Prioritising curriculum over comparison at key stage 4

Neil Stocking, Vice Principal of one of our Champion Schools, Highcrest Academy, Schools, gives his thoughts on how teaching has changed over the years, the particular challenges he faces on a daily basis at Highcrest Academy, and the ways in which the school overcomes these challenges:

“I’ve been a teacher for nearly 16 years, spending the last 4 of these at Highcrest Academy. My love of sports and football made me want to share this passion with others, initially through coaching at weekends and in school holidays for local sports teams. Becoming a PE teacher was a natural progression route – after I turned down an offer from Sir Alex Ferguson, of course!

Thanks in part to the teachers who inspired me, namely Mr Hammond and Mr Samuel, my experience at school was a good one.  I’ll never forget the feeling of being encouraged to realise my potential. Going into teaching meant that I could emulate my childhood mentors and encourage learners in the same way.

In my teaching experience, I’ve found myself at schools that face similar challenges to one another. Highcrest, like previous schools in which I’ve taught, is a melting pot – a mix of abilities, backgrounds, culture and ethnicities. This is something which is supported by the school’s complete comprehensive intake.  It comes with great benefits and, of course, challenges.

The school battles against issues in the community and keeping kids engaged in school is a challenge when poor influence can disengage learners. Structure and routine is important, as well as instilling the same self-worth that I was fortunate enough to be encouraged towards by my own teachers: that you are valuable and education can help you realise that.

With that, we’ve adapted our offer to focus on how we can support these unique challenges. We concentrate our PHSE lessons on issues that affect or could affect our learners such as responding to peer pressure, addressing drugs and alcohol issues and promoting British Values that we expect in our society.

The education landscape is changing constantly; we need to be agile in how we continue to strive towards delivering a good curriculum and teaching experience to all learners, even if resources are becoming more limited. This isn’t always easy, class sizes growing and teacher intake is slowing down.

With the introduction of Progress 8 and Attainment 8, in theory we should be able to demonstrate value added for all learners. This isn’t always possible as there are learners for whom the academic curriculum and traditional GCSEs aren’t suitable. The reduction in coursework and focus on a cumulative exam makes it harder for those learners who don’t excel with this method.

That being said, we’ve taken steps at Highcrest Academy to offer a diverse curriculum to support learners such as technical options from NCFE in Health and Fitness, Craft and Business and Enterprise. By doing this, we hope to broaden our curriculum and introduce learners to new subjects where they might find their strengths. Introducing these options at an early age helps stop those learners becoming being disheartened through traditional subjects and assessment methods and perhaps disengaging with education altogether.

With the introduction of T Levels, the government is showing substantial support of vocational alternatives. The world is rapidly changing and we need to work hard to equip learners with the skills to meet these new challenges head on.

For the future of education, I’d like the focus to be on the individual schools and learners, without the emphasis on comparison across such a diverse country with a range of challenges.  We’ve exceptionally committed staff at Highcrest who go the extra mile to help learners achieve in an environment that sometimes doesn’t work in their favour. This is something which is not recognised or rewarded often enough.

I’m excited to discuss our journey as a school at the Schools and Academies Show, London, as we work hard to be agile in the face of new challenges and offer our learners a curriculum that helps them all to succeed by offering a diverse range of paths they could choose to take.

Neil Stocking will be discussing his journey with technical education alongside Lucy Thompson from NCFE at the Schools and Academies Show London in the School Improvement Theatre at 11:30 – 12:00 on 4 April.