The challenge | More able students were more likely either to pursue STEM subjects at A level, or to go to other sixth-form colleges. At an all-boys school in Newham, where students often lacked cultural capital, English was often seen as a “feminine” subject.

The method

  • A cohort of top set Year 9 students were selected to form the Viva Voce group
  • Staff and students from the Viva Voce group delivered lectures on Disillusionment in America which was relevant to the Year 9 curriculum (Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird).
  • Lectures were given on a wider range of topics including race, gender, class and politics
  • Students ran a website around Viva Voce sharing views on the lecture material
  • Students undertook an independent research project and were paired with a teacher who acted as an academic mentor
  • 18 out of 20 students completed the Viva Voce course and predicted grades showed that 66.6% were meeting or exceeding expectations
  • A new cohort of Year 9 students was recruited from across different classes to make the project more inclusive

The impact | The project was successful in that it encouraged students to develop their verbal and written skills and it improved attainment of top performing students at GCSE. The project also seems to have succeeded in raising the profile of the subject around the school – many students involved in Viva Voce are considering taking English at A level. The project has helped to improve the general knowledge and cultural capital of those involved. Students have had the opportunity to have meaningful discussions and to think critically about important topics. The decision to include students from across the year group, rather than just focusing on top set, was a positive change. Often the most eager and engaged students were those from middle sets rather than the top set.

Contact | Rebecca Laws & Saniya Ahsan