Abbey College is a values-based Cambridgeshire secondary school in with a vision of ‘challenging mindsets and raising aspirations’. The school, with 975 students is in a rural setting serving in an often isolated community with a sometimes restricted view of modern Britain. Our curriculum and ethos are designed to build social capital, widen perspectives, expand students’ experiences and create a sense of belonging. A meticulously-planned Social Studies curriculum which delivers SMSC, Careers and understanding about tolerance, restorative justice and resilience is at the heart of what we do. Our teaching & learning foci is on matching challenge to students’ personal and academic starting points. Our curriculum and ethos are designed to build social capital, widen perspectives, expand students’ experiences and create a sense of belonging. A meticulously-planned Social Studies curriculum which delivers SMSC, Careers and understanding about Tolerance and Resilience is at the heart of what we do. Achieving a number of Quality Marks such as the RE Quality Mark Gold (the only non-denominational school in Cambridgeshire) and the Anti-Bullying Mark (January 2018), demonstrate our commitment and success. We work relentlessly to nurture a culture of collaboration with parents and students, involving them in decision making and communicating widely and openly to win over hearts and minds. We are very proud of the way our students embrace the chance to be honest and mature.
We continue to encourage them to recognise the changes, improvements and positivity their voice has brought to our school in the last two years, one of which is that we have brought back the optional use of student planner. Students are placed into vertical form groups within four houses. Recent student voice and an external review has focused us on how this could have greater impact in terms of creating a greater sense of ‘belonging’ for students. In addition, Year 11 have their own personal development plan focused on raising achievement. The vast majority are in taught interventions, mentoring or self-study and as such, sit outside the vertical system. Hence, we are reviewing the personal development programme alongside the pastoral system to foster a stronger sense of belonging and character. Our students are increasingly comfortable in celebrating their achievements, and many wear badges with pride. In Year 8, students graduate and show their readiness for Key Stage 4 through an evolving Expert Learners Programme aimed at developing character, resilience and a determination to succeed. We believe that developing character is as important as academic outcomes. Moreover, our work in developing a unique iNEAR programme in collaboration with the University of East London has led to two academic publications centred on addressing ‘learned helplessness’ and supporting the Prevent Agenda is outstanding. It provides statistically significant evidence that we have increased student resilience.
Character development is also important for our staff who continue to grow under a set of teamwork virtues: Humility, Intuition and Passion (HIP). This had led to improved lesson planning to secure better engagement and challenge, and in turn built positive relationships with students. Many staff teams now plan together (e.g. Maths Mastery Curriculum) and work collaboratively across the curriculum (e.g. the ‘UNPACK strategy’ and ‘Year 7 Super Questions’ both aimed at improving literacy). In addition, many offer a range of extra-curricular ‘Interact’ opportunities, trips and visits. We model our growth mind-set philosophy by our outward-facing approach; 100% of our staff are engaged in professional learning beyond our core offer, via collaborative work with local schools, their Inquiry Question (part of the appraisal process), national networks such as PiXL and the SSAT, and with two MATs. The Governors are federating with one of these (CMAT), to add capacity and to strengthen our ability to retain staff in the core subjects. We currently work with a number of CMAT colleagues and SOL Attendance Consultants as School Improvement Partners. We take a differentiated approach to professional learning, classifying our teachers in groups, where the degree of freedom to experiment in the classroom is proportional to the practitioner’s ability. All professional learning for teachers is centred on five of the teachers’ standards, which are our current priority. We have recently stopped grading lessons, to focus more on continually improving and developing the quality of teaching, encouraging more risk taking and innovative pedagogy to further increase engagement and challenge in all lessons.