Following the unprecedented lockdown period for schools earlier this year, staff at The Bemrose School raised concerns about a group of their high achieving Year 10 learners. These learners were on track to thrive in Year 11 but, due to various challenges with home-schooling, had seen a setback in their learning and motivation to learn.

The School’s Head, Neil Wilkinson, and Assistant Head for Key Stage 4, Caroline Spalding, reached out to DANCOP’s Outreach Hub to support with their innovative concept to respond to this issue. After reviewing their proposal, we agreed to cover 50% of the cost of their “Summer Scholars” Summer School, the maximum amount permitted by the Office for Students to qualify as a match-funded project.  Without this funding, the project may not have been possible.

The Summer School took place during August, with 27 high attaining learners attending with a focus on developing the knowledge and skills required to achieve grades 7+ in their upcoming GCSE exams. At the start of the week, learners were asked how they were feeling about returning to school in September. As well as the typical anxieties of learners about to enter Year 11 around exams, many referred to being “tired, bored” and “out of routine”. Coming out of lockdown some said they now felt “awkward and shy” and even “very uncomfortable and overwhelmed and meeting people made me nervous and tense”. These comments hint at the true impact that Covid-19 had already had on these young people and their educational journeys.

During the week, sessions took place in maths, English, science and humanities, alongside sessions led by Derby County Community Trust on motivation, self-regulation, and wellbeing. Learners attended from 9.45am-2.30pm each day for five days. Some of these learners had had poor attendance rates in school before the pandemic hit. However, the vast majority attended every day of the Summer School, which pays testament to their commitment and engagement with the project.

Alongside the Summer School, two pupils took part in online internships, aimed at developing their specialist interests in Psychology and Film-making. They learnt new skills such as evaluation of subjects using psychological tests and how to use specialist software including Da Vinci Resolve, a piece of film editing software.

At the end of the week, learners were once again asked how they were feeling. One said they now felt: “Ready to go back, familiar with everyone, less awkward, less bored.”

Another said: “The teachers in all my classes I had helped me out and refreshed my memory about what we have learned. I would suggest that the next Year 11s come as it is extra help and a good reminder.” And another said taking part had made them feel: “Active. Motivated. Happy. Alive.”

Following on from the week, some learners even took the time to write emails into school, thanking the staff for the opportunity and support they had received. One read: “Hi Mrs Spalding, I just wanted to say thank you for organising and setting up summer school.  It helped me a lot not just in terms of academic benefit but social too. That week made a drastic impact to me as during lockdown I found it daunting going out and being with a group of more than 3 people or just being around a lot of people in general. Getting back into the routine and being around people was uncomfortable at first but I feel so much better and confident with myself as a person, so once again thank you! ?” Another said: “I enjoyed the summer school and I feel more confident about sitting my exams even with having dyslexia. My dyslexia has always held me back and knowing I can get help has given me more confidence and it was also nice to talk about what makes me stressed and ways to help it when I do get stressed. Also being taught how to answer exam questions has really helped me, thank you for doing the summer school.”

The learners returned to school in September and so far they are thriving. They have undertaken practice exams and it appears that the Summer School has had a considerable impact on their attainment. In the school’s first data collection on return to school in September, 18 of the 29 learners improved their provisional Progress 8 score, despite the challenges of school closure and the summer break. On average these learners improved by +0.53, compared to +0.11 for their peers who hadn’t taken part in the Summer School. Their attainment has therefore increased significantly due to their engagement with the initiative.

This project has been a true success, not just for attainment, but also on building confidence, improving motivation and attitude towards learning. The results have been so positive that the Outreach Hub has since match-funded another project with The Bemrose School in the form of a half-term school which took place during October. We are looking forward to seeing the results of this project and expect them to be just as positive as they have been for the Summer School.

If you would like to talk to us about how we can support you with an outreach initiative, please get in touch with us at hub@teamdancop.co.uk.