In serving a vibrant, culturally and ethnically diverse community, where a significant number of our pupils (on average 40%) are from disadvantaged backgrounds, St Mark’s Church of England Academy’s mission of ‘transformation for all’ is unequivocal and just. Our curriculum is the vehicle which drives this mission and vision, with inclusion and equity at its heart. We are committed to cultivating academic and character excellence in all our students and we desire them to flourish, regardless of their starting points, and live ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10). We want all of our young people to realise their God-given potential and not just ‘conform’ to stultifying and stereotypically limiting societal norms but be ‘transformed by the renewing of their minds’ (Romans 12:1-2) through their learning journey at St Mark’s. Through enriching knowledge and experiences – founded on the inclusive Christian values of love, hope and trust – we desire our students to become courageous advocates, responsible and influential members of society who promote a culture of equality and make a positive change in our world
St Mark’s curriculum is underpinned by the strands of the national curriculum, whilst being tailored to celebrate, speak to and reflect the diverse background of our students so that they are supported to rise to the many challenges they face. By decolonising our curriculum, we desire that our students can see themselves reflected in the topics that they study and the knowledge that they develop. Through the texts that we teach in English, the examples that are used in Maths lessons, and the diverse role models that we explore in the arts and humanities we allow our curriculum to speak to the experiences of our students and empower them to have high ambitions and expectations for their future.
We ensure that our subject offer is broad and balanced so that our students have access to a wide range of subjects at KS3 including DT, Food, Textiles, Art, Music, Drama, and have access to meaningful pathways at KS4/5. Our personalised subject pathways mean that we are able to that meet the needs of our learners with a combination of GCSE/A-Level and BTEC subjects on offer including work based BTEC courses such as child play, learning and development in KS5 and study support options such as EAL/SEN support curriculums in KS4. As a Church of England Academy all students study RE for GCSE. The variety of subject choices, support students with a range of academic interests and abilities, ensuring that all students are ready for their next steps in further and higher Education and University, or for apprenticeship pathways which ready them for the world of work.
Our ambitious target setting model ensures that all groups of students including those with SEND, who are from disadvantaged backgrounds or come to us with High Prior Attainment are appropriately challenged and supported to realise their God-given potential within every lesson. At St Mark’s we believe that learning is a persistent change in long term knowledge or skill, and our researched informed curriculum planning enables learners to meet Big Ideas and key concepts in different contexts, and with an increasing level of challenge from KS3 – 5, ensuring that each of their subjects supports long term memory retention and love of learning. The majority of students at St Mark's study the EBacc and we are in line with the DfE target of 75% by 2023. The majority of students at St Mark's study the EBacc. Entry rates are well above other schools nationally and rising, including for PP and students with SEND. This represents the high expectations we hold for every member of our community and demonstrates our ability to break down the barriers to learning.
Our curriculum is sequenced so that students are able to build on the foundational knowledge at KS3 in preparation for GCSEs. We have bespoke support for different groups of learners SEND/HAP at Key Stage transition points to ensure that they are prepared for their next steps into GCSE, Post-16, University, Apprenticeships and the world of work. Our students throughout their future will be competing against those from world class institutions and our aim for our curriculum to set them up on a level playing field and develop their cultural capital so that they have rounded experiences and knowledge to build upon.
The personalised support alongside our tailored careers programme ensures that they have the ability to secure life changing employment opportunities. St Mark’s curriculum sequencing and focus on both academic and character excellence supports our students to become active citizens who will challenge injustice and be courageous advocates in their community, this desire is typified by our Lifeology (PSHE) Curriculum which is tailored to meet the local and national needs of the young people we serve.
Our enrichment curriculum and pastoral support, ensures that alongside their academic development students have the wider skills to live happy and healthy lives with a positive understanding of their mental health. Enrichment runs throughout KS3 to 5, and gives students a range of experiential learning opportunities which expand their learning beyond the classroom and enhance their curriculum experiences.
At St Mark’s, we have instilled a culture of professional learning at the centre of our school improvement and evaluation plan. Setting clear, realistic, measurable and achievable goals, underpinned by the principles of cognitive science, is key when designing training sessions. Grounded on this principle, we have developed a well-designed whole - school CPD programme as well as a more tailored one for Beginner Teachers who were in greatest need of the support that would enhance their instructional skills and classroom management. Our New Starters and Early Career Teachers programme ensure that all new staff regardless of their experience are inducted into the school and that they are given tools to develop their own subject knowledge effectively. There is also a tailored CPD offer for Teaching Assistants and a pastoral CPD in response to the range of safeguarding and SEN needs of our students. St Mark’s has been awarded the CPD Gold Mark.
As the role of teacher learning communities is pivotal in ensuring that teachers are actively involved in the process of making changes and knowing how to make these changes, we have created a teacher learning community that provides ‘supportive accountability’ to achieve improvements not only in teacher quality but also in student outcomes. At the core of this learning approach is a collective of teachers at different stages of their careers, working collaboratively, as equals, to improve their teaching practice; they do so by using Instructional Coaching.
At St Mark’s, Assessment is at the heart of our approach to Responsive Teaching and is part of a 3-part cycle which involves: 1) Setting clear goals and planning learning carefully in our curriculum and lesson planning; 2) Identifying what students have understood and where they are struggling and 3) responding-- adapting our teaching to support students to do better. This means that all assessment is meaningful and feeds directly into classroom practice. Our 2 data drops per year allow us to ensure that formative assessment is meaningful and based on a holistic picture of students knowing and remembering more over time. This enables us to share current progress and clear next steps with learners, parents and carers, whilst also adapting curriculum planning where necessary. For example, when summative assessments highlight a lack of knowledge in particular topic or key concept at a whole year group level, curriculums mapping is adapted.
This also happens on a smaller scale within classrooms: assessments are always followed up with therapy lessons which are planned to meet learners’ individual needs, with further scaffolding and stretch put in place. Teachers also have a range of approaches in their responsive teaching toolbox to assess learning mid and between lessons and adapt their teaching where necessary: cold-call questions; Microsoft Forms homework quizzes; retrieval starters; exit tickets and hinge questions all allow teachers to assess the learning of individuals and adapt their planning to support. This approach enables us to focus on key groups, ensuring that our higher ability students are stretched, our lower ability or SEND learners are supported, and that all learners are taught in a way which enables them to make rapid progress, regardless of their starting points.
A tool which enables teachers to reflect on their individual learners’ needs and plan daily intervention is our context sheets. These detail each learner in a class, their ethnicity/attendance/learning needs/current progress and allow teachers to pause regularly, consider each learner, and detail the intervention they will use to support and stretch where necessary. They are supported by SEND one-page profiles which outline the specific support that our SEND learners need to excel in the classroom. These are also handed to observers on entry into classrooms, allowing us all to hold each other to account to ensure that individual student needs are met. At St Mark’s, context sheets have been a tool which have been instrumental in ensure our learners make consistently strong progress from starting points and that teachers have a deep knowledge of the students that they teach.
A consistent approach to behaviour management is used all classrooms allowing all students to excel within the academy ensuring a common use of language which starts with the assumption that any behavioural breaches are not deliberate and offers students a reminder to rectify their conduct. All reminders given to students are supported by staff members informing students how they can display positive learning behaviours. This has built trusting relationships between staff and students fostering a calm and respectful climate for learning. Escalation of the behavioural structure culminates in the issuing of a reset which gives the staff member the opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with the student to re-balance their behaviour and focus on their learning in the classroom. The system is managed centrally by the Pastoral Team to support staff workload and wellbeing, giving them the time to focus their time on teaching high quality lessons.
At St Mark's we believe in the transformative power of knowledge and vocabulary. Because so many of our learners arrive at SMA with low reading ages and a limited vocabulary, we use research- informed approaches to rapidly close gaps in knowledge and ensure our learners are supported to become articulate global citizens who are decode and engage in the word around then. At KS3, learners' reading ages improve as a result of their high engagement in Accelerated Reader. At KS4 and KS5, they read challenging non-fiction and fiction texts which are designed to improve their vocabulary and cultural capital. Furthermore, in classrooms across the school, teachers and TAs use Direct Vocabulary Instruction and the principles of Cognitive Theory and Memory to systematically teach tier 2 and 3 words, and ensure that learners encounter these words again and again in different contexts.
An exceptional extra-curricular programme has been designed to support students' cultural capital and extend learning beyond the classroom. Across the week there are over 50 enrichment clubs running for students across KS3-5 including Inclusion Homework Support, Script Writing, Portuguese, BMX biking and Latin. At KS4/5 there are also academic enrichment opportunities available to support students with their subject studies. The Sixth Form have dedicated enrichment time built into their timetable to support them to develop their skills in preparation for UCAS/Apprenticeship applications. We are proud that our tailored enrichment programme allows for bespoke support for our SEND learners, through inclusion homework clubs where they are guided to access areas of the curriculum that they find challenging. Enrichment is also used to ensure that our High Prior Attainers have access to supra curricular opportunities through clubs such as the Scholars Programme which enable them to experience a degree level study project preparing them for applications to Russell Group universities. The attendance to enrichment is analysed regularly to ensure no group fails to access these transformational opportunities.
The impact of our curriculum at St Mark’s is first and foremost measured at a classroom level, by ensuring that there are high levels of engagement from ALL learners in each lesson. There are strong relationships between staff and students, and a restorative system of behaviour which supports positive learning in the classroom. The Quality of Education Team and Head of Departments regularly complete learning walks and drop-ins to ensure that engagement is high and is evident both in the oral contributions that students give in lesson and in the progress demonstrated in their books. These systems are complimented by our Powerful Coaching Model, allowing regular peer feedback on areas of practice in the classroom that need development to further secure excellent progress.
As a result of our restorative approach to behaviour and the consistent CPD that supports staff, over the last 3 years, the rate of negative behaviour incidents has continued to decline and is now 60% lower than 2018/19. Negative behaviour incidents involving SEND pupils have declined by 75%.
Behaviour Incidents Per Pupil
*Weighted to account for lockdown period
Furthermore, our supportive approach to working with students within the understanding of our context means that permanent exclusions are rarely used. The rate of fixed period exclusions is generally in line with the national average and often lower.
Progress & Attainment
The positive learning environments that are fostered in each classroom ensure that students make exceptional progress through their 5 to 7-year journey at St Mark’s.
Progress at Key Stage 4 is consistently above average in all performance measures. Pupil’s come to St Mark’s with very low prior attainment and high levels (top 20%) of FSM, SEND and EAL. Despite these extra challenges, by the end of KS4 our pupils achieve attainment in line with national averages for most measures.
At Key Stage 5, A-level pupils make progress broadly in line with national averages. Progress in Applied subjects is consistently well above the national average – These subjects account for between 30% and 40% of our level 3 entries each year.
At St Mark’s we are passionate that our curriculum prepares students not only to achieve excellent results but also meaningful pathways for their next steps in education and beyond. We offer comprehensive support for students in all stages of their educational journey. From Year 9 options to preparing for UCAS, students are given access to detailed impartial advice to help them make informed decisions about their future pathways.
Destinations for Post 16 pupils have been rapidly improving. In 2020-21, 98% of pupil’s went on to apprenticeships, higher education, and employment – well above the national average and the highest in Merton.
The whole school focus on attendance has supported students to intrinsically value education, and able to recognise the positive impact good attendance will have on their academic and character development, valuing the life opportunities available through education. Forensic analyses of our data allows for targeted support to ensure that the attendance of all of our key groups remain consistently above national average, including our students with SEN needs, FSM, PPG and LAC students. Our focus on early intervention has reduced our PA rates, nearing below national average. Leadership of attendance and safeguarding has allowed for a more holistic and multi-agency approach in supporting vulnerable families to access early help, with families on a CIN and CP plans making exceptional progress in raising their attendance. Expanding our therapeutic provision in response to emerging mental health needs in light of the pandemic and enabled student’s access of psychological therapies promptly to minimise disengagement form education.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for our students, many of whom come from significantly disadvantaged households. One of the key areas where this has had a noticeable impact is on their literacy skills, with the average reading age of each cohort being significantly behind their chronological reading age. To address this significant gap, we have timetabled reading lessons in KS3 for one period a week and the big read in KS4 and KS5 where we establish a love for reading and support students with accessing resources to use reading to improve their vocabulary and literacy skills. Pupils on the accelerated reader program are showing rapid progress. Over 3.5 months from late September 2021 to early January, KS3 pupil’s reading ages improved by an average of 6 months, and targeted pupils in our paired/shared reading programme improved by an average of 8 months.
We have a bespoke enrichment programme that allows students to develop new skills, play competitive sport or learn a new language. We encourage students to develop skills beyond the curriculum to make them well-rounded individuals who are able to compete against students from world-class establishments in the future. This year we have implemented a new tracking system so that we are able to analyse regularly the attendance to enrichment is to ensure no group fails to access these transformational opportunities.
For more specific information about our curriculum offer in each subject area, please follow the links below to the relevant departmental information.