A school has taken dinner table conversations to a whole new level by getting pupils to stage debates while they eat their lunch.
Students at Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy, in Blurton, join in with the bistro talks by chewing over topics they have researched in advance.
It is just one of several innovative approaches towards improving young people’s literacy skills and has now been praised in an Ofsted report.
Inspectors were also impressed with the little packs of discussion pointers that pupils carry around with them at school. These contain phrases such as ‘on the other hand’, which can be used to help frame their ideas in class and build their confidence in public speaking.
Principal Mark Stanyer said: “We know that literacy makes a massive difference. If they don’t have these skills, it can be a barrier to success in all subject areas.”
The ‘family lunches’ bring together a whole year group at the school and the debating topics are selected by staff.
Twelve-year-old Rylee Birkin, from Blurton, said: “We’ve had debates on national service, gender roles and lots of other interesting things about life.”
He also enjoys the imaginative lessons, including the quizzes that get young people’s brains whirring.
“The teachers are very encouraging and most of them are cheery. They are really helpful,” he added.
The Ofsted report describes students as ‘articulate, self-assured learners who have a real pride in their school and their appearance’. They also ‘thrive academically and socially, in a warm and trusting environment’.
Now the school has been rated as good overall, with its efforts to promote students’ personal development, behaviour and welfare singled out as outstanding.
Steps have included developing pupil leaders, who take on extra responsibilities at school events, assemblies and during enrichment activities.
Twelve-year-old Freya O’Connor-Durose, from Newstead, said: “I’ve signed up to be an English representative. That’s where you help the teachers.”
Inspectors say the school is driven by ‘inspirational leadership’ and a ‘culture of high expectations’. And it’s not just pupils who are encouraged to continually improve as staff also take part in weekly training sessions.
To help cut teacher workloads, a new marking policy was introduced this year. Rather than write comments on every piece of student work, they now scan the books to pick up the main strengths and weaknesses and use that information to plan future lessons. Pupils are then assessed four times a year on what they’ve learnt.
Ofsted found students do ‘exceptionally well’ in vocational subjects and also achieve above the national average in English and maths. But until recently, there has been less focus on some other academic subjects – in 2016, just 16 students took at least two ‘relevant’ science qualifications.
As the sixth form is only small, staff have also had to ‘work hard’ to ensure students have access to suitable courses.