Disadvantaged students – narrowing the gap: Fairfield High School chosen to share successful practice

Fairfield High School (FHS) is delighted to have been selected by the Regional Schools Commissioner to take part in a pilot scheme to help reduce the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, following the school’s success in becoming one of the region’s highest performing schools in terms of outcomes for disadvantaged students.

Even though FHS has an 8% higher proportion of disadvantaged students (36%) than the national average, its approach is proving highly successful in closing this crucial gap in terms of opportunity, awareness and aspiration where otherwise it might be lacking.

The key lies in the school’s ethos as a whole; it’s a team effort and every individual is responsible and held accountable when it comes to looking out for, and giving the best opportunity to every student, regardless of whether they are disadvantaged. However, it is that awareness that disadvantaged students, in particular, may not have access to, or be in a position to, take advantage of opportunities that makes the approach by FHS so special.

For example, the Senior Leadership Team noted, and consequently addressed, the lower take-up of the Triple Science option by disadvantaged students. After this was flagged with the Science Faculty, the teachers wasted no time investigating why five very capable students had decided not to opt for this. The feedback varied, but included a belief that it was beyond them, that it had not been discussed it at home etc. As a result, the students were given the information and confidence they required to opt for this subject.

The pastoral team at FHS is also having a significant impact on closing the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. At the beginning of the academic year, the school increased its pastoral team to one Achievement Manager per year group; this has enabled those individuals to forge and strengthen its bonds with students, their families and outside agencies in order to support them both in and outside of school.

The pilot scheme will primarily involve FHS sharing its successful practice, strategies and techniques with a local partnership secondary school. Longer term, it is hoped this practice will be recognised and shared at regional and national level.

Amanda Bridgewater, Assistant Vice Principal at FHS and Co-Leader of this initiative comments:

“This has not been an easy or quick journey by any means. Changing the ethos of an organisation requires the embracement of every individual, with a continual eye on the ball to ensure that no opportunities are missed and no stone is left unturned.

It is now second nature for staff to be aware of these students at all times, whether in relation to trips, after school clubs, prefects or intervention. A lot of it is down to the fantastic relationships our staff have with our students; there is always that person here who has that positive influence on a child.

“I am pleased to say that after three years we have a very successful model in place which has now been recognised by the Regional Schools Commissioner to share with other educational establishments.”

James Barnes, Director of Faculty of Individual Development and Co-Leader of this initiative adds:

“I run an internal CPD programme focusing on disadvantaged students, particular cohorts and strategies.  This is one way that we help facilitate teachers, support staff, tutors and faculties to collectively identify and address the gaps between these students and non-disadvantaged students to ensure they have the best possible opportunities open to them.

“It doesn’t just stop there. We have good links with Into University, who comes into school to raise students’ aspirations to go to University, and also Universify, a summer school scheme whereby we fund and encourage students to attend Oxford University.”