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Oxbridge applications, Knowledge Organisers and silence in the corridors: How one Hornchurch school is urging its pupils to dream big

PUBLISHED: 17:00 16 July 2018

Students at Albany School who are preparing for Oxbridge.

Students at Albany School who are preparing for Oxbridge.

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The headteacher of a Hornchurch secondary school has revealed how she hopes a number of small changes to the average school day will add up to big results for her pupils’ futures.

Students at Albany School showing off their new uniformsStudents at Albany School showing off their new uniforms

The Albany in Broadstone Road, Hornchurch, now proudly displays the names of its potential Oxbridge candidates on a large notice board in its foyer.

Pupils from all different year groups are featured on the board, as a reminder that their school community is constantly behind them.

This year, both Oxford and Cambridge universities have been criticised for their lack of diversity, as statics revealed a white applicant is twice as likely to be offered a place as a black one.

Last year the school was delighted to have one student accepted into Cambridge to study history, while many others were able to secure places at widely respected Russel Group universities.

Students at Albany School who are preparing for Oxbridge.Students at Albany School who are preparing for Oxbridge.

And Val Masson, headteacher, admits that it is the task of school leaders and educators across the country to convince the next generation of graduates that they are worthy of a place at such prestigious institutions – no matter their background.

She said: “I think education does change lives and it’s a great leveller because intelligence and aspirations have nothing to do with money or background.

“But for whatever reason children from less privileged backgrounds do think they shouldn’t try applying for Oxbridge universities – that’s a myth we’re very keen to dispel.”

With that lofty goal in mind the school has placed more emphasis on its more gifted students focusing on academic excellence, and has even recently recruited a graduate from Wadham College, Oxford, to join its maths department.

Albany School Headteacher Val Masson with Assistant Headteacher Gary Wimbush.Albany School Headteacher Val Masson with Assistant Headteacher Gary Wimbush.

“The focus is on changing the culture of the school,” Ms Masson expanded.

“We want to make true academic excellence the very backbone of the school experience – whereas in the past we might have looked more favourably on developing skills or encouraging interpretations, across the country there has now been a move back towards knowledge and actually knowing things.”

One of the subtle ways such a change in the school’s dynamic can be spotted in the creation of Knowledge Organisers for every single pupil, regardless of what year they are in.

Drawn up by the head of each department, each subject the child studies is given a page of materials within the Knowledge Organiser, and over holidays and half-term periods pupils are expected to learn, by rote, all the information on each page.

To make sure this task doesn’t seem too much, the first page of each organiser contains a timetable of which day can be spent learning which subject.

Another way the school has decided to try and change its culture is the introduction of silent transitions – meaning the three minute periods between lessons where pupils travel between classrooms is now carried out in total silence.

Classes from Years 7, 8, and 9 assemble outside the school’s main building in silence before being dismissed to get to their next lessons, while Year 10 and 11 students simply travel in silence to their next lessons.

It is a policy that Val herself admits was “divisive” when it was first suggested in meetings with other members of staff, but has been implemented with high levels of success at other academic institutions across the country.

At The Albany, the system has been in place for around a month now, and teachers have apparently already noticed a marked increase in the amount of lessons started on time.

Recently, the school even welcomed observers from other local schools into its grounds so they could see the silent system in action.

“The one thing we didn’t want was for there to be this negative perception of it, like it was a prison or something,” said Val.

“Our lessons are still exactly the same, and debate and conversation is actively encouraged. It’s more about teaching pupils to respect the school, their teachers and each other.”

The school is also preparing for more obvious changes next year – from September it will change its name to Hornchurch High School, a move that Val described in May as “the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the school’s history”.

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