Headteacher Neil Berry explains how Brampton Manor in East London – described by Ofsted in December 1999 as having 'serious weaknesses' – was turned into the fully inclusive, successful school it is today
In December 1999 an Ofsted inspection found that Brampton Manor’s academic standards were below the national average. Other failings cited included overall unsatisfactory teaching in KS3, below average pupil attendance and weaknesses in leadership and management that ‘reduced the impact of management commitment on pupils’ learning.’I was appointed as headmaster within two months of the inspection and a recovery plan was written by the school and agreed by Ofsted for immediate implementation.
Defining expectations of ‘The Brampton Lesson’
The senior leadership team (SLT), comprising of the headteacher, three deputy headteachers and four assistant headteachers, decided that the direction for school improvement had to come from the school learning areas (faculties).Previously teachers had a large degree of autonomy within their classrooms and it was now agreed that this should change, with the leaders of each curriculum area being trained in what was necessary to improve teaching and learning.There had been little work done in monitoring the impact of the classroom experience for the learner, developing the pedagogy and practice of the teachers and above all addressing the lack of consistency in expectations across the school. The latter related to both students and staff.
Teaching and learning priorities
In 2000, teaching and learning priorities were introduced. They were:
- The explanation and display of the learning objective at the start of every lesson.
- The display, explanation and use of key (subject-specific) words during every lesson.
- A planned plenary session to reinforce learning and evaluate student progress to take place at the end of every lesson.
These priorities were continually reinforced through in-service training sessions, (Inset), staff meetings, daily staff briefings, memos etc. Senior staff monitored classrooms to ensure that school policy was adhered to.
Creating more engaging lessons
The following is taken from the work of Janette Price, assistant headteacher, when she researched into effective practice at our school.‘We wanted to analyse why some teachers and some lessons were so much more effective in getting students’ interest and impacting on their progress than others. We were particularly interested in the view of boys, as their attainment and value-added scores were lower than those of the girls and they were the source of far more behaviour problems at every level from minor disruption to permanent exclusion.‘Lessons were observed and students interviewed to decide what constituted an effective lesson for our students. Form tutors and subject teachers were given sets of questionnaires to work through with their classes to collect the students’ opinions about their teaching.‘All students, but boys in particular, said they were more interested in lessons and learned better when:
- they were active and could make things, draw things or act things out
- they could talk to each other and work in pairs and groups
- teachers used games and quizzes where the boys could compete against each other and against girls
- the teacher explained what they were going to do at the start of the lesson and tested them on it (quickly and with rewards preferably!) at the end.
‘There was a direct relationship between lack of variety in lessons and poor behaviour.‘These results were hardly surprising and most teachers would have been able to predict what the major findings were. The process, however, of getting all staff and students talking about what motivated them and helped them to learn meant that staff were open to applying this understanding when we asked them to review their current practice.’
Implications for pedagogy and learning styles
In the light of the research, academic areas were instructed to review their schemes of work and lesson plans and incorporate a greater range of activities. The expectation was created that each lesson should have at least three activities: starter, main activity and plenary.This became a feature of the school quite rapidly and it became more difficult for teachers to deliver lessons with no variety as this led to the students complaining if they were expected to continue with one activity for the entire lesson.At this stage what came to be known as VAK was introduced. Staff were trained on how to provide for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners. Students completed questionnaires to find their preferred learning style. After some experimentation it was decided that it was better to try to accommodate a variety of learning styles in each lesson rather than try to plan for the individual learning styles of each student separately.As Janette Price observed: ‘We discovered the student preference for kinaesthetic activities among boys of all ability levels, but this was particularly pronounced among middle to lower ability boys.‘Staff were directed to make their lessons more kinaesthetic and most responded positively. Students acted the roles of eggs and sperm in the reproductive cycle in science lessons, lay underneath desks in recreations of the condition on board slave ships in history lessons and sang “a-pos-tro-phe” to the tune of YMCA with appropriate actions in their English lessons.’Teachers who were particularly effective were videoed and their good practice showed to staff at training sessions.
Planning for student progress
Lack of challenge in some lessons had been identified in the Ofsted report of 1999 as a major reason for the lack of student progress, so we set about addressing this. We were particularly keen for the needs of our most able students to be challenged. To support student learning at Key Stage 3, departments were directed to break down the National Curriculum level descriptors and re-write them to make them accessible to students. These student-friendly level descriptors were then displayed on all classroom walls and were stuck into the front of students’ exercise books.Teachers were encouraged to explain to students how the work in each lesson related to the level descriptors and what students would have to do to move up to the next level. This became an expectation during formal lesson observations, which the senior leadership team carried out as part of their regular monitoring activities, and also became part of students’ termly self-assessment.In support of this work teachers were asked to level students’ work regularly with formative comments on what they needed to do to achieve the next level. This work laid the foundations for future developments relating to our implementation of the Assessment for Learning Strand of the national Key Stage 3 strategy.
Intervention to ensure the progress of all students
Due to a massive amount of hard work, training and weekend residential training we were confident that we had created a good classroom experience for our students. This was confirmed by our Ofsted re-inspection of November 2001. This was a crucial inspection for the school because unless it did well the school would move into special measures, which would have been a devastating blow to staff, students and parents.Fortunately the inspection judged that:
- Brampton Manor is an improving and much more effective school than it was two years ago. Through determined and purposeful leadership and management the school is now effectively promoting good behaviour and positive attitudes and relationships.
- It is beginning to see the benefits of this approach in the standards achieved by students.
- Improved teaching has led to better attitudes to learning and higher achievement.
- The school gives satisfactory value for money.
The report went on to describe what the school was now doing well:
- Students’ attitudes to learning are good and standards are improving.
- Assessment data are used well to identify priorities and meet students’ needs.
- Provision for social and educational inclusion is good.
- The headteacher provides very good leadership, in particular with a strong team of senior staff.
- Attendance is broadly in lined with the national average.
What could be improved:
- Improved students’ skills in speaking and reading.
- Meeting National Curriculum requirements in information and communication technology (ICT).
- Improving provision for students with English as an additional language.
The 2001 Ofsted inspection acted as a spur for Brampton to continue with redoubled effort to create an even better school. We realised that the next move forward for us was to consolidate and improve our intervention strategy to maximise our impact on inclusion and standards.The strategy was outlined by Janette Price as follows: ‘Once we had established the basics of good lesson planning, effective teaching and consistent behaviour management we began to look at how we could become more consistent in identifying and combating student underachievement.‘We know that although literacy or learning difficulties are barriers to achievement for some, many of our students underachieve not because of a lack of ability but due to lack of motivation, poor organisational skills and low aspirations. We need to identify who these students are and then put comprehensive intervention programmes in place to enable them to maximise their potential.‘We train faculty leaders to use bi-annual assessment data to monitor the progress of students with their team and to identify targeted students for close monitoring or intervention work.‘Where students are underachieving in their subject area, heads of faculty discuss lack of progress with the classroom teacher and then decide whether to contact parents or put students on subject report. Gifted and talented students are officially recognised in the English system and they attract additional funding from central government in order to allow them to reach their maximum potential.‘Any under-achiever on the gifted and talented register is assessed by a member of staff to see whether it is emotional or family reasons for under-achievement, or some other factor.‘Where cohorts of students need similar input, booster classes are run, particularly in the run up to government examinations, (SATs at 14, GCSEs at 16). All Year 11 students (16 years old) identified as underachieving or being at risk of underachieving (often 40 to 50 students), are assigned a university student mentor or senior leadership team teacher depending on the severity of the underachievement. No students are written off and underachievement is measured against baseline attainment from Key Stage 2.’Another tactic used was to change the designation of the pastoral team from reactive people who were used to only dealing with events after they had happened to being more proactive. We gave them the responsibility of monitoring and evaluating the progress of 300 students in their particular year group, in the process changing the title from head of year to progress manager. The message implicit in this was that student progress is everyone’s responsibility.
Engaging disaffected students
Involving students in decision-making in the school and giving them responsibility was a key imperative for us in wanting to create a school ethos and culture that was fully inclusive. We trained a group of about 50 self-selected students who wished to become prefects, ie the senior students and roles models in the school to assist staff and talk to the student body about a variety of issues.We also expanded the role of the school council and formed year group councils, which gave the students a modest budget and enabled them to spend some school resources on projects that they had agreed.Additionally, we were involved in a two-year project to raise the achievement of African-Caribbean students, and the use of focus groups during this project was a tool that was so successful that we used it in other areas of school improvement.
Appreciative inquiry (see panel) is a very powerful tool for school improvement and is very influential in Brampton Manor. It started initially with the use of the ‘values assessment’ to analyse the different views of students, classroom teachers, middle leaders and non-teaching staff.A values assessment involves a sample of teachers, students, parents and non-teaching staff completing an online questionnaire. People have to rank 50 values, both personal and then what they consider to be the values of the school. They then have to describe the values that they would like to see the school embrace, if they are different. For Brampton Manor the results were:
Most cited personal values
1. Caring2. Achievement3. Honesty
Most cited current school values
1. Achievement2. Challenge3. Learning
Most cited desired school values
1. Achievement2. Caring3. RespectWe were delighted with the response to the diagnostic, which confirmed that our emphasis on achievement and learning had made its mark on the students. This information was then used to enhance our work on student voice initiatives.
Appreciative inquiryAppreciative inquiry is defined as ‘an approach based on the premise that organisations change in the direction in which they inquire.’ So an organisation which inquires into problems will keep finding problems but an organisation which attempts to appreciate what is best in itself will discover more and more that is good. It can then use these discoveries to build a new future where the best becomes more common.The appreciative inquiry approach is often worked out in practice by using the ‘4-D’ model:Discover – people talk to one another, often via structured interviews, to discover the times when the organisation is at its best. These stories are told as richly as possible.Dream – the dream phase is often run as a large group conference where people are encouraged to envision the organisation as if the peak moments discovered in the ‘discover’ phase were the norm rather than exceptional.Design – a small team is empowered to go away and design ways of creating the organisation dreamed in the conference(s).Deliver – the final phase is to implement the changes.
Where we are now
In February 2007, Ofsted reported that:‘Brampton Manor is a good and improving school with some outstanding aspects. The personal development of students and the curriculum and exemplary. The consistently good achievement in examinations in each of the past three years is a tribute to the hard work of both staff and students.’
Since 2000, Brampton Manor school has moved from a failing, non-inclusive institution to a highly effective school with a remorseless focus on including all students, both socially and in terms of their overall academic achievement. We do this in the context of being a fully inclusive school working in a fully inclusive local authority. Any student, no matter what problems they have, physical or psychological, may come to Brampton as a student. We are proud of this and we are proud of the validation that Ofsted has given us this year. Everyone at Brampton Manor has worked hard to achieve this.