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How English can improve communication skills across the school

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Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to

This is the fourth of our Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to series. During the series, you will hear from practitioners and leaders who are presenting at this year’s Achievement Show – giving you a preview of what to expect from their presentations.

This taster focuses on President Kennedy School, Coventry and how they have used English to improve students’ communication skills across the school.

Zone: Inspiring Schools
Presentation: It’s about learning
School: President Kennedy School
Presenters: Peter Thomas, Headteacher and Natalie Rock, Strategic Lead for English

President Kennedy School, Coventry, has used English to improve students’ communication skills across the school – and with it, thinking skills to ensure they are engaged in the learning of every subject. In this Achievement Show presentation, head Peter Thomas and strategic lead for English Natalie Rock will explain how they did it, give access to the resources used, and demonstrate the impressive results when English is used across the curriculum in this way.

A key element of the school’s approach to oracy and literacy is exploratory talk. Teachers use the ABC – add, build, challenge – approach in lessons to help develop not only students’ speaking and writing but their thinking skills. For example, students learn how to express disagreement in a constructive way, such as ‘I think that’s a fair point, Alice, but have you thought about…?’

Students learn how to express disagreement in a constructive way

The approach also helps the young people to understand their own metacognition – why they are being asked to do something and which skills they will need to apply to the situation. ‘If I’m talking to young historians,’ Peter Thomas explains, ’I need them to be able to articulate their thinking before they put forward a considered written view. They need to get information, analyse it, draw all the points together. Only then can they put forward a view with conviction.’

Another aspect of English across the curriculum is the linking of different subjects, such as geography, history, RE and science, to develop understanding and skills in writing for a particular audience. This is assessed for different subjects four times a year.

I need to get them to articulate their thinking before they put forward a considered view’

In some cases the students lead their own learning and the teacher becomes the facilitator. The English department have developed ‘pit lessons’ to foster resilience within the classroom. The students have to lead their own learning, and work collaboratively using a range of skills, to ensure they can succeed in the challenge and get out of ‘the pit.’

Boosting engagement of Y7s – and their parents
President Kennedy School had suffered from poor intake for some years, with low numbers of Y6 parents putting it down as first choice among the local secondary schools. So the school developed a more effective and child-friendly introduction to secondary schooling.

The Y7 ‘bridge’ is a transitional curriculum linking primary and secondary. For most lessons the children are in their same base classroom; they are not constantly moved around, and they have the same teacher. They are also taught via projects in most subjects – and of course expected to use and demonstrate their literacy skills in every subject. Next year this approach will also be applied to the teaching of maths and other STEM subjects.

The year 7 ‘bridge’ has a transitional curriculum; most lessons are taught in the same classroom with the same teacher; and most subjects are taught via projects

The Y7 bridge also includes learning mentors, and primary teachers working within the school who provide outreach work within the local feeder primary schools, to ensure smooth transition between KS2 and KS3.

These innovations have contributed to some impressive results for the school. Its best 8 rankings including English and maths, according to Raise Online, were 3 in 2012, I in 2013, and 3 in 2014. Ofsted’s 2013 report stated: ‘The school has made exceptionally good provision to help improve the reading, writing and speaking of students, so that their literacy skills do not hold back their learning in other subjects. The results are impressive, and most students can talk confidently about their learning.’

And parents of prospective pupils have also got the message. The school is now ‘grossly oversubscribed’ in year 7.

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