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From good to outstanding in English

Liz Harley-Easthope, director of English at Cheslyn Hay Sport and Community High School, Staffordshire, talks about her presentation at the forthcoming Achievement Show.

Cheslyn Hay’s English results have been well above national averages for the last three years, at both A-level and GCSE. The crucial A*-C GCSE score has improved from 50% to 80% in recent years. Liz Harley-Easthope attributes their success ‘totally’ to leadership and management: ‘there are 12 of us teaching in the department and we are all English specialist teachers – that’s crucial. Our focus is on the team as a whole: I wouldn’t expect any of them to do anything I’m not prepared to do myself.’ This has led to a great deal of loyalty to the department, she maintains. ‘We share an office, keep together as a group. A lot of ideas and resources are shared, all the time.’

Fluid management

The management structure is ‘very fluid’ – for example, her deputy readily takes management decisions if she is not around, and all members of the team are prepared to do anything that needs doing for the department, regardless of their job descriptions. For example, relatively inexperienced colleagues will be adapting aspects of assessment at KS3 for next year, though it is not in their job descriptions.

The department has two student teachers at any one time, and most of them end up being employed within the department – ‘they’re moulded in our image!’

The fluidity in relationships extends to the students in some cases. In A-level classes, students typically work around one large table, with their teacher in the middle. ‘It creates unity between the group and the teacher,’ Liz explains. ‘That raises the game.’

House style

The department has deliberately chosen a style of writing that it expects all teachers to develop in their students. ‘We’re quite old-fashioned in a way,’ concedes Liz, ‘- but the children profit.’ The approved writing style is described as academic, literary and sophisticated. It is part of a strategy of applying the skills being developed at A-level to students in KS4 and even KS3 (KS3 students do a lot of extended writing). ‘We have big focus on the form, structure, and context of writing,’ she says. ‘This is steering the way writing is presented. And it happens to fit with the way GCSE English exams will be going next year – yet we’ve always been teaching that way.’

By the same token, the literature chosen for AS-level studies is Victorian – because of the rigour and the level and demands of the text. This is an excellent preparation for A2, she points out. (They have a big takeup at A-level English, with three groups of 20+ in this 1340 student, 11-18 school currently studying for AS and two of c16 for A2.)

Redefining setting

Cheslyn Hay uses its own assessments to place students in the most appropriate sets, but also feels free to move students from one set to another as their performance indicates. This is made easier because the core English programme is the same for all. The English department has 10 sets in each year group, and the principle is ‘think up! We have very high expectations even for the lower sets.’

While the exam results attest to the success of this English department’s approach, one particular example does so very clearly. Todd was in the fourth set (out of five) in year 9, until his English teacher spotted his potential. In this case, she did not promote him to a higher set, but pushed… He achieved an A* at A-level and is now studying English at university.

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