Using the Banded by Ability (BBA) table to set strategic priorities in the Sixth Form.

20th January 2020

As the Principal of a large Sixth Form College with over 1,200 A Level and vocational students each year, it was important that I understood detail, including the strengths and weaknesses of every aspect of our curriculum, and just as importantly, the outcomes and needs of every ‘group’ of students we served.

This would mean a detailed analysis of outcomes based on gender, ethnicity, and the many other cohorts which schools and colleges are challenged to report on. Importantly for us, it also meant we needed a key focus on the outcomes of students based on their prior attainment at GCSE.

Our Alps report was a key tool which enabled us to set strategic priorities. Our ‘Banded by Ability’ analysis clearly indicated that we performed least well with those young people who arrived with the ‘strongest’ GCSE results. Bluntly, our most able students were achieving grade A instead of grade A*, or grade B when they were capable of a grade A. In addition, the proportion of outcomes at grades A*/A was not good enough.

I used this information as an opportunity for honest self-reflection with colleagues, managers and leaders within the college, and as a result, we developed strategies that eventually led to a significant improvement in the outcomes of these young people.

We started to set targets – at departmental level as well as for the whole college – for the proportion of entries at grade A* or A*/A, in addition to the more ‘conventional’ targets of A*/B and A*/E; alongside this we agreed an ambition for every subject to achieve at least 10% of entries at A*. Of course setting targets alone does not provide improvements, and so we developed subject specific action plans describing how these stretching goals will be achieved. Most importantly, these were monitored and kept alive every week. Subject areas also developed a monitored ‘able and talented’ plan, and our pastoral teams produced a separate programme for those young people who aim to progress to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, and for those courses with challenging entry criteria. There were many ideas and solutions – most came from the subject and course teams themselves. The proportion of young people achieving grades A*/A increased from 22% to 37% over a three year period.

Of course, your school/college might have different priorities and your areas for improvement might be towards the lower of the prior achievement bands, but these too can inform strategic priorities. For us this was the case with some of our vocational subjects. Our action plan included (i) a reflection on our entry criteria and/or curriculum offer; (ii) the pre course support that was given to enable young people to start their course with confidence; (iii) the timeliness of the pastoral care and curriculum intervention we had in place when young people hit the first hurdle; and (iv) to revitalise the teaching and learning strategies (including the ‘stretch and challenge’) evident in classes to these groups of young people.

Most important of all was that whatever our weaknesses, I decided to look both internally and externally for the best ideas – working with my own colleagues and innovative and successful leaders elsewhere to find out what worked for them. And then to share that best practice and work collaboratively for the benefit of our young people.

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