Luke Sparkes

Trinity Chapeltown – Family Dining

Family Dining is a very important part of our day.  At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, we will come together as a community to eat freshly cooked, healthy meals in a family setting.  Children will sit around a dining table with an adult, they will set the table and serve each other their food.  They will eat from the best plates and dishes and drink from real glasses.  Conversation and manners will be modelled by the adult; this is a time of day when our children can learn so much!  We will talk about our values, what we have learned during the day, and this is a time when we can cement our relationships.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Trinity Chapeltown – Keep Things Simple

At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, we like to keep things simple. The way we do things in school will not be particularly revolutionary, but we will make sure that we do the simple things really well. Children thrive when they feel safe and children feel safe when they know what to expect. By keeping expectations clear and simple, we ensure that children know what the boundaries are and know what they are supposed to be doing and when.

Keeping expectations simple does not stop them being high. The best schools have the highest expectations of their students. Through hard work and perseverance, every child can achieve.   Our core values of hard work, trust and fairness are communicated through everything that we do in school.  Even the youngest children have a deep understanding that they can rely on their teachers to support them in all their hard work.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Chapeltown Visits to Bradford

It has been a pleasure to show parents around Dixons Music Primary and Dixons Trinity over the last few weeks in order to give them a real flavour of exactly what Dixons Trinity Chapeltown will look and feel like. Thank you to all those who’ve visited; I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the Dixons Trinity school community and all the learning that goes on there.

The children who accompanied their parents on the visits seemed to have a great time and were particularly excited about the music lessons and choir. It was a great to see the 3 year olds joining in with the play-based learning in the Reception classroom and the younger students interacting with them so well.

We saw excellent learning in the Maths Mastery lessons with students talking to each other about their maths, explaining their calculations and supporting each other in their progress. The Year 4 councillors were a credit to their school – confidently and articulately answering all questions fired at them by interested parents.

It was very obvious just how much music takes place in Dixons Music Primary with all the many and varied instruments available in classrooms and the way the children talked about their music progress and their performances. Eating lunch with the children, Family Dining style, clearly demonstrated the exemplary behaviour and attitudes of the students.

Thank you so much to Michelle Long and her team for inviting us in to all the classrooms and to the students who led the tours and explained some of the ways in which we ensure that every minute of the school day is used to help us achieve our mission.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Trinity Chapeltown – Many Minds, One Mission

At Trinity, we have many minds but one mission: to get students to and through university so that they thrive in a top job and have a great life.

We clearly communicate our mission, values and drivers throughout every day so that the whole school community know the purpose of everything that we do. We know why we move around school in the way that we do, we know why we wear our uniform in the way that we do and we know why we look at the speaker in all of our lessons.

Our core values of hard work, trust and fairness permeate all that we do. From the moment a student arrives at Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, we ask them to live these values.

In primary school, we talk about our values from day one. For example, when children are playing in Reception Class, we talk about fairness and how this affects our play; about why we need to be fair and how this helps us to enjoy our games. During Family Dining, we talk about our values and relate these to what we’ve done in class that day. A Celebration assembly at the end of the week cements the learning about the value of the week and children are publicly recognised for demonstrating this value.

By talking about our values in different ways, and ensuring that all members of the school community (children, staff and families) live our values, children will strive to live up to our highest expectations.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Dixons Trinity Chapeltown


Dixons Trinity Chapeltown will open its doors in September 2017 for 30 lucky 4 year olds –its first ever Reception Class. What an opportunity to create a great school for the community of Chapeltown and Harehills!

Our consultation period is over and we have listened to what everyone has had to say. We know exactly what we’re going to do to ensure that Dixons Trinity Chapeltown will be a truly outstanding all-through school serving the needs of the local community. Many of our ideas are based on Dixons Trinity in Bradford; the first secondary free school to be graded Outstanding by Ofsted.  We will also use the best of what we know works from other outstanding schools, the independent sector and abroad.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Homework – A Student’s View

As Trinity students, we all work hard day in, day out to climb our mountain to university or a real alternative. To support us on our journeys, the academy has changed and improved the homework system. After speaking to a handful of students, it seemed as if some of us may not have understood the purpose and the benefits of this change. Therefore, this blog aims to clarify the purpose as well as providing advice on how to effectively complete homework to support revision.

What is the purpose of this change?

Homework is a vital tool that we must use to our advantage to ensure we make progress. If we do not complete homework to the best of our ability we are wasting an opportunity. The new homework system is designed to make sure that we all develop the skills needed to be really effective learners from the first days of Year 7. It is basically a revision strategy; it instructs us in how to chunk, memorise and recall key elements of learning.  This strategy is extremely useful especially as the new GCSE specifications require an even stronger command of subject-knowledge. Some students asked questions regarding the fact that the homework is not aligned to the topic that they are being taught in lessons. It is intentionally designed to be interleaved.  This means that the revision (homework) is not the same as what is being taught in lesson; homework may be based on learning from the previous cycle or even the previous year.  This is so we can interrupt the process of forgetting information and, as a result make the information stick for longer which allows the knowledge to be both well embedded and easy to retrieve therefore ensuring that we are truly mastering the content and are exam ready.

How does this new system benefit us?

The improved system means that we can now revise and master information at home every night instead of worrying about learning new content and completing unfinished classwork which is done best with our teachers’ support. Also, by ensuring that information is memorised over a longer period of time, rather than in an intense revision session just before an exam, we are developing our ability to retain and effectively recall the knowledge we need to pass exams. Cramming is not an effective tool and it can lead to increased anxiety.  Our new homework system will hugely reduce the pressure of exams as the learning is spread over 5 years. Additionally, it is a method we can use for the rest of our educational and even professional lives. This method of revision is commonly used by university students as it has proven to be the most beneficial. This means that we are being prepared for higher education as it is helping us maintain a healthy and effective revision ethic.

How can we complete our homework effectively?

At the start of every morning meeting we practise the correct method: read a specific section, cover it, write out what you can remember and then check – correcting any mistakes. Below are some instructions on how to complete your homework to ensure it sticks.

  1. Chunk it. You have been instructed to write out a specific section of your 100% sheet. This is to help you organise the content and, therefore, prevent it from overwhelming you. You can minimise the amount even further if you would prefer to do it in smaller sections.
  2. Memorise the section. Repeat it to yourself or write it out (use scrap paper) from memory increasing the amount each time (for 10-15 minutes) over and over again until you cannot get it wrong. Get someone in your family to quiz you.
  3. Cover it up. Put away your 100% sheet so you cannot copy it. This really gets your brain to work hard which makes it more likely to stick in the long term.
  4. Write it out. For 15-20 minutes, write out what you can remember. Even if you are struggling do not look back at the 100% sheet, instead engage and challenge your brain.
  5. Check it. Once you have filled a whole side of A4, refer back to your 100% sheet and check your homework against it.
  6. Amend any mistakes. Make corrections in green pen and continue this process until you have truly mastered the section. Make sure that you have completed a minimum of one side of lined paper (2 sides if you are in year 11).

This process may seem mundane; however, if it is completed properly, it will guarantee that information is embedded and can be easily retrieved. It takes only minimally longer than simply copying the information out but is hugely more effective to support with memorising the information. Copying the information out is the easiest and least effective method. Although it may be better than doing nothing, you are ultimately only restraining yourself from getting the best grades.

Trinity was inspired to adopt this approach after visiting Michaela School in London who showed us their knowledge organisers and approach to homework; research has proven that this is a great way to revise and if you would like to know more information about it you can visit Conclusively, the new homework system is a further step in ensuring that each of us will succeed at university, thrive in a top job and have a great life.

Iqra, Class of 2019

Literacy: our top 3 strategies

At Trinity, we like to keep things simple.  For many of us, however, the terms simple and literacy just will not seem compatible – yet, in order for us to fulfil our mission, of every child going to university and succeeding in a top job, improving literacy must be our priority.  So how do we address this challenge?  Simply put: by keeping it simple.

Like everything else at Trinity, we accept that there are no quick fixes; we strive to do the simple things well every single day.  To keep things simple, we like to break things down – we ask the basic questions: what does ‘literacy’ mean?  What would a student with good literacy skills sound like, and what should they be able to do?  How should our understanding of developing literacy shape the academy day and week?  Literacy underpins our practice – it is not a bolt on; it is a critical component in fulfilling our purpose.

Our aim is simple: we want to develop students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.  We want a Trinity student to be able to confidently manipulate language in any given context.  We want them to have a love of reading and to have better lives because of the reading that they have done, and will do.  Like the acquisition of knowledge, we know that the ability to use and ‘read’ language alters life opportunities.  To help our students to climb their mountain to university, or a real alternative, we put developing student literacy skills at the heart of our academy day, and firmly at the heart of what we expect from our students.

Our three key literacy strategies help our students grasp language, command it and enjoy it.

1. Speaking in full sentences using Standard English

At Trinity, it is an expectation that students speak in full sentences using Standard English.  Thinking through a response, formulating it into a full sentence and then saying it aloud helps students to make a cohesive point which, in turn, helps them when they need to write their ideas down.  Not only, therefore, does it promote student confidence to speak in more than one-word answers in front of their peers, but it also allows students to practise articulating their ideas before they write them down; it becomes part of the drafting process.  Of course, there may be times when a one-word response is required which would be signalled by the teacher, but the natural state and expectation is that student responses are developed into full sentences.

Through our English curriculum, we teach about levels of formality.  We do not advocate the sole use of Standard English throughout life in all circumstances, but we do educate students to be able to make decisions about the language they choose to use.  We teach that Standard English is used in formal situations. We view our lessons and interaction with teachers as a formal setting, as such, we expect students to use Standard English. This does mean that teachers must model the way in their own speech.

2. Track the speaker

Simply put, tracking the speaker means looking at the person speaking.  The speaker may be the teacher in the lesson or a student responding to a question. Tracking the speaker is important on many levels: not only does it signal how important is to listen to the speaker, but it also iterates how important it is to give the speaker your full attention.  Tracking does not guarantee active listening but it offers keen support.  Building tracking into the academy day and into lesson expectations helps to make for smoother transitions from one activity to another; it facilitates student talk and discussion in lessons.  Finally, it signals that what is being said is important.

3. Carrying a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) book at all times

The consistent execution of our routines and expectations is important to the development of students’ literacy skills, but we also recognise that we need to go deeper.  We construct and shape the academy day around our belief that reading is vital to the development of being able to manipulate and command language.  As such, an important part of our academy day is DEAR.

Each day, every student spends 30 minutes with their Advisory (form group) reading.  (I will write another blog explicitly about DEAR).  As an overview, during DEAR, students may be reading in silence, reading with their Advisor, discussing a book with a peer or presenting to the Advisory.  Students are also given the opportunity to read newspapers which are differentiated by reading age.  Advisors are variously expected to model reading their own DEAR book, facilitate student discussions and listen to each member of the Advisory read.

The key to the success of our three key literacy strategies is consistency; no matter which lesson a student experiences or what day it is, at Trinity, the same expectations apply.  At Trinity, we believe that team always beats individual and that is exactly how we approach the development of literacy skills; we do it together.

Laura Senior
Vice Principal

We All Will Learn

The use of double staffing to ensure a high-quality learning experience for all students

Double Staffing: the timetabling of two qualified, subject specialist teachers to a single class, giving them joint and equal responsibility for the students’ outcomes.

At Dixons Trinity, perhaps one of our most unique and impactful distinctive features is the use of double staffing to support our most vulnerable learners. In order to be able to each climb their mountain to university, or a real alternative, so they can thrive in a top job and have a great life, every student must have consistent access to the same high-quality input and support as one another, and the use of double staffing enables us to provide this. Double staffing is, in essence, a replacement provision for the use of teaching assistants (of which we have none) to facilitate support and intervention for vulnerable students. The possible comparisons between the two approaches, however, end there; the key strengths of the double staffing approach – its flexibility, responsiveness, quality, and reach – render any further comparisons difficult to find. For group four, our lowest attaining students in each year group and the natural base for the timetabled double staffing, the presence of two qualified, subject specialist teachers in their core subject lessons provides the opportunity for support and intervention without the need for segregation or compromising of the quality of education they receive; but the reach of the benefits of double staffing goes far beyond group four. Any student can become vulnerable and require support either short or long term; a fluid approach to the implementation of double staffing in response to timely and accurate data to provide high-quality intervention and support applies equally to all Dixons Trinity students.

Double staffing is flexible and responsive, adapting to the needs of the students, the strengths of the teachers, and the available resources. It is crucial that it is implemented in response to up-to-date and accurate information that is available about the students – assessment data, individual needs (SEND) information, and knowledge of the children – and that its implementation is planned for in advance in order to ensure maximum efficacy. There are a number of different ways in which double staffing can be carried out in practice, each being made available by different sets of circumstances and carrying with it a unique combination of benefits to the students in the class.

Double 1

Double 2

Double 3

Double 4

Double 5

Double 6

The grids provide an overview of the different ways in which double staffing is being implemented at Dixons Trinity but, in reality, it is most impactful when a combination of these approaches is used with each class. For example, the hub model provides an ideal natural base, within the classroom, for a second teacher to provide consistent and ongoing support for a group of students. Whether the students have been identified on the basis of an individual need (SEND), recent data, or a behavioural need, the hub model could lead to them developing learnt dependency or missing out on the socio-emotional developmental opportunities of the classroom environment. That same second teacher is also available to provide breakout intervention, tutorials, or to lead the class or section of a lesson, thus making full use of the opportunities made available by the double staffing and giving students based in the hub area the opportunity of independence.

The benefits brought about by the flexibility and responsiveness of double staffing is not, however, limited to the models identified here. It is, as said, crucial that double staffing is planned for in advance; however, there can also, as with all teaching, arise situations where even the best lesson plan is voided by an unexpected difficulty or knowledge gap, and the teacher must think on their feet. Not only does double staffing allow for a timely and responsive intervention to take place without interrupting the smooth continuation of the lesson for the students for whom this is appropriate, the second teacher has the authority and autonomy to implement this intervention without disturbing the lesson at all. The students benefit from the knowledge, expertise and interaction between two qualified, subject specialist teachers and also benefit from greater consistency and, therefore, stability in their learning experience. Occasional absence is an inevitability and can have a significant negative impact on any learner, particularly those who are more vulnerable for any reason. A double staffed lesson is likely to always have at least one member of staff present who knows the students well and can provide continuity despite the absence of the other teacher. The use of 1:1 and small group support, interventions, and additional adults is not unique to the double staffing approach, however, the quality of pedagogical and subject specialist input, and the authority and autonomy of the individuals involved, most likely is. Every student, including those selected for intervention and support, receive an equally high-quality input as one another and remain within the academic hubs of the academy e.g. maths intervention takes place with maths teachers, on the maths corridor, during maths lessons.

The provisions that double staffing replaces, teaching assistants and withdrawal interventions, give the most vulnerable learners in a school an inferior quality input and an experience of segregation, both of which can impact on their academic and socio-emotional development and opportunity for future success. Furthermore, segregating provision designed for low ability students and those with additional needs limits the responsive and highly individualised approach it affords to a very small group of students, denying those benefits to the wider student body. It teaches the students to whom it does apply that they are a subgroup of the school community who sit slightly outside of the systems, and it teaches the rest of the children this same thing too; those with disabilities are ‘other’. Double staffing is one example of a number of distinctive features that ensure our most vulnerable learners have an equally high-quality and inclusive experience as their more able and more resilient peers, and ensures that all of our students are afforded the same opportunities for support and individualisation as our least able and most vulnerable.

The natural base for all double staffing – the lessons the teachers are timetabled to be in – is with group four; this is, naturally, where many of the most vulnerable learners can be found. The reach of the double staffing approach, however, is not limited to the lower sets. At Dixons Trinity, our protocol for assessing and reporting data identifies both attainment and progress, and it is the latter that gives the greatest indication of a student’s journey to success. Any student, including the highest attaining, can plateau or make less than expected progress. Any student can become vulnerable for any reason or for any length of time and a fluid approach to the implementation of double staffing ensures that any student who needs it can benefit from it. Our data has consistently shown our lowest ability and individual needs (SEND) students to be amongst the fastest progressing sub-groups of students and, as such, this enables the double staffing to be free to move to other ability groups, as directed by the department heads, in order to provide the same benefits to an even greater range of students.

Finally, it is clear to me that the full potential of the use of double staffing has not yet been reached and, as it develops and evolves, more opportunities and benefits become apparent. An identifying feature of the double staffing, in its current form, is the stipulation to use subject specialist teachers. There are, however, clear benefits to using teachers with different subject specialisms. Both science and geography, for example, could benefit from fluid double staffing from a mathematician when teaching a topic that includes complex equations and numeric skill. The literacy demands of the extended writing requirements of a GCSE history assessment could justify the presence of an English teacher in lessons where students are working on that specific skill. And the understanding and experience of students in all of the humanities could benefit from collaboration between their subject teacher and teachers of the arts – music, art, drama – when introducing eras and areas a student may never experience in reality. Fluid double staffing between academic departments seems a logical next step for the approach, ensuring that it continues to evolve and provide greater and greater opportunities for the students at the academy.

Nicole Dempsey
Head of Mountain Rescue

Improving writing: A shared grammatical metalanguage

‘Grammar is what gives sense to language… Sentences make words yield up their meanings.’ (The National Literacy Strategy.)

As the GCSE overhaul of 2017 fast approaches, and with students facing unprecedented changes to examinations in order for expectations to match and exceed high performing internal jurisdictions, one thing we do know is this: students will be faced with ‘high-quality assessment’ with more emphasis placed on written communication and technical accuracy. Therefore, in order to ensure our students fulfil the academy’s mission of “succeeding at university, thriving in a top job and having a great life”, we need to prepare students for life beyond exams; if they are to realise their full potential, they need to be able to communicate effectively in the work place and in life. Yet, how do we adequately prepare students for such challenges ahead? The answer: by raising standards of writing across the curriculum through a shared grammatical metalanguage.

At DTA, a common language permeates everything we do: it is alive in corridors, in the Heart Space and in every lesson, every day, so it only seems natural that a common language – a grammatical metalanguage – should exist for students’ written communication.

Step 1: A ‘Grammar for Writing’ approach

In 2014-2015, the English Department implemented the ‘Grammar for Writing’ approach influenced by Debra Myhill’s pedagogical model. The approach focuses on demystifying grammar for students, providing them with a sound understanding of the mechanics of grammar so that they can confidently experiment with the nuances of writing. In order for students to write in a sustained, coherent and effective way, they need to understand the rules of linguistics in an explicit yet contextualised manner, so that their reading becomes meaningful and their writing has purpose. The purpose of teaching grammar in this way is not so that students can correctly label the different parts of speech; it is about making children aware of the grammatical principles to increase the range of choices open to them when they write. Students explore the use of grammar for effect, see how texts are shaped and play with grammatical structures to enable them to apply the principles to their own writing.

To assess the impact of such a model, and to successfully embed a grammatical metalanguage, it was necessary to go back to basics – the key principles learnt in KS2 had to be re-taught; Y7 and Y8 received one whole-year group lecture per week for the duration of the academic year, focusing on contextualised metalanguage with models and worked examples to support. To ensure consistency, lectures were delivered by our Head of Department focusing on the effects of grammatical choices at first, such as the effect of noun phrases, progressing to manipulating coordinating and subordinating conjunctions by the end of the year.

Step 2: Scheme of work design

Whilst the lectures were having notable impact, consistency was key. Reading and writing assessment objectives – from the new KS4 specification – were mapped across every scheme of work to allow students the opportunity to practise what they had learnt in the lectures; importantly, this gave them time to experiment with writing (using the shared metalanguage) and develop their analytical skills through knowledge of how and why a writer uses particular words, phrases and sentence constructions. Gradually, this approach began to produce results: by the time students sat their end of year exams, students in Y7 could confidently craft a piece of discursive writing, experimenting with a range of subordinating conjunctions to create dependent clauses and were able to identify and explore a noun phrase in an assured and sophisticated way. Writing had improved; students had developed more confident and versatile language use and were using grammatical structures with considerable complexity. Yet the problem remained: how could we replicate this success across the curriculum?

Step 3: Create consistency

It became clear, through a number of quality assurance measures, that students were not transferring the rules, or stylistics of writing, learnt in English to other subjects, in part because these particular mechanics were not being reinforced before students completed a piece of writing or during the redrafting process; therefore, we set about crafting a common language for all staff to use with students – a language that students were already familiar with from their daily English lessons. We wanted students to know that to improve their eight mark response in PE they needed to use more adding connectives, or to write more succinctly, yet fluently or that, in RE, they needed to avoid the comma splice. As this grammatical approach had led to noticeable gains in the quality of both reading and writing in English, we began to devise a way in which a common approach to writing across all subject areas could form part of our culture, and so came the dawn of our writing surgery…

Step 4: The Writing Surgery

Before we could insist on particular writing expectations to be adhered to by all departments, it was our duty to ensure that all staff were comfortable with the terminology taught in English; we had to play fair; we had to teach our staff how to use this language so they could, in turn, improve the writing of our students in their own specialism. In September 2015, The Writing Surgery commenced. During Staff Morning Practice, staff attend a 25 minute session led by the English HoD which simply follows the same principles as the whole-year group lessons delivered to students: staff are taught, in a supportive manner, the grammatical metalanguage so that they feel confident when teaching and marking writing. To avoid staff becoming anxious about the sessions, pre-reading material is distributed at the beginning of each week and all tasks are completed collaboratively. Our staff are incredibly grateful to learn what sadly some were denied during their education; they demonstrate a thirst for understanding the mechanics of grammar – whether that is how to create an embedded clause or what constitutes a complex sentence. Initially, what started out as a 13 week programme is now – due to its popularity and impact – going to run all year as we support staff to improve their literacy which will provide them with the confidence to address misconceptions in their students’ writing. Comments such as: “This is the highlight of my week” and “I used the term embedded clause with my group and they knew what I meant” give the practice a real sense of purpose – it now finally feels that we have addressed a key piece of the puzzle: improving staff literacy confidence in order to improve student writing.

Next steps:

We know this is just the beginning of a lengthy process, but one which we undoubtedly know will have great impact in helping us achieve our mission. Even though we are still in the early stages of climbing this mountain, our grammatical metalanguage is now firmly alive in our staff, in our students and in our classrooms; a language that will enable our students to succeed no matter what writing challenges they are faced with in 2017, at university or in their lives beyond the classroom.

Natalie Brown
Assistant Vice Principal

Rigour Not Revolution

Dixons Trinity Academy opened with 112 Year 7 students on 4th September 2012 and will rise to its full capacity of 720 students by September 2018. As a start-up, we had to do everything from scratch. Every staff member, system and policy had to be recruited or written. But it was also a chance to craft a school culture that has the highest standards.

Our core values of hard work, trust and fairness permeate all that we do. From the moment a student arrives at Dixons Trinity, we ask them to live these values. We also focus on three key drivers: Mastery, which is the drive to get better at things that matter; Autonomy, or the drive to direct our own lives; and Purpose, which is the drive to connect to a cause larger than ourselves (Dan Pink, ‘Drive‘).

I welcome the emerging cross-party consensus on a school-led system. It is our greater Autonomy as teachers and leaders which has allowed me and my staff to establish our own unique school. But as professionals we probably have only a five- to ten-year time frame in which to prove that a school-led system results in a better education for more students, and in closing the gap for the disadvantaged. Without Mastery and Purpose, our Autonomy will mean nothing, and our school-led system will not be secure.

Our proportion of disadvantaged students is above average, and over 50% of students live in the five most deprived wards in Bradford, one of the UK’s most significant areas of socio-economic challenge. Our priority is to raise aspirations, encourage young people to have a growth mindset, and to progress onto higher education. The message at Trinity is that ALL students are going to university. Teachers talk to students about ‘climbing the mountain to university’ by working hard and taking steps towards the goal each day. We continuously expose students to university. Before they join, Year 6 students visit the University of Leeds so their first experience with Dixons Trinity is at a Russell Group university. In Year 8, every student visits Oxford University. All students need a tangible goal to motivate them to do well and I couldn’t think of a better goal than higher education – it certainly motivated me at school. We won’t force our students to go to university, but we do want them to be able to make an informed decision at the end of Year 13 rather than having no decision to make because they haven’t got the required exam results. If students decide not to go to university, we will expect them to follow a ‘real alternative’ such as a higher-level apprenticeship.

Our academy is already heavily oversubscribed with over 9 applications for every place and 100% of our parents would recommend the school to another parent. Last year, students made an average of 19 months of reading progress in a 9 month period and almost all students made expected progress across the curriculum with the majority making more than expected progress. In January 2014, we became the first secondary free school to be judged Outstanding by Ofsted. Indeed, my key motivation in writing this blog, or in encouraging visitors into our academy, is to honour our will to provide aspiration for our students – and to ensure they are given the credit they deserve for building a community in which they take such pride. Anyone who has come to spend time with us cannot fail to enjoy the company of our students who buzz with energy and enthusiasm for a school they love.

Starting a school is hard work and there are many unique challenges; however, growing a school is not as demanding as trying to turn a school around. For example, it is much easier to establish a strong school culture with just one year group and a small, newly appointed staff. We have made a strong start, but fully acknowledge that we are a young school with a lot to learn and that our first set of exam results will be the real measure of our success.

At Trinity, we have tried to take the best ideas from academies, schools, the independent sector and abroad. No individual element of our practice is revolutionary. Others have said that it is the way in which those ideas have been combined and embedded with rigour and simplicity that has allowed us to make such a strong start. We don’t believe in off-the-shelf strategies or practices; there is no silver bullet. It is really about being values driven, having clear vision, focusing relentlessly on results, operating strict routines, doing the simple things well every day, and building strong relationships at all levels.

Like many independent schools, we have a longer teaching week. In addition to our 27 55-minute lessons, we run five half hour Morning Meetings, five half hour reading sessions mid-morning, and four hours of electives in sport and the arts over the course of the week. A significant number of students are also expected to attend morning intervention from 7.30am. With an extended academy day, students have more time in the classroom to acquire knowledge, skills and understanding, as well as more opportunities to broaden their education. At Trinity, we believe that there are no shortcuts to success and our students would not make the progress they do without more time in school.

Much of this incurs additional cost. Staff do not teach any more than they would in another school because we believe they need time to mark and time to plan. We double-staff one class-set in each of the EBacc subjects in each year group throughout the week: the second teacher usually works with the lower sets, but can also be deployed to support students (who are not on track) in higher sets. We also spend around £250 per student on bought-in curriculum.

We save money by cutting out approaches that are not value for money, taking our cue from the Sutton Trust and the EEF. We do not employ classroom assistants, cover or lunchtime supervisors. Inspired by SE Asia and higher education, 20% of our weekly provision is in larger groups, including almost 10% of our teaching. Our staff work more flexibly and do have more directed time than is usual. Our EBacc-focused curriculum also saves money.

All our students study a fairly traditional curriculum with those needing additional support spending more time in English and mathematics. A strong core for students needing the most support ensures that basic skills are embedded so that everyone is able to access high-value qualifications by the end of Key Stage 4. As a result, they do less humanities and technology than the rest of the school and no computing or art. However, all students have at least four hours of co-curricular electives in a wide variety of sports and arts. Stretch projects also allow students to explore an area of interest within a given theme. We aim to foster students’ autonomy and grow their love of learning.

All students present their stretch exhibition to their advisory group three times a year and the best from each advisory presents to the whole year group and an invited audience. Every day we engineer opportunities for students to address the whole school or their year group: in large group lessons, Morning Meetings and appreciations of staff (or other students) at the end of lunch. We insist that students use full sentences and speak in Standard English at all times. It is particularly important for our students to develop strong and confident oracy if they are to fulfil our ambition for them of succeeding at university and thriving in the workplace. Again, our success is not derived from anything particularly innovative, it is rooted in constant reinforcement and a variety of daily opportunities to develop the skills and attitudes we (and many before us) have identified as crucial to success.

The biggest advantage of starting a new school is the opportunity to establish, and absolutely insist on, good learning habits with the highest of expectations and no excuses. We have very clear rules about homework and equipment because students have to be ready to learn. Our uniform is very practical and offers students elements of choice, but students are expected to wear it with pride and there is a strong attention to detail. During lessons, students are expected to track the speaker, teacher or student, and remain focused at all times. If a teacher raises their hand, students fall silent whether in a classroom or a whole-school context. In a tall building originally designed for educating adults rather than children, students line-up at the end of every break and walk in silence to every lesson. Some people have labelled our same-day detentions as draconian and the fact we ‘sweat the small stuff’ as petty; however, those who have visited the school have quickly recognised that our structures liberate teachers to teach and students to learn – because students know why we do things this way, they buy into it.

Following Achievement First in the US, Dixons Trinity has adopted sociologist James Q. Wilson’s ‘broken windows’ theory that even the small details can have a significant effect on overall culture. We believe that students will rise to the level of expectations placed upon them. We have worked hard to establish a school culture that is both disciplined and joyful. Daily school-wide celebrations are opportunities to strengthen school culture, ensure consistency of message and reset expectations. Family dining is another example of this: students and staff share a meal; everyone has a role in helping; everyone has a place to sit.

I have no doubt that our achievement-orientated culture is the main driver of our success. Of course, no school is better than the quality of its teachers. However, there is only so much that even the best teacher can do with students who have low aspirations and poor learning habits. Conversely, create a truly aspirational school culture with extremely high expectations and all teachers can secure strong outcomes for every student. What I have learnt more than anything else from the best schools is the power of school culture, and that a strong school culture is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

Although creating a disciplined and joyful school culture has been a top priority at Trinity, learning always comes first. As one of our key drivers is Autonomy, teachers are free to teach as they want as long as students learn and make progress. However, we do expect a few core strategies to be embraced by every teacher in every lesson; for example, a No Hands Up rule to ensure all questions are targeted and all students are engaged. We have also adapted ‘the cycle of highly effective teaching’ developed by Achievement First and introduced Data Days to ensure that evidence about learning is used to adjust instruction to better meet student needs. We have taken ideas from Uncommon Schools and Doug Lemov’s work, particularly around questioning, which was identified as a major strength by Ofsted. We have developed teacher talent through disciplined, deliberate and intelligent practice and coaching. For example, we practise key techniques collectively as a staff twice every week during Morning Meetings and engineer more tailored practice during one-to-one coaching sessions.

In the words of Stephen Covey, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing – and the main thing at Dixons Trinity is progress. The best way to ensure students make progress is to provide effective feedback. On top of establishing a common approach and minimum requirements, staff work hard to harness the power of feedback. For example, there are student appraisals every 13 weeks after school and every half term parents receive either a highly personalised written report, a face to face meeting or a telephone call home. Students are actively encouraged to contact their teachers for support and feedback in the evenings and at weekends via the academy email system or through twitter.

Moreover, our whole culture is built on feedback. At every Morning Meeting, after every lunch and at every line-up we reflect back on how the day has gone and the key highlights in learning. Everything we do is rooted in our three core values. Our teachers are fair and have real respect for their learners as people with ideas of their own. Their expertise earns the trust of learners and allows them to read their classroom and to be more responsive to needs. They are extremely hard-working, flexible and take every opportunity to maximise learning.

Starting a brand new school has taught me about the importance of keeping things simple. We established the school around a few concrete ideas that were not that radical and everything we have done since has built on those first principles. It’s not the strategies that matter, but the way they fit together and the fact that everybody does them. We all share a common drive to make our school the best that it can be. We keep things simple, we do what we say we do, and, as a result, staff and students are happy, successful and determined to get even better: ‘In this academy, only excellence will do’. (Ofsted, 2014)

Over the coming year, we would like to share our ongoing work through this blog – whether talking through our systems, our mission or our growth.  Although we hope to select things to talk about that might prove useful to others, we would be very happy to take direction on this.  Please feel free to leave comments below to which we can respond if there is a specific area we could address.

Luke Sparkes