Trip Report: Ebbsfleet Academy, Swanscombe

At PTE we like to visit schools up and down the country. We feel it’s important to get a feel of how schools work in certain areas, what unique challenges they face, and how they are doing great work in their own way. In turn, we want to highlight some case studies that show things that we’ve learned about how to run a great school, and what facets of that are replicable across England.

The school:

Ebbsfleet Academy is an 11-18 secondary school based in Swanscombe in north west Kent. The school is part of The Brook Learning Trust, having converted to academy status in November 2013; it is one of three schools run by the trust, all of which are based in Kent. Kent operates a grammar school system, whereby children in year 6 take an entrance exam to attend. This has a significant impact on the intake of all comprehensive schools in Kent.

There are currently 575 children on roll. The school was rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted in September 2016, and has a Progress 8 score of -0.27 for the 16/17 academic year. 37% of their children got 5 or above in English and Maths GCSEs last year, and 60% got 4 or above.

The area:

Swanscombe is a small town in northern Kent, a short distance away from the Dartford Crossing and a stone’s throw from Ebbsfleet International train station. The wider area used to be home to multiple quarries, one of which has now become the Bluewater shopping centre.

The people:

Alison Colwell is the Principal, having joined shortly before the school academized, whilst our tour guide (and the author of the below Q & A) was Jo Facer, who joined from Michaela Community School in January 2018 as a Vice Principal. The senior leadership team are a young group that are passionate about improving the life chances for all who enter their school, and they have both the energy and ability to achieve this aim going forward.

Q & A

How do you seek to improve the school year on year?

Like all schools, we care most about the well-being of our students along with their results. As such, every year we are striving to improve student results and student happiness. We can go about improving results through high quality resources made by subject experts with appropriate professional development to ensure teachers can effectively teach them, along with targeted interventions where needed. To look after students’ well-being, we seek to improve school culture and ensure behaviour is excellent. In our particular situation, a lot of work needs to be done around aspiration. In Kent’s grammar school system, our top achievers arrive at us feeling like they are failures because they haven’t passed the eleven plus. We need to do more to convince those children that one examination does not determine their destiny.

What do you do to maintain pupil and staff wellbeing?

Student well-being is dependent on them feeling safe and happy in school, which comes down to excellent behaviour with explanations so they understand why we have rules and consequences. We also do a lot of work around rewards and prize events to ensure we are recognising those who are doing the right thing. For staff (and students!) we have a two-week October half term, which helps break up that long wintery term, and every Friday we finish one lesson early. In addition, we have worked to introduce feedback instead of marking every piece of work, and reducing the number of assessments that require marking in an academic year to lighten the load for teachers.

What have you done to curb bad behaviour?

Children crave firm boundaries and consistent routines. When the Trust took over five years ago, the leadership team introduced a clear behaviour policy and ensured staff were trained to follow it. This consistent approach meant that all students were clear of the consequences of poor behaviour. But good student behaviour also relies on children wanting to succeed in lessons, and so a focus on teaching academic lessons well with a lot of reading and writing ensures the children feel like they are learning more, which helps them to behave. With students at risk of permanent exclusion, we run an on-site alternative provision for them to try and help them to change their mindset and improve their behaviour, with the aim of reintegrating them into mainstream lessons after a short while in this provision.

How important is the focus on knowledge in the curriculum to everything you do?

We recognise subject knowledge as a key focus for developing staff to become the best teachers they can be. We prioritise subject knowledge in training and staff development. We draw on subject experts to centralise resource making, so all teachers – including new teachers and those who are not subject experts – are using resources created by experts. This has been key to supporting teachers to deliver consistently good lessons. We have also developed knowledge organisers for all subjects in all year groups to focus on the key knowledge we want our students to learn and remember for the long term, and they use these for homework each night to help to develop their understanding of subjects.

How long do you think it will take to have the school where you want it to be? What are the next steps to getting there?

I wonder if any leadership team genuinely feels their school is exactly where they want it to be? Over the next five years, we aim to continue to improve results and to raise aspirations in our students so Ebbsfleet Academy becomes the school of choice, and is genuinely competing with the local grammar schools. We also want to develop our sixth form so the majority of our students remain with us, along with others in the community choosing to attend our post-16 provision.

What is your school’s next step going forward?

Among our top priorities are to develop the curriculum to enable all our pupils to achieve and exceed their potential. We want to improve our alternative provision to prevent permanent exclusions and ensure we cater for all our students, including the most challenging in our community. We will further develop and embed a culture of aspiration and hard work, so our students want to achieve, work hard and do well. We will continue to work to improve all teachers’ subject knowledge and the resources they use so we can support students to achieve at all levels. A key part of our success will also rely on developing our middle leaders so they feel they are constantly growing and developing, so they choose to stay with us and build a career here at Ebbsfleet.