Christine Forsyth, Head Teacher, Woodham Community Technical College is in County Durham, UK.
The school is situated in a low socio economic area – effectively a housing commission estate town. There are around 800 students on the roll, almost all white British. Attainment on entry is broadly average, 21% of students are eligible for free school meals and 26% have special educational needs.
Broadly speaking, the school was facing…
- Behavioural problems
- Low level disruptions
- Teachers who blamed the children if the outcome wasn’t good enough
- Teachers who showed no respect and shouted at children
- Generally the ethos wasn’t as it needed to be to maximise learning
In January 2006, Ofsted, the official UK body responsible for inspecting and evaluating school performance, judged Woodham to be “Level 3 – Requires improvement; used to be “satisfactory” – putting them at third of four levels, which meant the school urgently needed to improve its standards.
Any UK school at a level 3 or 4 (Unsatisfactory) comes under significant pressure to improve. Pressure that transfers to the leadership team, often causing Principals to resign.
Knowing they needed to radically improve and fast, Christine Forsyth (then deputy head) went on a quest for improvement methodologies that could be implemented. And while the UK Government provided a “recipe book approach” on how to teach lessons, this approach just didn’t feel right, wouldn’t do anything to improve the school, and Christine felt her team wouldn’t buy in.
After much deliberation, Christine realised that the culture in the school needed to change and they needed a radical approach.
Enter Group 8 Education and the PDC program of appraisal and cognitive coaching.
Working with four core beliefs…
- Students need to engage in meaningful activity
- Students learn by building cognitive capabilities
- Teachers stimulate learning by emergent listening
- Teachers must offer unconditional respect towards their students
…the program got underway.
With any major change comes resistance. It’s just human nature.
Arguably, the hardest change was that unconditional respect had to go both ways. i.e. While teachers had traditionally demanded respect from their pupils by way of their authority, it was now incumbent on teachers to also give unconditional respect regardless of the behaviour the student is exhibiting at the time.
In other words, separate the person from their behaviour.
As you can imagine, some teachers embraced this attitude, while others entrenched in the traditional teaching style did not. Many of the latter chose to move on, leaving a core of highly committed individuals committed to change.
And the results have been nothing short of dramatic.
Christine Forsyth, Principal from 2010 to today had this to say in January 2013:
- Within the first year, two-way unconditional respect became the norm. You’d never hear a raised voice and everyone who visits the school comments on the strength of the relationships.
- The school is a very happy, very relaxed place with students highly engaged in learning. Behavioural problems are virtually non-existent.
- An organisation specialising in staff relations and staff training judged they’d never come across an organisation where the staff was so together in terms of values that filtered down from senior leaders, teaching staff and even the cleaners who said that they needed to make sure the school was nice and clean so that the children learned well.
- Woodham has very committed staff, very little staff absence, no union problems, even though at this stage there’s a big teacher union problem in the UK.
- Teacher absenteeism is non-existent. As an example, we had snow this January (2013). Here in the UK we just don’t deal with snow very well and it’s often an excuse for people not to turn up for work. Our school had 100% attendance with both teachers and students – something that’s almost unheard of in this country.
- Teachers engage and collaborate openly with each other. They regularly visit each other’s classrooms and cross-department feedback and coaching teams (Maths teachers give feedback to English teachers, etc.) are the norm.
- The whole culture is very positive – the PDC program formed the basis of a different thinking and value model. The results have multiplied over time, because the foundation was set correctly.
- An Ofsted inspection in September 2011, judged that Woodham Community Technology College is now a good school that is improving strongly.
Now, cultural improvements are one thing, but what about hard results?
- In 2012, GCSE 5 A* – C is at 80% up 26% from 2007
- 5 A* – C including English & Maths went from:
- 49% in 2010
- 51% 2011
- 57% 2012
- Current year 11 (2013) is tracking to 62%
- A steady decline in persistent absenteeism – 6.2% in 2007, 2.4% in 2011
- A 54% drop in fixed term exclusions over last 2 years
- Reported behaviour incidents declined by 55% over the last 2 years.
- Proportion of observed lessons judged as outstanding 18% in 2009/10, 32% in 2010/11
A pretty good result in anyone’s language!