“Young people at Essa Academy are achieving spectacular results, rolling back years of under achievement. The proportion of students with 5 or more A* – C grades in GCSE exams has risen from 55% to 100% in just over two years”.
The ESSA Academy was established as a “new school” focused on the use of contemporary learning approaches to support secondary school students (currently 850 student) in the community of Bolton – 25 kms from Manchester. The majority of students who attend the academy are within five to ten minutes of the school.
Check out the journey of ESSA Academy over the past three years: ESSA Journey
The Academy grew out of a story of passion built around the 3 ideals of equality, democracy and transparency focusing on the key theme “All Students will Succeed”. The discussions related to the development of the ESSA Academy centred on the two key areas of “pedagogy” and “personalised learning” and the use of personalised communication technology devices as the main means the facilitate the learning.
It commenced, as a new facility in 2009 replacing the previous secondary school – Haywood College. It was established as an Academy schools within the UK education reforms and is a partnership with The ESSA Foundation and the Bolton Council.
The young people as a result of the developments occurring in the Academy have achieved significant improvements in the standards. This success has been based on a rigorous curriculum; high quality teaching; and inspirational leadership. In 2009 the school was ranked 15th in the Bolton district. In 2011 they moved to 6th in the district. On a measure of value added, they were number 1 in the district.
The ESSA Academy is located within the community of Bolton, a community of at least 40 different nationalities, and many differently languages and cultures.
In recent times unemployment has become a major factor for the families that send their children to the Academy. The percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals (44%) remains high, both in local and national terms (14.2%).
Other factors which compound the problems many of our young people face include their relatively poor social and economic backgrounds and high levels of deprivation as measured through low incomes, high unemployment, poor health, overcrowded housing and child poverty. Although
Bolton is a University town, 17.2% of all its adults have no qualifications.
Bolton was identified as having high rates of juvenile crime, disaffection and truancy. Health inequalities are a significant issue for the area and life expectancy is up to 15 years less than in the most affluent wards within the Bolton area.
The area also suffers from low aspirations and high rates of long-term unemployment.
Student Centred Learning
Equality and democracy are demonstrated in many ways with students taking an active role in the pedagogy and day to day functioning of the school. In talking with two of over 150 student ambassadors we were told of the close staff student relationships (eating lunch in the same area and one entrance to the school for all), the sharing of pedagogical practice and the sense of ‘ love’ in the school. Both student ambassadors spoke of their development as independent learners through the productive pedagogies, supported by seamless ICT.
The leadership team spent 18 months working with architects to achieve a physical learning environment that would enable the attainment of their philosophy and vision. When the school population moved into their new building much of the capacity building of staff and students was well underway.
Transparency was palpable as we walked around the facility. Staff and students share the same spaces to work and learn. The design provides an open and highly visual learning environment that fosters the development of both social and professional capacity.
A central element of the development of the ESSA Academy, and to support their vision, in 2009 every student was given an IPod Touch with an underlying message of worth and trust. Interactive whiteboards and PCs were not a part of the new learning environment – instead the use of IPads for staff and students combined with Apple TV form the framework upon which all learning is developed, provided and assessed. The personalised technology approach occurs under a co-contribution scheme.
The technological highlight of our tour of the Academy was a new ‘Apple’ Three dimensional, reflective projection and interactive stage theatre where the possibilities are endless and only limited by imagination.
The curriculum has 2 phases to allow specialisation as children progress through the school while supporting the diversity in student aspirations and cultural backgrounds. The Year 7 programme is based on a number of Australian models.
Across Year 8-11 students complete various levels of courses, known as ‘Chillies’, this provides choice while catering for student learning needs through subjects and units that provide differentiated learning and achievement success criteria.
There are only 2 classes per day, running for 3 hours each. The student ambassadors espoused the values of this citing the greater continuity and sustained learning time facilitated by this timetable format. Teacher feedback to students was clear, explicit and immediate through the use of blogs, emails and Edmodo.
The students also valued the ease of access to teachers via email when they had questions about their learning.
Thanks to faith, trust and strong values combined with technology, ESSA Academy has transformed the school community by building a high degree of social capital and empowering students to achieve their dreams in work, community and family.