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The Long Trek

by James Keep – Curriculum Area Leader – Modern Foreign Languages

Photo by Mike Tanase on Pexels.com

Warning! Clichéd, extended metaphor coming up in 3, 2, 1…
Colleagues, you are on a long and arduous mountain trek. It’s been tough going so far; some have stumbled, others have sustained bruises and many have been on the verge of giving up. You’re all running low on energy, yet the steepest, toughest climb, for which you and your team have been in training for so long, is just around the corner. Sounds like a sticky situation. Oh and just to top it off, you’re the group leader, so the buck stops with you to get everyone to the top! How are you going to stay positive and keep both yourself and your team going?

This time of the school year is fraught with opportunities to feel miserable and the temptation for us or our pupils to give up, so how can we resist and persist as teachers and leaders of our classes, when our year 7s have suddenly returned from the Easter break with all the signs of turning into a bunch of overly-confident, too-big-for-their-boots year 8 wannabes, and our year 11s are showing more than a fleeting sign of nerves, having suddenly realised that they possibly should have done some revision after all. 

Firstly, when things occasionally and inevitably feel like they’re all going pear-shaped and you’ve just taught what felt like the worst lesson that the British education system has ever seen, just remember, it’s really not the end of the world! You are still a good teacher and there are tweaks you can make for next lesson that will make all the difference. If you’re not sure what they are, ask your coach/mentor/C.A.L. or anyone you trust to come and see if they can help.

Secondly, record the wins; each time someone finally grasps that complex idea, answers a question in a coherent full sentence, or even just sits in the right seat for once, celebrate to yourself or share it with a colleague. Then cling to those things because you made them happen and don’t dwell on the negatives.

Next, every so often on your trek, remember to look back over your shoulder at how far you’ve climbed, how your teaching has improved, how individual pupils have developed in their grasp of your subject, how the pupil who refused to do anything in September does now actually care enough to do their homeworks.

Finally and most importantly, remember why you started the trek as a teacher in the first place; it was probably because you wanted to lead your pupils up the toughest climb of their lives so far. You’ve been in their shoes in the past, so be assured that you are making a difference in their lives. What greater moral purpose could we remind ourselves of to keep us going each morning as we come through the school gates? 

Whatever you do, stay positive right up to the summit of results day or the end of term. After all, we’re all in it together, we’re two thirds of the way there now and the view from the top is spectacular.

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Making it Stick

by Natalia Ribas – Assistant Principal – Teaching & Learning

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spring term was a busy one for the staff and students at Capital City who are always striving to get better at what we do. Year 11 students in particular have been working hard putting into practice a series of revision strategies that were shared with them during a Flexiday in February. The Capital Revision Strategies were introduced in order to support students better in their preparation for the fast-approaching GCSE exams and consist of 5 steps to ensure revision is a productive business and not a pointless stare-at-my-notes exercise. After advice from Ms Ribas on how to approach the latest AP results, the strategies (Chunking, Elaboration, Quizzing, Spacing and Metacognition) were introduced to year 11 in assembly by Ms Jones, the Associate Senior Leader in charge of Literacy. She also explained to students the science behind memory, information retention and retrieval practice. Students then had the chance to use these skills in several sessions throughout the day, some of which delivered through Science, Maths and English. Year 11 Learning Advisor sessions have also been used to embed the strategies and students are reminded about how to master their use in all their subjects. The initiative has proven very successful and Year 11 students have become increasingly confident in using flashcards; creating revision timetables; listening to their teachers’ feedback and acting on it; and understanding how important it is to take care of oneself during the exam period. Seeing how well-received the initiative is, staff are now looking into embedding the use of these strategies across the school and from Year 7 so that, by the time students have to face their external examinations, they will be well-versed in the power of the approach and well-equipped for the crucial pre-GCSE revision period.
Revision strategies have always been necessary, but since the recent changes to the GCSE Examinations, being proficient in retrieving knowledge has become paramount for our students to do well. Our staff have been working hard to be able to prepare our students well to succeed in this new framework, and therefore, this term we have engaged in a series of workshops under the umbrella title ‘Making it Stick’. Ms Jones kicked off the season with the first Friday Morning session, helping us become more familiar with the research undertaken by Peter C. Brown et al. in their book Making it Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. We learnt that traditional revision routines (underlining, cramming, rereading…) were not as effective as self-testing or interleaving practice of one skill or topic with another.

According to Brown, low stakes testing is a tool for learning. Active retrieval strategies strengthen memory and interrupt the forgetting process. If we engage in massed practice (i.e. repeatedly revising knowledge or practicing a skill until we have ‘mastered it’), the results are less satisfactory than if the practice is interleaved. Concepts learned through spaced and interleaved practice will turn into durable learning, which requires time for mental rehearsal and other processes of consolidation. And surprisingly, the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit. For example, we learn better when we wrestle with new problems before being shown the solution, rather than the other way around. As Carol Dweck also tells us in her book Mindset, children who are challenged and then praised for grappling with a problem (instead of praised for their natural ability to learn) are less risk-averse and become more successful in their undertakings.
Ms Jones presented a variety of non-subject specific strategies to use in our daily practice to help us reinforce active memory retrieval, such as using ‘Do Now’ exercises to recap prior learning (and not only from our last lesson!) and RAG123 activities for meaningful consolidation at the end of the lesson.
Six more Friday Morning sessions followed on that topic from a range of departments in the Academy. in those, we learnt how to embed such principles in our classrooms on a day-to-day basis and with more specific activities, as well as experiencing the great practice that is being delivered by colleagues across the Academy.

At Capital City Academy we are determined to ensure that our students have the best learning experience in the classroom and that we support them well, by building on their successes and developing a culture where every child believes in their power to become better and succeed. However, we are aware that all students need the tools to be able to do so, and we have worked collaboratively to develop this new approach to revision. With the new Ofsted inspection framework’s focus on curriculum and our renewed focus on the Capital Classroom, we now have the very exciting opportunity to continue this push to equip all of our students for success. By embedding the strategies across all the curriculum areas and year groups, we can support the exciting learning experiences that are already taking place in our classrooms and lead students to great outcomes that will positively impact their futures.

After having completed this Professional Development cycle, we will now work on how to develop students’ independence in the classroom, and Ms Belfield will start us off on the first Friday back from the Easter holidays with INSET on how to facilitate lessons where our students lead the learning. I am personally very excited to learn about the great things colleagues are developing in this area of Teaching and Learning!

The Importance of Teaching Leads

By Lamyaa Khammal – ASL Teaching and Learning

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At Capital City Academy, Teaching and Learning is at the very core of our values. Not only does excellent teaching have a positive impact on student achievement, but it also encourages pupils to have higher expectations of themselves by being constantly engaged in their learning as they aspire towards bright and successful futures.  We expect nothing but the best from all of our students and it is fair that they too should expect nothing but the best from their teachers. With this in mind it has become the quest of the Teaching Leads to ensure that excellent practice is consistent and accessible to all across the Academy.

Teaching Leads:

As Capital’s Teaching Leads, their primary focus is to develop and implement effective Teaching and Learning initiatives within each department and the Academy as a whole. By working closely with CALs and other senior leaders, the Teaching Leads will support their team by evaluating the quality of learning occurring within classrooms.

As part of their remit, the Teaching Leads will also:

  • Review, monitor and develop subject specific pedagogy within the departments.
  • Provide subject specific Teaching and Learning training within department meetings.
  • Provide regular updates for the team on relevant research, established good practice and how the Academy’s teaching and learning policies can be implemented effectively within teams.
  • Conduct DEFT observations with the aim of sharing good practice and developing outstanding practice.
  • Advise and support other teachers especially new colleagues regarding effective Teaching and Learning strategies.
  • Support the CAL in ensuring the department offers opportunities for wider curriculum study through visits and enrichment activities.

Future Opportunities:

We are very fortunate at Capital City to have so many fantastic and high-quality practitioners who strive for excellence on a daily basis. With this in mind, it is our aim to have a Teaching Lead rooted within every department by the end of 2020. Each Teaching Lead will be placed on a three-year route which will include opportunities for SSAT Lead Practitioner Accreditation.

The three-year route will consist of:

  • Year 1: Evaluating the Teaching and Learning within teams.
  • Year 2: SSAT Lead Practitioner Accreditation.
  • Year 3: Teaching Lead CMA.

We are excited that we have been given the opportunity to expand our team and there will be positions advertised later in the school year. If you are interested in becoming a Teaching Lead, please do not hesitate in contacting the Teaching and Learning team.

 

Teaching and Learning at Capital 2017 onwards….

By Marianne Jeanes – Principal

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This half term seems to have flown by and it has been a real pleasure seeing the new curriculum and timetable in action.  Our Year 9 students have started their GCSE studies and now have a full three years to prepare for the new linear GCSEs.  These will all be graded using the new 9-1 system and all assessments at Capital are now graded using this system to help students and parents get used to the new grades.

The new timetable has ensured that all lessons are the same length and we have more double lessons allowing for a greater depth of study within lessons and also reducing time lost by changeover between lessons.  Practical subjects especially are enjoying the new timetable.

We are privileged to have so many fantastic teachers here at Capital and on my frequent walks round the Academy I am always impressed by the learning and engagement of our students.  I have particularly enjoyed seeing Year 11s in a formal debate setting in Geography, seeing the fantastic cooking from our Shine students, observing our English students write so fluently in their recent assessment, watching Science students viewing cells from an onion under a microscope and seeing how well the Capital 6 students have tackled their recent internal and external assessments.

We are extremely proud of the results our students achieved this summer and the increased %A*-B for A-level is testament to the hard work that the Capital 6 team and teachers have put in to improve the academic rigour of our courses in line with the new linear A-levels. In keeping with the majority of schools, our students are no longer sitting the AS examinations but continuing with the teaching for their linear 2-year, A-level courses in order to aim to complete the content earlier in Year 13 and allow time for consolidation and revision.

The BTEC results for 2017 put us in the top 25% of schools.  This is due to the excellent progress that our students demonstrated and this consistent excellence in the vocational courses is something of which we are very proud.  The new applied general courses all contain external examinations which are more rigorous in line with the changes to the A-levels and this presents an additional challenge for staff and students this year.

English and Maths continue to be great strengths of Capital and the enthusiasm that students show for these subjects is infectious. The schemes of learning are being continually updated to ensure that the texts chosen are relevant and that problem solving maths is key at all levels.  The provisional progress 8 scores for both these subjects are well above average and show that students at all levels are making excellent progress compared to their starting points.  A large number of students chose to continue with Maths at KS5 and Maths A-level was described as outstanding by ALPS (A-level Performance System) for 2017.

Every subject is valued at Capital and the new curriculum allows students to study more than one art, sport or vocational option for GCSE.  This week is Arts week and the planned activities based on each curriculum area look really exciting.  It was a joy to watch the C6 Sport students running a primary event on our pitch last week and we are pleased that the INSET for staff this week is focusing on careers and embedding this vital aspect of education within our curriculum.

There is always a lot going on at Capital and teaching is a challenging but rewarding job.  As we look forward to recharging at half term we are excited about the opportunities we are offering our students, grateful for the staff that work so hard to provide the myriad of opportunities and proud that our students have the ambition, determination and ability to succeed.

Understanding the Importance of Data

By David Lee – Assistant Principal

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“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Albert Einstein, Physicist

Schools are placing greater and greater emphasis on the data they collect and how they react to this data, but as accountability measures change throughout the school system, how sure can we be that the data we collect is accurate, reliable and purposeful.

I will focus the discussion here around the measures at the end of year 11, although the changes in post 16 education are equally fraught with difficulty and unknowns. There are 4 main accountability measures for schools at the end of year 11:

  • Progress 8
  • The Basics
  • Attainment 8
  • The English Baccalaureate.

Progress 8 and Attainment 8

Progress 8 is a figure which measures schools by comparing individual students attainment (Their attainment 8) against the average attainment of students nationally with the same starting point from Key Stage 2 (the “estimated attainment 8”). This has caused a fundamental shift in how well schools are performing compared to other schools. With most old measures being focused on attainment at certain boundary points (eg. The C/D borderline), or progress being based around an arbitrary value (eg. 3 levels of progress), schools could focus on certain students to dramatically change these measures. Progress 8 values every grade (of their 8 qualifications that count) of every student (with Key Stage 2 data). Each student will have up to 8 qualifications that are included in their progress 8 measure: Their best English and mathematics (which are double weighted), three Ebacc. Subjects (see below) and 3 other subjects, which can include any from the first two categories that have not been used. Each grade is assigned a value, and this total is compared to the national figure for their peers. Many have hailed this as a step forwards as every child matters, however the complicated calculations involved and the changes in qualifications with new GCSE specifications make this a difficult number to predict with any certainty, which is compounded by the fact that the national figures for comparison don’t exist until after the results are released, and as was seen in 2016, these can vary considerably from year to year.

At Capital we have spent a great deal of time making sure that going forwards all students are on suitable pathways- they are taking the necessary qualifications to fill their 8 subject slots, with the exception of a small number of students for whom alternative pathways are more appropriate. Teachers are aware of the importance of their subject in its contribution to Progress 8 and the shift in measures. We have also used the Estimated attainment 8 figures to calculate aspirational targets for all students. For example for those students who have arrived with us with level 5s making 3 or even 4 levels of progress (in the old measures) represents under performance nationally.

The Basics

This measure is, in theory, one which is much more familiar. While the old measure of 5 A*-Cs including English and maths is no more, the basics measure gives a percentage of students achieving a good pass in English (this can be either language or literature), and Mathematics. This should be familiar territory for teachers and something schools as a whole and their English and Mathematics departments will be used to focusing on. However there is a spanner in the works. With the new specifications for GCSE English and Mathematics being examined this year, a “good pass” is no longer the same as it once was. From 2017 this measure will show the percentage of students achieving a grade 5 in both subjects, whereas a grade 4 is the equivalent of a C.

At Capital this hasn’t changed the focus of what we do in these subjects, or the strategies we put in place, but we are constantly reminded, that we are entering a realm of unknowns, and any predictions must be acknowledged with this caveat.

The English Baccalaureate

This measure has been around for a while, but has gained more notoriety recently with the government stating that all students should be completing the English Baccalaureate suite of subjects, although they have somewhat backtracked on this. This includes English, Mathematics, 2 sciences (which can be Computer Science), a Modern Foreign Language and either History or Geography. Some schools have decided not to pursue this route, some schools already have the majority of students taking this route.

At Capital we have decided that eventually the majority of students will take the full EBacc. suite of subjects. We are transitioning to this point with an increased number of students taking the EBacc. in year 9, around 90% in our current year 8. There are some students for whom we know this isn’t a suitable route, and who will take different pathways, and we have put in place a review point to ensure that students who are not achieving can be moved to different combinations of subjects where this is appropriate.

With all the changes in these measures, it is easy to get lost in the numbers, predictions, targets, percentages, etcetera. We must, as educators, not lose track of our core purpose: to teach. Data is a useful tool to help guide us and adapt our practice, both in the classroom and on a whole school level, but all of these measures will fall into place if we are doing the right thing by our students day in, day out.

The Numeracy Strategy

By Nas Sarkar – Maths Consultant

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As part of my role this year I was asked to kick start a Numeracy Strategy for the school. As a department we felt strongly about developing a strategy in a simple, yet effective way.  We also wanted a strategy which built on the success of the Literacy strategy and empowered teachers to feel more confident about numeracy, regardless of whether they love maths or not. Above all we wanted to make it fun and create a buzz.

The Numeracy Strategy will focus on three key areas:

  1. Casio calculators – all pupils are to own and use one in lessons
  2. Graphs – ensuring that students have the ability to draw graphs and diagrams clearly
  3. Problem solving – ensuring students are exposed to problem solving and mental arithmetic tasks to help build their resilience

To support teachers further, the Maths department will be delivering INSETs on how to use graphs effectively in lessons during Friday morning sessions later in the year. Zain and I will be working on problems which can be done in LA time.

Please note that Casio calculators are sold in the library for £6 (substantially less than out there). It would be great if we have a massive push on ALL students owning one of these calculators.

The launch of the Numeracy Strategy was a great success.  All members of the Academy were extraordinarily receptive – it gave the Maths team a real buzz and we are looking forward to working with you in the near future.

Our Role as Research Practitioners 

By Alex Thomas 

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It is fitting that researchED  decided to use Capital City Academy for its national 2016 conference last term.  Capital was at the vanguard of another system shift – under Tony Blair’s education, education, education movement back at the start of the millennium.  Capital was one of the first three ‘City Academies’ opening in 2003 – and the first in its own building, designed by Sir Norman Foster and sponsored by Sir Frank Lowe who put up a significant proportion of the costs and remains an active part of the school today.

Academies then were quite different – they took over some of the most depressed, dysfunctional, dystopian schools in the country.  Indeed our predecessor school, Willesden High, had some of the worst GCSE results in the country – closing on 12% A-C (and that was without English and mathematics).

It might help you envisage Willesden High by thinking of it as Grange Hill (if you’re not sure, ask your parents!) an accurate picture as it was actually filmed there.

Despite serving the same community with the same challenges, Capital in 2016 is a very place with transformed outcomes that continue to improve.  We believe we can only become the best by adopting new strategies routed in research and good practice: that’s one of the reasons we jumped at the chance to host today’s conference.  Capital has always welcomed new initiatives like Teachfirst and School Direct.  We may be late converts to twitter and social media but there has always been an appetite for research-based strategy.

One of the talks I enjoyed most at the researchED conference was that delivered by Philippa_Cordingley of the Curee Foundation.  She challenged us to think about how we analyse what we know about school.

As Principal I would like to encourage all staff to see themselves as research practitioners.  Teachers quite literally have the best job in the world and such a rich field of possible subjects.  We should all reflect on our own class results to ask the question: ‘Why did one group do better than another’, look at the praises and sanctions and consider: ‘what does this say about how well different students are doing and, more importantly why?’

At Capital we have also supported a number of colleagues complete Masters and other further qualifications.  Sharing their research and learning is an important part of this commitment to individual’s professional development.

I look forward to reading posts on this blog and sharing my own thoughts from time to time.

@cca_principal

Email: athomas@capitalcityacademy.org