On Thursday the 24th of June, New Schools Network hosted a virtual Spotlight event with London Academy of Excellence to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the school's pupil transition arrangements.
London Academy of Excellence (LAE), an Ofsted Outstanding 16-19 free school located in Stratford, was established in 2012 to provide a world-class education to disadvantaged students in East London. Last year alone, 33 pupils progressed to Oxford and Cambridge. Since the first cohort of students sat their exams in 2014 more than 1,000 students have progressed to study at Russell Group universities.
Transition arrangements before COVID-19
Enabling students to hit the ground running when they enter the school has underpinned much of LAE’s success: the school has established transition arrangements which foster an intensive integration into the academic ethos. This is best demonstrated by the expectation that pupils undertake an MPQ (Mini EPQ), to gain a qualification highly valued by universities alongside their A Levels. Additionally, pupils participate in a pathways programme, which aims to support skill development, for post-school transitions to university and employment.
While academic induction at LAE is demanding, all pupils receive highly tailored support to settle in. A month after the students begin their time at LAE a ‘settling in report’ is sent home to every pupil to evaluate their first few weeks in sixth form. Incoming students also receive a baseline test, to diagnose underlying SEND, and students receive weekly academic mentoring to discuss academic progress and any challenges that they may be facing.
Pastorally, peer-to-peer opportunities are integral to expand opportunities to pupils at LAE. The school offers many student councils and bodies where pupils can make friends and form common bonds, including: the equalities network, LGBTQ+ network, Mental Health network, Gender Equality network, Eco network, BAME network and school council. Like a university freshers fayre, within the first two weeks of the academic year, these groups set up stalls and invite new pupils to join their clubs and societies.
Transition arrangements for the 2021-2022 school year
Pupil transitions will clearly need to be different this upcoming academic year. The Year 11’s joining the school in September have faced 18 months of disruption due to the pandemic, as well as the additional challenge of not sitting formal exams. In response, LAE is developing a recovery curriculum with the ambition to: redesign, replace, relinquish, recover and restore.
Graduate teaching assistants will play a significant role in education recovery of LAE, to support university applications and provide one-to-one support in the classroom. To further support Year 12 students, vertical tutor groups will be established containing a mix of Year 12 and 13 students to offer informal guidance and support between year groups.
After analysis of each subject last year, LAE found that the transition from GCSE to A-Level was particularly hard for those students taking Maths and Modern Foreign Languages. In response, LAE is providing a summer school in the last week of August for pupils to take part in refresher lessons.
Teachers behind the transition
The smooth transition for pupils is supported by quality teachers at LAE. There are several values which teachers abide by at the school: autonomy – teachers are trusted to do what is right for their sixth formers; innovation – teachers are encouraged to trial, evaluate and share new ideas; and rigour – teachers have the highest expectations for themselves and their students.
Teachers benefit form a professional learning team that helps to gather and share best practice within the school, frequently stemming from educational research or visiting other schools. LAE’s tailored CPD initiative ‘WOW Week’ (watching others work) gives teachers with the opportunity to watch each other’s lessons and to provide feedback. In turn, senior leaders receive hundreds of pieces of feedback and development points, while encouraging teachers to reflect on their practice so that pupils gain exceptional learning at school.
For pupils transitioning this year, it is likely to be challenging and there are still some uncertainties LAE knows it will have to grapple with. However, they have recognised what they can do, and continue to offer exceptional experiences to all pupils with arrangements that can be replicated by other schools, from vertical tutor groups to online events.
Our thanks to London Academy of Excellence for participating in our virtual Spotlight event; we were truly inspired to see the number of opportunities on offer to students and staff at this Outstanding free school.