The Duchess's Community High School, Alnwick
School stories

The Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick

The Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick

Assistant Head Diane Murphy explains how her school is using online tuition from MyTutor to help pupils who need extra support and those with SEND.

Context

We are a rural school in Northumberland and have a catchment area comparable to the size of Greater London. Obviously being in a rural area we have a number of students that travel quite a distance to school. We have approximately 174 free school meal children on our books with new notifications coming in every week. We also have a number of children from service families, many from a local RAF base. 309 of our students are eligible for pupil premium funding and 229 are identified as having SEND.

There are difficulties with broadband and mobile signals, depending on where students live, so making sure that they’ve got access to internet devices can be a challenge. However, we have obtained some routers for those students who don’t have a good internet signal.

Covid-19

At the moment we are running breakfast bars rather than a traditional breakfast club to keep bubbles separate. Because of the size of school we have, each year group is housed within its own areas. To date we have only had 20 positive cases within our student body.

This is testament to the strategies that we have placed at the school. Our Head Teacher has communicated with parents throughout lockdown and we definitely have the community and the parents on board. Students have been absolutely fantastic in school, and have taken on board lots of information, understanding the consequences of why we have to do the things we have to do.

Like all schools, we have had to find new ways of working, but we have adopted methods that will actually improve our practices. Many of the changes we have made will be with us for the longer term.

Wellbeing

Since summer lockdown and school closures we have noticed students are actually more open to talking about what has happened. Some have been harder to reach, but we have a fantastic pastoral system in place to support the students. The tutoring has helped with that as well because of the extra contact the students get, especially in the second lockdown and moving into winter. Extra support for them has been vital.

Students can say when they are struggling and have been able to say I’m not okay’ because of COVID. They feel more confident to actually say, I could do with some help or timeout or have a conversation’, which is really important.

Tutoring

In the past we have occasionally used tutoring, but only on a one-to-one basis and never on a scale such as this. The staff have always been willing and happy to engage in additional learning programmes and so we’ve never needed to look externally.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the announcements and signed up for updates when the NTP was first announced in the summer. When it came to the 2nd November, we were ready to see who the providers were. We had support from the governors and had carried out a lot of preparatory work to make the most of the opportunity.

I don’t think we could have done it without the subsidy. The subsidy made it a no-brainer.

I carried out research on My Tutor and looked at one or two of the others on the NTP website. But one of our Deputy Heads had worked with My Tutor in a previous school and they had highly recommended them.

From the start, conversations with My Tutor were positive and answered all the questions and queries I had. The fact that they were using university students as well has really helped the students engage with someone who is not that much older than them.

Collaboration

The students are getting to know the tutors and the tutors are testing their knowledge and skills, and everything is set up to work in sync with teachers and the lessons in the classroom as well.

The teachers in school have identified areas that each student could benefit from and we have grouped the students that way. The teacher can also upload any resources that they have been using in the class which they would like students to revisit during the tutoring sessions.

My Tutor completes a report after each session so that there is a strong connection from the tutors to what’s taking place in the classroom, which is really good.

SEND support

We are using the subsidised tuition to support some of our SEND cohort as well.

My Tutor has a facility where we can let them know what those needs are and feed in strategies that help to support that student as well. So the tutor then decides, with support from ourselves, how best to approach the learning for that particular individual.

Impact

The delivery has only just started, but we are already seeing confidence building in students in their own abilities. We are looking to boost up existing skills, rather than introducing new skills among the students.

With My Tutor, the students get the opportunity to spend some time, in a much smaller group, to really think about how they are doing and focus on their learning. It really gives them the grounding and the confidence they need.

I’ve had emails from parents almost immediately after the first session saying This has worked really really well’. One parent said, I did have my doubts, we had to be persuaded to get started. But oh, my goodness, what a fantastic session they had’.

But also, we’ve had one or two students who have just struggled a little bit, who are not sure whether this is for them, but they’re going to try it again next week and see what happens. I think that is the initial unknown, we have never done this before. However with My Tutor, if the student decides that they definitely don’t want to do the tutoring, we can put another student in their place.

Advice

This is a fantastic opportunity to embark on some high quality, expert tuition. It will be successful for lots of students and there will be a few students that it won’t be successful for, but we are already changing our approach to lesson learning time and seeing how we can improve implementation.

Even if you have 50% of the cohort coming out of the other side having had a fantastic experience, with improved confidence and ability, then it’s a winner.

Diane Muphy is Assistant Headteacher at The Duchess’s Community High School. The school is using MyTutor as their Tuition Partner.

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