Don Valley Academy achieves Centre Of Excellence status

De Warenne Academy was recently assessed by the Inclusion Quality Mark team, and have been awarded the ‘Centre of Excellence’ status.

This award recognises those IQM Inclusive Schools which continue to demonstrate a commitment to outstanding levels of inclusive best practice. Centre of Excellence status provides an opportunity to build on current capacity with ongoing support from the IQM team.

The following report is from IQM and details their findings.

Context

Don Valley Academy is a larger than average secondary school in Doncaster with 1014 pupils on roll. The school community is 87% White British with a small percentage of pupils with other mixed heritage. Many students live in areas containing significant pockets of deprivation, characterised by high unemployment and low average incomes. 35% of Don Valley’s intake is in the bottom 10% of deprivation nationally and 44% are entitled to FSM. Students’ prior attainment is below that of the national average in all year groups and 10.7% of pupils have SEND. Over the last three years, numbers in year groups have steadily increased and confidence in the school has significantly improved over recent years within the local area so it is now oversubscribed.

Background

Don Valley Academy is part of Delta Academies Trust, a large multi academy trust with 51 primary, secondary and AP academies across the North of England. Don Valley Academy is well supported by the Trust, which provides effective challenge and support to the Academy. This is coordinated by the Director of Education, who is supported by a number of subject directors in key areas – English, Maths, Science, Humanities, MFL, Data and Inclusion.

Passionate and Inspirational Leadership

The academy has been on a significant journey over the last three years, showing sustained and rapid improvement. It achieved a “Good” OFSTED judgement in 2019. Delta’s vision statement is about “Changing lives” and at Don Valley this has been extended to “Changing lives through belief and collaboration”. The drive, passion and inspirational leadership of the Principal, and the previous Principal (who has now moved to another Delta Academy but with whom Don Valley collaborate closely) together with a highly skilled and committed senior leadership team and governing body, have been instrumental in bringing about this change. Staff talk about how everything which is done is carried out with kindness and they describe the leadership modelled by the Principal as “honest and transparent, with endless belief”.

Behaviour Has Been Transformed

The principal explains that much of this change has been brought about by simplifying things and just ensuring that “the basics are done well”. Behaviour has “transformed” over this time. Three years ago, the school was in the top 10% of schools nationally for exclusions and behaviour was described as “unsafe and inadequate”. Since then, exclusion rates have reduced dramatically. OFSTED (2019) reported that:

“The behaviour of pupils has improved markedly. Teachers use systems to manage pupils’ behaviour consistently.”

Clear Expectations

At Don Valley boundaries are now explicit and rigorously applied. Staff and students alike are clear about expectations and about consequences of actions. The leadership team talk about how they now do not adapt the rules for anyone, however, they will do whatever they can to support students with the rules and a number of examples were given where the academy had gone above and beyond to support young people and their families. Recently the academy has developed its Trauma Informed approach with whole school CPD in Adverse Childhood Experiences. This has led to teachers having greater awareness and empathy for students’ needs, with also clear plans in place on how to support and regulate students when behaviour escalates. The leadership team has further extended the work on ACEs to look at the quality of relationships throughout the school – between staff, students, indeed the whole community. This relational approach, coupled with explicit and firm boundaries, is undoubtedly what has led to much of the transformation in school.

Remote Lessons are Live

The academy’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been exemplary. Throughout all lockdowns at least fortnightly telephone contact has been made with all students, for some this is more regular, weekly, or even daily in some cases. The remote learning offer was rapidly developed and now all remote learning is live lessons, for all year groups, with over 90% engagement. This also includes assemblies, where students are encouraged to participate, building confidence to engage e.g. recently, students all shared photographs of their snowmen. The Principal explains that, whilst Covid has caused an incredibly difficult time for everyone, one of the positives which has risen from it is the communication with students and families. Connectivity, within the whole school community is incredibly strong currently.

Robust Mental Health Support

Leaders have found that, unfortunately, the impact of Covid has had a negative impact on the mental health of some students and they are therefore adapting provision to ensure that robust support remains in place.

Improved Teaching and Learning

Leaders also talk about how, since the academy converted to Delta, the quality of teaching and learning has improved. The principal explains that historically teaching just was not good enough and how much investment in staff CPD and applying consistent systems has had impact. Teachers outline how consistent systems around teaching and learning are used in all lessons across the academy. For example, the term “Demonstrate and connect” is used by everyone to describe how connections are made with prior and future learning and how students must demonstrate their learning through written work or performance. Also, the concept of “collaborative learning” is applied consistently across the school where classrooms are set up for carefully selected group work to support learning.

Passionate and Dedicated Staff

It became clear throughout the IQM Review that staff are extremely passionate and dedicated about the academy, and indeed, the vision of “changing lives” shone through with everyone encountered. Their sense of drive and determination to improve the outcomes of all pupils came through strongly. The implementation of rigorous structures and processes supports the different teams to work strategically and collaboratively together. Strong teamwork amongst the staff is at the core of their relationships.

Robust Challenge and Support

The Academy Advisory Board works closely with school leaders ensuring they offer robust challenge and support. They bring expertise in Education and Finance as well as strong connections to the local community. The highly committed Chair of Governors describes how reports are received by the AAB prior to meetings and that governors carefully scrutinise these and prepare questions to confirm what is reported. Governors also carry out both planned and unannounced visits (in normal circumstances) ensuring a strong presence across the academy.

Bespoke Provision

The academy offers an extremely wide range of bespoke provision within school to include vulnerable learners. There is a real solution focussed approach from leaders, so that if a student needs something more than what is available, the academy will develop provision to include that pupil. This school has inclusion at its heart.

Working Creatively with the Local Authority

The SENDCo sits on the LA panel and the academy works creatively with the LA to create preventative packages for students at risk of PEx. This can include for example blended packages with St Wilfrids AP, or external APs such as Jasper (medical provision), Changing lives or through bespoke support in school e.g. tutors/online learning.

Supporting All Students

Students who have English as an additional language are well supported by the academy, using strong links with the LA EMTAS service. Buddy systems are used in school and students have opportunities to sit GCSEs in their home languages. The academy uses visits from inspirational speakers such as those with refugee or traveller backgrounds to support students in increasing their awareness of different backgrounds and cultures and diversity and British Values are also fully addressed within the Life lessons curriculum. In addition, the whole school curriculum has recently been audited to ensure there is much diversity with regards to both race and sexuality.

Student Voice

I had the opportunity to meet with members of the student council during the assessment who spoke with real pride about their school. Some of the comments made include:

There is no bullying at all. If there are any issues, the school spots things early and resolves things.

Teachers are very fair. They give warnings/chances. They are strict but we need them to be!

Teachers know us well.

We are always given a fresh start.

There is lots of extra support for students with SEN e.g. The Base where you can go to calm down, and some students have extra teachers in lessons with them to stop feeling overwhelmed.

There is also support for students with EAL.

Students have a voice here – the student council is great.

We have loads of clubs.

The school gives the best opportunities for all children.

The school helps families as well as the students. They have really helped my Mum.

There’s lots of support around mental health e.g. LGBTQ group and Mental Health group after school and The Bridge.

A Wide Range of Enrichment Opportunities

Another real strength of the school is its opportunities offered for enrichment. A wide range of opportunities are offered, including Trampolining, Performing Arts, Football, Rugby, Piano, Art & Photography, Cheerleading, Science, Fortnite, Coding, Cooking and Table Tennis. In addition, the school offers a free daily Breakfast club, regular after school “Homework Club” opportunities, where students can access the IT suite and support groups such as “Mental Health Group” and “Don Valley Pride”. Some clubs are free and specifically targeted at vulnerable learners. Staff describe the opportunities which arise from enrichment activities as incredibly valuable, including deepening relationships, social interaction and strengthening leadership skills. Activities offered are very much shaped through student voice, and if a club is not currently running which a number of students request, staff will make it happen.

Safeguarding Procedures are Effective

Safeguarding procedures are effective with rigorous and compulsory online training in place for all staff and robust safeguarding policies. The Academy uses an effective and secure online reporting system (CPOMS) monitored daily by the safeguarding team. Regular safeguarding network meetings take place for all level 3 trained staff.

The academy’s links with the local community have significantly strengthened over recent years. Just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the community was severely affected by flooding and during this time Don Valley became the central point of support for families in the area. The school was closed and became a refuge, working very closely with Tesco’s to provide food, clothing, and emergency aid to families. During the Covid-19 pandemic the school has also supported vulnerable families with weekly food hampers and over 350 laptops have been loaned to students, ensuring that now 100% of students have access to online learning. Leaders report that the community’s belief and confidence in the school is really growing, and with that relationships are strengthening, and communication is softening. The community is realising that Don Valley cares.

A Passionate and Committed Staff

In summary, it was a privilege to spend time with such a passionate and committed staff team. The students, parents and indeed the whole community at Don Valley are incredibly lucky to have such a committed, hardworking, and passionate staff team who truly go above and beyond for all within their care. Leaders at this academy are relentless in ensuring every student at Don Valley is nurtured and supported to reach their full potential, proactively seeking creative solutions to even the most challenging situations.