Diary of a headteacher: How much should we use intervention strategies?


Is intervention a good thing? And what will the changing performance measures mean for intervention strategies? Our headteacher diarist reflects

As we approach the crucial exam season, schools will be undoubtedly focusing their students on exam preparation. Intervention is a word that is commonly used across many schools but a debate has recently centred around whether or not this is a dirty word. It is a topic that polarises opinion among staff at my school.

I was not aware, until recently, that some who work in education are concerned that intervention strategies employed by schools might have a detrimental effect on students. This view centres around the premise that intervening with students, particularly outside of lesson time, sets a precedent and even a culture for students to not put the required amount of work in during timetabled lessons. 

It is argued that for some students, the opportunity to postpone the application of serious hard work is too tempting, especially when they know that they have the opportunity to catch up with one-to-one or small group sessions outside of the lesson.

Some students can unquestionably benefit from this type of intervention, but does it affect the way in which they apply themselves with their normal class teacher? I have heard students claim that they don’t “get on” with a certain teacher, so they don’t work hard in lessons, but “it doesn’t matter” because they’ll “catch up in intervention”. 

Does this mean that we should not bother with intervention? Do we advocate the scrapping of Easter holiday revision sessions, summer schools or bespoke intensive revision for Pupil Premium students?

I know that some educationalists feel very strongly about what they would term the “damning” effect that a culture of intervention can have on the work ethic of students. I can also think of several conversations I have had with individuals who firmly believe that it is their job to teach students the content and it is the students’ responsibility to learn the information and skills needed to pass the exam.

However, there has been a shift during the last 10 years where teachers have become increasingly accountable for the outcomes achieved by their students – a shift which means, I believe, that we ditch our intervention plans at our peril.

I understand that some students will procrastinate throughout year 11, knowing that they will have opportunities to work in intervention sessions with teachers who will give them individual attention and support. However, in this new world of high stakes and high accountability, we have a duty to ensure we do everything possible to help students achieve the best grades possible, and whether we like it or not, this invariably means employing intervention strategies that use data to identify underperforming students and using this information to help them improve their performance.

What will be interesting though, is to see how intervention strategies will be used now that Progress 8 is the relevant performance measure for students currently in year 10. Schools will have traditionally focused much of their intervention on students who are on the C/D borderline. In some schools there might even be a disproportionate allocation of resources in terms of funding, staff time and resources towards intervening with students on this threshold.

But how will Progress 8 affect the way in which interventions are deployed across schools? As long as a school curriculum services the requirements of Progress 8, every grade for every student in every subject counts – so schools will have to revisit how they use intervention strategies because the pool of students that might qualify for this has now suddenly increased to potentially the whole year group. 

Whether or not you think intervention is a dirty word, it is hard to argue that the approaches we adopt in the next few years will most definitely have to evolve.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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