Creating the right atmosphere to talk about teaching

Print this page
Animated science items

Leaders and members of staff at Ysgol Pencae have worked together successfully to develop a positive attitude and flexible approach to internal activities such as classroom observations, whole-school scrutiny of pupils’ books, and team and whole-school staff meetings. This has enabled staff to become more open with one another and given them the confidence to address concerns and solve problems together. Staff now more readily acknowledge and discuss strengths and weaknesses in teaching across the school.


Context

Ysgol Pencae is in Llandaff in Cardiff.  There are currently around 210 pupils on roll, aged from 4 to 11 years.  The school has seven single-age classes.  As the school has no nursery provision, pupils come to the school from a wide range of pre-school provision.  

Around 2% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that about 13% of pupils have additional learning needs.  A very few pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds.  About 16% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.  The headteacher has been in post since September 2008 and the deputy headteacher joined the school in September 2016.

Strategy and action

The school first renewed its focus on improving teaching in 2013.  Leaders introduced a few published schemes to bring more consistency to the teaching of reading, writing and mathematics and to help sharpen teachers’ skills in these areas of the curriculum.  Following this came a focus on developing the school’s approach to formative assessment through an understanding of assessment for learning. 

In recent years, the school development plan has outlined clear priorities in relation to teaching, including improving feedback to pupils and refining the structure of lessons.  The current plan includes a target to improve the standards of teaching and learning throughout the school, with the broad aim that all lessons should be good or excellent and develop pupils’ independent learning through activities set in real-life contexts.  Senior leaders have clear expectations and staff understand their roles and responsibilities in relation to improving teaching.  Teachers take responsibility for their own professional learning and know that they are accountable for the outcomes of the pupils in their classes.

In September 2016, teachers began working in triads with teachers in the same year group from two other local schools.  The purpose of this work is to share good practice and to reflect on the effectiveness of their own teaching and that of colleagues. 

Leaders and other members of staff have worked hard to develop a positive attitude and flexible approach to internal activities such as classroom observations, whole‑school scrutiny of pupils’ books, and team and whole-school staff meetings.  This has enabled staff to become more open with one another and given them the confidence to address concerns and solve problems together.  Staff now more readily acknowledge and discuss strengths and weaknesses in teaching across the school.  Collaboration with teachers from other schools has encouraged this ethos of openness and reflection.  Teachers now have greater confidence to question methodology and to trial and adapt new approaches for the benefit of pupils.

School leaders outline the following strategies that they feel are the backbone of the school’s approach to improving teaching, these are:

  • regular lesson observations
  • a clear line management system
  • the use of an agreed set of criteria to judge teaching
  • in-house professional learning days focused on aspects of teaching
  • regular in-school team meetings
  • attendance at courses focusing on pedagogy
  • teachers working collaboratively to develop various teaching elements
  • regular joint moderation sessions
  • teachers with specific responsibilities attending relevant courses and sharing learning with others in school
  • the employment of a part-time teacher to help develop and deliver strategies to support more able and talented and gifted pupils. 

Following teachers’ self-evaluation of their teaching against agreed criteria from a published continuum, teachers and leaders identify areas for development that are common across the school.  For example, they recently noted that the way teachers used lesson objectives and success criteria to support pupils’ learning was inconsistent.  To agree a consistent way forward, teachers then discuss these issues in focused staff meetings or electronically.  Teachers re-visit the agreed actions at further meetings or in a subsequent lesson observation.  Where these actions are insufficient, school leaders often plan a series of professional learning sessions for staff.

The school uses lesson observations to monitor the quality of teaching every term.  There is a timetable in place and observations focus clearly on two agreed targets every term from their self-evaluation and any personal targets from previous observations.  For example, the current focus is on planning for numeracy and the impact of feedback to pupils, and next term leaders will consider pupils’ independent learning skills and the use of the outdoors.

As well as formal lesson observations, all teachers are working in triads with teachers of the same year group in other local schools.  In its first year, this trial involved each triad planning a series of lessons, observing one another teach, reflecting on the good practice they identified, and sharing resources.  Now in its second year, the focus is on developing lessons and ideas in areas of learning and experience from Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015).  The aim of this triad working is to share skills, learn from subject specialists and create sustainable partnerships between schools.

Outcomes

As a result of the school’s focus on improving teaching, there is a high level of professionalism among staff.  All teachers are engaged in elements of self-evaluation, particularly in relation to teaching.  They take increased responsibility for their own professional learning and are enthusiastic and willing to try new ideas and approaches, particularly because of triad working with colleagues from other schools.  Teachers have increased their understanding of the benefits of developing pupil voice, the importance of communicating effectively with parents, and the need to embrace all aspects of curriculum reform.

Teachers feel that developing pupils’ involvement in their own learning has had the greatest impact on standards of learning and wellbeing.  Increased opportunities for pupils to evaluate their own learning, contribute to planning the curriculum, and modifying the language pupils use to talk about their work.  For example, thinking of ‘opportunities to improve’, rather than ‘making mistakes’, has led to increased independence and ‘buy in’ from pupils.

Next steps as identified by the school

Consider how successfully teachers perform in relation to the 12 pedagogical principles outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015).

Links

http://ysgolpencae.cymru/en/