Personalisation Part 3b: I need your approval!!

The trouble with schools is there is no just no easy solution to anything.  Or do I just overthink things?

So, this is what I want to do . . .

In Years 7 & 8, I want to create 3 or 4 small groups of 15 max in each year group.   This would be staffed by a combination of primary school teachers and HLTAs (I also have a very good behaviour specialist teacher).   I can’t afford to have these students separate for all lessons, but then that is not a bad thing as there needs to be integration.   Instead they will have their English, Maths Science and Humanities lessons in these groups and Art, Drama/Music, PE and Technology with the rest of their year group. In short: 75% of their time in the smaller groups.  They will also be in normal Learning Families (Tutor groups) with all other students.    I can afford the HLTAs and smaller groups by re-distributing our current support structures and resources, who would normally be working with these students across the school. 

Yr 9 will be a transition year, with some students following some prevocational courses

In Year 10 & 11 I would like to offer a Junior Apprentice (JA) provision to approximately 40% of the cohort.  For these students, 50% of the curriculum would be given over to a vocational area of their choice.  At the moment we’re looking at:

  • Public Services, Health Care and Sport combination (with specialisation in Year 11)
  • Hospitality & Catering
  • Construction and motor vehicle combination (with specialisation in Year 11)
  • Hair and Beauty
  • Child Care and Health Care combination (with specialisation in Year 11)

We may increase this, but affordability will always be an issue.   We will do this in close partnership with our local FE college to ensure progression and future employment.  The aim is to form partnerships with employers who will guarantee apprenticeships for those who succeed in the Junior Apprentice.

For the other 50% of their curriculum time the students will follow, English and Maths for 40% of this time and for the remaining 60% they will follow a range of life related courses which will include personal finance, ‘everyday science’ (does anyone know a good course?) and life skills).  

Possible issues and solutions (other than financial ones which I can overcome)

Issue: How do I reconcile this level of (what could be called) streaming, with what I thought were my liberal values?

Solution:

  • We must ensure we know our students well, before they begin Year 7
  • There must be clear criteria for grouping these students
  • The curriculum and delivery of these courses must equip students with good habits of learning, literacy and numeracy skills as a minimum, which will enable them to access mainstream when they are ready.
  • There must be a clear revolving door strategy to allow progression into mainstream
  • Again, we must know our students well before they move onto a JA course at 14
  • Before beginning a JA all students will have had tasters and good career advice.

Issue: How do I group the students in Years 7 & 8? If I create one behaviour group will it become the ‘sink’ group?  If I mix the groups, would how would the vulnerable students fare with the those with higher level behavioural needs?

Solution:

  • I believe a ‘behaviour’ group would be the better option rather than trying to mix some high-level behavioural need students with vulnerable students
  • The two essential ingredients to avoiding a sink group are the quality of relationships and the quality of curriculum.
  • Having staff who are masters of making, maintaining and managing good relationships is essential.
  • The curriculum offer and delivery would have to be challenging, engaging and relevant. Project Based Learning for example is a fantastic vehicle for this.

Issue: How easy will it be for students in year 7 & 8 to progress out of these groups?

Solution:

  • In a 240-student year group there will be an average class size of 27/28 allowing space for students to be admitted. 
  • There will also be some pupils who have needs which emerge as they progress through each Year.  There will therefore be a revolving door policy
  • Group changes will occur 3 times per year.  This will require the mainstream curriculum to be modular; to ensure pupils enter mainstream at a starting point for all pupils. 

Issue: Is it too early for young people to have such a restricted range of subjects from 14 onwards? Are we preventing them from broadening the range of their education?

Solution:

  • The disengagement that occurs in Years 10 and 11 in many students comes from the relentless drive towards them having to attain qualifications which have either no relevance to their lives and/or is setting them up to feel they have failed
  • English can provide a wide range of contexts with which to broaden a young person’s understanding and perception of the world
  • Contexts can also be applied to Maths in a similar way.

Issue: Are we preventing students from attaining a range of qualifications which can enable them to progress onto higher education?

Solution:

  • Students following a JA route with clear progression and close links to industry will lead to employment.
  • Too many students complete Year 11 and have to go back and resit Level 1 and then 2 qualifications taking them another two years.   By participating in the JA they are more likely to leave with a Level 2 qualification. 
  • Our perceptions of what constitutes a successful career is all too often a class led perception.  

To sum up: To some extent, I am advocating streaming (or is it just extreme setting?), however groups will be formed following rigorous analysis of student information.  There will be clear exit opportunities for students in KS3.   At KS4 students will have to remain committed to their course, however we will ensure they have tasters in Year 9 and are given good careers advice.  The course will also begin following a few related vocational areas, but narrow down to a specific JA as the course progresses into in Year 11.  

I believe this is proactive and effective personalisation, which will result in greater opportunities for all and enable teachers to meet the needs of all the students in their classes.  

In future blogs I’d like to look at the accompanying pedagogy that can take this well and truly into the 21st Century, preparing young people to be flexible and resilient in an unknown future. 

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