Co-construction for school improvement

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 Co-construction for school improvement

Since 2002, Newstead Wood   School for Girls  has invested in action research, to increase their understanding of able students' learning dispositions. The research results have influenced their strategic intent, curriculum design and pedagogy. Here headteacher Elizabeth Allen tells us about co-construction.

The most significant impact of our research has been the deepening of our relationships with our students and with each other, enabling us to be ready and eager for co-construction.  It is a whole school, evolving strategy that affects all elements of our life.  There is space here to give two snapshots of what a constructed environment for Gifted and Talented students looks like:  the first is an illustration from the curriculum and the second is from our Student Leadership Strategy.

Snapshot 1
GCSE R.S. Student Teachers  

Year 12 Advanced Level students prepare and deliver a unit of the GCSE syllabus to Year 10.  Working with the classroom teacher, Year 12 co-construct the scheme of work, lesson plans and resources, paying attention to the school's Assessment for Learning policy and ensuring that the Year 10 students will have clear learning objectives and full knowledge of the assessment criteria.  Critical questioning, student-led research, self- and peer-assessment are central to the learning strategy.  

The student-taught Year 10 student's attainment is significantly better than on the teacher-taught students' outcomes and in comparison their other (teacher-taught) units.  The Year 12 students have reflected on the impact on them and have expressed it eloquently in or report to the DCSF, published in the Autumn 2008 (as part of the DCSF/AMGS research, "Accelerating Progress of Able Girls").  They have a greater understanding of the learning process, recognising the importance of student-led enquiry, acknowledging the challenge for the teacher to personalise learning for a "mixed" audience.  They believe that they have become more able learners and have come to value the professional 1-to-1 learning relationships that their own teachers offer them.

Snapshot 2

Student Leadership Strategy

One strand of the strategy is in process currently - the Mission Statement Review, led by Year 10 students.  Every three years, the school conducts a stakeholder review of its Mission with  the outcomes setting the school's development priorities for the next three years.

In previous reviews, form tutors have led the process with their tutor groups but outcomes were variable and often contradictory.  As our co-construction/Student Leadership strategy has advanced considerably since 2006, it is appropriate to have students' leading the Review.  Year 10 is the pivotal year group - they are in their 4th year of seven - and so the natural one to lead.  The Deputy Headteacher (responsible for Professional Development) prepared the Year 10 students who conducted the Review in the same format as that used with governors, staff and parents.  The Reviewers collated the students' responses to three questions:

-  What evidence is there that the school meets its Mission?

-  What is "missing in action"?

-  How could we do better?

They are redrafting the Mission Statement and identifying the school improvement objectives.  Both will be presented by Year 10 to governors, staff and parents, for their consideration.  The next editions of the prospectus and School 3-Year Development Plan will be based on their findings.

Co-construction may feel like a high-risk strategy and one that many adolescent students may not be mature enough to handle.  Newstead students would encourage you to trust them. Given the opportunity, they will show their commitment to school improvement.  Having heard them present with eloquence and deep understanding to DCSF officials and analyse the school's strategic intention with both clinical objectivity and compassion, I am certain that co-construction is the most sustainable road to best achievement for all and surely for our most able students.