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National Challenge Adviser e-newsletter - Summer 2009

Reporting Free School Meals (FSM) data

The National Challenge should be a natural ally of the Narrowing the Gaps agenda – and it's an alliance that needs our attention.

There is a strong link between low attainment and poverty in this country; breaking it must be one of the major priorities of the education system. The National Challenge is designed to help break that link by targeting the lowest-attaining schools, which in turn, tend to serve the most deprived communities.

But there are real risks of an initial negative effect within National Challenge schools. Many schools could surpass the 30 per cent target measure by focusing on borderline students – but that could actually widen social gaps, because the poorest students are least likely to be close to the threshold.

So instead, we must devote National Challenge resources (your time in particular) to whole-school improvement and progress for every child. As well as making the rising levels of average attainment more sustainable, this will also help to ensure that those improvements to the average don't leave some children even further behind their peers.

By helping schools to strengthen a culture of aspiration and achievement while developing higher quality and more personalised teaching and learning, the National Challenge programme can both raise standards overall and help disadvantaged pupils to catch up.

We want to give this issue its due place in our discussions at local National Challenge boards, and make sensitive use of data indicators to do so. That's why from September 2009, we will be asking National Challenge Advisers (NCAs) to report predictions for each free school meals (FSM) cohort alongside their predictions for each cohort as a whole.

FSM is the best binary measure available at national, local and school level. And as one part of an assessment of school effectiveness, it is a valid way of challenging ourselves to do better for the most disadvantaged young people.

If you have any questions or comments please email national.challenge@dcsf.gsi.gov.uk