Supporting vulnerable groups of pupils

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Supporting vulnerable groups of pupils

Cathays High School, Cardiff, places great importance on tracking the progress and achievement of vulnerable groups of pupils such as those with English as an additional language. Over 63 different languages are spoken as a first language in pupils’ homes and 70% of pupils have English as an additional language. The school’s effective strategies to support all pupils’ achievement have had a clear impact on standards of education.

Number of pupils: 903
Age range: 11 - 19 years
Date of Estyn inspection: February 2013

Context and background to sectorleading practice

Cathays High School is located near the centre of Cardiff and serves the Cathays and Roath areas. However, 61% of pupils come from other parts of Cardiff; with 27% of these pupils living in the city’s more deprived wards. Around 37% of pupils are entitled to free school meals, which is much higher than the national average, and significantly higher than the figures of all other members of the family of similar schools.

There are currently 903 pupils on roll, including 191 in the sixth form. The school has a very high turnover of the pupil population of around 26%. Around 100 of the current Years 7 to 11 pupils were new arrivals to the UK on entry to the school. A significant minority of all pupils are functionally illiterate when they start at the school. Around 75% of pupils are from ethnic backgrounds other than White British, mainly Somali, Czech or Slovak Roma, Bangladeshi or Pakistani. There are currently 63 different languages spoken as a first language in pupils’ homes. Over 70% of pupils have English as an additional language, with around 36% having a level of acquisition in English that is less than competent. This is much higher than the figure for the second highest in the family of similar schools. No pupils speak Welsh at home.

There are currently 42% of pupils with additional learning needs, which is much higher than the Wales average. Four per cent of pupils have statements of educational needs compared to 2.6% nationally. The school provides specialist provision for pupils with autism. Due to the high number of pupils with English as an additional language, new arrivals to the UK and those eligible for free school meals, the school places great importance on tracking the progress and achievement of these groups of pupils.

The school uses this tracking data to target interventions to improve outcomes for these groups. The impact of these interventions is closely monitored and evaluated which leads to refining and development of these actions. This means that our practice has evolved over recent years. We have developed a number of different effective strategies and responses to meet the needs of vulnerable groups of pupils, including those from minority ethnic backgrounds, pupils recently arriving in the UK and those at risk of disaffection in key stage 4. We place a particular emphasis on working with the parents of pupils from these groups to identify and remove any barriers to their engagement.

 Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

Through the schools’ information management system, every teacher, head of department, head of year and senior management link receives information on pupils’ social background and prior attainment. This hasled to detailed planning for progression for every pupil, including vulnerable groups at both classroom and departmental level. This has ensured greater consistency in the targeting and supporting individuals and groups of pupils.

We recognise the importance of involving parents in their children’s’ learning, and building trusted and valued partnerships between home and school. We run well-attended events such as ‘Open Evenings’ and a ‘Bring a Parent to School Day’. Parents are able to take part in family learning activities during the half term holidays. The school also offers ‘Family Interviews’ to every pupil and their parents in Year 7, Year 10 and Year 11. These interviews focus on the progress of individual pupils and are a useful way of gathering feedback from parents about the work and life of the school. A series of meetings with groups of parents allowed us to identify some specific barriers that parents feel are preventing them engaging fully in their children’s education. Some of the areas identified were a language barrier at key events such as Parents’ Evening. As a result, we now use our bilingual teaching assistants, and other staff, to inform parents of events and to be translators. Parents of pupils receiving support in English and mathematics at key stage 4 have been invited to the school and given specific advice about how to help and support their children as they prepare for external examinations. The school uses expertise from within the different communities, for example, the school has collaboration with a local Somali community group to provide access to study areas during evenings and weekends.

We have employed a member of the Czech Roma community to build better relationships and improve the attendance and educational outcomes for these pupils. In response to frequent requests from parents to be informed more regularly about their children’s progress, the school now provides termly interim reports. 

Pupils join the school from outside the UK throughout the academic year.

This requires us to have a flexible approach to the curriculum and the courses and qualifications offered to meet their needs. In key stage 3 and Year 10 the aim is to ensure that pupils who come into school with no English participate in an induction programme to support them to reach a level of English that will enable them to access mainstream lessons within six weeks and a full timetable within 12 weeks. For pupils who arrive at the end of Year 10, Year 11 or during the sixth form, a more flexible approach is adopted, although with a strong focus on gaining a suitable range of qualifications, from entry level to level 2 courses.

We also take a flexible approach to pupils at risk of disaffection in key stage 4. Cathays High School employs a co-ordinator who liaises with external providers and is able to visit pupils regularly at their placements to ensure that they are on track. In school, these pupils study English, mathematics and science at GCSE, in addition to working towards Essential Skills (Wales) qualifications. Other subjects are timetabled flexibly to enable pupils to gain valuable qualifications in subjects they enjoy. If necessary we register pupils’ homes and other areas as examination centres for pupils who refuse to attend school.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards

Overall, performance in the level 2 threshold including English and mathematics increased by nine percentage points to 41% in 2012. This performance is well above modelled expectations and places the school in the top quarter of similar schools. In 2012, there were also saw improvements at level 1. The number of pupils leaving without a recognised qualification has declined over the last three years and in 2012, we have halved the percentage of pupils reported as not being in education, employment or training after Year 11. As a result of developing good home-school relationships, attendance at Parents’ Evenings has increased significantly. A particular successis that the attendance of Somali parents has increased from an average of 50% to 88%, sustained over three years. Attendance of parents of pupils from the Czech and Slovak Roma community has increased by over 20%.

The work of pastoral assistants in engaging with these families in their homes has also seen a significant rise in pupils’ attendance from 88% in 2011 to 91.2% in 2013. Attendance now compares well with similar schools.