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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Organisation of Learning

As the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy becomes closer to beginning work and ultimately moving into our multi-million pound Maritime House Campus, I am using this time to reflect. Tonight, I reflect on how learning will be organised in Maritime House, in particular, the research around 'Vertical Home Bases' which will be such a feature of our new campus.

IPACA is based on two clear philosophies: a “schools within schools’ or ‘Home-Base’ organisational model, and a ‘stage not age‘ learning strategy.

There is a considerable body of evidence, developed over the last ten years, that small schools provide a successful model for education. Human Scale Education and the Gulbenkian Foundation have developed a number of case studies. ‘Fifteen Small Schools’ by Rosalyn Spencer (1999), considered 15 small schools in the UK. It concluded that within these small schools parental involvement is improved, democratic processes enabled, links with local community developed and sustained and that the small scale opportunity provides a pattern for successful mixed age learning.

A 2009 survey of 1,000 teachers from Teach First entitled ‘Lessons from the Front’ concluded that large schools should be divided up into smaller learning communities. Teach First teachers were scathingly critical of the de-personalising tendencies of the traditional secondary structure. The report concluded that, "small learning communities would ensure that every pupil was known as an individual, making it harder for pupils to fall under the radar".

Research by the Human Scale Education Group suggested eight key practices that schools should follow for success:

- Schools or learning communities of 250 to 300 students

- Having teams of between 4 to 6 teachers, learning mentors and learning support assistants who will see no more than 80 – 90 learners each week

- A curriculum that is co-constructed and holistic

- A flexible timetable with blocks of time that makes provision for whole class teaching, small group teaching and individual learning

- A pedagogy that is enquiry-based, experiential and supported by ICT

- Assessment that involves the ‘Assessment for Learning’ approaches of dialogue, negotiation, peer review and develops forms of authentic assessment such as the production of portfolio, exhibition and performance

- Involving students in the learning arrangements and organisation of the school

- Having a genuine partnership with parents and the community

Maritime House will be divided into four vertically arranged ‘home bases’. This will allow students, staff and parents to get to know each other and support effective learning and achievement based on a real knowledge and understanding of the individual. It will also allow some vertical grouping in both tutor and academic sessions.

Students will remain identified with their home base and associated staff throughout their time in the Academy. Previous experience demonstrates that many parents prefer working with a small number of staff where they can develop good relationships and levels of communication.