A Visit to Dixons Trinity School in Bradford
Dixons Trinity School in Bradford is tremendously successful. Based on their KS4 results from last summer, the school was placed eighth overall in the country for progress (+1.22) and was the highest performing state school in Bradford and Leeds. Click here for a breakdown. I visited for half a day on Friday 10th November. See below for my four biggest takeaways:
1. Clarity of Purpose
All students, without exception, are strongly encouraged to go to university. This singular mission statement is largely conveyed through the metaphor of mountain climbing: university is very much the summit. What struck me during my first hour at Dixons (and beyond that, too) was the intentional over-communication of this metaphor. Everything the staff do and everything the students do is framed within the idea of climbing the mountain – to the point where the pastoral team are called the Mountain Rescue Team. There is a simple and relentless focus on academic success.
2. Culture and Behaviour
There is a ‘no excuses’ approach to behaviour at Dixons. Students are expected to be on-task in lessons and purposeful and respectful when they’re not. And these expectations are made clear in the same way that the metaphor of the mountain is – through over-communication. Learning habits are outlined on plaques in the communal areas of the school and are routinely emphasised by staff:
- Deadlines are non-negotiable
- Remain on-task
- Be punctual
- No answering-back
- Perfect uniform
- Come prepared with the correct equipment.
Luke Sparkes (the Executive Principal) made a point of highlighting that culture and behaviour in a school need to be right before decent teaching and learning can take place, and not the other way around.
3. Teaching and Learning
The lessons I observed were refreshingly straightforward: teachers taught and students listened and responded. It seemed to me that the students I saw were quick to get to work and expected to get a lot done. There was an absence of distractions in each of the classrooms: desks were typically arranged in rows, there were baskets of equipment within easy reach, and on the walls there were examples of students’ work.
4. Staff Wellbeing
Luke openly acknowledged the challenges that recruitment and retention present, in Bradford and beyond. Despite advertising nationally, it’s fairly common for Dixons not to attract a single applicant for a typical post. Out of necessity, classes are frequently combined and many staff teach outside their specialist areas. For these reasons (and more), staff wellbeing is prioritised. There is clearly the expectation that staff work hard when they’re in the building, but not when they’re at home. Staff are also looked after in terms of food – Friday breakfasts are provided and there’s an open salad bar. A relatively small detail, but an important one.
Why is Dixons such a successful school? For me, it’s all about the fundamentals. Everything they do is evidence-informed and carefully thought through. They ignore the fads and the quick-fixes (despite how seductive they can be) and they focus on the stuff that matters: teaching students and looking after staff.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
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