Case study: Approaches to school improvement

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Raising achievement when the odds seem stacked against you can be a daunting task. Mike Adnitt, vice-principal at St Lawrence Academy, reflects on their strategies over the last five years, including introducing ‘achievement team leaders’ and ‘student progress leaders’

As a school, we face many challenges. Based in Scunthorpe, in one of the UK’s most deprived areas, around 40 per cent of our students speak English as an additional language (EAL) and some come from low income families or homes with second or third generation unemployment.

When students join us, some of them sit well below the expectation of where they should be academically and, until recently, only 14 per cent of students gained at least five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C. 

Despite these challenges, we have managed to drive up standards through the good use of data, which helps support our leadership team by providing the full picture of where pupils sit in terms of performance. The result is that most issues are being overcome and we are now one of the highest achieving schools in terms of value-added.

Driving up standards

The catalyst for change was the school becoming an academy in 2008, which provided the ideal opportunity for a fresh start. Our senior leadership team wanted to focus on ensuring that outstanding results were achievable for every child at our school. 

A key area for our improvement programme was to make better use of our management information system (MIS) at all levels to help track student progress. We wanted school leaders and teachers to have access to the same attainment information about our students. This is key to ensuring that every child progresses as they should and that there are no gaps for anyone to fall through.

Data importance and ownership

By providing shared access to student data, we do not need to tell teachers what support is needed where as they already have the information to hand. It is easy to see how EAL or SEN/additional support students are progressing compared to other students in their year, for example.

Sharing data in this way allows teachers to make informed decisions when putting interventions in place or making changes to their teaching and in doing so, valuable time can be freed up.

One of the critical success factors for the programme was data security. We had to ensure that information was held securely, while enabling staff to access it easily. Using our MIS, we securely shared the data with those who needed it and they could instantly see how their students were performing. 

Once they had an accurate picture of where their students were, the next step was for teachers to set targets for every student in the academy that were personal, challenging and achievable.

Support for teachers and pupils

One innovative idea was to provide support to teachers through a new data ownership model. This led to the creation of a new “achievement team leader” role at the academy, which had the responsibility of driving the progress of students.

We purposely designed the achievement team leader role so that they only deliver teaching for 70 per cent of their time, freeing them up to focus on tracking students’ progress against the academy targets for every child during the remaining 30 per cent of their time. This involves using the assessment data in our MIS. 

We have an achievement team leader for every year group and it is their responsibility to support teachers with any data queries. This additional and very focused support really helps teachers to push student progress forward and deliver higher attainment across all subjects.

Achievement team leaders can suggest interventions for students, recommend set changes to subject leaders, and monitor to see whether a particular intervention is working well or whether something needs to change. 

The role of the achievement team leader frees up teachers to do what they do best – teach. In my view, this has been critical in managing data ownership more effectively throughout our school.

Impact on achievement

With the new achievement team leaders in place, we can see quickly and easily whether a student is underachieving or struggling in a particular subject or lesson and, if needed, they can be moved to a more suitable ability group. The student progress data also forms the basis for measuring the high-quality teaching and learning that has been developed in recent years at our academy.

The achievement team leader role has been very well received by staff as they appreciate that someone is helping them to understand what the data is telling them.

From the students’ perspective, it means they receive the support they need to help them make the best possible progress. It is really important that the children feel challenged and that they are also rewarded for their success when their targets are met.

Another position which we have created is the “student progress leader”. This provides a first point of contact for supporting students in a year group. 

Student progress leaders support student with behaviour, emotional or social difficulties. They also analyse behaviour and progress data to help identify and remove any barriers to learning.

These staff also meet with parents and students to plan intervention timetables and sometimes to simply provide a supportive presence in classrooms, corridors and around the school grounds, which all has a positive impact on behaviour. 

Delivering achievement for all

Although the challenges that our students face remain unchanged, just five years on, our results are unrecognisable. Students with less than 25 per cent chance of achieving five A* to C grades with English and maths (according to Fischer Family Trust predictions) are now reaching this benchmark, so it is a great result.

Furthermore, 100 per cent of our GCSE students achieved five or more A* to C grade GCSEs in 2013 and we were placed in the top three per cent of schools nationally for key stage 2 to 4 value-added in 2012 and 2013.

We have worked to support our leaders by effectively targeting and supporting each student as an individual. Our focus is on delivering the most innovative and effective strategies to raise students’ aspirations, whatever their circumstances. 

Although making good use of data might at first seem a daunting task, we have proven that when used well and when given the right priority, it can really support school leaders and teachers in driving higher achievement, even when the odds suggest otherwise.

  • Mike Adnitt is vice-principal at St Lawrence Academy in Scunthorpe, which uses the SIMS management information system

CAPTION: On the up: Students at St Lawrence Academy, which has achieved a notable turnaround in outcomes (Photos: St Lawrence Academy)


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