Innovative interventions that lead to improvement in attainment

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Oldcastle Primary School’s mathematics intervention has transformed the subject for the lowest achieving learners and raised standards for all. The school is also the first in Wales to use a new system to support pupils' speech and language therapy.

Number of learners: 437
Date of inspection: June 2017

Information about the school

Oldcastle Primary School is in the centre of Bridgend.  There are 437 pupils on roll, including 58 in the school’s nursery class.  Pupils are organised into 15 classes. 

Around 8% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, which is lower than the national average of 21%.  A very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.  A very few pupils speak Welsh at home.  A few pupils speak English as an additional language, and many of these pupils have only very recently joined the school.

The school has identified that around 12% of pupils have additional learning needs.  This is below the national average of 25%.  A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs. 

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.

The school was last inspected in June 2017.  The headteacher took up the post in March 2013.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Many schools adopt approaches to support pupils through structured interventions, training staff and working with other schools to provide training and support.  Oldcastle started in much the same way, having researched a very successful numeracy intervention that supported teaching and support staff to develop a high level of mathematical understanding.  The intervention built on research that demonstrates that structured interventions are more likely to lead to more significant improvements in attainment.  Staff then saw an educational opportunity in the use of teletherapy to support pupils with speech and language needs. 

The combination of approaches to learning, which build on partnerships with universities and the private sector, have improved outcomes for pupils.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Using a structured intervention has transformed mathematics for the lowest achieving learners and raised standards for all the learners in the school.  At Oldcastle, staff use an intensive intervention strategy for learners in Years 1 to 6 who have the greatest difficulties with mathematics.  They use a specially trained teacher to deliver the intervention.  This teacher also supports other staff within the school to develop a deep, professional understanding of mathematics, enhancing the use of concrete resources and providing a rich learning environment.
At Oldcastle, staff used part of its Pupil Deprivation Grant to fund a ‘numbers count’ strategy.  They work in partnership with Communities First, not only to target pupils at the school but across the cluster of schools.  This intervention strategy targets pupils and their parents or carers.  It focuses on raising the mathematical attainment of the lowest achievers and also provides richness to mathematics teaching for all pupils in every class.  It has enabled the school to support an ‘in-house specialist’ mathematics teacher, who helps to raise standards for all learners and staff.  Many of the school’s specialists have taken career progression opportunities to support and lead other schools. 

Oldcastle’s structured intervention uses a specially trained teacher who gives learners at least three 30-minute lessons a week for a term (12 weeks, 40 sessions), individually or in pairs or groups of three.  On a few occasions a Learning Support Officer also works with small groups of target pupils.  After a detailed diagnostic assessment, the teacher plans a tailored programme for each pupil.  Teachers provide the learning support staff with detailed plans and resources to help fulfil their brief.  Rigorous, active lessons focus on number and calculation, helping learners to develop skills and attitudes that will ensure good progress in class lessons.  The specialist teacher liaises with parents and shares their specialist knowledge with colleagues informally and through structured CPD, raising standards for all learners. 

Training and professional development is paramount to ensure that the intervention is successful.  This includes a number of days of local training by an accredited trainer over two terms, enhanced mathematical subject and pedagogical knowledge beyond what would be required as a non-maths specialist undergraduate.  It also includes high quality continuous professional development for support staff in the use of structured intervention strategies that result in accreditation for the teacher, the learning support officer and the school.  Ongoing continuous professional development and the provision of resources and support continue to build the skill set of all staff involved. 

In addition to this mathematics intervention strategy, the school states that it became the first in Wales to use teletherapy to support pupils’ speech and language therapy.  Using a custom built online platform “Speech Deck” provided by a service provider, identified pupils take part in weekly sessions linked to clear targets.  After a very short period, Oldcastle noticed that its pupils engaged with this new system well, both in specific sessions and back in their usual classes.  The system enables the school to track and make use of data more efficiently in relation to speech and language targets and, most importantly, pupils are getting better outcomes. 

Oldcastle’s Speech and Language service has changed the way it delivers speech and language therapy; streamlining communication between teacher, therapist and parents and delivering an evidence-based intervention that is not only functional but fun!  The school aims to create memorable therapeutic experiences for pupils and all teaching staff. 

The package of support comes with high levels of continuous professional development for support staff, which ensures that they grow in confidence and can apply the skills learnt in different contexts. 

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

These structured interventions have enabled teachers to plan a relevant and engaging curriculum that meets the needs of all learners.  Teachers have ensured that they use the school’s rich learning environment effectively to provide challenging contexts to develop pupils’ numeracy and language communication skills.  The school states that pupils now apply a range of numeracy skills confidently to a very good standard, particularly in mathematics lessons, and is now applying these across the curriculum.  Leaders feel that this impact is evident both within the school and across the partnership schools.  The school states that pupils on the teacher led intervention typically make 14+ month progress over four months, with many making around 20 months progress in this period.  Learners on the Learning Support Officer interventions make around 12 months progress over three months.  Most of these pupils retain the gains made at the three and six monthly check points.  Leaders at Oldcastle feel that pupils with speech and communication needs have seen a significant benefit in using the teletherapy system.  Many pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorder maintain their place in mainstream provision and parents report that it has been life changing for them.  The school feels that all the pupils targeted make excellent progress in their oracy assessments. 

How have you shared your good practice?

Staff within both projects have shared their practice with a number of local schools and groups of teachers.  Teachers, senior leaders and support staff have visited the school to shadow staff, and observe activities and strategies in practice.  They have observed how the school develops its provision for the use of concrete resourcing in mathematics.  They have also shared the practice with partner universities, both in Wales and in England, and with other professionals and parents.