Eight months into the task to raise the achievement of our most able and the first set of results are in….the number of students that have got 5 or more A/A* has risen from 8% (2013) to 18% (2014). It has been a good year for the roses.
When given the role last October to boost the percentage of A/A* in our school, my initial thoughts focused on teachers’ knowledge of their classes.
Teachers knew the pupils who were C/D borderline…the Raising Standards leader saw to that. Teachers knew the students who need a C to get 3 levels of progress… the Head of Department saw to that….but did they know (apart from the superkeen/ shining lights) which of their students should be getting a B as minimum progress?(And under new Gove levels an A [or whatever it becomes].
My first job was identification. I met every single year 11 teacher (especially in the top 2 sets where they weren’t taught in mixed ability). We looked at their students’ prior attainment, their profile, their strengths and their weaknesses and I told the students what their teachers had said about them…to some extent!
Having one person talking to them just about their best potential grades had an immediate positive impact. Students liked hearing that they were going to be targeted for grades A and A*. Quite simply, the more I told them the more they believed it… and so I told them every day for 6 weeks.
The next step involved being sure that teachers and students knew the assessment requirements at the top level. I asked the question: what help can we give you to push students at the top end? Heads of Department were quick to respond and adequate support was sought in from both internal and external experts. In some cases staff just needed time for the most experienced teachers to re-read specifications; other staff invited examining bodies in. By creating a sense of urgency, a domino effect of reaction began.
I used two hours of CPD time to get teachers to sit down and pull apart their specifications at the highest level. They used exam reports, past papers, model scripts and identified what their students needed to do to be a success. Most importantly, I created an environment where staff were publicly discussing A/ A* work, criteria and students with potential … by giving them TIME to reflect on all students (and not just the C/D and 3 levels of progress lists), mindsets seemed to grow and enthusiasm filtered through.
Tell the students
The next phase involved ensuring the students knew what was expected of them; this was the part that took the most time throughout the year. I met them constantly- before school, during form time, after assembly, in the corridor-, I monitored their half-termly assessment grades in all subjects and sometimes more…eventually students came to tell me when they had gone beyond their levels. We celebrated, shared and toiled. Eventually, the message got through. Students began looking up, the bar was raised.
In August, when many schools were deflated and experienced a dip in results, our celebrations were not marred. We sustained our pass rates and the high focus on A/A* grades actually meant that more students achieved grade Bs than ever before, as well as A/A*s.
The smiles on the faces of both staff and students was worth every part of my repetitious questioning, checking, analysing and persisting.
If like us, you are targeting this area in your school, you can buy, adapt and deliver a similar training session that I ran with staff here.