Get the boys back into lessons regularly, ensure that they feel empowered to be there and to succeed, writes Helen Palmer, Interim Associate Vice Principal in charge of teaching and learning at Stockwood Park Academy…
The project brief came directly from our RAISEonline 2016 report, which showed very clearly that although we had a number of ethnic groups and a high proportion of students for whom English was not their first language, our white working class boys were making the least progress.
Not the problem: some statistics from Stockwell Park Academy
Pupils known to be eligible for FSM: 44.1% (80th percentile)
Pupils from minority ethnic groups: 78.4% (100th percentile)
Pupils’ first language not believed to be English: 48.5% (100th percentile)
School deprivation indicator: 0.29 (100th percentile)
Sources of the problem
We identified three key factors:
- High absence rates: missing one lesson makes boys feel out of their depth and potentially disengaged for the remainder of a unit, which can lead to further absence.
- The learning process is passive: boys feel overwhelmed by the content in lessons, and feel it is ‘done to’ them, rather than being an autonomous part of the process of learning.
- Weak literacy: the readability requirement of examination material is higher than it ever has been; boys who don’t engage with ‘reading for pleasure’ will not develop the language required to read exam questions and sources.
Having noted the correlation with the students’ attendance, I really wanted to get them into lessons more regularly. And, most important, to find out what would raise their aspirations to enable them to believe that they could achieve once they were in lessons.
The first cohort comprised year 9 boys with: attendance less than 95%, PP indicators, low reading age (on average two years below national reading age), and poor rolling average P8 scores.
The project has three strands:
Addressing students’ lack of knowledge from missed lessons, as well as getting them into lessons. The ‘recovery room’ (a designated space in the classroom) is a place where students who have missed a lesson will go and complete a starter that will summarise the learning that the class completed the lesson before.
Students as teachers: teachers have been working 1-1 with students and planning a small part of the lesson with them, to enable the student to lead a 10-minute section. This empowers the student, as they have all of the resources for the lesson before the lesson takes place. And it improves their attendance, as they don’t want to let their teacher down. I have been able to get some funding to provide students with a breakfast/lunch or tea when teachers plan with the students.
The Accelerated Reader Million Word club, which the boys in the focus group join as a team. This is helping them to improve their literacy, which will empower them further. Again, if they can achieve this goal there is finance for them to receive a substantial reward as a team.
Inspiring the school community with this vision
It was really important for me to ensure that there was autonomy between the teachers involved and the students themselves. In developing the recovery room I did not ‘train’ staff: we developed the strategy together – and I really listened and worked on what the staff were telling me was working and not working.
Once we feel it is fully embedded, each member of staff (six in total) will identify another member of staff to work with. Eventually the recovery room will become common practice for all students in all classrooms, not just our boys.
The Million Club is not exclusively linked to the English department. We set out to find the right people to support cohort 1 through their reading journey – encouraging students to read whatever they can! For the million word challenge, I have used sixth formers as readers, incorporating another leader’s Lead Practitioner (LP) project.
I have met a local councillor who is interested in boys’ achievement throughout the town, and he has facilitated financial support.
This is still a work in progress, and it will be some months before we can evaluate this project’s success. However, I already know that if starting afresh now, I would widen the group of students in the first instance for greater impact, with a number of different challenge groups.
Relevance of Lead Practitioner Accreditation
As there are a number of LPs in the academy and across the MAT, it is great to have ‘experts’ in particular fields. We ensured that there was no crossover in projects; rather, they are complementary, typically addressing improvement plans. It is great giving our LPs autonomy and responsibility for coaching and supporting colleagues across the MAT.
I would absolutely recommend the Lead Practitioner programme to others, as I really believe that the focus on research, pedagogy and impact is vitally important, and is very well supported by the SSAT, without being onerous.
Among other things, this project has allowed me to really shift my focus onto learning and what has an impact on student learning.
And to someone considering embarking on the LP journey, I’d say: do it! Even on those dark nights in November, when the marking is piled high, you won’t regret it. The LP accreditation programme is the single most important piece of CPD for a leader or aspiring leader in education today.
Stockwood Park Academy participates in the SSAT network – find out more about getting involved.