This month, as schools returned to the ‘new normal’, the social mobility gap has moved up the agenda of national debate.

Social mobility has increasingly featured in the news: reflecting recent reports published this year by the Social Mobility Commission[1], National Federation of Educational Research[2], Education Policy Institute[3], and the Sutton Trust[4], amongst others.

The findings are disturbing:  

The attainment gap has stopped closing.

Disadvantaged children are not attending school nor are they being supported at home.

Previously run-of-the-mill autumn illnesses are now a national concern.

Covid-19 testing is not meeting the needs of schools and children and young people (as detailed by the National Association of Head Teachers[5], and funding evidenced by the Institute of Fiscal Studies[6]).

Disturbing and also shocking to those of us committed to social mobility.

The overriding concern amongst all parents and carers is how can the attainment gap created by school closures and the ongoing pandemic be closed?[7] 

Evidence from a variety of sources suggests that the following four pillars provide the best solution that we can offer.  If each are addressed in all schools and colleges, the net gain for all children will be at least positive.

Pillar 1:  Parents' and carers' engagement in a child's learning is an important factor in improving pupil outcomes and achievements. Parent and carer engagement that removes barriers to learning can drive forward pupils' perseverance, motivation to learn, and confidence.  As schools return to some normality, it is important to build on the enhanced communication with parents and find strategies for more systematic enhancement.

Evidenced by the central element of the Achievement for All (AfA)programme with profound impact on outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people[8][9].

Pillar 2:  Provision for closing the gap by developing quality-first teaching through well-differentiated planning, personalised provision and interventions. This will lead to securing the greatest impact on pupil outcomes and support, review and refine provision for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils that ensures accelerated progress, narrowing the attainment gaps within the school against national outcomes. Intervention and small group catch up should be integrated into the main provision by providing the support that enables even the most challenged to be included daily.

Evidenced by ongoing training during school closures has proved impactful in AfA partner schools - Lyng Hall, Coventry, Highlands School, Redbridge, and Kensington Primary, London[10].

Pillar 3: Building core strength and resilience for all by helping students re-establish their goals and ambitions and by creating a clear visible curriculum narrative that enables them to be partners in their learning. Re-establishing well- being and optimism is an essential prerequisite to drive social mobility. Create a  professional training programme that strikes at the very heart of learning and achievement, at every age and phase, by building on the latest neuroscience and psychological research and addressing all the factors identified by the Education Endowment Foundation as effective strategies to improve cognitive, non-cognitive development (essential life skills) as well as resilience and self-efficacy.  

Evidenced by Pearson Primary School of the Year 2020 head teacher, Ben Levinson, Kensington Primary School, London E12:

“We started on our journey to teach not manage behaviour 3 years ago. Our partnership with the AfA and, particularly, our allocated coach Laura has helped us to hugely accelerate the process and turn a vision into reality. Our approach to ‘Relationships and Regulation’ is a fundamental part of our children’s successful return. Despite all of the challenges, they have started this academic year happier, more focused, and more enthused by their learning than ever before. That is in no small part due to our approach and the symbiotic relationship with AfA.”

“Our approach is a long-term investment in our children’s well-being. At Kensington, we are working to ensure children are seen, safe, soothed, and secure. We know that our children’s emotional health is a key factor in their happiness and success now and in the future. By building emotional resilience and stability, we are investing in them and creating the foundations that will enable a lifetime of resilience and emotional literacy.”

Pillar 4Digital skills: given the obvious current needs, technology is opening new frontiers in terms of accelerating learning and personalising the education experience Increased understanding of virtual and blended learning in each education setting would transform the progress of all learners. The use of online resource packages programmes needs to be carefully introduced so they become a part of a wider set of teaching and learning protocols and not bolt on resources and applications.

Evidenced by schools use of AfA Bubble[11] and related webinars focused on providing translation skills for English as an Additional Language families[12], and the impact of partnership projects with Microsoft.

The issue is how can this be implemented when leader and teacher anxiety is prevalent across the country, as noted by the Chartered College of Teaching [13]. In a similar vein to the National Health Service back in April, too much is being asked of too few, with the inevitable impact on health and wellbeing.  Put simply, teachers and leaders need support.  Coaching is advocated by the NFER, NAHT, and many others[14] . A service that AfA provides across the country and beyond[15] with maximum effect, supporting professionals who have the wisdom and experience to work directly with the children and young people in their schools, as an alternative to externally supplied programmes that may take months to create an impact [16]

The time for action to close the gap, support leaders and teachers is now.

Contact AfA for details on coaches in your area, who will work with you to develop a bespoke package that will support you and your colleagues during this most challenging period experienced by schools. We invite you to contact us as soon as possible


AfA is widely engaging with numerous stakeholders and agencies to contribute to the best possible responses to the pandemic for all children and young people. Working with a partner researcher, AfA has been commissioned by the Local Government Association to produce a review of the literature relating to children and young people during the pandemic and lockdown, which will be delivered to every local authority in the UK and Government in November 2020.

















[14] APPG for the Teaching Profession, 21st September 2020