Developing whole school systems to bring about rapid improvement

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Heolgerrig Community School has improved standards in reading and attendance as well as securing improvements through honest and accurate self-evaluation. Its improvement journey has taken the school out of special measures to performing above average in several areas.

Number of learners: 227
Age range: 3 - 11
Date of inspection:  November 2017

Information about the school

Heolgerrig Community is an English-medium primary school in the Borough of Merthyr Tydfil.  Most pupils come from the local community and around 7% of pupils are eligible free school meals, which is much lower than the average for the local authority and Wales.

There are currently 227 pupils on roll, including 24 full-time nursery pupils.  There are eight classes, including the nursery.

The school identifies that around 21% of pupils have additional learning needs, which is in line with the national average for primary schools.  A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs.  Nearly all pupils speak English at home.  A very few pupils speak English as an additional language.

The school was inspected was in 2012 and was placed in special measures.  In February 2013, the local authority seconded a headteacher and deputy headteacher to the school on an 18 month contract, with the remit of bringing the school out of special measures as quickly as possible.

In 2014, the seconded deputy headteacher became the substantive deputy headteacher and in September 2015 took up the role of headteacher.

The school came out of special measures in November 2013, following a rapid improvement journey.

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

In 2013, the new leadership team worked to identify the needs of the school, prioritising improvements and creating a shared vision.  Leaders identified that uplifting the morale of the school team was essential, by building relationships, modelling practice, providing training opportunities, and empowering staff and leading the way.

Rapid identification of needs and securing an accurate baseline

An array of monitoring activities were conducted to establish a baseline of standards, such as through  lesson observations, learning walks, book scrutinies, data analysis, and listening to learners.  A focused post-inspection action plan was established and staff worked diligently to address areas for improvement.

An evidence base of improved practice was shared with staff, as and when found, to empower them and build morale.  Twice-weekly meetings were held along with whole-staff meetings and separate key stage meetings to focus on specific actions and sharing of good practice.  A simple model of identifying needs, modelling and carrying out effective practice, feeding back and reviewing was established.

Improving standards in reading

Leaders generally found that pupils’ love of reading was lost.  Reading resources were limited.  As a result, a new reading scheme was purchased and a new library created.  The Year 6 class was awarded the ‘Business School of the Year’ in 2013 following their effective development of a mini-business to sell books.  Pupils use the profit to resource the library with their chosen books.  Pupils are trained as reading buddies and on how to run reciprocal reading sessions as part of their daily reading activities.  A whole-school reading culture is now well established, with even Father Christmas visiting to bring each child a reading book; a tradition that still continues.

Dedicated reading time is facilitated in all classes.  Whole school training has enabled reading skills to be taught effectively and consistently across the school.  Parents are also involved in reading workshops.  All classes have engaging reading dens and the library is used daily.

The school places a continuous drive on reading skills.  Standards were challenged across the school, and formal assessments implemented termly, resulting in implementing a range of positive interventions.

Improving attendance

In 2013, attendance placed the school in the bottom 25% in comparison to similar schools.  Leaders identified that a positive learning environment needed to be created where pupils wanted to come to school.  The curriculum required more enrichment activities for pupils.  As a result, the school listened to what pupils felt would make a difference.  They requested more after-school clubs and a ‘fun’ curriculum.  All staff volunteered to run an after-school club and, through shared planning, the curriculum was reinvigorated to introduce a thematic approach to engage learners.  Trips were arranged and visitors were brought into school, which began having an effect on attendance.

In addition, the school council attended weekly meetings with the deputy headteacher to discuss attendance initiatives.  In consultation with their peers and the attendance governor, they decided on how to raise the profile of attendance across the whole school community.

Class attendance percentages were shared and celebrated weekly through assemblies and sent to parents.  A range of incentives and rewards were chosen by pupils, such as:

  • rewards for the class with the best attendance each term
  • a termly attendance raffle with books as prizes
  • a ‘child’s hamper’ for 100% attendance for the year
  • termly information for parents on their child’s attendance figures

Securing improvements beyond special measures

Leaders felt that it was essential that ongoing honest and accurate self-evaluation was established across the school, involving the whole school community.  Termly standards committee meetings were held where governors were presented with information to hold the school to account and provide effective challenge to ensure that high standards were maintained.  The self-evaluation led to a focused school development plan that was developed with the contribution of pupils, parents, staff, governors and the wider community.

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

School reading data showed that 50% of pupils had reading ages above their expected reading abilities in 2013.  This increased to over 80% by 2016.  The National Reading test data also shows the improvements made in reading.  Pupil voice surveys by the school showed that, by 2016, there was a 59% increase in the number of pupils who enjoyed reading.

By 2016, Heolgerrig had the highest attendance in the local authority.  The school moved to upper 50% in comparison to similar schools and has continued to improve its attendance since.

Since 2015, the school has been categorised as a ‘green’ school in the national catagorisation process.  Standards have remained consistently above the median, compared to those of similar schools.

How have you shared your good practice?

Heolgerrig have been invited to share good practice at cluster and at local authority level.  It engages in a range of school-to-school work and in the sharing of good practice.