I have had the privilege of being an Assistant Headteacher at Woodbrook Vale School in Loughborough for nearly three years. Some of my areas of responsibility include, but are not restricted to, inclusion, attendance, pastoral agenda, personal development and character. I feel extremely fortunate to have the responsibility remit I do, allowing for a golden thread of Character in all things pastoral. Before my time at Woodbrook Vale, I worked in two outstanding schools as a SENCO and head of learning support. I have an absolute passion for ensuring that all children, whatever their need or background, should be entitled to an education that is encompassed by character.
Our Headteacher, Rachael Fraser, asked me to take over the leadership of ‘Personal Development and Character’ in October 2019, our SEF and Kirkland Rowell student survey had identified that personal development really was an area for development. The provision was good, but we are on a journey to outstanding. It needed a re-vamp and I was lucky enough to be asked to lead on this.
I have seen the fundamental difference character learning can have on children, their change in perspective on the world, their active kindness towards one another (both in school and out) and their deeper understanding of their role in the world. Our character education has also seen our students improve in progress, attendance and attitude to learning. Character learning is simply ‘smart education’.
How Does Woodbrook Vale “Do” Character?
Character at Woodbrook Vale takes many different forms. Of course, we have many extra curricular activities such as the really wonderful Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the Diana Award, and student leadership programmes to name a few. Character is delivered through tutor time, in assemblies and during timetabled personal development lessons. What became increasingly clear was that some students were getting a varied and comprehensive education in character, whereas others (typically the pupil premium (PP) and special education needs and disability (SEND) pupils) did not. Our drive has been to ensure that all students have access to Character learning, and this goal had driven our strategy in our primary Character learning platform The Futures Award.
In hindsight, the most pivotal choice we made when devising this new programme was making it fully App based. Initially this was to support student engagement; a child is always going to engage better with an App than an booklet. However, it was also to ensure that marking and tracking would be manageable and also meaningful. If it wasn’t functional for staff, we knew it just wouldn’t work. At the time of building (Nov 2019) we had absolutely no idea of the ‘Covid Effect’ in terms of isolations, home learning and virtual education. It is often under challenging circumstances in education that a new shiny project can easily fall by the wayside, however due to the virtual nature of the project, the Futures Award just flourished.
The fundamentals behind the award is for a KS3 Futures Award and a KS4 Future Leaders Award where students are expected to submit evidence of them demonstrating a particular attribute in order to earn themselves the badge and Futures accolade. The attributes are all very ‘Woodbrook Vale’ and absolutely what we felt our students needed. They included attributes like community, communication, resilience, employability, and initiative. This evidence can be whatever a student may feel is appropriate and specific to themselves. There are suggested activities that students may choose to do; however, we have found that our students are so creative. For example, one student submitted a video of him repeatedly trying to climb a climbing wall to demonstrate his resilience. Another student chronicled their holiday charity work. Another showed how they learned to fix a bike so that they could get to school quicker.
We worked really hard on the functionality of the App for the staff. It needed to run smoothly, be quick to use, yet offer meaningful feedback to our students. This led to us building a quite complex staff interface to the App that enables staff to see their students’ work, whether that be a single tutor group, a year group or even the whole school. The App easily allows staff to see submitted work, provide meaningful feedback from prepopulated lists or write their own bespoke comments. Staff are able to send work back to students if it requires more detail (with the reasons why), as well as identify outstanding pieces of work to share with colleagues. What I find to be immensely important is the ability to track specific groups of students including PP and SEND, allowing the inclusion staff team to positively discriminate support for those students.
Our next step became about evidencing our impact. This wasn’t just so we could produce lovely reports to wow the governors, but fundamentally, it allowed us to really know if our ‘hunches’ were correct. We felt like PP students were getting lots from it, but we didn’t know. For this reason, we incorporated a reporting system. At the end of our 2 year roll out, I am delighted to share that we were able to celebrate over 204 awards, with a total of over 2573 pieces of character-based evidence submitted. Most significantly, PP and SEND pupils performed in line with non-inclusion students, and in Years 7 and 8 they actually outperformed non-inclusion pupils by 4% and 10% respectively. We are so immensely proud of this.
Futures is only one part of how we deliver character at Woodbrook. However, since its introduction we have seen a greater uptake of all students, but especially our sub groups in our other programmes such as student leadership and Duke of Edinburgh. Although we could never definitively say this was as a result of Futures, it is certainly a large contributing factor.
What is Next for Character at Woodbrook?
Our challenge moving forward is making the App work more for us. We are now in our final year of roll out: as of this academic year, all five year groups will be taking part in Futures, with three of these year groups having engaged in it since the start of their education at Woodbrook Vale. We are able to effectively measure engagement of the App and success in terms of awards given, now we are looking at methods to measure the impact of the work we are doing.
We are currently building a resilience measure into the functionality of the App in which we have used the methodology behind the Angela Duckworth Grit scale and adapted to suit the needs of our students. We are hoping that this will enable us to measure how the resilience of our young people improves through the use of the systems we have put in place, or indeed identify areas for our development.
We are not a school where we simply sit still. We are so excited to see where our character work will take us next and keen to collaborate with schools who are in journeys that are similar to ours.