As Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching, I regularly have long conversations with new or potential parents seeking to ensure that the individual needs of their children will be catered for at Alice Smith.
At Alice Smith, we celebrate diversity and understand that every child, with the right support, is capable of achieving wonderful things. We aim to provide a learning environment that challenges and stimulates all of our students. We recognise and value all student contributions regardless of age, ability, gender or culture. Through carefully designed programmes, we aim to personalise learning so that all students are able to reach their maximum potential academically, creatively, physically, socially and emotionally.
Most parents are aware of our Learning Support Department, made up of 3 highly experienced Special Educational Needs Teachers and one Teaching Assistant. They may also know about our Professional Support Services, which includes a Speech and Language Therapist as well as a full-time Dyslexia Support Teacher. Some parents may also be aware of the additional support we now provide for students with English as an additional language. Less parents, however, are aware of how we extend and support our large number of more able learners. It is important that our more able learners are equally supported and challenged here at Alice Smith.
We assess our children in many ways using a wide range of teacher assessment and GL tests (UK). These are not revised for and allow all students to attempt higher level questions unlike the SATs tests for Year 6, UK. Our GL standardised assessments carried out in Term 3, identified that by the end of Year 6, 24% of our students are attaining ‘well above’ the national average in the UK for English and 20% in Maths as compared with 4% of students attaining this in the UK. We also use CAT4 assessments which allow us to identify potential. This helps us to support students who are underachieving for any reason (for example, students new to English may not be able to demonstrate their ability initially). Our data demonstrates that we have a much larger more able population at Alice Smith than in most schools.
For those parents who are not aware of our More Able Programme, I have included the information that can be found inside our yearly ‘Parent Guide to Learning at JB’ for you here:
More Able Learners
The More Able (MA) Programme at the Primary Campus is extremely comprehensive. It has been designed so that provision is fully integrated into the curriculum using the latest international research into how MA students think and learn. Its implementation is overseen by the Vice Principal for Learning and The Learning Team leaders for each subject.
Our programme was redesigned after the following observations were noted:
- At The Alice Smith School, a larger percentage of students than usual show the 'above average scores in standardised assessments required for MA identification (up to 50% in some year groups). We believe this is due to high levels of family support, clear admissions criteria, high quality teaching and in some cases, additional tutoring.
- Although a large percentage of children met the attainment requirements for a MA label, far fewer students met the other two criteria shown in the diagram below.
Our curriculum has now been adapted specifically to further meet the needs of our larger, more able population. More able learners are known to benefit from more reasoning activities, open ended tasks, student-directed learning and increased enrichment opportunities (e.g working with experts, trips, ECAs, selective competitions etc).
We provide a 'stage not age' approach which means teachers are not restricted by 'year group set objectives and content' like many UK and other British International schools. Our teachers can therefore teach students skills and content above the National Curriculum guidelines as they see necessary and can adapt content to follow the interests of passionate learners. Our progressive skills ladders allow teachers to track every skill from EYFS to Year 8.
We have also increased the focus on 'Task Commitment' and 'Creativity' within our curriculum. Alongside citizenship awards and the Year 6 Challenge, students are encouraged to take more ownership of their learning through learning focused projects and creative experiences and have a greater awareness of the direction that their learning needs to take through our ‘goal focused’ approach.
We use careful grouping within the classroom and our highly experienced Head of Subject Team Leaders ensure quality training and monitoring is in place for all teachers. This means that teachers are able to challenge more able learners continuously in all subject areas. We use setting for Maths in Year 6 to support transition into Secondary.
Since our new More Able Programme was introduced two years ago, we have noticed an increase in creative thinking, authentic application in real-life situations and also more students are attaining ‘well above national average’ results.
We believe that the numerous and high level enrichment opportunities on offer at Alice Smith are very important and add a deeper level of learning, beyond the English National curriculum. In addition to our specialist teachers, peripatetics and coaches, we regularly invite experts into every year group and have recently had visits from astronauts, astrophysicists, marine biologists, pilots, authors, poets, artists, musicians, environmentalists, doctors, designers, and architects - to name but a few.
We offer almost 100 clubs each week which ensure exciting extension opportunities for students who show passion in particular areas. They also provide our students with the opportunity to mix with like minded peers, to work with an array of passionate and talented adults and provide an appropriate level of competition (we have Sport teams, Swim teams, Maths teams and a Novel Reading team).
Designing programmes aimed at meeting every student’s needs is a challenging undertaking. Rising to the challenge however is something we do well at Alice Smith and through careful monitoring and reflection, we will make continuous improvements and enhancements. For this to happen we also need your feedback. Please do speak with you class teachers or myself if you have any comments about our provision for more able learners.
For parents interested in learning more about more able learners, you may be interested in reading some further research from The Sutton Trust, 2012 here.
You may also like to visit the ‘Potential Plus’ website here. This is a charity set up to support schools and families with more able learners. It is full of fact sheets and advice.
Vice Principal - Learning and Teaching
Note: The above article was extracted from KLASS Times issue dated 3rd November 2017.
Click here for this week's full issue - 26th January 2017