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  • Writer's pictureJenny Tebbutt

Have you ever wondered why some children persistently underachieve despite attempts at intervention?




In any given classroom we always have a few learners who learn easily. All they seem to require is some learning resources and some opportunities. These children are often known as Gifted and Talented learners. I call them First wave learners. They catch the first wave.


Most of our learners are mainstream or second wave learners. They may be your good B students, achieving a bit above chronological age. They may be those achieving at age. They may even be those achieving below their age by six months to two years. We do a lot of great things in education and with all our good intervention programmes and our specialist and support teachers like Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour, Resource Teachers of Literacy, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators and more recently Learning Support Co-ordinators it is not too difficult to bring our underachievers at this level up to age or close to it.


Our fourth wave learners come under the umbrella of Special Education they are often our ORS funded students or children with major sensory difficulties, physical difficulties, and intellectual difficulties. Students with severe behaviour need also sit with this group.

Generally accepted this group makes up no more than 3% of the population. Whilst there are always children who miss out on this funding, we put a lot of funding and resources into this area and often good outcomes are achieved.


The group that is missing in the middle are our third wave learners. Students with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, the Autistic Spectrum, ADHD, and auditory and visual processing disorders. Statistically, it is easy to confirm that at least 22% of learners fit these groups. This group despite intervention with good remediation programmes and specialists fail to thrive in our education system. This group plays a large part in the tail of underachievement in our bell curve. They have commonly been part of several interventions yet still have significant underachievement.


We are trained that if a child has a reading writing, spelling, or maths difficulty we give them some sort of reading writing, spelling, or maths intervention. It might be with a different person/specialist, but it focuses on the academic area. We now know our third wave learners have underpinning cognitive weaknesses that prevent them from being able to access the curriculum. We can give them reading, writing, spelling and maths every day but they won’t make optimal achievement gains until we address their underpinning weaknesses.


To find out more about underpinning weaknesses and why students don’t make gains join a free whole school workshop or join our website blog:

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