No-one wants to see young talent wasted “on an industrial scale”, as Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, recently put it. He was talking about the poor progress made by the brightest disadvantaged children once they leave primary school.
His comments hit home because parts of Hounslow, where our academy is situated, sit in the most deprived areas in England. Indeed, 91 per cent of pupils come from ethnic minority groups, with
61 per cent speaking English as an additional language (EAL). Many of our students are from homes with unemployed parents or low income and we also have some students with disruptive and challenging behaviour.
Many students join us with prior attainment sitting just at the national average. Over the past few years we have worked hard to support these pupils to overcome any barriers that they have faced.
Back in 2010, 63 per cent of our year 11 students left school with five or more A* to C grade GCSEs including English and maths. This summer it was almost 10 per cent above the national average. Here are some of the key strategies that have worked for us.
Empower senior and middle leaders
One of the catalysts to change was our decision to become an academy in September 2010. We were one of the first 30 converter academies and were only able to do this due to our outstanding designation. There is nothing like being in charge of your own destiny to reinvigorate an already dedicated team. We saw this new phase as the opportunity to empower our leaders too.
More financial freedom has given us more control over staffing, the curriculum and facilities and with these new responsibilities we started moving forward quickly from this point.
Put someone in charge of interventions
Focusing on quality interventions can also have a significant impact on raising achievement. We have found that the most effective way to do this is to have someone “own” the whole process.
We have appointed a raising achievement leader who leads on finding out which pupils need additional support. The leader then works with subject leaders and post holders to decide what type of interventions need to be put in place and then makes sure they happen.
This frees up our heads of year so they can work with the raising achievement leader to focus on tracking the progress of the students in the groups to see whether the interventions are working or not. If not, they can make changes to improve them.
Good information, good decisions
Give your teachers all the information they need to make good decisions. Every member of teaching staff in our school knows their pupils inside and out because of the way we use pupil data.
Should a student show signs of falling behind, or failing to achieve their potential, it is highlighted immediately in our management information system (MIS).
We use a traffic light colour-coding system to spot things at a glance. For example, if we see a student in English show up in red – i.e. they have started to fall below expected levels for them – we would act immediately as English is particularly important because of our high level of EAL students.
We also section up our data by groups, so we can measure the progress of Pupil Premium pupils, SEN or the most able and compare this against other students. This allows us to confirm that all groups are moving forward when compared with other students.
Teachers have access to baseline information, detailed notes on student ability as well as target grades. Providing this information in one place, directly to teachers, really helps them to make sure that they take everyone’s abilities into account when they teach. Personalisation of learning happens as a natural partner to this.
Focus on attendance
The link between attendance and achievement has been well established so I do not want to labour the point.
However, the more you can get parents involved in addressing this issue the better. Lesson-by-lesson registration is essential and instant texting or emails to parents when a child misses a lesson, or is persistently late generally, has the desired effect.
This approach has helped us further improve attendance, which was already high but is now significantly above the national average. We now sit in the top 25 per cent of schools for attendance nationally with 96.6 per cent and only have 1.6 per cent persistent absenteeism, which we are still working to improve.
Improve communication between staff
Working effectively as a joined up team means we can ensure every child achieves, no matter their starting point. We work hard to create a shared responsibility for progress, but this only comes from having good communication about the students we teach.
Improving communications has helped in many areas – behaviour being one of them. In the past we had a paper trail which followed an incident of poor conduct. This old system relied on pieces of paper winging their way from teacher to administration staff to be typed up.
Merits for good behaviour were recorded in a diary, which meant that they didn’t make it onto the system at all. We were not sharing our data as effectively as we could, so a concerted effort to nip poor behaviour in the bud was more difficult to achieve.
We have switched to an electronic system so we can share information among staff instantly. If a student is disruptive in a maths lesson, this is instantly recorded by their teacher in the MIS and seen by other teachers who will have the pupil that day.
It means the next teacher can ward off further misbehaviour by engaging the pupil with a task right from the start of the lesson, for example. It also means that if they have been awarded merits for something particularly special, we can all congratulate them. The good feelings generated from this tend to push children in the direction of further good behaviour.
With accurate rewards records we can now also communicate the good news by sending positive behaviour letters to parents, which are always very much appreciated.
By centralising essential information on attendance, achievement and behaviour as described, every teacher can see which areas they need to concentrate on for individual students and we can work as a team to achieve it.
We now have a much better overall picture of how students are progressing and we combine this with strong leadership and great personalised teaching. Our GCSE and A level results have, over time, shown an upward trend. As a result, the future for our students is looking brighter than ever.
Photo: Lampton School
Alex Leggett is assistant headteacher at Lampton School in Hounslow, which uses SIMS Management Information Systems from Capita.