Supporting vulnerable pupils


The use of ‘structured conversations’ and associate teachers has transformed outcomes for vulnerable pupils at Lyng Hall School. Nick Bannister explains.

Lyng Hall School is a 700-pupil comprehensive which serves a deprived area of Coventry. A large proportion of its pupils are classified as being disadvantaged and vulnerable – a group often characterised by poor attendance and poor attainment. 

The school joined the Achievement for All schools programme five years ago: “We had done a lot of work before then to improve teaching and learning but we had reached a bit of a plateau, particularly in attendance,” explained headteacher Paul Green, who is now a headteacher ambassador for the charity.

A high proportion of Lyng Hall’s vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils were classified as having SEND – a fact that was of particular concern to Mr Green and his senior leadership team.

“Kids were being labelled as SEND because of low academic levels on intake – then if they did not make any progress it was justified because they were SEND. It was a label rather than a solution. We wanted to radically reform what we were doing with vulnerable kids.”

Joining the programme led to radical changes in the way Lyng Hall supported pupils. The school found a strategy called “structured conversations” to be one of the most effective elements of the programme, according to Mr Green.

These focused, managed conversations are designed to build strong partnerships with parents so that they can more effectively support their children and enhance their chances of success.

The structured conversation approach gave the school a much more detailed picture of the challenges its vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils were facing at home. An associate teacher team was created to work with these families. 

“Parents and carers were telling us that they wanted to help but they had major issues at home. It was difficult for them to focus on their children’s school work when there were major housing, work, debt and health worries,” Mr Green explained.

The associate teachers put these families in touch with professional advice and support. The associate teachers developed such a strong relationship with the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) that they have now become trained CAB advisors and the school is an official CAB outreach centre.

There are now 20 associate teachers – typically young graduates considering a career in teaching or more experienced parents or professionals who want a job that enables them to help people – with their own leadership structure.

Mr Green continued: “The job of the associate teachers is to support families and children so that they can get to lessons. Then the teachers’ role is to deliver outstanding lessons.

“In real terms it’s about linking everything to real data. We will scrutinise the data on pupils to ask whether an intervention makes a difference. If it doesn’t we’ll question why we are doing it and look at different approaches. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the programme has helped us focus on the needs of the family, find a solution to those issues, and link that family in a very positive and structured way to the school, and this has made a big difference.

“The programme completely changed me as a leader,” he added. “Prior to Achievement for All I was trying to focus hard on systems, processes, structures and staff. Now I am a head that focuses on children. That might sound obvious, but this is what our job is really about and it can be easily lost. Now all the time I look at what the impact will be on the children.”

Looking beyond the label and focusing on hard data has reaped major rewards at Lyng Hall. Results have been impressive. Before the programme 24 per cent of students were achieving five A* to C GCSEs – 18 per cent with English and maths passes included. By 2013, 92 per cent were achieving that target – with the figure at 51 per cent including English and maths. 

Mr Green talks about the rapid growth of the school’s 6th form – from 20 before the programme to 160 today – and the 30 pupils who won university places last year. 

The vast majority of these young people were the first in their families to attend university and half of them began their time at Lyng Hall with very low expectations of success. 

He also highlights the story of one pupil who came to the school as a year 7 with a SEND statement. He had speech and language difficulties and was making slow progress. The consensus from the professionals supporting him was that he should go to a special school. “Now he’s a teacher in a school in the West Midlands,” Mr Green said. “He went to university after school and then onto a PGCE and he’s now a PE teacher.

“It’s because we didn’t take our eyes off him and we didn’t pigeonhole him. Why should kids just get the chance at year 6 to show us how good they are? Not all kids can do that. Some take longer. 

“For this pupil that time was at the end of year 8. We kept working with him through years 7 and 8 and then he just blossomed. That focus on the data rather than the label came through the Achievement for All programme.”

  • Nick Bannister is a freelance education writer.

Further information
Achievement for All is an not-for-profit charity. Visit


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