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.