Can Low Ability Students Make Excellent Progress?

Can Low Ability Students Make Excellent Progress?

Prior Attainment

Many teachers believe that low attaining students make much slower progress, once they arrive at secondary school. Well, that must be true on average. But that might just be because we expect it to happen, in the same way that we expect fat people to be unfit, and Chinese students to be good at maths. But what if there are 100 secondary schools in England where their progress is exceptional (showing higher progress than the top 20% of schools for all students)? What if there were 200? In fact, there are 248! Is that a big enough sample for you to consider thinking again?

It ought to be. Let’s take Britains gold standard of olympic sport, rowing. With over 200,000 people rowing in the UK, how many make it to an elite squad? Call it 100. That’s about 0.0005%! The olympic equivalent in our schools are those where students entering at level 3 make as much progress as the best 8% of schools for all students. There are an astonishing 248 schools where level 3 students make at least P8 of 0.5, or 8% – 1600 times more than rowing.

What these schools are doing is therefore both amazing and replicable, because so many of them are succeeding. This high number strongly suggests that their poor progress in many other schools is not due to prior attainment per se, but to factors within our control.

(5arah, Pixaby)


Progress from low Attaining Students (Entering at Level 3)

There are 243 schools where students coming in as low attainers (level 3) make progress at P8 0.5 or above. That’s 8% of schools nationally, an unexpectedly high figure perhaps. 21 of these had large such cohorts of these, with 50 or more. This is my gut reaction of a cohort size big enough to be a real effect. That’s still 0.007% of the 3000, and 14 times greater than the percentage of elite rowers.


Here they are:

NAME TOWN TEL. NUM Number of Low attainers level 3 P8 of Low attainers


Beauchamp College Leicester 0116 2729100 94 0.74
Westlands School Sittingbourne 0179 5477475 81 0.69
Jack Hunt School Peterborough 0173 3263526 72 0.62
Outwood Academy Acklam Middlesbrough 0164 2818200 67 0.8
Clacton County High School Clacton-on-Sea 0125 5424266 64 0.92
Alperton Community School Wembley 0208 9022038 64 0.5
Abraham Moss Community School Manchester 0161 2196699 62 0.82
Swanshurst School Birmingham 0121 4642400 62 0.7
Northampton Academy Northampton 0160 4210017 59 0.69
Excelsior Academy Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0191 2288400 57 1.14
Samuel Ward Academy Haverhill 0144 0761511 57 0.53
Castleford Academy Castleford 0197 7605060 56 0.65
President Kennedy School Academy Coventry 0247 6661416 55 0.94
Acklam Grange School Middlesbrough 0164 2277700 54 1.05
Handsworth Grange Community Sports College Sheffield 0114 2694801 54 0.73
Batley Girls High School Batley 0192 4350080 53 0.59
Greig City Academy London 0208 6090100 53 0.5
Wickersley School and Sports College Rotherham 0170 9542147 52 0.98
University Academy Holbeach Spalding 0140 6423042 52 0.66
The Priory Ruskin Academy Grantham 0147 6410410 51 0.69
Arrow Vale RSA Academy Redditch 0152 7526800 50 0.5


Some Thoughts

It seems very significant that these schools are nearly all outside London. This suggests that what they are doing is not connected to funding, or to use of Pupil Premium money. It is very likely that this success is achieved through teaching and learning, and other strategies which will be replicable in schools without that extra funding.

Virtually all of these are in cities, rather than rural schools. Why do city schools do so much better with this kind of student?

Given this is the case, and the huge success of London schools with students of most categories, what are London schools not doing which they should?

I’ve given you the names of the schools and their phone numbers to encourage a visit – how many of us would need to travel to one before we had crowd sourced a road map for success with low attaining students?

Which of these schools is nearest to you, and worth a visit?

Better still, if you teach in one of these schools, please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments below.