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Ambition is critical

growapir2edtGrowing aspirations: ensuring every child has the best chance to succeed.

We were delighted and proud to launch our new OLEVI Growing Aspirations Programme© (GAP), at the Central South Consortium’s (CSC) Growing Aspirations conference, in Cardiff, earlier this term.

The conference, which brought together teachers and leaders at all levels from primary and secondary schools across Wales, and their education partners, addressed one of the most challenging issues facing schools in Wales: how to ensure economic disadvantage does not become entrenched as lifelong disadvantage. It threw into sharp focus growing the aspirations of all learners.

Welcoming conference delegates, Hannah Woodhouse, Managing Director, CSC, spoke of the importance of breaking the link between deprivation and future attainment. “Leadership of high aspiration, tight tracking systems and processes, rich curriculum content, building of community links, and quality teaching are crucial to giving every child the best chance to achieving their potential and better life opportunities,” she said.

Emma Williams, Deputy Director of Support for Learners, followed with the Welsh government’s perspective on the importance of tackling underachievement, introducing the Taking Wales Forward publication, which highlights the impact the well-being of a child has on their ability to learn.

Huw Duggan, Strategic Lead for Closing the Gap, CSC – and co-author along with Richard Lockyer, CEO of OLEVI, of the OLEVI GAP© programme – framed the context of the day. He addressed the importance of raising the ambitions of children in Wales – which has some of the most impoverished areas in the United Kingdom – and spoke of how schools needed to have a clear ethos around this.

“Schools need to be ambitious for their children, they need to give them the opportunities to see that they can achieve much more,” he said. “We need to establish a ‘culture’ that impacts on the performance of disadvantaged children. Where your start in life should not dictate where you end up. Ambition is critical.”

Huw Duggan went on to illustrate this with an example of School21, a school which had defined its ethos around raising aspirations. “School21 is ambitious for all its pupils, believing that all children, however challenging their circumstances and whatever their background, can achieve. The school provides rich learning experiences that allow every student to master skills, develop passions and reach heights they did not imagine possible.”

Echoing what had been achieved at School21, Patrick Russell, Deputy Head, Matthew Moss High, and Rhys Jones, Headteacher, Treorchy Comprehensive School, gave two inspirational keynote presentations about how their respective schools have grown the aspirations of all their pupils through the creation of a clear ethos within their own schools.

An ethos of high expectations of their pupils, ensuring a richness of education, and an approach to quality teaching and learning, has not only enabled these schools to narrow the achievement and attainment gap between those pupils who experience disadvantage and their peers, but has benefitted the whole school community, and the community beyond.

“Is it possible to educate our young people and close the gap?” challenged Patrick Russell. “Yes, but we need to help re-write the students’ life scripts, their perceptions. They need to believe that they can change themselves. Schools should have an unrelenting drive to help this happen. Schools need to be accountable and know their students.”

Sentiments supported by Rhys Jones: “Every child that walks through our school gates will be provided with the best opportunities and best education to achieve their potential. We are committed to excellence, to providing what children need to be successful in the 21st century, helping them to work out for themselves that they are fantastic and giving them the outcomes they deserve.”

The desire and will to do the very best for all the children of Wales was palpable. The conference was a buzz with enthusiasm and purpose. Along with the keynote presentations, eighteen workshops, presented by primary and secondary schools, OLEVI, and other education partners, gave delegates the opportunity to consider new material and experience best practice, challenging them to improve standards for the most vulnerable learners in the system.

The icing on the cake was to hear the wonderful voices of the Treorchy Comprehensive School Choir, which set the tone for a truly inspirational and rewarding day.

OLEVI Growing Aspirations Programme© (GAP) is to be piloted within the Central South Consortium from November 2016, as part of their strategy for closing the achievement gap.

OLEVI GAP©, the Growing Aspirations Programme, is designed around the EEF toolkit to ensure that practitioners are considering all factors that have an impact on the achievement, ambitions and aspirations of pupils.
The programme will challenge senior leaders on how to address the achievement gap in their school, and give clarity to what works and how they can develop a whole-school approach. They and their ‘Champion Teachers’ will consider the barriers facing vulnerable pupils in their context and how to create a classroom culture that nurtures and grows aspiration, transcending any barriers to their learning due to the impact of poverty. Throughout the programme, the class teacher will reflect and change classroom practice by looking at the impact of coaching and facilitation on pupils, and examine concepts such as resilience and mindset.