We have achieved a 33% improvement across our target group. We have also seen a huge change in specific children.
Rosemary Elmes, Senior Leader for Standards, GEMS Wellington Primary School

Identifying fragile learners at GEMS Wellington Primary School with Pupil Attitudes to Self and School

‘Success for all’ is the ethos at GEMS Wellington Primary School in Dubai. By drilling down into children’s attitudes to learning, the school ensures it is equipped to meet this goal.

GEMS Wellington Primary School lives up to its reputation as a varied community, with 73 different nationalities found amongst the 1175 children aged three and a half to 11 years old.

“We’re a truly inclusive school,” explains Rosemary Elmes, Senior Leader for Standards. “Children join us from all over the world. Around 25% start with little or no English and approximately 24% are on the SEND register.

“Due to the transitional nature of family employment, many children move on quite frequently. Gaining a holistic picture of a child as quickly as we can is important. If we want them to really develop during their time with us, we need to look beyond the academic.”

Gaining an insight

The school’s guiding principle is the belief that children need to be happy in order to learn successfully. The school decided to introduce GL Education’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS), a robust survey that measures students’ attitudes towards themselves as learners and their school. It helps teachers drill down into any negative mind-sets that may not be obvious in the classroom. 

“Children suffering from poor attitudes to their learning can be very good at hiding any issues, and we didn’t want to miss anything. PASS allows us to take a forensic approach into what children are thinking.”

In January, the school screened Years 2 to 6 across nine factors proven to be linked to key educational goals, such as feelings about school, self-regard and confidence in learning. This led to a target group of 56 children being identified, who were at risk of low attainment due to their negative attitudes towards themselves and school.

Rosemary says: “The results were surprising, as the ‘at risk’ list included children we really didn’t expect. In fact, when we put together a photo gallery of these children, one senior leadership team member expressed surprise that a particular girl was on there as she seemed bubbly and confident in lessons. Yet she didn’t ever do as well at tests as we expected, so it was important to delve further and explore why that might be.”

Getting ready to learn

The school was interested to note that the lowest PASS factor in Key Stage 1 was ‘learner self-worth’, and in Key Stage 2 was ‘preparedness for learning.’ 

“We could perhaps have guessed that ‘preparedness for learning’ would be low, as it’s an issue across UAE. Many children here have a nanny and so are perhaps less used to taking responsibility for themselves at home. This then translates into them feeling unprepared at school without that one-to-one support. However, seeing it written down quantifies the issue and helps us find ways to build these skills at school.” 

Armed with this information, various programmes of intervention were introduced, using a combination of nationally-proven strategies from the PASS intervention tool and teachers’ professional experience. 

“We quickly put in place straightforward but targeted support, such as carefully rephrasing questions to help children get the right answers and promoting opportunities to practise and improve interpersonal skills.”

33% improvement

Teachers annotated the strategies used and the school then re-assessed these children four months later to see what had changed. They were delighted with the results.

“We have achieved a 33% improvement across the target group, which placed all but three children into the top percentile for high satisfaction with their school experience.

“We have also seen a huge change in specific children. For example, one Arabic boy in Year 3 had achieved an 80% improvement across the nine factors. His confidence in himself as a learner had been extremely low, but with targeted encouragement and partner work focusing on how other children achieve, he was able to take those risks and experience success. His teacher couldn’t believe it was the same child! 

“In Year 6, we saw a tremendous difference in an SEND child who we’d discovered had previously had a very negative attitude to school. Teachers had been able to use strategies to explain to him how a school ran and what a teacher’s responsibilities were. This helped him understand why certain things had to be by democratic process, and improved his feelings towards school. 

“When it came to building the self-worth of the younger children, we found that the most effective strategy was reinforcing regular verbal and written feedback, including activities that promote positive self-reflection and ensuring that the students associate effort with success.

“The icing on the cake has been rising to the top of the GEMS schools ‘Happiness/Student Satisfaction’ index in a survey across our company’s schools in the UAE.”

360 degree view

The school is now well-placed to gain a holistic picture of their pupils. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in UAE has recently mandated that schools must assess all students from Year 5 with GL Education’s Cognitive Abilities Test: Fourth Edition (CAT4) to help schools understand their pupils’ potential for academic attainment, and GEMS Wellington Primary additionally uses GL Education’s Progress Test Series to assess skills in English, maths and science. 

“With the Progress Test Series, we can quickly glean information regarding what has and hasn’t been covered well. We can look across cohorts and see that they are not yet secure with place values of hundreds, tens and units for example, or that boys are out-performing girls which we saw happening in maths in Years 2 and 3. Then we can design appropriate provision, be this beginning girls only maths classes, re-teaching certain topics or organising professional development for staff. 

CAT4 helps us understand our pupils’ learning dispositions and adding PASS to the mix means no stone goes unturned. It has been a great experience for us. All schools should be looking at the whole child pastorally to ensure they are able to reach their potential.”

Graph of fragile learners in Year 4 – bottom right hand quadrant are the fragile learners with risk of low achievement.

Rosemary produced a scatter graph to explain why some unexpected names were appearing on the PASS ‘at risk’ list and to identify an additional cohort of fragile learners. She plotted pupils’ mean CAT4 scores against their perceived learning capability from PASS. Those who had achieved a high CAT4 result but had a low opinion of their capability for learning were pinpointed as fragile learners. Strategies were put in place to build confidence and reduce anxieties of this vulnerable group.

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