Boosting student performance and well-being at Ormiston Sudbury Academy
Kingswood’s ‘Realise Your Potential’ course develops the resilience and skills students need to succeed not only in academic learning but in work and wider life
Ormiston Sudbury Academy (OSA) in Suffolk is a mainstream state school for pupils aged from 11 to 19, rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted and now well on its way to being Outstanding. It converted to academy status in September 2012 and is a member of the Ormiston Academies Trust. On a day-to-day basis OSA aims to offer students a positive and challenging experience to ensure they become the best that they can be.
OSA had a group of students who were capable of achieving, yet spent a lot of time doubting themselves and not taking their learning seriously, as the school’s Director of Inclusion, Kelly Jacques, explains.
“I wanted this group of students to ultimately realise that they did, indeed, have potential! This isn’t always easy to show in a classroom environment, especially if they have experienced failure. We had a mix of Year 9 and Year 11 students. I wanted the Year 9s to go back to school with increased self-esteem ready to choose their options for Year 10. Then I hoped that the Year 11s would rise to the occasion of being with a group of students for whom they could become role models, as well as increasing their confidence ahead of starting their new challenge of sixth form college the following September.
OSA chose the ‘Realise Your Potential’ (RYP) personal development course offered at Grosvenor Hall in Kent, one of Inspiring Learning’s Kingswood activity centres.
RYP is designed to improve student performance, attainment and well-being by creating self awareness and giving students the understanding, tools and practical experience necessary to manage pressure, stress and challenge. It focuses on developing life skills such as positive thinking, goal setting, anxiety control and maintaining focus to enable students to perform at their best, even in high pressure situations. The intensive but fun five-day programme of physical and mental challenges gives students the chance to practice techniques and understand how to apply them to life back in the classroom and beyond.
How people perform under pressure and rise to a challenge is often called resilience, or mental toughness. Studies in the UK and Holland show that mental toughness can account for up to 25 per cent variation in attainment in exams and tests. There are also strong links with positive behaviour and wellbeing.
Every course begins with a 48 question psychometric assessment (MTQ-48) which measures the four components of resilient behaviour – Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence. The assessment outcomes help indicate the traits that will be focused on throughout the programme with activities and challenges designed to encourage self-awareness. A second assessment at the end of the programme makes it possible to measure progress during the residential and the impact of the course. Evidence-based teaching strategies are increasingly important in schools and this unique programme provides an even stronger measurable evidence base, clearly demonstrating to teachers the positive impact this residential programme can have upon learning.
The course uses a mix of adventurous activities, reflection time and review sessions to equip young people with new life skills, introduce them to a range of challenges and teach them how to be the best they can be. Each activity focuses on different interventions known to improve areas of performance and resilient behaviour, facilitated by specially trained staff.
For example, a favourite activity among students is Jacob’s ladder – a high-rope activity involving small teams of climbers pulling together to help each other. It is a very focused task where people have to work together collaboratively – it’s impossible to complete this unless the students work as a team to overcome challenges and solve problems along the way.
Kelly Jacques was delighted with the impact the RYP course made on her students – the benefits of which carried on once they were back in school. “The course met my objectives and allowed me to form different and better relationships with these young people,” she said. “This has allowed me to have difficult conversations with some of them, in an easier, safer way. Students have felt they can open up to me; after all I have seen them take risks (and vice versa!). One of our students is now receiving literacy support after six months of refusing “I don’t need it!” now she feels empowered to say ‘I can achieve, but I need this support to help me’.
“We had many important changes within the group – some I expected, others took me by surprise. In particular I saw students, who had never stayed away from home before, manage their feelings/emotions much better than I predicted they would. I saw students start taking risks, become leaders and have fun! Having fun is something that some of our students desperately needed to experience.
“The single most beneficial aspect of the course was that it allowed our students to spend time away from school, in a safe managed way. Some of the students I took have never spent time away from home, this, for some, was very much needed. This allowed students to take risks!
“Being away from home also taught the students that if they cause a ‘difficult situation’ socially they had to deal with it, as they couldn’t just ‘go home’ after school – they had to live, sleep and eat with the group. This was a great lesson in understanding how you can affect other people’s emotions.
“I would absolutely recommend this course to other schools – I already have recommended Kingswood as a company to organise a residential with. The instructors are fabulous, as are all the facilities – this makes me feel safe bringing other people’s children to these venues.”