Using targeted support to increase attendance and improve behaviour

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Mary Immaculate

Mary Immaculate RC High School supports vulnerable learners with ‘The Bridge’, a learning area located in a quiet part of the school that supports pupils with emotional, behavioural and learning needs.

Number of pupils:  621
Age range:  11-16
Date of Inspection:  May 2015

Information about the school

Mary Immaculate is a small 11-16 Catholic comprehensive school situated on the western fringes of Cardiff, currently with over 700 students on roll.  Over 30% of students are eligible for free school meals, with around 10% EAL, 30% SEN and around two-thirds of students coming from the 20% most deprived areas of Wales, including central Cardiff, Butetown and Ely.

The measures of deprivation facing the communities served mean that there are various barriers to learning that could easily impact on progress.  The school has faced issues regarding attendance and the need for highly effective behaviour for learning strategies.  Many of the school’s learners face difficult and complex social issues that have required extensive support; parental engagement is also an issue for the school.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

In 2011, the school faced many challenges owing to specific demographics, social deprivation and parental disengagement. These included high levels of truancy and absenteeism, fixed term exclusions amongst the highest in Wales, poverty of aspiration and parental disengagement. Measures put in place to address overt behavioural issues proved partly successful. However, the school felt that an underlying vulnerability was at the root of social, emotional and behavioural issues. An 11-16 nurture facility was set up in 2012.  Bespoke interventions were put in place to bridge the gap between personal or academic barriers and achieving excellence.  It was intended as an overarching intermediary between home and school, and between problems and solutions. The purpose is reflected in its name, “The Bridge”.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Identification of individual need is both structured and reactive.  Line management systems, self-referral and transition processes, utilising Boxall profiling, merge with specific and tailored interventions.  A multi-agency approach (with over 50 providers) ensures an appropriate response.  Consistency is overseen by an assistant headteacher, who acts as rigorous “Gatekeeper” of all referrals and processes.  Pastoral briefings clarify minutiae related to all referrals and this is shared with all teams (on a need to know basis).  Baseline data underlines the development of personalised programmes and related behavioural, attendance, learning and pastoral support plans.  Resilience testing is used to monitor progress of pupils and programmes as a whole.  Parental engagement at every stage is key to identifying and removing barriers and to ultimate success.

The Bridge is a safe and highly structured environment that is a place of sanctuary at a critical time in a child’s life and / or an opportunity to bring about resolution of situations or circumstances affecting pupils’ potential to learn.  It is staffed by two full time members of staff, one of whom is an experienced youth worker with expertise in conflict resolution, Restorative Justice Practices and delivering bespoke programmes.  The other is a qualified teacher with extensive experience in core subjects and transition processes.  These key appointments are absolutely fundamental to the success of The Bridge.

The facility is situated in a quiet area of the school.  Its layout reflects both domestic and academic environments, giving a sense of stability and continuity for pupils with chaotic lives.  A kitchen area is used to prepare and share meals and create a mutually supportive atmosphere. Breakfast and lunch clubs engage vulnerable, isolated or fearful pupils and “Student Listeners” are available on rota to chat and support other pupils.  Sofas and comfortable chairs are available for sharing books, games and group meetings.  A separate area is also designated as work space and for IT access.  A sense of family is fostered and pupils are encouraged to learn, share and play together constructively.  Eating and talking with adults and others are also central to the experience.  Small group activities address targets identified in personalised plans, for example via IBPs.  Appropriate manners and language are modelled by staff, who demonstrate positive, supportive, nurturing behaviour as role models.  They show affection and create a balance between learning, teaching and routine.  “Bridge to success” plans are highly personalised and monitored by Key Stage Leaders, as are reintegration programmes.

Bespoke programmes include:

  • communication skills
  • anti-bullying
  • emotional or social triggers
  • challenging behaviours
  • developing resilient learners

All school policies are adhered to and peer equivalent work is provided based on NFER testing and other assessment tools.  However, work reflects the pupils’ developmental, not chronological age and collaborative planning is key to success, as is liaison with Inclusion.  Activities used for engagement include topic, skills based or cross-curricular materials.  Sessions are regular and predictable and can be weekly or as a block following discussion with Key Stage Leaders.  There is also an emphasis on language development, communication skills, self-esteem and emotional literacy.  Home-school liaison is regular and always positive and this partnership working means that home visits are frequent.

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

Mary Immaculate is a highly successful school with pupil progress among the best in Wales.  L1 and L2 are consistently over 97% and L2+ figures are above FFT D estimates and modelled outcomes.  Eighty-five per cent of subjects have results at key stage 4 that are above FFT 5 estimates.  We are in quartile 1 in almost every area, including groups such as eFSM and SEN; this is also the case at both L5+ and L6+ at key stage 3.  The school performs frequently above Wales and local authority averages.  For the last two years, the school has been categorised as 1A Green.  Attendance also places the school in the first quartile, and exclusion figures are the fourth lowest in Cardiff, where schools in a similar demographic have some the highest in Wales.  We have had no permanent exclusions for over four years.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared its practice across the authority in meetings.