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1. High-quality teaching

The best available evidence indicates that great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for their pupils.

Maximising Learning

The best available evidence indicates that great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve pupil attainment. Ensuring every teacher is supported in delivering high-quality teaching is essential to achieving the best outcomes for all pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged among them.

It is important that schools consider how children learn, how they develop knowledge and skills, and how they can be supported to lay firm foundations for later learning. Teaching approaches that ensure long-term retention of knowledge, fluency in key skills, and confident use of metacognitive strategies are crucial. These are fundamental to learning and are the ‘bread and butter’ of effective teaching:

  • Cognitive strategies include subject-specific strategies or memorisation techniques such as methods to solve problems in maths.
  • Metacognitive strategies are what we use to monitor or control our cognition, for example checking whether our approach to solving a mathematics problem worked or considering which cognitive strategy is the best fit for a task. 

The explicit teaching of cognitive and metacognitive strategies is integral to high-quality teaching and learning, and these strategies are best taught within a subject and phase-specific context. Approaches such as explicit instruction, scaffolding and flexible grouping are all key components of high-quality teaching and learning for pupils.

Teachers should be mindful of the differing needs within their classes – it is just as important to avoid over-scaffolding as it is to ensure all pupils are adequately supported. Similarly, we know that retrieval practice supports knowledge retention, but it is important to think carefully about how this is implemented in individual subjects across the curriculum to ensure it supports learning.

It is also important to take account of the prior knowledge that children bring to lessons and to help them to build upon this understanding. Additionally, anticipating common misconceptions, and using diagnostic assessment to uncover them, is an important way to support pupils.

Further reading:

  1. Updated: 30th September, 2019

    Metacognition and self-regulated learning

    Seven recommendations for teaching self-regulated learning & metacognition

  2. Updated: 15th October, 2020

    Special Education Needs in Mainstream Schools

    Five actionable recommendations on supporting pupils with additional needs

Diagnostic Assessment

Taking account of prior knowledge is essential if pupils' learning needs are to be met. Anticipating common misconceptions, and using diagnostic assessment to uncover them, forms an important part of this process.

Careful attention needs to be given to the purposes of assessment and the actions that will be undertaken in response to the information it provides. Common reasons for using assessment include:

  • Tracking of pupil progress to inform school-level decision-making;
  • Identifying ideas and concepts which might need revisiting or re-teaching by the class teacher;
  • Highlighting pupils whose misunderstandings or misconceptions require targeted individual support through intervention or tutoring.

It is likely that each of these reasons require a different approach, as some assessment methods are only fit for specific purposes.

For example, if we are looking to identify and address ‘gaps’ in understanding and provide information that is meaningful for teacher-level decision making, it is unlikely that a series of GCSE or SATs papers will support this. This is because they are designed as summative exams, they rarely reveal pupils’ thinking and the origins of their misconceptions. Also, the nature of the marking criteria is to summarise performance rather than encourage diagnosis of knowledge and understanding.

By focusing instead on effective diagnostic classroom assessment, such as low-stakes retrieval quizzes, along with a variety of approaches, teachers can find the gaps in their pupils’ understanding and gauge any ‘learning loss’ which may have occurred during partial school closures. This can provide important insights at a class level, by identifying whole topics in need of revisiting, or reteaching, and supporting curriculum prioritisation; or, at an individual level, indicating those pupils who would benefit from targeted interventions or additional support.

When looking to assess at a cohort level, a valid and reliable standardised test could provide information how our pupils’ progress has been affected by partial school closures, giving a meaningful comparison to both a national norm for children of the same age and that of children in previous cohorts.

Further reading:

  1. Updated: 30th April, 2021

    Diagnostic Assessment

    This concise resource is designed to support school teachers and leaders to utilise diagnostic assessment to support teaching.

  2. Updated: 29th November, 2019

    Gathering and interpreting data to identify priorities

    A poster with suggestions on how to use data effectively to identify school improvement priorities.

Curriculum Adaptation

Curriculum adaptation and enhancement is core to the work of school improvement. Many pupils have lost out on time in the classroom this year, which means that adaptations to the curriculum may be necessary; however, choices must be made judiciously, and should be based on information provided by careful diagnostic assessment, as well as teachers’ knowledge of their pupils and content.

Adaptations to the curriculum should support pupils to move forwards from their specific starting points, strengthening understanding as they go. Teachers can look for opportunities to capitalise on strengths they find whilst identifying areas that might need revisiting — understanding what foundations already exist is key if we are to build on them with new knowledge and skills.

For example, a child may demonstrate confident recall of times tables having practised them during remote learning, but have gaps in their understanding of addition and subtraction of fractions. The teacher can support children to build on this fluency by planning in ways they can explicitly use their times tables, when reviewing addition and subtraction of fractions.

Curriculum adaptation is best seen as an iterative process, one which ensures that any modifications are agile and responsive to children’s needs. It is important to consider long-term retention of key knowledge and skills and how pupils can be helped to make links between ideas and topics.

It is valuable to look for ways of reinforcing key knowledge and skills across the curriculum, capitalising on any crossover between topics and subjects where appropriate. For example, reading the words of songs in a primary music lesson, may support and develop reading fluency, or you might build in a chance to review atomic structure when teaching a later topic in Chemistry.

Further reading:

  1. Updated: 16th December, 2019

    Putting Evidence to Work—A School's Guide to Implementation 2019 Version

    A guide to implementation applicable to any school improvement decision guide to implementation, including the tricky task of curriculum adaptation.

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Next: Targeted Academic Support

Continue to part 2 of The Tiered Model