This could be a very long story if I went into detail about the history of my ex-school, a challenging London comprehensive. But I will just give the end of the story with only a little of the previous detail. Suffice it to say that during my tenure the school moved from 11% 5+A* to C up to 65% 5+A* to C. From a very disrupted place to a school where visitors commented on how quiet it was. From a school with a high staff turnover to a school that had one of the lowest turnovers of comprehensives in London.
The way we worked with dyslexia and ADHD and physical disability and ethnicity any other “feature” of a child was, essentially, to ignore the label. We certainly did not ignore the child. We developed a rather simple way of looking at the data. If a child was underachieving then we needed to do something for that child. So, if we identified children whose reading age was lower than their chronological age we thought about what we could do. Usually it was a multiple input process. Some direct support, some modification of worksheets, some phonics work- whatever it was that made the difference. Heads of Year were critical in this as they had a good overview of a child’s performance. One of their roles was to see if there was a difference in a child’s work in different subjects and go and explore that difference. If it was a teacher effect, the head of year would support the department so that the teacher could alter their teaching so that the child improved. If it was a behaviour issue, over which the child had control, and most children can control their behaviour unless there are significant aggravating circumstances, then the child would be spoken to and worked with so that their behaviour was appropriate to them learning, and more importantly, allowing others to learn and allowing teachers to teach.
I had little time for programmes that required the labelling of students. Black Boys programmes, or white working class boys underachievement (actually the data does not show white working class underachievement - it shows something else!) or any other such classifications. I liked the money these programmes brought in and I did acquire as much as I could, quite successfully, actually. But I did not always spend it in the way the provider tried to stipulate. We did raise attainment. We did meet their outcomes.
When Raise-on-Line was the data God we had no groups below the line. ROL folk know what that means and you can probably guess. But we did not do it by identifying a group of children and acting on all of them. For example, looked after children have outcomes that are, nationally, scandalous. But a couple of our Looked After children were doing fine. Why lump them into a group and spend cash when they were doing fine? Sure, check and make sure they are, but don’t assume that they needed additional support without their being evidence for that need. Simply check to see if they are progressing as expected. I know that is not always easy. What we did was used FFT D plus 5% as our benchmark. We also used other data sets but essentially we had as high a set of expectations as were possible.
Back to our Looked After folk. We would have identified them as being a student who was not progressing as well as we would have expected. Two questions would be asked. First, why? What factors, attendance, attitude, or whatever were affecting this child?
Second, what could we do? So we had a list of underachieving children and we would then look to see of there were any useful sub groupings in that list. Not grouped by some external feature, ethnicity etc but by the learning difficulty they were having. Inattentive, poor reader, maths limited or whatever it was allowed us to group when appropriate. An inductive process, one HMI exclaimed as he beamed and gave us a great report!
That’s it really.
- High expectations based on data plus a bit.
- An expectation that teachers need to be allowed to teach.
- A firm policy that stopping others learning was a real issue to be sorted.
- An intelligent, pragmatic approach that worked for us.
- A willingness to try and find something that worked.
- Involving parents etc
- Only jumping on bandwagons to get the cash! Staying on if it worked.
- Keeping going for long enough to make something work but getting out of it if it did not work for us.