Year 6 attainment: Filling in the gaps

Written by: Lesley Keast | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In a bid to raise year 6 attainment, Lesley Keast led a project to identify and focus on the ‘key marginal’ students and close the gaps in their learning

I work at Oasis Academy Nunsthorpe in Grimsby, situated in an area of high social, economic and educational deprivation, with an overall free school meals figure of 76 per cent.

With poor year 6 results, my school urgently needed to raise the attainment of our year 6 cohort of 72 children. When I was asked to be raising standards lead and develop a strategy to raise the attainment of our year 6 cohort, I was eager to implement something which would also achieve sustainable impact.

The initial question was how to identify the students who were “quick wins” – the key marginal students who were close to English-maths combined (EMC) but who needed a boost in one, two or all three subjects.

To do this, I conducted analysis of the year 6 data: the assessments and results of the practice SAT tests we had already recorded. Focusing on our final EMC attainment figure, I grouped the students into those who would achieve EMC with quality first teaching, and those who needed a boost in one, two or three subjects to achieve EMC.

Having sorted the key marginal students into subject groups and need, I set up a timetable of intervention. To be successful we ensured that the interventions ran consistently and were delivered by a year 6 teacher or experienced teaching assistant. We used small-step objectives for gap analysis to identify which objective was missing in a student’s skill-set. The objectives covered all of the key stage 2 objectives and not just year 6 age-related expectation (ARE) targets, since the key stage 2 SAT tests now test across the whole of key stage 2.

Once we had identified students who needed extra support, and the gaps in their skill-set, we could deliver the appropriate interventions regularly until they had achieved that objective. We adopted a “no excuses” approach to each student’s achievement.
Initially, we concentrated on maths as this was an area of weakness at the school and mathematical gaps are the easiest to identify and rectify. We focused on number and calculation small-step objectives, such as:

  • I can use mental methods of computation for addition.
  • I can use efficient written methods of addition including column addition.
  • I can add with decimals to two places (including money).

Teaching in a small group to the small step objective intensively and repetitively enabled each child to achieve their goal. If one child took longer than the others, that child was picked up more often until the objective was achieved.

Halfway through the year, we started to explore the small-step objectives of writing, taken from the Interim Teacher Assessment Framework and found this to be a way to break-down the grammar and punctuation requirements of writing into simple steps, which enabled our teachers to deliver first-class literacy teaching.

For example, I can use commas for clarity:

  • To separate items in a list.
  • To separate a series of actions.
  • To separate subordinate clauses.
  • To separate relative clauses.

I faced initial challenge from some colleagues due to concerns that the initiative would increase their workload. However, I followed my original plan and supported them through the changes needed in their planning and delivery of quality first teaching. I did this through encouragement, working alongside them and eliminating unnecessary tasks from their workload – effectively replacing existing comfortable practices, with newer more analytical and strategic practice. Teachers were given the data spreadsheets showing their students’ results, and taught how to analyse the data and use it to help their planning. From that point, the expectation was the same after every assessment point.

I used data tracking, analysis and open discussion to ensure the interventions stayed on course, encouraging teachers to explore the ways forward when a challenge presented itself. I held regular meetings with teachers to identify children who could return to quality first teaching in class, or who needed further interventions because their results were slipping.

I also faced challenge from the SENCO regarding their concerns about potential lack of support for the SEND students while interventions focused on key marginal students. I worked closely with them to review the data, logistics, timetabling and strategies to ensure that all students made better than expected progress in all subjects. We utilised the small steps objectives for years 3 to 5 to help identify the achievable gaps of the SEND students, and they have since seen the measurable benefits to progress.

As we started to see improvements just before the SAT results, teachers really began to buy-in to the initiative and we were all thrilled when the 2016 results were published and our school was in the top 25 per cent of schools nationally for progress in writing (+2.9) and maths (+1.7).

While our year 6 teachers had some reservations in our first year trialling the initiative, they have wholeheartedly embraced the strategies around identifying the key marginal students and focusing specifically and intensively on their gaps.

One year 6 teacher said: “As my understanding of the systems began to deepen I saw how it helped inform my practice and deepen the learning of my students. In turn this allowed me to know their needs better and discuss any issues that may have arisen at the fortnightly meeting. I can honestly say that using this methodology and using data better helped improve my knowledge and raised my standard of teaching, thus improving the learning of all my students.”

Our students’ attitudes changed during the year as they began to achieve the small steps that they were set. Their targets seemed achievable to them for the first time. This year, the methodology we used for year 6 is being rolled out further down the school in years 2 to 5, and we hope to raise the levels of attainment and progress across all year groups My next job is to identify the staffing needed as part of my logistical strategic planning.

As a result of the 2016 SAT results, this year we are focusing more on new reading strategies, which include whole-class guided reading, skimming and scanning techniques, speed-reading and focusing on specific question stems. We will use the same key marginal methodology, alongside repeating what we know worked for writing (70 per cent, 2016 SAT) and maths.

Our latest test results show that we currently have 30 per cent of our cohort at the expected level, whereas this time last year it was 11 per cent on the same paper. Despite having a lower-achieving cohort this year, we know we have the strategies in place to reach our progress targets and hopefully our attainment targets. It is really encouraging to see these results, and I’m looking forward to honing and embedding the initiative so we can ensure this impact is sustained.

  • Lesley Keast is assistant principal at Oasis Academy Nunsthorpe in Grimsby and a member of the Future Leaders programme run by charity Ambition School Leadership.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs middle and senior leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visi www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk


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