A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 12 March 2018

We are thrilled with the news that The Oldham Academy North has achieved not only the highest Progress 8 score in Oldham, but the fifth best score in Greater Manchester in the 2016-17 academic year. An achievement all the more impressive given that the four schools that have placed above TOAN are all selective schools.

Progress 8 measures the progress that students have made between the end of key stage 2 and the end of key stage 4, and with an impressive score of +0.818, TOAN has placed well above the national average. Deputy Headteacher Rachael Hallam notes that staff and students are delighted with the result.

“We’re certainly celebrating our success but we are also setting these results as a benchmark for us to build on in the future.”

We caught up with Rachael to find out how staff and students have worked together to achieve this fantastic result.

No one-size fits all model here…

In order to achieve a positive score for Progress 8, schools and academies have to ensure that pupils of all abilities are progressing. In fact, part of the reason that Progress 8 was introduced was to stop schools and academies from targeting a disproportionate amount of resources at pupils on the C/D grade borderline. TOAN however has progressed by offering support at every level, tailoring support to each individual student’s needs.

This tailored approach is all the more important given the diversity of TOAN’s student body, which includes students of varying ability on entry to the academy as well as around 80% with English as an additional language.

“We don’t have a one-size fits all model for everybody. We have to tailor the curriculum to our students to ensure that everyone, including students who have literally just arrived in the country, are straight away getting the education they deserve and learning what they need to in order to achieve in later life.”

For example, students with lower attainment on entry to the academy are enrolled in the Aspire Pathway, which offers specialised support and a tailored curriculum. Lessons take an enquiry-led approach, encouraging student-led, active learning. Students are taught in smaller groups where they can be closely supported.

Students with higher prior attainment are also closely supported by staff so that they can continue to compete for the top university places and the top jobs when they leave the academy. Judging by last year’s results, they are certainly being pushed to reach their potential with 27% of the cohort achieving three 8/9 or A/A* grades and 80% of students achieving at least one A/A* or 8/9.

High expectations and high aspirations

Another key factor in TOAN’s recent success is the successful establishment of a culture based around the academy’s TEAM values (trust, endurance, autonomy and mastery).

“Our values are certainly part of creating a culture of high aspirations. For example, one of our values is mastery. We talk to the students all the time about what they’re going to be masters in and make them think about how they’re going to achieve that. Our values feed into everything we do, and set a standard for staff and students.”

This includes setting high expectations around student behaviour. At TOAN, learning must take place within four minutes from the start of the lesson, and according to Rachael students have really bought into this principle.

“The behaviour for learning in lessons is so brilliant: students are focused from the word go. When you walk around the academy at the start of lesson time, you could hear a pin drop.”

Dedicated staff

These high expectations are upheld by staff at every level within the academy. Teachers offer lunchtime and break time sessions if students are struggling, as well as extra weekend classes. Students that want to take up an extra GCSE in statistics can, thanks to teachers making time for additional classes.

Staff work together to assess how to best support their students, meeting at weekly teaching and learning briefings to discuss students’ progress and share best practice.

“It’s about the teamwork. Our Headteacher Chris is adamant that we’re always a team – it’s not this department versus that department, it’s everybody working solidly together. It genuinely is a huge team effort, everyone strives towards meeting the expectations and the aspirations of our students.”

An inspiring work ethic

Of course, the amazing results that TOAN has achieved would not be possible without its hard working students. Extra classes after academy and at the weekend are well subscribed, with students eager to attend to reinforce their learning.

Clearly, the hard-working staff at the academy and the extra support available have played an important role in TOAN’s success. But as Rachael points out, it’s instilling a sense of determination and drive in the students that gives them that extra push to succeed.

“Our students have super high expectations of themselves, and so do their parents and carers. Their mind-set has changed. They know that they’re competing with 6,000 other students in Oldham to get the college placements and the jobs that they want, and it’s ultimately down to them at the end of the day. We can provide a really solid education for them but it’s up to them to want to do it, and to want to have the best qualifications.”