Boosting achievement, Asian-style

Graham Cooper

Prior to joining Capita, Graham spent 13 years in teaching; as a Science teacher, head of ICT and, latterly, as the deputy head of a large Secondary school in Manchester. This is where he first became passionate about the impact of management information systems on student achievement. As head of Education at SIMS Independent, his focus remains on ensuring schools across the UK and overseas use SIMS to drive efficiency and raise standards.

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When today’s young people leave education, they are likely to face stiff competition to get to that first rung on the career ladder. The quality, rounded education that schools deliver is key to preparing their students for a world beyond the classroom. But for a high-achieving school, it can be difficult to continue to raise the bar of achievement. That’s why I was so interested in the novel approach taken by Jerudong International School (JIS) in Brunei, where students are encouraged to drive their own progress.

Students in the driving seat

When schools assess their students and set targets for the year, this is usually carried out by teachers, subject leaders and heads of department. How often do staff ask the students themselves which levels they have reached, and what they should be aiming for?

At JIS, students are continually encouraged to engage in self-assessment. Using this approach, the children decide which level of learning is right for them, and set themselves challenging-yet-realistic targets “The students make remarkably accurate judgements on what action is needed. ”to aim for. Working alongside their teachers, the students use the achievement data recorded in the schools’ management information system (MIS) to gain a clearer insight into how they are progressing in all of their subjects, and make remarkably accurate judgements on what action is needed to help them achieve more.

JIS principal Barnaby Sandow explains: “I recently watched a badminton lesson where the children decided which court they should play on, according to their own judgement of their ability. Their accuracy on what level was appropriate for them was remarkable.

“Our staff work closely with the children to help them develop their self-assessment skills for learning, which in turn, gives students such as those in the badminton group a clear understanding of their individual potential and what they should be aiming for to improve their game.”

Building confidence

One of the key aspects of this approach is that students are encouraged to recognise their different strengths, qualities and abilities.

With around 55 different nationalities coming together to learn on the lush island of Borneo, JIS is a vibrant cultural melting pot, where both boarding and day students enjoy a 120-acre campus surrounded by rainforest beaches and the cleanest air in Asia.

However, for some children with English as their fourth or even fifth language, speaking up in class can seem quite a daunting prospect. With respect being an important part of the Asian culture, students might also hold back from expressing their opinions in class, for fear of disagreeing with a teacher.

To overcome these barriers, staff at JIS empower students to develop their critical thinking skills and reinforce the view that there is not always a right and wrong answer. As Barnaby describes: “The younger children “Some of the sixth formers completely overhauled our rewards system.”sit in a circle and they are set a topic or open idea to discuss. One of the real favourites is the question, ‘Is Batman a superhero?’ There is no ‘right’ answer to this. It fires the children’s imaginations, and everyone has an opinion that they are actively encouraged to share.”

The school looked at different ways to work with older students to drive achievement and encourage them to take responsibility for their own success, as by the time children reach Year 8, the prospect of earning merits starts to lose its appeal.

Inspiring young leaders

To keep students higher up the school motivated to achieve, staff at JIS engaged them in designing the school’s reward system, which sparked a truly inventive idea. Some of the sixth formers completely overhauled our rewards system and created a scheme called Polio Points. Each time a student achieves something inside or outside class, or demonstrates exceptional conduct which ties in with one of our school aims, for example, they earn a merit. This is recorded on the school’s MIS.

Once a student achieves a full set of merits against each of the six school aims, they are given a US dollar, which goes towards vaccinating a child in the developing world against polio.

“When a child presents an idea like this, even the most cynical teacher would feel motivated to make it happen,” says Barnaby. “It was amazing to be able to stand up at the end of the year and tell the children that as a result of their outstanding efforts, 4,600 less fortunate children will be able to go on and do outstanding things too.”

JIS certainly lives up to its school motto, Achieving Excellence. Through this initiative, the school has demonstrated that, by putting students in control, it is possible for even the highest-performing school to raise the bar further, and continually inspire children to drive their own achievement. A valuable life lesson for any child.

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