Learning for Life is about learning to navigate change: institutions and individuals who evolve themselves by building on their strengths and yet adapting to changes in the world, thrive. Matthew Moss High School is at such a moment and we are taking significant steps forward with our curriculum.
My World is changing. This is not without risk as the Year 7 project based learning curriculum has bought the school scores of visitors and many accolades, both national and international. More importantly, it has also proved itself to be the reason why Matthew Moss learners do so well post-16 at college, out-performing learners from every other Rochdale school. The 2014 Bristol University study which demonstrated this also, however, showed us that for about 20% of learners, My World did not build the valuable dispositions which propelled the majority forward so effectively in the next stage of their education. So, with the My World scheme now at 7 years old, it is time for it to evolve into the CHANGE curriculum, which will still have project-based learning, but woven with the subject teaching of arts and technology. Collins and Porras in their book “Built to Last”, a study of the world’s most successful companies such as 3M and Boeing, identified that these institutions never chose to do one thing at the expense of another, simply determining to do both together, really well. CHANGE will fuse the best practice in rigorous and demanding project-based learning with high quality traditional teaching. This will ensure that not only will Matthew Moss learners continue to have greater capacity for success post-16 than their counterparts from other schools, but they’ll have even stronger GCSE grades to start from too.
My Futures, the KS4 curriculum which allows learners to access qualifications and experiences affording insight into possible future employment, will be no more. The work experience opportunities will be particularly missed, but given the government’s increasing commitment to driving up academic standards nationally and the school’s own journey within this, then we have to refocus our use of curriculum time. We will, however, continue to use Learning for Life days to provide high quality careers guidance and work-readiness learning.
GCSE in a year will phase out this year also, with only Yr11 seeing the scheme through. This is because we need to create time for as many learners as possible to achieve the EBacc qualifications, which once again have an increased status in the marketplace. Furthermore, ongoing changes to the list of specific qualifications which count towards a school’s headline figures now mean that significant numbers of results gained by learners before they reach Yr11 are not included in the statistics for Mathew Moss High School. We are actually performing much more strongly than our published figures suggest and the changes will ensure that our school achieves the profile and status it deserves, which, ultimately, is to everyone’s benefit.
All together some significant changes then, but ones which will secure our capacity to develop into an outstanding school, with excellence in both academic achievement and personal development.
Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, highlighted Matthew Moss High School in a speech last week. Much of what he said was true, but requires some context. I say “was” because he references a report published in 2011 which applauded Matthew Moss High School for the quality of its practice in preparing learners for success in the 21st Century. And the report was correct, because the quality of that part of our practice was very high. Moreover, the school was a Good school then, before the change in the Ofsted accountability measures which framed us as a school which Requires Improvement in 2013. Indeed, I had no argument with that judgment: however uncomfortable the Lead Inspector’s comments might have been for us, they were absolutely right and I have much respect for her professionalism and insight. It was timely and wholesome medicine.
Then in 2014, the examinations system shifted and schools were sent reeling. A Headteacher of a Good school we had paid to conduct an external review turned up, admitting with some shame that his own school’s headline 5A*-C GCSE including English and Maths figure had plummeted by over 20%. Matthew Moss had gone down by 5%. Moreover, his was a zero-tolerance, stand-behind-your-chair-when-the Headteacher-walks-in school. I looked recently at the current Ofsted Data Dashboard for his school (still judged a Good school) and his headline figure is exactly the same as that for Matthew Moss. And yet his school is absolutely of the nature of those lauded by Nick Gibb in his speech.
I understand the Minister of State for School’s frustration and ire that educational standards prove so difficult to raise and it is right and proper that he should be connected so passionately to his job. However, it doesn’t stack up that ideology is a cause of under-performance. It is more likely that quality-assurance and accountability are at the root of the problem: the challenge, whatever you do, is to do it really well, and constantly check that everyone is teaching to a consistently high standard, whether it is project-based learning or rote learning. And to be fair to Nick Gibb, he does suggest something of this as well in his speech, stressing the imperative for the profession to check always the evidence of its effectiveness.
I feel there is a fair and respectful response to Nick Gibb in this blog, but I should also help others achieve a fairer view of the school’s successes since its last inspection. So here are three other headlines: high-achieving students do significantly better at Matthew Moss than the national average and our students behave better, with fixed-term exclusions under the national average. We are proud also of the findings of the Bristol University research which demonstrates that Matthew Moss students do better at college than learners from other schools.
My hope is that the Lead Inspector of our impending Ofsted inspection is as expert and professional as the last one, not viewing Matthew Moss through an ideological lens, but judging fairly and accurately on the evidence before them. Just as Nick Gibb suggests.
How can a Requires Improvement school in England have no compulsory tie in its dress code for students?
Some of the best schools in the world, for example in Scandinavia and the United States, don’t have a uniform and the UK government’s own educational research body, the Sutton Trust, have found that uniform has no impact on outcomes for learners. However, in the UK most schools have a uniform and, furthermore, Matthew Moss learners themselves want a dress code, as non-uniform days produce a subtle but uncomfortable peer pressure to wear high-value, fashionable clothes.
So what should our own dress code at Matthew Moss be like? Many schools insist on blazers, but these are costly as a recent Children’s Society Report “The Wrong Blazer” points out. Some schools resolve this by providing free uniform: however, at Matthew Moss we have decided to spend money on initiatives which directly improve outcomes for learners, such as the D6 Saturday School.
How about a tie then? This is an interesting one. School uniform has evolved from the white collar work wear of the 19th and 20th Century. Nowadays, though, many highly successful global companies such as Google and Siemens, do not have a tie in their dress code. Of course, when meeting clients to be suited and booted is a must, but this does not have to be practiced day in and day out by young people to be understood. It is true that a tie could promote a sense of belonging to the community of Matthew Moss, but this function is performed by the high-profile CHANGE mission of the school, supported by the badges awarded to learners and worn with such pride.
Whilst there is a variety of opinion and strong feeling either way within the community of the school, there is a clear majority of parents who judge the current code as the smart and effective option they wish to stay with.
Personally, I am happy with this as the High Standards of the school’s CHANGE mission are clearly being enacted, the most glaring evidence being the 152 learners who attended D6 the other Saturday, voluntarily, many walking through driving rain (without blazers and ties), for an extra four hours of hard work. Furthermore, there are bigger fish to fry, right now, the most compelling work being our mission to be an outstanding school, with a national and international reputation for excellence in both personal development and academic achievement.
Fine words, but what is actually happening with regard to this ambitious vision? A quick update follows.
Since 2013, significant progress has been made. Firstly, we have been accepted into powerful networks of schools such as the Ashoka Changemaker School network and the Global Schools Alliance, which partners us with high-performing schools from around the world . Moreover, through our connections with the Slow Education network, we are developing our relationship with Eton College and learning much through our contact with them.
Our innovative work has featured in “The Sunday Times” and the “Times Educational Supplement” and our academic progress is evidenced in an impressive 28 point increase in our Best 8 Value-Added measure since 2013.
So our academic performance is rising and we are in great company with schools who will help us drive our improvement further: some have no uniform (High Tech High in San Diego, California and Orestad Gymnasium in Copenhagen, Denmark) while others have a complex code (Eton College). We are happy to sit between them as colleagues with a shared mission to achieve the very highest standards in education.
Matthew Moss High School is a different kind of school; it is different because it is absolutely focused on developing your child so that when they leave us they are ready for the world and able to create happy, successful and productive lives for themselves. In order for this to happen, young people need three things from their schooling; knowledge, skills and a real sense of direction about their next steps. Many schools focus on servicing only the first need. At Matthew Moss we provide an educational experience which offers all three.
Requiring the least explanation is the 85% of time spent acquiring knowledge, via National Curriculum and examination subjects. However, at Matthew Moss subject areas are exceptionally well-resourced and our staff teams work together to ensure that lessons are always engaging, interesting and highly productive.
In addition, we have academic learning opportunities beyond the school day and at weekends. For instance, every Saturday on average 130 Matthew Moss learners choose to attend school for the D6 scheme, which involves fours hours of extra study supported by Rochdale Sixth Form College Scholar students.
Less usual is the 8% of curriculum time which is focused on helping students develop the vital skills they need to ensure that they can be effective learners, problem-solvers and self-managers, not only in school or college or university, but for life. Challenging project-based learning is used to grow adult dispositions such as resilience and strategic awareness in learners. Moreover, we have been building expertise in this difficult field for some years now and with significant success. For instance, the Innovation Unit’s influential publication “10 Schools for the 21st Century”, lists only one UK school as effectively preparing young people for the complexities of today’s world and that school is Matthew Moss. Similarly, we are the only UK school noted by the International Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation as a centre for learning innovation. Furthermore, very recently we have become one of a handful of UK schools to be awarded “Changemaker” status by the prestigious Ashoka organisation.
Final confirmation of our strength in this area comes from our global reputation for excellence in project-based learning, which, every term, brings visiting professionals from the United States, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Australia to our school.
Too many young people leave school without a firm grasp of their own strengths, what they would like to become and what their next steps should be. They are then left to catch up with this vital thinking in a very short space of time as 16 and 17 year olds, making critical life-decisions as they go. Sadly some then find themselves having to navigate significant career changes in later life, often in the face of weighty financial commitments.
At Matthew Moss, we work hard to give young people high-quality experiences which will put them ahead of the game in understanding where they might place themselves in the world. About 5% of curriculum time for older learners is devoted to My Future, a programme which allows them to investigate, in authentic and realistic ways, their future lives. For instance, a student might choose a work experience placement, or to study A Level Mathematics, or attend university lectures, or go to college to pursue motor vehicle mechanics, or to follow an Honours programme to align them for application to Russell Group universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. In this way students try out the actuality of the things they might want to pursue in life.
So, yes, we are different. Matthew Moss High School has gone above and beyond to create a highly-developed curriculum experience, purpose-made to ensure that the young people within our care get not only the knowledge, but the skills and sense of direction they need to live happy, successful and productive lives. A very good reason, then, to be different.
Composure - We remain effective under pressure.
High Standards - We expect much from ourselves and others.
Agency - We know how to learn and make things happen.
Numeracy & Literacy - We master our use of numbers and words.
Growth Mindset - We learn to succeed through practice.
Empathy - We care about others as well as ourselves.