Ellie Whitehorn joined Ark in March 2020 as Network Lead for Primary English. She is also a governor at Ark Franklin, holding the Safeguarding Link Governor role. As part of our #ArkPeople series, we asked Ellie to tell us about her varied role and the strategies in place to support teachers get the best from their children.
At Ark, we believe we have a moral obligation to ensure children read at or above their chronological age and can access the world around them. It is of utmost importance that pupils leave primary school able to read and write confidently, as it opens the door to anything and everything they want might want to do in the future.
I've always loved reading, which naturally translated into English being my favourite subject to teach; the excitement and engagement that you get from children through storytelling is so powerful. Prior to this, I had been working in teaching and leadership roles in London primary schools since I trained through Teach First in 2012. I heard about the Network Lead for Primary English role from a friend of mine, who was at that point working at King Solomon Academy and is now also in the central team – she said it was the perfect job for a grammar nerd who loves English!
While I wasn’t teaching at an Ark school, I knew of the network, and it seemed like such an exciting opportunity. I had only ever worked in standalone schools, and always believed there was huge potential in sharing best practice across a large trust.
The varied nature of the role really keeps me on my toes! Reading is one of our network priorities, and I'm working closely with Jayne Welsh (Network Development Lead for Literacy) to create and deliver training on the Reading Signature Strategies. We design each training session around videos submitted by the Reading Leads, highlighting best practice and identifying action steps. I'm also working closely with the English Mastery primary pilot, which launched last year, supporting with the design and implementation of the new curriculum.
It is a real privilege to work closely with certain schools in the network, coaching their English Leads to drive improvement in English. We set goals for the end of the year, and plan how to achieve them with clear actions and key milestones. With some schools, the focus will be on Key Stage 2 outcomes, so the work centres closely on target pupils, their current gaps and how to close them, with regular ongoing assessment to track progress.
Our response to the pandemic highlighted the need to close gaps, and there is a real emphasis at Ark on identifying individual pupil gaps with purposeful assessment, then tailoring provision to address them. Teachers and leaders are forensic about data analysis, they know their pupils incredibly well and there's a sense of urgency; no time is wasted getting them back on track and ensuring the right interventions are in place.
My role also involves working with the network of English Leads across the schools, aiming to provide a sense of community to support their leadership. During the pandemic, bringing us all together in person was difficult, but everyone was incredibly open and responsive.
While we did adjust to meeting online, it has been brilliant to move towards a hybrid model this year; the Network Day in October, which brought everyone together, had such great energy and atmosphere. I have been so impressed to find a network of such like-minded, proactive people, working incredibly hard to deliver the best education for their pupils.