Creating a culture for academic excellence

I wrote this last week for our school blog. Thought I’d repost it here too for anyone who missed it:

Class Teaching

more able

In this week’s 15 minute forum, English teacher Andy Tharby discussed how we can create and sustain a fertile culture for academic excellence.


Our school is situated in a coastal town and has an intake that covers a large social demographic. We are currently asking an interesting question: how can we help students from all backgrounds and academic starting points achieve academic excellence? One small but significant group of students have been at the forefront of our attention – those who achieved highly at KS2, but are making less progress than those who arrived at lower starting points.

In The Hidden Lives of Learners (2007), the researcher Graham Nuthall (2007) theorised that there are three interlinked worlds that shape a student’s learning:

  • the public world of the teacher;
  • the highly influential world of peers;
  • the student’s own private world and experiences.

If we are to help more students achieve academic excellence and aspire to the top then we need to tap into each…

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2 thoughts on “Creating a culture for academic excellence

  1. Hello Andy!
    As a pedagogy student from Germany I found your post really interesting and instructive. I spent some time thinking about the topic you write about in your post. I understand your concern, but I have some questions on it.
    I see the importance in supporting brighter students as well as the disadvantaged ones. My main question is: how do your ideas fit in the concept of your everyday lessons and the school system? Is there enough time and space to support every pupil with their individual cognitive abilities, their previous knowledge and their speed of learning in your lessons?
    Do you also consider extra classes after school that are for a group of students on the same level? Maybe even lessons including pupils from other english classes and in cooperation with teachers from other classes and years?
    I´m looking forward to your response!
    Thanks and greetings from Germany!

    • Hi Ludwig

      Thank you for your comments on my blog post. The answer to your question is a complex one and requires a much longer answer than I can give here. The approach we follow at my school is to set a high level of ‘challenge’ in every lesson, but to support and scaffold different needs where possible. In some subjects we have setting – i.e. students are taught in groups according to prior achievement – however this is not always possible or desirable. Indeed, research evidence suggests that ‘ability groupings’ tend to work in the favour of high achieving students and not low achieving: see here

      We don’t have after-school classes at my school (apart from revision sessions before exams) and we don’t mix year groups.

      In truth, the knowledge that students bring to lessons is very varied. It is, perhaps, not possible to meet every student’s need in every lesson. The New Zealand researcher Graham Nuthall wrote a fascinating book on this and other matters – The Hidden Life of Learners. It’s well worth a read


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