Tregolls School-An Academy

Disadvantaged? I Don’t Think So.

Case study by Matt Middlemore.

Tell us about your school

In 2012 I took over one of the 15 worst-performing schools in the country. It is situated in an area of very high deprivation with approximately 60% of pupils officially categorised as 'disadvantaged'.

The school had a legacy of underachievement and in 2011 it fell into special measures for the second time in eight years, with attainment of 29% at L4 and attendance at 88%.

The community had no faith in the school. Many parents had attended the school as a child and had a negative experience. In addition the school had a deficit budget of £165,000.

The Department for Education were hosting conversations for permanent closure. It was a disaster.

The reason I have chosen to write about this five years on is that now we are in the highest-performing 4% of schools in the country, with the same teaching staff.

The majority of pupils in the school are still deemed disadvantaged - and I will keep using the phrase ‘deemed’.

What did you do to create such notable success with the pupil premium?

It is a marathon and not a sprint. In the early days we understood that we couldn’t look at pupils in demographic groups because all pupils’ achievement was low. But, given the schools finances, we had to justify every penny of our pupil premium spending.

The first strategy we used the funding for was to get the children in to school. Clearly, with attendance at 88%, we couldn’t improve learning if the pupils were not at school.

Pupils and parent conferencing told us that pupils actually wanted to come to school, but some parents, for many reasons, could not bring their children to school, so our first  strategy was to invested in a good second-hand minibus for approximately £10,000.

The bus would drive around the estate, as it still does today, and we bring the children to school.

The next step in improving attendance was to be more forensic and we employed an attendance officer, who works with every family.

The final stage was to then focus upon rewarding pupils. Every term, every child who has 100% attendance is rewarded with a special educational visit. It might seem small, but for children who don’t leave the estate it is a real treat.

This was all overseen by an appointed senior leader, who could oversee the improvements and work closely in terms of family support with the attendance officer.

The final triangulation was to link the push on improving attendance directly to performance management and the whole school development plan; we are now all accountable for children’s attendance. 

At the end of the academic year all pupils with 100% attendance are rewarded with the opportunity to win a bike. Today attendance is at 97.4% for disadvantaged pupils and 97.7% for the whole school. That was stage one.


Once we had children attending school we needed to ensure that the teaching was improved to meet the needs of ALL pupils.

On arrival at the school I noticed instantly that the pupils were disengaged and learning was not well matched to ability. I recognised that we were not challenging every child regardless of their starting point to achieve their very best. As a team, we developed and refined the ‘star system’, which involved pupils no longer being taught in groups.

Using the star system everybody is taught every skill or concept together. When it comes to the question of sufficient challenge, using this method, pupils were able to ‘self select’ an appropriate level of learning, with guidance from the class teacher based upon on-going assessment.

We adopted the ‘mastery’ approach five years later, ensuring that the disadvantaged pupils were being consistently challenged, alongside other pupils.

Reflection (for both teachers and pupils) has also been identified as a strong factor in improving disadvantaged pupils’ performance.

Try ‘critical reflection’ with the teaching staff critiquing each other. Every week the teachers come together and critique each other in a variety of ways. Like most schools the teachers are in coaching triads. However, each week the triads will video each other and critically reflect on the performance within the classroom. There is nothing more important than teaching, so why not focus on teaching. This approach has enabled us to identify patterns and trends and for everybody to get to know the pupils of the school. Teachers also come together at staff meetings to review their books, particularly looking for progress over time.

Pupils are at school and being challenged and staff are critiquing their own provision and improving their classes outcomes. Next was the curriculum.

What next for your pupil premium strategy?

We needed a curriculum to meet the needs of ALL pupils. Every term the class teacher will sit down and discuss with their pupils what they actually want to learn about. Teachers will have a day at home (blue-sky thinking day) planning the curriculum backwards from the desired end point.

The end point is what we call an 'authentic outcome'. How does this work? I am an avid Aston Villa fan and if you told me at ten years old that we are going to spend the next fourteen weeks learning about Aston Villa, with the authentic outcome of meeting the players, my outcomes would have been beyond amazing.

Although this appears to be a simplistic approach, it is much more complex. We identify ‘slow moving’ disadvantaged pupils and listen carefully to what they want to learn about. At this point, we have them hooked; we cross-reference the curriculum to the national curriculum. This approach, alongside our ‘no limits’ to teaching has ensured that pupils deemed as disadvantaged are challenged in every lesson and not viewed as a singular group.

If progress continues to stutter we have three meetings at the start of each term. Staff will meet with me to discuss the strategies that have or have not worked and we produce research for other teachers to use. The teaching staff then meet with the pupils, having reviewed their stuttering progress, to discuss how they can help. Finally, the following week they meet with the parent or carers. If they don’t attend, like many of our parents, we visit them and share our findings at home. We provide simple advice and guidance, also known as ‘quick wins’.

I am not sure if you have picked up on the theme yet? But there are absolutely minimal costs to all of our approaches. This enables us to be even more creative with our funding.

Recent publications have indicated that many pupils during the holidays are not being fed well. I tend to agree with this research. However, we have employed a Michelin-trained head chef to ensure that every pupil in the school has access to a ‘world class’ meal, daily.

We have replicated ‘free salad bars’ like those you see in Pizza Hut and ensure that, while the pupils are in our care, we can sleep easy at night knowing that they have benefitted from at least one decent meal. This also applies to our open-door breakfast club and our early morning pre-school lessons for pupils who have stuttered.

Typically our disadvantaged pupils achieve better than other pupils nationally. So, we use the funding to develop their wider wellbeing.

Our research told us that 65% of pupils had never left the local estate so we used some of the funding to take them to Paris in 2015, Barcelona in 2016 and Germany in 2017.

The catch? We impress upon the pupils that this experience is an annual experience for many families and tell them that if they want to, and they work hard, they could do this every year. Hopefully, some of our pupils who were once known as disadvantaged are no longer.

Our recent successes have included pupils being granted Maths scholarships and a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School. We brought Judo into the curriculum (with Pupil Premium funding) and we currently have a British Schools Gold Champion and two European bronze medallists. Interestingly, academically, they are exceeding other pupils.  

Sharing good practice

I have been contacted by some schools in Gloucestershire and presented our work to them for free in a seminar.

Winning the Award

The BBC filmed a lovely article for the South West region. We will just keep on doing what we keep doing with an overarching ‘Why’, our why is we come to work to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils.

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