The free school landscape is diverse and many projects have had interesting and rocky beginnings; EHS is no exception, opening its doors in 2015 in temporary accommodation, with year 12 and 13 split between two sites, and separated by the busy A6110 ring road south of Leeds city centre! Fast forward three years and the college has settled into a purpose-built, state of the art building with excellent new facilities.
The college serves over 800 students, largely from areas of significant deprivation across Leeds. At the end of its second year, EHC secured impressive examination results and was ranked the fourth highest performing college in the country for the progress of A-Level students. Shortly thereafter, EHC received an Outstanding judgement from Ofsted (March 2018) and remains a highly oversubscribed college with a great reputation amongst the local community.
So how had they done it? In short, a culture of high expectations combined with comprehensive academic and pastoral support. As Rosie Quashie, Senior Assistant Principal, noted, “we want to have a college where nobody leaves and nobody fails: where students come to us, stay with us and leave with fantastic outcomes”.
Pastoral structures and support
Every student in the college is placed into an ‘Alliance’, akin to a tutor group. The college has an extensive Alliance assembly programme designed to provide support on specific issues affecting the cohort. For example, the SMT identified a spike in the scale of mental health-related issues amongst its students at certain trigger points during the year and arranged assemblies involving external speakers focusing on providing positive and helpful messages.
Each student has a Personal Progress Tutor; this is a non-teaching member of staff who is solely dedicated to the pastoral care and wellbeing of students, acting as the first port of call for both students and their parents/carers. Every student has a one-hour guidance session each week, where tutors deliver the ‘Post-18 Planning Programme’ to ensure each student leaves EHC fully prepared for the challenges of life after A-Levels. These tutors are heavily involved in the UCAS process for students going to university and make sure they have a clear view of each student’s aspirations for life after college. A list of the topics covered in the programme can be found here.
Tutors monitor student wellbeing, academic performance, and regularly analyse student progress data. Tutors work closely with teaching staff to share important information and to provide effective intervention, where appropriate.
The college prides itself on offering ‘structure and systems, with personal touches’. For example, the EHC sends home seventeenth birthday cards to all students with information on how to donate blood, and eighteenth birthday cards with instructions on how to vote.
Rosie asserted, “we want every student at this college to have a champion”, a realised ambition that was keenly stressed to us by students when giving a tour to small groups of delegates on the day. When asked, ‘what is different/special about Elliott Hudson College?’, each student remarked how well supported they felt.
Embedding the culture and keeping students on track
School leaders spoke candidly about their experiences at EHC and were keen to point out that, like any aspect of running a school, the college’s behavioural policy has been tweaked and refined over the years. In the early years, the college operated a ‘high stakes’ behavioural policy.
However, leaders felt it important that students were instead provided the space to make mistakes, so long as lessons were learnt, behaviours adapted and/or strategies implemented. Today, EHC uses a ‘conduct points’ system to ensure compliance and progress in accordance with the expectations outlined below. The shift in approach has proven to be very effective; again, expectations are clear, support is always on hand.
When it goes wrong
It will come as no surprise to anyone that students, on occasion, make mistakes! If a student is late to a class at EHC, for example, they will receive a conduct point. Conduct points accrue over time; 10 results in a tutorial to discuss targets for improvement. If the student’s behaviour does not improve, students move through clearly outlined stages with various interventions and teacher, support staff, and SLT involvement.
Staff, Heads of Faculty and the Alliance team regularly share information, issues, and work out the action points during catch up meetings. There is a strong desire to fully understand the pupil cohort and the SLT clearly appreciate how important this is when it comes to effective learning, teaching and support for students.
When it goes right
When is goes right, staff and students alike are keen to praise one another and provide rewards for positive behaviour, i.e. positive behaviours associated with the 4Ps (participation, positivity, professionalism and purpose). Members of staff will issue ‘commendations’ to students, which are recorded on SIMS and are displayed in assemblies, student bulletins and on TV screens. Rewards range; 10 commendations prompts a postcard sent home; 50 + earns the student a free cinema ticket. This latter reward is linked to the college’s, “New Year, New You” pledge, which is aimed at supporting the students to try something new to challenge and stretch themselves.
EHC has a detailed and thorough system for pastoral support and monitoring behaviour and attendance. As reiterated throughout the day, the college prides itself on its ability to identify what works and what does not, through continuous self-reflection and evaluations. As a free school, the unique position of starting from scratch with these systems and policies allows them to flourish. It is vital then, that schools and colleges use this advantage and continually evolve their systems to match the needs of the changing cohort.
NSN would like to extend its gratitude to Elliott Hudson College, its staff and pupils who so warmly welcomed us on the visit.
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