Leaders at Deighton Primary have encouraged teachers to talk to each other and learn from each other. Overtime, teachers have opened their classrooms to their colleagues and have shared their practice with and learnt from other schools. Teachers in the school are confident and ready to take measured pedagogical risks and try new approaches and strategies in order to continue to develop professionally.
Deighton Primary School is in Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent. There are 182 pupils on roll, who are taught in three single age and three mixed-age classes. There is also a part-time nursery class.
Around 32% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Most pupils are of white British ethnicity and none speak Welsh at home. A very few pupils speak English as an additional language. The school has identified around 34% of pupils as having additional learning needs. A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs. A very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.
The headteacher has been in post since April 2012, and the deputy headteacher was appointed in April 2013.
Strategy and action
Senior leaders have high expectations of themselves, their staff and their pupils. Staff agree that the school has to provide the best life chances that it can for its pupils and raise their aspirations. This is the driving force behind everything the school does.
When the headteacher was appointed in 2012, the school did not have a culture of sharing practice between teachers. After a difficult start, the culture changed gradually and gained impetus after the inspection of 2015, in response to the recommendation about sharing good practice. Now, the school uses a mixture of formal lesson observations by senior leaders and more informal observations in teacher triads to continue to raise the quality of teaching across the school.
The current school development plan reflects the school’s continued drive to improve alongside its aim to prepare for changes to the curriculum. For example, teachers are developing an approach to the curriculum that uses ‘vehicles’, or contexts for learning, that provide meaningful, real-life experiences for pupils. In doing so, teachers aim to embed the four purposes from Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) into the curriculum and move towards an area of learning and experience approach.
The headteacher and deputy headteacher focused initially on improving collaboration between teachers in the school. In recent years, they have extended this approach to develop a culture of collaboration with other schools in the regional consortium and further afield to help improve teaching. School leaders encourage teachers to visit other schools in Wales and beyond to acquire new ideas to influence and improve their practice. The school has useful overseas links, as well as benefiting from working with external arts agencies, as part of the ‘lead creative schools’ programme.
In 2012, the headteacher tried to introduce termly lesson observations. Despite some initial opposition, by 2014, regular lesson observations and sharing good practice across the school became the norm. In 2016, the school’s work to improve teaching reached another level, as leaders introduced a commercial, structured framework to focus more precisely on specific elements of teaching to help teachers at all levels to improve their practice and aim to be excellent. Observations concentrate on different elements of the framework across the year, while maintaining a focus on pupil progress and standards at all times.
When senior leaders carry out their termly formal lesson observations, they provide teachers with a very detailed analysis of their lessons, including how long the teacher has spent delivering each section of the lesson. The headteacher believes that this level of scrutiny has been instrumental in helping to raise teachers’ expectations of themselves and their pupils. It aids senior leaders when providing teachers with clear developmental feedback and enables them to identify specific issues that individuals can work to improve.
In addition to formal lesson observations, teachers work with their colleagues in triads and use video technology to film their own lessons at least once a term. These sessions encourage teachers to use their critical skills to review their own teaching and that of their colleagues and develop their evaluative skills. The development of trust between colleagues has been key to the success of this system. It has raised teachers’ self-confidence to hear their colleagues identify strengths in elements of their teaching. It has also encouraged them to modify their teaching, often in quite subtle ways that make a considerable difference to the quality of pupils’ learning, for example giving pupils more time to think before they answer or being more aware of how they question pupils.
As the school has developed its approach to collaboration between colleagues within the school, many teachers have also visited schools identified as having good practice elsewhere in the regional consortium. They have also travelled to England to visit schools with particularly interesting practice. These collaborative experiences help teachers to broaden their thinking and try new ideas that they pick up. For example, swapping classes with other teachers in the school on ‘Freaky Fridays’ provides valuable opportunities to understand the challenges of teaching different year groups. Also, attending meetings with teachers in the locality who are using the same professional learning framework provide good opportunities to share ideas and to discuss successes and failures in a non-judgemental environment.
Senior leaders ensure that teachers and support staff have plenty of opportunity to take part in professional discussion and contribute to decision making. An outcome of this has been the development of opportunities between classes to collaborate on problem solving and investigation activities on a Friday. In turn, this has involved pupils in contributing more to teachers’ planning. For instance, in the foundation phase, pupils suggest ideas for areas of enhanced provision, based on the skills they have been learning in focused activities, such as using a story map in the writing corner, or building a bridge for the gingerbread man to cross the river in the water tray.
Pupils’ standards at the end of key stage 2 are high with around 90% of pupils achieving the expected level in English, mathematics and science (Welsh Government, 2017d). The headteacher believes that this is a direct result of the detailed feedback given after lesson observations. Senior leaders now consider most teaching in the school to be good or excellent.
Teachers are confident and ready to take measured pedagogical risks and try new approaches and strategies. They know that senior leaders and governors are supportive of this, and they are not afraid of asking, or being asked, difficult questions. Interestingly, teachers say that some of the most beneficial improvements in teaching are not necessarily transformational in themselves, but are quite small. The school calls them ‘golden nuggets’, little things that add up and made a significant difference to their work. Teachers share these ‘golden nuggets’ with one another during discussion and reflection after triad observations.
As a result of developing teachers’ understanding of standards by moderating pupils’ work regularly together and quality assuring moderations, the correlation between teacher judgements and the standard of pupils’ work in books is far closer than it was in the past.
Learning conversations in staff meetings are based around learning and teaching. Importantly, teachers and support staff feel valued and encouraged in their professional learning. They acknowledge that senior leaders have very high expectations of them, but understand that they need to be the best teachers they can be if they are to provide pupils with the best possible chance of succeeding.
Next steps as identified by the school
- Continue to provide teachers with clear developmental feedback that enables them to improve their practice
- Embed and extend triad working
- Continue to prepare for the new curriculum