Updated: Jan 28
“Challenge and adversity are meant to help you know who you are. Storms hit your weakness, but unlock your true strength.” - Roy T. Bennett
September 2019 – I arrived at The Cumberland School. My first impression was one of sorrow for the students; they hadn’t enjoyed the smoothest of experiences with Science and it was evident that they were less than enthralled by the notion of attending Science lessons. I inherited a triple Science cohort whom I immediately informed that they would be completing an assessment. Having spent the weekend marking, it soon became apparent that these students were exponentially behind their pathway grades. Had we continued on our chartered course without deviation, the tragedy of last year's results were sure to be repeated. If this decay and dissolution were blighting our top set, what then was the state of affairs to be on the lower end?
The remaining hours of my weekend were spent lamenting over the heptathlon ahead; identifying the obstacles and strategising how best to teach two years of content within a mere space of nine months. High impact strategies were essential. A profound transformation in the attitude of both students and staff would also be instrumental to the success of this endeavour. Morning intervention swiftly came to the forefront of my game plan - 7am, three days a week. ‘These students are too lazy to study,’ I was told; an empathetic phrase which echoed repeatedly across much of the school, a fixed mindset which I refused to accept.
Invigorated by the influence of outstanding practitioners from my previous school and guided by the motto of TCS, we were determined in our pursuit. Students swiftly began to imitate this attitude of relentlessness. Morning interventions attracted almost 100% of Year 11 students within the first week. Critically, this attendance held steady all term. Students began to smile upon arriving at our lessons. They realised that their Science teachers were fighting for their grades, and so, they too took up arms.
Once the attention surrounding the 7am tuition had settled, our team were able to intently pursue our goal, encouraging one another to rise at 5:30am each morning for our students. Late December, as I was preparing my Yorkshire brew, Mr Deria approached me and exclaimed: “The team is doing really well with the Year 11’s, keep it up! The results will be interesting.” I simply responded with “Allah-hu-Alim” (God knows best). Flash forward a few months and the news breaks - Exams Cancelled! Year 11 receive predicted grades. Year 10 transfer to virtual teaching. No time for sulking or siestas. Back to the drawing board.
Fast forward once again to September 2020 and the majority of our Year 11’s had been out of education for six months. It felt eerily similar to when I had first arrived at the school, and yet we had an advantage; this time we were a stronger, more resilient team.
“Once you have had a taste of excellence, you cannot go back to mediocrity” - Maximillian Degenerez
The Science department constructed a campaign composed of 6 high-impact strategies to rapidly close the learning gaps. We set our sights higher, beyond the MAT. This time around, we looked to the national league tables and endeavoured for our students to reign atop of it.
Fortuitously, one of our six strategies emerged from lockdown; using DPR and Google-Meet as a platform to virtually teach (and re-discipline) our students. Once the plethora of logistics had been addressed - schedules, registers, trackers, and bespoke resources created, we embarked upon another arduous endeavour of improving the outcomes for the students in our care. 7am interventions became 7pm, the whiteboard was replaced by an iPad. Consistency remained, however, in the resolution of our commitment 3 days each week. My Heads of Subjects created resources guided faithfully by Rosenshine's Principle of Instruction to ensure the excellence of content and pedagogy. Furthermore, teachers who were tutoring no longer needed to worry about preparing resources for their sessions. It all ran like clockwork. The inaugural week of any intervention is usually most successful in terms of participation, however, once the hype subsided, we retained an average of 160+ students. Students were smiling in science once again.
TCS is part of a bigger picture - the CST. As its leaders, duty and pleasure are bestowed upon us to ensure that all members of this community are given the opportunity to access high-quality tutoring regardless of their circumstance or situation within the trust. We are therefore elated to welcome students within CST to Phase 2 of our virtual tuition, commencing in January.
Though it is still early days, the precipice is coming into sight. I invite all those interested to come to see our virtual tuition sessions.