The Marlborough Science Academy is a fully inclusive 11 – 18 comprehensive school of 1,280 children. Its context is interesting in that its post code AL1 would indicate high levels of affluent families within our catchment area and over the years, as confidence in our provision has increased, in terms of distance, we are offering more places to families within the AL area. Of note is our proximity to what used to be referred to as a super output area indicative of high levels of deprivation from a variety of criteria including financial, lack of parental engagement, aspiration, lack of cultural capital and children with a complex combination of adverse childhood experiences which, depending on the input of their feeder schools have had significant interventions in place or none.
St Albans is traditionally viewed as a most affluent and predominantly white professional area, within our catchment there are two private schools as well as a highly selective school that have in previous years impacted on the top 2% of attainment range, it is accurate to say however that perceptions in the local community have most certainly shifted, we are full in all year groups (apart from year 11), we are at capacity mainly limited by classroom space at post 16 and, heavily over-subscribed, particularly in year 7.
Currently across the school there are 250 PP/Ever 6 students averaging 48/50 in each year group, students in receipt of bursary in Post 16 are 8 in Year 12 and 8 in Year 13.
We are absolutely focussed on all students being treated equally and that there is a whole school emphasis on all children being valued and respected. We use our PP funding so that all children who need an extra helping hand in removing barriers to learning are supported, we are also looking to involve our parents more effectively in the learning as well as improving cultural capital for all. Whilst not always linked to PP students we are aware of the impact mental health issues can have on learning, as part of our work to try and ensure easier access to CAHMS support for help and guidance to staff and parents prior to the Trailblazer project we have invested in having our own mental health nurse working in school weekly. We have also used staff training and inset to raise awareness of its impact on students and how these may impact on learning.
One of our greatest concerns has been lack of parental engagement or school having an impact on closing the gap once students are off site. In a bid to try and improve engagement as well as involve families in some of the enrichment activities offered to students we are working to engage a parent engagement worker – in an epiphany moment we also wondered why when visiting the theatre or other such trips we don’t include parents so this too is part of our plan.
Whilst we have narrowed the gap in attendance significantly there is, we know, still a job to do in narrowing the gap across all subject areas – this year we have invited all staff members to bid for money specifically aimed to engage PP students with their learning and where we can we have extended this so all learners can benefit. We are currently exploring means tested vouchers for parents who may wish to seek tutoring outside of the school day provision we have here as well as looking at a way to support club memberships, provision of kit and transport to enrichment activities.
All lesson observations, learning walks, book looks, learning counts experiences all make sure no child is left behind with the learning and that there are no obvious differences in the books regarding uncompleted work due to low attendance, poor presentation due to lack of equipment or poor knowledge/skills, MINT classroom and increasingly Edulink are great tools that can be used by staff to ensure they know their students and as repeated throughout barriers to learning are removed.
Some of our young people have chaotic lives and if we can provide a sanctuary and a safe place then we will do that for any child. We have fought and won the battle with staff who we insist all have the highest of aspirations for every student regardless of their status and we are very careful in our use of language to ensure discretion, dignity and respect.
We have had some real success stories as well as significant failures in terms of the provision of students, the main barriers being self-esteem and self-worth, we get frustrated by the lack of external agency support in some instances hence the reason, funding allowing, to try and directly employ our own attendance officers, counsellors, mental health support and inclusion managers. Our curriculum pathways have become more robust in terms of ensuring all students are on the right pathway without destroying aspiration, however we are concerned about lower levels of literacy hindering progress and are currently looking to engage a variety of faculty staff across the school to adopt a more cohesive approach to ensuring reading becomes a passion rather than a chore – the impact of this change of focus is yet to be secured.
To conclude, I am extremely proud of all we have tried to implement to use PP funding wisely, creatively and in a measured way. What we have tried to do hasn’t always worked and there is still a job to do as the hard data shows, what is fundamentally clear however is that as a school there is nothing we would not consider if it made a student
- Meet/exceed their potential
- Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone
- Open up their worlds nationally and internationally
- Raise self-awareness, confidence and belief
- Provide the skills and guidance, sometimes needed to battle against complex needs and ingrained attitudes to school or what can be achieved without just focussing on the academic curriculum.
Impact of the 2018-19 interventions is currently being reviewed and will be updated in November 2019.