Using male role models to improve boys’ writing skills

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Ysgol Glan Gele in Abergele set up a ‘Dads and Lads’ group to help improve boys’ writing skills. The sessions gave parents time to experience quality learning with their child and resulted in improved writing standards at the end of the Foundation Phase.

Number of pupils: 307
Age range: 3-7 years
Date of Estyn inspection: July 2015

Information about the school

Ysgol Glan Gele is and infant school in Abergele on the North Wales Coast.  There are currently 307 pupils on roll including 63 part time in the nursery.  The school has 11 classes. Approximately 34% of the pupils are eligible for free school meals.  This is significantly above the national average of 20%.  The local authority looks after a very few pupils. 

Baseline assessments indicate that for a significant number of pupils, attainment upon entry is below average.  Around 28% of the pupils have additional learning needs: this is slightly above the national average. Ysgol Glan Gele aims to provide a happy and secure learning environment for pupils, where all stakeholders feel valued and are able to achieve their potential.  

School leaders believe that parental engagement is fundamental in improving outcomes for pupils.  They offer a wide range of opportunities for parents and carers to become involved in the life of the school. Since 2010, the school has enhanced engagement, regularly delivering Parent Partner sessions each half term.  During these sessions, parents attend school to work on aspects of the curriculum with their children. These are well attended and successful and the school has developed an excellent partnership with most parents and carers.  However, it has been more difficult to engage with some families.  The Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) has enabled the school to appoint a Family Liaison Assistant to encourage these ‘hard to reach’ parents to embrace school life in order to raise expectation, support their children and improve standards of attainment.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The school’s self-evaluation process identified under-achievement in boys’ writing skills.  As a result, leaders decided to try and further engage Dads, Grandads and other male role models (big brothers, uncles) in boys’ literacy.  The school has a low on-entry baseline with some parents having poor parental aspirations.  Feedback from the Parents’ Forum and questionnaires, suggested that ‘Dads’ often have difficulty in engaging in school activities and workshops.  

The school’s literacy coordinator, a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) had recently undertaken her Forest School training and felt that this would be the perfect springboard to encourage ‘hard to reach’ Dads to become involved and break down barriers between home and school.  She named these sessions ‘Dads and Lads’.  The school identified and  targeted a group of under-attaining pupils to take part in this strategy.  These were mainly boys, eligible for free school meals (FSM) and their Dads.  Previous parental engagement strategies had limited success with this group.  Thus, staff identified an exciting outdoor project as the one most likely to engage Dads and allow them quality time with their ‘lads’ in a non-threatening environment in which they would feel at home.  This, in turn, would impact positively on their child’s writing once back in the classroom and raise parental awareness and aspirations for their children.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

When staff hold a ‘Dads and Lads’ session they ensure that they plan an exciting project for the boys to experience in the outdoors, in order to inspire their written work inside the classroom. Staff feel it is essential to give them first hand experiences on which to base their writing.  The teacher set the scene, for example, by planning an adventure whereby the ‘Dads and Lads’ are stranded on a desert island.  They learn how to build shelters to keep warm and how to build a fire on which to cook.

They took part in a safety quiz, which developed their oracy skills and recorded their answers together.  In the second stage of the session, the boys sat in their shelters and wrote an SOS letter in conjunction with their Dads.  The role of the teacher was to explain the different elements of the genre and give tips and advice on purposeful writing.  Later in the week, back in the classroom the boys attended further sessions where they had time to reflect and discuss the activity and redraft and edit their letters with further guidance from the teacher.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Feedback from Dads was very positive with many saying that they had thoroughly enjoyed supporting their child’s literacy through meaningful fun activities outdoors. This has led to an improved interest in their child’s education.  Many had not previously engaged in the school’s Parent Partner sessions.  They felt empowered by the knowledge shared during the sessions and this has raised their expectations and confidence when helping their children write.  They have a deeper engagement in their ‘lads’ learning and higher expectations of their written work. Attitudes towards school are also more positive.  

Several Dads were inspired to follow-up the theme at home and children produced extended pieces of writing which they brought into school to share with their teachers. These sessions are now very popular and the school has had to provide additional sessions to meet demand from ‘Dads’.  Word has spread amongst ‘Dads’ and engagement has increased beyond all expectation. This has had the additional impact of bringing more Dads into other sessions the school offers such as Family Learning, Share Sessions and Working with electronic tablets and building toys. 

Many of the boys commented that the ‘Lads and Dads’ sessions have been the best sessions they have ever experienced.  It has given parents time to experience quality learning with their child, supported by an experienced teacher.  This has raised their expectations and improved outcomes in terms of the quality of the written work produced by this group of learners. Standards at the end of the Foundation Phase have risen to just under half of pupils attaining at a higher-than-expected level. Standards amongst FSM pupils are also higher than local and national averages.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared its work with countless schools and school leaders from across Wales and beyond.  Local schools also visit frequently and staff regularly host sessions to share the provision.  Students from a local university have also visited to view good practice in this area. Teachers have also presented to the regional consortium, Welsh Government and Governors Wales to share the practice.