Sunday, 22 April 2012

Each Student an Individual

As I said, like London buses! First a long wait, then two in quick succession...

As an educationist, I am passionate about helping every student achieve their potential, not just the most able or the least. In far too many schools these days, time (and  money) are spent on helping the ‘Able and Talented’ and the ‘Special Needs’ pupils, but those in the middle are largely ignored. I have to confess that this passion of mine stems from being one of the ignored middle myself in school. And so I have always done my best, wherever I have found myself, to ensure that every student has the opportunity to experience success and find their path in life. At Sandymoor, it is my goal to start the school with that at the very heart of the academic and pastoral systems.

Personalised learning is far more than paying lip service by having teachers prepare differentiated lessons. In fact, differentiated lessons are more to do with the craft of teaching, proper pedagogy. No. Personalised learning is more an ethos about a school and embedded in how each individual is known and understood by every other member of the community. In order to make this a reality at Sandymoor, there are a number of key elements that will be in place from day one (and grow as the school grows).

To start with, every student at Sandymoor will take a set of tests on entry to the school, not designed to find out what they know, but to help understand the individual strengths and areas for development of each student. These are more diagnostic tools and will form the initial stages of personalisation. These diagnostic assessments will provide insights into cognitive potential (the brain’s ability to process information and apply knowledge) as well as suggesting any potential learning support issues (such as dyslexia). The tests give an understanding about how the brain interprets the external world around it from a visual (or pictorial) view, a linguistic (language) view and a spatial (physical) perspective. They also look for issues in memory language processing skills. These tests combine to give a detailed insight into how the individual will interact with the world around.

This is just the beginning, however. These tests will form part of the student’s individual education plan (or Individual Development Plan, IDP) that will grow with the student. These scores will be interpreted and discussed with the student and parents early on in the first term. Every student will have two teachers involved in their development; an academic tutor and a personal tutor.

The academic tutor will be along the lines of a traditional ‘form tutor’, with a group of students all of the same year group. This tutor will be responsible for monitoring and guiding year-group specific issues, daily attendance, but also subject-based issues. This will involve progress monitoring, report collation and guidance regarding subject specific issues as the student progresses through the school. As the school grows, each year group will have assigned to it, with staff from the same (or group of) department(s). Also, each year group will have a member of SLT assigned to it and every year group will have a year secretary, who will be the first port of call for following up absences, letters and reply slips, etc.

The personal tutor will be from a different subject area to the academic tutor. The personal tutor will be responsible for liaising with the student over more ‘skills for learning’ aspects. The personal tutor will have a group of students similar in number to the academic tutor, but this group will (as the school grows) a mixed age group, with students from different year groups.

These two systems will not work independently, but will work together to support the student. The personal tutor will liaise with the academic tutor and year group secretary to ensure that information about every individual is shared with everyone who should know.

Every time either of these tutors meet with a student, the details will be recorded on the IDP, a document that will be accessible by all staff, the student and parents/guardians. This document will also form the starting point for parent – teacher – student consultation evenings. These will also not be recognisable from the more standard parents’ evenings from most schools, because they will be dialogues between the school, the parents and the student. They will also be flexible times, unlike the fixed booking schedules in most schools. (I did say that these were more akin to speed dating events than professional meetings about the development of a young person, but I have no knowledge of how speed dating works except through what I have seen & read in the media…). I did, however, hear someone say that, if Post-it’s can be bought in 37 different designs, shapes and colours, schools really should be able to come up with better ways of interacting with parents….
And central to all this is the individual student. Every student will have contributed to their development plan and helped to be reflective learners.

But there will also be one other adult associated with this system too, something even more unique to Sandymoor. This is the student’s Business and Enterprise Mentor. We are seeking members of the local community to work with us to provide adults from the business and/or enterprise communities to work alongside us to help the students develop those soft skills necessary to make global, employable citizens. (I already have the support of Barclays Bank and some of the businesses in Daresbury Science and Innovation Centre). This scheme is a blog post in its own right, and I will post about it sooner rather than later.
So, every student will have three adults involved in tutoring and mentoring them throughout the school, and a strong pastoral support structure that will monitor their progress. This system will integrate fully with the academic subjects as well, but that is also the contents of a further post in its own right.

Every student an individual, treated as an individual and taught as an individual.

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