Nearly all staff at Dŵr y Felin Comprehensive School understand the importance of quality teaching and are partners in the school’s improvement journey. Staff feel empowered to try new approaches, knowing they can reflect on their successes and areas to develop with colleagues through the coaching sessions, meetings and teacher learning networks.
Dŵr y Felin Comprehensive School is an English-medium 11-16 mixed comprehensive school in Neath Port Talbot with around 1,150 pupils on roll.
The school draws pupils from Neath and the surrounding area. Around 17% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. About 2% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes. Most pupils are from white British backgrounds with a very few from minority ethnic groups. The school identifies that around 26% of pupils have additional learning needs.
The senior leadership team consists of the headteacher, two deputy headteachers, two assistant headteachers and a bursar. The headteacher has been in post since 2012 and the two deputies have been members of the senior leadership team since 2009 and 2008. The assistant headteacher responsible for teaching and learning has been in post since June 2017. Previously, one of the deputy headteachers held this responsibility.
The school is currently a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to the curriculum and other professional learning.
Strategy and action
The headteacher and senior leadership team in Dŵr y Felin are clear that the school motto ‘Nid da lle gellir gwell’ ‘It’s not good enough unless it’s your best’ applies to the whole-school community. Leaders have high expectations for the provision of teaching and assessment. They provide extensive professional challenge and support to staff to enable them to reach these expectations.
The school considers a wide range of evidence through its self-evaluation processes. This ensures a holistic view of how effective teaching is across the school and what needs to improve further. This informs teaching as a central priority in the school development plan. Senior and middle leaders understand that improving teaching is one of their core functions. Teaching features on the agendas of all team and line management meetings, as well as being a key performance management objective for all staff, personalised to their role and their development needs.
An established teacher learning network group meets on a monthly basis. This group gives staff the opportunity to share pedagogy and teaching resources, in line with the termly school pedagogy focus.
This year the school has chosen to concentrate on four of the pedagogical principles from ‘Successful Futures’ (Donaldson, 2015). These are:
- mindset and the power of effort, which supports the focus on more able pupils in the school development plan
- deepening thinking, for both critical and creative purposes
- learning autonomy and independent learning; pupils still need guidance, but they also need to learn to take ownership of their learning
- meaningful and authentic learning
Through these foci, the school is seeking to provide stimulating enrichment activities that add depth and breadth to learning.
The network group has created and trialled approaches which staff now implement across the school. For example, after making feedback a focus, the group made a number of refinements to their current methods. Group members trialled and evaluated the effectiveness of these changes before rolling them out at a whole school level. The group used a similar approach when considering how to refine and improve questioning. These collaborative approaches offer staff an opportunity to research and then apply relevant theory to wider school priorities, such as raising the attainment of more able pupils.
Dŵr y Felin has adopted a coaching approach as an aspect of its professional learning offer. The school uses coaching in two distinct ways:
- All staff review their own performance using digital technology. Self-reflection takes place at an individual level, although most teachers choose to discuss aspects of their teaching with a colleague or line manager. All teachers have had training on how to use this dialogue as a tool for reflection. In discussion with performance managers, staff set themselves clear actions to develop further pedagogical techniques and approaches.
- Due to a recent senior leader appointment, Dŵr y Felin has had an opportunity to use the GROW coaching model with all staff. This non-threatening professional dialogue is welcomed and embraced by many staff and is becoming a strong tool for professional learning in the school.
All staff have beneficial opportunities to discuss their current goals and personal development needs with a coach. The school’s investment in time has been rewarded by renewed commitment to the school’s drive to continue to improve performance at all levels. Staff feel listened to, and have access to bespoke, personalised support, much of which the school provides through its internal expertise. All professional learning opportunities teachers identify have to demonstrate that they benefit other staff and pupils, as well as linking to the new professional teaching standards.
A further benefit of this approach is the deep knowledge gained of staff views on a range of important aspects of school life. This has enabled senior leaders to target whole school activities more precisely, particularly regarding wellbeing. They have made the most of useful readily available external resources to do this, such as Academi Wales publications.
As a result of the continued sharp focus on teaching, there are significant improvements on those aspects that have been identified as priorities. Using evidence from lesson observations, work scrutiny and pupil voice activities, the school concludes that, due to changes made by staff, questioning is now a strong feature in many lessons and the quality of written feedback has improved. Many comments now enable pupils to understand how to improve their work.
Nearly all staff understand the importance of quality teaching and are partners in the school’s improvement journey. They feel empowered to try new approaches, knowing they can reflect on their successes and areas to develop with colleagues through the various networks and meetings. Most of all, staff clearly enjoy the opportunities they have, and take on the challenge of further improving their teaching with pride. They are proud to belong to Dŵr y Felin and share the headteacher’s ambition for the school and its pupils.
Pupils feel challenged by their teaching and embrace this with zeal. Older pupils recognise the changes that have taken place over time, and how teaching now offers new challenges and opportunities to aim higher. Many pupils understand that learning is not always easy, but feel supported and encouraged by all staff.
Next steps as identified by the school
- Developing four further pedagogical principles
- Continuing to focus on pupil responses to feedback
- Incorporating the four core purposes
- Using digital resources in the classroom