In September 2011, as part of my first year residential training on the Future Leaders programme, I took the post of assistant headteacher at St John Fisher Catholic High School in West Yorkshire.
My main focus was to identify track and monitor students’ attainment in English and maths at both key stage 3 and key stage 4 ( particularly years 8 and 11). The goal was to increase the number of students achieving in both subjects.
My work at St John Fisher had a great impact on the students and the school. In 2011, the school saw its highest GCSE pass rate to date, at 62 per cent five A* to C including English and maths. This stood at 50 per cent in 2010.
My project focused on students making progress in both English and maths. The first task was to understand the processes that were already in place and develop these where necessary. My initial step was to establish a process to identify, track and monitor students who were underachieving in maths and English throughout the key stages.
SIMS was already in use, so I introduced an additional intervention column which was coded for staff to enter the effective intervention that they were implementing with students in their classes who were underachieving. This was scheduled three times a year (autumn, spring and summer).
SIMS automatically RAGs (colours red, amber or green) the student data according to the information that the teacher has entered. Red students (two or more sub-levels below target) received a specific intervention from the options listed. This ensured that middle leaders became accountable for student progress and this became a basis for discussion at line management meetings.
To raise awareness of the key students – the ones that we needed to win – we adopted a “war chart”, which is quite popular in many schools, although the system varies considerably.
Students’ names were RAG colour-coded according to how well they were progressing in English and maths. The key students – around 80 – were placed on this chart. Each week, staff would write a quick comment about how these key students were progressing. A small group of students were selected from this group and they then received additional support for maths, as their tutor was a maths teacher.
Along with this, each student in the group was mentored by a member of the senior leadership team to ensure that they were making progress as needed.
In addition, the school investigated data analysis packages and invested in EVA (a school visual data analysis package).
Data collection was changed to include a current attainment level in addition to a forecast level. At key stage 3 this was collected three times per year and five times at key stage 4.
To achieve this, it was essential to unpack issues in the data collection system in terms of communication of the terminology used. It became apparent that throughout the school there was a difference in interpretation of data and the language used. The lesson? Communicate, communicate and over-communicate!
It was also necessary to unpack inconsistencies with target-setting at key stage 3, moving to aspirational targets of progress – three levels by the end of key stage 3, four levels by the end of key stage 4.
For the school to have achieved so highly in 2011, is fantastic. Ofsted paid a visit in the autumn term and the school moved from “satisfactory” to “good”. More importantly, more students achieved a great set of results that will see them move on to further study, some into 6th form at John Fisher’s and others to college.
The Ofsted inspection report said: “Formal arrangements for setting annual targets for teachers and regular reviews at faculty level contribute to better teaching. Staff benefit from additional training to enhance their teaching or managerial skills.
For example, the positive impact of a recent whole-school initiative that focused on teachers using a range of assessment methods to promote students’ learning was clear in the lessons observed during the inspection.”
For me, 63 per cent of students leaving key stage 4 with five GCSEs at grade C and above, including English and maths is brilliant to see, but 37 per cent of students are still left without this, so there is work to be done yet.
Reflecting on my experience my advice would be that you can never over-communicate your message to ensure clarity. You should also keep your work high-profile and visible for both staff and students. If you show how important you believe your cause to be, others will believe this too.
Remember, school data may not be as it first appears – really get to know the background behind the data. We all know what assuming does to you and me!
Since my residency year at St John Fisher, I have been at Samuel Lister Academy as assistant principal, expanding my skillset through focusing on very different areas, which include developing a house vertical tutoring system and the year 7 curriculum.
Further informationApplications are currently open for Future Leaders Cohort 2013. They are looking for current and former teachers who have the talent and commitment to become heads of challenging schools within two years (primary) and four years (secondary). Successful applicants on this fully-funded programme will be trained in the key aspects of school leadership. Applications close on Tuesday (March 19). Visit www.future-leaders.org.uk
Katharine Hall is a senior leader on the Future Leaders programme, which prepares talented teachers for headship in challenging schools. She is currently assistant principal Samuel Lister Academy in West Yorkshire.