Personalised Learning at Ashfield Girls' High School (Northern Ireland)

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Whilst in Prague at the Partners In Learning Global Forum, I attended both Dan and Chris’ sessions on Personalised Learning. This enthused and encouraged me to look at our existing practices at Ashfield Girls’ High School and find ways to build upon them.

I decided to research the different models of personalised learning, which built upon the REORDER idea and found a useful document which was issued to schools in England. There was a particularly interesting model (page 4) which enabled me to assess the progress that we had made and provide a baseline for moving forward.

The first key component is Assessment for Learning. Existing practices at Ashfield include:

  • Personal targets identified using tracking system – At Ashfield we use an Information System which is accessible by all staff. Teachers can set monthly, termly or annual target grades which work on a traffic light (green, amber, red) system. This enables Heads of Department and Heads of Years monitor the progress that their students are making and identify key areas for improvement and address pastoral needs.
  • Effective Feedback focus by the Learning & Teaching Forum – We have a Learning and Teaching Forum in place that has a member from every department in the school. The main aim of this forum is to drive forward standards in teaching and learning. We recently had a focus on effective feedback to best inform pupils of their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Effective Use of Data to Plan Learning (KS3 Leads into KS4) – Our tracking system already mentioned above is effective in helping us plan our pupils targets. This is particularly useful whenever they are moving from Junior School to Senior / High School (GCSE Qualifications).
  • Fast Track Class introduced – As we are a mixed ability school where pupils of all levels are taught at the same time, we decided to challenge our gifted and talented pupils by creating a class that study enhanced English and Maths. This enables them to gain two extra GCSEs.
  • Peer and Self Assessment are existing practices both for pupils and teaching staff.

The second key component is Effective Teaching and Learning. We address this by:

  • Always reviewing our practice, official Performance Reviews and Plans, and through an open culture of sharing practice with others.
  • Mentoring Strategies – staff and pupil schemes are in place. Whenever a pupil starts in Junior School they are “buddied” with an upper school pupil. Pupils who are attaining below their potential grade are allocated to a member of staff who will primarily focus on assisting the pupil to improve their results.
  • Interactive and Inclusive Teaching Programmes which challenge pupils to meet their full potential and maintain motivation.
  • ICT use and the development of 21st Century skills are fully embedded across the curriculum.

The third key component is Curriculum Entitlement and Choice. We address this by:

  • Entitlement Framework - The Principal reviews curricular provision with all Heads of Departments on annual basis. The Northern Ireland Curriculum requires schools to offer (by 2015) 24 GCSE and 27 A Level qualifications. The school currently offers pupils the choice of 25 GCSE/ BTECs Level 2 to provide suitable opportunities for all levels of ability. Furthermore, whilst the school can currently offer 23 A Levels / BTECs Level 3 this ensures all pupils will have access to a range of third level education courses at the end of their school career.
  • Pupils are offered the option of attending linked courses at other schools and colleges.
  • Models and materials for catch up and extension – in all departments and revision classes are offered throughout the year in order to support pupils.
  • Timetable has been changed to deliver more pastoral support – this year we revised the timetable to give our Pastoral Team more time with pupils.

The fourth key component is School as a Learning Organisation. We address this by:

  • Leadership and Management focus on Learning and Teaching with the workforce organised appropriately. We have a Vice-Principal (Curriculum) and an Assistant Vice-Principal (Learning and Teaching).
  • The Principal leads and organises the Senior Leadership Team, Heads of Department and Heads of Year training on an annual basis. All staff members from teaching to classroom assistants are encouraged to engage in professional development opportunities. This can range from PQHNI (Professional Headship Qualification) to Behaviour Management to Office Courses. Many teachers are engaged in examination marking to support and enhance classroom practice. Sixth form pupils support local primary pupils and teachers and their own learning by training the them on site in the primary schools.
  • Utilising our state of the art facilities in order to accommodate personalised learning such as the use of break out and pod areas.
  • Having clear pastoral pastoral policies on behaviour and attendance. We have recently employed an attendance officer who works in conjunction with the Heads of Year by undertaking home visits.

The fifth and final key component is Beyond The Classrom. We address this by:

  • Having our Parents and Friends Association who meet to discuss ways of developing this school and raising vital funds. Recently, the Parents and Friends Association purchased a computer program called “Lexia” which improves literacy levels in dyslexia pupils.
  • We regularly offer classes for parents. These range from e-Safety Events to ICT Lessons for Parents and Friends.
  • We have a range of Co-ordinated Services such as New Life Counselling and Bridge (Special Behavioural Needs Support).
  • Business Partnerships which support pupils in choosing their careers and gaining insight from industry experts. Partner businesses include Microsoft, Fujitsu, Allen and Overy.
  • We are members of several networks such as – The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and NAACE.
  • We share our excellent practice with teachers from across Northern Ireland in our Annual Primary School Conference.

By identifying our strengths in the five components it has enabled us to reflect upon the great work that we are undertaking daily in delivering high quality, personalised learning. It has also allowed us to include aspects which we would like to improve upon in our school development plan in order to best meet the needs of our pupils.

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