At Banovallum School, students do not feel that learning is something that is done to them. Students are rightly proud of their school, and work with the staff to create high-quality educational experiences.
Two years ago, I sought applications from the student body for the role of learning leaders. Twenty students from all year groups were selected as a result of the passion they showed for learning and their commitment to their school. The students’ talents cover all subject areas; they are not all the typical ‘academically strong’. They are a group of students with a range of personalities and a variety of skillsets. The connection between them is their drive to have their say and to help others. Coincidentally, all of the learning leaders have been identified as Gifted and Talented in one or more subjects (this wasn’t a success criterion). The successful candidates are now fully involved in a programme of work which allows them to take ownership of their learning and that of their peers.
Banovallum staff and students are constantly striving for learning excellence, and the students (who have been trained in lesson observation and workbook review) are already having an impact. Initially, the training focus was on ‘What constitutes great teaching?’ These initial sessions reminded me why I became a teacher all those years ago. It is the students’ learning and their future – they need to be leading it.
“I felt that by gaining the job of learning leader, I would be able to make choices and differences in the learning environment. In turn, this would benefit both me and others within the school. With the job, I am able to guide teachers in how we pupils wish to be taught. This was exactly as I hoped.” Oliver Roberts, Year 9.
The students have focused the work on the following areas:
Engagement within lessons, and observing and interviewing their peers and their teachers to review and evaluate what works and what the students desire.
Referring to educational research, the students took it upon themselves to evaluate the movements teachers made around their classroom within an hour-long lesson. Students tracked their movements, highlighting tables and identifying the individuals teachers spent more time or less time with. The students then assessed how they felt this affected the progress of the class’s learning. They discussed their findings as a group and reflected upon why they thought such outcomes occurred. These outcomes were then shared and reviewed with individual staff members. Teachers found this very useful, and in some situations hadn’t realised the length of time they had spent with particular pupils.
The learning leaders reviewed the displayed work within the school and highlighted key actions, with the intention of ensuring relevance. Their suggestions were sensible and thoughtful; for example, a year group display board to change with each topic to support the students’ learning. Teachers were to limit the quantity of information shown, as displays often became too busy and thus their purpose became overpowered by content. This was highlighted when one of the learning leaders interviewed some of the school’s autistic students. Teachers now also present information on blue or green paper, in order to support learning for dyslexic students.
Learning leaders also visit other classes from time to time, and provide suggestions on activities to engage and stimulate the students first thing in the morning.
The students involved share and discuss what has worked for them for specific subjects or specific topics. They then share this information with their peers.
“The learning leaders have had a positive impact throughout the school. We have helped improve the learning environment and have pushed to improve the general education of pupils and to help teachers to help the students. I feel that the learning leaders have had a great impact on the school, and we shall continue to benefit our school for the foreseeable future.”
Fraser Wood, Year 9.
The culture of collaborative learning across the community means that it is not just academic outcomes that are improving. The students communicate back to staff and to their peer groups, and so are developing valuable life skills along the way. This opportunity has enabled a number of the team to reflect on and re-evaluate their own learning behaviour and attitudes towards their learning – amending and adapting both to ensure they are getting the most out of every opportunity that comes their way. Their confidence, resilience and independence have all grown dramatically.
The next step is to further develop their feedback, and their methods of feedback. Their main focus for this term is to create a list of Teaching and Learning Tips for Teachers, which will be written solely by the learning leader team.
We will be advertising for new learning leaders during this term, and specifically encouraging our Year 7 cohort to participate now that they have had time to settle in as Banovallum School students.
The learning leader team at Banovallum is reflective, open and extremely responsible in its approach. Working with these individuals is utterly rewarding, as they are clearly developing as future leaders. We should never underestimate our young people.
By Simon Curtis, Assistant Headteacher, SLE, Banovallum School, Horncastle, Lincolnshire