How to build a high A*ttainer

So we have the classic problem, we work incredibly hard to get our 5 A* to C in English and Maths. We put our best teachers in these groups from the start of year 11 (every year we plan to move this provision down the years but it never quite pans out), we provide intervention, PIXL PLC tracking, homework resources, pre learning, post learning, past papers, targeted homework and so on. We feel the guilt that our higher attainers don’t always get the glare of the spotlight and that they deserve the same attention but at the same time we share the moral imperative to give the greatest number of our students the best possible life chance  by gaining that critical 5 grades. So it was that a couple of years ago we launched a project (one of three working on weaknesses we had identified internally) to specifically target the students with the greatest potential, across all subjects and across all years.

The role was opened up to any staff interested on a TLR 3 to be a two year project with regular feedback to Vice principals and interim/final feedback to the Academy Councillors. We had in mind that it was an excellent opportunity to grow our future leadership and as it happened two of our 2nd year (NQT) teach firsts were the successful candidates. One of my former mentees (Chris Guerin, @guerinmaths) and our English teacher (Hannah Roberts) and so were born the A*ttainers group.

They set about targeting all students who had prior assessment data that suggested they were capable of reaching grade A or A* in at least five subject. They launched the group with assemblies, a prominent notice board and meetings with key groups. One of the great things about Ninestiles is its level of equality and inclusivity so they had to be careful not to create an elitist group with any sense of entitlement so they were sensitive about how they managed this process and instilled the belief that having this potential had not earned you anything. Where students not immediately included in the group were shown to be capable in given subjects they were added to it ensuring that the fluidity of the group meant membership was seen as something to be earned.

Hannah has since moved on and her role has been taken by Steph Block (another of our teach first gang) and she has continued the great work. Steph and Chris have held assemblies with the A*ttainers to let them know where they are in their journey, celebrate their successes, show them possible opportunities and show them the paths taken by our first ever cohort of students within this group. They’ve also organised visits to grammar schools and post-16 colleges to develop the students aspirations.

All of this culminated in our A*ttainers evening last Thursday (4th June). Alongside our outstanding work related coordinator Jayne Talbot (@jayne_talbot), Chris and Steph  organised visits from a large number of the top universities around the country. I really can’t stress enough just how valuable Jayne’s work is in this area. She has a wealth of expertise which has allowed her to build long term relationships with a huge range of employers, further education institutions and work related training providers. The universities invited not only set up information points around the central point of the night but also offered workshops on topics identified by the attendees of last years events. The information and guidance they were able to offer students on courses, admissions, accommodation and university life general was invaluable. Added to this was a wealth of knowledge and experience from career guidance experts, apprenticeship offering groups, the fabulous Challenge Network (@TheChallengePO) which loads of our students attended last year, national employers like the NHS and larger local employers who may provide potential career paths for some of our brightest students. The evening ended with a moving and inspirational speech and performance from former Birmingham Young Poet Laureate Matt Windle (@mattwindlepoet) speaking of his own journey to a career which he loves and uses to motivate others. The audience of parents and students were completely absorbed by his work, I can’t recommend him highly enough.

My personal highlight was seeing former student Cameron Kigonya (one of my first ever KS4 students and one of the first I ever helped get an A*) return to talk about his journey to Oxford University. It was so inspirational to hear a former student speak of his journey through Ninestiles, the help and guidance he received and his path through post-16 education. It was also fantastic for him to be able to relate just how well he has made the progression into Oxford University, how much he is enjoying it and how comfortable he is there. We spend huge amounts of time telling students they can make it to this sort of place but hearing it from one of their own, who has actually done it removes another layer of fear and mystique. Cameron was also able to talk about all the practicalities of moving on to university in the current climate. Although i’m not that old, I did leave university about the time our current year 11 were being born. It means that my picture is definitely out of date and Cameron was able to really bring it up to date.

Our evaluation of the evening has shown that parents and students alike valued the evening extremely highly with the overwhelming majority of the 150 replies stating that they agreed or strongly agreed with the fact they were better informed, more aware and had received useful information, advice and guidance. Perhaps the most pleasing aspects have been the fact that this is now part of our regular calendar, embedded in the way the school works and also that we have grown leadership skills in two outstanding young teachers.

Many thanks to all our fantastic visitors on the night Aston University, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust,Birmingham City University, Brilliant Careers, Cardiff University and Cardiff Met,Careers Guidance Solihull ,Dental Smiles Adademy, HealthTec at Baverstock Academy, IBM, NatWest Bank, Newcastle University, Newman University, Newnham College Cambridge, Solihull College, SAE, STEMNET, The Challenge/NCS, University of Birmingham, University of Law Birmingham, University of Southampton, University of Wolverhampton, University of York, Carillion plc,Birmingham Public Health and of course, Matt Windle – Poet.

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