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St Colm's High School (NI)

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St Colm's High School (NI)
In St. Colm's High School, our whole school aim requires that staff and pupils 'work cooperatively, and in mutual respect in the pursuit of all aspects of spiritual, educational and personal excellence.' Raising the aspirations of all pupils through building their personal skills, experiences and educational attainments, and recognising and rewarding these, to prepare them to be contributors to society and the economy, is at our core. We do this within the context of being located in an area of high social deprivation (73.4% of Free School Meals) and having correspondingly high levels of pupils with special needs (54% SEN Stages 1-3 - 3 Maximum NI). The Skills Builder Accelerator programme complemented both our overall aim, and our whole school priorities, in that it offered the potential to develop pupils' personal capabilities and self esteem, and impact of their academic achievements. The programme equally complemented our school's focus in terms of Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance (CEIAG), the Northern Ireland Curriculum - a statutory skills based curriculum, and our pastoral structure.
Overall impact
The Skills Builder Accelerator programme allowed us to identify a group of pupils at risk of disengaging, as evidenced by their innate ability scores in comparison to their Progress in Maths and English scores from the previous year. Having transitioned from primary school they experienced lockdowns in their first and second year of secondary education (Yr 8 & 9 NI), yet they were expected to select subject options and be ready for GCSE level study by the end of their Yr 10. The programme enabled us to refocus the group and develop the key skills of listening, speaking and staying positive to enable them to better access their learning, communicate their learning and cope with difficulties in their learning. The Curriculum Team benefited from a unified sense of purpose, and this helped build collegiality. The wider school community helped celebrate pupils' progress.
Keep it simple
We used Skills Builder as a specific, time bound intervention programme, focusing on three skills, to work with a discrete group of Yr 10 pupils, who had the ability to do well, but whose Progress in Maths and English scores showed the effects of Covid disruption. Listening and Speaking were foci, as they are crucial to accessing the curriculum, and this was made explicit to the pupils throughout the programme. The Curriculum Team assessed the groups' baseline steps for the skills we would focus on, and worked with the groups over 10-12 weeks. We used the resources and language on the Skills Builder Hub to teach pupils ways to develop the skills identified. We addressed an additional skill usually Staying Positive, as pupils' contributions repeatedly referenced the educational and personal challenges they faced during the pandemic. The school community (Staff, pupils, parents) was made aware of pupils' progress by acknowledging progress in assemblies, displays and certificates.
Start early, keep going
Having gained the support of the Senior Leadership Team, and having agreed the programme with the Education Associate, the 5 teachers from the Curriculum Team identified one period during the week when they and the Yr 10 cohort were all available at the same time. This was the dedicated time that the Skills Builder teachers planned for and met their groups to teach the chosen skills using the Hub resources and lessons, and to enable pupils to reflect on ways that they had evidenced progression. The programme was addressed regularly at our Curriculum meetings throughout the year which helped maintain its momentum and verify its value. This was very important since the school community was still experiencing disruptions due to Covid-19, but we supported each other to 'Keep Going'.
Measure it
Understanding the essential skills was easy, since the Northern Ireland Statutory Curriculum is a blend of skills acquisition and subject content. This is why Skills Builder complemented what the students were learning and developing across the curriculum. The steps progression tool on the Hub dashboard enabled the teachers, in consultation with the pupils, to baseline pupils' level for each skill to be taught, prior to commencing the lessons and activities. Pupil self evaluations, and teacher lead evaluations based on how pupils had evidenced each next step, ensured that progression was both measured, understood and acknowledged. The Hub passport and stickers helped in this process, particularly in the early stages of the programme.
Focus tightly
The dedicated groups and teachers, allocated teaching time, and regular meetings of the Curriculum Team ensured that we focused tightly. Using the planned lessons and activities on the Hub ensured that our work with the pupils remained focused on teaching the skills. Each lesson allowed pupils to discuss how that had demonstrated a given step for a given skill since the previous meeting. Pupils were encouraged to think of examples within the curriculum and their learning, and also outside of school. It was constantly emphasised to pupils that they will access their learning in class with greater ease by applying the techniques that the Hub skill steps taught.
Keep practising
The lessons on the Hub ensured that pupils were both taught a given skill step and had the chance to practice and demonstrate it through the subsequent activities, in a controlled environment, before being asked to try to develop it outside of the weekly sessions. The review stage of each session ensured that pupils were practising their skills. The passports and stickers were valuable in this practice, as they got the pupils used to communicating their progress. As the students became more familiar with the routine of the programme, they became much better and more willing to verbalise their experiences. This stage of development gave the sessions greater momentum.
Bring it to life
Evidencing skills in school and outside it was always encouraged. A memorable moment in Step 3 Speaking was one pupil's articulate set of instructions on how to use Belfast's new Glider bus - the group was incredulous at the teacher's lack of experience! Additionally, pupils engaged in an Enterprise workshop 'Learn to Earn' that required students to demonstrate speaking and listening skills. Staying Positive was developed through video diaries of people who illustrated their career explorations and progressions, and how they overcame obstacles. As a concluding activity, and celebration of participation in the Skills Builder Programme, the pupils participated in a Pizza Making workshop, where they listened and learnt about the method and essential components of a successful pizza, engaged in a sequencing activity, and spot the error activity requiring then to verbalise their outcomes and explain the consequence of each error in a recipe and method...before making their own pizza!
What's next
We hope to continue to use the Skills Builder Programme with the incoming Yr 10 pupils. There is also the potential for its use with a recently formed Social and Communications Centre for pupils who would struggle in a whole school setting in their first year at secondary school. The teacher who introduced Skills Builder this year will liaise with the Special Educational Needs coordinator and demonstrate its potential.
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom