Creating strong foundations to support learners’ growth

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Ysgol Yr Esgob Voluntary Aided Primary School has helped pupils improve their work, take responsibility for their learning, and raise standards through independent learning, regular self-assessment and setting clear learning objectives.

Number of pupils: 56
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: February 2018

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

After the previous inspection in 2011, the school was placed into the statutory category of requiring special measures.  Learners were passive and did not take responsibility for their learning.  The school did not engage with assessment for learning strategies.  Whilst relationships were generally good, pupils found it difficult to meaningfully collaborate with each other.  There were no effective systems to track the progress and attainment of pupils.  Pupils did receive extra support; however, they were not strategically identified, and intervention did not take place often enough and was not matched closely to need.  Pupil voice was underdeveloped.  Overall, the curriculum failed to provide a range of experiences that met the needs of all pupils.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Teachers undertook extensive work on assessment for learning strategies.  Learning objectives formed the basis for self-assessment.  Marking ladders were introduced, allowing pupils and teachers to comment on success criteria and provide feedback.  Marking symbols were used by both pupils and teachers, including “next steps” feedback for pupils.  Teacher feedback has become specifically related to the learning objective.  It is more detailed and pupils can see how to improve their work.  Pupils often answer teachers’ marking comments with their own.  Colour coded marking is used so that pupils can see where they are successful and what needs to be addressed.  Over time, pupils have taken more control of their learning, which in turn has increased confidence and the sense of achievement.  Self-assessment is highly developed, providing a significant positive impact on standards.  Verbal feedback and positivity play a major part in daily lessons, along with school assemblies.  Pupils’ readiness to learn is fuelled by celebrating achievements, with focused celebration of specific skills feeding into the assessment for learning process, resulting in a cyclic motivating culture of focused learning and pupil achievement.

The school has undergone training in collaborative learning structures.  Teachers facilitate pupils’ learning in pairs and groups to encourage the use of talk to support learning.  Levels of participation for all learners have increased.  Teachers and staff use strategies to hold pupils accountable in a non-threatening way, to encourage and persuade all pupils to engage in their learning.  Through collaboration as a form of peer coaching, pupils support each other in generating and refining ideas.  This has increased their confidence well and the greater participation encourages them to take responsibility for their learning.

The school also nurtures confidence and self-esteem in other ways.  Specialist practitioners work alongside existing school staff, enabling pupils to undertake a wide variety of creative experiences and providing them with the opportunity to perform.  As a result, pupils regularly sing and create music to a high standard and participate in a variety of dance and visual arts projects.  The school is currently investigating how drama techniques can be used to drive up standards in narrative writing.

The school has developed successful ways to track progress and check levels of attainment.  It has a very clear understanding of expected standards of attainment for each year group.  Pupils are ‘mapped’ on attainment grids, to enable staff to identify clearly which pupils are not on track and to facilitate appropriate support.  Progress is also carefully measured and provision is altered as a result.  The additional learning needs co-ordinator is able to pinpoint those in need of extra support.  Her knowledge of interventions, based on experience and by visiting other schools, has led to the development of a considerable breadth of provision for a wide range of needs.  Programmes are finely tuned to the needs of individuals or groups.  Teacher assistants undergo high quality training on new intervention strategies before supporting pupils, and the impact is evaluated by analysing pupil progress.  Purposeful training and deployment of teacher assistants for intervention work allow them to lead initiatives across the school.  The impact of their leadership is considerable.  There is a wide range of support interventions for literacy at the school, including to support reading, and a phonic and spelling programme for pupils with specific needs, such as dyslexia.

The school successfully uses programmes targeting anxiety, self-esteem and social development, such as those involving attachment theory.  Parents can also access training.  The school uses particular methods to work with pupils who show marked levels of anxiety and low self-esteem.  The impact of intervention work is that pupils make very good progress from their starting points.

The use of pupil voice has developed well.  There is considerable breadth of opportunity for pupils to have a say in matters that affect them, developing confidence, self-esteem and leadership potential.  Foundation phase pupils suggest ideas for enhanced provision activities and help plan topics and investigations.  Members of the school council perform learning walks, looking at health and safety issues, behaviour for learning and the use of the Welsh language.  They consult pupils on current school developments, for example on their thoughts about a new maths scheme.  They have developed the latest version of the school’s behaviour policy and consulted with the governing body and parents about healthy eating.

The curriculum includes issues involving the local area, using real life situations.  As a result, pupils have a well-developed sense of belonging.  Older children learn about the historical importance of the church and draft leaflets for visitors.  Local businesses hold workshops on the scientific concepts they promote.  Pupils write letters to the town council governor, helping her with an application for funding for the local playground.  Pupils consider how building a wind farm may affect their local community.  It is the school’s belief that these activities foster a strong sense of belonging and sense of place in a community and that they have a positive effect on self-esteem and wellbeing.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Standards have greatly improved.  This involved working on many aspects across the school’s curriculum to transform the school’s provision.  In the recent inspection, the judgement for wellbeing has moved from adequate to excellent.  Nearly all pupils are confident, enthusiastic learners.  They participate fully in lessons, sustain concentration purposefully and persevere well when they find tasks challenging.  Pupils now have an exceptionally strong voice in the school and, as they move through the school, they develop an exceptionally clear understanding of the importance of supporting their community and the welfare of others.

The judgement for care support and guidance has also moved from adequate to excellent.  Pupils now know what to do to improve their work.  In the foundation phase, pupils develop their independent learning skills successfully and have a sound understanding of how well they have achieved in lessons through their regular involvement in self-assessment.  Key stage 2 pupils talk knowledgeably about how the marking of their work helps them to develop their skills.  Pupils now make strong progress in learning to work with purpose and resilience.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school believes that it has influenced the practice of other settings through training that it has provided.  The school has organised training for other schools on collaborative learning strategies and the specific literacy programmes, and staff have benefited from working collaboratively with other teachers.  As a small school, leaders believe that this has enabled them to be more outward looking and to share costs.  The Lead Creative Schools project provided further opportunities to work creatively with another local school.  Similarly, joint arts projects funded by The Arts Council for Wales have created opportunities for joint staff meetings, community celebrations and joint evaluation.  Digital leaders have also shared their learning with teachers from other settings in events held outside of school and in training events led by the ICT co-ordinator.  The headteacher has shared school improvement and self-evaluation processes with leaders in other settings.