Details of our Project
The project partners were inspired by the European aims of reducing the number of early school-leavers and raising standards in key skills. Many pupils feel disaffected and estranged from the education process which results in them leaving school early with no or low achievement in key skills. Many who are not managing in other educational settings come to us and we need to find new ways forward to integrate them successfully. Teachers and support workers working with these pupils have asked for support in finding new methods to facilitate this and we want to share, research and put forward ideas and methods of how to capture pupils' imagination and engage their interest in a practical way, regardless of their level of ability. Estrangement is often caused by low self esteem and a lack of sense of belonging and/or direction. We want to share ideas and methods of how to best integrate pupils into their learning communities in diverse ways throughout their school life and how to build successful working habits which will serve them into the future. We want to undertake this from a number of perspectives: integration into the group, building fruitful and understanding working relationships between staff and pupils, enhancing interest in the work itself as well as in the learning outcomes, and better integration through early intervention as highlighted by our Learning Support Departments and stated in our School Development Plans. As project leaders we ensured that the above aims are part of the striving at each of our partner schools, too.
Case studies, data and surveys have indicated the need and reason for wider integrated strategies, necessary to engage pupils to enable them to overcome their emotional, social and educational issues affecting their progress. All partners in this project have similar experiences and sets of data. In faculty meetings within our schools we are striving to develop ideas through which we could help each other to better address and include pupils with social and educational difficulties. Their difficulties affect not only themselves but also a class community as a whole, and we recognised that in order to integrate these pupils successfully we have to develop more direct strategies for engendering understanding in their peers as well as a culture of wanting to achieve together as a group. Engendering a culture of accepting 'being different' is facilitated very well with groups from different cultures or languages. Furthermore, the idea that we - all these different cultures and language groups - belong together in the wider framework of Europe, is a unifying thought, which can develop a sense of belonging beyond the usual comfort zone and directly influence and enhance foreign language learning - a further aim of this project.
The project 'Achieving Together' focuses on the value of activities which enable integration. 'Achieving Together' stands for developing communal goals and valuing the contribution each individual makes towards them. In the activities we wish to develop, individual striving and learning will further the outcome of a whole group effort. The outcomes will be of a practical nature and will always closely relate to the curriculum area being taught; personal learning and skills development in the subject matter are the path to achieving the common goal. These are not simply team building exercises, but include elements of lesson planning and implementation, which will enhance peer support, differentiation, integrating pupils’ personal interests, multi-sensory approaches and those that allow access to learners of a range of ability levels. By developing this across a range of subjects, we want to show that personal abilities such as social skills, confidence, self esteem and interest in others can be integrated as lesson aims alongside many other curriculum aims, and often addressed through the subject matter itself.
Whilst such an approach is an ideal, it is difficult to address a wider audience without a significant number of practical examples and usable resources. This is why the results of the project 'Achieving Together' will consist of lesson ideas and plans developed throughout the project years as part of regular classroom work, as well as a portfolio of examples of outcomes demonstrated during our international pupil workshops. We feel that the project will not only help us in embedding more conscious practices in our own schools, but that it can make a significant contribution to the wider discussion on approaches to raising key skills and combating early school leaving.
The project 'Share the Arts', in which three of the partners participated from 2011 to 2013 focused on activities that were community building across a number of schools through the media of fine art, music and dance, circus skills and acrobatics as well as sharing in an artistic way aspects from all areas of the curriculum. In this way, we managed to build strong links and good working relationships with other schools across Europe. This new project is complementary to 'Share the Arts', and will make more use of the established links in our foreign language lessons and activities in order to raise interest in language learning The project will actively take the idea of working as a community into a wider variety of subjects, and particularly the areas of key skills in literacy, numeracy and communication.
We feel that this project is innovative because we want to explore and encourage ways of learning where achievements are measured on practical outcomes rather than exams or grades. Commitment to the learning group and to achieving a set goal together is consciously fostered in the pupils as a means of motivating them to apply themselves to the tasks before them. In this project we aim to find ways of applying these ideals in practice, and to create a portfolio of resources to use.
The project consisted of a number of workshops running across the three year’s project duration. Each school offered to host one or two joint workshops and project meetings, as well as taking part in ongoing internal project activities and in producing lesson plans toward the project results. Relevant staff members were informed and agreed to take part in planning and delivering lessons in their subjects.
Before each workshop (short term student exchange), the theme was worked on locally, in lesson time and extra-curricular activities, so that the subject matter became sharing material during the joint workshops, and all, including pupils with low self esteem and/or learning differences, had a good grasp of the subject matter.
It was agreed that all partners take the lead in at least one international event, so they prepared and hosted one or two joint workshops. All were to be responsible for translating any communication from English as the project language for their own staff, pupils and other stakeholders as necessary.
Baseline surveys in the form of class assessments and staff questionnaires were carried out during September 2014 to establish levels of attainment before the project in foreign languages. Learning support assessments in key skills of literacy and numeracy, as well as current IEPs served as baseline information when measuring impact in those areas. Pastoral care staff filled in a questionnaire about learning attitudes of pupils with disaffection issues (these will remain confidential, but the generic information will be used for measuring impact).
There were three project meetings – one at the beginning, one midway through and a final meeting once all workshops had been completed, during which the activities to be held (or just held, as applicable) were discussed, planned, managed and evaluated. Preparation for the programmes of these events is done jointly by all partners through emailing, whilst logistical arrangements other than travel to and from the meeting, were prepared by each host school.
In addition to this there was a transnational staff training event, which drew together the teaching experiences and resulted in the development of expertise of this element of the project. It was used to inform practice at home and further afield, and we hope to be able to develop a potential staff training course for the future. A renowned speaker on children in education was invited and partner schools have arranged further workshops with her beyond the scope of this project.
In-house preparation for each planned mobility activity, took place with thorough preparation in schools before travel. This was an essential and substantial element of the project as a whole, as it had a profound impact on the achievement of project objectives, and delivered some important project results. It took place in regular literacy and numeracy lessons, foreign languages, maths and science, ICT, drama, learning support lessons and citizenship, as well as in some extra-curricular after-school sessions, and, rather than focusing on a few weeks before an event, project related activities were timetabled throughout the entire school year for the duration of the project.
Lesson ideas and plans for the project portfolio were produced throughout the duration of the project. Discussions on them took place at the transnational project meetings. These activities and lesson resources were financed through school budgets, are included in year plans for lessons, and monitored in each school as well as through a reporting system with the project management group.
SELECTION OF PARTICIPANTS
The selection of participants is in part due to age range, and in part whether the activity is relevant to courses of study a pupil is undertaking, but all activities are open to pupils of all abilities. For joint workshops (short term pupil exchanges), pupils with low achievements and less opportunities will be encouraged to apply, as integrating, engaging and encouraging this target group is one of the project aims. Application forms will be handed out at least four months in advance of the workshop, and learning support staff will be on hand to help students with the application process. Engagement in the language lessons is one of the criteria when we consider applications.
In recognition of the aim of sending as many pupils as possible on workshops, funding of about 15% below the capacity of the workshops was applied for (i.e. where a workshop could accommodate 50 pupils from abroad, we applied for funding for 42, and the partnerships filled the rest of the places without further grants). A voluntary contribution system for parents of participating children was set up towards facilitating this process. As well as wanting as many children as possible to benefit, we also knew from our previous project experience what works well. We found that by splitting the number of participants into three groups, we could run three activities at the same time and work a rotation system for groups. In this way, we could use model teaching, observation and assisting as a way for colleagues to get involved with different teaching methods.