Using literacy in innovative and creative ways to improve your school
By Marius Frank, Product Development & eLearning Manager, Achievement for All
When I was appointed Headteacher of Bedminster Down School in January 2000, I knew we had a significant challenge on my hands. It was named in the lowest performing 200 Secondary Schools in the country. The "academies" agenda had just been instigated, and colleagues around me were losing their jobs and being taken over. The threat of special measures hung over us like the sword of Damocles.
But we were never put in special measures, nor given notice to improve, nor forced into academy status: headline GCSE exam stats all but tripled between 2000 and 2010: and despite seven Ofsted visits in ten years, we enjoyed the journey! We tried to have fun!
We served a predominantly white working class community on the south side of Bristol. In terms of education deprivation, three out of four wards fell in the bottom 1% in the entire country. Literacy levels were disappointingly low, and attitudes to formal learning dire: but I warmed to the children and the families. I had a terrific staff... so we set to work.
Yes, we did things by the book: behaviour for learning, assessment for learning, reading recovery programmes, "primary-style" Year 7 classroom setting for those that needed intensive nurturing: but we also had the courage to innovate.
It began in one of our cluster headteacher meetings with the leaders from my feeder primary schools. I said: "From this year, you will be responsible for my Key Stage 3 results". Before I got hit by a barrage of buns and teacups, I said "...and I'm responsible for your Key Stage 2 results!"
From that reflective moment, things started to happen. We did primary-secondary transition well. But we did more.
In a secondary school under the watchful eye of Ofsted, it may seem foolhardy to give Year 10 GCSE students one afternoon off per week, but that is what we did! We needed the young people to connect with the community, active citizenship, building a sense of giving something back, and belonging. Our young people lived in a concrete rather than abstract world, and authentic service learning just might help develop their self esteem and self confidence through action and agency.
One of the most successful elements of the active citizenship programme was the "reading buddy" initiative with three of our feeder primary schools. Older ex-pupils went back to their primary schools of origin, and buddied up with Year 4 and Year 5 learners to read to them and with them. One of our primaries took the process a step further, training the volunteers to follow their reading recovery scheme, working with Teaching Assistants, keeping learning logs, demonstrably having impact with the young people assigned to them.
The younger buddies loved it. They saw older children in a new light... a learning light, a positive light. It helped build a can-do culture. It did wonders for the self-esteem of the older students too, celebrating their progress and accumulated learning in a different way. This relates 100% to one of Achievement for All's four central foundation blocks: wider outcomes and opportunities. Through service learning, confidence in their ability blossomed, which impacted on progress and attainment. At the end of Year 11, this cohort of learners achieved the best results in the school's history. And one of the primary schools reported a drop in casual vandalism of their playground equipment through weekend incursions by older young people!
The 100 Million Minutes campaign can be realised in creative and innovative ways. Time to call your local Headteacher?!
More about 100 Million Minutes
Last year, over 125,000 primary school children participated in the 10 Million Minutes challenge, reading over 15 million minutes in total. With all children and young people being able to get involved in the 2018 challenge, it’s due to be bigger and better than ever before!
For further information on the challenge and to register, visit