Within a remarkably short space of time, Tredegar Comprehensive School’s approach to improving teaching has enabled staff to establish shared pedagogical principles and a common language for discussing teaching and learning. Staff have a consistent whole school approach to classroom practice and have benefitted from many opportunities to work together to share good practice and to develop ideas and resources.
Tredegar Comprehensive School is a mixed 11-16 school in Blaenau Gwent local authority. It has around 650 pupils on roll. Around 21% of the pupils are eligible for free school meals. The school identifies that 28% of pupils have additional learning needs.
Nearly all pupils speak English as their first language and come from a white British background. No pupils are fluent in Welsh.
The headteacher has been in post since 2012. The senior leadership team is comprised of a deputy headteacher and two assistant headteachers.
Strategy and action
On joining the school, the headteacher immediately identified many shortcomings in teachers’ and middle leaders’ understanding of data. This included a lack of awareness of how to use national indicators to measure the performance of pupils compared with those at similar schools, as well as how to use data to measure the progress and outcomes of individual and groups of pupils. Over time, this had prevented the school from developing an accurate assessment of how well pupils were achieving and consequently of the school’s strengths and areas for development. The existing staff group was well established, staff turnover was low and relationships at all levels within the school were very good. However, overall, the culture within the school was not aspirational. Senior and middle leaders were unclear about their roles and responsibilities and they did not hold staff well enough to account for their performance.
The first round of lesson observations conducted by the headteacher and members of the senior leadership team identified that despite pockets of good practice in teaching, expectations of pupils were low and teachers’ planning did not challenge individual pupils well enough. Opportunities for teachers to share good practice and access professional learning were limited. Across the school, teachers and leaders focused too much on the judgements attached to lesson observations and paid little attention to the impact of their teaching on pupils’ learning.
The new headteacher, together with representatives from the local authority and consortium, had a shared view of the need to raise standards of attainment and attendance in the school. The headteacher was clear that it was essential to develop the leadership of teaching and learning in the school. To do this she would need to strengthen the capacity of middle and senior leaders to understand and use data to drive improvements in pupil outcomes. At the same time, the school would need to establish a common approach to teaching that focused more on the impact of teaching on learning and less on the judgements attached to individual lessons and teachers.
Initially, the headteacher implemented a comprehensive programme of professional learning with senior and middle leaders, focusing on the use of data at both a whole‑school and individual pupil level. This included developing a shared understanding among staff of the most important performance indicators at key stage 3 and key stage 4 and the use of these to measure the relative performance of the school against other similar schools.
In addition, the school’s processes to evaluate the attainment and progress of individual pupils were underdeveloped. The headteacher worked with staff to strengthen systems to track and monitor the performance and attendance of individual pupils and to identify suitable intervention programmes for those pupils in need of additional support. This ensured that all staff had a clear understanding of pupils’ progress, as well as the school’s performance overall. In turn, this enabled staff at all levels to identify the school’s strengths and priorities for improvement more accurately.
Linked to this, the headteacher implemented a range of measures to strengthen the degree of challenge and accountability within the school. Leaders reviewed the school’s performance management to ensure that performance management targets addressed whole-school priorities. These included challenging but realistic targets for teachers that focused on pupil outcomes and related to pupils’ prior levels of achievement. A review of the school’s meeting structure ensured that meetings throughout the school focused consistently on school priorities, as well as providing increased opportunities for staff to contribute to discussion and self-evaluation.
Underpinning these developments, the headteacher was clear that it was essential to develop a culture of professional learning in the school that could support teachers to improve and become more consistent in their practice. A central requirement of this was the development of a shared language to discuss teaching and learning that could facilitate successful joint working and the sharing of effective practice.
As part of the support brokered to the school by the local authority, the headteacher had visited a school in England shortly after her appointment and was impressed by the ethos and approach to developing teaching in the school. In September 2013, two members of staff from this school began working with middle leaders from Tredegar School on a bespoke programme to develop teaching within the school with a focus on improving teachers’ planning to demonstrate increased challenge, active learning and impact.
In 2014, the headteacher of the partner school in England was appointed as Tredegar’s Schools Challenge Cymru (SCC) challenge adviser. This further strengthened the working partnership that had developed between the two schools and enabled the remaining teaching staff in the school to complete the bespoke teaching and learning programme. Following this, a small group of staff enrolled on an outstanding teacher programme, again facilitated by staff from England.
The school used part of its SCC funding to invest in a range of teaching and coaching programmes. This has enabled staff at the school to participate in a variety of professional learning activities closely related to their teaching and leadership responsibilities and their developmental needs.
A further element to the headteacher’s strategy has been to ensure the development of consistent approaches to learning and teaching practice between the secondary school and its partner primary schools. Historically, the schools had always enjoyed positive working relationships and this has strengthened further in recent years through the shared focus on teaching and learning strategies.
A key feature of this collaboration has been to extend access to the suite of teaching programmes to staff across the cluster. This has enhanced significantly the opportunities for teachers to take part in cross-phase joint working and networking. The assistant headteacher from Tredegar and teaching and learning leads from each primary school meet every half-term to plan developments in teaching and learning, and regular ‘TeachMeets’ are held for teachers from across the cluster to share good practice after school.
Within a remarkably short space of time, the school’s approach to improving teaching has enabled staff to establish shared pedagogical principles and a common language for discussing teaching and learning. The programmes have enthused staff and provided a consistent whole school approach to classroom practice. As part of the programmes, staff have benefitted from many opportunities to work together to share good practice and to develop ideas and resources. Pupils have welcomed the implementation of non-negotiable elements for lessons and like the daily routines and the consistency of practice across the school. They feel this has given them greater ownership of their learning as they know what to expect in lessons. Together with the emphasis on increasing the accountability of all staff for the outcomes the school’s pupils achieve, these approaches have contributed significantly to raising the culture of challenge and aspiration within the school.
Teachers from across the Tredegar cluster have responded enthusiastically to the school’s investment in its teaching programmes. To date, 60 teachers from across the Tredegar cluster have taken part in the outstanding teacher programme, 32 have taken part in the outstanding leaders of education programme, 12 have taken part in the improving teacher programme and 50 have taken part in the outstanding teacher assistant programme. In addition, schools in the cluster have trained five facilitators to ensure sustainability.
Pupils benefit considerably from effective continuity and progression in learning. Since 2012, outcomes at the school have improved considerably. For example, outcomes in the level 2 indicator including English and mathematics at key stage 4 have risen from 29% in 2012 to 55% in 2017. Performance in many indicators in 2017 placed the school in the upper 50% of similar schools based on free‑school‑meal eligibility (Welsh Government, 2017c).
Next steps as identified by the school
- Strengthen opportunities for joint practice development through a programme of peer observations where teachers work together to identify areas for development and plan lessons
- Develop opportunities for action research projects across the cluster
- Develop all staff as leaders of learning by continuing to invest in professional development that focuses on ensuring high standards of learning and teaching
- Promote opportunities to share effective practice within the school, across the cluster and beyond