Keeping pupils at the centre of teaching and learning

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At Gladestry Church in Wales Primary School, there are exceptional levels of respect between pupils and staff. Teachers are determined that pupils should lead aspects of their own learning and facilitate this through their excellent teaching practices. The school is well on its way to exemplifying many of the pedagogical principles that underpin the new curriculum.


Context

Gladestry Church in Wales Primary School is in the village of Gladestry in Powys.  There are just over 40 pupils on roll between 4 and 11 years of age.  The school has two mixed-age classes.  Since the last inspection, in line with the policy of the local authority, the school no longer provides for nursery-aged pupils. 

All pupils are white British and no pupil speaks English as an additional language or speaks Welsh at home.  No pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that around 15% of pupils have additional learning needs. 

Since the 2009 inspection, there have been no changes to teaching staff.  The headteacher has been in post since September 2001.  The headteacher has 1.6 days per fortnight to carry out her leadership responsibilities and teaches the key stage 2 class for the remaining time.

Strategy and action

All staff, pupils, governors and parents believe in the school’s guiding principle, which is that pupils should be at the heart of the teaching and learning process and that pupils should own their school and everything that happens in it.  This is central to the school’s ethos, vision and daily practice and leads to pupils consistently making informed choices about what and how they learn.

One of the main catalysts for the school’s approach to curriculum development and pedagogy was the publication of the non-statutory skills framework for 3 to 19-year‑olds in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008a).  This document, coupled with additional guidance in the form of ‘Making the most of learning – Implementing the revised curriculum’ (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008b), gave the school the impetus to adopt a new curriculum and alter the way in which teachers facilitated learning.  The document reiterates the aims of the curriculum, as:

  • focusing on the learner
  • ensuring appropriate skills development is woven through the curriculum
  • focusing on continuity and progression for 3 to 19-year-olds
  • offering reduced subject content with an increased focus on skills

This was the starting point for asking pupils what and how they would like to learn.  Since 2008, the school’s pedagogy and curriculum have evolved, but pupil voice, respect for everyone, independence and creativity remain central.  Many of the school’s current teaching practices exemplify well the 12 pedagogical principles outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015). 

Both teachers in the school are highly successful in encouraging pupils to make their own decisions.  They ask pupils questions such as

  • what do you think we should do next?
  • how best can the adults or your peers help you?
  • how can you help yourself to improve? 

Questions like these are not one off events but happen on a regular basis and help pupils to have control over their own learning.  Comments from a pupil who has joined the school recently encapsulate the teachers’ approach.  He says that in his previous school, ‘I was always told what to do, never asked what I wanted’.  During a learning conversation with his teacher about what he wanted to achieve, they looked together at the work in his books from the previous school and he came to the realisation that his work, prior to starting at Gladestry, had not challenged him.  What is interesting is his comment that he would not have known or even thought about challenging himself before he joined the school.  Challenging yourself, each other and asking when you do not know something are common and consistent themes in conversations between everyone involved in the school.  Teachers model learning conversations with each other and pupils.  Their regular and insightful feedback helps pupils to improve their learning and encourages them to take greater responsibility for their own outcomes. 

Another successful feature of the teaching in the school is the high level of trust between staff and pupils.  Teachers model effective teaching and talk explicitly to the class about what makes effective teaching, such as good questioning, high expectations, valuing all responses and planning appropriately challenging work.  They encourage pupils, particularly those in the key stage 2 class, to plan their own lessons and teach the rest of the class.  Older pupils also regularly support the learning of pupils in the foundation phase.  This practice has grown over time and pupils are now very confident in delivering lessons to their peers.  In the summer term 2017, key stage 2 pupils split into groups with each group taking responsibility for planning and delivering a week’s worth of lessons on a topic of their choice.  The teacher talked to pupils about what the plan should contain in terms of developing skills and knowing what they wanted their peers to learn.  She gave pupils planning time.  The pupils’ planning contained success criteria, links to the literacy and numeracy framework and often tasks at different levels.  When pupils are teaching, the teacher observes carefully, directs the pupil teachers to those in need of additional support and models questions that pupils may wish to ask individuals and groups.  Again, this is a two way process with pupils also suggesting ways that teachers could improve their practice.  Every term, Year 6 pupils formally observe the teaching in each class.  They fill in a proforma showing their thoughts on what they have seen and set relevant targets for the teachers.

To make sure that they keep in touch with the learning and pedagogy in the other class teachers swap classes for a session every week.  They formally observe each other each term and use the regional consortium proforma to evaluate the quality of learning and standard of teaching.  However, the headteacher is considering moving away from this practice as she feels that it adds little value and is not telling her anything she or the other teacher do not already know.  She is researching different models before making any changes.  Teachers, pupils and governors monitor the quality of provision and the standard of work in books regularly.  They use the outcomes from these activities extremely well to inform priorities in the school development plan.  Teachers and pupils produce detailed action plans, which focus well on improving standards and teaching.  For example, the school is now prioritising the ‘taking measured risks’ element of Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) as pupils identified that this is an area they need to improve.

The headteacher is very conscious that, as a small school in a rural location, she needs to be proactive in establishing professional relationships with other providers.  She has weekly conversations with the headteacher of the local pioneer school to ensure that she is aware of what is happening in the wider field of education.  She also reads extensively to keep abreast of new research and curricular developments.  The headteacher shares this information with others in the school.  The foundation phase teacher also seeks out information actively and uses online forums to learn about the practice in other schools and share ideas.  Both teachers are very keen to acknowledge that they are responsible for their own professional learning and take this responsibility seriously. 

Outcomes

Due to the exceptional levels of respect within the school and teachers’ determination to facilitate learning through their teaching practices, the school is well on its way to exemplifying many of the pedagogical principles that underpin the new curriculum. 

Teachers:

  • maintain a consistent focus on the overall purposes of the curriculum
  • encourage pupils to take increasing responsibility for their own learning
  • support social and emotional development and positive relationships
  • encourage collaboration
  • challenge all pupils by encouraging them to recognise the importance of sustained effort in meeting expectations that are high but achievable for them
  • employ a blend of approaches including those that promote problem solving, creative and critical thinking
  • set tasks and select resources that build on previous knowledge and experience and engage interest
  • create authentic contexts for learning
  • employ assessment for learning principles
  • regularly reinforce cross-curriculum responsibilities, including literacy, numeracy and digital competence, and provides opportunities for pupils to practise them

Next steps as identified by the school

  • Work with another local school to share practice using video technology
  • Take part in an action research project about taking physical measured risks
  • Consider further how well the school compares as a learning organisation

Links 

http://www.gladestry.powys.sch.uk/en_GB/