Y Pant Comprehensive School has developed a whole school approach to pedagogy, which staff understand and apply consistently. This approach places a strong emphasis on professional learning and results in highly consistent and effective classroom practice.
Y Pant Comprehensive School is an English-medium 11-19 school, maintained by Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority. It serves the areas of Pontyclun, Talbot Green, Brynna and Llanharry. There are around 1,300 pupils on roll, of whom 205 are in the sixth form. Nearly all pupils speak English as their first language and come from a white British background. A very few pupils are fluent in Welsh.
Around 10% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The school identifies that around 12% of pupils have additional learning needs. A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs.
The headteacher at the time of the January 2017 inspection has since left the school. Currently, an acting headteacher and acting deputy headteacher both of whom were at the school at the time of the inspection lead the school.
The school is currently a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to the curriculum and other professional learning.
Strategy and action
Over time, the school has developed a highly effective three-pronged approach to maintaining and improving excellent standards in outcomes and teaching. Central to this has been the evolution of an approach to pedagogy, which staff understand and apply consistently. At the same time, the school has developed robust mechanisms to develop teachers as reflective practitioners, enabling purposeful opportunities for colleagues to share and reflect well on each other’s practice. Finally, the school has developed a rigorous approach to the use of data and qualitative evidence to support its evaluation of teaching and to identify further areas for improvement.
At the heart of the school’s approach to developing teaching is a strong and shared understanding by teachers about the impact that effective teaching has on learning and pupils’ outcomes.
The school’s teaching and learning policy describes its approach to teaching and learning through key principles. The school refers to these principles collectively as the ‘Y Pant Way’. The policy explains the approach clearly. This supports teachers that are new to the school. At strategic points in the school’s professional learning cycle, leaders reinforce and discuss the key principles with all staff.
A key priority for the school’s leadership team in developing these principles has been to ensure that they remain simple, memorable and relevant. Leaders and teachers at the school are clear that this approach should not result in a formulaic or tick-box approach to evaluating teaching that prohibits the development of individual teachers’ autonomy. On the contrary, the principles form a common framework to guide and inform discussions on teaching, learning and professional learning, within which teachers are encouraged to identify and develop their own strengths. This ensures a rich and varied diet of learning experiences for pupils across the school.
The school’s approach to teaching and learning focuses on the following essential principles:
- All learning has a clear structure
- High levels of engagement are sustained
- Learners are sufficiently challenged
- Assessment for learning is embedded
- Cross-curricular requirements are meaningful and relevant
- Positive and supportive working relationships between teachers and learners support learning
Leaders and staff are clear that the consistent focus on these key principles by all staff has provided a highly effective starting point for discussions about teaching. Over time, this has led to the development of highly consistent practice across the school. It has also helped to create a culture of professional autonomy that enables staff to implement new policy requirements and curriculum initiatives in a staged, considered and proportionate way.
Well-established processes, which aim to develop an ethos of reflective practice within the school, strengthen the consistent approach to teaching and learning. The school has implemented many relevant opportunities for teachers to share their experience and practice in a context that allows for meaningful discussion and debate. For example, the school has moved away from the practice of using lesson observations to judge teachers and lessons, to one that sees observations as a vehicle for identifying best practice and a rich context for coaching for teachers seeking to improve aspects of their practice. Peer observations, conducted by members of the senior leadership team and subject specialists, help the school to gather rich information about the strengths and areas for improvement in teaching across the school. Staff use this information well to inform priorities in whole school and departmental improvement plans.
Small groups of teachers within or across departments take part in learning walks, which have a clear focus on identifying what works well. These learning walks provide valuable opportunities for teachers to share and reflect on best practice. Leaders allocate time, as part of the school’s professional learning programme, for teachers to work together in groups of three or six to plan, complete and report on learning walks. Staff share and discuss the key findings annually.
The school’s after-school strategy groups, which are part of teachers’ directed time, have also given staff opportunities to engage with research and to develop action research projects. These groups act as discussion forums to enable staff to keep abreast of initiatives in education and to develop colleagues’ awareness of pedagogical practices. In the first year of the current cycle, leaders selected a range of academic texts for discussion. Staff chose topics they felt were most relevant to them, and met regularly over the course of the year to read and discuss their text, providing a synopsis of their work to the whole staff at the end of the year. Teachers valued the opportunity to explore and develop their understanding of these ideas in their own time, as opposed to passively receiving information from the senior leadership team. In the second year of the cycle, colleagues were encouraged to consider the practical applications of what they had discovered and initiate individual or collaborative action research projects.
The school supplements the sharing of good pedagogical practice described above with high quality professional learning days. Staff from across the school have beneficial opportunities to plan and deliver these. A teacher leads each session and focuses on an area identified as best practice within their own area of responsibility. While these days and sessions frequently address whole-school developmental needs, leaders ensure that there are regular opportunities for teachers to access a more varied menu of professional learning activities that reflect their individual needs.
In addition, the school’s involvement with networks of other schools, for example through its work as a pioneer school and a professional learning hub school for the Central South Consortium, has provided meaningful opportunities for staff to work with other schools to share and gather best practice.
The final element of the school’s strategic approach to improving standards in outcomes and teaching lies in its rigorous approach to the use of data and other sources of qualitative evidence. The school has established robust procedures to evaluate pupil progress through the development of its own value-added measure, the ‘Y Pant residual’, which it uses to track and monitor pupil progress at key stage 4 and key stage 5. Middle leaders conduct departmental reviews for all departments each year, using this information as well as the outcomes from work scrutiny and pupil voice activities, lesson observations and learning walks. These reviews provide a comprehensive overview of the department’s work, informing departmental self‑evaluation and improvement planning. These activities inform in turn whole‑school self-evaluation and improvement planning.
Regular departmental quality assurance meetings ensure that staff across the school are involved in evaluating the standards of pupils’ work and provide further opportunities for staff to exchange ideas and share practice. These procedures have helped to strengthen the capacity of middle leaders across the school and to ensure that senior and middle leaders have a common approach to evaluating standards and identifying priorities for improvement.
The school views data on pupil progress, the outcomes of pupil voice activities and work scrutiny as the key indicators when evaluating teaching and learning in the school. Leaders feel these activities provide a much more reliable and informative source of information to identify the school’s strengths and priorities for improvement than relying on the outcomes of lesson observations alone.
The school demonstrates the strengths of its approach to developing high quality teaching through the consistently high outcomes pupils achieve. In lessons and over time, pupils at Y Pant Comprehensive School make consistently strong progress. At the end of key stage 4, performance is consistently above modelled outcomes, and compares very well with that of similar schools based on free-school-meal eligibility. Pupils that are more able do extremely well. Boys, girls and pupils eligible for free school meals perform better than these groups of pupils in similar schools (Welsh Government, 2017c).
The Estyn inspection report of January 2017 judged that, overall, the quality of teaching at the school is excellent. Inspectors reported that the school places a strong emphasis on professional learning and this results in highly consistent and effective classroom practice. The school provides many valuable opportunities for teachers to improve their skills, including participation in research, which benefits both their own practice and that of other colleagues. The school actively supports and collaborates with other schools. This has strengthened the practice of teachers within the school.
Next steps as identified by the school
As it moves forward, the school is clear about the challenges it faces and the need to continue to evolve and refine its practice to ensure the best possible outcomes for its pupils. Its next steps include:
- ensuring that learning walks and teachers’ professional development focus on strategies to improve boys’ engagement in learning
- developing collaboration with cluster primary schools regarding common approaches to securing excellent learning and teaching, including cross-phase learning walks
- developing the role of pupils and governors in learning walks
- ensuring that the school’s key principles regarding learning and teaching are shared more effectively with parents
- developing robust progress measures at key stage 3 in line with the approach used at key stage 4 and key stage 5