Freeing up the teachers to teach

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Hannah Frankel discovers how a new breed of troubleshooter is contributing to the rise and rise of good grades

A school where almost half are not qualified teachers? You would expect the staff, not to mention certain unions, to be up in arms. But staff at a Lincolnshire college, where all head of year and form tutor positions are filled by youth advisers and associate employees, are delighted with their new school structure.

As a non-selective school in a selective local authority, Haven High has a large proportion of special needs students with emotional difficulties.

Adrian Reed, head, recognised that teaching staff were spending more time on pastoral problems than on raising attainment. So when a head of year position became available in 2002, he offered the role to one of the school's visiting youth advisers, as a pilot.

"At first there was some apprehension," Mr Reed admits. "Some teachers were concerned that the move would affect their own promotional prospects. But once it became clear we would not cut their teaching and learning responsibility payments or their professional development, they relaxed.

Now they wonder why we didn't do it earlier."

The undoubted success of the restructure meant that by September 2005, all the head of year positions were filled by youth workers and all 27 form tutors were associate staff. There are now 60 qualified teachers at the school and 50 non-teaching members.

In the new system, rather than teachers trying to troubleshoot problems in their free time, heads of year are now available throughout the day. As a result, attendance and behaviour have improved significantly, with fixed-term exclusions dropping from 36 in 2003 to just three in 2005.

Ben Adams (right) used to work with permanently excluded pupils before becoming head of Years 10 and 11. "Pupils and parents can talk to us when they want," he says. "We also each spend one period a day going round the school and offering help for students who are getting distracted. It allows them to refocus on learning."

This leaves teachers more time to plan and teach. Each teacher is a personal tutor to approximately 20 students, who meet regularly to discuss their academic progress.

Parents evenings have been scrapped in favour of three personal meetings each year, held between tutors, their pupils and parents. As a result, parent attendance has shot up from 45 per cent attending traditional parents evenings in 2004, to 81 per cent coming to personal meetings this year.

Exam results have also steadily improved, with a 13 per cent improvement in GCSE results since 2003. More impressive still has been Haven High's value-added score. In 2003, its percentile ranking was 93rd in terms of value added (compared with similar schools), but this year it leapt to third place.

"The results are proof that this is having a positive effect on attainment," says Liz Carr, the assistant head who used to be head of Year 10. "I don't think we did justice to either the pastoral or the academic side of things before, because we were too busy. Now we solely focus on academic performance and refer pastoral needs to the experts."

Canterbury High School was also struggling to hit targets in highly selective Kent. The secondary modern was named in 1993 as one of the worst performing schools in the country, with just four per cent of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs.

It then made steady progress, with 33 per cent achieving at least five A*-Cs in 2003, but after a similar restructuring, 58 per cent of its pupils attained five A*-Cs this year.

Phil Karnavas, deputy head, says: "The most important factor in this achievement has been the remodelling"

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