Much that serves to set Rossall apart as an outstanding School community defies quantitative measurement. The intellectual and cultural dynamic within serves to determine educational outcomes as much as the high quality of teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. Indeed, hardwiring aspiration into the heart of a School is as important as ensuring the provision of outstanding learning opportunities. Ultimately, our children deserve for us to share in their dreams and to support, encourage, guide and inspire them in equal measure. In any case, outcomes are determined by attitude as much as aptitude. Young people excel in environments which encourage them to strive for excellence.
Personally, I have never worked in an academically selective school and nor do I have any desire to do so. School education should be inclusive and accessible. As a history teacher, I have never even had the experience of teaching a class that has been composed of children of a particular ability. Those choosing history GCSE or A level do so because they are interested in the subject and that is as good a starting point as any. The proudest moments in my career have often come from the knowledge that students are achieving well beyond their own expectations. The ‘B’ grade achieved at GCSE History by the boy who entered Year 10 with crushingly low self-esteem and a sense that writing exam style answers was beyond them is worth celebrating just as much as the student who achieves an A*.
Regular baseline testing of children throughout their school careers allows us to gauge whether or not we, as a school have added value to a particular cohort. It allows us to measure how we are doing as a School in comparison with other independent schools within the UK. We are competitive and it matters to me that we outperform our regional and national competitors in this most important of considerations.
Here at Rossall, we use the baseline testing and data provided by Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). Children sit adaptive baseline tests in Year 7 and Year 9 which inform us of ‘likely’ outcomes at GCSE. More importantly, the profile which CEM data provides for each student enables us to personalise teaching to ensure that we are responsive to each child’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of their skills for learning. The data resulting from such testing certainly enables us to identify when a child is most likely performing below their true potential. However, we never use the data to limit expectations for a child. At best, the results are indicative of aptitude at a specific moment in time rather than an accurate measure of future potential. In any case, our ambition is to ensure that all of our students exceed the target grades that CEMs provides.
Despite its obvious limitations, baseline data is a useful tool for schools and teachers. More often than not, such data stimulates the beginning of a conversation rather than providing any definitive answers. There are many reasons why children underperform which are not necessarily dependent upon what is occurring in the classroom. For example, adolescents are often affected by social and emotional issues which serve to weaken motivation or soften aspirations. If we want children to flourish then a holistic and child centred approach which gives full consideration to every aspect of their well-being is absolutely essential. Academic baseline data prompts us to ask smart questions and ensure that we are proactive in terms of the provision that we put in place for each child.
The good news is that Rossall routinely adds academic value in terms of our A level, GCSE, and IBDP results. Last year’s results were outstanding with 48% of entries at A level achieving an A*/A. The IB average of 34 points places us firmly amongst the premier league of IBDP schools within the UK. This is all very pleasing but one could conclude that these results are due to students joining the Sixth Form with a higher level of attainment than was perhaps previously the case. Alternatively, these results, which serve to distinguish Rossall as a centre of excellence in the North West, could be the result of outstanding teaching and learning and an aspirant dynamic within our Sixth Form community. The fact that a majority of Rossallians now proceed to top universities (both nationally and internationally) is not just attributable to their academic performance; it is because we build their confidence and support their dreams. A Rosall education is an enabling and affirmative journey of self-discovery. The distance travelled in terms of personal growth whilst at Rossall is quite simply phenomenal and children leave us as confident young men and women, eager to take their place in the world.
Importantly, analysis of last year’s results tells us something quite remarkable and serves to evidence the high quality of learning taking place even during lockdown.
|In 2020, our Upper Sixth Form A Level students achieved, on average, at least half a grade higher (in all of their A level subjects) than they would have done if they had been students at other UK independent schools). IB students fared just as well.|
This means that in comparison to Sixth Formers at independent schools across the UK, those at Rossall consistently and significantly outperformed their contemporaries.
This is something that we should celebrate more emphatically because it bears testimony to the quality of teaching and learning taking place here in School. More importantly, it is reassuring to know that we are routinely helping our children to fulfill their true potential AND we are evidently doing it much better than the majority of schools – be they private or state.
Of course, the challenge for us is always to keep improving and this means seeking to add even more value – both qualitatively and quantitatively. Sometimes, we can be a little modest as a school. When I first arrived at Rossall, people muttered about the school being a ‘hidden gem’. We should never allow the fantastic achievements of this community to be obscured by apologetic shyness. We should shout our successes from the rooftop and celebrate the achievements of our children – not least because it provides a wonderful antidote to the dreary news emanating from our pandemic ridden world.
Well done to our children and well done to our teachers!