Bucking The Trend – Research

  • Systematic tracking: We were surprised that not all schools tracked these students individually from entry. This meant that many drifted through compulsory education and left as soon as possible. Some heads we talked to hadn’t noticed this, expecting to find representatives of this group in their sixth forms and being shocked to find none.
  • Work colleagues, not mates: All the boys had selected, explicitly or not, school friends with a shared work ethic. This meant that mates, sometimes of long standing, who were less interested in learning, were either compartmentalised to weekends and holidays or rejected altogether. Some boys worried about this, exhibiting feelings of not belonging anywhere, despite stating that this selection was vital if they wanted to succeed.  Some schools were aware of these divided loyalties and supported the boys through their choices and the implications of them.
  • The hook: Early success united the interviewees. The particulars varied and occurred inside and outside school, but gave the boys the confidence to tackle difficult school work. Teachers who knew the boys well enough to show interest in what they were good at outside school, and those who provided extra-curricular experiences inside school, offering further opportunities for success, were praised by the interviewees.
  • Celebration of genuine achievement: The boys saw praise as a validation of work done well and as an encouragement to further effort. They needed to know they were on the right track and to signal the same to family and friends. Informal conversations, smiley face stickers, letters home, special assemblies and awards evenings were all seen as vital justification for the educational journey they were on.
  • A culture of learning: This should be the norm in schools with zero tolerance of deviations from it. The school was a place of work for all.
  • High aspirations for all: Interviewees wanted teachers to have high expectations for all, not just the few, with no excuses for a lack of ambition.
  • Teacher/student relationships: The boys valued relationships that were warm but professional and determined, mirroring those of close work colleagues. There were no preferred teaching styles but a feeling that teachers should be experienced and have a determined optimism about the individual student’s capacity for success.
  • Out-of-hours work space: This needed to be attractive and publicised to all, not just disadvantaged students, and set up for all who needed, or preferred, to complete homework at school.
  • Detailed and targeted IAG: Schools needed to provide detailed careers information advice and guidance from an early age, taking no previous knowledge for granted. This should be provided by a known and trusted adult, where possible, and followed up with clear practical support.
  • Pastoral support complementary to home: Students in this group had varying needs.  Some needed only professional support for their learning, while others also needed the kind of nurturing that a functional family provides. Successful schools had a close knowledge of each student’s home circumstances in order to use their limited time and resource to maximum effect.
  • Home and school separate: Interviewees did not want close relationships between home and school for a variety of reasons, but did want people at home to trust the school to do their best by them. This implied clear communication and mutual respect.
  • A detailed journey to personal autonomy: The boys needed their education to prepare them for the new world outside home and school as well as helping them to pass exams, and to help them, in stages, to independence.
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