Fade or flourish: how primary schools can build on children’s early progress

Fade or flourish image

The resource is a report which is the final stage of an ongoing project at the Social Market Foundation (supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Sutton Trust). It explores the contribution of good quality pre-school experience to improving the life chances of disadvantaged children and their families. The paper sets out a review of the evidence and best-practice in primary schools with a particular emphasis on the needs of those children who are most vulnerable to falling behind their peers, despite high quality pre-school experiences. The role of primary schools is seen as crucial to prevent the ‘fade out' of gains at the pre-school stage, so that all children begin secondary schooling able to realise their full potential.


The aims of the resource:

The conclusions and policy recommendations of the report are intended to raise awareness amongst government policy-makers of the range of strategies that can be adopted, to build on good practice from pre-school contexts. In addition, the recommendations are designed as a tool for review and development for primary schools - stressing the need for flexible, targeted use of the recommended strategies rather than a ‘one size fits all' approach.


Key findings or focus:

The resource examines within-school practices in seven key areas, which are perceived to have some impact on preventing the ‘fade out' of pre-school gains made by disadvantaged children. These are:

  1. A central focus on literacy
  2. Ensuring good behaviour and attendance
  3. Creating a co-educator role for parents
  4. Flexible class structures
  5. A variety of additional support
  6. An engaging curriculum
  7. A holistic transition strategy.

Each of these areas is addressed in a separate chapter of the report - drawing on research evidence, and other sources and examples from case studies around the country. Each chapter ends with a summary of the recommendations for practice.


Each of the sections identifies key aspects of primary practice which appear to have a positive impact on sustaining pre-school gains for disadvantaged children. Many of the recommendations span more than one section - for example flexible groupings, parental involvement and models of pupil support. Key findings for each section are outlined here:


  1. A central focus on literacy. The key findings in this section rest on the premise that the Literacy Strategy (NLS) is the ‘cornerstone of the Primary Strategy' - but since the publication of this report, this has not proved to be the case. The review of the primary curriculum (Rose, 2009) does have a focus on literacy as one of the ‘essentials for learning and life', but according to an announcement by the DCSF in June 2009, the Literacy Strategy will not necessarily be the vehicle through which schools are required to teach it, after September 2011. However, the key recommendations suggest principles which support literacy teaching whether delivered through the strategy or not. These include: ability-based in-class grouping for the teaching of literacy; regular assessments to identify those who are falling behind and a recommendation that Reading Recovery supersedes NLS models of support for those children. Multi-disciplinary approaches to teaching literacy are recommended, with an emphasis on speaking and listening alongside a synthetic phonics approach. The use of  the Success for All scheme is also recommended as an effective strategy. These recommendations echo much of the emphasis from the Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading (Rose, 2006). The involvement of parents as co-educators is highlighted and developed further in section 3.
  2. Ensuring good behaviour and attendance. The recommendations emphasise the development of systematic approaches, and national dissemination of good practice, particularly in the identification of behaviour-related issues; use of nurture groups and learning mentors; involvement of parents and targeted funding to schools with high percentages of children identified as vulnerable to ‘fade out'.
  3. A co-educational role for parents. The report examines existing evidence about parental involvement. This indicates that parenting style is particularly significant, and that this can be learnt, so that parents can be supported in their provision of ‘learning activities' at home. It is suggested in the report that schools could have a key role as a means by which parents can develop awareness of their role in their children's learning at home. Recommendations include using pre-school models as the ‘inspiration' for primary practices and the development of Parent Support Workers to enhance school-parent communication.
  4. Innovative class structures. The main emphasis in this section is about flexible grouping of children depending on the needs of the children, as well as what is being taught. This would mean that children could be based in a mixed ability class but taught in a variety of different groupings, with ability grouping used primarily in subjects such as mathematics and literacy (as suggested in section 1). There is an emphasis on co-operative learning and team work through group problem-solving activities, linking to personal development.
  5. Providing additional support. This section draws together recommendations which have already been identified, such as the use of learning mentors and use of short-term 1:1 ‘booster' provision. Linking again to the curriculum review and to Every Child Matters and the concept of the extended school, there are recommendations about tailored curriculum enrichment activities and the need for practical contexts for learning.
  6. An innovative curriculum. This section is an interesting read in the light of the recent curriculum reviews by Sir Jim Rose and Robin Alexander. There is considerable overlap between the recommendations of this report and the recommendations of the Rose Review of the curriculum in particular. For example: a flexible and ‘localised' curriculum which can be delivered in a cross-curricular way; an emphasis on the ‘life skills' such as initiative, problem-solving, communication and teamwork - also highlighted in section 4; personal development as an integral part of the curriculum - this clearly links to Rose's curriculum model which advocates PSHE as one of the ‘essentials of learning and life'. 
  7. A focus on transition and transfers. This section emphasises the particular risks for children who are vulnerable to 'fade out' during transitions between Key Stages and transfers to different schools. The need for appropriate funding and national dissemination of good practice is seen as essential. The report recommends that systems are established which ensure that transitions minimise these risks through, for example, effective transfer of appropriate personal data and systems such as home visits and/or handover meetings. Induction days, buddying schemes and nurture groups can reduce pupil anxiety leading up to and in the initial stages of transitions.


These findings are then summarised in the conclusion and the appendix includes an indicative timetable for their implementation in practice. 


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:

The Social Market Foundation states in its aims that it seeks to stimulate public discussion, and the paper as a whole, or any of the individual chapters, can be used as a vehicle for further discussion. Many important issues are raised and explored but there is room for further critical examination of the data. For example, the paper draws on a wide range of research, government documentation and other sources - such as news reports - but these tend to be reported, rather than critiqued, with little reference to research design and validity. The proposals appear very specific and prescriptive, although the authors claim that this is not the intention, and frequently refer to the need to respond locally and in a personalised way to the recommendations rather than through their wholesale implementation. The inclusion of ‘indicative timetables' for implementation of the proposals, however, suggests a narrow and focused approach - for example, in the recommendation that the literacy schemes Success for All and Reading Recovery should be used in all schools.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:

This report is a valuable information source and can be used to stimulate discussion in the key areas identified by the report. It would be an excellent starting point for student research, and be used to encourage students to revisit the original research papers referred to in the report. The document as a whole is rather long, but the introduction and conclusion offer key insights into the impact of poverty and social disadvantage on pupil engagement, motivation and achievement, and highlight the significant role of primary schools in sustaining children's achievements. It is also a useful document to examine alongside government policy documentation and can give an insight into current initiatives such as Sure Start. In addition, individual chapters can be used to draw attention to aspects of practice which relate to each of the key areas, with clear links to the source evidence which has led to the conclusions - allowing theory-practice links to be examined and critiqued. The recommendations of this report could be specifically examined in the light of the current review of the primary curriculum, and the similarities and disparities explored. Other examples of related resources are provided at the end of this review.


The relevance to ITE students:

This is a good introductory paper for students to begin to examine the possible wide-ranging impact of social disadvantage on academic attainment, and the role of primary schools in mitigating against ‘fade out'. Each individual chapter can provide more focused insight and data sources which can offer a springboard for further research and understanding, and as a vehicle for questioning the nature, role and purposes of primary education as a whole.  


Reviewed by:

Rebecca Austin


Related Resources

There are a large number of references embedded in the document, many of which are accessible online. 

The links to related articles below  provide some examples of resources which could offer a further critical perspective.


Hallam, S., Rogers, L., & Shaw, J. (2006) Improving children's behaviour and attendance through the use of parenting programmes: an examination of practice in five case study local authorities


Gazeley, L. & Dunne, M. (2005) Addressing working class underachievement




Alexander, R. (2009) The Cambridge Primary Review


Rose, J. (2006) Independent review of the teaching of early reading


Rose, J. (2009) Independent review of the curriculum


Information about the Social Market Foundation available from: http://www.smf.co.uk/


Information about the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation available from: http://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/


Information about the Sutton Trust available from: http://www.suttontrust.com/index.asp


Information about Behaviour Improvement Programme from:



Infomation about learning mentors available from: http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/learning-mentors/


Information about Sure Start available from:



Information about Success For All available from: http://www.successforall.org.uk/index.html


Information about Reading Recovery available from: http://readingrecovery.ioe.ac.uk/



social disadvantage, poverty, early years, primary, literacy, reading, behaviour, parental involvement, attendance, class structure, additional support, curriculum, transition