Focus Days at Shireland Collegiate Academy
Focus Days are a concept that has long been running throughout Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust. Their usage has been an innovative process that has been the subject of a number of conference presentations for the SSAT and Whole Education. At Shireland Collegiate Academy the concept was presented to inspectors in the last Ofsted Inspection, where the content of the curriculum was described:
“The range of subjects and courses available to students is innovative and imaginative and is extremely carefully planned to meet their precise needs and interests.”
At their heart, departments are assigned a particular year group to work with throughout the day on structured, specific activities either from a departmental perspective or to fulfil key statutory elements of students’ education.
In depth intent for each day can be found in the Focus Day area of the Academy Learning Gateway. Here each subject details the activity and curriculum coverage of the Focus Day programme in individual documents for each day. An example is attached to the end of this document.
Organising the curriculum in this way on these days creates a number of key advantages:
1. In Depth Learning
There are some elements of the curriculum which benefit from extended periods of time, and extended pieces of writing, to in depth investigations or practical experiments in Science, to Language immersion days.
Focus Days provide an opportunity for students to apply their acquisition of both knowledge and skills into a schemata of knowledge, with students able to look beyond the silos of individual subjects and see the connections present in our complicated, messy and interconnected world.
2. Time is Not “Borrowed” from other Departments
A common frustration has always been that departments who undertake trips and visits take that curriculum time from others, this can be seen in all sorts of areas from Language oral examinations and extended Art pieces, to simple trips for any subject. By aligning Focus Days, we can ensure that these trips and visits occur on designated times ensuring fairness in the curriculum.
3. An Opportunity for Educational Visits and Visitors
Conversely, this of course means that there are clear opportunities for staff to plan offsite educational visits at points throughout the year to ensure that students get a rich diet which enhances their cultural capital. Even during lockdown, innovative experiences such as virtual field trips took place on these days.
4. Opportunities for CPD
On any given day you will usually have one department who are not allocated a year group, this allows this department to undertake CPD or moderation.
5. A Real Focus on Non-subject Areas
Planned Focus Days allow a focus on areas of students’ personal development outside of the normal range of lessons.
- These include sessions related to the Personal Development curriculum. Personal Development includes Relationship and Sexual Education, Health Education, Careers, Religious Studies and Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural Education.
- Focus Days also encompass sessions directly aimed at promoting physical and mental wellbeing.
- They may also feature elements of Careers, Enterprise, Citizenship, and Employability
- At KS3 they also support transition between the Key Stages, both to allow Primary visits and Options tasters.
Focus Days provide an innovative path through the curriculum. They provide experiences that students layer into their education and are a core part of providing a stimulating interconnected experience for all.
Have a look through some case studies of outstanding focus days we run during an academic year.
Year 7 Students are exposed to a crime scene at the start of the day and their aim is to find out who committed the crime by the end of the focus day. Students do this by completing paper chromatography to work out which pen wrote the note left at the scene of the crime, extracting DNA to pin someone at the scene of the crime and use speed distance time to analyse the route taken by the suspect after the crime was committed. At the end of the day students should be able to explain who committed the crime using their experiment data as evidence.
Year 12 Travel and Tourism students visit a cultural/heritage destination on a focus day, this has included destinations such as Gloucester and Chester. They first complete a walking tour of the destination, identifying key features and appeal factors including attractions, facilities, and accommodation providers. Students then interview a member of staff from the tourist board marketing department to ask questions relating to tourist data and marketing strategies. This meets multiple assessment criteria for the examination unit in Year 12.
In Year 10, DT runs an “Air Powered Car” focus day which brings together cross curricular disciplines as well as STEM opportunities. We focus on the idea of creating alternative powered vehicles to combat real life issues affecting our society, delving into sustainability and automotive design. Students are challenged with researching the effects of petrol fuelled vehicles on the road today and the need of electric cars in our future. They then must complete their own designs and models ahead of the head-to-head interclass competition, where the winner takes all.
We want to encourage the idea that learning isn’t limited to the classroom; we want to show them that Design and Technology is directly linked to the real world and that anything can be improved with design, they just need to look at it from a different perspective.
The day consisted of a carousal of activities in Year 7 and 8. The pupils received a variety of different sessions to help promote mental health and try to ensure they have a boost for that day. They took part in an external session after completing a MF to highlight topics that would be beneficial to the year group, a topic was then selected from this data to help support pupils in a one-hour workshop to upskill the pupils on this area. Another lesson consisted of the army running a session on team building and supported pupils in creative thinking. The remainder of the day consisted of boxercise, mindful colouring, Yoga, origami and others to promote things you can do to improve your mental health. We had great feedback from the students about this session.
A Business plan day! This is an enjoyable focus day for Year 11 where students get to set up a business idea, putting together a business plan and pitching it on camera. Students can even bring in any product ideas to enhance their business plan. We have had some scrumptious brownies and cupcakes to sample! Students even have access to professional logo designers who will set up a unique design for their business. This is a fantastic day that allows students to achieve parts of learning aims A and B of their component 2 assignment in one day!
Year 10 Campaign Focus Day – Students were in groups and had to create a campaign for the local area that they felt needed addressing. Students researched charities and created a Sway to present their campaigns to pitch to the class. The best group from each class were voted for in a secret ballot which was then judged for an overall winner by Mr Irish. It helped reinforce Language Paper 2 skills of persuasive writing which fit into our Changing Britain scheme of work. However, it also helped students recognise and consider important issues in Smethwick and how they could make a difference as part of their Cultural Capital teaching.
Year 11 Intervention Focus Day – In March, the final Year 11 Focus Day was used to target interventions. Rather than being with their class teacher for the whole day, students were assigned groups based on a specific focus, allowing them to vary their skills and interact with students from different sets. It was a useful day as it allowed students to focus on their needs rather than a whole class perspective and gave new insights from teachers and students.
Our Music Focus Days in Key Stage Three are a wonderful way to get our students involved in the creative process of lyric writing. They learn creative writing techniques and tips from professionals, before writing their own lyrics and performing them to their peers in a supportive environment. On some occasions, they are able to learn from professional, Birmingham-based musical artists.
Year 9 take part in designing a theme park focus day. On this day we give students insights into a career in Architecture whilst teaching them the importance of scale. We introduce accurate scale drawing using protractors, rulers and compass. Students produce accurate scale drawings of their own theme park.
The Year 13 mock interview day is amazing as it allows our students to sit a mock interview for a job they would like to pursue in the future.
External interviewers from a range of real businesses support the day. In turn, it gives our students the chance to experience what a real interview would be like. All students will have the opportunity to receive feedback – praise and areas for development.
The day encourages our students to showcase their experiences, skills and more importantly their achievements. There is no place to hide with the external interviewers!
All subjects on the Year 8 focus day rotations used the theme of Reflections, which is based on what students have been doing in L4L. The day was planned to truly embody what it means for subjects to be interconnected. Exploring Art and Literature, students looked at text published and the handwriting of the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Using the artwork of Shepard Fairey as inspirations, they created portraiture calligrams using Greta’s text. As the day was also European languages day, they learnt how to say the slogan word “Hope” in numerous European languages. The final outcomes were truly exceptional and are on display in English classrooms.
Year 10 Focus Day – Vortex Entertainment Centre
To support the delivery of GCSE Computer Science, students take part in a themed focus day around the concept of computer game entertainment. Through this central theme, students spend the day involved in learning about the following:
- PSHE – Careers in Computer Science (pathways into the UK video games industry)
- Moral\Ethical issues surrounding computer games
- PSHE – The health implications of video games
- How data is processed to create computer games