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School Direct: how we teach

English
Lizi Sparasci, Head of English at The St Leonards Academy explains the academy’s approach to English:

We have designed a bespoke curriculum that covers Shakespeare, poetry and a multitude of different novels from a variety of time periods and cultural backgrounds whilst also building skills in writing a range of texts from journalism to the opening chapters of novels.

We challenge our most able learners to independently evaluate texts’ place within literary canons and subversion of genre. We also support pupils with low literacy and help raise reading ages through the use of technology such as iPad apps.

English sits at the core of the academy’s curriculum, most classes have English lessons four or five times a week. We also deliver a range of extra-curricular clubs and activities such as our award-winning creative writing club, trips to the West End and visits from Shakespearian theatre companies.

Why teach English?

Teaching English gives teachers the chance to make a real difference to the life chances of young people, especially in areas of significant deprivation. For some of our pupils, English and literacy can be a real barrier to their learning across the academy and into the rest of their lives. Therefore, giving them the skills to become confident and competent communicators, both in writing and verbally, can truly change their lives for the better.

Adapting to changes to the curriculum

With changes to the specifications of the reformed GCSEs, English departments all over the country are working hard to reshape their curriculums with the renewed focus on rigorous, classic texts and the move to 100% exam assessment. Last summer, we worked with AQA, our chosen exam board, to understand how the new GCSEs will be assessed and rewrite our curriculum accordingly. This has led us to create an innovative and highly specific curriculum for years 7-10 who will take the reformed GCSEs, a project that has been really exciting to see come from planning to being taught in classrooms.

Our learning environment

Our building is a light, open design that was extended and refitted in 2012 when the academy opened. English is taught on a corridor meaning that the department has a real sense of cohesion and our ‘open door’ policy means that we share good practice across our successful department and develop new teachers’ skills across the board. Working with Teachfirst has also allowed us to create a dynamic and adaptable department, with many of our teachers taking on extra responsibility both within and outside of the department.

Our results

In 2014/2015 74% of pupils achieved a C or above in English Language. This put us as the English department with the highest ‘value-added’ score in the county, meaning that from our pupils’ starting points, they make the most amount of progress over their time with us.

Maths
Kate Heitzman, Lead Teacher for Maths at The St Leonards Academy, talks about the department’s approach to maths teaching:

The way we teach maths is all about depth and challenge. We aim to make maths enjoyable and accessible to all our pupils. We emphasise that it is OK to get wrong answers because we can then work together to use those mistakes to enhance pupils’ learning. It’s really important to us as a department that we break down the negative stereotypes of maths often held by pupils and their parents by showing them that maths is useful and can be fun.

Taking time

We have adopted a national initiative called Maths Mastery for our year 7 and 8s that is all about teaching the fundamentals of mathematics to ensure that these are secure before moving on. This approach allows us to teach slowly and in depth, so pupils are often able to take a term to tackle a given topic area, resulting in better results and a more thorough understanding of the fundamentals of mathematics and the connections between different topics.

We use lots of group work, investigation and problem solving to maintain high levels of engagement and improve pupils’ confidence in applying the maths they have learnt.

Learning environment

Our academy underwent extensive renovation on conversion, so we enjoy a modern building and facilities. We make use of online resources, such as apps and online learning packages to support pupils learning and in particular to help older pupils with revision. For example in year 11 we set exam papers every six weeks or so and analyse exactly what pupils got right or wrong so that they can then focus on what they specifically need to work on. Areas of weakness for groups are then taught in class and pupils are given the information they need to study independently to fix any weak areas they may have.

Our younger pupils also use technology such as iPads to engage them in their learning. Interactive treasure hunts, using QR codes to solve problems have proved particularly popular!

Achievement

Results in maths have been increasing year by year, with 62% of pupils achieving 5 A-C grades at GCSE in 2016 and we anticipate the upward trend in results to continue again this year.

We are also now seeing more pupils choosing to continue studying maths at A-level and some taking that through to university-level study too. What is most important is that every pupil is challenged at a level suitable to them, and that all pupils receive excellent teaching and make progress regardless of their starting point.

Teaching team

Joining our maths team is an opportunity for new teachers to help break down preconceptions about maths and work to improve the life chances of a fantastic group of pupils. It is so rewarding to see pupils who backed away from maths at first become those that say maths is their favourite subject.

We’re a young, fun department and we pride ourselves on the excellent relationships we have with our pupils as well as each other. Everyone is very friendly and helpful and is driven to achieve the best possible results for our pupils and to become the best teachers we can be.

The whole department works with people who train here and we have a great track record in people choosing tostay with us after training to become valuable members of staff who have gone on to help other trainees.

We welcome anyone who is interested to come along and spend a bit of time in the department seeing lessons and getting to know us and speaking to people who are training here or who have done so in the past.