What is progress?

Yesterday morning, sat in my office with the head of a very successful new medical school not far away, I listened to her tell me about her impression of our school. We have a lot of visitors; we’re relatively new, and still a pretty unusual school model.

I hear a lot that people just get a feeling. That we are different to other schools they visit. That there is something different about what we offer here. We chatted about what that meant.

This very successful professor told me that she’d been really impressed that a student had made time to hold a door open for her as she arrived. Small gesture, I know. But for me, big progress.

The student that had opened the door knew that we had a colleague from a university visiting. He’d dressed smart, his hair was neat – I reckon he’d probably even made his shoes shiny. What’s more, he’d researched the university, he’d thought of good questions and he made sure that he was in reception to greet our visitor – not prompted, just because he knew that ‘every day is an interview’ and that meeting this colleague might help him get a place at medical school for September.

And do you know what – he made a good impression. A small gesture, a small step, but a massive piece of progress. A kid from my school understood what he had to do to impress and was confident to do it without me setting it up for him. Wow.

Over the next couple of weeks you will hear a lot about how much progress students make. Schools in England now have the opportunity to show just how much impact they have on students’ academic progress in a measure that looks at their journey from the end of primary school to their GCSEs. It is a massive positive step forward in education and a policy I wholeheartedly admire. For the first time it isn’t about how clever your cohort are, it is about how well we do in the classroom to support them to progress.

But, this measure might give you the wrong impression of my school. When you read about progress, you are looking at a measure that happens over five years. My students get two years. Big difference.

We go through a process of benchmarking when our students arrive. We know that many move school because they have reached a ceiling in their current school and want a new challenge. So for us to make 3 levels of progress as measured, we actually often have to make 5.

Now this isn’t making excuses or complaining, because I know that this is the deal. But what I want to show you is the progress that we make. Follow our Twitter feed, look at our photos on Instagram, meet our kids at open evening, talk to our business and university partners. This is our progress.

We take students from the most deprived areas in our region and help them get to Russell Group universities. We support students who have no self-confidence, have sometimes disengaged from education and feel let down by the system. We secure work placements, projects, role models and time to think so they can trust again and move forward into work and apprenticeships. We teach kids, that if they make the right first impression they might secure their dream. We make their dreams a reality.

Most importantly, we hold the door to their future.