Ambitious targets improve pupil performance

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Ambitious targets improve pupil performance

Cwmtawe Community School, Neath Port Talbot, has high expectations of its pupils. Using a range of assessment data, the school sets challenging target grades for all pupils in each subject and monitors closely pupils’ progress towards achieving these targets. A rigorous mentoring system supports pupils who are not making suitable progress and also ensures that more able and talented pupils are not allowed to perform below their ability.

Number of pupils: 1274
Age range: 11-16 years
Date of Estyn inspection: October 2012

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Cwmtawe Community School is an 11-16 co-educational school in Neath Port Talbot local authority. There are 1,274 pupils on roll. Most pupils come from Pontardawe and the surrounding area, with about 30% opting to attend the school from outside the normal catchment area. The school has two types of specialist teaching provision on site, one for dyslexic learners and the other specialising in autistic spectrum disorder.

The school’s intake is from a varied social background and represents the full range of ability. The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals is 18.7%, which is slightly above the average of 17.4% for secondary schools. The school has 23% of pupils on the special educational needs register, compared with the national average of 19.6% for secondary schools.

In 1997, the school developed a pupil data and tracking system, known as [email protected] This system is now embedded within standard operating procedures but has been refined and developed into its current electronic, spreadsheet form. The pupil data and tracking system is integral to raising standards of achievement. It has evolved to underpin all school systems and procedures. The system is based on the school’s high expectations and the challenging targets set for all pupils.

Information generated as part of the tracking system enables staff to provide targeted intervention when appropriate.

Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

Using end of key stage 2 teacher assessment data and standardised test data including Cognitive Ability Tests (CAT), Suffolk Reading Scale and British Spelling Test Series, the school sets aspirational target grades for each pupil. The target grade is essentially an ambitious baseline grade. Target grades for a typical cohort at Cwmtawe are set at 65-70% of GCSE passes to be at grades A*-C. This target is usually at least 15 percentage points higher than outcomes indicated by CAT data.

Each term, during a designated fortnight, subject teachers reflect and monitor each individual pupil’s performance against, and progress towards, their target grade. Teachers are required to assess each pupil’s ‘attainment‘, which is linked to departmental assessment; and ‘effort’ which is linked directly to classroom codes of conduct.

Pupils who are working below their target grade in specific subjects are given targets for improvement and these are recorded in their planners. Pupils then evaluate their own learning and performance across the curriculum during a personal and social education lesson. They also discuss their progress in an individual timetabled meeting with their form tutor. Pupils then complete the section in their planner called ‘How can I improve my performance?’ Here they consider and identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Pupils who exceed their target grade in four or more subjects receive a letter of praise. Normally around 45% of the cohort would receive such a letter. The link assistant headteacher also meets with heads of year to discuss the needs of pupils who have exceeded their target grade in more than six subjects. This discussion may well result in a decision to raise a particular pupil’s specific target grades.

Those pupils who fail to meet their target grade in four or more subjects are considered for support from a mentor, who is a teacher. Mentors receive regular updates from subject teachers and meet weekly with mentored pupils to discuss and address the problems identified and to help these pupils improve. These pupils carry a record book in which concerns, progress and actions are recorded. Mentors liaise closely with parents throughout the mentoring process.

Parents are fully involved in the tracking and monitoring system. A Year 7 parents’ evening is held during the autumn term to explain the system, discuss their child’s target grade and describe the tracking process. At every subsequent review, results are shared with parents via pupil planners. In addition, the tracking system generates the data for focused discussion at all parents’ evenings.

The system is designed to support and challenge pupils of all abilities. For example, pupils with ‘A’ grade targets who are achieving ‘B’ grades will also be considered for mentoring. The system is designed to ensure that more able and talented pupils are not allowed to perform below their ability.

All baseline and review data is available for staff to utilise via the school intranet.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards

  • The integration of achievement, effort and behaviour records results in a more focused understanding of the reasons behind underachievement, allowing the school to adopt a comprehensive and forensic approach to tackling it.
  • By the end of key stage 3, target grades increase to approximately 75% of GCSE passes being at grades A*-C, providing an informed and challenging baseline to judge pupils progress in key stage 4.
  • At the end of the last review cycle, around half of pupils had made enough progress to leave the mentoring programme.
  • The teachers at Cwmtawe now use data confidently and subject departments use the system as a template to develop their own tracking systems.
  • Primary cluster partner schools have also recognised the success of the system and we have collaborated with them to develop compatible target-setting and tracking systems in these schools.
  • Although data on entry indicates that Cwmtawe pupils are significantly below average ability, outcomes at key stage 4 demonstrate pupil performance consistently in the top 25% of schools when compared with similar schools based on entitlement to free school meals.

In the recent inspection of the school, inspectors stated that:

“in key stage 4, pupils’ performance is outstanding. Over the last five years, the school has been in the top quarter of similar schools for nearly all the key indicators and there has been a constant trend of improvement. For those indicators that include English and mathematics, performance is well above modeled expectations.”