To tackle the problems some students face as they start school, Ashlawn School in Rugby has adopted a holistic approach to transition with pastoral care at its heart.
“We know that the three big things that worry Year 7 students are getting lost, the amount of homework they will receive, and the more demanding timetable,” says Assistant Headteacher, Paul Foxton. To address these kinds of worries, as well as understand wider issues affecting students, Ashlawn places pastoral care at the centre of its approach.
“You can have the best teaching in place but if you don’t have the pastoral side right, it won’t mean a thing,” Paul says.
Last year, Ashlawn introduced GL Assessment’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) attitudinal survey as a way of highlighting attitudinal issues. PASS covers nine areas proven to be linked to key educational goals, such as attitudes to attendance and confidence in learning, and Ashlawn immediately saw how it could help.
“The premise was early intervention,” Paul explains. “We wanted to go from being more reactive to being proactive, and pick up any potential issues as early as possible.”
By comparing PASS data with attainment data, the school has discovered some useful trends. “The data showed that high attaining students had quite a mixed profile. The boys didn’t engage with school quite as well as the girls, and some boys were overly confident in their abilities.”
Ashlawn uses the survey to gain an insight into what might be causing confidence issues. After all, in the first few years of secondary school, a lot of different things can knock students’ confidence. They might have been the top of the class in primary school and performing in the middle of the class now, and that can hit some students very hard.
A lack of confidence can manifest itself in different ways, too. “Some students play up while others go quiet,” says Paul. “When you’re teaching a class of 30, you focus on the extremes and you can sometimes miss the quiet students. PASS can give everyone a really good idea of what’s really going on.”
Ashlawn has developed a very comprehensive mentoring programme to support students during transition and beyond. As soon as students start, they are asked to list what they like doing, what their hobbies are, and what their likes and dislikes are. They also complete a reflection exercise each week, rating how they are feeling about all of their subjects on a 1 – 4 scale. These simple tasks are a good conversation starter.
Ashlawn has also developed a mentoring system with students in the sixth form. “The first stage is teaching sixth-formers how to be an effective mentor by buddying with their own classmates so they learn some basic techniques,” Paul explains. “When they then partner with Year 7 students, they encourage them to talk to them about anything they’re worried about. Once the younger children start to open up to their buddies, they become more prepared to speak to their teachers.”
Engaging with parents
Good parental engagement is also essential. “To help parents support their children at home, we’ve started to think about their skills levels and identify common gaps – for example, in maths. We’ve started running maths lessons for parents because the methods we’re teaching now are so different to the ones they learnt when they were at school.”
However, Paul believes that one of the biggest lessons is preparing students for the fact they will get things wrong. “We need to build grit and determination. We talk about how everyone needs to make mistakes to learn more effectively, and we encourage staff to share personal examples to enable students to connect to these experiences.”