Raising Standards - a case study

Improving writing at BTE Academy

Improving accuracy of writing to raise standards at GCSE

School profile

Bristol Technology and Engineering (BTE) Academy is a 14−19 University Technical College (UTC). The Academy is a Centre of Excellence for teaching STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Students join the academy at the start of Year 10 from a very wide range of secondary schools in the west of England (currently more than 50), mainly from Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The academy is sponsored by the University of the West of England and GKN Aerospace. It also receives significant support from Airbus, Rolls Royce and, more recently, the Royal Navy.

What were we asked to support?

In 2017, principal Rhian Priest and her senior leadership team recognised that pupils’ written communication both in mock examinations and coursework was limiting their opportunities to demonstrate their subject knowledge. We were asked to complete some focussed work with subject specialists in Science, Engineering and Design Tech as well as staff across the academy to support them with strategies to improve the quality of pupils’ writing. We were also asked to look at how pupils’ reading skills were impacting on their subject attainment.

What did we do?

In December 2017, we visited the school to complete a diagnostic review. Prior to the diagnostic day we had analysed exam specifications used by the school and the requirements for these examinations in terms of written communication. On the day we completed a work scrutiny across Science, Technology, Engineering and English to compare attainment, teaching strategies and pupil progress in effective written communication. We also met with teachers from all of these subjects to discuss their confidence and experience in teaching the literacy requirements of their subjects and to outline what support would be the most useful for the staff involved. This diagnostic day allowed us to identify priority areas for development that would serve as success criteria for impact of the project.

  • Pupils were not attempting longer 6-10 mark exam questions
  • Pupils were able to write sustained, detailed, technical responses in English, this was not being replicated in other subjects
  • Pupils were failing to evaluate their work effectively in Design Tech
  • Staff reported pupils had good subject knowledge & oral communication

Day 2 was INSET for all staff. We provided a full day of training which showed staff which Literacy skills were required by their subject, what progress in those skills looked like, what teaching strategies to use to develop those skills and what it would look like when those skills were fully acquired by pupils. We also introduced staff to key research relevant to the development of written communication. Staff also had the opportunity to work as departments to identify and begin planning for some trials of the teaching strategies from the training, to be used with their pupils over the coming term.

In the Spring term, we returned to the Academy and completed 2 days of individual and small group coaching sessions with teachers from Science, Engineering and Design Tech. The purpose of these sessions was to discuss with staff how their trials had gone, how pupils had responded and what they might do next to improve progress. During these sessions, staff had the opportunity to bring and discuss pupil work including coursework and mock examination responses. Each session also included joint collaborative planning to build on the progress pupils were making in improving their written communication.

Expected Impact

Over the 4 months that we worked with BTE Academy staff there was a marked improvement in pupils’ writing. Pupils are now making an attempt at answering the longer written exam questions, with some pupils obtaining full marks where originally they were not attaining any marks.

The coursework template for Design Tech has been rewritten to enable pupils to engage more deeply with the evaluation process. This in turn has enabled a much more effective engagement by pupils with the design process, including understanding how the design brief determines the product specification. Pupils are also being given plenty of low stakes opportunities to deliberately practice written answers. This has led to a greater confidence and willingness of pupils to express their subject knowledge in writing.

UPDATE - BTE Academy were inspected by Ofsted in Nov 2018. This is what they said:

"Senior leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses, of teaching across the school. Only occasionally, however, have they been able to intervene successfully to improve the quality of teaching. For example, they rightly diagnosed weakness in teaching literacy across the curriculum and commissioned training to address that. There was a significant improvement in the engineering department as a consequence. Due to the constraints on their capacity, however, leaders have not been able to bring about sustained improvements in teaching across the school."

Next steps for the school

The senior leadership team have focussed specifically on a consistent understanding and expectation of excellent written communication across all subjects. This focus has supported staff to make full use of our coaching support and resources. By enabling pupils to demonstrate their subject knowledge in writing across all subjects, it has exposed a weakness of subject understanding for some pupils. Staff have started using key evidence-informed strategies that need to be developed further with pupils to support both subject knowledge and literacy skills. The focus on written communication has also identified staff who feel less confident with explicit teaching of literacy, these staff will be paired with others from their department, who feel more confident in order to continue the collaborative planning process initiated during our support for staff. Support from Impact Wales has provided a solid pedagogical base for further professional development for staff.

How can we support your school?

If you would like to discuss how we can support a similar project with your staff, just drop us a line and we will be happy to set up a free initial consultation to talk things through.

A Little More About Us

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

Can you trust us? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Publishing...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

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