Focusing on improvement

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A culture of honest self-evaluation, linked to school improvement planning and a focus on excellent teaching helps Birchgrove Primary School to raise standards.

Number of pupils: 412
Age range: 4-11
Date of inspection: June 2016

Information about the school

Birchgrove Primary School is approximately three miles north of Cardiff centre in a busy suburb of the city bounded by the University Hospital of Wales, the A48 and A470.  The 412 pupils on roll, aged 4 to 11, are taught in 14 single-aged classes. 

Around 10% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  Twelve per cent of pupils have additional learning needs.  Approximately 24% of pupils come from ethnic minority backgrounds around 21% speak English as an additional language.  Very few pupils speak Welsh at home.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Four years ago, pupil performance at Birchgrove Primary School was on a downward trend.  End of key stage results and levels of attendance were falling.  The appointment of a new headteacher provided an opportunity for change. 

A new culture of honest self-evaluation involving all stakeholders was established.  Linked to this was a system of robust school improvement planning, including a clear focus on excellent teaching, comprehensive analysis of data and higher levels of accountability.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The first step towards improvement was developing an understanding of where the school currently stood.  This required open and honest self-evaluation by all stakeholders in the school and a positive commitment to improve and to establish Birchgrove as a school of which they could be proud.

From this base, leaders introduced a range of strategies which were used in a sustained, focused way.  Together they demonstrate the strength of consistency and the principle of ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. They included the following priorities:

  • A clear focus on improving teaching.  Birchgrove participated in the first tranche of the Welsh Government’s Lead and Emerging Practitioner Schools Programme.  It worked in partnership with another local primary school to achieve excellence in teaching and ensure a high level of challenge in all lessons.  The aim was to raise standards in both schools, moving adequate teachers to good and good teachers to excellent.  The partnership enabled teachers to plan lessons collaboratively, observe each other delivering lessons and provide constructive feedback - accelerating the improvement process.  Teaching staff also visited other providers to see best practice in different settings, which helped them evaluate their own work better.
  • Analysing of a wide range of data at all levels (including data related to interventions, end of key stage Welsh Government test results and teacher assessment) to ask challenging questions about performance and provide the basis for improvement priorities.  The analysis included comparisons between teacher assessment and Welsh Government test data to ensure consistency and accuracy.  
  • Introducing a new comprehensive pupil tracking system and visual representation of individual attainment.  This enabled staff to identify pupils at risk of underachievement either at ‘expected’ or ‘above expected’ levels.  Senior leaders challenged staff to ensure that they introduce measures to counter underachievement.
  • Developing the role of senior leaders in raising standards through robust, regular monitoring of teaching and learning and holding pupil progress meetings.  This developed a feeling of empowerment and increased levels of accountability, awareness and focus on pupils’ performance.
  • Reviewing assessment procedures.  This has led to greater consistency across the school, particularly in the use of marking, self and peer-assessment to improve learning.
  • Targeted, high quality professional development for all staff ensures that the school addresses all these priorities effectively.  There is also a close link between school improvement priorities and performance management for both teaching and non-teaching staff. 

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

The school’s relentless focus on honest self-evaluation and planning for improvement over the past four years has had positive results:

  • Standards of teaching in all classes have improved, and are now consistently evaluated as  ‘good’
  • The percentage of pupils achieving Level 6 at the end of Year 2 increased from 22% to 48% in Language, Literacy and Communication and from 29% to 50% in Mathematical Development
  • The percentage of pupils achieving Level 5 at the end of Year 6 increased from 18% to 58% in English and from 18% to 63% in mathematics
  • Many pupils made better than expected progress across the key stages
  • Levels of attendance increased by 3%, placing Birchgrove in the top benchmarking quartile for the last three years. 

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared its good practice with other schools by contributing to courses for the local consortium. It also produced a report on using of the school effectiveness grant to improve standards in mathematics for the Welsh Government.  The headteacher has also mentored new headteachers.