This article is taken from the spring edition of the SSAT Journal – hard copies of which were distributed to SSAT member schools before the Easter break.
Assistant Principal Laura Paterson and Principal Clive Zimmerman, Lydiard Park School, write…
Swindon has never had much of a tradition when it comes to education. It’s not a university town and, with an employment base more in skilled and semi-skilled manual work than professional occupations, many families place a relatively low value on education.
As with many similar areas up and down the country, the main issue facing our school at the point of academy conversion was the underperformance of white British pupils, many of whom qualified for pupil premium. Yet three years later, Lydiard Park Academy (LPA) has made huge strides and, according to the DfE, is one of the 90 most improved secondary schools in the country.
‘All pupils’, ‘White British’ and ‘FSM’ groups now have green ‘Sig+’ indicators in our Raiseonline report; the school has the highest GCSE results in the area and has opened a sixth form; and, in 2015, our GCSE pupil premium pupils made more progress than their ‘non-disadvantaged’ peers nationally.
Our experience mirrors a recent NFER research paper conclusion that many of the most effective approaches you can take for disadvantaged pupils are actually whole-school initiatives. ‘Build a better school for everyone and disadvantaged pupils’ results will improve on a rising tide of achievement and higher expectations’ is the essence of what we have done. In this article, we describe the steps we have taken towards each of the seven key building blocks NFER identified:
- Ethos of attainment for all
- Behaviour and attendance
- High-quality teaching for all
- Meeting individual learning needs
- Deploying staff effectively
- Data-driven and responding to evidence
- Clear, responsive leadership.
Whole-school ethos of attainment for all – the community notices
Academy conversion was a key point in the history of the school, as it raised the question ‘What will we do differently as an academy?’ Our answer was to take a clean sheet of paper and leave behind every practice we thought could be better.
A chequered reputation was one of the things that had to go and, in re-launching under our new name, we also laid out a new ethos that was overtly ambitious about enabling all pupils to fulfil their potential through having higher expectations of the whole school community.
A new name, a more traditional uniform, a reorganised school day, new signage and new school colours were all outward signs that our game was being raised. Parents were extremely encouraging and most of our pupils responded instantly, beginning to live up to their new, smart uniform. Our pupils’ new smartness also brought positive feedback from people who weren’t even connected to the school.
These, of course, were the outward signs of change. But much more was happening within the school.
Addressing behaviour and attendance – and parent communication
Before conversion, we had been pushing for better consistency from staff over behaviour management, and it’s true to say that it was already a battle that was being won. However, to push harder we decided to target low level disruption by introducing a new scheme based on ‘behaviour for learning’ principles, with pupils earning (and sometimes losing) points towards their own individual rewards.
The rules of the scheme are displayed in every teaching area, and electronic records have allowed us to identify individual and group behaviours for further intervention. Initially our new-found consistency led to a rise in sanctions but this fell away as pupils realised that ‘the rules are the rules’.
Three years later we have made large gains on reducing low-level disruption (down 50%) improved the rate of completion of homework (related detentions down 50%) and have virtually eradicated incidences of smoking (down 90%; just four incidences last year). As a school we invest heavily in our pastoral structures, with traditional heads of year, each supported by a non-teaching assistant. This has allowed communication with home to be prompt, persistent and effective.
Communication with home is prompt, persistent and effective.
Alongside the government initiatives on termtime holidays this has enabled attendance to rise and persistent absence to fall, with the latter having previously been a significant feature among pupil premium pupils.
High-quality teaching for all: a learning community
Three years ago most pupils were experiencing a fairly formulaic diet of lessons. In getting to a consistent ‘good’ from Ofsted, we’d driven out some of the innovation and fun. The SSAT’s Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme (TEEP) provided an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate staff, put lessons back onto a more pupil-centred footing and give staff and pupils a common language for learning that would allow us to develop more rapidly as a learning community.
All staff completed the level 1 training in the summer of 2013 and since then our TEEP journey has continued (with cross-faculty TEEP teams), fresh approaches to teaching and learning, a greater staff sharing of good practice, and lessons that are now more engaging and varied for pupils.
As a TEEP ambassador school we continually push to move our practice to the next level; our teaching and learning communities meet twice a term to debate and consider a key teaching strategy, from marking and feedback to independent learning.
Yes, these are topics that will have been discussed many times before, but the beauty of TEEP is that it reminds you of the best practice that you’ve possibly met but forgotten. And then challenges you to bring it into your teaching as your new standard.
The beauty of TEEP: it reminds you of the best practice that you’ve possibly met but forgotten – and then challenges you to make it your new standard.
Within our teaching model we also launched our ‘Session 6’ programme. With a shorter lunch break and formal lessons ending at 3pm, students are encouraged to stay for session 6 to take part in enrichment, revision and specific intervention sessions, all tailored to a student’s educational needs.
Along with all of this we have also embraced technology – working with ‘itslearning’ to develop an interactive learning platform for students to use in and out of the classroom as they complete tasks, homework and extra research, and prepare for their final exams.
Meeting individual learning needs – including regular 1-1s with SLT members
The biggest individual learning need that our pupils have on entry is probably for greater motivation and resilience. When government-funded IAG fell away, we decided to do the important stuff ourselves – the one-to-one discussions that seek to encourage and motivate pupils to aim high, and establish a pathway through to at least 19 for each child.
In addition to careers input through PSHE, each pupil at LPA is interviewed individually by a member of the senior leadership team at least four times during years 10 and 11. Every year 11 pupil also has a staff mentor who they meet every few weeks to oversee their academic progress, manage sixth form or college applications and provide motivation and encouragement.
We call these staff assertive mentors because if they discover a pupil is behind with their work or not reaching their target grade, their job is to broker a solution, be it extra homework or attendance at a catch-up session. Our mentors become very important people in our pupils’ lives and, on results days, they’re probably the most thanked people by pupil and parents alike.
Assertive mentors’ job is to broker a solution, be it extra homework or attendance at a catch-up session.
One thing we decided to leave alone on academy conversion was our curriculum, which was based on mainly traditional GCSE courses in each area of the curriculum. Previously it could have been said that this curriculum wasn’t one that best suited the characteristics of many of our pupils (and many local schools had gone much more heavily down the BTech route than we had).
However, we decided to stick with the courses that we felt were better known by employers and, instead of changing the curriculum, focus on improving our pupils’ motivation and work ethic so they became more successful. Thus Mr Gove’s changes have undoubtedly helped us in climbing school performance tables.
But the bigger factor by far is the improvement in the quality of teaching, the support and intervention pupils receive and, quite simply, gains in their effort, behaviour and aspirations.
Deploying staff effectively – keeping and developing them
Results have risen sharply at LPA in the last five years; yet the majority of staff remain the same. So developing staff has been a significant success. Our learning communities meet to discuss TEEP-based strategies, government initiatives and Ofsted updates, making sure all staff are kept involved and informed.
We have a rigorous quality assurance programme (linked to performance management) which includes a mentoring and coaching system that kicks in whenever practice is uncovered that ‘requires improvement’.
In the same way that we work with students, we work with staff to allow them to reflect, improve and trial new ideas to be more effective in the classroom. Each department has a TEEP leader who supports this process, with additional input from the assistant principal (teaching and learning) who is trained to TEEP level 3 and oversees the staff coaching programme.
Data-driven and responding to evidence – tracking students throughout their time with us
Data continues to be a key indicator throughout the year for checking and analysing student progress and achievement. We have moved to a banding assessment system with years 7-11, which is an adaptation of a model promoted by PiXL.
This has allowed rigorous assessment, with all students being able to see a projected flight path based on current performance. It also identifies individual learning needs, which are then supported by personal learning checklists for effective target setting at parents’ evenings and consultation days (where students and parents attend a detailed one-to-one consultation to discuss and track academic achievement). At key data entry points we identify intervention groups and plan for the next term.
Students and parents attend a detailed consultation to discuss and track academic achievement.
Specific staff are employed to teach intervention sessions in numeracy and literacy; emotional and social support is also discussed where needed. These steps and the strong pastoral provision described earlier have allowed us to track and identify the specific needs of our students throughout their academic life at LPA.
Clear, responsive leadership, with a desire to see where the journey goes next
Throughout this period of change, LPA has benefited from a consistent leadership team who all enjoy what they do. Of course, success is a great motivator and gives you the freedom to be bolder in deciding what to change and, just as importantly, what to stop doing.
With the exception of our business manager, all of the senior team have a teaching timetable that helps us stay rooted in what’s practical, and stops us from living in ivory towers. We also share a relentless approach to wanting every piece of LPA to be as good as it can be, accompanied by a desire to keep developing as leaders and, hence, to see where the journey goes next.
The senior team have a teaching timetable that helps us stay rooted in what’s practical, and stops us from living in ivory towers.
So where next in terms of closing gaps and doing our bit for social mobility? Although our pupil premium pupils are doing well in national terms, their progress score is still some 13 points behind the 1028 value added score notched up by our ‘non-disadvantaged’ pupils. So, about two improved GCSE grades, which probably points to where this could be made up – by identifying and intervening earlier in individual subjects.
What would be our advice to schools looking to make inroads into their pupil premium gap? Well, probably not to focus just on the disadvantaged pupils, especially if their shortcomings are symptomatic of the wider school population.
Start with the big stuff and go ‘whole school’: the teaching, the behaviour. As at LPA, you might not close the gap between the disadvantaged and the others quickly – but that will be because everyone’s doing better.
Lydiard Park Academy is part of the SSAT network – find out more about membership here. The school has had considerable success with the Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme (TEEP).
This article is taken from the spring edition of the SSAT Journal. A complimentary hard copy was sent to every SSAT member school, and the full PDF version is available to download from the member area of the website. Download your copy here.