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Latest news Addressing disadvantage: School culture

Blog Post

Addressing disadvantage: School culture

In this blog piece, Pupil Premium expert Marc Rowland explores school culture and the part it plays in creating an environment in which both teachers and children can flourish.

Schools Partnership Programme helps partnerships of schools establish a culture of open, structured and continuous enquiry. It provides access to tools and strategies that help them unlock new ideas, and to plan and evaluate activity that suits the specific needs of their school communities.  

Rigorous peer review undertaken in a spirit of honesty and driven by a collective will to improve - not just ‘prove’ - leads to much more than action planning and ongoing school-to-school support. It also nurtures the collaborative culture and the kind of teacher agency, innovation and creativity we know is crucial to building relationships and nurturing consistently excellent teaching and learning.  And we know that these things are absolutely key to tackling disadvantage.

Join us with Marc on 23rd March at our free webinar to look at how we might challenge our thinking and improve outcomes for all children vulnerable to disadvantage.


"It is important to relentlessly focus on the impact of disadvantage on learning."

Marc Rowland, Pupil Premium expert


Pupil needs, not labels, should drive strategy. Assessment, not assumptions, should drive activity. The impact of disadvantage on learning is not static. It is a long-term process, not a moment or an event. Socioeconomic disadvantage may mean pupils:

+ feel like they are on the margins of discussions

+ do not have the background knowledge to make connections with learning - background knowledge binds learning together

+ do not have the self-regulation skills (knowledge of self, knowledge of task, knowledge of strategies) to plan, monitor and evaluate their work

+ have lower levels of oral language (a limiting factor on future attainment)

+ have a more limited vocabulary, or difficulties with language comprehension, making it difficult for them to access lessons and sequences of lessons across the curriculum

+ have a negative perception of themselves as learners

+ experience lower expectations through labelling (e.g. ‘low ability’ or ‘Pupil Premium’)


All of these things can impact on motivation, the beating heart of self-regulated learning. So, disadvantage in the classroom becomes self-fulfilling. It can also lead to a lowering of expectations from teachers: differentiating down or focusing on task completion, rather than planning for learning and participation through strong explanations and scaffolding up through modelling and worked examples.

These issues exist in pupils across the socioeconomic spectrum, but they are more likely to impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They do not occur because of any label, but they may present to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds more often. It is important to relentlessly focus on the impact of disadvantage on learning. Some issues pupils face may be beyond the school’s power to change. But it is possible to address the impact these issues have on learning, as well as pupils’ sense of belonging at school and in the classroom.

For all of our pupils, but particularly those who are disadvantaged, the most effective approaches to tackling disadvantage are not about big interventions but countless small interactions, discussions and individual moments that create a sense of belonging for all. Self-esteem and pastoral approaches are about what happens inside and outside of the classroom.


Everyone in school should take responsibility for better outcomes for disadvantaged learners. It is vital that all staff understand:

+ the issues being addressed

+ how the school is addressing them

+ the evidence to support that approach

+ their role within that

+ what success looks like

The most effective strategies give teachers and other staff the capacity, expertise, knowledge and development to meet the needs of their pupils and improve them as learners. Teacher agency and buy-in is fundamental to success. 

Developing culture is a continuous process, not an event. It should not be thought of as something ‘to be achieved.’

Click here to view the recording of our webinar on tackling disadvantage.

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