Challenge, aspiration and reward in a transient population

Paul Young says high expectations are essential at Doha College – no matter how briefly students are with the school

Unlocking the potential of each and every student is the central ethos of Doha College yet, as a large British international school, the length of time a child might stay with us depends on family circumstances and the global mobility of parents. 

On average, for every 10 students that start with us in year seven, less than seven will stay with us up to up to the sixth form and many more will have joined our school along the way. 

Dealing with a transient school population generates various challenges. How can we make sure our students progress? Do their achievement goals realistically take into consideration their starting point? Are targets aspirational enough to challenge and inspire? 

To get this right, we’ve found a way of benchmarking, target setting and then monitoring progress that supports our students’ achievement. 

A thorough approach

To clear the first hurdle – how to benchmark students who can start at any point in any Year group from any school – we’ve found using a cognitive ability test (one that doesn’t rely on a particular previous curriculum being followed) very useful. 

Having established a clear point of reference from which to begin, we’re able to set appropriate targets. We also give our Heads of department the ability to adjust these targets as they see fit, to ensure that all-important balance of challenge and aspiration is maintained. 

Then, it’s a question of keeping a check on the progress students are making towards their goals, which we do by recording the details of their achievement in our SIMS management information system. A simple traffic light system of red, yellow and green bandings makes it easy to spot who is working at the expected level and who might benefit from a little extra support. We’ve also introduced ‘Doha College Blue’ for those students who are on track to exceed their targets by the end of the school year.

High expectations

Our cohort is made up of 1,800 students from 90 different nationalities, and many are extremely high achieving. As a result, it became clear to us that just to track A* to C iGCSE and A-level grades could actually run the risk of under achievement from those students who were capable of so much more. So we now look at A* to A grades, as well as A* to B. 

This creates two advantages. Firstly, a little bit of friendly competition between departments only serves to drive up standards. Secondly, our staff meet with any student not on track to achieve five A* to B grades, as part of our mentoring programme, to support these students in achieving the very best they can. 

Effort and success

A particular strength of our school – and the crucial ingredient in the success of our students – is our determination to recognise and reward effort wherever we see it. 

Effort grades are awarded in each subject which trigger a number of points towards the House competition, and our highest achieving students are invited to participate in a prestigious event, held in the Principal’s office. Here, they personally receive a handwritten letter of congratulations – something they truly value. 

We make sure the wider school community also knows about the event, via our blog and social media accounts. 

Achieving potential

Ultimately, once target setting and monitoring progress is taken care of, rewarding effort is the key part of our strategy in encouraging high attainment amongst our students. We know our students like being appreciated for the effort they put in – it’s something that is often mentioned as a particular highlight of their time at Doha College – and we also know it works as an educational strategy. 

We’ve had students accepted at top universities throughout the world including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, and our results continue to improve all the time.

There are no shortcuts to success when it comes to a transient student body, but we’ve found that focusing on challenge, aspiration and effort means every child progresses during their time at Doha College. 

Paul Young is Senior Vice Principal – Head of Secondary at Doha College, Qatar.


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