Gap analysis

Like many schools, we are struggling to close the gap between our vulnerable groups and the rest. Also like many schools, we use flight paths based on KS2 attainment for tracking student progress and as an inspiring guest speaker said last week, we are planning for this gap right from the start!

As a Head of Maths, I read a lot and remember some of it, and I wanted to turn the maelstrom of ideas and opinion into something our Department could actually act upon in a cohesive way. What follows is my first ever (short) blog post which might go some way to helping me formulate a plan of action. Credit to this series of posts from Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner), which helped a lot.

I envisage this being used as a discussion document in a forthcoming meeting, leading to some actions we can all commit to taking, but I’m pretty sure there are some big ideas I have missed out. Comments very welcome.


All students, regardless of their background or educational need, might be faced with the issues below and it is important for all students that we provide the responses indicated. However, disadvantaged and students with SEND will be affected more significantly by these issues and will therefore benefit more from this attention.

Attendance means that missed lessons are unlikely to be caught up because the support at home doesn’t exist to help them.

  • Add tasks for a week’s or topic’s lessons to Hegarty Maths either as a class or individually. Can we develop a school-wide system to support this via tutors?

Gaps in learning are more prevalent for disadvantaged due to home support, attendance and other factors, leading to further misunderstandings and a widening gap.

  • Focus our assessment on the curriculum and closing gaps in learning, and be confident that working-at grades will flow from this information.
  • Explicitly examine, test and re-teach the pre-requisites for each unit.

Behaviour and expectations tend to slip at times. It is tempting to be over-sensitive to a student’s predicament.

  • Ensure expectations of behaviour, work and homework are the same, high standard for all
  • Support students in maintaining them where necessary.

Belonging. Many students feel like outsiders in school, as if the aspirations and discourse in the classroom is not for them. There is some mindset research showing that a sense of belonging spawns resilience and reduces fear of failure.

  • Be explicit about how to conduct a discussion and group work.
  • Do not assume language and knowledge of context is already understood.
  • Help students to feel they fit in – ambassadors, invitations to Study Group, phone calls and postcards home.

Destinations and careers. Do our disadvantaged students know what they need to do in order to get into college – apprenticeships – sixth form – university? Who tells them what is important and why – it needs to be someone whose advice they can trust rather than an add-on to a lesson or a motivational speech where all they perceive is some notion of the future being used to make them complete their work.

  • Avoid “you need maths to get a good job” and teach the subject for its own sake.
  • Instead, discuss the school’s (or independent) careers advice in Year 9 to ensure they have at least two years to focus on where they want to be.

I’m keen to avoid the predictable cries of “mark their books first!”, or “seat them at the front!” and am mindful of Alex Quigley’s Penalty Paradox, but would love for this to spawn some suggestions of things that work in your school.

Tell me what you think: go to town. It’s my first blog and I need to learn quick.

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4 thoughts on “Gap analysis”

  1. Thank you for your blog. As any good blog does, it made me think. I thought about attendance and wanted to say that so often we create a tick box of things to do that support the student with poor attendance but it doesn’t actually replicate being in the classroom in the first place. But then that made me think about the grey, invisible learner that simply slips through the net despite our very best efforts. Quite often this can be our best behaved PP or SEND student that is simply demonstrating the very best poor proxies for learning ((Rob Coe). So maybe I’m overinflating being in my classroom. And this is my reflection point. I’m also really interested in the process of becoming part of community of learners- ie a mathematician or a historian – and have looked for ways of developing this with students . In my own work it has been through large whiteboards where students start to communicate like mathematicians. Thank you again for your blog!

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    1. Thanks Clare. It’s heartening how Stephen’s ABC blog, Amjad Ali’s “do one thing” tweet and a conversation with a colleague over the last 24 hours have also made me stop and think, and I have been able to crystallise what I want to do next. We can only focus on our sphere of influence and remember everyone else also have their own priorities. It’s a great challenge.

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