We know that good quality teaching and learning, going hand in hand with effective pastoral system, are crucial to progressPaul Foxton, Assistant Head, Ashlawn School
Ashlawn School in Rugby wanted to review its approach to supporting the middle group of students – the ones who could be ‘coasting’. Comparing attitudinal data with attainment data is now ensuring they have a whole view of each of their students, enabling them to prevent problems from happening rather than dealing with the consequences later on.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that a school judged by inspectors to be Outstanding for years would take in its stride any changes in government policy, and have little cause for concern over education reforms.
But the introduction of Progress 8 – the new value-added measure which will be used to gauge progress between and the start of secondary school to the end of Year 11 – led staff at Ashlawn School in Rugby, Warwickshire, to develop serious concerns about how their figures would look.
“We knew what our extremes were doing, so we were well informed on our highest and lowest achievers,” said Paul Foxton, the assistant head. “But it was that band of pupils in the middle we were particularly concerned about, and it was with their outcomes that we feared we might end up being classed as a ‘coasting school’.”
In most schools there tends, understandably, to be a focus on learners at the lower end of the ability spectrum, because the challenges facing those pupils are usually obvious. At Ashlawn, overseen by Paul with his responsibilities for intervention, a decision was taken to examine the personal, emotional and academic challenges affecting all children.
Ashlawn already had an effective data system, used to store students’ results and outcomes from the end of primary school onwards, but it wasn’t necessarily being used as productively as it could be. Ways needed to be found to link pupils’ academic progress with other, more personal information about them to form an overall profile of that child and how they were likely to fare in school, and to alert staff to any problems that might affect achievement.
“It was clear that great teaching has to sit alongside pastoral support,” Paul said. “There are so many elements to a child’s success, ranging from their own sense of confidence and self-worth, to engagement in school and parental support.
“We tend to be reactive in schools to pastoral problems, but we realised that actually what is needed is to be proactive. We needed to get in early to sort out any problems before pupils began to underachieve, and to try to prevent problems from happening rather than dealing with the consequences later.”
Identifying issues early
The school looked closely at how it treated pastoral care, what issues were preventing effective teaching and learning in the classroom and aspects of the school culture, as well as external factors that might affect progress. For example, it was discovered that a culture of not wanting to be seen to be trying hard was probably inhibiting the performance of some older male pupils. By working with this group of boys to improve their hopes and aspirations, they developed a better sense of enjoyment from each other’s successes. It was also thought that sometimes parental attitudes, for example to a particular subject, might be reflected in their children’s perceived abilities and confidence in the same area.
Teachers were expected to plan lessons differently if needed, though the school’s curriculum – based on the EBacc list of subjects – was not altered in any way. Teaching styles were observed but, Paul stressed, no judgements were passed on how well staff delivered lessons. Individual subject departments established plans on to how create mastery learners.
Focus on transition
A particularly big focus was placed on transition into school of Year 7s. Pupils were asked to complete GL Assessment’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey, giving teachers vital insights into their motivations, engagement and attitudes to learning.
The PASS data includes every pupil’s feelings about school, their perceived learning ability, attitudes to teachers, confidence in learning and attitudes to attendance. Using a colour-coded system, a chart flags up any potential areas of concern or weakness (red), and indicates (in green) where attitudes and engagement are good. It can also be configured to give an overall profile of a whole class.
New arrivals were also assigned a peer mentor, a sixth-form buddy and a teacher mentor, all of whom were trained to provide the appropriate guidance, help and reassurance whenever needed. “We appreciate that a teacher may not always be the best person for a child to open up to, and other opportunities of asking for help might initially be more effective,” Paul said.
As part of the mentoring scheme pupils were also asked to complete a school-based questionnaire asking their views on their favourite subject, what their aspirations and personal goals are and what their biggest concern is around their academic work. This was regularly reviewed with their teacher mentor, and new targets for achievement set.
Alongside all of this information there was an expectation that staff acknowledged the challenges learners face when going through adolescence and how these may affect them physically and emotionally.
Information from teachers about pupils and survey findings, together with academic results and information gleaned from PASS are then fed into an online system for schools that stores and analyses pupil data, giving staff an overall pupil profile of each learner.
Comparing attitudinal and attainment data
Comparing PASS data with attainment results can also highlight unexpected trends. Paul found, for example, that high-attaining boys weren’t as engaged with school as girls, and some were overly confident in their abilities.
“Teachers will pick up information about pupils throughout the year as they go along, so the hope is that we can nip any problems in the bud quickly,” Paul added. “We know that good quality teaching and learning, going hand in hand with an effective pastoral system, are crucial to progress. The aim is to give pupils the skills and resilience not to give up, but to keep going and to keep trying.
“Sometimes in schools we can’t see the wood for the trees, so it’s important to keep testing new strategies to see what works best, and why it works. But you also need to a school-wide approach with staff working as a team.
“We aren’t asking anything unreasonable of anyone, but everyone needs to buy into the ethos. It can’t be driven by one person alone, but everyone working together for the good of the pupils.”
"The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents."
“Without a doubt, the elephant in the room is comprehension. If a child can decode to an extent, that develops confidence – but this confidence is easily shattered quite quickly when they enter secondary school.”