Our stand out schools visits help teachers and leaders (‘seekers’) get ‘under the skin’ of the stand out practice in Whole Education schools. They are framed around an appreciative inquiry approach, which identifies what is working well and why, and how an organisation can build on these strengths.
The XP school trust started with one free school (XP school) in 2014 and is now a group of 6 schools around Doncaster. Their practice is based on the successful principles of High Tech High and EL Education (Expeditionary Learning) schools in the United States. Their vision is encapsulated in a set of closely defined design principles.
As a longstanding member of the WE network, we were keen to visit their school and understand their expeditionary learning practice – how they do it and why it works…
XP’s ignite speech:
What is their stand out practice?
- Learning Expeditions: XP’s curriculum is delivered through cross-subject learning projects that last one school term and are rigorously mapped against the National Curriculum. Projects are designed around real-world issues to encourage students to make positive contributions and initiate change in their communities.
- Crew: These are small learning groups of 12 students, which helps create a sense of community and build deeper, more meaningful relationships between teachers and peers.
- Deliberately small intake: There are only 25 students per class and two classes per year group. This allows XP to focus on some of its core principles of character growth, outstanding academic progress and preparing all its students for university.
- Teaching beyond specialism: Instead of subject teachers being limited to one topic, staff operate fluidly, teaching multiple subjects.
- An environment of openness and trust: Attendance and performance trackers are visible to everyone as posters. There is also no dress code. And they are allowed to carry mobile phones for educational reasons while in school.
XP’s research questions:
1. What evidence did we see of learning expeditions deepening students’ connection with the world?
Working towards a final piece of ‘beautiful work’:
The clearest evidence of the success of XP’s real world learning expeditions was in the “beautiful work” created at the end of the end of expeditions- and the students’ clear pride and ownership of this work
Students maintain portfolios of their best work, which act as physical records of their progress.
“Passage” are public presentations that Y9 students make of their work to staff, governors and family, as they transition to the GCSEs.
These presentations act as proof that they are ready to graduate to the next stage and are key moments in building real-world skills. Students said this process worked because there was an authentic audience for the presentations. This meant students held themselves to account to take the presentations very seriously and performed well – because they felt it mattered.
- “XP’s learning expeditions are developing students confidence in articulating their knowledge and having opportunities to experience real-life situations”
- “Contextualising knowledge is what makes things ‘stick’” [at XP].
What the students said:
- “I can remember better what we did in class because every learning expedition is memorable”
- “We have so many opportunities and are always meeting experts. It feels more real than just being in a class”.
- “Meeting real people makes the learning more real…. You have more freedom in your learning [at XP]”
2. What evidence did we see of students’ metacognition?
During the school tour led by students, seekers were very impressed with how well they were able to articulate their learning.
Students are able to talk coherently and lucidly about their learning – why it worked, and why it was a model that would help them thrive in their futures.
- “Today made me feel hope! XP’s approach challenges students to take ownership of their learning. I saw students embracing the notion of being accountable for their work and understanding the processes that lead to that product”
- “Relating learning expeditions to the community is giving it purpose beyond the qualifications”
- “They learn because they want to learn and understand how to”
- “John and Logan in year 10 gave us an extensive tour of the building. We were both impressed with the boys’ genuine enthusiasm and ability to articulate their thoughts and feelings about their learning experience”
- “Students are articulate, motivated and successful”
- Students were able to draw the link between the way they learn at XP and why it mattered – saying “the school gives us lots of opportunities to present because it’s good for our confidence but also our future jobs…“
What did we learn about how XP are making a whole education work in the English system?
Seekers reflected that the underlying reason XP’s approach works was rooted in the strength and rigour of its relationships. These strong relationships at all levels in the school enabled them to implement their distinctive vision of education in England in a truly stand out way.
Specifically, the sense of accountability underpinning those relationships was highlighted. Seekers reflected that the reason XP was able to successfully implement their vision was an effective, authentic sense of meaningful accountability.
The accountability was a consistent theme across lots of different fields – from staff modelling accountability through redrafting and presenting on expeditions and curricula, students holding each other to account through crew, the restorative justice approach, down to the authentic audiences for presentations that gave them a sense of importance and accountability to the community.
The school’s culture emphasises taking ownership of your learning and progress, as well as that of others. Students were of the opinion that if there was something they were passionate about that wasn’t offered as an option, the school would help them find a way to study it. Others chose additional GCSEs and took responsibility for self-managing their studies. In another instance, when a student was consistently late, another student took the responsibility of meeting them in the morning and travelling to school with them because of a real, shared sense of responsibility for, and accountability to, each other.
A number of comments in the discussions returned to the idea that students and teachers clearly felt this sense of collective responsibility – for work and behaviour, for themselves and each other – strongly, and would act upon it.
Find out more about XP School on their website. Sign up for other upcoming secondary stand out school visits on our events page. Find out about more stand out whole education practice in our spotlights.