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Small Heath Leadership Academy, Birmingham

Julie Delahaye-Slater, Vice Principal, and Haleema Sadia Mir, Academic Mentor, talk about their school’s involvement in the National Tutoring Programme.

First, Julie shares the school’s experience of hiring an academic mentor.

Context

Small Heath Leadership Academy in Birmingham is a larger than average school with about 1200 students on the roll, with more than 40 ethnicities within the school. We have 52 languages spoken by students, so the school is very diverse.

We serve quite a poor area and there is plenty of deprivation, with over 40% of our students claiming free school meals.

The school joined the Star Academies Trust in January 2018 and is on a rapid improvement journey, having been judged to be inadequate in 2015. We’re in a much different position than we were just three years ago.

The vision of the trust is to nurture today’s young people and to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. Our ethos is all about supporting our young people to become future leaders. Our culture is driven by our values: service, teamwork, ambition, and respect.

Covid

It’s been tough. In the first lockdown, we were one of the very few schools that offered online learning. So, all our Year 9s and 10s did online learning, Years 7 and 8 had lessons set every single day. When we moved to the second lockdown, every single child was on online learning.

One issue we had was children from large families only having one device between them. Some had to use mobile phones. We actually gave out 420 devices to families so they could access online learning.

We raised a lot of money for charity, donating charity bags to the local hospital and the ambulance service. We do a lot of charity work in school and we gave out food parcels and a lot of the staff made donations. Families could send us a text to say that they’re in need, and then we deliver food parcels on a weekly basis.

The process for securing an academic mentor was quite straightforward. We were sent some applications and read through Haleema’s and hers was great, so it wasn’t difficult.

NTP

The school hasn’t really used paid external tuition or mentoring before. We’ve been involved in a programme at the University of Birmingham, and our Year 10s are being mentored by someone there. But it’s more about improving the aspirations of children and letting them know about the opportunities available to them.

The process for securing an academic mentor was quite straightforward. We were sent some applications and read through Haleema’s and hers was great, so it wasn’t difficult.

Haleema is focusing on English and supporting a number of children with their reading. It’s tough because every child is starting from a different point. We knew we wouldn’t be using her as a teacher in the classroom, but instead focusing on small group tuition.

We identified the students who had the greatest gaps in their learning. We are looking for short-term, high-impact tutoring, so that we can focus on other children as well, in a sort of carousel system.

What I love about Haleema is she’s always asking questions. She’s meticulously organised and she’ll just get on with it. She set all the plans up and she keeps really tight records. If she’s got a problem, she’ll come and grab me. The work Haleema does compliments the rest of the work we’re doing across the Trust.

For a school looking to get a mentor in year two of the NTP, I would encourage them to make sure they give their mentor a structured approach to everything and ensure they can measure their results and impact.

Advice

For a school looking to get a mentor in year two of the NTP, I would encourage them to make sure they give their mentor a structured approach to everything and ensure they can measure their results and impact.

It is important to make sure the mentor feels part of the team, part of the staff. But also to establish a clearly defined role for the mentor so they know what they need to do.

Haleema shares her experience of working as an academic mentor at Small Heath.

I wanted to join the NTP and become an Academic Mentor because I really want to help bridge the attainment gap. I wanted to join a community of people changing education for the better. I felt the need to help schools recover.

I’m really passionate about this, as I know how much effort my own teachers put into my education. I remember we had a workshop where we wrote a script for the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and we performed it to our school and to the wider community. I think it was a great way of letting parents know how the school was making a move towards creative arts and drama, and how they’re linked to English. It really opened my eyes, beyond the books that we were reading and into the world of theatre as well, because I really appreciate the theatre and what it’s done for the world of literature.

Last year, I qualified as a secondary English teacher and that led me to become a mentor, because I wanted to utilise the skills that I learned during my PGCE.

Academic Mentoring

As an academic mentor, I wanted to play a key and vital role in helping children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds access high-quality tuition, and to boost their confidence inside and outside the classroom.

Getting into the NTP and the Academic Mentoring Programme has really broadened my thoughts on what mentoring is. Going into it, I wasn’t that open-minded. But it’s opened me up to the world of mentoring and how it plays a key role in giving students that one-to-one access to tuition.

You really access the student, what they like, what they dislike, what their needs are and you can differentiate and scaffold for them. Rather than a big class where there’s many students, you can cater to their needs. I think mentoring is really useful, vital for students who are maybe just short of getting those grades but need a boost.

This year has been great for my own teaching techniques. Knowing how different pupils learn will help me cater for different learning styles. Going on as a secondary school teacher I’ll be able to differentiate for everyone because I think everyone has a unique way of learning. We don’t all learn in the same way.

I’ve been leading a bespoke reading programme, which has helped pupils from Years 7, 8 and 9. The pupils were retested in April, and we’ve seen more than 60% of Year 7 and 8 pupils make considerable leaps in their reading ages.

Training

I think the initial training really helped to endorse the knowledge that I already had. It reinforced that knowledge of differentiation, scaffolding and making sure that I built a positive rapport with pupils. Communication with my line manager is also key, because you need to have good communication with a range of people in school.

It’s really broadened my knowledge of safeguarding as well. So, looking at if a child is upset, why they’re upset, or if they’re having a down day, why they’re having a down day. Just looking at it from that perspective and from a compassionate way as well.

Because of COVID, a lot of students are very anxious at the moment. Anxiety is becoming more and more apparent in schools and with pupils. So not every day will be a good day, but you have to take it on the chin.

When you’re working with small groups or pupils one-to-one you realise there could be some underlying problems. You’re the first point of contact so it’s really important that you build that rapport. You need to build that trust, so they can share things with you and are happy to talk to you if they’re having a down day. It’s just good for them to open up really.

English tutoring

I’ve been leading a bespoke reading programme, which has helped pupils from Years 7, 8 and 9. I’ve been helping to boost their chronological reading age, because they’re just below the national average. I’ve been helping to boost that age, so that they’re on par with their peers.

That’s done through a very intense session. Sometimes it’s a group, which is about four to five kids. Then on some days, I do more with the less able students to support them further.

We use a booklet that I’ve created, and we go through vocabulary instruction. We look at the prefix and suffix of words, breaking them down to the core root words, where they originate from. We look at the context of the word in terms of the sentence that it’s in, and we look at the clues. So, I make them into detectives. They find the clues out and they will really search for the answers.

The pupils were retested in April, and we’ve seen more than 60% of Year 7 and 8 pupils make considerable leaps in their reading ages.

My key piece of advice to anyone considering becoming an academic mentor would be to be open-minded. Taking that positivity and resilience on will help you to develop as a teacher, a learner, a professional and an academic.

Personal benefit

I’ve enjoyed the mentoring very much, more than I’ve expected. Going in, I was quite nervous. But now I’m more confident in the role. I know what things work for me, what doesn’t, and how I can use that to my advantage.

The whole programme has really broadened my knowledge on what mentoring is and when I do become a teacher, maybe I can use mentoring as an extracurricular activity. So maybe having a book club, or even a drama club. Just working with small groups and using those mentoring skills and knowledge to help them with their reading.

Advice to other mentors

I think the key piece of advice to anyone considering becoming an academic mentor would be to be open-minded. I think you need to be open-minded, resilient and positive. I think taking that positivity and resilience on will help you to develop as a teacher, a learner, a professional and an academic. Going in with a positive attitude to learning is important because I think mentoring is a great way to share your personality with the students and your love of learning in a one-to-one setting, rather than a whole class setting.

Small Heath Leadership Academy is accessing NTP support through the Academic Mentor pillar, which is delivered by Teach First.The Department for Education announced on 2 June 2021 that the NTP, including the Academic Mentoring Programme will be run by Randstad starting in the 2021/22 academic year. To express an interest in becoming a mentor or hiring one next year, fill out this contact form.
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