Greenwood Academy was a finalist in the Scottish Education Awards in 2016 in the Raising Attainment in Literacy category for our innovative approach to teaching and assessing literacy outside the English department. Our article below featured in the GTCS Teaching Scotland magazine.
Success Breeds Success
SHORTLISTED IN THE SCOTTISH EDUCATION AWARDS 2016 FOR RAISING ATTAINMENT IN LITERACY, GREENWOOD ACADEMY IN NORTH AYRSHIRE TOOK AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO TEACHING AND ASSESSING LITERACY OUTSIDE THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
“His spelling isn’t very good and what about that messy handwriting!”. Guaranteed that many of you have heard this comment during parents’ evenings. Literacy, as we know it now, is so much more than this.
We don’t believe we appreciated this fully until we witnessed the positive changes in our Greenwood Academy pupils as they learned to value their literacy skills. As the Literacy and English, Principles and Practice document states: “Literacy is fundamental to all areas of learning, as it unlocks access to the wider curriculum. Being literate increases opportunities for the individual in all aspects of life, lays the foundations for lifelong learning and work, and contributes strongly to the development of all four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence”.
Young people who have reached their potential in their English qualifications should still have the opportunity to achieve Literacy at National 5 Level, outwith the confines of the English classroom. In all Scottish schools, Literacy across Learning has been a focus: the responsibility of all, not just dependent on the English teacher. This is challenge in the secondary school where not all staff have the same degree of confidence. How could we deliver to this level without the English teacher? Our journey this session has been fast, exciting, invigorating and, most importantly, has impacted positively on young people.
One particular pupil caught our attention: an able pupil for whom the traditional classroom setting was difficult. While not having a hearing impairment, she spent much of her time in the profoundly deaf community. Rachael was unlikely to achieve the minimum standard of National 5 Literacy. This was a travesty.
Motivated by a personal project on nail art. Rachael was key in creating a school-based business, providing nail care to staff and pupils called Lovilicious, prompting the question, “Could we assess her literacy in this context?” Yes, we could! SQA support was invaluable as it reassured all involved that we were working in the right direction and they commended our approach as “sector leading”.
The impact was almost immediate: improvement in the confidence and self-esteem of a group of 16 pupils extended to pupils from our local ASN school. Completing a manicure on a member of staff requires the pupil to demonstrate their skills in small talk, for at least 20 minutes – a formidable task! Consequently, pupils’ perceptions of staff changed and vice versa – all for the better.
Staff capability increased substantially as their confidence in spotting “naturally occurring” assessment and their understanding of SQA standards in literacy developed. And, significantly, SQA added further accreditation to the course, leading to better outcomes for our young people.
Building on this success, we mirrored this approach in a completely different context: Bikeability sessions, which cater for some pupils at risk of “missing out”. Pupils engage well with this and enjoy the course, as Kirsty said: “I really prefer learning like this rather than sitting behind a desk”. However, many of these learners were not achieving Level 4 or 5 Literacy.
With the Technical Teacher responsible for delivery, we decided to trial the process with two of these pupils. Their responses were of a much higher quality than their work in the English classroom; their evaluations stressed that, in this context, they achieve, feel confident and valued.
We were encouraged to take our model to a completely different level and cater for a wider range of learners. Sustainability was an issue: we had to engage partners. The Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce saw the value in our vision and linked us with local contact centre, Voca. It was apparent how the standards for literacy could be easily embedded into teaching the skills required for this organisation. With the support of a Prince’s Trust Development Award, an industry-standard contact centre environment has been created within our school. We are all benefitting from business expertise and the increase in our knowledge of the labour market.
At our launch event, celebrating our new partnership, pupils Kyle and Morgan wowed the official guests as they spoke. By the summer Kyle had gained an internship which extended his literacy skills. Success breeds success.
Is there a danger that the contexts for learning may “pigeon-hole” learners? Not according to pupils. Tia of S4 spoke to the Scottish Education Awards judges: “I have no intention of working in a nail bar. I want an apprenticeship in mechanics, but this will really help me. My literacy skills are transferrable”.
Getting it right for one child has resulted in whole school improvement: not only are we more likely to meet the needs of many more learners, but by encouraging them to be adaptable and learn in different contexts, we are preparing them for life and work in the 21st century.
Carol Doig, Faculty Leader of English and Literacy
Christine McGuire, Head Teacher