Downham Market Academy’s Saturday school is a tasty way to help pupils learn and improve
- Credit: IAN BURT
Getting a teenager out of bed in the morning on a school day can often, it is said, be a challenge at the best of times.
However with the promise of the 'Mr Matthews breakfast experience', pupils at Downham Market Academy are up and raring to go first thing in the morning – on a Saturday.
About 100 students come into the new academy in Bexwell Road, Downham Market for extra tuition while vice-principal Hefin Matthews rustles up some tasty bacon, sausage and eggs rolls just a few feet away.
As a reward for their hard work, they then get to tuck into a delicious cooked breakfast which fills them up ready for another hour or so of tuition.
Principal Jon Ford said: 'A couple of years ago, results at the old Downham Market High School had reached rock bottom and we really needed to support students who were in danger of drifting to the end of their time in school without achieving key qualifications.
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'In previous schools I would have encouraged the development of after-school catch-up classes but, as so many students travel quite a distance, it was difficult to see how we could get enough extra time in through normal approaches.'
It was then that the idea of a 'Saturday school' was mooted – with bacon, egg or sausage rolls offered to sweeten the deal.
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'Within a few weeks, we were catering regularly for almost 100 students across subjects as diverse as English, maths, food technology and religious studies,' Mr Ford said.
'One of the really positive aspects of the school is that students who get involved become more motivated.
'Our feedback clearly shows over the last couple of years this has been one of our most effective support mechanisms offered to the students.'
Although there is a more relaxed and informal atmosphere as Mr Matthews dons his chef's outfit and apron, the idea has a serious aim.
By giving students more targeted support in areas where they can benefit from extra help, it is hoped they will make even more progress and show improvement in their lessons and exams as a result.
Mr Matthews said: 'Actually sitting down in smaller groups means there is more focus on where they need to develop personally.
'There is a good atmosphere here because they actually want to be here.'
Pupils get a range of support, whether it is by working in small groups with a retired or recently-graduated teacher or by sitting a past exam paper.
Depending on their learning needs, there are also sometimes larger group sessions or the opportunity for one-to-one support.
Mr Ford said the sessions were open to students looking to get the best of grades or those struggling with a particular task or topic.
'The high ratio of staff to students ensures close personal support and challenge for the students,' he added.
'All work is tailored to the individual needs of the students as a result of diagnostic testing and practice paper completion. With the positive attitude which comes from when people invest their free time in doing something, we found that not only did the students really benefit but they actually really enjoyed it.'
He added that he was particularly grateful to the teachers and pupils who give up their free time – and the parents who dropped off and picked up their children.
The students who attend the Saturday school regularly seem pretty happy to be giving up their free time.
Elliot Green, 15, from Outwell, said: 'Because it is a different environment to work in, you get more one-to-one support from the teachers.'
And Amy Taylor, 16, from Magdalen, added: ' I thought it would give me some extra tuition to catch up on coursework, get a little bit more out of school.'
She also confirmed: 'Mr Matthews's bacon sandwiches are the best – we keep telling him to become part of the canteen staff.'