Tags: Curriculum Manager | Raising Achievement | SENCO | Teaching & Learning Coordinator

Identifying students who are underachieving is easy. The challenge is doing something about it.

David Roberts, Assistant Head, and Adele Hulton, Key Stage 4 Manager, Middleton Technology School, Rochdale, discuss their work on raising achievement.

Our exam results over several years showed a significant gap in achievement between boys and girls, greater than the national trends. Senior managers and curriculum leaders identified an urgent need to tackle this problem. We began this early in the school’s development (1990) so that by the late 1990s there were clear signs of a change. The table below right shows when the significant changes took place, particularly in maths and science.

To identify those boys who are underachieving, we use:

  • Key Stage 2 results
  • Middle Years Information System (MIDYiS) scores
  • Fischer Family Trust, which produces data to predict pupils’ targets at the end of each Key Stage.

All these show where the student should be at the end of KS3 and KS4. In senior management group meetings we regularly scrutinise performance across all subjects, looking for areas where performance is dipping. Curriculum leaders discuss grades openly – this is an important part of the process.

Identifying students who are underachieving is easy. The challenge is doing something about it.

Our typical cohort of boys shows a varied mix but it is clear that too many boys belong to an aggressive culture where antisocial behaviour is the norm. Many of their parents were unsuccessful at school and have low expectations of their children. It is up to the school to make the changes, regardless of what is happening in the community around us. Our priorities are shown in the box on page 7.

Strategies It is important to be honest with staff and students and ensure that predictions are realistic. The ethos of achievement must be consistently revisited. We have achieved this in a number of ways. Positive ethos: We have created a positive ethos where achievement can be celebrated. Ideas include regular achievement assemblies where students from across the achievement spectrum will stand before their year group and collect certificates. This can take time but chocolate bars and lollipops work a treat, especially with Year 11! A trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach early in the autumn term and our annual prom in the summer term have proved to be valuable incentives. Competition: We promote healthy competition – between tutor groups, year groups, boys and girls and staff.

Achievement culture: Target-setting (which we do twice during Year 11) and assemblies help us promote an achievement culture.

Positive culture: We go to great lengths to make sure that street culture and its fashions, motifs and emblems are left at the school gates. If it does appear in school we act immediately, for example if boys wear school uniform inappropriately, have a challenging hairstyle, or congregate in large groups. Senior staff need to be visible and respond vigorously to these situations – this gives other staff confidence to take action. Using the audit checklist on page 7 helps us to promote a positive culture and prevent a macho, anti-school sub-culture developing in school. Using assemblies, we show the underachievement and challenge the pupils to break the patterns.

Communication: We make sure the students know what we are doing to support their learning.

Cambridge project
Following our success in improving boys’ achievement, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) showed interest in the practices we had developed. This led to the involvement of our school in the Raising Boys’ Achievement project run by the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University (www.rba.educ.cam.ac.uk ). The project looked at the extent to which boys underachieve academically, explored the dilemmas and interpretations of this debate and also challenged some misconceptions. The research took place over four years. A key focus of the research was to change the culture. To quote from the report briefing:

It is self-evident that some boys go to considerable lengths to protect their macho image and sense of self-worth by indulging in a range of non-conformist behaviour which frequently prevents them and others in the same classes from achieving well (Younger et al, 2005)

Our answer to this problem, and consequence of the work we had already done, was to establish the key leader scheme. This is our attempt to engage the key image-makers and incorporate them positively into our school life. The essence is to support students (mostly boys) whose physical presence, manner and behaviour unduly influences the peer group, ultimately to the detriment of exam success.

Key leaders Key leaders are predominantly boys and tend to fall into one of three categories. Rebels are intelligent 5 A*–C borderline students, who may mock others’ work. They disrupt lessons easily and may intimidate staff.

Clowns are usually immature boys who frequently act out inappropriate behaviour in the classroom, can incite others and set dares and challenges.

Stars are successful and charismatic students who attract other students to them. They are often good at sport. They possess good interpersonal skills and can be encouraged to help other students. Rebels and clowns are often at risk of disassociating themselves from the school’s values. Stars, on the other hand, are positive role models who reinforce the ethos of the school.

We give all key leaders a great deal of time, attention, praise, encouragement and support. Each has a mentor who is usually one of the school’s senior staff, including the headteacher. These staff are in a position to take appropriate action when problems arise. This mentor is crucial. If the boys become disaffected they will take 10 others with them!

Identifying key leaders
Mentoring of key leaders begins as students progress into Key Stage 4. In the summer term of Year 10, curriculum leaders ask all staff for names of students they feel fall into one of the three categories above. The Key Stage 4 manager collates this information and uses academic and inclusion records to identify a cohort of approximately 10–12 students. So far, the greatest number of girls in this group has been three.

Assigning mentors
We have tried a variety of methods for finding a suitable mentor, including:

  • allowing the students to choose
  • using new, young staffl
  • using experienced classroom teachers
  • using members of the senior management group.

At no time are the students made aware of their status as a key leader. Mentoring is available to every student in Year 11 if they wish and students are encouraged to approach a member of staff of their choice to request this. The key leaders group is led to believe that members of staff have simply selected them for mentoring. The most successful method for mentoring key leaders has usually been to use senior staff , possibly due to the nature of the students and the time that they require. It is important to consider the student as an individual and choose a member of staff who will provide a positive role model and work well with the student. It is often a good idea if the student is not in any of the mentor’s teaching groups, to aid the ‘befriending process’.

The mentor should be given access to their student’s performance data, report cards and inclusion records to ascertain a holistic view of the student. The box below shows how we support the mentors.

Mentoring works like tutorials and is usually weekly. A sheet is filled in with targets for that week. This will relate to data given to the mentor from curriculum areas. Mentoring will go on right up to the exams if necessary.

Outside agencies Using outside agencies has been a key element in supporting students at risk of disaffection, as it has helped us to challenge antisocial behaviour outside the school day and encourage our students to become involved in worthwhile projects.i Youth Inclusion Projects (YIP) based in our main catchment areas engage students in out-of-hours activities such as outdoor pursuits, music and drama performances and practical skills.

Learning mentors are youth workers assigned to areas of particular deprivation to provide one-to-one mentoring. The students receive a variety of services from help with homework and coursework to filling out job and college application forms.

Connexions personal advisers (PA): PA1 works with our 1A–G students and their families and facilitates college/work placement visits and access to information concerning post-16 choices. PA2 offers careers, further education and training advice, college open day information.

Summer leavers’ project is a good incentive that allows us to refer students to youth workers who reward achievement with residential trips and the opportunity to gain qualifications, for example in lifesaving or first aid.

All these services have been provided at no extra cost to school and although only around 10 students will be involved (with the exception of PA2s) this will account for 5% of our total year group and affects our 5A*–C and 1A–G. This is a key indicator looked at by OFSTED and the DfES as well as the local education authority. This year we achieved 99% which means that nearly everyone achieved something. The aim is for key leaders to:

  • recognise that they were not achieving as well as they could
  • be willing to seek help with their learning from approachable teachers or other adults who work in or with the school
  • have a realistic awareness of what they are capable of achieving – which they often underestimate
  • attempt to control their own behaviour and have mechanisms to avoid conflict.

Taking stock Students are taking on board guidance from staff – we know that students repeat advice given to them regularly in assemblies or one-to-one mentoring sessions about the importance of achievement and its effect on their future career paths. The scheme showed greatest success when members of the senior management group took on the role of mentor.

The students felt motivated and valued as a result of the scheme, and key leaders have recognised the need for qualifications to enable them to break out of the cycle of poverty in the area.

As we have evolved this best practice, we have made some changes. We use MidYis scores to identify individual learning styles – this helps staff to engage all students. We tell curriculum leaders which students we have targeted in their subject area, to increase individuals’ overall A*–C passes. We have reduced the number of negative assemblies where the only focus is on failure, and increased in the number of proactive, informative and engaging assemblies and presentations. As a result, boys have had the opportunity to achieve and celebrate their achievement and feel part of the ethos of the school. Staff are reassured that pupils who cause concern are being monitored closely and dealt with appropriately.

For the school this means we have created a learning culture that is all inclusive and accessible to all.

Monitoring To keep up the momentum and monitor progress, the key stage manager collates the feedback from curriculum leaders at the senior management group meetings. We hold formal target-setting sessions with reviews in the autumn and spring terms for all students.

Mentors closely follow their students’ academic progress.

Year 10 zero tolerance
The success of our Key Leaders scheme highlights the importance of proactive measures to deal with students who cause concern. All students and staff are made to feel valued – we assure them that if they feel that someone in their class is having a detrimental effect on the learning of others then that person will be dealt with. In last year’s Year 10 we identified a cohort of students much larger than the Key Leaders group who were jeopardising the learning of others. Following intense work by learning mentors, class teachers and the inclusion team we realised that an alternative approach was needed. We spoke to these students as a group about the effect they were having on the achievement of their peers and on their own achievement.

We assigned them a mentor who was a member of the senior leadership team. Each mentor took on responsibility for approximately five students and met regularly for formal target-setting sessions. Each student was given a folder containing information about the mentoring process and target sheets for each subject in which the student is underperforming. To carry out this type of ‘mass mentoring’, we needed the facility to collate and analyse a huge amount of data. Each term we completed an interim report for each student that allowed staff to record concerns for behaviour, classwork, coursework and homework and low-level disruption. These concerns were graded on a scale of 1–3 where 3 was a serious concern. Students were then ranked according to their number of concerns and added/removed from the zero tolerance risk, rewarded for reduction in the number of concerns – or we took appropriate action for an increase in concerns. We placed many of these students on pastoral support programmes (PSPs) and we noted a steady decrease in the number of students assigned to this group over the year.

Next steps We have introduced an inclusion centre to:

  • allow students following an alternative curriculum, for example Headways or Kickstart to have access to GCSE maths and English
  • provide ‘time out’ for students who persistently cause disruption
  • reduce the number of exclusions
  • issue sanctions for challenging school rules on uniform and hairstyles.

The centre is to be supervised by a member of staff with experience of working with excluded students in a pupil referral unit and line managed by the headteacher and inclusion manager.
Initial steps you need to take on the journey to raising boys’ achievement are shown below.

David Roberts, Assistant Head and Adele Hulton, Key Stage 4 Manager, Middleton Technology School, Rochdale.

Younger, M et al (2005) Raising Boys’ Achievement (Homerton Report), University of Cambridge: (click here for report)

School context Middleton Technology School is an 11–16 mixed comprehensive school situated about five miles north of Manchester City Centre in the metropolitan borough of Rochdale. The school was formed in September 1990 following local authority reorganisation. The area around the school is predominantly white working-class, with pockets of middle-class housing. Some of the working-class areas are particularly deprived. Many of our students come from three council estates nearby. The M24 postcode is recognised nationally as being a deprived area. However, since our A*–C indicator has improved, we are attracting an increasing number of students whose parents would previously has opted to send them out of the borough.

The provision for free school meals has fallen from around 35% in 1990 to nearly 16%. There are currently 1,060 students on roll. The school achieved Technology College Status in the first round in 1994. This has undoubtedly brought significant benefits. The percentage of students gaining five or more A*–C passes has risen from 54% in 2001 to 87% in 2005.

Our priorities

  • Look at the school culture.
  • Examine what needs to be done to bypass the barriers to learning.
  • Provide a stable and consistent environment.
  • Motivate boys by teaching them in their preferred learning style.
  • Manage their learning time effectively.
  • Develop qualities of perseverance, collaboration and cooperation.
  • Embrace the values of achievement and teach pupils how they can achieve success.

Audit checklist
School uniform and equipment

  • Are all the students wearing uniform?
  • Is it being worn correctly?
  • Do all students have the necessary equipment and have some type of bag in which to carry it?


  • Are students ridiculed for producing good work or aiming for success?
  • Are boys who study art, music, drama or health and social care subject to homophobic comment?
  • Are boys encouraged to participate in school music and drama productions?

Achievements and rewards

  • Do senior staff encourage students – do they have informed conversations with boys about their progress?
  • Do boys achieve as many rewards as girls?
  • Are boys who are at risk of becoming antisocial targeted for extra support?
  • Are the number of boys in top sets (yes, you must have setting) monitored carefully?
  • Is there an element of competition between the boys?

Role models

  • Can you identify positive role models?
  • Are there enough male staff for the boys to identify with? This is becoming a real problem with fewer men entering the profession.
  • Do boys respect the role of female teachers and do females occupying senior or influential positions within the school?
  • Do boys view their own leaders within the year group as being successful and achievers?
  • Do classroom teachers control the boys within the classroom sub-culture, for instance in the use of seating plans?
  • Do all teachers have well-established classroom routines?

What does the school need to do?
The proactive measures to set the correct expectations include:

  • prompt start to the school day – reduce social time
  • reduce lunchtimes
  • monitor behaviour weekly
  • chase up attendance daily
  • uniform dress code.

Additional support includes:

  • twilight and lunchtime extra lessons
  • revision schools (Year 11 half-term and Easter)
  • no study leave
  • high profile teacher input – direct pedagogic style.

For staff:

  • systematic lesson observations
  • support and training plans for staff who are not meeting targets
  • identifying good practice and sharing this with all staff
  • use of our own expertise to make staff development relevant
  • careful choice of GCSE specifications
  • use of agencies to support our work
  • direct input of our learning mentors
  • support from a counsellor and therapist.

First steps to raising boys’ achievement

  • Recognise and admit that there is a problem.
  • Audit the school’s culture.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive about your plans for dealing with it.
  • Gain the support of the whole school staff.
  • Have a consistent approach but be prepared to review and reflect.

Useful websites


This article first appeared in Curriculum Management Update – Nov 2005

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