The UCL Academy – What Makes us Different?
From day one, students at The UCL Academy experience an inspirational world class education built on a culture of academic excellence, social responsibility and a transformational curriculum, developed in partnership with our sponsor, University College London. Here you can find out more about the ethos that drives teaching and learning at The UCL Academy.
Our students leave The Academy with the tools, experiences, values, knowledge and skills to reach their potential and take part as global citizens in the 21st century;
Our staff are committed to exploring, testing and reviewing the most effective teaching and learning to ensure that our pedagogy is the most impactful, innovative, and transformational it can be and our curriculum offers breadth, depth and balance for all our learners to go out into the work to make a difference
Our community is inclusive, supportive, open minded and engaged, making the most of the support of our sponsor, parent and local community associations, global and national school partners and networks.
The UCL Academy curriculum is based on the premise that students learn best when they can make meaning and sense from their learning. Our Connected Curriculum emphasises specialist subject teaching within an overall thematic framework. We call these themes the Big Ideas, which act as a thread running through a half-term of work and require students to apply their learning from a range of subjects to a broader concept. At the end of each cycle students connect their learning through an exit point.
The Academy has been inspired by UCL’s own Grand Challenges, which draw together research across disciplines at the university. While good grades matter, we believe that we must also develop students who are capable of critical thinking and problem solving. The Grand Challenges enable us to unify the curriculum and allow students to make connections between what they are learning and the real world. They enable Academy students to be better citizens, empathetic to issues such as environmental degradation, inequality and injustice for example and who will then want to participate in society. UCL Grand Challenges are accredited and students are awarded a certificate based on completion of various projects throughout the year.
The more students interact with the Big Idea and the Grand Challenges, the more they are able to make deeper connections within and between their subject disciplines. As teachers, parents, form tutors and leaders, we have effective learning conversations with students, reminding and asking them about the Big Ideas and requesting they make regular connections. Students draw together their learning across the half term in relation to the Big Idea through a whole day ‘Exit Point’ activity and ‘Celebration of Learning’.
Case study – learning about justice
Within the Humanities subject in Level 1+ in term 2a, students connect their learning through the concept of ‘justice’, learning about the concept of justice, how it is interpreted differently from geographical, philosophical, historical and personal standpoints and what this in turn reveals about injustice. They are specifically asked to consider the concept of justice through history, using the context of the Holocaust as a starting point. They explore why the Holocaust began, what happened, and how those implicated in that injustice were punished.
They go on to think about injustice in the world today, considering the causes, the consequences, and what actions might bring them to an end. Academy students look at injustices created by globalisation and consider a geographical case study. Through philosophy they are then introduced to ethics.These ideas are then applied to understand historical, geographical and modern injustices. As a final step, students are asked to research a current injustice and produce a 3 minute ignition speech that inspires others to want to do something about it.
The UCL Academy’s 17 x 17 programme reflects our ambition that all of our students should leave with the cultural capital to benefit them throughout their lives. It aims to facilitate social change by giving our students life experiences throughout their years at the Academy that they will be able to refer back to in future, enabling them to stand out, as well as develop cultured, well-qualified, internationally minded, proactive autonomous ethical citizens, ready to make a positive difference in the world.
The programme works on the the principle that students should experience 17 memorable experiences by the time they reach 17 and we support students by enabling and supporting them to access all 17 experiences. To ensure this happens students will also be encouraged to actively seek experiences themselves within each theme which are detailed below:
Life at the Academy is busy, with all students enjoying a wide range of subjects and activities on a daily basis. That is why we have built in to the curriculum a weekly opportunity for all students to reflect quietly on what they have learnt and achieved – our period of Reflection and Connection. We see this as a fundamental aspect of the learning process, providing a means for every student, through reflection, engagement and deep self evaluation to practice and master a number of attributes associated with successful learning and academic and personal growth.
In Foundation and Level 1 students have one 55 minute Reflect & Connect lesson a week. For the first part of the session students are asked to complete a personal journaling task. This may be answering a question that allows them to look back on their learning in one of their subjects each week. A question is usually framed so that they think about the content in a different way. Alternatively they may be asked to reflect on a particular learner attribute such as how well they collaborate or how resilient they have been in certain contexts. Students are required to record this work in their planner. The second part of the session allows for more flexibility. Students are usually asked to work collaboratively to solve a problem. This allows them to connect and build upon their collective knowledge and understanding as a learning set. For example, in term 1a, students look at challenges associated with wastelands and desolate parts of the world. They then have to think about how people might survive there.
Our assessment policy has developed over the years in line with our approach to learning. It provides teachers, students and parents authentic records of student progress, that are not tied to generic database generated targets. Our assessment policy was highlighted as a strength by Ofsted two years ago and we are often approached by schools, locally, nationally and internationally, keen to learn from us.
The UCL Academy assessment model provides authentic assessment for our Connected Curriculum and Global Citizenship focus. It captures a rich picture of a student’s attainment in terms of factual knowledge, conceptual understanding, subject specific skills and learner attributes.
At the heart of our assessment system is the “I can” statement. In their first term each student is placed in a trajectory based on how they performed in KS2 tests, CATs (Cognitive Assessment Tests) and subject tests at the start of the year. They are then given personalised ‘I can statements’ according to their trajectory. Teachers then judge the progress the student has made over the term. If students evidence the knowledge, understanding and skills described in their statements they are making good progress.
“Teachers set out their expectations of what pupils should achieve in lessons so pupils are clear about what they need to learn. They all understand their ‘I Can’ statements and use them to monitor their own progress over time. Parents are provided with a clear explanation of this assessment system and so are able to support their child’s progress.” Ofsted, 2016
Two elements of the Academy’s Connected Curriculum that particularly reflect the sponsor’s vision of the education of the whole person are:
- Self Directed Learning (SDL), a programme in which all students participate as part of a longer Academy day. For a variety of sessions throughout the week, students choose from a range of activities that aim to develop a balance of heart, body, mind and spirit over their Academy career. Activities include, for example, Rugby, Genius Hour, Mindfulness, Swing Dance, Mini UN and Latin;
- Learner Attributes: since development of the whole person is core to our ethos and values, the Academy assesses and rewards students based on their development in these areas. The Academy has developed ten learner attributes. We track and monitor student progress in each area, and one of our next steps is to combine learner attributes into our overall assessment of student progress and attainment.
Collaboration is at the heart of the learning experience at The UCL Academy. We believe that when students learn to work together, to reflect upon how well they work and how to improve their work patterns, they are motivated to achieve and succeed.
A fundamental feature of the student experience at the Academy is the learning set of six students. On their first day every student is placed in a group of five other students with whom they will collaborate day-to-day to enable group problem-solving and group-based research. The benefits to students are not academic alone, but also help to equip them with the ‘soft skills’ integral to healthy lives and careers.
An extensive evidence base exists which suggests that encouraging interdependence between learners promotes a shift from cognitive self-interest to mutual interest, a development in positive learning and social relationships and an increased openness to being influenced by and influencing others. The Set stimulates socialised learning and through this interdependence, and its many benefits. Interdependence however does create conflict, social and cognitive, but evidence suggests that this conflict provides learners with the opportunity to strengthen their cognitive powers and develop social skills such as social mediation.
Collaboration is hard-wired into every area of the Academy, from the design of the learning spaces and vertical tutoring system, right through to how schemes of work, entry points and exit points are designed. For a more in-depth analysis of the impact of Learning Sets at the UCL Academy, click here.
The UCL Academy is organised around five Houses with every student and member of Academy staff belonging to a House.
Each House has its own Superstudio space and its own canteen area. Additionally, every space in the Academy belongs to a household, and the members of that household are responsible for ‘hosting’ those facilities for the rest of the Academy community.
A student belongs to the same household for the duration of their time at the Academy enabling them to build a strong House identity and to be provided with academic and pastoral support from those that know them best: their tutors, Learning Sets and Heads of House.
Inter-House competitions form an important element of Academy life, with students competing to score the highest in Accelerated Reader, to achieve the most House Points and to achieve victory in our annual Sports Day. All staff, students and parents have a strong pride in their Houses.
The UCL Academy provides our staff and students with opportunities to partner with exceptional organisations and people beyond our school, as part of our commitment to provide Encounters with Excellence. This is best exemplified through our day-to-day relationship with our sponsor UCL, one of the world’s leading universities.
Academy students benefit from a programme of master-classes, seminars and summer schools, given by UCL staff and making use of UCL’s laboratory, library and other teaching facilities. These are designed to build on the teaching undertaken in class and help to extend students’ understanding of core topics. It also helps to prepare students for the transition between school and university teaching.
UCL also has a tremendous resource in its students. We draw on well- established networks of UCL student mentors, with UCL students as role models, classroom assistants and sources of informal advice and guidance.
Our staff also benefit from the partnership and are regularly given opportunities to access resources at UCL and the Institute of Education.
And the first day of an Academy student’s school career is spent at UCL, where they are addressed and inspired by some of the world’s leading academics at the very start of their school career.