March 5, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
I have recently attended meetings within my school that have been focused on the attainment and progress of KS3 (Years 7-9) pupils. These meetings have involved listening to Heads of each year group (or Pastoral Team Leaders – PTLs – as they are called at my school) describe the progress (or lack of it!) of the whole year group and specific target groups. The only subjects that are discussed are those that are described, nationally, as the core subjects; Science, English and Maths. This is then followed by a group discussion between PTLs, members of SLT and those teachers with responsibility for KS3 in each of the core subjects. This discussion centres around the possible reasons for the lack of progress being made by particular groups of pupils. We also discuss what each department is doing to address the issues that have been discussed.
I became 2ic of my department this September, so I am relatively knew to the ‘data monitoring’ world of education. I have my own opinion about the systems we have in place to collect and use data, not just in my school, but in many schools across the country. This blog however, due to its public nature, is not the place to air those opinions. To a large extent I know that I have very little input in to the design and use of whole-school systems and, rightly or wrongly, would prefer to currently focus on changes that can be made within my own department. I accept that these are the systems in place and if I am really dissatisfied with them I have the choice to work in another school. I also do not feel it is productive or helpful to complain about something without offering suitable alternatives. As I do not have a complete idea for a suitable alternative I think it is best to leave the data discussion for a future post!
I want to focus on another issue that has been discussed in these meetings: intervention.
Typically, interventions have involved a small, targeted group of pupils being taken out of lessons for extra help. In Science we were ‘encouraged’ to set up a system of intervention that consisted of taking targeted pupils out of some of their Science lessons and having ‘learning conversations’ with them about key concepts within Science. This was carried out last year in the Summer term before the pupils took their final year exams. Based on the evidence that we collected there was minimal, if any, impact on pupil progress after this process. Personally, this was not a major surprise. I firmly believe in prevention rather than cure. The list of interventions I provided the meeting described above included the following:
- A departmental focus on trialling strategies aimed at developing teacher-pupil dialogue. The specific focus of this was improving marking and feedback. Departmental practice is regularly monitored through work scrutiny and examples of best practice are shared with the rest of the department.
- To ensure good behaviour for learning is being encouraged the use of the school’s behaviour systems is monitored and again, examples of best practice are shared amongst the department.
- Marking of assessments is moderated by the whole department to ensure that there is consistency in the decisions being made.
- The department is working with literacy specialists inside and out of the school to embed activities in to our schemes of work.
Apart from the ‘learning conversations’ intervention that was also included in my list, the strategies I discussed all focus on improving pedagogy. Prevention rather than cure. Are we right though? Do we need something in place for specific pupils who are not achieving as well as they should? If so, what form should these ‘interventions’ take?
As always, when thinking about questions like this, I first turned to Twitter with the following tweet:
As always I got some thought provoking replies. The following from Darren Mead (@DKMead) really struck home though:
‘Why breed more dependence?’
Why indeed? Whatever we decide to do, the focus has to be on the pupils rather than the teacher. As a department we are doing everything we can. The list I provided for my KS3 meeting is just a small selection of the numerous things we do as a department to ensure that our pupils work in an outstanding learning environment. If pupils are not performing to their abilities, we are asked many questions as a department, and we ask many questions of ourselves as reflective practitioners. What questions are we asking the pupils?
So what do we put in place for pupils who are identified as under-performing? Instead of teachers taking the time to plan and deliver ‘learning conversations’, should we be taking the time to have discussions with pupils and their parents/guardians? We could discuss possible reasons for the poor achievement in the subject and together try to overcome any possible barriers to learning that may exist. These conversations may not completely solve the issues, but any actions that are agreed are personalised. Responsibility, more importantly, is given to pupils to ensure that changes are made and progress is made in the subject.
It is not the greatest of ideas, but it is a start. I would love to hear from other teachers/schools about their own strategies to help pupils that are not making progress in their subjects.
Any and all ideas would be appreciated, and as you can see above, are greatly needed!