Aim: To develop subject-specialist hubs of teachers; to create engaging and challenging schemes of work at KS3; to improve standards at GCSE, with focus on increasing the numbers achieving A/A* and to raise the profile of English outside the classroom to boost numbers at A Level.
Background: In 2013 16% of students achieved A/A* in GCSE Literature. Schemes of work at KS3, which included Holes and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, were not considered to represent a challenging canon of literary study. As a former school of Science and Technology, English was not always valued by students as an academic pathway after GCSE and as such, A-Level intake was relatively small for our Sixth Form cohort at 29 students.
Year 1: Subject hubs connected post-holders with another English department at a trust partner school, initially sharing resources and having discussions over email. A challenging SOW at KS3 began with the development of a heritage poetry unit, and the texts studied by high-ability GCSE students were reviewed, with top sets moving away from studying Heroes, which didn’t allow more able students to access the highest range of marks. KS4 students were exposed to high-level critical theory, such as Freudian readings of Lord of the Flies and Jungian approaches to Of Mice and Men. Teachers with specific expertise or passions delivered interesting ‘taster’ lessons to promote A-Level study.
Year 2 : A third trust partner school joined the relationship and the discussions focused more around GCSE reform. KS3 schemes of work began to mirror the challenge and range of skills required at KS4 by raising the level of challenge in the Shakespeare texts offered. Pupil engagement was capitalised on with Shakespeare 400 week, where lessons were collapsed for a magical mystery tour of several Shakespeare plays. In response to GCSE reform, there was a focus on the 19th century, and the remit of challenging texts was broadened to sets 1 and 2. A-Level teachers visited Year 11 classrooms to inspire students to consider the subject at A Level.
Year 3: A fourth school joined the partnership and the KS3 curriculum ‘upped its game’ to include Romantic Poetry in Year 7 and Animal Farm in Year 8. The model of Shakespeare week was used for World Book Day, National Poetry Day and any other excuse to take students off-piste into an interactive literary environment. No longer aiming for A-A* due to GCSE reform, teachers of higher sets enjoyed Marxist readings of A Christmas Carol and using the current political climate as a jumping off point for longer writing tasks. A-Level taster sessions were delivered by A Level students, who also acted as English Ambassadors to support and assist in lower year classes.
Evidence: Exam results, A Level uptake, pupil voice.
Impact: By 2016, 27% were achieving A/A* at GCSE, and A Level uptake had almost doubled to 56 students. Useful, purposeful and regular hub meetings have helped each school develop shared strategies to aid in planning and delivery of new specifications, and we are now incredibly proud of our KS3 provision. Proactive responses to literary and cultural events (such as Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize) have produced high-quality work and enthusiastic responses, and raising the profile of English has not only meant higher take-up, but also a change in the types of student who are taking up the subject; they are enthusiastic and independent, are readers and great role models for younger students.
Reflections: We are very proud of the English provision at Loxford, and it is amazing to have a forum to share, review and reflect on the more ‘fun’ aspects of the job, away from spreadsheets, assessments and the necessary admin. Most importantly, our students have access to a broad and exciting English curriculum.
Contact: Lucy Hyams, Head of English, firstname.lastname@example.org