London Nautical School allows pupils to pick which teacher they have for English each year.
At the SSAT National Conference 2015, Christopher Waugh, head of English at the London Nautical School, set out how he and his department go about curriculum design, pupil assessment, groupings and parental engagement in a lively workshop. He managed to divide and challenge the audience as well as generate considerable debate.
Possibly the most innovative (and brave) element of what they do is allowing pupils to pick which teacher they have for English each year. Initially it evokes images of a horrible popularity contest – but actually, as we all know, students often recognise what makes great teachers even when they don’t necessarily enjoy the process.
With some careful measures in place (pupils have to select a number of preferences and provide a rationale), and the fact that the department currently has no trainee teachers, the pupils are relatively well spread across the teaching staff, and all classes are mixed ability.
It also helps that pupils are not just selecting the teacher but the programme of study on offer that year. Perusing the different courses each teacher is offering made this reviewer want to go back to school and start studying English Lit all over again.
The other potentially controversial aspect of what London Nautical School is doing is to scrap any kind of levels or criterion-referenced absolute assessment in favour of an accomplishment based system.
In each case there are a set of things pupils have to be able to do in order to get a ‘badge’ (a bit like the ‘I can’ statements from the old OCR science specifications). Different badges are worth varying numbers of points to reflect levels of accomplishments, from being able to perform a soliloquy to being able to redraft an essay effectively.
Parents and others can read all about what the English department is doing, and get live information on their children’s work and programmes of study, through edutronic.net, its online activity hub.
The workshop participants provided robust challenges to aspects of Christopher Waugh’s presentation. They raised questions about the impact on teachers’ morale, the practicalities of implementing the timetable, and how he worked with the school leadership team.
While not everyone went away convinced to follow in his footsteps, he did demonstrate that doing things in a radically different way is possible.
Download You Choose – the London Nautical School’s year 10 English course selection booklet.
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Follow Chris on Twitter: @Edutronic_Net
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