‘Seven Things That Made The Difference At Saint Martin’s’ – Part 1
Clive Wright is Headteacher of Saint Martin’s Catholic Academy in Stoke Golding. In recent years Saint Martin’s has changed – not only in terms of age-range and size, but also in its “what” and “how”. We’re delighted that Clive has written for PTE about the journey the school has been on, and the things that he thinks have made a real difference along the way.
Here in part 1, Clive looks at Saint Martin’s approach to vision, discipline, and the role of the teacher…
As a new Headteacher, seven years ago or so, we embarked on what was then regarded as a slightly eccentric approach to secondary education, knowledge-rich with traditional teaching and expectations of exemplary behaviour. On my own educational journey, I had embraced the orthodoxies of my teacher training and the other progressive trends that were normal in schools ever since I began teaching in the early 1990s. I had emerged from, at times a quite heartfelt commitment to everything from Learning Styles and a belief in the efficacy of Group work, to 21st Century Learning and the creation of complex, multi-media, differentiated and fun lessons.
Then, in a semi- Damascene conversion, after reading Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths and Joe Kirby’s blogs, followed by a plethora of other great educationalists, I began to interrogate my long-held assumptions about what made for a great education.
For me the most influential in this new educational world view were thinkers like E.D Hirsch, Willingham, Englemann, and more home-grown educationalists like Tom Bennett, Daisy Christodoulou, and Katharine Birbalsingh.
So, after being appointed to Saint Martin’s Catholic Academy in Leicestershire in 2014, with a great group of colleagues I began to implement some of the ideas I had encountered.
I was in the slightly unusual position of having to convert a very small 11-14 school of fewer than 300 pupils, to one of eventually 800 and in the process introduce them to GCSEs for the first time.
It’s been quite a journey. Looking back over the last few years, I think there are some important elements that enabled us to manage all the changes and at the same time become one of the top performing schools in Leicestershire. I describe them below and hope you might find what we’ve learned useful and of interest.
1. Vision and the bedrock of some amazing staff
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18.
The vision set out was founded on a remarkably harmonious combination of our Catholic ethos and the principles expounded by Hirsch and others that Education is about social justice; that a school should enable any child, from any background or ability, to access the ‘Best that has been thought and said’; to be the inheritors the collected ideas and wisdom of those who have gone before us.
That education, and what we do every day as teachers, should drive social mobility, and give a child from a deprived background the same opportunities as one who is blessed with more advantageous circumstances in life. In other words, our school should make a difference to the lives of the children we teach and especially the least advantaged.
I was also blessed with an amazing group of teachers and senior leaders who embraced the change and drove it forward in imaginative and interesting ways that I could never have predicted. I have extraordinary colleagues without whom pupils would not have been able to have the success they did and do.
2. No-nonsense discipline
As it says on the tin, pupils have to behave. In fact, they have to be polite, charming, and well-mannered at all times. Pupils have to exhibit exemplary behaviour in lessons. Any disruptive pupil is removed and sanctioned. It is the responsibility of the Leadership Team to ensure good behaviour throughout the school.
If a pupil misbehaves it is not because a teacher’s lesson isn’t ‘engaging’ enough, it’s because the child has chosen to be misbehave. Even if a lesson is particularly dull, heaven forbid, pupils must still behave.
Children who may struggle with good behaviour need this discipline more than most, as while schools may be able to create a world where compromises for poor behaviour are made, the outside world is uncompromising. We feel that if we send young people out into the world without being taught self-discipline and the habits of successful people, then we have failed them.
3. Teacher as the expert
We are not facilitators at Saint Martin’s: we teach. We are experts whose job it is to convey our expertise to pupils and enable them to remember. When we have gaps in our expertise – for example our English department introduced a demanding course on Ovid in Year 7 or an extraordinary Rhetoric course into Year 8 – then teachers devote their time to reading and researching rather than creating multi-media PowerPoints or spending evenings cutting up bits of cards and putting them in envelopes for a 10-minute activity.
Normal lessons tend to be very simple – low-stakes quizzing, teacher talk, reading of high-level text, extended writing, lots of questioning, that’s it more or less – but it leads to some amazing learning.
I’ve been in English lessons where lower ability Year 7 pupils have been quoting Aristotle or Cicero to back up their point about the foundations of Renaissance literature. We celebrate teacher talk. Teachers have degrees, they have studied for years, they know stuff, if you are 12 you know very little about conjugating irregular verbs then someone who speaks French needs to tell you, pupils then need to memorise and practice.
Departments also use our own Saint Martin’s Knowledge books which are far more demanding the published textbooks. Once a script has been produced, there is very little lesson prep other than ensuring we have a handle on what we’re teaching so if you’re teaching an in-depth course on rhetoric to Year 8, you’ll probably need to brush up on Isocrates or the Sophists.
What’s quite interesting I think, is that we have rarely prescribed a particular approach, however, when shown the research and teachers have piloted ideas picked up in other schools or from various blogs, the successful ones take root across the school. For example, I never at any point asked teachers to put desks in rows or not to do group work, but desks are now in rows, so pupils face the teacher as it’s just easier and more effective.
Next week, in Part 2, we look at what Saint Martin’s has learned regarding curriculum, memory and more.