Festival News: reflections on Marc Rowland's session on educational disadvantage.

Published: 24 September 2020
Stephen Betts (Learn Sheffield) reflects on the session by Marc Rowland exploring 'from mitigation to success: improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners '.

From mitigation to success: improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners – Marc Rowland

This was a strong input from Marc Rowland which built upon the research in exploring how we might mitigate both short term and long term challenges faced by disadvantaged students. Marc’s input acknowledged the significant short term COVID impact but arguing that our strongest lever remains high quality teaching.


Marc noted the relevance of the EEF guidance on Pupil Premium but stressing that the key additional ingredient is the culture of our school communities – that everyone in our school believes that our disadvantaged pupils can succeed. This will have come as no surprise to any Sheffield school leaders who have worked with Marc.

He argued that disadvantaged pupils are often the ‘canaries down the coal mine’ of our schools. COVID-19 is perhaps the best example of how when our schools face challenges the impact on disadvantaged pupils is often disproportionate.

Marc made the case for the importance of a collective understanding of the schools strategy towards overcoming educational disadvantage, including clarity about what each person’s role is and what success looks like it. The key to this is a relentless focus on the classroom alongside a curiosity around how disadvantage impacts on ‘my classroom or my subject’. Teacher agency is crucial here and power of shared values can be very significant.

The impact of socio-economic disadvantage on learning is long term and our planning for this needs to reflect this – ensuring that our understanding of how disadvantage impacts on our school is accurate and specific. Marc drew a close link to language comprehension here and the link to motivation which is the ‘beating heart of self-regulation’.

This was a wide ranging input from Marc which frequently returned to the importance of well identified activities (by really understanding what the experience of disadvantaged children and young people in our schools is) that focus on improving the pupils as learners in their own right.  

Marc drew upon the EEF toolkit and noted that the things that have the greatest impact tend to be based upon relationships in one form or another – most importantly in classrooms.

The final section of the presentation focussed on language, with links to a range of evidence and other inputs. The role of language as a building block and the power of teaching are the strongest mitigations that we have to support us in addressing educational disadvantage.

A compelling and fascinating session – thank you Marc!   

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