Visit Dyke House Sports and Technology College during lesson time and you are immediately struck by the sound of silence that prevails across the building. You will also struggle to find a single student roaming the corridors. Why? It is in part due to our adoption of the “school within a school” model which means teachers, not students, move from classroom to classroom. We also maintain an unwavering emphasis on high expectations and attainment for all.
Dyke House College is located in one of the most deprived areas of Hartlepool. Despite the challenges this can present, we continue to retain our “outstanding” grading. In 2013, 75 per cent of our students achieved five GCSE grades A* to C, including maths and English. The national average was 60 per cent.
Our journey began four years ago. We had been earmarked for a £12 million building refurbishment. We wanted to take the opportunity to transform the educational experience for our students and staff through the school building.
We looked at a variety of different models employed in successful schools not only across the UK, but also in Denmark, Finland and North America.
It was not until we met with an organisation advocating new approaches to pedagogy, learning and assessment that we knew we had found the right model. This would involve the adoption of a “school within a school” system, inspired by the Swedish model of education, where the emphasis is placed on teaching students in small groups. Over several meetings, we developed our new vision for Dyke House.
Serving the community
When deciding on the most appropriate model for us, the major influence was not just our cohort, but also our local community. The communities surrounding us face challenges including unemployment and poor literacy levels. We therefore knew we needed to introduce a school structure that would ensure students felt supported. The school also had to find a way of allowing staff to develop a more parental-style relationship with students and provide the support that they require to get the most from their education.
It took 18 months of hard work and planning to ensure we had addressed every possible issue that could arise as we embarked on a new chapter for Dyke House. This attention to detail meant that the introduction of the “school within the school” model was relatively straightforward.
The premise is quite simple. Dyke House is broken down into five schools, each with 250 students who remain in their allocated school until year 11.
We have five heads of school, all of whom were recruited internally. Each has a very clear job description – to marry academic attainment to pastoral support. They have a reduced teaching timetable. This ensures that they remain within their school as much as possible to provide support when required.
One decision we made quite early on was to forgo form tutors for specially trained learning guides, who act as mentors to a small group of just 10 students. We then appointed 120 learning guides. Every teacher, every member of our senior leadership team and other members of staff are designated learning guides.
All learning guides meet the students under their care at the start and end of the school day to discuss any issues they are having. It allows our learning guides to get to know every student really well and develop personal relationships. This enables staff to understand the particular needs of each student so that they can be challenged and supported in equal measure. Since every learning guide has just a handful of students under their wing, they have the time to foster good relationships with parents too.
Along with this, we introduced a strict code of conduct for students. Although it is the teachers who move from classroom to classroom, subjects that call for specialist equipment, such as PE or science, do require students to change location. The rules we put in place give students a clear understanding of how they are expected to behave in corridors and at the start of each lesson. This has ensured that students are fully prepared when a member of staff enters a room so that teaching and learning can begin immediately.
Having the right technology in place has been the backbone of the project. Dyke House has a robust IT infrastructure which delivers seamless wireless connectivity, this provides unlimited access to online resources and applications from anywhere within the college. Every teacher has a laptop which can switch between either a Windows or an Apple operating system.
This ensures that when a teacher enters a classroom, no time is wasted at the start of the lesson. And, as wi-fi is available all day, they remain logged in regardless of their location and can begin any whiteboard activity immediately.
We are delighted that our introduction of the model at Dyke House has been broadly welcomed by students, staff and parents. Students took ownership of the new structure right from the very start. Our deliberate effort to ensure that they understood how the new model would work has paid dividends and we involve them in many of the decision-making processes. This has not only had a positive effect on how they view the school, but also ensured that the student voice is heard much louder than ever before.
Parents too have accepted the sweeping changes. I believe that this has contributed to the school being oversubscribed. Last year, 230 new students arrived at Dyke House. In September 2014, our in-take will increase to 252.
Early on, concerns were raised by one or two members of staff about different departments being dispersed across the building and the paradigm shift to teachers, not students, moving from classroom to classroom. Now the changes have bedded in, teachers are very positive about the relationships that they have formed with their students and also the general feel of the school. All our heads of departments have worked hard to regain a collective departmental feel. This has been assisted by the introduction of compulsory departmental training every Monday afternoon.
So what would be my advice for schools thinking of introducing a “school within a school” model?
Timing is everything
First and foremost, set yourself a realistic timescale. It took us 18 months to iron out minor teething problems to ensure the new school model would be rolled out without a hitch. We needed to ensure that everything was in place – from training to IT support.
Training is vital
Ensure you develop a strategically designed training programme that involves every member of staff in the development of new processes. Staff need to feel they have a voice – though ensure that this is allowed to evolve naturally. Training will also ensure that you maintain high standards of teaching and learning across each school and within individual departments.
Quality assurance is a must
As departments will be dispersed across the school site, every head needs to be able to closely monitor individual teachers. We have rigorous quality assurance systems in place. This ensures heads of department are confident about the quality of their teaching staff.
As one of a handful of schools that have embraced the “school within a school” model, we have been heartened by the warm welcome it has received from students, staff and parents. And as our GCSE results and Ofsted grading testify, radical new approaches can have an incredibly positive impact on teaching and learning in a school.
CAPTION: Not changing places: Students in lessons at Dyke House Sports and Technology College
Andrew Jordan is headteacher of Dyke House Sports and Technology College in Hartlepool, which works with ICT service provider Capita Managed IT Solutions.