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Leadership

Breaking the Underachievement Cycle #Thursday Thunk

Most of my week has been spent in departmental self-evaluation meetings; most of the month in meetings, with various people, discussing the summer’s results and how we intend to move forward.  Our Progress 8 is down this year; think it will bounce back next; so over three years it will be pretty much spot on zero.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Given Progress 8 is not contextualised and we’ve never done ECDL, you could argue that the progress made across the school, over a three year period, is quite good.  I don’t; I aspire to so much more for our pupils and so do the staff.

Sitting in the self evaluation meetings, having already read the well prepared professional documents – analysis, reflection and action points for the year ahead – Simon (St. Mary’s Headteacher) and I have taken a different approach this year.  We’re less interested in the immediate detail and far more interested in what might be game changers.  We’re not looking for silver bullets but some fundamental changes that would help our pupils be more successful.  We need to rewrite their education narrative.

Ensuring pupils made sufficient progress can be like walking the hard miles.  With a predominantly white working class intake, many from persistently disadvantaged backgrounds, we’re walking statistically the hardest of the hard miles.  The issues we have talked about this week have varied but poor literacy, a lack of revision and limited resilience, in the face of high academic challenge, have all loomed large.

However, never underestimate the need to get the basics right; starting point for our new Year 11 was them realising that collectively they missed 10,000 lessons last year (their attendance was around the national average; we have 3 x 100 minute lessons per day).  Over half the year group missed 30+ lessons.  I’ve blogged about the impact of poor attendance here and an evidence based attendance letter we have started using this year here.

Poor literacy is nothing new when evaluating white working class as a group.  Though some will be avid readers; too many will not.  We’ve some significant work to do around encouraging far more and far more diverse reading amongst our pupils.  The English Department has a DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) session in Year 8 and anecdotally there is an increase in the number of books being loaned from the school library.  Every pupil is tested for reading age on entry but we have no idea of their reading age when they get to Year 11; we don’t regularly retest the whole cohort.  I suspect the reading age of GCSE examination papers is on the increase.

One of the other interesting discussions was around whether relatively poor responses to questions requiring extended written responses was due to a lack of knowledge (limited revision) or poor writing skills.  With a limited degree of certainty the hunch is the lack of knowledge is the biggest barrier.  If we crack the revision issue I then suspect we will need to do some more work on extended writing.

Many departments have got or soon will have knowledge organisers in place from Years 7-11 or 13.  There are far more low stakes and 100% tests across the school.  The question we are asking ourselves is, “What would a systematic school wide attempt to address these issues look like?  Is a school wide system the best way to approach resolving these issues?”

The next blog will be on Game Changers: Reading, Retrieval and Re-induction and links to a visit I made to Dixon Trinity Academy in Bradford.  An inspirational school led by Luke Sparkes (@ldsparkes).  Last time I met Luke was in the mid-90s; he was a student in my GCSE Chemistry class!

#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Breaking the Underachievement Cycle #Thursday Thunk

  1. Hi Stephen, also examination boards have dramatically changed their demands on how students develop and perform academically – the change has been lightning fast and has taken people by surprise in terms of extended content and end of course exams – these things take time to embed and the changes should have been brought in gradually to allow for a change in the way we deliver our subjects and enable students to build the skills. Education is a lifelong skill, besides the human brain requires around 500,000 years of evolution to grow by a couple of millimetres – we may well be amazing biomechanical constructs, but we ain’t designed to shift from first to fifth gear in one go!

    Posted by Stuart Robathan | September 28, 2017, 6:51 am
  2. I have come to exactly the same conclusions. Listening to some of our weakest y8 and 9 readers blew my mind.

    Posted by Simon | September 29, 2017, 7:06 am

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