Penrice Community College has developed a system of empowering students and raising achievement through coaching, Barbara Green explains. This article also includes two students’ perspectives on the programme

Many schools have seen the advantages of supporting students through mechanisms such as peer mentoring, but Penrice Community College has developed a system of empowering students through coaching. We had long felt that, while our mentoring systems supported and encouraged students to achieve, we needed a tool that challenged our students further. With ‘coaching’ already prevalent among our staff, we felt that using this to support our students, was the answer.

We trialled the coaching as part of the process of preparing students for the Year 9 SATs. A group of 13 Year 10 students was selected to become coaches. Coaches were appointed based on their SAT results and inclusion in the ‘gifted and talented’ list. It was decided that coaching required individuals who were inquisitive while also being capable of unleashing the potential from their coachee, and we hoped that these students would fit the bill. Successful selection of students to act as coaches was imperative.

Learning the skills of coaching
Once our selection process was complete, we provided training for the students to learn coaching skills. A day was set aside to deliver the key concepts of the coaching process, including:

1. The attributes of a coach using Diamond 9.
2. The GROW model (goal, reality, options and will).
3. Triad coaching session.

The day started with the students getting to grips with the difference between teaching, mentoring and coaching, and with a bit of imaginative role play. The students soon got the hang of it. They were then introduced to the GROW model – the key success behind coaching:

Goal – Setting the goal that the coachee (for the purpose of this article the coachee will be referred to as ‘she’) wants to achieve eg to achieve Level 5 in English SATs. This sets the scene for the coach, who can then go to work on narrowing down the goal to make it SMART. This stage can be the most time consuming, yet the most critical, as the coach fires out questions to get the coachee to develop a clearly focused goal.

Reality – The coach then examines any problems or obstacles affecting the coachee’s ability to achieve her goal. The coach may also examine her past performance and commitment to achieving her goal, as well as any external factors that may get in her way.

Options – Now the coach asks the coachee to examine how she can help herself achieve her goal, as well as find others who might be able to assist her. The coachee has to prioritise her next steps, which effectively means creating a map in her own mind about what is needed, both in the long term and the short term (prior to the next coaching session).

Will – Coaches have to examine the commitment of the coachee by getting the coachee to set her own deadlines and signposts for achievement. The session is concluded with an action plan, in which the next steps and deadlines are agreed.

The role of the coach in this process cannot be underestimated. Their questioning, reflection and paraphrasing skills are essential to a successful coaching session.

To enable the coaches to think about the GROW model they were asked to think of suitable questions they could use to tease out the information from their coachee. After this, the students were put to work in triads (one coach, one coachee and an observer to feedback on their performance). While a normal coaching session may be one to one, the observer in this instance is able to model critical reflection on the coaching process, both for coach and coachee.

Once the training was complete they were ready to go. Students were given a ‘coaches game plan’, which summarised the key components of a coaching session. This provided them with a resource that they could refer to during coaching meetings.

Selecting the coachees

Once the coaches had been trained, the selection of the coachees had to be considered. There was a need to show statistical improvement, so those students who were underachieving were the first target. However, to narrow this selection down further, we needed to think of students who were willing to do something about this under-achievement. With the help of the pastoral team, the students were selected, and the coaches and their coachees were paired up.

As the coaching sessions commenced, it was fantastic to see the coaches adopting their new role. The questions were flowing and the coachees were engaged in thinking about their goals. This is the transcript from one of the coaching sessions observed: 

Coach: Start by telling me about some of the difficulties you are currently having in any of your subjects.
Coachee: I am having some difficulty with my English and science coursework which is getting on top of me at the moment.
Coach: What are you currently doing about this?
Coachee: I have been doing some of each of the coursework but struggling to get things completed and getting confused over which to do first.
Coach: Have you got any time plans at the moment?
Coachee: Well often I get distracted by the TV while at home when I try to complete my coursework.
Coach: Are there any other barriers preventing you from completing your coursework?
Coachee: There are some bits of the English I don’t get.
Coach: Is their anything that can help you further?
Coachee: Some of the students in my class are doing quite well at it, and also the teacher has some after-school sessions I could attend.

The great difference between mentoring and coaching was the removal of teachers in the support sessions. Coaches felt empowered by the process, and the coachees felt a real desire to achieve, whereas a teacher-led environment can be quite often a barrier to success. 

Student Perspective

Two Year 10 students, Albert Stokes and Jenny De Courcy, from Penrice Community College, give their views on the coaching training and the progress made so far with the scheme.

Albert Stokes, Year 10 student

I was among a group of ‘gifted and talented’ students selected to take part in the ‘Coaching for Excellence’ course in my school. The course consisted of half a day of training, followed by regular coaching sessions with a Year 9 student who is currently under-achieving in one or more core subjects. During the training day we learned the difference between coaches, mentors and teachers and were taught how to coach others effectively. We tested the skills we had learned on our peers, realising the difficulties of coaching someone of a similar age and ability as ourselves. This exercise was followed with a role play on ‘coaching’ which highlighted the difference between telling someone what to do and coaching them to find their own solutions.

Throughout the day we were filmed in our tasks. The end result was a video, ‘Coaching for Excellence’, which was used with Year 9 students and a resource for future coaches. As part of the training, we were asked to think of good questions to ask our coachees and we split up into groups to share ideas. We were then introduced to the GROW model, which consists of setting achievable goals based on reality, working out the options available to reach these goals and then getting the coachees ‘will’ to put in the effort to achieving these goals. This is a model that the whole coaching system is based on.

The advantages of having a coach for the Year 9 students is that they will think about things from a range of angles and consider a range of options available to them. The discussions between the coach and coachee are completely confidential and, because both students are of similar age, the coachee feels more comfortable discussing any problems that they have with their work and their understanding of the curriculum. We can use our experiences of KS3 SATs to help the students not reaching their academic goals.

As part of our coaching sessions with the Year 9s, we were paired with a coachee of the same gender as ourselves. This helped us as coaches to call upon our own experiences of SATs in order for us to understand it from the coachees viewpoint.

The coaching sessions have been a very valuable learning experience to both me and my coachee. Coaching for Excellence has made me think about my current status in the school and whether I am achieving my own goals. I have also thought about how I can use my knowledge and experience to help others in my school and the local area. I believe I can use this experience in other parts of my life and career to benefit myself and others in the future. I believe Coaching for Excellence will help both students being coached and those who are doing the coaching.

Jenny De Courcy, Year 10 student

I really enjoyed the coaching course and am really enjoying coaching my Year 9 coachee. I think that the coaching scheme at Penrice has been extremely beneficial to both me and my coachee.

I was chosen to become a coach because I have good KS2 SATs results and am part of Penrice’s ‘gifted and talented’ programme. The training was really helpful; I learned lots about coaching that I didn’t already know. At the course, we learned about what coaching is, what it involves, and how to be the best coach possible. We watched a role play which identified the differences between teacher, mentor and coach and learned how to use the time in our coaching sessions effectively.

My Year 9 coachee and I get on really well, as we spent a few sessions getting to know one another, which has now enabled her to talk to me honestly and openly about the challenges she has. In our coaching sessions I follow the GROW (goal, reality, options and will) model, which we developed through our training.

The key elements of our coaching sessions so far have been focused around trying to raise my coachee’s level from a Level 4 to a Level 5 in English and maths. My coachee has set this as her primary goal and, having explored the reality, it is clear what the reasons are behind her not succeeding at the present time.

We have worked through the options stage, and my coachee has come up with a number of options which will help her in achieving her goal, including additional revision sessions, previous SAT papers and exploring different forms of revision to improve concentration levels. We have set the deadlines for this achievement as we make our way towards the coming years SATs.