The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

31 Aug 2017

Following on from the tremendous results which the College received at the start of the year regarding our performance in terms of value added, it is important to reflect on the methods used to reach these heights, and how we can continue to improve. Having the ability to state that the College is in the top 35 across the country at improving grades, and that the value which we add to grades has risen over the past three years to +0.6 (in effect stating that students who come to the College achieve, on average, more than half a grade above the expected level) is truly impressive but it also begs another question: how do we continue to get better?

I have always taken a keen interest in sport, as shown in my dedication as coach of the College football team. Coaching, and the improvement of those under your tutelage is an integral part of teaching. Of the last decade, one of the most successful coaches in world sport has been Sir Dave Brailsford, who presided over the remarkable achievements of the British cycling team, leading them to eight gold medals at both the Beijing (2008) and London (2012) Olympics, and Team Sky, Tour de France winners in five of the last six years. Brailsford champions the improvement philosophy of the aggregation of marginal gains:

"The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together."

This approach, from both teachers and students, is how the College must look to improve further.

The first step of such a process is to identify the key characteristics of how we best make academic progress in the College, whether this refers to what makes effective teaching, or what makes effective learning, and it must be done in a climate of trust and affiliation within the College, with everyone working together. These academic progress areas must be broken down into every aspect of our approach, from how we take notes, to how we revise, and on to the amount and quality of rest we get each evening.

The next step is to is to reflect on these processes, and question whether they can be improved. This is not simply a case of working harder, but more an analytical process of looking into how each and every one of us can improve our approach and, where possible, to maximise the use of these successful methods. Critical to this is the teacher and student collaboration of self-awareness:

  • where are we?
  • what do we need to do next?
  • how do we get there?

Both teacher and student must work together to show the path ahead for learning.

Finally, we have to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of these goals relentlessly, and there are numerous areas which the College will be focusing on this coming academic year to ensure these gains.This entails offering support and guidance to the highest standards in each subject area, as well as rewarding excellence, but also ensuring that when our high expectations are not met, that intervention is swift and effective through the sanctions which we impose. Underpinning this whole approach, is the importance of marking and monitoring effectively. Aspirational target setting at the start of the year will set the tone, and where performance drops below the high standards which we set for every student, identified on their individual student flightpaths, it will be analysed and reflected on, and then addressed accordingly.

I look forward to welcoming our new and returning students to the College shortly and working with them to help ensure they reach their goals. 

Allan Cairns

Director of Studies

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