How to create a successful all-through school
The site on which my school sits once accommodated separate primary and secondary schools that never spoke to one another, were constantly in the financial red and the most successful alumni happened to be the ones that never attended.
Things changed through parent power. Fierce community champion Caroline Jenkins decided that not only were the schools not good enough, but that she was going to do something about it. She recruited Mark Davies, an established school leader with a history of improved outcomes to join the crusade. Teyfant Primary School and Hartcliffe Engineering College were eventually dissolved and the all-through Bridge Learning Campus was created on a wonderful £40 million site; she is still our chair of the local governing body and he is now our MAT’s CEO. They both chose me as the next person to hold the baton.
Bridge Learning Campus in south Bristol is an all-through school for children aged 3 to 16. We are genuinely all-through and don’t operate as separate primary and secondary schools. We are in no way the finished article, we don’t have all the answers and in many ways we are still working towards success. But the draw of becoming part of this amazing all-through school led to me uprooting my family and moving them across the country.
Since becoming an all-through school, we have learnt a lot about making a structure like this work. Here are some of those lessons.
Structuring the curriculum
This year, we moved from a four-phase curriculum to a three-phase one, essentially cutting down the moments of transition for children and enabling leaders to get their teeth into a decent amount of time to secure progress. The three assistant headteachers that lead these phases are the only age-specific leaders we have – everyone else leads for the whole school, from Nursery to Year 11. Phase one is Nursery to Year 4, phase two is Year 5 to Year 8 and phase three spans the GCSE years.
Phase one follows a typical primary curriculum of a morning full of maths, reading and writing followed by an afternoon of more diverse activities, sometimes delivered by secondary specialists, which in turn frees up the phase one teachers for planning, preparation and assessment. For example, our Spanish teachers can move between Year 11 and Year 4 in the space of a day; PE staff from GCSE to Year 2. It makes financial sense, but provides a truly enriched curriculum.
Between the start and end of phase two, children steadily move from a primary experience to a secondary one, but this is done cautiously and is personalised for each child. We have a phase two intervention class who are taught together to strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills as well as emotional readiness for phase three; other children are effectively integrated by Year 6. There is no one-size-fits-all and our skilled staff enable this to be successful. Given that we also share a site with a large, successful special school, we are looking at ways for even greater cross-school working to provide a truly inclusive experience for our most vulnerable children.
Children select their GCSE options for the start of Year 9 and, at the moment, it is here that we are playing catch-up. But we are making excellent progress and it was rewarding that our Ofsted last year, featuring two HMIs, recognised this journey and context.
I am headteacher of the whole school. Neil Willey, who once led just the primary phase, is now associate headteacher for the whole school and leads on assessment and student progress. Primary trained, he has brought himself up to speed with Progress 8 and other KPIs incredibly quickly.
All other leaders – senior and middle – lead all-through, too. I have an assistant headteacher for inclusion and she is also the Senco; one for engagement (including attendance and behaviour) who leads the pastoral team; two for joint professional development (JPD), which includes teaching and learning in all formats, and two who lead the curriculum – one who leads science, technology, engineering and maths and one who leads culture. I also have a campus business manager.
There are six curriculum departments, each led by a head of department, who leads that aspect of the curriculum from Nursery to Year 11. It is their role to know, determine, improve and enrich the curriculum for every child. Each head of department is supported by a curriculum leader – and English, maths and science have two each, one leading younger years and one for the older years.
Our site is quite large and although connected, children start in Nursery at one end of the building and finish Year 11 at the other end of a different building. Neil and I try to swap offices a couple of times a week so that we both have a presence all-through and leaders conduct duties in all areas of the school.
Some briefings, meetings and JPD are held together, some separate, according to need. We try to ensure that all activities are as all-through as possible, such as World Book Day, which was also an opportunity for children to work together – all three school phases reading together was a wonderful event. Sometimes, when parents of Nursery children can’t stay and play, some of the older children step in as big brothers and sisters, which fosters a sense of family and community.
Accountability and outcomes
We are simultaneously juggling the new GCSE specifications, changes to SATs, life after levels, and everything else that the DfE throws at us at short notice. That’s tough, but the staff are a collaborative and supportive team and both myself and governors are determined not to load any additional pressures upon teachers at the moment; we are entering a time of great turbulence and we simply won’t be able to compare like for like for some time.
What we can do is ensure that our focus is on students and their journey through the school. When children join us aged 3 and remain with us until 16, there are simply no excuses about learning and progress. In an educational landscape where interventions have become the norm, we know we need to pick up gaps in learning as quickly as possible, help children back on track, and keep them there through high-quality teaching. If we get every stage right, we should not forever be playing catch up.
We spend a vast proportion of our pupil premium money on speech and language interventions in the early stages of schooling – we aim to rectify, or at least lessen, communication barriers as soon as children arrive at school.
This can already be seen in some great outcomes for our younger students, but it is taking longer to filter through to GCSE, although we’re getting closer.
As we move forward, we become stronger. The more we fully integrate, the more I can’t believe that there aren’t more schools like ours – it seems so obvious.
Keziah Featherstone is headteacher of Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol