In October 2018, Achievement for All will be launching its latest programme called Core Strength. But what is it? What does it mean? How will this programme unlock achievement and remove barriers to learning?

Achievement for All has developed a unique approach to accelerating the academic progress amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, thereby closing the performance gap in education settings and, ultimately, driving social mobility. 

We do this by building on the foundations of our main programmes, combined with new approaches to improving wellbeing and mental health throughout a school community and by developing more effective cognitive development tools for every age and phase. 

Welcome to the Core Strength Programme

Over the last five years it has become increasingly apparent among the 100,000 targeted children and young people engaged in Achievement for All programmes that the common starting point for the majority is the need to build core strength.

Children and young people experiencing disadvantage and underachievement lack confidence, find learning challenging, develop differently and have limited participation in society.  

Underlying factors, or needs, may be cognitive, physical, emotional or social; each manifest in a fundamental lack of progress of the child or young person when compared to their peers.

The political and educational debate around reading, writing and maths, the traditional pillars around which the national curriculum has been built for over a hundred years, still rages about the best way to "teach" these subjects, and what should be the "content" of the subjects, not to mention the focus on how to assess and grade learning. 

Very few in education or politics talk about how children and young people learn, and how best to build a successful life long learner, beyond the assessed curriculum.

It is fair to say that, in our educational past, we expected children to develop a sophisticated set of thinking skills simply through years of immersion in a school system rich in content and challenge. 

Perhaps, we were aware of our limitations - "we are teachers, after all, not developmental or education psychologists." Perhaps our classrooms have not evolved at a pace to keep up with our new knowledge on the neuroscience of learning?

What we realise today however is that we can’t leave the development of thinking skills to chance any more. As the links between thinking development and language development have become more clear over time, so has our awareness of the nature and extent of learning difficulties, which can delay or impede the development of learning and thinking processes. 

Specialist interventions are sometimes required to help children and young people overcome these hurdles but it is not only children and young people with identified special educational needs that may need a more structured and explicit approach to the development of underlying thinking skills.

The challenge of social and economic disadvantage

The graph above illustrates the immensity of the challenge. In nearly a decade of targeted school improvement activity, young people in  the greatest poverty (for the longest period of time) have not closed the gap.

"...Our first important finding is that the gap is closing, but at a very slow rate. Indeed, despite significant investment and targeted intervention programmes, the gap between disadvantaged 16 year old pupils and their peers has only narrowed by three months of learning between 2007 and 2016.

“In 2016, the gap nationally, at the end of secondary school, was still 19.3 months. In fact, disadvantaged pupils fall behind their more affluent peers by around 2 months each year over the course of secondary school.

“Over the same period (2007 – 2016), the gap by the end of primary school narrowed by 2.8 months and the gap by age five narrowed by 1,2 months. At current trends, we estimate that it would take around 50 years for the dsadvnatge gap to close completely by the time pupils take their GCSEs..." 

Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage Andrews Robinson and Hutchinson (2017) Education Policy Institute

No family role models? 
Nowhere to study after school? 
Overwhelmed by poverty, housing issues, or cultural expectations?

Look deeper, and one of the most compelling reasons for socially disadvantaged children underperforming academically could be linked to language (and therefore cognitive) development.

One of the recent set of reports as an outcome of the Better Communication Research Programme[1] identifies that in areas of social disadvantage and low income, children and young people are more than twice as likely to have SLCN (Speech Language and Communication Needs). 

In areas of socioeconomic disadvantage, undetected and unsupported language difficulties and cognitive delay can remain until adolescence (e.g. difficulties with vocabulary and abstract reasoning that can prevent higher grade passes at GCSE). Unless we as teaching professionals try to address and help children and young people overcome these difficulties, "the gap" will not close.

In the past, intelligence was sometimes viewed as a fixed attribute: low IQ meant limited abilities, and restricted opportunities that would last a lifetime. 

We now know that "intelligence" is not unchanging or unchangeable. 

If due regard is paid to the way children learn (called "building learning power" in some schema, growing "personal effectiveness) in others) rather than only concentrating on what they have to learn, progress can be made not only in the way children accumulate knowledge but also in the way knowledge is used and applied.  

When children and young people close the thinking skills gap, this can be described as cognitive acceleration. 

Achievement for All is totally committed to banishing forever the notion of "fixed ability teaching". A thinking-focussed classroom and curriculum can literally change a child's mind, building their core strength and helping them to become a more resilient and independent learner. 

This is the thinking that has inspired us to create the Achievement for All Core Strength Programme.

What are the elements of Core Strength?

In terms of confidence to learn, we have developed professional development resources that help teachers to explicitly develop pupils' confidence, self-esteem, resilience and ability to regulate emotions and feelings. In terms of ability to learn, we have developed a new set of resources and approaches aimed at building thinking skills in a progressive way.

The programme is extensive, ranging from early years through to primary and secondary, 16+ and beyond. 

By identifying a magnificent seven core strength competencies, children and young people are encouraged to develop a mindful toolkit of resources and approaches that they can manage, manipulate and eventually intuitively deploy to meet life's challenges, whether in school, at work and beyond.

Powerful partnerships with other organisations add value to the offer.

We look forward to unveiling the full programme at our National Conference on Wednesday 17th October at Newbury Racecourse. 

We hope you will be there!

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Achievement for All’s Every Child Included in Education conference on 17th October 2018 at Newbury Racecourse will take delegates on a journey through a child’s education from early years to post-16 and beyond. 

Keynote speakers include Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, Emma Lewell MP, Shadow Minister for Education (children and families), June O’Sullivan MBE, Chief Executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) and Thelma Walker MP, member of the Education Select Committee, amongst many others. 

There will be 12 expert panel-led sessions discussing and debating a range of topics such as Terrific Twos, excellent provision in early years, understanding children looked after, engaging children in reading, behavioural policies and vulnerable children.

A full list of speakers and breakout sessions can be found here.

Tickets cost £90 and can be booked here. Achievement for All schools and settings are eligible for a 50% discount.

Parents and carers join free and group discounts are available. Email tickets@afaeducation.org for more information.

https://afaeducation.org/2018-conference/  

[1]https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/projects/better-communication-research-project/