The issue of High Attaining Pupils (HAPS) was identified in the School Improvement Plan (SIP) 2016-17 as being a priority area for this academic year, because the most able pupils did not make the outstanding progress shown by other learner groups, and learning walks and lesson observations have shown an area for development in stretch and challenge of the most able in lessons.
In order to support progression across all subject areas in a completely whole-school approach, it was decided to trial a study motivation group for HAPS, imbuing skills that would be transferrable across the curricula studied within the school, and across phases, in order to support future study skills at a higher level.
Further, to support wellbeing and address the issue of pressure and stress associated with the expectations that HAPS often place on themselves, it was also decided to include an aspect on managing stress and self-expectations to ensure that students had the skills to manoeuvre through their first experience of public exams and beyond.
The only way to identify a high attaining pupil is to use data; those who have a high target end of qualification grade are clearly high attaining. In discussing with colleagues how to define HAPS, it became apparent that there was a clear distinction between those students who excelled in a particular subject, and those students who were more generally high attaining. Those who were high attaining in a particular area were students that should be targeted by individual subject intervention aimed at challenging the most able and enriching their curriculum and thinking skills. Therefore it was decided that the most rational method was to identify students who were expected to achieve highly in both Maths and English, since this would affect achievement in a far wider range of subjects and show ability across a wide range of curricula.
We initially ran the programme for students who were year 11 in 2016-17 academic year. When looking to identify pupils based on achieving a target of grade 9 in Maths and English, this only identified 3 students who had this target in both subjects. Identifying students who achieved an average Key Stage 2 score of 5.6 or greater allowed for identification of 13 students. The Department for Education have typically quoted the high attainers as being the top 10% of students, and given that this is a year group of 198, this means that we fell slightly short using this identification measure, however it was a good basis to start from. Identifying students who had a grade 8 or 9 target in both Maths and English encompassed all those who had attained 5.6 or greater in the Key Stage 2 SATS, bar one who was targeted a 7 in English, and therefore we included her, and made an addition of 6 students, making the ideal 10% of the year group. My only reservation is that by expanding the data capture, the group has become larger and less intimate, but this does have the benefit of including more pupils considered high attaining. If the group was any bigger than this, I feel that it would need to be split in two.
Upon the conclusion of the programme in summer 2017, I sought feedback from a range of staff and students, and based upon this, I changed the criteria for identifying a TGS Scholar. This time, we selected students who have the highest current position attainment 8 score. (All have a score currently of 6.4 or greater.) These are therefore the students who are performing the best across all of their subjects currently.
The general feeling was that staff felt that target grade (which is based on KS2 data) in English and Maths alone may not be the best indicator or descriptor of a TGS Scholar, and that in fact trying to identify students who were performing at a high level across a range of subjects currently would also include students whose KS2 data may not have set them into this Scholars group based purely on target grades in Maths and English. It also meant that we could engender a real feeling of having earned the right to be there, and stimulate that hunger for further learning.
Again, based on staff feedback, we have included 2 students in this cohort who were recommended by staff although their current attainment 8 is very slightly below the cut off. Their teachers felt that they would really benefit from being in the group and that they had the potential to be Oxbridge students.
In order to be a truly whole-school initiative, and develop transferrable study skills across all curricula within school, the programme requires input from a range of subjects, however it is important that in order to have the largest impact, that the subject specialists take a more general view of the transferrable skills they are coaching the students in. Additionally, some staff have specialist skills and interests that were not directly related to a specific curriculum area at any rate, and so it was decided to make use of these within the programme as they were seen to be valuable in all areas.
Feedback based on last year’s programme was that the students wished that we had started the programme earlier (We began in February of Year 11), and that they had more time to embed skills in between workshops, before the next thing was introduced to them. Therefore we have introduced the programme in the summer term 2017 when the next cohort of TGS Scholars are in Year 10, and we will ensure that workshops and seminars are spaced out as requested by the previous TGS Scholars.
The seminars will include a range of skills, for example:
- Research Methods
- Essay Preparation
- Exam Question Analysis
- Revision Techniques and use of ICT to Support Learning
- Critical Thinking and Accessing Top Marks
- Managing Self Expectations
- University visits to Oxbridge or Russell Group Universities
- Sixth Form opportunities
- Preparing for UCAS applications