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More than dots on a graph

5th October 2020

This week I hand over the ‘lead’ article in the bulletin to Graham Tuck. Graham joins us as our new Director of Secondary Education, having recently occupied that role for the national Multi Academy Trust, Oasis. I’ll let him tell you how he sees his part in ‘making good things follow’.

Jack Mayhew, Executive Headteacher  Athena Schools Trust

The two graphs below are probably not the most attention-grabbing thing you have ever seen. But they are part of what drives me as a school leader, so I hope you’ll find them worth a further look.

School A

School A

School B

School B


To begin with, each dot on the graph represents one student. The grey dots are the disadvantaged students, the pink the non-disadvantaged. The scores along the Y - the vertical axis - show the student’s progress score for the Summer 2019 GCSE exams: those along the X - the horizontal - show the Key Stage 2 result that student arrived with when they joined the school in Year 7. Finally, the bold line at zero shows the national average for progress. So those dots above the line are students who made better than average progress. In school A, where the bulk of the dots are above the line, students, on average, make a grade more progress than students do nationally. In school B, they underachieve by three-quarters of a grade. So the child who attends school A may get a grade 6 in their GCSEs (and go on to study A levels) whilst the student in school B, who joined with exactly the same Key Stage 2 result, will only get a 4. For disadvantaged students, the gap gets even wider: a 6 at School A and a 3 at school B.

Four other important facts about these schools. First, neither are in our Trust (!) although the data is very real. Second, 98% of students follow an EBacc curriculum in School A: 46% in School B. Third, the attainment on entry to the two schools is broadly similar (well below the national average): so is the social context. Finally, school A was judged Outstanding by Ofsted, School B Inadequate.

So, what separates these two schools? Both are staffed by hard-working professionals. In both schools, pupils are happy, attend regularly and behave pretty well. The difference is, not surprisingly, the quality of the teaching and the ability of those teachers to deliver a knowledge-rich, empowering curriculum. And more importantly the culture that permeates the leadership of teaching. In School A, teachers know that they teach well but want to improve. The observation of teaching looks at its impact on the learning and what practical steps that teacher can take to make that learning better. Teachers are given the time and the space to practise these steps as part of their professional development. In department meetings, teachers co-plan their lessons for the week, talking not just about content but its delivery: sometimes they practise this delivery in front of each other. Meetings the following week always begin with a review of what went well and what could improve. In the staffroom, you are more likely to hear a conversation about managing the students’ cognitive load than the poor behaviour of a Year 7 group!

One of the pieces of work that I am really looking forward to in my new role is working with our secondary leaders – and particularly our leaders of teaching – in identifying what is going well in our classrooms and what the areas are for improvement. Where there are shared priorities, how can we develop Trustwide approaches that ensure that all of our students make great progress? If, during the course of the academic year, we have to provide some form of remote learning for our students, how can we maximise its impact? One of our drivers for these themes will be our secondary pedagogy network group, coordinated by Lucy Bush, who leads teaching at Guildford County School. The next meeting for this will be at 4pm on Wednesday, 14th October. And finally, this from Professor John Hattie: “It really comes down to not who teachers are, not what they do but how they think. And if they think that primarily that their job is to evaluate their impact, then all the good things follow.”

I hope that, in this new role, I can play my part in making good things follow.

Graham Tuck, Director of Secondary Education  Athena Schools Trust

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