Creating a culture of professional reflection and learning

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Senior leaders at Hafod Primary School ensure that all teachers have opportunities to innovate, collaborate and lead initiatives that affect the school’s teaching and pedagogical practices positively.


Context

Hafod Primary School is in Swansea, close to the city centre.  There are 247 pupils on roll, aged between 3 and 11 years.  Pupils are organised into seven classes.  The school provides nursery facilities for 36 three and four-year-olds who attend school on a part-time basis initially.  In addition, the school manages the Flying Start provision on the site.  Around 29% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. 

Around 60% of the pupils are white British.  Forty per cent of the pupils speak English as an additional language.  A majority of these pupils are of Asian heritage, predominantly Bangladeshi.  There are 15 different languages spoken by pupils, the most common of which is Sylheti.  No pupils speak Welsh at home.

About 35% of pupils have additional learning needs.  A few pupils have statements of special educational needs.

The current headteacher has been in post since 2006.  The deputy headteacher has been in post for a similar length of time. 

Strategy and action

Much of the school’s success in developing a vibrant curriculum and improving teaching pedagogy is due to the longevity, consistency and creativity of the school’s leadership.  Leaders know their pupils and staff exceptionally well and create a climate that encourages mutual support, creativity and innovation.  

The school has recently evaluated its provision to ensure that it is fully prepared for the forthcoming curriculum changes.  As a part of this work, it has re-organised the senior leadership team to incorporate teaching and learning responsibility posts for literacy, numeracy and digital competency.  It has developed teams and individuals with responsibility for overseeing the six areas of learning as well as staff with responsibility for assessment for learning and ensuring continuity in pupils’ learning from the age of 3-16.  While there are teams for each area of learning, the school does not allow staff to work in ‘silos’.  Effective monitoring and staff development from senior leaders, for example on professional learning days, ensure that the areas of learning and the school’s pedagogical approach stay joined-up.

Senior leaders, leaders of specific areas of learning and their teams evaluate the curriculum and its impact on learning through a carefully planned calendar of monitoring activities.  These include book scrutiny, lesson observations and, more recently, learning walks.  This work has identified clear and appropriate next steps.  For example, the digital competence team understands that, while pupils’ presentation and creative skills are strong, aspects of work around data handling are at an earlier stage of development.  Leaders have also identified that too much work in pupils’ books is correct, which means that it is not consistently challenging all pupils well enough.  They identified that their electronic tracking system did not meet its need in relation to informing pupils’ next steps for learning well enough.  They also identified issues with using the system to ensure rigour in the accuracy of assessments.  The school is working to address this by developing a new assessment model.

Leaders undertake similar monitoring activities to evaluate the quality of teaching.  Through this work, they identify aspects of professional practice that require improvement at whole-school level for all teachers as well as strengths and areas for development for individual teachers.  To address whole-school improvement priorities, the school is beginning to use action research effectively.  For example, having identified assessment for learning and feedback as an area for improvement, leaders allocated responsibility for improvement to a teacher.  He used this as part of his masters work.  The work started with hypotheses and a literary review.  In this case, the reading focused on whether five and six-year-olds were able to evaluate their own progress effectively.  This led to the development of a range of permanent success criteria to help a group of six pupils to evaluate aspects of their written work, for example punctuation.  The research found that this work was effective in supporting pupils to evaluate their own work.  Since this initial trail, the findings have influenced the whole school assessment for learning and marking policies.  The school is keeping further impact of this work under review.

In other research work, the mathematics leader joined with colleagues from across Wales to identify areas of the subject that pupils found difficult to understand.  They identified reasoning skills and the difficulties that pupils had in solving problems independently.  They came up with the idea of using story maps to help solve the problems.  Each teacher in the group trialled the strategy with half of the pupils in their class.  The outcome was slightly improved outcomes for targeted pupils.  Leaders at Hafod School ensure that staff have time to share the findings of their work in order to discuss the benefits and any pitfalls.  This is supporting a culture of professional reflection and learning at the school.  The school is aware of the need to trial these initiatives in more depth to make the findings reliable.  This type of work is helping the school to take good account of the new professional standards for teaching and leadership.  For example, senior leaders ensure that all teachers have opportunities to innovate, collaborate and lead initiatives that affect the school’s teaching and pedagogical practices positively.

Monitoring work from lesson observations and scrutiny of books ensures that leaders keep a close eye on levels of compliance with initiatives as well as on their impact.  This enables them to challenge staff effectively.  For example, leaders use a post-it note system to identify specific strengths or weaknesses in teachers’ work when scrutinising books.  This shows teachers that leaders’ observations are evidence based.  Individual professional dialogues based on these first-hand sources of evidence also ensure that individual teachers have clear targets for improvement.  These targets, as well as whole-school teaching targets, such as improving feedback, become teachers’ performance management goals.

Pupils make a strong contribution to self-evaluation and improvement planning work.  For example, they participate in lesson observations and make suitable evaluations.  This has produced interesting suggestions for improvement, for example by identifying that in a few instances teaching assistants needed to engage more proactively with pupils during learning experiences. 

Leaders are very confident in the decisions that they make about teaching strategies in the school.  They know what suits their learners best.  For example, they have introduced a formal approach to teaching phonics based on a published scheme.  They have trained all staff to use this effectively.  This has led to improved outcomes for pupils in their reading ability and end of key stage teacher assessments.  Leaders resist guidance from external partners to revise this approach because their own self‑evaluation identifies this practice as effective. 

Next steps as identified by the school

  • Introduce video observations of teaching to support professional growth
  • Consider with teachers the benefits of and barriers to teachers observing their own class during their planning, preparation and assessment time to inform their assessment of individuals and groups of pupils
  • Further develop pupils’ digital skills
  • Increase the level of challenge for more able pupils