This much I know about…how best to support our most disadvantaged students

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about how best to support our most disadvantaged students.

Sobering moments can hit you unexpectedly. I was privileged to speak to a conference hall full of Glaswegian teachers recently at Celtic’s football ground, Celtic Park. Apparently their fans call the hugely impressive stadium, ‘Paradise’. I was told that the average life expectancy for men living in the surrounding Parkhead area is 54 years. As Sir Kevan Collins – my co-presenter – and I reflected, if we lived within sight of Celtic Park, I’d have eighteen months to live and Sir Kevan would have already popped his clogs.


Poor teaching perpetuates disadvantage. Here’s why we have to keep improving our performance in the classroom. The Sutton Trust Report, Improving the impact of teachers on student achievement, included this important finding:

The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.

It’s so obvious, isn’t it? My son came home the other day and asked me to print off a Biology GCSE Unit 2 exam paper so he could practise questions after he had revised. I had superfast broadband, a laptop and printer, I knew where to find the papers, I had a password to access the latest version. When I had printed off the paper, I even had a stapler… I went on to drop all the papers in an electronic folder for him and he proceeded to revise, asking me for help when he needed it. Any insufficiency in his provision at school is compensated for by the support he accesses at home. Not so for the boy from the estate whose parents don’t have such rich resources and insider knowledge.


A modest proposal. If our most disadvantaged students are going to thrive, as school leaders we have to stop guessing about what works and lead learning from an evidence-base. Our teachers have to be the best teachers in the world. Period. It was particularly apposite to speak at Celtic Park to Scottish colleagues who work in some of the most deprived schools in Great Britain, with Sir Kevan Collins. The CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation was on sparkling form as he extolled the virtues of the Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit which has been recently up-dated.


Sir Kevan Collins on tour! If you want to hear Kevan speak, then come along to the Research School Regional Conference 2017 on 24 May where he and I are teaming up again! You also get to hear Alex Quigley… You can book here.


Forget school structures…we have to improve the quality of teaching in our schools: it is the only thing that matters.

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in Research, School Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to This much I know about…how best to support our most disadvantaged students

  1. Pingback: Evidence and disadvantage | David Didau: The Learning Spy

  2. Fred Flint says:

    We might ask the question ‘what are the EFF toolkit values evidence of’. There is an increasing concern that ‘effect size’ is not what educators say that it is: it is not a measure of educational importance, but a measure of the experimental methods used. See, for example and In education, even the highly respected meta-analysts Cheung and Slavin are saying that effect size is closely tied to the methods used (see – standardised tests give effect sizes half those of researcher designed tests; larger sample sizes are associated with smaller effect sizes etc. They reckon you can adjust for all this (though the EEF, Hattie and other mega-synthesis people don’t), but a very recent paper by Simpson (see says that ‘effect size’ should simply not be seen as the educational importance of an intervention but as a measure of the clarity of the experiment: experiments in feedback are very clear, experiments in setting and streaming are less clear – that doesn’t mean setting and streaming is less educationally important that feedback. You might also see the recent post on the Learning Spy blog (

  3. Adam says:

    When you put it in those terms – the richness of the support at home and just how valuable a tool it is to learning – then yes it seems blindingly obvious.

    What’s stopping schools offering this support as standard?

  4. Pingback: High Expectations (challenge) – Gooders gold

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s