Opening Minds lessons consist of a different pedagogy than “traditional” lessons as student led questioning and group work seeks to break down to a degree barriers between learner and teacher. Some staff, especially those with less experience of Opening Minds, have found that their approach to discipline must be reconsidered considering the greater value placed on student feedback in Opening Minds.
The transition has not created any systematic issues of discipline for students. Year 9 pupils are familiar enough with general school rules to follow them appropriately; there has been some confusion over the correct procedure for entering and leaving breaks, but this is to be expected in a new building and is not an issue unique to Year 9.
The major positive feature of Opening Minds is the increased confidence and independence of students. Less experienced staff have found that these traits have caused some discipline issues. Students require more effort to be put into lessons, that merely teaching from a board is not something that students respond well to in lessons. Furthermore, a tolerance for “chatting,” is also something which more experienced staff have identified as different. This is partly because students are used to managing time, where they balance social aspects with work, and often because “chat” is simply a continuation of utilising each other as a learning resource which they have grown used to under Opening Minds.
Staff with less experience of Opening Minds have faced some difficulty in converting to such an approach. Attempts to create uniform silence for three hours, or to prohibit interaction between students are found to be confusing by students used to another code of conduct. Indeed, restlessness can increase to the point where otherwise diligent students lose attention to their work. Students have noticed these changes, with many noting that their “new” teachers (i.e. ones that had not taught them before, often non-Opening Minds staff) were stricter. Some pupils found this acceptable, considering the perceived gravity of Key Stage 4 work, others did not. Concerns were raised by some students that teachers paid less attention to “how we learn,” as they faced more traditional approaches which did not continue the Opening Minds pedagogy that they were experienced with. A preference for “older” teachers (Opening Minds) was expressed by some because of a preferred teaching style more similar to pedagogy they expect. Of particular importance for discipline is consistency, students will not accept anything but consistent application of rules and procedures, and will not merely accept the authority of staff as absolute. Staff with a stricter pedagogy, often focused on perceived “strong” discipline, who do not apply sanctions consistently face confusion and anger from students.
Similarly, several staff discussed that a benefit of Opening Minds is that it allows students of varying abilities to contribute effectively to classes. Even if a student was not perceived by staff as academically gifted, they may be talented in competences such as leadership or team work, and therefore still succeed at Opening Minds. KS4 has a greater emphasis on completing assessed work and exams than under Opening Minds. Thus some students could no longer draw on their strengths to the same degree as they did before.
The new timetable has also affected discipline in some lessons, as students are now split into sets in core subjects and different options. None of these issues are universal or common, but a combination did in some cases create issues for the class:
§ Size of class- some options classes tend to be smaller than compulsory subjects, and thus increase staff contact time with each student
§ Setting- a factor in students performing less academically in some cases are behavioural issues; some staff felt that setting in some cases concentrated several pupils who were less attentive together in one class.
§ Choice- students expressed a preference for subjects that they had chosen to pursue in KS4 over compulsory options, in part because they chose what they enjoyed. Alongside this, some students expressed less enthusiasm for lessons that they had no choice in studying.
Our study has shown that Opening Minds itself was not harmful to discipline at KS4 in any noticeably way. We studied two Opening Minds classes, and discipline was still maintained with silence whilst another student or the teacher is speaking, and few problems of misbehaviour. The issue is instead that a conventional KS4 does not appear to work well with many Year 9 pupils who have only experienced a wholly Opening Minds curriculum up until this point. Many staff avoided a traditional approach, but that some continue to do so, suggests that the staff support that is already being provided should be extended, as well as accepting that staff require a reasonable period to adapt to the unique structures they are being asked to work under at RSA Academy Tipton.
As has been noted in the previous section on “Discipline,” students felt most comfortably and responded best to staff who taught in a manner similar to Opening Minds, where they felt that teachers could understand students learning preferences and styles. Difficulty was encountered when teachers attempted a more traditional approach.
A common fear amongst pupils was that they were unprepared for KS4, mostly during KS3 but also among some students at KS4. Two factors seemed to contribute this feeling: starting KS4 a year earlier and the need to complete important qualifications at KS4 where content was the paramount concern . There was a limited concern among students that they were not mature enough to begin KS4, and that some of their work would suffer. Some pupils were concerned that they had not completed enough ground work before starting KS4, so that their extra year would be “catch-up.” Linked with this was the acknowledgement amongst more able pupils that KS4 repeated some work covered in KS3, and that they would not have time to “revise” concept that they might already be familiar with had they followed a more conventional KS3. However, few pupils expressed difficulty in the work that they were set at KS4. Either this is because, as is the perspective of most staff, that students have less basic content but are able to assimilate information more easily as a result of Opening Minds, is correct or because students have not yet faced work which they will struggle with. The relatively short scale of our research prevents a conclusion from being reached on this issue.
A recurring observation amongst staff was that students lacked a depth of knowledge in subjects, but had an increased breadth of knowledge and capacity to learn. Few staff expressed serious concerns about students being sufficiently prepared for KS4. One staff member noted that now students had chosen their options, they would be able to specialise their learning appropriately. Opinions of students’ preparedness for longer writing tasks varied amongst staff, with some feeling that students had become used to shorter activities and group work. Others felt that students were adequately prepared, and if they were not, would be by the time they began their exams.
Almost all pupils we spoke to regarding the transition from Opening Minds to KS4 regard the change as positive. They are happy and excited to be in KS4, studying their chosen subjects and having distinct lessons which they feel adds clarity to their learning. Many students offered negative opinions of Opening Minds in certain aspects. Some found lessons repetitive and boring; others were confused about what they were accomplishing in terms of subject content. Students tended to prefer the smaller classes and specialised teaching of lessons compared to Opening Minds. Nevertheless, many students acknowledged the uses of Opening Minds, expressing the opinion that they were better prepared for life outside of school and had wider skills. Students found the continuity of competences between Opening Minds and KS4 reassuring and provided a guiding framework for lessons, easing the transition. A commonly missed aspect of Opening Minds was providing feedback from lessons, some staff had continued this into KS4, whilst others had not.
Some students did have issues with setting within classes. Most classes were aware of what set they were, and how they compared to other classes. Some students who were not in the top set expressed resentment that their peers (some of whom they felt that they performed equal to or better than) being in higher sets and having harder work (and thus more valuable). Other students, particularly in lower sets, were despondent and felt either bored or that they were “thick.”
Generally, students are responding well to the change, and are generally very resilient. Most of their concerns can be dealt with by staff addressing them or by both staff and students having more time to get used to KS4.