Difference Leaders Programme

The Difference works to raise the status and expertise of those working with vulnerable learners: in Alternative Provision, and in mainstream.

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The Challenge

Every day, 41 of the country’s most vulnerable children are permanently excluded from school. These children are four times more likely to be living in poverty, seven times more likely to have recognised special needs - including mental ill health - and twenty times more likely to be interacting with social services. Once excluded, only 1.5% of children will get a good pass in English and maths GCSEs. Nationally, 1 in 200 children is excluded from school, but 1 in 2 of the prison population was excluded when at school.

Yet too little is known about how to break this cycle. Evidence in education has focused on improving outcomes for the average child, while too little attention and effort has been invested in how to measure or move outcomes for those most in need. Meanwhile, school exclusion is rising, with more vulnerable children excluded, year on year.

The Difference exists to re-write this story. 

Our Solution  

  1. Select excellent leaders for schools serving excluded children – The Difference identifies exceptional teachers and matches them to leadership positions in schools for excluded pupils. In this way, The Difference recruitment process brings the best in teaching to the children who need it most.

  2. Develop expertise in the teaching profession – The Difference provides a specialist training programme for our Difference Leaders alongside their two-year leadership post. Our Difference Leaders gain specialist knowledge of national best practice in working with disengaged and vulnerable children, including in improving literacy rates and positive post-16 destinations, and improved support for mental health, safeguarding and effective multi-agency working.  Difference Leaders are supported in school by our specialist curriculum team, coaching leaders to translate this best practice into strategic school improvement over the two-year placement, and accrediting them with a National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership (NPQSL).  In this way, The Difference training raises the status, and the evidence base, of teaching the most complex learners.

  3. Create a community of leaders to drive change – The Difference’s relationships with mainstream schools, including some of the biggest multi-academy trusts in the country, allow us to broker a new career step for our Difference Leaders at the end of the two-year training programme.  In this way, The Difference will cascade best practice in working preventatively, positioning its alumni to build capacity in mainstream schools to support vulnerable children before they are excluded. 


Innovation built on evidence and partnership

While there has never been a teacher training programme focused on excluded pupils, the Difference Leaders programme builds on the strong track record of existing best practice. 

  • The Difference is partnering with Teach First in design and delivery of its competitive teacher recruitment process. Teach First’s selection process has been shown to have a statistically significant impact on the schools it works with.

  • The Difference learning and leadership curriculum strands take as their starting point effective AP practice, such as that in Tower Hamlets’ pupil referral unit - where twice the national average achieve a pass in maths and English, or Wellspring Academy - where three quarters sustain their post-16 destination, compared to less than half of excluded students nationally.

  • The Difference wellbeing and safeguarding curriculum is developed in partnership with sector leaders such as The Family School (run by the Anna Freud Centre) and Bedfordshire University’s Contextual Safeguarding team (currently advising Ofsted and the Quality Care Commission on school approaches to reducing harmful sexual behaviour).

All we need now is the pioneering practitioners needed to really make The Difference.