Nurturing brighter pupils: ‘you get rewarded for achieving here’

The Guardian has an interesting look into how St Bonaventure’s school in east London – a school where Sir Michael Wilshaw was head between 1985 and 2003 – helps its students to progress. Here are some extracts…

On the wall of St Bonaventure’s school in Upton, east London, there is a quote from Arthur Ashe, the only black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” it reads.

In an English class there are letters stuck to the windows: Be creative, one urges. Take risks, says the other. And in common rooms and corridors are displayed a litany of excuses often used by pupils – Lost keys? Taking siblings to school? Uniform not ironed? – and in bold letters: “No excuses.”

St Bon’s, as this Roman Catholic secondary boys comprehensive is known, is that type of place. The school is not academically selective, although students must be Catholic, and it has a local, mainly low-income catchment area. More than half of its pupils do not have English as a first language and more than 30% get free school meals, yet the school achieved 75% A*-C grades at GCSE in 2012, including in English and maths…

St Bon’s, where Wilshaw was head between 1985 and 2003, was rated highly. Christopher McCormack, the deputy head, said: “We know what we expect from boys at level five when they are coming into the school: we expect them to get As or A*s, but we expect every boy to move up four levels while he is at St Bon’s.”

The school tracks pupils’ progress every six weeks and gives them mentoring, extra classes and additional encouragement if they are falling behind…

The school, which has 1,300 pupils between the ages of 11 and 19, has no shortage of incentives to encourage its brightest children. Egie Igiehon, 15, recently voted deputy head boy for the next year, is part of the Brilliant Club, a group of clever students singled out for extra classes and support. “My teachers and my friends push me to do stuff and not just wait for it to happen,” he said. Alex Palfreman, 15, soon to be the new head boy, added: “You get rewarded for achieving here.”

A complex merit system means boys are rewarded for behaviour, educational and sporting achievements. Boys collect prizes, such as a pizza party for the 10 boys with the most merits in a particular year, or a bowling trip for a class that has worked hard. “It’s about being a Bon’s boy,” said John Hills, who is doing a BTec in sports science…

A wander around the corridors after the home-time bell gives a flavour of the school’s activity. A detention class is being kept in line in one room, a year nine homework class is taking place in another, while a group of teachers explore ideas about how to get children to participate in class in another. The school is open on Saturdays and in the holidays for those who appear to be falling behind. “We make sure our boys are not trapped by the perceptions of a postcode,” said Aine Burke, assistant head. “We say to every single one of them that they can be whatever they want to be, and we will help them get there.”

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Thoughts on the approaches used at St Bonaventure’s to nurture and reward achievement? What tips or ideas do you have for getting the best out of pupils? Please share via Twitter or in the comments below…

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