In the middle of Bradford with a large number of pupils from disadvantaged background; receiving its first set of GCSE results in Summer 2017 you find Dixons Trinity Academy. A Progress 8 score of over +1.0, including for disadvantaged pupils; 70% attaining English and Mathematics at grade 5+ and a wonderfully warm and humane culture, it’s an academy getting a lot of things right.
Arriving just before 8:00 am alongside the students, I was met by the Principal Luke Sparkes (@ldsparkes) a former student from my De La Salle days. In a wonderful reversal of roles he was now the teacher and me the student. I had come to learn about their work. There is so much about this academy that all schools should aspire to emulate; it has a clear sense of its mission, a doggedness in pursuing it and a belief in the value and potential of every one of the human beings who enter its door. Thanks also to the Trust’s CEO, Nick Weller (@njweller) who took time out to join us and to my tour guides and the Head Boy & Girl for taking time out of their day.
In practice now replicated at other schools, every student’s reading age is assessed each year and time is set aside for all students in Years 7-11 to read every day in school. Reading is also set daily for homework. The library has coloured coded books, for different reading ages, and programmes exist to support pupils who are struggling to decode or comprehend what they are reading. The academy uses the approach championed by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway in Reading Reconsidered.
Over time the simple becomes the profound; the accumulation of vocabulary and examples of how language can be used; reading different genres and books from different cultures; proficiency and understanding and also enjoyment. Reading is arguably the basis that unlocks so many subjects: English, Religious Education, History, Geography … and a new EEF report identifies good literacy skills as being crucial to closing the attainment gap in Science.
By 8:00 am all year groups are sat ready to start working. They each have a 100% books; a bound collection of knowledge organisers from subjects across the curriculum. This morning Year 9 was on Spanish with a self-marked test at the end of the thirty minutes. Prior to this each student had revised the work through interleaved homework tasks and attempted to commit it to memory using a read, cover, write check format that many people will be familiar with from learning spellings at primary school. Their homework tasks are handed in and checked by administrative assistants for completion. If not done parents are contacted. Every Thursday there is the Trinity Test of the previous week’s retrieval work which is marked and intervention put in place if the expected standard has not been achieved.
Whilst again there is nothing profound in the one act of revision I saw; the profound comes from the accumulation of knowledge, through revision and retrieval, produced by practice over two hundred days a year, for five years. The committing of work currently being completed into the long term memory enables for more effective learning of new knowledge; the foundations are secured and built on.
At the time a few middle and senior leaders were orchestrating the morning retrieval practice a group of staff were revisiting the process for ensuring an orderly start to a lesson; welcoming students into the class, getting them sat down and working. It’s an age old routine; transitions can be problematic but practice and consistency makes more perfect. In many ways it replicates the essential art of the early years’ specialist who can get thirty 2/3 years old into a room, coats off, sat down on a carpet and ready for the next part of the day. Well practised routines reduce friction in a teacher’s and pupil’s day.
This was part of the endearing culture at Dixons. If something was going awry Luke was not afraid to stop the school and revisit what was expected, why it was important and how it would be achieved. The school has scripted in real detail the important parts of school life and then strives for consistently high implementation. There is a lesson for us all in this; first, decide what is important and what is not. Concentrate on collectively and collaboratively implementing the former and leave the latter to people’s good judgement, common sense and professionalism. This collaboration included with students and between students. It went far beyond compliance to a collective and individual commitment to succeed.
For many, many young people Dixons Trinity has rewritten their educational narrative. These students shouldn’t do well if normal education trends are followed; instead further and Higher Education has been unlocked for them and by them. The lessons learnt were significant; it’ll take me some time to fully think through the implications of this one day visit.