An English Department Perspective: How do we support the most able in the Department?

Posted In Academic, English

In June 2013, Ofsted asked whether more-able students were performing as well as they should in schools and the report concluded that higher expectations must be placed upon those schools where more-able students were not achieving their full potential.

At Bethany 10-15% of our pupils have been identified as ‘High Flyers’ through their CEM data and through discussions in departments. The need to educationally stretch and challenge these pupils is therefore essential, as well as providing effective teaching and support for all the other pupils we teach.

How are we doing?
The need to stretch the most able has become a central part of the Department’s philosophy for years now, as it has for the whole school. Having members of the Senior Management Team who are also ISI Schools Inspectors, we are regularly encouraged to remain at the forefront of change and development. A great example is the School’s Virtue of Learning. This has had a significant impact on the way the Department teaches as we now challenge pupils to Persist. Engage. Question. React. Reflect. in everything they do.

So how are pupils being stretched?
The staff in the Department are all experienced teachers who consistently challenge pupils to perform at their best. They set open ended, problem solving tasks in lessons, and for prep, that stretch and challenge pupils thinking – these tasks often focus on developing pupils’ ability to analyse and explore texts and writers’ intentions and apply these techniques to their own creative work. They also ensure, through careful and regular tracking, that pupils are held accountable to perform at their best. Pupils can also move between sets, so that the most able can be moved up and experience more challenging teaching and study more advanced texts.

As well as this, the department seeks opportunities for enrichment outside of the formal curriculum. Last term, High Flying KS3 pupils had the opportunity to work with the children’s author, Lisa Heathfield in a creative workshop. This was just one of many opportunities open to English High Flyers. Pupils have been given more advanced reading books to study, they are required to work at a faster rate and expected to produce a greater volume of work. The detailed marking of this work is designed to help them to see how best to improve their performance; they are also given examples of what the highest graded work looks like and so know what they are aiming for. They are encouraged to lead discussions and to use their initiative. High Flyers are also encouraged to enter internal and external competitions and to engage with a variety of other opportunities designed to challenge them further.

English Department Success
So what is the English Department’s data like? At GCSE the English Department’s results have always been respectable but in recent years the GCSE results have been particularly impressive. The last two cohorts have achieved a 100% pass rate at GCSE and a 99% pass rate in 2017. Last year over 20% of Year 11 achieved Level 8 or Level 9 and 74% achieved Level 6-9. The Value-Added (pupils who achieve higher than their CEM predicted grade) was 0.9 (76% percentile) in English Language and 1.2 Value Added (79% percentile) in English Literature. This is a phenomenally good achievement, considering some of the difficulties our pupils face. These results have been achieved by a focus on developing core skills, fostering independence, through careful planning and preparation, by numerous mini-mock exams and by successfully targeting the individual.

All pupils, including the High Flyers, are fully supported and encouraged in their learning and therefore achieve excellent outcomes. This is what lies at the heart of the Department’s success.