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Trinity School on turning obstacles into opportunities

Steve Manderson, Assistant Headteacher at Trinity Catholic School, explains how taking a fresh look at their technology has delivered positive results

Posted by Lucinda Reid | November 30, 2017 | Technology

Poverty, disadvantage and low aspirations. 27% of our children eligible for pupil premium funding and 8% with special educational needs. We also have a large and growing number of children who speak English as an additional language. As a school situated in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, these are just some of the complex challenges our children come to class dealing with.

Nevertheless, if you visit our school, the first thing I hope you’ll notice is that there is an exciting buzz about the place. Our attendance is high and our Progress 8 score is positive. In short, our students are achieving great things.

One reason for our achievements is our staff's uplifting attitude and their readiness to work as a team, putting the needs of our youngsters first and going the extra mile when needed. Another is the fact that, during these tight fiscal times, we are working hard to squeeze every drop of value out of the resources already available to us.

Technology matters

This approach has worked especially well with the way we use our management information system (MIS), exploring how we can maximise its use to help drive change and performance improvement.

Our key focus is that no child should be restricted by their background or home life.  But, to make this happen, we need them to be in the classroom.  Attendance at our school has always been good, largely sitting at just over 95%. However, in my view, five percent of 1100 students are still too many not attending lessons. 

Sickness aside, we require students to be in school, on time, each day, to learn. So we started looking at how we could improve attendance further.

Reducing workload

Our existing attendance system was labour intensive, taking around an hour and a half every morning to check the registers, then make calls home to the parents of those who hadn’t turned up.

To reduce the workload, we turned to our current SIMS MIS to see how it could help.  We started with electronic registers for each lesson. These quickly told us who the regular latecomers and absentees were, and made it easier to follow up on any issues.  Now that students and parents know children cannot get away with missing lessons, they are less likely to truant.

It now takes around 20 minutes to follow up any absences, which adds up to quite a time saving over a week. That ‘extra’ six hours each week can be much better spent elsewhere.

The outcome is that attendance now sits at 97%, meaning we have 2% or 22 more children in school learning each day.

No child unnoticed

Once our new method for improving attendance was established, we started looking at how we could improve other tasks, such as school reports. 

Like many schools, we send student reports home electronically twice a year.  We have now started to include historical information meaning that a parent can see their child’s entire school journey with us, including where they were last year compared to this year.  This creates some great dialogue with parents. As we include attendance information in the reports too, it means you can also easily see the impact of attendance on grades.

We had one child who, in Year 7, was among the top 30 students for conduct and achievement.  Yet, a similar report in Year 8 demonstrated that he had dropped more than 100 places, from close to the top to nearer the middle. 

This data helped us have a talk with his parents which then provoked the adjustment in behaviour that was needed. The child completed his GCSEs and is presently going to the Sixth Form. I have no doubt in my mind that, without this warning flag, our opportunity to intervene would have slipped by.

The outcome of our approach is that today, we achieve amongst the best exam results in our area year-on-year, and 78% of our students leave school with 5A* - C GCSEs including English and maths. All schools face obstacles. The question is, could exploring the capabilities of your existing technology help you overcome yours?

Top tips for using technology for school improvement are:

1. Look at what technology you have to hand.  Are you certain you know what its full capabilities are?

2. Many schools attempt to handle all their key difficulties in one go. Adopt a more staggered approach. For example, begin with behaviour, then when you are happy with your progress move on to achievement.

3. Review how you can use any data you are collecting to inform or create better conversations with parents, teachers and governors.

Steve Manderson is Assistant Headteacher at Trinity Catholic School, Aspley, part of the St Barnabas Multi-Academy Trust, Nottingham.

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