Stretch and challenge
At Epsom and Ewell High School we interpret the phrase “stretch and challenge” in two ways. On the one hand, it relates to whole-class teaching and the importance of stretching and challenging every student’s thinking. On the other hand, it relates to individuals and the importance of pushing the thinking of the most able students. Both interpretations are equally valid and essential components of the high quality teaching here at the school.
Stretching and challenging all students
We want the very best for our students and will not allow them to coast through lessons. We want them to love learning, to be stimulated by the lessons we teach and to develop intellectually. The three key areas through in which we can make this happen are planning; lesson structure and pace; and the expectations we convey.
We expect our lessons to:
- Contain sufficiently demanding content
- Build on prior knowledge
- Include both conceptual and concrete material
- Embrace challenging language
- Aim for material that is just beyond the point students have already reached – something just at the edge of their capabilities
- Plunge the students into the realms of uncertainty from time to time
All of these help to keep our students’ thinking sharp, stops them getting complacent and discourages automatic recourse to what has been proved to work in the past.
Lesson structure and pace
When planning, and teaching, we keep the following questions in mind:
1. Why are we doing this?
2. What am I expecting students to do at each point?
3. What is the optimum amount of time for each activity?
The first question deals with purpose. If the answer is unclear, teachers are encouraged to think again as students are unlikely to make significant progress if there is no clear rationale.
The second question focuses on how students are intended to engage with the learning. We expect activities to be structured so that every student is doing something in class. This includes listening, reading, writing, talking and so on. We do not expect any one student to be passive or doing nothing. We make every second count.
The third question deals with pace. We expect our teachers to constantly assess what stage each student is at and to be flexible enough to act on these judgements so that activities can be truncated or extended given the circumstances.
We have the highest of expectations for all students. We know and expect that every student can make progress.
We convey our high expectations to students through:
When students share their opinion, they are pushed to explain what underpins that opinion.
All lessons must have a sense of purpose with students expected to create significant pieces of work.
- Success criteria
Every student must know what the success criteria are for each major piece of work.
- Formative feedback
Students are set challenging targets regularly. Students are told what they need to do to improve and are given the opportunity to do it.
Challenging more able students
We look to challenge the more able students in the context of whole-class teaching through:
Really good evaluation demonstrates a mastery of the topic. Students are expected be able to highlight the strengths and limitations of an issue, before making a judgement about what ought to be done or what they believe is the best perspective on the matter.
- Critical thinking
This involves analysing the issue and reflecting on the best way to tackle it.
- Analysis of meaning
Students are expected to analyse the accuracy and precision of their writing and speech.
Students are asked to re-read what they have written critically and cite improvements.
- Challenging debate
Students are expected to find supporting evidence for their arguments or points of view, to stretch their thinking and their expanse of knowledge.
Finally we have the following structures in place to establish a framework for our most able students to allow them to flourish:
- High achieving students in Year 11 are placed into the same form group to foster an atmosphere of high attainment and focus amongst them.
- Separate A/A* sessions after school for high achieving Year 11 pupils.
- The Brilliant Club for high attaining sixth form students which aims to increase the number of students entering Russell Group universities.
- Use of a Challenge Me card during Year 7 lessons to aid differentiation and alert the teacher to maintain the pace of a lesson.
- A curriculum that offers academic challenge through ability sets, foreign language immersion, triple science and double languages as well as a 3 year GCSE programme from the start of Year 9.