The Highcrest Academy in High Wycombe has achieved Flagship School status for the third time.
The Highcrest Academy is a non-selective stand-alone Academy in a selective county, with a diverse intake of both cultures and abilities, with a range of complex barriers. The school serves one of the most socio-economically deprived areas of Bucks, both geographically and socially and has recently been identified by Thames Valley Police as being a top 3 priority area for young people in terms of prevent, gang culture and county lines activity.
There are roughly 1000 students on roll including a Sixth Form of 160. 45% of the school population has been identified as EAL and there are 41 different languages spoken. A third of the EAL cohort are Punjabi speakers, who are from a demographic group in which Mirpuri is spoken (not written language). 33% of pupils are in receipt of Pupil Premium and 23% have been identified as SEND. There are currently 22 students with CP plans which represents 2.5% of all plans in Buckinghamshire. There are currently 9 students with CIN Plans, 5 LAC, 65 Young carers and 28 MARFS. It was evident throughout the review that this is An Academy where staff prioritise getting to know their students. There are well established matrices for identifying individual barriers to learning and to respond with strategies and interventions to support.
The Ofsted report of February 2020 judged the school to be ‘Good’. The Highcrest Academy also holds the Equalities Award, the Rights Respecting School Award and the NACE Challenge Award. Celebrating diversity and striving for equality are key features reflected in the wide range of inclusive interventions, strategies and policy review.
Supporting Vulnerable Students
Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown and into this term, leaders have continued to seek feedback from students, parents and staff through a series of surveys as teaching moved online and as staff planned for the return in September. The school uses the Go4schools online platform where work is set and marked. Barriers to learning matrices and interventions are also shared through the platform with parents and students. A full program of online lessons is delivered when bubbles are sent home in accordance with Tier 2 arrangements. Currently, both Year 8 and Year 11 are at home with access to online lessons.
Creating a Culture of Success
The team has continued to strengthen the ethos of creating a culture of success in which all students feel valued. The range of rewards, challenges and opportunities to celebrate success has continued to grow. Whilst reward trips and visits have been curtailed due to COVID-19 regulations, departments have introduced subject rewards and in response to feedback from students, there is formal recognition, ‘mentions’ in assemblies, for those who consistently attend and engage positively in their learning. Student success is a regular feature of both student and parent bulletins.
Developing the Curriculum
The February 2020 Ofsted report highlighted the work of the school to develop a curriculum which meets the needs of the learners, particularly at Key Stage 4. The team has rightly prioritised further review and development of the Key Stage 3 curriculum with a focus going forward on clearer mapping and strengthening of sequencing as well as the provision of more vocational experiences. The team has continued to broaden the range of vocational courses available to students and the new hair and beauty salon is due to open in the very near future. Horticulture and forestry courses are part of the curriculum offer as are functional skills. There is a very evident and universal commitment to offering courses which are right for the students. The Careers Team has continued to support students to enhance the opportunities for pupils to experience work-based learning and industry links, T levels and other industry qualifications. Students have participated in the Bridge to Employment Initiative run by Johnson and Johnson and one was selected as a Global Ambassador for the program by their peers. The program has been developed in to a 2-year programme starting in KS5 for more able pupils.
A Work-Ready Conference
A work-ready conference is planned for all Year 10 students with access to professional facilitators and there will be a Year 8 options workshop with business mentors next term. The school has strengthened relationships with the local enterprise partnership and has a growing pool of business mentors to work with students. The school has invested in the Unifrog platform which includes elements of psychometric testing and learning styles analysis. Going forward it will be really important to fold these elements in to a wider curriculum and sequencing review in order to develop and strengthen personalised learning pathways.
The work of raising the profile and celebration of diversity within the Academy has continued apace with the student-led Diversity Group joint project in liaison with Reading University at the heart of that work. The Academy’s Wellbeing Manager is Stonewall trained on how to offer LGBTQ+ support and in turn has trained a staff working group. The Diversity Group has secured a prominent notice board, displaying regularly changing topics. LGBTQ+ issues have been built into the Life Lesson curriculum, covering a range of topics such as ‘Diversity’, ‘Identity’, ‘How do we tackle LGBTQ+ discrimination?’, ‘Gender Identity Expression’ and the ‘Dangers of Stereotyping’.
It was particularly enjoyable to be able to listen to two very impressive students from the Diversity Group about the work of the group which has been instrumental in the development of the rewritten Equal Opportunities Policy. Three gender neutral toilets have been provided around the Academy in response to a recommendation from the Diversity Group.
Holistically Identifying Barriers to Learning
The work undertaken to identify and understand barriers to learning has been a key development. The team has focussed on developing a robust system to holistically identify barriers to learning for all students. The relevant barriers to learning are recognised by all stakeholders and intervention pathways are established to address issues for groups and individuals. The identification of barriers has become a termly process for all staff which has made staff more aware of the responsibility for catering for Pupil Premium students. Each department has an identified PPM Champion. The team has developed barrier identification grids and these are mapped to strategies for support. The Pupil Premium strategy is reviewed every term and adjusted to respond to meet needs and context.
Developing Inclusive Practice
Going forward, it will be important to bring together the impressive and wide range of initiatives, expertise and interventions working to a clear holistic overview of all student needs which underpins planning for learning and sequencing. Developing key work and coaching to increase student agency and self-direction would be an exciting next step in the development of inclusive practice at the heart of Teaching and Learning.
Understanding of Barriers to Attendance
In their work to address levels of persistent absence (15%+) the team has led a range of interventions and strengthened the understanding of barriers to attendance. There are now monthly meetings to assess and progress cases and the use of case studies to drill down into effective interventions.
Strengthening Collective Teacher Efficacy
Again, going forward, leaders may wish to consider how to bring together the safeguarding, attendance, wellbeing, SEND and Pastoral Leads together in to one team which works with the 150+ vulnerable students across the Academy. Consideration of how risk and vulnerability can be shared effectively with all teaching colleagues to support planning of learning will be essential to strengthen collective teacher efficacy. The CPD program has a focus on action research projects with staff electing to work on leadership, student autonomy and active learning. Folding the research and evidence generated by these projects into team development presents an exciting development opportunity to further develop inclusive practice.
Cross Curricular Transition Project
The Side by Side Project with local primary schools has focussed on a cross curricular transition project for Year 6 to Year 7. The Head of English has led the project to improve writing in Year 7 across the curriculum and colleagues have developed generic writing frames. The pilot project with the YOS Youth Offending Service is developing a preventative programme for holistic support targeting the most vulnerable students.
A Learning to Work Programme
The EAL department has expanded training to include primary and secondary trainees and has developed a learning to work programme with various external providers. The Head of EAL has led training session for the ASTRA alliance and the Academy supports the ASTRA learning alliance, working with NQTs as well as providing placements for Brunel and Reading teacher training students.
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