Creating a culture of shared responsibility to improve teaching

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Solva Community Primary School has made very good progress since its core inspection in January 2015. Leaders and teachers now have high expectations about the quality of teaching in all classes. The school’s actions and meetings focus well on improving standards and all staff now take responsibility for improving teaching across the school not just in their own classrooms


Context

Solva Community Primary School is in the village of Solva in Pembrokeshire.  Around 70 full-time pupils attend the school, and a further six pupils attend nursery.  Most pupils are white British and 4% of pupils speak Welsh at home.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is around 4%.  The school identifies that approximately 20% of pupils have additional learning needs. 

The headteacher has been in post since April 2005.  At the time of the inspection, the school had four-mixed age classes.  Full-time teachers taught three of these classes.  The headteacher and a part-time teacher shared responsibility for the other class.  The headteacher had a teaching commitment of four days a week.  The school is now organised into three mixed-age classes.  Full time permanent teachers, two of whom have joined the school since the inspection, now teach all classes.  The headteacher no longer has responsibility for teaching a class.  Since September 2017, the headteacher has become the temporary executive headteacher of another local school as well as being the headteacher of Solva Community Primary School. 

Solva Community Primary School will close on 31 August 2018.  On 1 September 2018, the school will become part of a new Church in Wales school for pupils aged 3 to 16.  Two other local schools, Ysgol Dewi Sant and Ysgol Bro Dewi will also be part of the all age school.  The new school will operate on the three existing sites. 

Strategy and action

After the core inspection, the headteacher offered to resign.  However, both the governing body and local authority offered their full support and the headteacher remained in post.  From the outset, the headteacher and staff were very honest with governors, parents and pupils about the improvements needed and their determination to turn the school around.  This determination and the headteacher’s willingness to seek out and listen to advice is the cornerstone of the school’s improvement journey. 

The headteacher took time to reflect on the outcomes of the inspection and realised that she needed to make her high expectations more explicit, delegate more widely and hold teachers to account better in order to build a more professional and stronger team.  Previously, many of the school’s processes were quite informal and leaders did not always check well enough that staff carried out agreed action points.  This meant that agreements reached about strategies to improve planning and the quality of teaching did not happen consistently in all classes. 

With the advice of her challenge adviser, and support from Estyn during the post inspection action plan visit, the headteacher wrote a clear action plan of how she and her staff would address the recommendations.  The plan delegated appropriate responsibilities across the teaching staff.  The monthly schedule that ran alongside the plan included relevant information on timescales for activities, such as training, monitoring, the focus of meetings and deadlines for reports on progress.  This schedule provided staff with well-defined timescales for actions and clear lines of accountability for their areas of responsibility and those of their colleagues.  After discussion, all staff signed the action plan and schedule and the headteacher amended job descriptions to reflect the new responsibilities and her higher level of expectation in terms of teachers fulfilling a wider role than just in their own classroom.  The headteacher also produced a booklet about the role of the subject co-ordinator, making her expectations about the role explicit and providing teachers with useful guidance.  This greater sharing of responsibility led to stronger collaborative working between teachers and a much sharper focus on pedagogy and learning.  All meetings now follow a standard format and focus well on the school’s core business of improving learning and teaching.  All teachers engage in open and honest dialogue about what is working well and what needs to happen next.  The governing body is involved fully in evaluating all aspects of the work of the school. 

The local authority and regional consortium supported the school well in helping teachers to improve their practice.  The local authority funded two teachers from other schools for five days each to work alongside the foundation phase teachers to improve their understanding of the principles of the phase.  This support led to improvements in teachers’ practice and developed the continuous and enhanced provision for pupils.  Regional and local advisory teachers also provided valuable support.  For example, the advisory teacher for numeracy helped teachers to plan for meaningful numeracy across the curriculum.  She also provided twilight sessions for teachers to learn about effective strategies and methodologies for teaching mathematics.  This has led to greater consistency in the way that teachers plan and teach mathematics and better continuity and progression for pupils.  The wide range of development opportunities improved teacher confidence in delivering subject specific lessons and planning for literacy, numeracy and ICT across the curriculum.  It has also given teachers the confidence to work together to plan exciting and creative learning experiences for pupils.  For example, teachers plan jointly with the local amateur dramatic group and fire service to deliver the World War 2 day where an ‘unexploded bomb’ appeared on the school field.  Experiences such as these engage pupils fully in their learning and encourage teachers to enjoy their teaching and to have fun too.

Over the last two years, the school has placed greater emphasis on improving teaching through sharing teaching practices both within and outside the school.  Teachers now have two opportunities a year to observe each other on an agreed theme.  One of the teachers teaches the lesson while the other two observe and make notes on the quality of learning and standards.  The teachers use the lesson observation proformas provided by the regional consortium to inform their discussions after the lessons.  However, using these proformas for peer observations may stifle fruitful discussion and there is a risk that the exercise becomes more of ticking boxes to congratulate colleagues rather than discussing the impact of teaching on pupils’ learning.  Also, ticking all the required boxes does not necessarily mean the lesson is good or that the teaching has enough impact on pupils’ learning. Teachers feel that the proformas have provided a useful starting point for peer observation.  The headteacher in partnership with the challenge adviser carries out one formal lesson observation a year.  Notes made alongside the lesson observation proforma demonstrate that these observations provide clear feedback to teachers on strengths in teaching and the next steps they need to take to improve.  Outcomes from lesson observations feed appropriately into individual performance management targets. 

The recently qualified teacher at the school receives a good level of support from the school mentor and other colleagues.  During her first year of teaching, she had the opportunity to attend many professional development events in addition to receiving 10% non-contact time.  This meant that she had appropriate opportunities to reflect on her practice and to observe teaching in her own and other schools. 

The two experienced teachers have both taken part in triads, working with teachers from two other schools.  One triad explored ways of developing Welsh language skills through cross-curricular activities and the other considered how to develop numeracy across the curriculum.  These triads took the format of a joint planning session for the three teachers involved where they agreed the focus of the lessons.  Teachers then planned their own lessons based on the theme and the teachers from the other schools came to observe.  They repeated this format in all three schools.  Involvement in the triads gave the teachers time to reflect on their practice and to share ideas with and learn from other professionals. 

The headteacher of the local secondary school, Ysgol Dewi Sant, has been appointed to lead the new all age school.  He has devised a programme for the teachers in the three schools that will form the new school.  This programme provides good opportunities for teachers in all three schools to engage in a ten-hour research project either working independently or with other teachers in any of the schools.  The headteacher of Ysgol Dewi Sant consulted the headteachers in Solva Community Primary School and Ysgol Bro Dewi about the programme and its intended outcomes.  Both have agreed to introduce the programme to their staff and link the independent research project to individual performance management targets.  Staff will have to evidence the ten hours they have worked on their project.  The aim of the programme is to involve all teachers in action research.  The outcome is not the driving factor; it is more about teachers having the experience of undertaking an enquiry and having opportunities to work across schools and phases. 

Solva Community Primary School’s development priorities continue to focus on improving teachers’ pedagogy.  Targets for this academic year include aiming for excellence in teaching in all classes and preparing staff for the new curriculum by developing practice in line with the pedagogical principles. 

Outcomes

The school has made very good progress since its core inspection.  Leaders and teachers have high expectations about the quality of teaching.  Meetings focus well on improving quality and all staff take responsibility for improving teaching across the school not just in their own classrooms.  Teachers’ confidence in their own practice and their willingness to try out new ideas and share their practice have grown considerably.  The school is now more outward facing and acts readily on advice and practice seen in other schools.  The local authority recognises that a few of aspects of the school’s practices are highly effective and has asked the school to share its approach with other schools.

Next steps as identified by the school

  • Embed peer observation
  • Explore and discuss the 12 pedagogical principles that underpin the new curriculum
  • Give teachers the opportunity to take part in independent research projects
  • Work closely with the other schools that will form the new school to ensure continuity and consistency of pedagogy and practice#