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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Feyisa Demie

Demie, F. & Mclean, C. (2015). Tackling disadvantage: what works in narrowing the achievement gap in schools. Review of Education 3(2): 138-174.

Author(s) from Durham


This study examines the success factors behind narrowing the achievement gap of disadvantaged pupils who are entitled to free school meals. A complementary methodological approach including a case study and focus group were used to explore performance and the views of teachers, parents and pupils. The key criteria for the selection of schools were those with a very high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals and good Key Stage 2 (KS2) and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) results and positive Ofsted inspection reports. The findings of the research show that the case study schools' data shows that from their generally low starting points, pupils reach exceptionally high standards at KS2 and GCSE, narrowing the gap. The research identifies a number of factors that are proving successful in closing the gap. These include strong leadership, high quality teaching and learning, an inclusive curriculum, the effective use of data, one-to-one support and the deployment of the best teachers to teach intervention groups, or re-deploying support teachers who have a good track record in raising achievement. It is further argued in the final section that these findings have limitations and must be taken as tentative suggestions rather than firm conclusions. The recommendation from the study is that there is a need to replicate and expand this research with a larger sample and longitudinal study, in order to explore in detail what works in narrowing the achievement gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in schools.