An inner-city school has found new ways to encourage ethnic-minority pupils. Martin Whittaker reports
Name: Fairfield High School, Bristol
School type:11-16 comprehensive
Pupils on roll: 660
Proportion eligible for free school meals: 26.4 per cent
Improved results: 27 per cent of pupils gained five or more A* - C grades at GCSE in 2002, rising to 55 per cent in 2003, buts falling to 43 per cent last year.
Fairfield high school in inner-city Bristol has introduced a raft of measures to try to meet the needs and raise the achievement of its African-Caribbean pupils.
Its approach has brought stronger links with parents and the community, visits to university to raise aspirations, and moves to make the curriculum more relevant to black youngsters.
It is one of 30 schools in a leadership project run by the National College for School Leadership and the Department for Education and Skills, as part of the Government's Aiming High strategy to boost the achievement of ethnic-minority children.
Fairfield's headteacher Nicky McAllister said that the school's approach to its African-Caribbean pupils had previously lacked coherence.
"In a school this size it's quite difficult to read patterns as the children go through because the cohort sizes are so small," she said.
"So while we had some real individual successes from some of our African-Caribbean children, when you analyse the data, you're aware that they are not achieving at the same rate as others."
Fairfield high is a beacon school and one of the most successful secondaries in Bristol.
It is halfway up a hill, not only geographically but also in socio-economic terms - below it is the disadvantaged, multi-ethnic, inner-city ward of St Paul's, while above is the more affluent St Andrew's.
It is a relatively small school, with 660 pupils aged 11-16, though from September it is expanding into new buildings on the site of the neighbouringSt Thomas More school.
A quarter of pupils are eligible for free school meals, and it is hugely diverse, with more than half its children from a range of ethnic backgrounds.
The school's GCSE results have fluctuated from 27 per cent gaining five or more A*-C grades at GCSE in 2002, to 55 per cent in 2003, and down again to 43 per cent last year. Its key stage 3-4 value-added score puts it in the top 25 per cent.
In November 2003, Fairfield was invited to join the NCSL African-Caribbean Achievers pilot programme. For assistant head Nick Lewis, who is leading the project for the school, the programme, consisting of a series of residential sessions over a year, was a revelation.
Previously his brief had been the ethnic-minority achievement grant and learning support assistants. Now he has been brought on to the senior management team, ensuring the issue is constantly on the school's agenda.
The programme showed him how to take a whole-school approach to boosting African-Caribbean pupils' achievement, and to put together a package of measures to suit their needs.
One element focuses on the revision needs of pupils coming up to GCSE. When the school asked African-Caribbean pupils in Year 11 how they wanted to revise, they said they preferred to do it in their own community, with support from the school.
So Fairfield now offers them supported after-school revision sessions down the road in St Paul's family learning centre.
The school has also strengthened its links with the community. Mr Lewis has been involved in gaining neighbourhood renewal funding for Saturday schools for black pupils in the local community. He also sits on the management group of a local inclusion project and has represented the school at community-organised consultation events for parents.
Another change was in the way the school advertised for learning support assistants. Despite advertising posts in the JobCentre and local newspapers, there were few African-Caribbean applicants.
Since the school started advertising these jobs more locally, by putting up posters in community halls and sports centres and using community radio, most applicants are African-Caribbean.
Fairfield has also tried to find positive role models for black pupils.
Through links with the University of the West of England, ethnic-minority students come in to mentor Y7 pupils, who also visit the campus.
Even artwork and posters around the school have come under scrutiny. The school has appointed a LSA with responsibility for displays.
"Part of her role has been to take an overview so that African-Caribbean pupils are represented with positive academic images," says Mr Lewis.
In addition, there has been staff training on pupil-teacher relations and how to work with African-Caribbean pupils. Subject leaders have been given materials that link with the KS3 strategy, using themes from pupils'
culture. Some of the changes have been as simple as the geography department using Caribbean atlases as well as British ones.
But underpinning all of these measures is the school's Aiming High plan, which brings together separate plans and funding streams for the ethnic-minority achievement grant, racial equality and beacon status into one coherent document.
"Before, we had pieces of work going on but no overview of how they could be linked together," says Mr Lewis.
Data analysis has also been developed under the project. The senior leadership team is much more aware of information relating to ethnic groups, cross-referencing it with exclusions and GCSE results.
Mr Lewis says: "Before the project we wouldn't have set specific targets for African-Caribbean groups."
So what impact has the programme had?
Nicky McAllister says: "We have a significant number of African-Caribbean boys and girls who not only reached but exceeded their targets for that particular cohort. We didn't get as many on five A*-Cs as we would have liked, but the trend is definitely upwards."