Case Study Six: Everton Free School

Brief Description of The Provision

In January 2012 Everton Free School (EFS) was one of several football clubs encouraged by the Department for Education to apply to open a free school. They were successful in their application, which was put forward through the Everton Trust, who oversee Everton’s work in the community. The go-ahead was given in April 2012 and they were expected to open in September 2012, so “things had to move very very quickly” (senior member of staff). Key staff were appointed over the summer, and the school opened in? with just one pupil. At the latest census (March 2014) they had 101 pupils, 22 of whom were post-16.

Everton Free School have a plan for expansion. By the end of year one they wanted to have 50 pupils. By the end of year two (2013-2014) they want to have 120 pupils. By the end of year three they want to have two hundred pupils, 80 of them post-16.

Everton Free School use four sites across Liverpool and are planning to open an additional new site. Different subjects are offered at different sites.

This is a long term provision. There is no aim for the young people to be ‘fixed’ so that they can return to mainstream school. Everton replaces the students’ former mainstream school in all aspects. Students typically attend full time, five days a week. Young people of compulsory school age have to be 14 to come to the provision, so they are mainly year 10 and 11.

The school works on a model of 8-10 students per class.

Content and Delivery

EFS offers GCSE English Language, Maths and Science and a BTEC in sport to all of the young people. They think it is important that they provide GCSE qualifications as a lot of the young people who come to them are very capable – they just have gaps in their education. They take another ‘free to choose’ qualification such as GCSE art, GCSE media, performing arts, construction, hair and beauty or childcare.

There are also nurturing and therapeutic aspects of the school and its curriculum. The young people have access to free tea and toast every morning. A therapist is employed three days a week to work with young people who need support and who are not already accessing it from CAMHS. Each pupil is assigned a pastoral mentor. Some of the young people attend a weekly session at Addaction, which supports them in any substance misuse issues and addictions they may have.

Identifying Features of Quality

Mission/aims/purpose

EFS aims to provide an alternative fulltime education for young people until they complete compulsory education. This includes accreditation in five GCSE subjects. The school supports students to think about their post-16 plans and aims, and to access these.

Target Group

EFS is designed for young people who require an alternative to mainstream education, and this can cover a variety of needs. Some of their students have been formally excluded, some have been persistently absent, and some have been through a managed move process. EFS also cater for school phobic/refusers and young people with mental health issues.

EFS initially thought that they would mainly attract boys, but about 40% of their intake is girls, so they have had to adapt their offer (see inclusion section).

Recruiting

All students start with a six month probationary period as EFS believe it is important to see whether the job and environment is the right fit for the person;

Staff

When the school first opened there was a lot of support from volunteers (e.g. postgraduate students in Maths) and they used to buy in staff for sessions. Now their numbers have increased they have moved to full-time, permanent staff.

Conversations with the following staff provided an insight into the staffing structure:

  • Management:

Roy is responsible for keeping the four sites running and making sure that the teachers are in the right place at the right time. He is working on organising the new site and he deals with inquiries.

  • Teaching staff
    Tina: English teacher and SENCO. Tina has a PhD and wrote her thesis on personalised learning in an AP context. She has had two previous roles in a PRU. She has seen what poor quality provision looks like. She is responsible for base-lining all of the students when they arrive in order to be able to rigorously measure progress. She introduced this process, believing that it is very important to have ‘the whole picture’.

NQT maths teacher: She spent ten years working in industry before she retrained as a teacher, and has chosen to complete her NQT year in an AP setting. Her aim was always to work in this kind of setting and with the most disadvantaged young people, and she wants to stay at the school next year.

  • Behaviour and safety staff.
    Dean: He is responsible for behaviour, welfare and safety. He describes himself as ‘not being a shouter’ and emphasised the importance of de-escalation. His role is about knowing what is happening, keeping up to date with the young people and spotting any problems that might be brewing. If a student’s attendance suddenly drops, or their negative behaviour increases, it is part of his job to investigate why this might have happened. Typically this involves speaking to the student and their parents/carers, and perhaps doing a home visit or speaking with other relevant agencies. He often finds things out that the school weren’t aware of e.g. one of the pupils stopped attending because he owed a gang money; another because he couldn’t afford a haircut and was too embarrassed to come to school. In such cases EFS can use the welfare budget to help to solve some of the problems. Dean’s background is working in security and safety at Everton football club. He joined the school in September 2013. Roy described him as: “very emotionally intelligent and he can read situations really well. He’s a father figure to many of the kids…He is just very skilled and he does have that empathy with them and he’s like a go to person if something is going wrong”.
  • Therapeutic engagement team. This includes a psychologist who is bought in for three days per week – they assess the young people and then sign them to a member of the therapeutic engagement team if necessary. Their role is to “pick up the young person at different times in the week and they are trying to keep them running; keep them on track; act as an early warning system if things aren’t progressing in the right way” (member of therapeutic engagement team). Some of these staff previously worked with Everton in the Community so they have a background in social inclusion. Roy said that around 30% of the young people access therapeutic support.
  • Helen – Mentor for young people who require additional support. She has a masters in inclusive education. She spent five years teaching in a mainstream school then took on a LA role on a programme running sports education for NEET young people. She then moved to a deputy management role working with the youth offending service, where she worked for five years with strategic responsibility for education and training.
  • Graham is a retired head teacher of a large secondary school in Liverpool. He works for EFS on a part time basis assisting with the referrals process. He is well connected and knows a lot of the head teachers across Merseyside. EFS believe he has a better chance of getting more information about students who are referred to the school (see transitions).
  • Other staffing infrastructure: EFS have a minibus driver to transport students and staff between the sites, and pick up and drop off students at home. They have their own receptionist in the main reception at their college site ( see later under facilities).

There are high-level qualifications and varied experiences amongst the staff. Roy (senior member of staff) told us that it “takes a certain type of person to be able to work in this type of school”. He said that one of the most important things was having staff who de-escalate situations and calm things down, rather than “promot[ing] drama; we want to get the young people focused on learning. And we are going to be measured in terms of what they do in English and Maths so we need to achieve that”.

Other staff members mentioned the importance of having a ‘thick skin’ because the young people can sometimes say unpleasant things.

The staff benefit from professional training, for example in 2014 they paid to have a session on differentiation run by the LA. They also do in-house training and “are very keen on developing our staff and promoting our staff and giving them the right skills set to do the job. And teaching and learning is the focus and it’s what it is all about” (Roy, senior member of staff).

Communication

There are weekly meetings where the staff can share information. Staff mark and moderate student work together.

Safety and Safeguarding

ID cards are required to get in and out of the Lex building for staff, students and visitors, and there were similar security procedures at the other site visited. The young people are transported around via minibus.

Rules and Discipline

EFS use an electronic system for the logging of behaviour events, so positive and negative behaviour incidents can be tracked according to ‘type’, ‘location’, date and time of day.

Monitoring of progress

When a student arrives at EFS they take baseline measurements which include: Maths age, reading age, spelling age, science ability, learning styles assessment, and Cognitive Ability Test scores. Reading, Maths and Science tests can give an indication of GCSE ability. EFS have found this to be an important process because many of the students arrive with little or no information about their levels of attainment. This information can be used to help teachers plan for lessons “with effective differentiation” (School Baseline Policy).

Being able to show that all students have had a consistent and rigorous testing process on entry will enable the school to show all progress no matter how slight” (School Baseline Policy).

The DfE has indicated that it is interested in the progress the young people make from when the join the school to when they leave. EFS therefore break each grade A-G into three sub-grades and measure the young people six times a year. The frequency of measurement is useful, staff report, if young people join them part way through the school year. The information is fed into the system. Gathering all of this information and ensuring staff are assessing accurately is considered “very important” in the school. The teachers meet together and moderate to ensure consistency and they are also encouraged to link with outstanding secondary schools for a wider reference base. EFS employ a data consultant who works out how each young person is progressing and will employ people in a consultative capacity to support moderation if they need to.

In addition to the six checkpoints, each of the students has an Individual Learning Plan linked to their base line assessments. There are also records of discussions about emotional, social and behavioural needs with the previous school, parents and the student themselves. Based on this combined data, three targets are agreed and set in their ILP, which also includes information on resources teachers can use to help the students to reach their targets. These targets are reviewed termly.

 The initial year evaluation report that EFS commissioned charts the progress of the first cohort of students in terms of their attainment, behaviour and attendance. It illustrates that progress was made by students across all subjects from when they joined to their final examination results. It also indicates the reliability of teacher assessments. In this report behaviour is recorded in 14 categories, with verbal abuse, defiance and truanting being the most frequently logged reasons. The section on attendance suggests big improvements compared to attendance levels at previous schools. 42% of students increased their attendance by at least 20%, and 29% of students increased their attendance by at least 50%.

Inclusion

EFS aims for inclusivity and to get the most out of all pupils. Each young person has their individualised programme of learning, and English and Maths are tailored to the needs of the student. There are six students with statements – including BESD, Dyslexia, and a visual impairment – although there are many more un-statemented SEN. Three students in year 11 have only been diagnosed with dyslexia since they arrived. The base-lining process supports “effective differentiation” and therefore the inclusivity of the school. The Maths teacher told us about the importance of differentiation in her classes, particularly when she has year 10 and 11 students together.

EFS distinguish a group of the most vulnerable and high need students and provide them with extra support. These are students who could be at risk from being excluded/self excluding from AP. They thus have a personalised provision, are assigned a one-to-one mentor who supports them with all aspects of their education, whether academic or social, and are taught one-to-one for all academic subjects.

Inclusion is also important in terms of gender. To begin with the school mainly attracted boys, but an increasing number of girls now attend. There is now a 60:40 split in favour of boys. The arrival of girls meant that EFS had to diversify their offer and be creative in seizing upon opportunities to engage the girls. Whereas the boys tend to be attracted to the football and sporting aspects of the school this is not always the case with girls, so they have introduced:

Performing arts, drama – again if it is something that they are interested in then we will try and put on workshops. The club is a very generous to us” (Roy, senior member of staff).

EFS have had support from the club to get well-known people to run sessions for the students, including a session where they were helped to write a song which got into the ITunes chart.

“So it is lots of things like that which happen and they can get engaged with. We have the International Liverpool Music Festival that took place at the start of the summer and some of our students got to work on that. It was quite a major music event and they were helping out and working” (Roy, Senior member of staff).

The evaluation report the at EFS commissioned looks specifically at attainment for different groups, including groupings by gender and FSM status, and attendance. The report shows no difference between the attendance of boys and girls. Better achievement by boys is explained by them having spent longer in the school than the girls.

Transitions

Referrals to EFS predominantly come directly from schools. Some also come through the LA Fair Access Panel, and other young people are referred via safe homes, as they are youth offenders. EFS have a detailed referral form to capture information about the young people.

As noted in the ‘Target Group’ section, in the early days the school tended to mainly receive young people with challenging behaviour. There has been a move to try and get schools to think more carefully about why they are commissioning this AP for the young person, and to justify the particular fit with the needs and interests of the young person. This was why Graham was bought in. A retired head teacher with lots of connections with other local head teachers, he has the necessary relationships to be able to get the full and ‘true story’ from head teachers about the difficulties they are having with the young person. He discusses whether this is the right provision with them. The school now does a six-week trial period, where they check that the placement is suitable for the young person. They have stopped taking young people in year eleven at a certain point through the year to avoid an ‘out of sight out of mind’ style of placement.

Graham thus acts as a first port of call with EFS, meeting with the students, their parent/carer and the commissioner. He meets them at Everton’s home stadium so that the link to Everton is made obvious, and so that they can see one of the facilities that is used. The link to Everton Football Club can get initial buy-in from some of the students. Everton Free School staff also bring prospective students for a visit to the college and talk to them about the school and the subjects they will be studying.

Most of the students are dual-registered at both EFS and the commissioning school, so students’ GCSE results still count towards the home schools’ results. EFS are aware that they may be contacted as part of an Ofsted inspection of one of the commissioning schools, but to date this has not happened.

The EFS approach is that this is a fresh start. EFS staff take time to get to know new students and young people are heavily supported when they arrive to ensure that they feel comfortable. They have an induction and in addition to base line assessments, the psychologist uses a ‘strengths and difficulties’ questionnaire to see if there is a need for a therapeutic intervention. EFS use this induction period to decide which of their sites might be the most appropriate for the student.

EFS feed back to the commissioning schools, logging the attendance of the young person on an online system. This is more efficient for them because it means they do not have to make lots of separate phone calls. Some schools come to visit their young people.

EFS see apprenticeships as one of the main post 16 routes for their young people. EFS are able to offer apprenticeships themselves through Everton In The Community. This year they have also started running traineeships, which are unpaid pre-apprenticeships designed to get the young people ready for an apprenticeship. A traineeship focuses on employability skills so that young people can go on to get a high quality work placement. This lasts somewhere between three and six months. EFS aim is for this to lead to an apprenticeship or an employment opportunity.

Post-16 preparation is important to EFS because the pupils they typically enrol would traditionally end up in the NEET category. In this respect, Roy (senior member of staff) feels that being inside a college is important as they get comfortable in this environment. There is an Information, advise and guidance centre (IAG) nin the city centre where they make appointments for the young people as they are coming towards the end of compulsory education. Last year five of their students stayed on at the LEX,(College Building in Liverpool City Centre) completing a range of courses at Liverpool College. Before this happened, EFS staff had arranged for students to speak to college students and find out about the experience. EFS are able to provide these experiences easily because of their setting.

Relationships with Students

There was wide recognition from staff and students about the importance of relationships in the school. Helen (member of therapeutic team) said that relationships with the students are key to the provision. Staff need to be non-judgemental, flexible and good at de-escalating situations. They have to have ‘thick skin’, be resilient and understand the context the young people are from. She reported that, because EFS work with the young people in such small groups, they are able to get to know them really well. Staff ensure that when the young people first arrive they are provided with whatever support is required to make them feel comfortable. One of the students mentioned to us the importance of being able to call teachers by their first name, and that he very quickly felt at home with the staff in the provision. Roy (senior member of staff) emphasised the importance of consistency in their relationships with, and disciplining of, students.

Relationship with parents

EFS try to engage the parents/carers in several ways. There are parents/carers’ evenings and attendance is said to be variable, from between 50 and 80%. In 2014 they held a coffee morning for the parents/carers and had a dedicated event at Christmas.

Resources and Networks :

Roy (senior member of staff) reports that they are encouraged by Ofsted and the Government to be collaborative.

EFS believe that one of the benefits of having and maintaining relationships with other AP providers is that if one of their placements breaks down, they know of other provisions that may better suited to the young person. In some cases a carefully selected move may be appropriate.

Many of the EFS connections stem from their relationship with Everton Football Club and they use that whenever they can: “It is kind of what the club can bring to us because they give us those opportunities and partners and people want to partner us just as much as we want to partner them which perhaps you don’t always get with an ordinary school”.

Roy (senior member of staff) said that Everton are very generous. They have provided the students with learning experiences by using their networks which can lead to unique opportunities, such as the song-writing experience discussed above.

If EFS have links with other schools they will try to arrange time to do moderation with a bigger group of teachers. They joined another local AP for a drama session, as they specialise in ‘urban arts’. Roy and other staff visit other schools and APs, and they welcome visits from others. They are keen on sharing best practice. Roy reads research in this area and attends relevant conferences. He finds the New Schools Network a useful place to get advice and guidance.

Relationships with other Services and Agencies

EFS undertake ‘joined up’ provision, working with other agencies including YOT, CAMHS, Social Work (they have some LAC) and Addaction, where some young people go once a week to address their substance misuse and addiction issues. The EFS city centre location is handy, as it means that organisations and agencies are nearby.

Building and Facilities

When EFS first opened they didn’t have many of the things that were required to run a school – science labs, sports facilities and so on – so they have had to source these over the past year and a half.

They utilise four sites across the city at present. They rent all of these spaces from other providers, and these are shared sites so other things are going on at the same time. The centre of Liverpool site consists of two rented classrooms in a building which is part of Liverpool College – this provides courses for 16-19 year olds. The college provides a pleasant working environment. It has a bright and light foyer, and tidy, new and well-kept classrooms. There are TV screens with music videos playing in the café area and a canteen with a kitchen offering lots of choices of food, including healthy choices. EFS also have reception facilities (although they have their own receptionist) and access to canteen facilities here.

It is important that EFS have this city centre location because it means that it is easy for most of the young people to access and because it is a ‘neutral’ location close to relevant agencies and services. EFS say that there are gang and turf war issues involved in asking young people to leave their area to go to a school in another local area. But the city centre is more neutral. The city site’s more adult learning environment has a positive impact on their behaviour. EFS staff suggest that young people are measuring/comparing their behaviour with older young people, and this tends to moderate it. Roy (senior member of staff) said that they wished they had more space in the college.

The second site is youth hub attached to Merseyside Fire and Rescue, based in Toxteth. EFS rent a couple of classrooms and utilise the reception and catering facilities. They can also use the state of the art gymnasium, sports hall, dance studio and other sports facilities but they have to pay extra for these.

EFS use ‘state of the art’ science labs at Liverpool John Moore University. Trainee teachers go into lessons and work with the young people and start working on their “teaching craft”. Roy saw this relationship as mutually beneficial. Their students get to work with a

“tremendous amount of attention and they are working in a high quality facility and, again, with alternative provision students a change of venue isn’t always a bad thing because variety is quite important so they might be in a classroom here in the morning and then, in the afternoon, they are at John Moore’s working in the lab”(Roy, senior member of staff)

EFS also have a site on the Wirral and another in the same area for their post-16 provision, There are plans in progress for a new site of their own to be in use as of September 2014. This is part renovation, part new build.

Merseyside Fire & Rescue provided EFS with a mini bus which is used to pick young people up from various collection points around the city in the morning. This has proved useful for those young people who had poor attendance, and for those who would have to take two buses to get to the venue. The young people are also provided with a free uniform, an Everton tracksuit.

EFS have found that having satellite sites particularly beneficial for an AP setting as it means they are able to break the students up into smaller groups, making everything more manageable and creating more positive atmospheres. It enables a more intimate way of working, and means that difficulties can be dealt with in a “more low key way”. It also means that students can be moved to a different site if there are difficulties:

“if things break down, say, for a student here you can send them to another site and give them a fresh start. You can’t exclude the excluded and that is the point about trying to recycle and give them another opportunity and re-engage them in slightly different ways that would allow them to be successful” (Roy, senior member of staff).

Finances

EFS operates on a commissioning model so someone has to commission, and therefore pay for, the provision. Year 11 students transfer over to them and the originating school pays EFS the amount of money it receives per child (around four and a half thousand pounds for an academic year). But in general, most students are dual registered. This is particularly important to ensure continuity of funding from the commissioning school from year 10 to eleven. How students are registered has important financial implications.

EFS make additional money by teaching sport in a couple of mainstream schools.

EFS have created their own welfare budget which they use if the young people are missing lunch, equipment etc. The young people can get free tea and toast every morning. EFS understand that many of the young people are living in poverty.

Well-managed, led and accountable

There is potentially a heightened accountability with Free Schools. The DfE have had involvement in the process and in shaping the school. For instance, Roy (senior member of staff)said that the importance of having Maths and English GCSE has been made very clear to them.

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

At the end of their first year, EFS commissioned an evaluation report to analyse their development, to demonstrate to governors and Ofsted the effectiveness of the provision and to gather recommendations for future development. Some of these recommendations have since been put into place in the provision. They are aware that it is ‘early days’ and that there are still things that they want to refine. They visit other provisions and are very keen on sharing best practice. They are happy to take on board other ideas to improve their own practice.

Progress in core subjects is one of their main foci, and they know that this is a key indicator that they will be assessed against by Ofsted and DfE (quality report). They have carefully developed a meaningful way of measuring progress in attainment from when the pupils join them to when they leave. Based on this measure, the first year quality report found that 82% of students’ actual GCSE scores were the same or exceeded their expected progress level in English. This level was 72% in Maths.

The Maths teacher reported that EFS has an ‘open door policy’ which means that teachers very used to being observed; the head teacher and deputy head are in and out of lessons regularly. Teachers are observed formally once a term. As an NQT, the Maths teacher also has supervision which provides her with an opportunity to reflect on her practice. She was very aware that she was still learning. She told us that she likes working for the school because she is here are the beginning of its journey and thinks that it has bold and exciting plans for where it wants to go.

EFS quality assure all of the additional providers they commission. They check them in terms of the legal aspects such as health and safety and DBS [1]checks. They check that an appropriate accreditation is being offered and that the staff members teaching the programme have an appropriate qualification (not necessarily QTS). They check that the organisation is financially sustainable and has a governance structure.

EFS are subject to Ofsted inspections in their own right, and via commissioning schools when they are having an inspection. When the research took place their own Ofsted inspection was imminent. Staff wanted to do well because they saw a good inspection as a form of validation. Roy thinks that it is important that they are inspected because they are funded through public money

EFS send regular reports to commissioning schools and have an online system for logging attendanc on a daily basis ; commissioners can then log in and check.

Transformation (Choice and autonomy)

Roy (senior member of staff) is unhappy about the fact that some of the young people smoke but acknowledged the difficulty of banning it as many of the young people are addicted. Instead they try to encourage young people to quit or cut down by building weekly visits to Addaction into their timetable.

Invited visitors who speak to the young people have focused on delivering positive messages. A famous boxer from Liverpool came in and the young people were interested in his diet and fitness, so this was used as an opportunity to promote good messages about healthy eating and exercise. A footballer visited and spoke about not necessarily being the best footballer but being a good leader, and about how important that it. “So, again, just giving them the right messages as much as we possibly can” (Roy, senior member of staff).

[1] https://www.gov.uk/disclosure-barring-service-check/overview

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