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YOU CAN’T BE HAPPY IF YOU CAN’T READ AND WRITE...

Armed with the Pupil Premium and a willingness to go an extra couple of miles to make a difference, staff at Pakeman Primary School in Islington are tackling the inequality of opportunity present in their local community to lifealtering effect, says Jacob Stow…

“We’d been a school that had had very little money for a long time, because pupil places were left unfilled,” Lynne Gavin, headteacher of Pakeman Primary in Islington, remembers. “It was very hard to do the things we wanted to do, and we had quite a wish list. Then the Pupil Premium money came along and that all changed – it was amazing.”

Over the last couple of years things have changed for the better at Pakeman, and it hasn’t been the money alone that has made the difference. But if Nick Clegg were to seek proof that one of his party’s flagship policies was having its intended impact, he needn’t look any further. The judges of the 2013 Pupil Premium Awards certainly didn’t, awarding the school their ‘Primary School of the Year Award’ at the beginning of July in recognition of the effect its spending has had on children and parents.

And there has been no shortage of spending. With approximately 85 per cent of the school’s intake eligible for free school meals, the 2012/2013 academic year saw Pakeman receive just shy of £140,000. This year, that figure has risen to £220,000, prompting Lynne and her team to return to the wish list as they expand their efforts to respond to the significant educational and social issues that pass through the gate every day.

Of course, the reality of the Pupil Premium is that the more you have to spend, the more you’re likely to have to spend it on, and the real story at Pakeman is not the amounts involved but the holistic approach that is translating money into meaningful results: in purely academic terms, in 2012, 94 per cent of KS2 children at the school achieved a combined Level 4 in English and maths, and 100 per cent made two levels of progress. But reducing the equation to percentage points seems to rather under-value the work staff are doing to open children’s minds to the world around them, and support their parents to continue the good work at home…

t1 Money well spent “These children have so much potential – it’s just trying to find the right way to support them.”

Money can’t buy you everything, but in Pakeman’s case it’s paying for something precious: time to make a difference. “In Year 6, we always used to feel that we were running out of time,” Lynne admits. “We were playing the catch up game constantly, and the closer the SATs got, the more we felt under pressure. Either children scraped a Level 4 – which doesn’t do them a service anyway – or they missed it; we were getting lots of 3As. What the Pupil Premium has done is allow us to focus on improving day-to-day teaching throughout the school, and on putting interventions in place earlier.”

A contributing factor to the achievement of both of these goals has been the introduction of team (phase) leaders: predominantly non-classroombased teachers whose responsibilities involve communicating high expectations, developing practice, improving the quality of assessment and ensuring the consistent implementation of what Lynne refers to as the “non-negotiables” – for example, guided reading and marking – within their year groups. The process has involved the recruitment of two extra full time teaching staff, funded by the Pupil Premium and, as Lynne points out, this is benefiting all children – not just those who are struggling. “We now have 100 per cent ‘good’ teaching across the board,” Lynne says, “and about 25 per cent ‘outstanding’ teaching. The great thing about this model is, let’s say you have an NQT who is having difficulty with classroom management, the team leader can go straight in and work with that teacher. There’s an immediate response.”

Having experienced teachers working outside of the classroom also means that they are available to lead one-to-one interventions with those for whom high-quality education in the classroom is not enough. “It was a decision based in part on the report from the Sutton Trust; we saw that one-to-one interventions were very effective,” Lynne explains, “and it means those children who are in most need of help are being taught by some of our best teachers.”

It’s worth noting that Pakeman’s additional teaching capacity hasn’t meant sacrificing TAs: “Reducing the number of teaching assistants wasn’t a popular idea. We have a lot of children who are new to English, or have very significant social and emotional needs, and having a TA makes a big difference in the classroom,” Lynne tells us.

2 Inclusive interventions

“There’s no stigma attached to being in an intervention in this school. Everyone needs something, whatever that might be, and so they’re all getting something somewhere.”

At Pakeman, interventions aren’t regarded as a quick fix to boost SATs results to required levels. They take a variety of forms, and are just one aspect of a holistic approach to learning support in which no child is excluded. “I think it’s about seeing every child as an individual,” Lynne says. “For example, we’ll look at data to see how well the children who are involved in one-to-one sessions are progressing. But even when they reach their targets we might continue with the intervention because we think they still need a confidence boost, or there might be a lot going on in their lives.

“We also have children that we’ve started to name the ‘even better ifs…’. They’re doing well, despite the terrible things that might be going on at home, and if we only looked at the data, they wouldn’t be in interventions. But those children need something; they need to know that they matter, and that someone is behind them. So we target them too – it’s a good way to ensure they reach their potential and also increase the number of higher attainers at the school. Rather than just middling, they can actually excel.

“We have three children in Years 5–6 who we gave Turkish classes to,” she says. “We put them in for GCSEs – they got a B, an A and an A*. Those children have had their push there. Another child might get his push in reading. Then there might a child who might love music, so we have an amazing music teacher who comes in and does incredible things. It makes the children feel good.

“With some,” she adds, “you have to have very specific interventions, or you might need to put something in place for a short period of time. For one child, we used to send someone round to his house every morning, bang on the door until we woke him up, go in, wait for him to get dressed, then bring him to school and make him breakfast. That child got Level 4s across the board, and he wouldn’t have got them if, for that period of time, we hadn’t been prepared to say, ‘We’re going to invest our money in this because, actually, he’s worth it’.”

3 Parent partnerships

“You have to be honest with parents and tell them that if their child leaves primary school and isn’t reading, and isn’t up to a certain level in maths, then they won’t succeed in secondary school.” Sometimes, despite the best efforts of teaching staff, children at Pakeman fail to make progress – but giving up on them is not an option. “We had some children – maybe two or three in a class – who were moving through the school but who seemed to be stuck,” Lynne says. “No matter what we put in place, even though they were on a constant cycle of intervention, it didn’t seem to be turning things around. Those kinds of children usually had poor parental engagement, and this is where our targeted parents’ meetings have made a difference.”

The idea, as chair of governors, Nicola Manby, puts it above, is to share the consequences of a lack of attainment with parents. “We explain to parents that it’s a partnership,” Lynne continues, “that it’s not about us sitting there lecturing; that’s useless. It’s about both parties wanting what’s in the child’s best interests. We both want the same thing, so how do we get there? We let parents know that research says that they make much more difference when they work with their children than we do; we show them the statistics, and talk about aspirations.

“At the end of the meeting we get them to sign a contract. We realised it was no good going off thinking everything is going to be hunky-dory. The parents write down the things they are going to change – they only have to be minor: getting their child to school on time every day, helping them with homework three times a week. Then we write down the interventions we’re going to put in place for that child, so we’re making a commitment too. We sign it, and then there’s a follow up.”

4 Supporting cast

“It’s the most extraordinarily needy school. I’ve worked for years in schools with all kinds of problems. This is the one.”

Because the challenges at Pakeman have their roots beyond the classroom, Lynne has enlisted the services of a number of support staff to complement her teachers’ efforts. Amongst them are 11 voluntary readers, trained by charity Beanstalk to provide the reading support that parents may not be able to provide their children at home. But for one at least, Laura Bamford, their role is about far more than literacy. “It’s about exclusion,” she argues. “If people can’t express themselves, or access society, then why would they give a damn? What Beanstalk is trying to do is ensure young people can access whatever it is that’s out there. It’s the same as the vision they have at Pakeman, about taking the kids out and getting them to see that there’s a wider world.

“It’s a terrible thing to see a small person who has no excitement about stuff. If their lives are constrained by the adult world, then what have they got to look forward to? We’re encouraged to talk to children, to help them to understand what’s possible.”

If the voluntary readers are providing an additional layer of support for children, support worker Kathie Martins partly funded by charity School-Home Support and partly by the Pupil Premium, does the same for their parents. “Her role here is to focus on attendance and punctuality, but also to do extensive family work,” Lynne explains. “She tries to get people into ESOL classes, so they can speak English. She runs money workshops and ‘getting back to work’ sessions, and supports parents with literacy and numeracy. There’s also very intensive one-to-one work, dealing with all kinds of traumatic, stressful situations – we can’t do it all here, but we can work closely with other people, or direct parents to other agencies. Kathie has done amazing, amazing work, but I think you’ve got to go the extra mile if you want to overcome the barriers because the barriers here are so complex.”

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Pie Corbett