Raising aspirations: The PACE programme

Written by: Paula Arrowsmith | Published:
PACE setters: The PACE bronze, silver and gold awards used at Shelfield

The PACE programme is the culmination of one school’s work to boost curriculum enrichment, teach character and skills, raise aspirations, and broaden horizons. Paula Arrowsmith explains how it works

In September 2013, I was appointed to my first headship role at Shelfield Community Academy. Barely four months later, the academy was placed in special measures.

Our academy values, created early into my appointment and developed with students and staff, have never been more apt. They are: aspiration, responsibility, positivity, and achievement.

Special measures required all of us to have high aspirations and expectations, of ourselves and our students; it required all staff to take responsibility for the situation we found ourselves in, without attributing blame. It required a team spirit, for problems to be treated as challenges and an unrelenting focus on raising and praising student achievements.

By May 2015, just 16 months laster, the academy had been judged as “good” in all areas.

Qualities and Qualifications

We knew that as a priority we needed to focus on improved outcomes for young people and ensure that we could raise achievement. The strategy required students to be at the centre. Students can be told they need to achieve a certain set of grades but that will not necessarily make them want to achieve them. Intervention alone will not create an achievement culture; students themselves need to be the change.

It was our belief that investing in character education and in enrichment opportunities for young people would make the difference – that one experience might give a child the goal, the dream, the aspiration to make them really want to aim for improved qualifications. This was about a long-term cultural shift to lead to improvements.


Our first priority was key changes to systems and structures. This included a renewed focus on our values of aspiration and achievement and the introduction of some new leadership roles to make change happen. We began by making school targets more challenging, ensuring that students and staff were aiming higher in terms of achievement.

Several leaders at local schools and other schools within the Ormiston Academies Trust were keen to support us and staff visited high-achieving schools at both secondary and primary level, which helped give a renewed focus in terms of what was possible and what could be achieved.

In order to lead some of the changes ahead we created some new key posts within the school all focusing on raising aspirations:

  • A new assistant principal post focusing on student leadership, raising aspirations and developing a praise culture.
  • Specific teaching leadership posts for more able, gifted and talented; student leadership and student voice; curriculum enrichment and broadening horizons.
  • Non-teaching posts of “aspirations leader” and “community engagement coordinator”.

These posts were key to our aim to raise students’ aspirations and to further our collective vision that in order to raise achievement we needed to focus on developing students’ qualities, not just qualifications.

Year 7 students on the Young Enterprise ‘Our World’ scheme, run as part of Shelfield's PACE programme


A significant focus has been on ensuring the curriculum also allows for the development of qualities and not just qualifications in our young people.

In order to develop our values and particularly those of aspiration and achievement, we have developed a curriculum which offers a wider range of enrichment opportunities for all young people, broadening their horizons and motivating them to achieve.

Our partnership with the social enterprise group Human Utopia, where students focus on developing self-esteem and become leaders themselves, is helping students to realise that they can “be the change” at the school and are key to our journey of improvement.

The vision for our enrichment programme was to allow students to develop character traits and skills through a range of experiences provided outside of traditional lessons.

These experiences would be provided by off-timetable Curriculum Enrichment Days as well as external visits and extra-curricular enrichment classes. Staff and students helped to identify key character traits that should be developed through the programme and these were linked to the four values of the academy.

  • Aspiration: determination, motivation, drive, ambition, goal-setting.
  • Positivity: confidence, optimism, team-work, resilience, open-mindedness.
  • Responsibility: courage, compassion, community spirit, tolerance, respect.
  • Achievement: creativity, focus, perseverance, conscientiousness, curiosity.

Curriculum enrichment leader and PSHE coordinator Carmel Tatlock had the task of working with staff to develop an enrichment curriculum, an entitlement offer that students in our school would experience over their five or seven years with us.

The first step was for Carmel to meet with curriculum leaders and map out the provision across the academy. This also led to some interesting discussions regarding what additional provision departments could offer – which this academic year has been further developed with an appraisal target for all staff focusing on enrichment.

The PACE programme

Carmel and her team came up with the fabulous idea of calling our programme the PACE programme. The enrichment curriculum would be linked to four areas, each of which would help to develop the character traits agreed upon.

PACE stands for Performer, Audience, Creator and Entrepreneur.

Within each of the four areas students have up to 15 activities to participate in and skills to enhance. They record their achievements in their PACE booklets and can achieve bronze, silver or gold badges and awards for their achievements.

The PACE programme invites students to: Perform something new as a Performer; View something new as an Audience member; Create something new as a Creator; and Do something new as an Entrepreneur.

Some of the entitlements include planning a charity event, composing a musical piece, viewing a performance in a theatre, and a sports event at a stadium, visiting a place of worship, a museum, and a gallery, taking part in a music or sporting event and drama performance.

Our first Curriculum Enrichment Day was a great success and following this students have chosen to focus on participating in extra-curricular enrichment activities in areas of their choice.
As a result, our first PACE Awards ceremony was held recently with a number of bronze and silver award winners, motivated and engaged in new activities thanks to the PACE programme.

A Fitness Through Dance session


The key factor to the school’s successful transformation has been our ability to create a positive culture. Staff and student welfare has been a priority.

We have never forgotten to celebrate success – whether that be student successes in special assemblies or rewards and recognition events, or applauding staff success in our weekly Feel Good Friday briefings, where the staff leave the school theatre having seen some great examples of good practice, shared some positive news about the talented young people they work with, or have simply shared laughter – which is very often the best tonic there is.

This focus on valuing qualities, as well as qualifications; on valuing people as the key to improvement, has been what has made the difference for Shelfield.

  • Paula Arrowsmith is principal of Ormiston Shelfield Community Academy in Walsall.


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