Ofsted's subject inspections indicate that most schools surveyed are judged to make good provision for English. However, teachers frequently ask us what makes a school outstanding in English. We have now tried to answer that question by publishing 'Excellence in English' (1), a report which includes 12 case studies of schools in challenging circumstances that were judged to do particularly well in English.
We hope that the report will help all schools to improve practice in English. There are, of course, many routes to excellence. No two schools are the same and there is no simple formula that will make a school outstanding in English. These 12 schools all helped their pupils to make outstanding progress in English and were able to demonstrate excellence in areas of teaching, curriculum, and leadership and management. To maximise the impact and value of the report, each case study focuses on one innovative aspect of provision in each school.
In the rest of this article, I would like to describe three of the schools we visited.
Reading in Warwickshire
Let me start with Round Oak Special School in Warwickshire. The school is a purpose-built special school that caters for students of secondary age with a wide range of special educational needs and/or disabilities. Students work at all levels from the P scales (2) to GCSE, and the curriculum and teaching are planned explicitly to meet these widely different needs. The school has high expectations and believes that every student is entitled to the range of experiences that the National Curriculum offers. Consequently, all students study a full range of literature including Shakespeare plays and pre-20th century fiction and poetry. In order to meet the very diverse range of needs and capabilities of students, units of work are constructed around differentiated objectives from the P levels up to National Curriculum Level 5. This helps all students to engage with texts that might be considered beyond their reading capacity.
Two lessons demonstrate this. A Year 7 class, working at higher P levels and lower National Curriculum levels, was following a scheme of work based on horror stories, using an abridged version of Frankenstein. In the first part of the lesson, students worked together on descriptive language. When the class split into groups, there were four different activities. One group, who could read the abridged text with some additional support, concentrated on identifying the dialogue used and discussing how it improved the story. Another group read the story and looked for adjectives. A third group had a bag of 'body parts' which they felt 'blind' and tried to describe. A fourth group worked with the teacher as scribe on building a narrative using a model of a castle and a range of figures.
By the end of the lesson, all students had improved their understanding of the use of descriptive language in the text. The teacher then consolidated this by considering a passage of description from the original text compared with a still photograph from a film version of the novel. Finally, the students watched a trailer of a more modern horror film and quickly picked up differences between the written text and its depiction on film.
In another lesson, a very small group of students with multiple disabilities followed the same scheme of work, adapted for a multi-sensory approach. The students had limited communication skills and required opportunities to access learning through different stimuli. The lesson took the form of the teacher telling the story of Dracula. Each section was accompanied by a different stimulus. For example, students were gently sprayed with water and blown with a fan to recreate the rain and wind of the story. Cymbals represented the clock striking. A letter was presented in an envelope and opened. Masks, cloaks and plastic bats helped to create the characters and atmosphere. At each stage, the teacher and assistants sought response from each student in turn. …