By Research Associate Dr Antonina Tereshchenko
Here at the ‘Best Practice in Setting’ trial, we are fortunate to work with 126 secondary schools across England. In July 2015, 64 schools were randomly allocated to the best practice in setting intervention group. We have 60 maths and 45 English departments and over 9000 Year 7 students take part in the intervention group. The geographical representation of the participating schools is impressive – we have hubs in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Exeter, and the Waterloo and Euston areas of London where close to 100 teachers attend reflexive professional development workshops.
We have structured the interactive workshops around research evidence input, discussion, group work and reflecting on efforts in school to raise expectations, improve student engagement and provide a rich curriculum to all sets. A lot of effort had gone into developing research evidence summaries for teachers to provide the synthesis of the best research on the topics relevant to the intervention. The topics we have explored so far include: (i) high expectations, (ii) mindsets, praise and feedback, (iii) rich curriculum for all sets, and (iv) differentiation.
Teachers participating in the workshops take the lead in cascading the content of the sessions to colleagues within their departments to ensure best practice in teaching sets across the school. We learnt that many departments were already emphasising high expectations and growth mindset. What was challenging for teachers was to agree on the definition of the rich curriculum, as well as how to ensure that students in lower sets receive the same curriculum knowledge as their peers in higher sets. Among the most commonly named strategies was teaching the same topics to all students and aiming to develop the same set of skills to ensure that students could move freely between sets and cope with more demanding work.
We are extremely thankful to the teachers for their participation in the project and are looking forward to discussing their progress in improving learning outcomes of all students during the final round of professional development workshops in September 2016.
Next month our project team will be travelling to Helsinki, Finland to observe teaching practice in a number of Finnish secondary schools. We will also be meeting with academics from the University of Helsinki to discuss and learn more about issues around mixed student grouping in Finland’s respected secondary education system. We’ll write up and share our experiences with you in May / June.