?

We educate children about a range of issues, places and people that are not in the school’s immediate environment. This helps prepare children to live in a diverse world. We need to educate children about a wide range of cultures, faiths, sexual orientations, gender identities and more, in order to help them embrace difference and resist prejudice.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities are not homogenous communities but they do have linked histories and experiences of racism. They are recognised in UK law as ethnic minority groups, which means they are protected against racism and discrimination. Across Europe overt prejudice towards these communities has always been more intense than towards other ethnic communities. They suffer disproportionately from both direct and indirect discrimination across societies. They are the most marginalised ethnic minority in the UK and continue to endure extreme levels of prejudice and discrimination. Stereotypes are strong and widespread and some people from these communities feel that popular television series about them do not represent their culture accurately. Even if you have no GRT pupils in school, discussing issues about them will enable better understanding of their ways of life and help to break down prejudice against them. Specialist Traveller Services can provide support and training for schools and pupils on overcoming prejudice and discrimination against GRT communities. The Equality Act 2010 places a legal duty on schools to promote good relations between people who have characteristics protected by the Act, such as belonging to a GRT community, and those who do not.

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How do we explain to parents why some pupils get additional support for learning?

Most schools understand, and can help concerned parents to understand, that there is a moral and legal imperative for supporting the learning of all pupils. School policies about support for learning should be open and transparent, with clear aims and clearly articulated benefits to all pupils and the school as a whole. Parents can be helped to understand that promoting equality of opportunity does not mean that all pupils should be treated the same. Quite to the contrary, in order to treat people equally, we often need to treat them differently because some may need particular support that others do not. By not giving others the same support (which they do not need) we are not depriving them of anything. Parents can also be reassured that resources to support the learning of specific pupils are not diverted from everyday school provision. For example, pupil premium funding comes from a separate national budget with the express purpose of targeting specific, effective support over and above what the school ordinarily provides.

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Page last updated: Tuesday 03 February 2015

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