Blackheath Primary School in Sandwell has 455 pupils on the register, including 60 part-time nursery children. An above average proportion of pupils have special educational needs and disabilities, and the majority of these have moderate learning difficulties or behavioural, emotional and social needs.
Lesley King, headteacher at the school, comments: “We serve a diverse community here, encapsulated by the fact that more than 12 different first languages are spoken and at least one child per class speaks English as a second language.
“One issue we consistently face is parents having low aspirations for their children.This feeds into a cycle of low attendance and attainment, and prevents children from engaging fully in their education.
“Attitudinal surveying was recommended to me about 10 years ago by another headteacher in Sandwell, as a way of getting feedback directly from our pupils. PASS gives us an insight into what is actually going on. For example, it’s easy to see that attendance is low, and you might suspect that poor self-regard and minimal expectations are the root causes. Attitudinal surveying is a way of confirming your suspicions or revealing that the cause is actually something else entirely.”
Removing barriers to learning
By asking a series of short psychometric questions, PASS helps build up a profile of pupils’ motivations, anxieties, strengths and school-based relationships.The questions focus on nine attitudinal dimensions, such as ‘general work ethic’ (a robust measure of aspiration), ‘confidence in learning’ and
‘response to curriculum demands’, proven to be linked to key educational goals. A low score in one or more areas can pinpoint barriers to learning that might otherwise be very difficult to identify early from that crucial preventative perspective.
When looking at the results, Lesley has the children’s well-being as her prime objective. “I’m looking specifically for children ‘at risk’. We know that if we push up self-esteem our results will go up but our main concern is the children’s welfare. For some, this is the only place they are comfortable.
“Sometimes children suffer from unfocused worries and don’t feel ready to learn, so we are always trying to build confidence.We survey with PASS every year and, although we don’t share all the results with every member of staff, we use the information to bring up specific children with their class teachers to see if they have noticed anything untoward.”
Welfare and wellbeing
Lesley continues: “There was one child in our school who we knew was more than capable of making progress. He scored very highly on ‘feelings about school’, slightly lower but still above average on ‘preparedness for learning’ (a measure of study skills) but then dropped almost off the chart for both ‘self-regard’ and ‘response to curriculum’.”
Extensive independent validation of PASS has shown both ‘self regard’ and ‘response to curriculum’ measures correlate very highly with attainment, providing vital clues for targeted intervention to improve the fragility of this pupil’s learning.
“We were already aware that there were issues at home – domestic violence, neglect and trouble from parents splitting up are just some of the problems our children encounter regularly.We have become quite adept at picking these things up and social services are often involved. However, seeing a score like
that shocks you into thinking, ‘Have we done enough?’ and taking another look at the situation.”
Support when needed
The results from PASS are shared both withthe home-school liaison officer and the school’s SENCO, so joined-up multidisciplinary support arrangements can be made for children who score poorly.
”PASS can give our home-school liaison officer an insight into these children, and provide an objective basis for collaborative working. She has had significant success in turning difficult situations around, particularly as she’s neither teaching staff nor part of a disciplinary team.”
Results can also help highlight any children who are finding it difficult to cope at specific times of the school year.
“At the moment we have half a dozen ‘at risk’ children in Key Stage 1, with the majority in Year 2.We know they feel the pressure of SATs and it can be an intense period, so those who score poorly on ‘response to the curriculum’ or ‘feelings about school’ will be referred to the home-school liaison officer for additional support at this time.”
Attitude to attendance
Attendance is universally recognised as being crucial to helping children fulfil their potential at school, yet it can be an ongoing struggle.
“Being bullied, not liking the teacher or finding the work too hard are all reasons for children todisengage from their education and stop coming to school.We also take ‘school refusers’ from other schools, who clearly need support.
“Having a barometer of attitude to attendance via PASS prompted us to think about ways to shake up our curriculum.We discovered our children were getting bored, as were our teaching staff – after all, if you’re teaching the same thing year after year it can be difficult to keep things fresh. So, we took books as a theme and for two weeks every year we go ‘off-timetable.’
“As long as teachers are still imparting the skills that children need, they have free rein as to how they do it.This term, we’ve had every year in the school hunting for the naughty Gruffalo that has made a such terrible mess in their classrooms. EvenYear 6 joined in, wilfully suspending their disbelief!”
Lesley has been very pleased with the outcome: “By using a variety of positive reinforcement strategies, we’re gradually seeing attendance increase – from a low of 93% a couple of years ago, to a current attendance rate of 94.7%– and continue to improve.”
Results from PASS are collated individually, to show whole school learner climate against national benchmarks, and by gender, ethnicity and year groups. An ‘at risk’ report colour codes individual pupil scores, so that staff can see at a glance any areas for concern.
“As a management strategy, looking at the reds and the greens on a chart is an instant visual on the attitudes of our pupils. I can also compare the ‘red patch’ children to our list of Free School Meals children for the year groups, which helps report our use of FSM money at the end of the next financial year.
“The results from PASS are an excellent way of taking the temperature at the school. Like every other school we are on a tight budget so, frankly, we wouldn’t invest in it unless we found it extremely informative.”