Statistically, working in a school with a large number of disadvantaged pupils of white ethnic origin isn’t likely to lead to many accolades or much acknowledgement. Blackpool is one such town; fortunately there is no all boys’ school; the hardest of the hard school improvement miles is raising attainment and showing good progress for white disadvantaged boys.
The challenge is not about changing intake but trying to succeed against the odds. I’ve blogged before about getting the basics in place when working with students who attract Pupil Premium funding: establish processes to improve attendance and assessment (identify and fill gaps in knowledge); sort behaviour and make sure students feel like they belong and finally get the right curriculum in place supported by careers & character education. These are challenging enough but only a start; the foundations on which greater progress and ultimately life changing attainment can be built.
Discussions with Middle Leaders from across the school, last September, showed: poor reading, a lack of revision and limited resilience to be common concerns. You’ll find similar issues in nearly all classrooms irrespective of the background of the pupils in it.
R1 – A Reading Culture; that is, Establishing One
Do any of the below ring true for you?
- Poor attainment and progress at GCSE across a range of literacy based subjects including English; white disadvantaged boys a particular issue
- Analysis of Key Stage 2 Reading data shows comprehension (inference) a particular weakness
- Poor sentence and paragraph comprehension for a significant number due to poor decoding skills, limited fluency and limited vocabulary
- Variable culture of reading by students
This year I’ve spent substantial leadership time and effort working on developing a strategy that would address the above issues. Decoding, greater fluency, extended vocabulary and more time spent reading in school; dedicated and in lessons. Many teachers show limited ownership of literacy leading to a lack of consistency/whole school practice in the teaching of reading; arguably rooted in limited knowledge and understanding of how to teach it. This certainly would be true for me.
The past few months has seen me working with colleagues across Blackpool who felt they had the same issues in their schools. If we are successful in getting the project established it’ll take years to fully implement and embed prior to fully impacting. It cannot be done in part or with half-heartedness; reading and developing great readers is potentially a game changer.
A PDF of the above graphic can be downloaded using this link: EEF- Implementation Logic Model – KS3 Literacy
R2 – Getting the Revision Done; Establishing Retrieval Practice
With terminal content heavy examinations the current flavour of the month, revision is more essential than ever; for most subjects coursework marks in the bank no longer exist or are significantly reduced.
By way of contrast I’ve invested no time in this area over the past twelve months; yet knowledge organisers, low stake tests and spaced practice has started to proliferate across the school. At the risk of ignoring and upsetting other departments; the work in Science seems particularly well advanced. It’s moved beyond revision towards a systematic process of continuous retrieval every lesson from Year 7 all the way through to Year 11; developing automaticity in key scientific knowledge – facts and concepts – on which future learning can be coherently built. Staff are knowledgeable, committed and consistent in implementing.
Sometimes as a leader you are best standing back and letting people get on with things; organic processes sometimes require a touch of pruning and a bit of nourishing but most of the time just need the time and space to grow. Leadership wisdom is rooted in being able to spot the moment to lead through intervention and when to simply lead by sitting on your hands. Where staff are taking forward the right initiatives in an informed and systematic way you’re best acknowledging, thanking and keeping well out of it.
R3 – The Resilience to Keep Going When It Gets Tough
For pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and others too; they feel that life can sometimes just happen to them. They don’t feel they can control their lives and so end up not grasping the opportunities that hard work and deferred gratification can offer. Our first year with HumanUtopia working in the school has been a revelation; one hundred Year 10 heroes mentoring and reading with younger students has taken student leadership to a new level. All bar one student entitled to Pupil Premium Funding has trained to be a Year 10 Hero; that didn’t happen by accident. It was the vision of senior leader that made a difference. The Headteacher at St. Mary’s is also looking to establish a whole year group Duke of Edinburgh programme; if only the funding will allow.
Reading, revision and resilience the new 3Rs for pupils everywhere.