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Research into the theme: raising the attainment of under-achieving groups

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jill ClarkORCiD, Dr Elaine Hall, Ian Hall


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This publication reports on research which explored under-achievement, and raising attainment, with particular reference to specific groups. Under-achievement is an apparently straightforward, but actually problematic concept. There has been a shift from a view which saw under-achievement as essentially a product of the individual learner and her/his circumstances to one which sees it as a systemic phenomenon, resulting from the relative ineffectiveness of the education system in enabling certain individuals and groups to make adequate progress. In many ways, it is helpful to think in terms of under-achieving groups, and a large number of such groups can be identified. However, individuals often belong to more than one group and are subject to complex interactions between the factors relating to these groups. Moreover, group-specific factors interact with the (under-) performance of the education system as a whole. In this way, many, if not all, learners are at risk of under-achievement. On the basis of this understanding, it is possible to map out a role for local authorities in combating under-achievement. In brief, local authorities will develop a perspective which sees almost any case of low attainment as a case of under-achievement. They will articulate this view to schools and teachers and encourage them to focus on the effectiveness of their practice (rather than simply external factors) as the key to combating under-achievement. The approach adopted by local authorities will be multi-dimensional, incorporating strategies at the group, area and systemic levels. These strategies will operate in a way which is responsive to individual differences and will have a focus on the proactive development of resilience rather than simply a reactive response to disadvantage. Local authorities will use nationally-available headline data on under-achievement to sensitise them to potential under-achievement in their area. However, they will also undertake analyses of the complex manifestations and causes of under-achievement in their own areas. In terms of particular strategies, local authorities will recognise the key role of schools (usually mainstream schools) and of teachers in combating all forms of under-achievement. They will, therefore, locate any specific strategies within the context of a broad school improvement strategy, which will itself focus on developing the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. They will develop services for at risk groups and individuals, therefore, which work closely in support of mainstream schools. They will also offer strategic leadership and management which is based on a strategic vision, which involves the co-ordination of resources, services and agencies, which enables them to act as brokers between schools, pupils, parents and communities, which involves targeting resources in support of their strategy and, crucially involves them in generating and managing high-quality data on the nature of under-achievement in their areas.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Clark J, Dyson A, Hall E, Hall I

Publication type: Report

Publication status: Published

Series Title:

Type: Electronic

Year: 2002

Pages: 27

Source Publication Date: Final Report

Notes: In this report, the authors set out some of the main dimensions of the issue of under-achievement how the issue is defined, who are underachieving pupils and what the scale of the problem might be. They go on to outline the broad strategies which, the literature suggests, local authorities might be expected to deploy in combating under-achievement.