Woodside High School is at an exciting stage of its development – over the last four years the school has shown one of the greatest sustained improvements in GCSE A* to C pass rates in the country. As such, finding new ways to continue to push and develop our students is far from simple – it must take into account the diversity of individual students as well as the developmental needs of staff.
The students’ ability to meet the national attainment targets often depends on them making above the national expected progress. Many of our students arrive in year 7 below national average and some are still developing their grasp of the English language.
As well as dealing with their needs, the English department must also cater for those students who, by the end of key stage 3, are already achieving at least a Level 7. For the current year 10 cohort, these are the students we will focus on as we try to achieve our highest ever number of A*s and As in our 2015 results.
In order to continue to increase the number of students who leave Woodside High having reached their full potential, the department has been implementing a four-pronged approach to intervention. At its core is putting an emphasis on high-quality teaching and learning. The delivery of this year 10 programme can be split into three areas: homework, feedback and mentoring.
Homework – a banned word?
Students have been consistently set homework by their English teachers, however, as part of developing their independent and personalised learning, the English department set about reviewing the way in which key stage 4 students access “homework”.
As part of my research on the topic, I found that the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Pupil Premium Toolkit suggested that “planned and focused activities are best and can lead to increased progress”.
Taking its guidance that “pupils should receive feedback on homework which is specific and timely to ensure positive outcomes”, we set about implementing weekly revision work that could be marked within a two-day window (without burning out staff with unbelievable loads of marking!).
Currently, teachers are trialling a range of methods of both setting and marking homework – from making use of the online education service from SAM Learning to emailing past papers to students to complete and then mark with their homework buddy who is their assigned “examiner”.
Each week students are set a task to complete with more in-depth questions, which are then marked by their teacher (acting as a “chief examiner”) after their peers have taken a first look as a “junior examiner”.
Putting more of an emphasis on students being leaders of their own revision and moving away from calling their out-of-lesson tasks “homework” has led to an increased uptake in these tasks.
According to feedback from our year 10s they are finding their homework more useful this year as they are able to access a variety of tasks and are given more choice in how they submit and complete their extra learning.
Feedback and mentoring
Throughout the year at Woodside we as teachers spend six weeks completing termly teaching and learning reviews, involving book scrutiny and lesson observation. Every term a teacher is given guidance, a balance between support and challenge, and is encouraged to tap into the various CPD opportunities to continue developing their practice.
In the same vein, our English department ensures that students have regular opportunities to showcase their skills and gain valuable feedback. The focus has always been on providing specific guidance on how to improve, and not just telling students when they are wrong!
Studying Professor Carol Dweck’s work on “mindset” has helped us to improve the way students felt about the GCSE course, stressing the need to view English language and literature for what it is: a two-year course. Convincing previously high-achieving students that they didn’t need to worry that they were not yet achieving their end of year 11 target in September proved more difficult than at first expected!
In order to ensure that our “high fliers” do not lose momentum or begin to feel disillusioned, we have implemented half-termly learning conversations that take place between teachers and students. During these conversations, students complete “Progress Trackers” and are able to articulate steps for their improvement. Being given this time has allowed students to fully reflect on their learning journey.
Furthermore, we have scheduled time for our A and A* target students to have a meeting with their teacher to discuss ideas on a one-to-one basis. We have then encouraged students to continue such conversations with their peers. As such, students are buddied up with a student matching their end of key stage target and weekly discussion and examination questions are made available to them to complete together.
Giving students the chance to have regular feedback has really helped to keep them on track and focused.
Following feedback from students, we have set up a space for our year 10s to complete revision exercises together during their lunch times. We hope to continue this and encourage more students to use the library after school as a study hub.
Top tips for middle leaders
Set pupils specific homework that can be marked within two days.
Encourage pupils to take an active role in marking the homework of their peers.
Focus all your feedback on key improvement areas.
Find creative ways to continue the momentum of high-achievers.
Buddy up students with others who have similar end of key stage targets.
Create regular opportunities where students can study together outside of lesson time.
Many students at Woodside make great leaps within key stage 4, some due to their eventual acquisition of the English language, others also benefiting from sustained academic and pastoral intervention.
As a school, the expectation is for aspirational targets to be set and exceeded. The English department is hoping that some students will leave us at the end of year 11 having made 4 and 5 Levels of progress. Our aim for 2015 is that the number of students going off to top colleges with two A/A* grades in English language and literature is the highest yet.
Teaching LeadersTeaching Leaders is an education charity whose mission is to address educational disadvantage by developing middle leaders working in schools in the most challenging contexts. The charity is currently recruiting its next cohort of middle leaders. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk Further informationThe EEF Pupil Premium Toolkit analyses the impact of a range of approaches on pupils’ learning and progress: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/
Amy Benziane is teaching and learning co-ordinator in English at Woodside High School in north London.