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…this survey confirmed that the most effective schools successfully identify what is needed to engage their own pupils and then construct a distinctive and original curriculum that meets their needs.
Both the distinctiveness and originality of the English curriculum provided in the survey schools are firmly based on a very clear and individual understanding of the nature of the subject and its importance to pupils in each school.
Staff constantly borrow ideas from other schools and experts in the field but have used these ideas to create their own, distinctive learning ethos in the school:
“In this school, education is about learners experiencing the joy of discovery, solving problems, being creative in writing, art, music, developing their self-confidence as learners and maturing socially and emotionally…Learners do better when they are excited and engaged; when there is joy in what they are doing, they learn to love learning.”
Differentiation is perhaps the most difficult task facing teachers:
The most common practice noted in English inspections, particularly in secondary schools, is for teachers to identify at the planning stage the progress to be made by different ability groups of pupils…However, inspectors often comment that this is simply differentiation by outcome, with the teacher doing nothing different for these groups and simply relying on pupils to make the expected progress in terms of their prior attainment.
It does not ensure that teachers plan explicitly for the different levels of ability within the class, for example through choice of tasks or the use of additional support.
The principles behind the approach of ..two schools in this report.. are that all pupils should experience the same curriculum but that the methods and approaches used should enable different groups of pupils to make the most progress of which they are capable.
The survey schools take English out of the classroom and beyond the school. First, the importance of a strong enrichment programme cannot be overestimated. It was a significant feature of all the schools visited in this survey.
St Paul’s Academy…provides a huge range of enrichment activities for students. This is summarised in a document helpfully presented to pupils as ‘14 reasons NOT to go straight home from school’. This provision is, not surprisingly, massively appreciated by students.
Those leading the Crown Woods School English team attribute its success to systematic and close collaboration among teachers. Working in pairs, teachers plan together and visit each other’s lessons.
“It’s really helpful because you learn a lot from what other teachers do and there are always ideas you can adapt. It helps your confidence and reassures you that everyone’s working in the same way. It leads to a very strong emphasis on learning. We all strive to do better. And because it involves everyone and is conducted in a friendly and supportive way, we all find it really helpful.”
The close involvement of pupils in decisions about English, and very good procedures for getting pupils’ feedback on their learning, were key features of the success of a number of schools in the survey.
Moor End Technology College students are regularly asked to provide a ‘snapshot’ view of lessons on a post-it note, and these are collected and displayed in all classrooms. In addition, students are able to express their views through the use of suggestion boxes in all English rooms. From time to time, the department will ask for students’ responses to particular schemes of work and make adjustments where it seems appropriate.
The previous Ofsted reports on what makes an outstanding school identified the importance of a constant search for improvement and better practice…An interesting example of this continuous search for even higher achievement was the response of schools to the initial subject inspection. Although most of the schools had been judged to be outstanding, the subject inspector often suggested an area for further improvement or consideration. The search for even greater effectiveness in the survey schools was often exemplary.
The extraordinary thing about the schools in (the) survey is that boys invariably achieved at least as well as girls; in several of the schools, they made even better progress. All this was achieved without any evidence of a negative impact on girls’ performance or enjoyment of English.
St Thomas of Canterbury Primary has been successful with its boys. One pupil described to an inspector what teachers need to do to motivate boys. He talked about the need for boys to:
“Use your hands and different parts of the body and not just sit at the desk…have something active at the start of the lesson to get you involved…make sure that the teacher gets everybody involved, that no one’s left out…learn about new things and topics…and be given some choice over the work.”
Castle View Primary School recognises that its pupils enter school lacking confidence in speaking.. The initial approach with drama was through the idea of ‘a play in a day’ where an actor worked with a group of pupils to produce a play to be performed at the end of the day.
This approach has been extended. The school now employs a local actor to work with pupils for around 20 days a year. She spends several days working with all of the Key Stage 2 classes, sourcing Shakespeare texts or familiar stories such as Robin Hood.
She also works with some of the younger children and often writes short plays specifically for them. She plays drama games and develops other skills such as improvisation, mime and movement. At the end of the year, the school puts on a formal production for parents making use of her work throughout the year and giving key roles to the older pupils.
Reading was the subject of the case study of St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School. Provision there, and in other schools, was directed equally at building pupils’ basic reading ability alongside broader provision that encouraged reading for pleasure.