Tuesday 28 April 2015

How does Canons crack the code and contribute to improving social mobility?

 Bletchley Park. During WWII the German secret codes were broken here.  

This post will focus on a Teacher Learner Community (TLC) session that ran as part of the discussion forum TLC which focuses on closing the achievement gap. Our TLC has students at the heart and focusses on ensuring that all our students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds receive a challenging and engaging education which sets them on the right path for success in the future. This particular session focussed on social mobility. It was based on a government report that highlights the worrying impact of gaps in cognitive development between better off and disadvantaged children that open up early and over the years widen rather than narrow. This inevitably has a negative impact on future life chances. Indeed, the report highlights: 

‘nearly six out of ten disadvantaged children in England do not achieve a basic set of qualifications compared to only one in three children from more advantaged backgrounds. The story is broadly similar in Scotland and Wales. The consequence for these children is a lifelong struggle to gain basic skills, avoid unemployment and to find and hold down a good job.’

On a more positive note however, the report also reveals there are schools that have cracked the social mobility code ‘some schools seem to have learnt the secret of how to alleviate the impact of background on life chances. They have found a way of overcoming the barriers that impede social mobility. At a time when social mobility is stalling and child poverty is rising, there is an urgent need to share the lessons so that every school can crack that code.’   The report shares some interesting findings from their investigation about what such code crackers do to make an impact on raising achievement for disadvantaged pupils for example a common feature of such schools is  'properly resourcing teacher recruitment and development, partnering with other schools and ensuring disadvantaged students have (at least) their fair share of the best teachers’ time – not just subcontracting the teaching of low attainers to teaching assistants or focusing the best teachers on students at the C/D borderline' this is clearly an example of good practice.

The report concludes that their investigations into code breaking schools 'suggests that those performing well for disadvantaged students do not apply a single magic formula. Success is incremental and based on a series of small changes rather than a single ‘big bang’ – compared by one headteacher to ‘being like the success of British cycling team: the aggregation of marginal gains’. 

With this idea in mind, the TLC session therefore focussed on discussing and sharing such 'marginal gains', the 'small changes' and key strategies Canons uses to ‘crack that code’. At the same time, as staff at Canons are very reflective and are always looking for ways to build upon areas of strengths so, as well as sharing  what we currently do well academically and pastorally to close the gap, we also collectively discussed ways we could further increase the impact. As the government report makes clear, ‘there is an urgent need to share the lessons so that every school can crack that code’   this post therefore aims to share the good practice at Canons.

A link to the report can be found here. The key findings have been summarised below and were discussed in the TLC:

Social mobility – what is it?

· ‘children doing well as adults… having a job that raises their income relative to their parents... children having a fair roll of the dice, that is, for a given level of talent and effort, being as likely as children from more advantaged backgrounds to get a good job that raises their income’
· From an education system that is ‘seeking to produce autonomous, free, well rounded citizens and adults not just individuals who can make a good living.’     
  Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Cracking the Code: how schools can improve social mobility 2014

What causes social immobility?

Figure 1. Potential causes of social immobility
Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Cracking the Code: how schools can improve social mobility 2014

What do good schools do and what makes a code breaker?
Summary of key findings:

1.    There is a lot of scope to improve performance.

2.    New accountability measures will improve social mobility (reduce tendency to focus on C/D borderline groups)

3.    Teacher expectations of disadvantaged students are key

4.    Some schools are ‘code breakers’ they:

a.    Use Pupil Premium strategically to improve social mobility

b.    Build a high expectations, inclusive culture

c.    Incessantly focus on the quality of teaching

d.    Have tailored strategies to engage parents

e.    Prepare students for all aspects of life not just exams

Canons the code breaker

Figure 2. Analysis of 'extreme' performing schools for disadvantaged children
Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Cracking the Code: how schools can improve social mobility 2014 

According to the criteria outlined by the report, Canons can be seen as an example of one of these ‘code breakers’, there is ample evidence of this in the most recent Ofsted report:
·       ‘Refugees and asylum seekers and those students who join the school outside normal times also make outstanding progress.
·        There are smaller gaps in attainment between students eligible for the pupil premium and other students than are seen nationally – between one third and two thirds of a GCSE grade lower in English and mathematics. In 2012, a very high percentage of eligible students made the expected progress in GCSE English, higher than other students and the opposite of the national picture. In mathematics their progress was very close to that made by the others.
·       Younger and older students also benefit from the pupil premium, which is used to finance their participation in trips and to provide extra staff to teach them in small groups. The school’s Year 6 summer camp will be strengthened by funding for Year 7 catch-up premium.
Canons High School Ofsted Report 2013

These are some of the responses from the group discussion during the TLC:

What are we currently doing well?
·       Trips
·       Quality of T&L (Teaching and Learnig)
·       Atmosphere of challenge
·       Committed teachers
·       Recruitment and retention
·       Y7 SOLO level descriptors to provide a clear explanation of what kind of progress students are making and how they are doing that and how they can improve
·       Feedback
·       High expectations
·       Communication between key stakeholders
·       Pastoral care
·       Communicating with and engaging parents
·       Pupil premium used effectively to give pupils a range of experiences
·       Extra curricular programme
·       Enrichment courses when they are done well
·       IAG  (Information, Advice and Guidance) and careers information (Breda)
·       Sets in subjects
·       Separating genders in PE
·       Behaviour management
·       Consistency in classes
·       Code of conduct

What we can do even better to increase impact?
·       Apprenticeships
·       University links
·       Career advice given to KS3
·       Data sec- to identify minority groups and so that teachers know their disadvantaged students and PP students
·       Consistent approach in CORE and OPTIONS regarding lower ability teaching – to demonstrate Canons leadership qualities
·       Target setting with kids and learning conversations with tutors, more time for learning conversations with tutors
·       More trips for options and entitlement
·       More training for tutors about what is expected – could we have a pastoral inset? What is expected and sharing good practice?
·       A MEG and SEG should not define a student
·       Review of progress –day/half day
·       Mixing sets up a bit to address the issue of motivation and self-fulfilling prophecy
·       More registration time with tutor groups
·       Effective deployment of  TAs/ LSAs (Teaching Assistants / Learning Support Assisstants) and time for teaching staff and learning support staff to communicate with one another
·       6th formers to be more visible (and Y11 prefects)
·       Less focus on MEG (Minimum Estimate Grades)
·       Tutors to look at monitoring long and short term goals – make pathways clearer
·       Relationships with parents
·       More apprenticeship schemes
·       More responsibility given to students
·       Parent tutor meetings during the day

Figures 3-6 Photographs of key points from the discussion during the TLC session 

Our discussions about closing the achievement gap have meant that the importance of the pastoral system and the relationships between tutors and their tutees has continually come up as an area of real significance in terms of closing the gap in student achievement. This is particularly important in light of the changing role of Heads of Year and tutors to also encompass the academic wellbeing of students. Fittingly, our next TLC we will be focussing on the role of the tutor led by our lovely NQT Minal Tailor.

Rebecca and Tom M

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