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Southmoor Academy

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Southmoor Academy
Southmoor Academy is an 11-18 Academy located in the city of Sunderland. It is part of the Aspire North East Multi Academy Trust and has a partner school in the Trust, Sandhill View Academy. Our sixth form opened in 2014 and it is the only non-faith, non-independent sixth form in the city. We serve a vibrant catchment area including affluent areas of the city and areas of high deprivation. Southmoor started its journey to embedding employability and transferable skills in 2019. The Academy completed the Accelerator programme in 2020-2021 and then took part in the Accelerator+ programme in 2021-2022. Southmoor wanted to get involved in the Accelerator+ programme in order to continue to be supported to implement essential skills into all areas of the curriculum and school life. The Accelerator+ programme gave the school the opportunity to benefit from additional staff training, bespoke support from an Education Associate to embed further our skills strategy and to be able to network and receive further advice and ideas. As a school, we strongly feel that skills are just as important, if not more important, then academic qualifications in preparing our students for when they leave school. We believe that if a student has a good knowledge and understanding of a wide range of skills, then they are ready for future careers and pathways. Southmoor achieved the Silver Award in 2021 and has been working this year to achieve the Gold Award. Next year we will be taking some time to thoroughly embed our strategy build up over 3 years.
Overall impact
The Accelerator+ programme has really highlighted for us that, despite an extensive careers education programme involving many employers, education providers and more, essential skills are at the centre of preparing our students for their futures. We decided much earlier to really focus on skills as the key basis for our careers programme and being part of the Skills Builder Partnership has just confirmed to us that this was the correct decision to make and we are on the correct path moving forward. A particular highlight has been able actually see the skills being used within every lesson in the school. It is fantastic to be able to walk into any lesson and actually see and hear the skills being used and that every lesson in the school has a skills-based objective. Students and staff are able to use common shared language around school demonstrating their confidence in the use of the skills. Each lesson has a 'Go Further' objective and developing skills has been the major focus of these objectives. Within lessons, colleagues are able to talk about how each activity within the lesson really supports developing a particular skill. It is great to see students and staff so excited in engaging with the skills and recognising that by developing the skills, students are more prepared for their future challenges.
Keep it simple
The teaching of skills is embedded into all aspects of teaching and learning. Initially, we spent time ensuring that students, parents, and teachers understand the meaning of each skill and that the language is consistent. Students have reviewed the skills in tutor time using Skills Builder hub resources, supported by further work in PSHE lessons. Staff received training from the Skills Champion and Education Associate on setting a 'Go Further' lesson objective and ensuring skills are explicitly built into all elements of a lesson. We encouraged teachers to use the logos in resources and created a webpage for parents to see our emphasis on skills. During 'learning walks' there is a reference to the teaching of skills. Our Curriculum Intent graphic and teaching & learning policy refers to the key skills. The skills are referenced during assemblies and wider school events. Skills are part of our rewards policy, and the eight skills are the main 'reward' to celebrate students' progress.
Start early, keep going
All year groups and classes have regular, planned opportunities for the learning and practising of essential skills. We encouraged teachers to use the videos and materials from the Skills Builder Hub, including steps from the Framework, in their lessons and then we asked form tutors to practise some of the skills using these materials in form time. The training sessions encouraged staff to work together in their subject teams and share ideas across subjects so that everyone can see where the skills are being used. We asked all subjects to ensure that their curriculum intent and schemes of learning documents referred to the teaching of key skills. We decided to 'brand' as many aspects of school life with the skill icons - so our Careers Weeks in each subject area include a focus on skills and this skill icon is then used when sending information home to parents. There is a calendared SMSC Theme of the Week which looks at one particular skill each week, as a focus throughout the school.
Measure it
We have used a variety of techniques to measure progress in the skills, including providing the ladders from the Skills Builder Framework in student planners so they have a copy of the Framework with them. Staff were provided with bespoke stickers, that we had produced, which they could use to stick in the planner when students were demonstrating that they have achieved a particular step. This year we decided that the most successful way was to use the skills as a 'reward'. We can measure where the skills are being demonstrated successfully and identify gaps. For example, we noticed that 'Leadership' was the skill that was not being developed successfully, and therefore we placed an emphasis on improving this skill. We used the Skills Builder Benchmark tool to gain an overview of the development of these skills in each year group. This tool identified 'Teamwork' as a gap in the Sixth Form and therefore an emphasis was placed to develop this skill further with this year group.
Focus tightly
We have provided teaching staff with the skills icons and step descriptors that they can use in their own lesson materials, including during remote teaching. These materials are regularly used in lessons and are included in their lesson materials, showing that all teachers engage in focused and explicit teaching of the skills. Every lesson has a 'Go Further' objective based on the skills. This is a non-negotiable and must be used in every lesson as part of school policy. This means that for the 29 lessons that a student is taught each week, they are hearing about and using the skills in each one. They hear common language and are supported to develop their use of the skills. We decided to make the skills visible within each classroom and large banners have been created which display the skill icons. These are used by teaching staff to simply refer to the skills at opportune moments. Every morning during form time, the skill focus of that week is displayed electronically for all to see.
Keep practising
We are committed to building skills into every area of school life. Each subject has their own 'Careers Week' throughout the year, and the emphasis is placed on developing skills which each subject can support explicitly to develop further. We send out information to parents and have launched the new Homezone with a link on our website. We are building skills into the extra-curricular programme, so that students can understand the skills how the skills can be practised in different contexts. During a recent visit by students to PwC offices, students were able to see the same skills being used so they were fully familiar with this. In addition, primary transition will ensure Year 6 students are provided with an introduction to the skills, to ensure that they are prepared for their secondary school curriculum. The Skills Leader uses lesson observations, book scrutiny feedback and pupil voice to monitor the use of skills.
Bring it to life
We work with a wide variety of different employers from different sectors in order to support developing essential skills. We have used a Virtual Trip with our Year 10 students where they were able to use the skills throughout the day to find a solution to a business challenge and then present to the employer. We have also used the virtual Work Experience resources from Skills Builder to support students in school who were unable to take part in a physical work placement. Each year, we also use the Challenge Day resources with our Year 8 students in their Personal Development lessons to learn about setting up a business. Many employers, including a Southmoor Alumni who is now CEO of a major ladies retail company, now refer at length to the importance of developing essential skills and how these skills are often more important that academic qualifications. These values really resonate with our own views and enable our students to see the relevance of learning about skills in school.
What's next
Moving forward, now that the language of the skills has been embedded into school life and all of our lessons, our next challenge is to really focus on the 'bring it to life' and 'keep practising' principles. We would really like to see all of our subject areas expanding further their use of the key skills outside of the classroom and ensuring that they use as many opportunities as possible to develop these skills further, such as subject-based trips and visits, embedding employers within the curriculum, and subject-based extra-curricular activities. In addition, we would like to continue to embed the key skills within teaching materials, in particular ensuring that students are fully aware of how to move from one step to another on the Framework. This will include starting to use the wording from the steps as part of the lesson objectives. We are also planning to engage with a digital membership to use the tools available to further embed and monitor the use of skills.
North East England
United Kingdom