RARE  RISINGSTARS 2014 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
rare logo

Teaching Success

 
photo of Natasha Lewis-Smith
Inevitably, recruiters � and Rare � place great store on students� exam results. However, the foundations for exam success are laid many years before GCSE and A Level. Natasha Lewis-Smith, a former Associate at Rare, explains.

I left Rare last year to train as a secondary school teacher at Ark Academy in the London Borough of Brent � home to one of this year�s Stars. Swapping client lunches (1) for long days with stroppy teenagers was no mean feat. I became a teacher in order to help young people achieve, but stepping into the classroom for the first time, my initial concern was measuring my own success. The milestones, though small, felt fantastic: transforming an empty display board, learning names, getting to grips with marking. Progress was slow but satisfying.

Once I had nailed the basics, my attention turned to my students� progress. The language of achievement in schools today is very different to how I remember it. While GCSEs and A-Levels still stand, the achievement of students in KS3 is now routinely measured via a matrix of levels and sub-levels. Nationally, students are expected to make three sublevels of progress per year. Ark students are expected to make five. In schools, we want progress to be visible � Ofsted look for evidence of it when they come into a classroom, students keenly compare their results to those of their peers (�I�m 6C in Science � what are you?�) and teachers plan interventions for those students not making enough progress.

Measuring progress is complicated by the fact that, across the board, the curriculum is changing. In my subject, for example,

Speaking & Listening is out, 19th Century Novels and grammar are in. This means that teachers must constantly re-evaluate what constitutes success and adapt the ways we help students to achieve it. Having opened four years ago, my school awaits its first set of public exam results with a mixture of nerves and excitement. Grades are important as they are a common currency � they are the students� first significant step towards the degree or career of their choice.

However, while the goalposts of academic achievement will continue to shift, there are other things that we can look for in and around the classroom to paint a richer picture of students� achievement.

Last week, Ark academy students participated in �Pyjama Flashmob� with London Citizens � an alliance of community organisations � to campaign for more buses on their local route. The week before, they battled it out on a stage, reciting the digits of Pi for World Number Day. By taking part in these events, the pupils demonstrated to me the kind of enthusiasm, drive and sense of wider purpose that characterises this year�s Stars. They are traits which will, in addition to their excellent grades, make them grow into true role models within their community and bring them success far beyond the classroom.

1 This may sound as though I just used to doss around and eat loads of free food, which is only partially true.