Competitive Advantage Strategy

Stretch and Challenge

Learners with prior knowledge assimilate new information and develop new skills quicker than those who are new to a subject. Too often, however, so called ‘advanced’ learners have acquired their prior learning not because of natural ability, curiosity or even informed parents, but because they were lucky – lucky to have previously been taught by a great teacher. And as Malcolm Gladwell reports in his book ‘Outliers’, once learners move ahead of their peer group, there’s an inertial that not only helps them stay there, but actively increased the gap. The Competitive Advantage Strategy (CAS) has been designed to take luck out of the equation and give all learners the opportunity to experience the joy of coming to a new subject with a fertile grounding on which to build; to become an advanced learner themselves. For the CAS approach to work effectively, teachers make two small, but significant investments in their pedagogy.

Step 1: Culture

High-performing learners are easier to work with and less costly in terms of inter-lesson preventable contact with their teachers: catch-up sessions, assistance with time-management, disciplinary tutorials, etc. In step 1, then, teachers help learners believe that the more able learners in any group find new subjects easy because they have a firm understanding of the syllabus studied to date, and at least a general understanding of the syllabus content they’re about to cover. Helping learners understand that this is often due to luck-of-the-draw with previous teachers rather than any fundamental lacking in their own abilities can allow them to believe they too can become ‘advanced’ learners if they’re prepared to invest in the CAS approach.

Step 2: Virtual Learning Environment

Step 2 is to assemble appropriate resources to:

  • capture learners’ imagination
  • provide a clear explanation of the theory/subject
  • enable the learner to self diagnose any gaps in knowledge or understanding
  • provide real-life case studies and/or resources showing the relevance of the subject.

For example, consider an AS-level maths programme in which ‘probability’ will be studied following the half-term break. The teacher creates and publicises a new folder on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) entitled: Competitive Advantage – Probability. To capture learners’ imagination, the teacher may include:

  • a video of a similarly-aged learner explaining the subject
  • a current, relevant news article
  • a gallery of appropriate images, and/or
  • a curiosity piece.

To provide a clear explanation of the subject, the teacher may create an original document, or post a link to an appropriate web page. To enable learners to self diagnose any gaps in their knowledge or understanding, the teacher may create an on-line test within the VLE, or post a link to a web page with appropriate pre-produced tests, such as BBC Bitesize. The final resource element should not be underestimated. Teachers should be reminded of the obvious – that learners invest more in subjects they love. So, what real-life case studies, documentaries, radio programmes, or resources of any nature can be found to show the relevance of the subject? As can be seen from these illustrations, the time commitment to set up the CAS approach can be very small. It may well be possible to source all resources from the internet, with the teacher’s role being to filter, test and provide access within a conducive environment.


The CAS strategy also helps teachers meet the need for Polyphonic Differentiation in their learning environments. Educational differentiation is defined as:

  • the strategy to enable individual learning journeys within a group setting.

Within that context, Polyphonic Differentiation is where the teacher choreographs:

  • the achieving of multiple outcomes, or outcomes at multiple levels.

In the following illustration (1), S1s are the more advanced learners, the dotted line is the syllabus position at any given time, and the red arrows represent the strategies for creating individual learning journeys within a group setting.

Independent Learning

Teachers successful in using the CAS approach also work effectively towards meeting one of the key aspects of Ofsted’s 2012 Common Inspection Framework: the development of independent learning skills.

How you can contribute to this work

If you would like to join a National Research Project on this subject and benefit from the experience of others, please contact Tony Davis here.

Alternatively, in the comments box below, add the following:

  • Course title: [e.g. AS Maths]
  • Unit: [e.g. Statistics/probability]
  • Level and year: [if not clear from above]

List the resources you have assembled to make the strategy work:

  • to capture learners’ imagination [Description and/or link to web page]
  • to explain the subject [Description and/or link to web page]
  • to self diagnose any learning gaps [Description and/or link to web page]
  • to show relevance and brew interest [Description and/or link to web page]


1 Davis, T (2011) “Yes, we’re all individuals” Brian, 1979. Available at:


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