Blue Coat CE Academy in Walsall has been reassessed again and becomes a Flagship School.
Context of the School
Blue Coat Church of England Academy is a smaller than average 11-18 school in the centre of Walsall. It converted to an 11-18 academy in September 2012. It is sponsored by the Church of England Central Education Trust and retains a close working partnership with its co-sponsor, the Holte School, Birmingham. The Year 7 Pupil Admission Number is set at 150 which is likely to be exceeded in September 2017. Numbers staying on post-16, and others joining the sixth form, continue to grow.
According to Academy data, over 70% of pupils speak English as an additional language and less than 15% of students are White British. The proportions who speak English as a second language and who have disabilities or special educational needs are well above average. The academy serves an area of high deprivation and over half of students are supported by pupil premium funding.
Strong and Inspired Leadership
The current Principal took up post in September 2016 after a turbulent year preceding his appointments. Following the resignation of the then Principal in November 2015, there have been two Interim Principals in succession since January, the second taking up position in February 2016. Progress towards targets was effectively halted but this year the pace has picked up again and impressive advances have been made through strong and inspired leadership.
Supporting Other Schools
Blue Coat C of E Academy has been successful in supporting other Walsall secondary schools, as well as accommodating pupils from Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Indeed, Success Centre provision has been provided to 22 pupils from local secondary schools. Proactive placements have been delivered and one to one mentoring has been provided to all pupils who have been accommodated. In addition to Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils, provision has been set up for Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils from local primary schools, thus bridging the gap between schools and their localities. The appointment of the ‘Children, Young People, Multi-Agency, Training and Development Lead has also facilitated the association between the Blue Coat family and has provided development and intervention support to the Blue Coat federation.
Sharing Best Practice
The Success Centre Manager has met with colleagues from other local Academies and has shared best practice through the sharing of resources. The outstanding mentoring and support provided by Success Centre staff has been recognised nationally, with one of the Academy’s Behaviour Support Mentors winning the national ‘Power for Good’ award. Additionally, a further 17 teaching, pastoral and support staff received nominations and were recognised for going above and beyond the call of duty to provide pastoral care to students for issues, such as bullying, relationships, family life and mental health.
The Academy has also continued to develop its links with the Blue Coat family, along with its academic sponsor, Holte School. The sharing of facilities, resources and staff is commonplace and is now taking place more often than ever before. Additional links are also being developed with a school in Wolverhampton with the swap of two Assistant Principals as part of their professional development.
Reviewing Inclusive Practices within the Local Authority
The Academy’s Assistant Principal-Pupil Support chairs and leads on inclusion for Walsall and is reviewing practices within the Walsall authority with a view to Walsall becoming more inclusive and supportive. The authority and 19 Secondary schools are all engaging in this process.
Developing the Rewards’ System
Moreover, the use of the rewards has continued to expand, with the rewards’ system playing an integral part of all pupils’ school lives. The number of pupils accessing the rewards trips continues to increase each year, whilst the trips continue to be free of cost for all FSM pupils, who have qualified to attend.
Embedding Effective Teaching and Learning
Blue Coat C of E Academy has also continued to embed effective teaching and learning strategies through the distribution of ‘non-negotiables’ to all classroom based staff; a clear set of expectations for every lesson. These are reinforced through the ‘fortnightly focus’ on different aspects of teaching and learning, setting out a range of theories and practices for staff discussion and implementation at departmental and faculty meetings.
Sharing and Consolidating Good Practice
The fortnightly focus is supported by additional staff CPD sessions every Wednesday after school. These sessions are voluntary, although attendance has been good, with most departments in school represented. They offer an opportunity for staff to share and consolidate good practice by reviewing the teaching and learning strategies used in their own classrooms, departments and faculties and identifying potential new strategies to trial.
Quality First Teaching Coaches
These additional CPD sessions are led by the Academy’s Quality First Teaching coaches, line managed by an Assistant Principal and appointed to provide additional, tailored support to identified members of teaching staff in order to develop the effectiveness of teaching and learning across the Academy. Each coach has been trained to bronze standard and there are plans to continue and widen this training next academic year in order to embed a coaching culture across the school.
Joint Lesson Observations
The introduction of joint lesson observations and the involvement of all teaching staff in the observation of colleagues this academic year has also been effective in both reinforcing ‘non-negotiables’ and in securing the judgements of all stakeholders in what constitutes effective teaching and learning. Regular training has also been provided to middle leaders in the triangulation of evidence relating to the effectiveness of teaching and learning, by members of SLT, supported by the Academy’s CECET sponsors and diocesan improvement advisors.
Assessment for Learning
Assessment for learning has been the chief focus of this academic year, with the Academy’s decision to implement the use of GCSE assessment criteria from year 7, in order to provide students, parents/carers and teaching staff with a clear ‘flight path’ setting out expectations regarding progress and attainment at each stage of a student’s academic journey. Each department has created its own assessment continuum, with GCSE criteria relating to each assessment objective or strand of their curriculum. These assessment strands encompass breadth of study within a given subject and allow for the recognition of students’ strengths and areas for development. By assessing individual strands on a learning continuum, leaders acknowledge that progression does not always take place in a linear fashion. Students may move far ahead in one area whilst retaining significant learning needs in another, and it is through the assessment of these strands that teachers are able to target differentiation and intervention.
EAL students at Key Stage 4 who are not yet at the ‘Developing Competence’ stage are given the opportunity to study the Cambridge Trinity ESOL examinations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, between entry levels 1-3. The Academy’s pass rate for these examinations is currently 100% and based on the success at Key Stage 4, will be offering EAL students the opportunity to continue their studies at Key Stage 5 next academic year. The offer for each student will be tailored to their needs, with co-teachable courses from entry level 1 up to level 2 on offer.
Extra Support Offered
In order to continue to develop EAL provision at the Academy and offer support to other local schools, they have recently appointed a new EAL Co-ordinator and a Level 3 Teaching Assistant, dedicated to the support of EAL students, their parents and carers. Furthermore, the growing partnership with Walsall Adult and Community College means that the Academy will be offering ESOL courses to parents and carers from September 2017.
Working in Partnership
Through this partnership with Walsall Adult and Community College, the Academy is also able to offer a Key Stage 5 transition pathway for SEND and EAL students from September 2017, with support tailored specifically to the needs of those who require additional academic, social and emotional support and who may find the challenges of moving to a college setting both demanding and overwhelming. All level 1 students will study ESOL/English, Mathematics and the BTEC Certificate for Life Long Learning, in addition to a vocational course provided by the college. All courses will initially be delivered at Blue Coat C of E Academy, although when students are ready, they will slowly transition to the college setting to complete the remainder of their qualifications.
Dedicated to Sustaining an Inclusive Ethos
Overall, Blue Coat C of E Academy is a supportive community dedicated to sustaining an inclusive ethos, not only within the Academy, but also in other schools that they support. They have a wealth of strategies to maintain and develop inclusive practice, both internally and externally. They have the capacity and expertise to support a network of schools to do the same. The Academy, under the astute leadership of its Principal, are committed to sustaining and developing good inclusion.
Thrust into Top Gear
When I visited the Academy last year, it was clearly in a state of inertia and disarray caused through the transient nature of leadership during the previous twelve months. My visit this year saw a school that has been thrust into top gear and has made many crucial changes which have made a positive difference. I am full of admiration for the leadership of this Academy and for the hard work and dedication of staff who have made it happen.
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