Interventions – or interruptions?

When did ‘interventions’ become part of the primary school curriculum?

Working with a year 6 class recently, I had a chat with 10 year old Ryan who told me about his day in school; his timetable consisted of a diet of English and maths in the morning and ‘interventions’ in the afternoon.

According to Ryan he has interventions most days, sometimes after school and even sometimes on a Saturday morning. Apparently this is a chance for him to ‘review his prior learning’ and ‘uplevel his work’ (his words not mine). I wondered whether Ryan enjoyed being ‘uplevelled?’ (I asked him – apparently not!)

I have worked in primary schools for many years (even before the advent of the National Curriculum – yes, really!) and never taught, or even knew about, this subject called ‘interventions.’ Intrigued, I wanted to know more.

Asking around I discovered ‘interventions’ take place outside of normal lessons, are timetabled and aimed at targeted children in order to ‘close the gap’ (which apparently is now ‘diminishing the difference.’)

According to Ryan it means practicing SATS papers.

This conversation more than worried me, if I was Ryan, would I want to spend my morning learning about modal verbs, relative pronouns or even the use of the subjunctive form? How would I feel about spending the afternoon in a small room ‘practicing’ tests? Even worse, how would that make me feel about myself?

As a teacher, my job was about moving every child forward in their learning, I knew every child, what they could do and couldn’t do, when they were bored because the learning experiences weren’t sufficiently challenging or worried because they didn’t know what to do.

Observations and questioning helped to work this out, helped by Mrs V. Valuable, teaching assistant, who often spotted problems before I did. If a child was stuck we responded straight away, a quick conversation, or an extra five minutes at playtime or lunchtime normally sorted the problem, if not, I’d think carefully about planning future learning experiences to put things right. We’d never heard of ‘interventions.’


When did things change?

It seems that the change started in 2012 with the document ‘Literacy and numeracy catch up strategies.’ This DoE paper looked at ‘catch-up strategies and interventions specifically aimed at pupils who are behind in literacy and numeracy.’ It identified ‘monitoring of pupils’ progress; tailoring teaching to the appropriate needs of individual pupils; coaching teachers/teaching assistants in specific teaching strategies such as cooperative learning; cognitive approaches, based on mental processes; one-to-one tuition; peer-to-peer support; aspects of the home-school relationship; and study support’ as effective strategies.

All these are highly effective and useful approaches that are still used in many classrooms, but have we taken them too far and lost sight of the rationale behind them? Do we spend more time intervening than teaching?

I suspect there are many Ryans in our schools, who spend day after day sitting at a desk working out the best way to ‘uplevel’ their work by inserting a modal verb; using the subjunctive form or by practicing another SATS paper.

Is this what teaching has turned into?

Maybe we should have a rethink and take ‘interventions’ off the timetable and, instead, focus on our teaching and, more importantly, children’s learning.


P.S. Intervention comes from the Latin intervenire, meaning “to come between, interrupt.”


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