Strategy to win hearts and minds

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Teachers are the instruments that help pupils become the people they ought to be. Peter Walker is working on a plan of action for secondaries

A successful school has been described as a neatly fitting jigsaw puzzle.

So, from the sharp end of raising standards and a headship to my new post as national director of the Secondary National Strategy, the corner pieces and straight edges of my working life have changed. Mind you, I am still looking at the same picture.

I know I must bear in mind the classroom and the learner;how what we are discussing and planning might make learning more successful for the students I left behind and others around the country.

Raising standards at key stage 3 was initially a hard nut to crack at Park View Academy in Haringey, where I was head until a few months ago. The school faced challenging circumstances and change was paramount. In the drive to transform buildings, recruit staff and develop expertise of existing staff, raise expectations, improve school meals, the curriculum in Year 7 and GCSE results, radical improvement at key stage 3 was more elusive and perhaps initially not as high on our list of priorities as it should have been. We also had many students with English as an additional language and we had to contend with high pupil mobility.

The challenge initially was to develop and maintain high expectations even when results were slow to show improvement. We realised that we needed to expect more of ourselves in: planning and teaching;the use of data to track progress and the relentless use of targeted interventions. At times we were frustrated by our inability to ensure consistency in what our students were offered in the classroom, even though we worked hard to achieve it.

Our transformation of learning had to start in Year 7. We planned a curriculum which integrated English and humanities, was taught in ability groups and had literacy objectives at its core. We tapped into the expertise of primary teachers to develop this programme, and it was well received by parents.

We developed a specific Year 9 programme which moved through stages and early on drew heavily on the National Strategies' booster materials: refining schemes of work, targeted sessions led by key staff, catch-up and after hours sessions. As our teams became more confident and skilled, some of these interventions were integrated into the subject teams' whole year programme.

It was critical to generate an ethos of high expectation. What we said in assemblies, conversations between students and teachers, work of talented support staff all contributed to the students' sense that they could aspire and do better.

As we developed and refined our interventions and the way we prepared our students for examinations, we measured our success by their journey to independence. It did not happen overnight. Maths led the way and seemed to have fine tuned the balance between well-focused preparation in lessons and personalised interventions for individual students, English followed and the results in 2005 provided ample evidence of the impact of the staff's efforts in those two core subjects.

We measured our success by more than raw results. We noted our students'

increasing confidence in the exam room and better mastery of key techniques when demonstrating what they could do. These are skills which have to be taught.

In my new post, with the challenge to raise expectations and performance at KS3, KS4 and beyond for many schools, I am turning my mind to those prompts and interventions from outside the schools which made a difference and helped us at Park View Academy. It is about technique and interventions, but it is also crucially about hearts and minds for teachers as well as students.

In the words of Goethe: "If you treat people as they are, you will be instrumental in keeping them as they are. If you treat them as they could be, you will help them become what they ought to be."

Peter Walker is the new director of the Secondary National Strategy

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