Using self-evaluation to challenge and nurture more able and talented pupils

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Ysgol y Preseli has refocused its interpretation of more able pupils and updated its practices to ensure that it considers pupils’ individual needs. Improvement plans are used, and a leader with responsibility for more able and talented pupils leads staff training sessions in order to ensure a consistent approach across the school. Mentoring systems offer extra challenge to these pupils, and opportunities to study for extra GCSEs are provided.

Number of pupils: 900
Age range: 11-18

Information about the school

Ysgol y Preseli is a designated bilingual community comprehensive school for pupils between 11 and 18 years old in the Pembrokeshire local authority.  There are around 900 pupils on roll.  Around 5% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and around 20% have additional learning needs.  Forty‑one per cent of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes, and most pupils speak Welsh fluently. 

Context and background to the effective practice

In 2013, leaders identified that, while the school had a clear definition of more able and talented pupils, practices for challenging and nurturing their progress varied too much by department and were not consistent. 

The school refocused its interpretation of more able pupils and updated its practices to ensure that it considered pupils’ individual needs.  It identified that it needed to improve the proportion of pupils who achieve level 7 or above at the end of key stage 3 and the proportion who achieve 5A* to A grades at GCSE. 

Description of activity/strategy

Since 2013, leaders have ensured a consistent focus on more able pupils within improvement plans.  The school’s initial action was to set up a specific leadership role and identify a leader who would have responsibility for more able and talented pupils. 

The school’s leader for more able and talented pupils began to work with all staff using guidance from the NACE to audit and evaluate the school’s provision and practices.  Leaders recognised that, while this work may lead to the successful attainment of the NACE award, the real strength of this process lay in helping to identify areas for improvement that would have a positive impact on provision and pupil outcomes.

Following this, the leader for more able and talented pupils led staff training sessions to help teachers consider and develop a clear, shared understanding of what more able and talented means in their school.  As a result, staff are more confident in their ability to identify these pupils and place them on the school’s register for more able and talented pupils.  This supports other teachers to challenge these pupils effectively in lessons. 

Using the NACE framework, leaders undertook an audit of provision for more able and talented pupils across all departments and identified improvement actions, for example mentoring individual pupils and improving the transition from key stage 2 to key stage 3 to ensure that teachers build progressively upon pupils’ prior skills and knowledge.  The school continues to use the NACE auditing tool to evaluate its practices and plan for improvement.  Subsequent actions have been to develop schemes of work with more challenging content and enrichment tasks for more able and talented pupils. 

As part of the school’s ethos of supporting and enabling all pupils to fulfil their potential, leaders and staff work diligently to allow more able pupils to undertake extra GCSEs where they wish.  This means supporting these pupils’ learning outside of the normal school timetable.  For example, where a pupil asks to study one more GCSE than the timetable allows, teachers work with more able pupils to ensure that this can happen.  Teachers provide pupils with course work and relevant study books and often work with pupils at lunchtime or after school.  Pupils work conscientiously to complete coursework in their own time and teachers provide individual support when necessary.  The school’s work in this area allows more able pupils to study a wider range of subjects than is usual and, in nearly all cases, pupils completing these extra GCSEs achieve high grades. 

As well as providing rigorous challenge in the classroom, leaders have developed a mentoring strategy for more able pupils in key stage 3.  They recognise that, while these pupils are more able academically, they might need support with settling into secondary school or with issues of wellbeing.   For example, leaders identify those pupils who feel pressure to perform consistently at a level above their peers or whose progress is slowing.  Teachers also identify those more able pupils whom they consider may need mentoring support.  The lead teacher meets with those identified regularly.  This allows her to discuss their individual needs and identify how the school can support or accommodate them.  She is then able to communicate with other teachers, to ensure that they meet pupils’ needs.  For example, a pupil identified as more able was performing highly across the curriculum but causing concern in one particular subject area.  Teachers identified this quickly and provided mentoring.  As a result, the pupil’s engagement in lessons and progress in learning improved in this subject. 

From the mentoring system, leaders identified that many more able pupils in Year 7 wanted extra challenge, both in and out of class.  To facilitate this they developed a challenge booklet.  Heads of departments of different subject areas helped to develop tasks to include in this.  Pupils complete these challenges if they have time during the school day or work through them at home.  The booklet contains a self-assessment tool linked to pupils’ wellbeing that allows these pupils to identify and share their feelings.  As a result, the booklets provide academic challenge while forming the basis for identifying issues linked to pupils’ wellbeing, which are discussed during individual mentoring sessions.

Impact on provision and standards

As a result of effective self-evaluation, the school’s work on improving provision and practices to support more able and talented pupils has had a strong impact on outcomes over the last four years.

The proportion of pupils achieving five A*-A at GCSE or equivalent has improved consistently during this period, rising from 23% in 2015 to 31% in 2017 (Welsh Government, 2017c).

Nearly all pupils who receive mentoring respond positively to the support and appreciate having an individual with whom they can discuss any concerns.