Developing leaders’ capacity to improve teaching in a small school

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St George Church in Wales Primary School is on a journey to improve the quality of teaching. Since the core inspection in May 2015, the headteacher has provided more opportunities for staff to view best practice in other schools and has worked with teachers to reach a shared understanding of what good practice looks like. Teachers have co-constructed a teaching charter, which they are now embedding into their daily practice.


St George Church in Wales Primary School is in the small village of St George, near Abergele in Conwy.  Currently 61 pupils attend the school, six of whom attend nursery on a part-time basis.  The school is organised into three mixed-age classes.  Most pupils are of white British ethnicity.  A few pupils speak English as an additional language.

Around 17% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that 22% of pupils have additional learning needs.

The headteacher has been in post since September 2010.  He has a teaching commitment of at least two and a half days each week.  The school’s leadership team consists of the headteacher and a teacher with a part-time teaching and learning responsibility.

Strategy and action

The headteacher used the 2015 inspection outcomes as a catalyst for improvement.  In the first instance, he identified the need for the school to become more outward looking to find and adopt approaches that would improve teaching and learning.  Staff began to visit local schools identified as having good standards of teaching.  Over a period of about eight weeks, teachers visited other schools to observe lessons, to identify good practice and to work on planning for pupils of different abilities.  At the same time, the school adopted a ‘teaching charter’.  This continuum of descriptors of teaching helped teachers to understand what good practice might look like within their classrooms.  They were able to identify many of the traits of good practice cited in the charter through their observations of and work with their partner school.  These measures were effective in raising teachers’ expectations of their work, in supporting them to reflect on their own practice and in bringing levels of consistency to the quality of teaching.  For example, the follow-up report of 2016 noted that ‘all teachers use consistent approaches, such as sharing learning intentions with pupils at the beginning of lessons and useful plenaries at the end of each session’.  As a result of raised expectations and a developing awareness of pedagogical approaches, most teachers now use a suitable range of assessment for learning strategies successfully.  For example, foundation phase pupils now identify well strengths and areas for improvement in their own work and the work of others through verbal feedback and by using a traffic light grading system.

The school’s leaders used inspection recommendations about aspects of their leadership to improve teaching further.  For example, they improved self-evaluation processes and began to make effective use of the performance management of staff.  Leaders started to involve all staff in monitoring activities.  These activities included a scrutiny of pupils’ books to evaluate how well feedback helped pupils to improve their work.  These activities informed professional development for all staff, for example by looking at effective marking from other schools.  Leaders drove this forward by setting a performance management target for all staff of improving the quality of marking and feedback for pupils.  In 2016, inspectors identified that ‘arrangements for marking and feedback to pupils are effective and help pupils to understand what they have done well and what they need to do to improve further’.  These were important team building activities that supported the staff to understand the collective role they had in accelerating pupils’ progress and the importance of helping each other. 

Staff have developed this team ethos successfully to share planning.  Collectively they plan pupils’ learning experiences using the HWB digital learning platform.  This is effective in enabling all staff to view each other’s planning, for example to see how colleagues are catering for the needs of pupils of differing abilities.

Leaders are now beginning to make effective use of lesson observations to identify strengths and areas for improvement in teaching.  These observations draw on the characteristics of effective practice set out in the teaching charter.  They include suitable evaluations of the impact of teaching on pupils’ progress.  However, at this stage in the school’s journey, the headteacher tends to carry out these observations with the support of challenge advisers.  Other teachers at the school are not yet involved in formal lesson observations.  The school has not yet reached the stage of setting bespoke individual targets for teachers based on an in depth analysis of their strengths and areas for development.  Currently, lesson observations tend to revolve around the performance management process and do not feature as an ongoing strategy to promote professional growth.

Teachers receive useful additional professional development opportunities to improve aspects of their work.  For example, training to use specific approaches to develop pupils’ talking and writing skills is effective.  In combination with other improvement initiatives such as developments to marking and feedback, this training has a positive impact on pupils’ progress.  Training to improve the understanding of and capacity to implement foundation phase pedagogy has had a positive impact overall.  The school now ensures that there is a suitable balance of opportunities for pupils to learn through play and experiences as well as a good range of adult-led activities.  In combination, this provision enables pupils to acquire, develop and apply their skills appropriately. 

School leaders are building on recent improvements to build momentum for wider pedagogical changes.  This supports the national agenda for curriculum reform appropriately.  For example, leaders organise professional learning activities aimed at developing pupils as resilient learners and encourage staff to take greater advantage of digital resources to support pupils’ learning.  The school continues to work with partners to collaborate effectively, for instance to plan authentic real-life learning experiences, such as ‘Fairtrade’ events.


  • The school has made strong progress since its most recent inspection in improving the quality of teaching and in implementing foundation phase pedagogy
  • The school has developed a shared understanding of what constitutes good teaching
  • Staff collaborate successfully and make good use of professional learning opportunities to improve their practice
  • The quality of teaching ensures that many pupils make good progress from their starting points. 
  • The school is using and developing a suitable range of approaches to keep the quality of teaching under review
  • Leaders show the capacity to improve teaching at a whole-school level

Next steps as identified by the school

  • Further develop the school’s capacity to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching independently
  • Continue to use first-hand evidence to identify aspects of teaching that require improvement at whole school level
  • Use the analysis of evidence of the quality of teaching to set individual improvement targets for teachers that reflect their individual needs as professional learners.
  • Develop arrangements for teachers to reflect on the progress they have made against improvement goals