Bryntirion school comprises 1040 pupils from ages 11-18. Of these pupils, 22% receive free school meals (FSM) and there are 9 looked after children. Currently, there is an attainment gap of 20%. Attendance is not as much of an issue here than in other schools, with attendance the highest in the borough.
The head defines disadvantage at the school, as not having the support at home to be able to achieve in school. Therefore, he sees closing the gap as plugging in the gaps of what support children are not receiving at home.
The school very much sees itself as a school where students can be themselves and that there is a culture of mutual respect between the staff and pupils.
Strategies used to close the gap
The schools main strategy is to raise the aspirations of both the pupils and teachers, so that pupils are stretched to achieve higher grades. This is achieved through settings higher grade targets, making staff accountable for these targets and monitoring achievement at regular intervals. The school’s previous strategy was focussed on wellbeing, which although was beneficial for students, was not increasing their attainment. Although raising grades is currently the main focus, the school still sees itself as strong on pastoral care and offering a holistic education, therefore embodying the “we learn how to live” motto.
In order to bring FSM pupils up to a higher grade, the school ensures that all teachers understand who the FSM pupils are, so that they can be better supported in lessons. However, the head stressed that many families not eligible for FSM are not necessarily at more of an advantage than FSM families. There are also some students on FSM who are on A* and therefore don’t need as much support as others. Therefore the school’s aim is to target all children who are underachieving – not just those on free school meals.
Key activities to close the gap
Raising attainment in literacy and numeracy is a key activity for the school. The desired outcome is to raise standards in tests in KS3 to close the gap in KS4. During KS3, small groups are taken out of lessons to work on literacy and numeracy skills. Revision sessions are also key part of the strategy to raise attainment in this area. As well as having internal revision sessions, the schools sent pupils on revision sessions at the University of Glamorgan, as well as the Central South Consortium.
The school found that some pupils did not have suitable places at home with which to do their homework. To help with this, the school library is often open after school, until 5pm, to allow students a place to work.
At KS4, students who are seen to not be achieving in literacy and numeracy, are asked to drop a GCSE subject. They are then given extra tutoring (by an external tutor who comes into school two days a week) in this time to raise their literacy and numeracy standards.
As part of the efforts to ‘plug in the gaps’ of support for children and young people at home, the school gives maths lessons to parents who need it, so that they are at the same level as their children. Therefore they are better equipped to help their children with homework.
The school is also focussed on developing pupils’ meta-cognition skills. At the time of visit, a group of year 11 students had been on a learning performance day to improve their meta cognition skills.
In order to track the attainment of pupils, the school uses the SIMs management system. They find this very effective in tracking pupils. The school also gains data from the CAT4 results of year 6 pupils. This means that students are appropriately supported, as soon as they join the school. As part of this data collection – the school places great emphasis on gathering the views of learners. The ‘pupil voice’ initiative was started to gain the views of students, in order to deliver an education that is aligned with what they feel they need. The school have conducted surveys and focus groups amongst the students, to gain these views.
Students in year 11 are also assigned a mentor from the teaching staff (each mentor has 6 students). Students and mentors agree targets, which they then revisit regularly (usually once a fortnight).
As noted above, the school still has a strong focus on pastoral care and wellbeing. Various activities, such as art and music therapy are held for students, to work on behavioural issues such as anger management. These activities are also a chance for mixed ability students to be able to work together, therefore following the recommendation by the Sutton Trust that One successful example of this, is a Rock Academy, where they put low achieving students with high achieving students and they spend a week in the holidays, with an external agency, forming a rock group. Students also attend classes which equip them for life beyond academics, such as cookery classes
The school also works to improve the students’ wellbeing by having two counsellors. A host of local agencies, such as CAHMS, the fire service, Young Carers, the Inclusion service, Barnardos and Women’s Aid are also worked with, in order to best support pupils and their families.
As well as working with pupils and parents, the school ensures that staff feel confident that they can stretch pupils, in order to raise attainment. Teachers work in triads and provide co-coaching using the Iris technology, which films lessons and allows teachers to easily look back at the video, in order to assess where they could improve.
The school is also part of the leading and emerging schools practitioners project. Bryntirion, the ‘emerging’ school has been linked with a ‘leading’ school in Port Talbot. This has allowed staff members to visit Port Talbot, in order to share learning on closing the gap.
Impact of activities to date
In recent years, the school has seen a closing in the attainment gap between FSM and non FSM pupils, which suggests that the activities and strategy the school has put in place, is working.
Areas for improvement
The school has activities covering all the Estyn recommendations for tackling poverty through education. Therefore it is not surprising that attainment levels of the school have improved. Although one of the barriers the school faces is the dependence of the Pupil Deprivation Grant, in order to deliver these activities. Therefore, longer term strategies may need to take account of the fact that funding could be more limited for these activities in the future
To note, only senior members of staff were consulted at the school. Therefore, further evidence is needed to assess whether the school’s strategy is being widely communicated within the school.
Given the emerging success and dynamism of the school, it will be interesting to see what learning activities they could hold themselves, to assist other schools in closing the gap.
Please note that this case study features in the Ipsos MORI report ‘Closing the Gaps’ – the full report can be viewed here.