Leaders and teachers set a good example

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Leaders and teachers at The Bishop of Llandaff High School are committed to developing the quality of teaching through training, setting a good example, and helping pupils’ achieve their full potential. Pupils’ develop the skills necessary to be successful in an ever-changing world and understand a sense of morality.

Number of pupils: 1,300
Age range: 11-18
Date of inspection: February 2018

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

Over the last four years, The Bishop of Llandaff has introduced a series of successful strategies, which have led to significant improvements in provision, resulting in very high outcomes across all key stages.  An ambitious vision based on high expectations, clear lines of accountability, and a fine balance of challenge and support has fostered a highly effective environment, which nurtures the talents of students and staff alike.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The changes seen over the last four years have been underpinned by five explicit actions, which have helped shape a transformation in school culture.

1. Establishing a clear and compelling vision of excellence

When governors advertised the position of headteacher in the autumn of 2013, the application pack stated clearly that the new headteacher was expected to help the school become the “best in Wales”.  During the months prior to taking up post in September 2014, the new headteacher was able to invest time speaking to staff, parents and students to gain a firm understanding of the school’s existing strengths and areas for development.  In September 2014, the headteacher articulated how the governors’ ambition could be realised. At its heart this focused on providing an education where all students would be expected to:

  1. achieve their full potential academically

  2. develop the skills necessary to be successful in an ever-changing world

  3. understand a sense of morality

The first two elements were clearly understood by students, staff and parents.  Children were expected to achieve in public examinations, throughout each key stage and, at the same time, develop a broad range of skills.  However, to unpick the third aspect, the school quickly began working with groups of students to identify the specific values desired to help students develop a sense of morality.  After a period of reflection and consultation, the students derived the acronym LARF, relating to ‘Love, Acceptance, Responsibility and Forgiveness’.  These values helped set the foundation of the vision and are constantly referred to in dealing with members of the community.  Furthermore, the process of establishing the values helped establish a critical mass and secured engagement from the school community.  Over time, visual images seen around the school help to reinforce and reflect these values, which form the basis of the school’s purpose.

2. Commitment to developing the quality of teaching through highly effective training

In 2011, Estyn judged teaching at the school to be adequate.  There were pockets of excellence and very good practice across the school.  However, it was too inconsistent.  It was clear that there was a lack of clarity of what constituted excellence within the classroom and, in the months leading up to September 2014, the new headteacher worked with a small team of staff to develop a framework for teaching.  This was launched on the first INSET day in 2014 and is known as ‘The Five Principles’; it became the school’s blueprint of outstanding learning and what staff would be expected to do to help achieve this.

‘The five principles’ of excellence relate to

  1. high level of challenge

  2. development of high quality skills

  3. visible progress in learning

  4. quality questioning

  5. feedback for improvement

The framework alone was not going to have the necessary impact without investment in time and clear actions.  Therefore, a systematic overhaul of staff training began.  All staff training and meetings were to focus on sharing ideas and best practice to promote the importance of learning.  The process of understanding and embedding the five key principles took the following format.  Initially, one principle would be launched at the start of a term/half-term and supplemented with a range of training opportunities, built within the training cycle with optional additional opportunities for staff who wished to develop their practice further.  Throughout the process, there would be opportunities for staff to trial ideas and then disseminate to colleagues within and across departments in the school.  Finally, each term would see a review of progress against the principle.  This review would include lesson observations of a range of staff from all departments to measure impact.  Staff who struggled to implement strategies would receive support through additional training and eventually the process became embedded.

Over the last four years, the challenge for the school has been to help increase the number of staff moving from good to excellent and help the very few move from adequate to good through to excellent.  To help achieve this, a differentiated programme of training has been introduced so that staff receive more bespoke training relative to their own perceived or identified skill level against specific principles.  This has enabled the school to utilise four levels of training (introducing; developing; embedding; excelling) to raise the quality of teaching against each of the principles.

To help engender a culture of continuous improvement, the school removed the use of judgement grades of lessons.  This was to remove the fear of a lesson observation while encouraging a culture that all staff should seek to improve because it is within their ability to do so rather than because there was a need to improve.  Regular informal observations of staff take place throughout the year and this has led to a celebration of the best practice seen throughout the school.  The school has developed its own learning and development site with numerous videos of teachers delivering specific elements of ‘The Five Principles’ to help embed practice.  As a result, the pace in which staff have improved practice has been very rapid.

3. High quality and visible leadership

The consistent message shared by school leaders from September 2014 was that teaching has the greatest impact on student achievement and the role of school leaders is to ensure that developing teaching is the number one priority.  However, to achieve this leaders needed to be competent and highly visible in leading the desired change of culture to ensure that members of the community began to embed the vision and principles.  The introduction of daily learning walks was designed to support staff and ensure that the climate of learning was as expected.  Learning walks for each period of the school day are timetabled.  These involve a member of the leadership (and now more recently pastoral leaders) visiting every classroom in the school, each lesson, every day.  The purpose was to ensure that staff and students know that leaders are highly visible in lessons to support a culture of learning.  This change in leadership behaviour also ensured that leaders developed a clear understanding of strengths and areas for development, while at the same time, where there were any issues with students, ensuring that a member of the school’s leadership could intervene to provide instant support to staff.

Coupled with a focus on developing teaching, leaders at all levels received valuable training to help them fulfil their roles effectively.  The training was based around the national model of leadership and each identified session would include input to support leaders.  Examples of training included, ‘How to have a difficult conversation’ and ‘How to identify intervention strategies from data sets’.  Between leadership team meetings and occasionally at middle leaders meetings, leaders are encouraged to read and set each other homework to ensure that leaders are more strategic than operational in their roles.  As a result, leaders at all levels became more confident and skilled in fulfilling their roles and are equipped to secure accountability more effectively.

4. Decisive leadership actions to secure change

Within the first term in 2014, it was clear that two key areas required change to help secure the necessary improvements: the leadership structure of the school and the design of the curriculum.  In 2014, two thirds of teaching staff held a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR), and a few staff held two or more responsibilities.  As a result, the lines of accountability were unclear and a number of staff held a TLR while not directly influencing the work of others.  In January 2015, the school embarked on a full consultation of the staffing structure with a view to implementing the following September.  The purpose of the restructure was to strengthen the quality of leadership to help secure improvements in provision and standards.  The school developed through consultation a mixture of faculty areas (for very small departments) and departments, which enabled the school to rationalise the leadership of the school at middle tier level.  At the same time, the process provided an opportunity to provide a more appropriate structure for support staff and the leadership team.  While this process was difficult for a few staff to appreciate, the school, including governors, spent a great deal of time carefully explaining the rationale and benefits behind restructure.  As a result, the lines of accountability are very clear, while there are now visible career paths for staff.  This has provided staff with relevant opportunities for growth and development.  The new structure has also ensured that the best possible leaders are in place and the core purpose of school improvement is not compromised by the school’s leadership at any level.

The school’s curriculum offer has not changed much since 2014.  However, the school was keen to review the allocation of curriculum time and the schedule of the school day.  Concurrent with the staffing restructure, the school embarked on modifying the school day from five one-hour lessons to six fifty-minute lessons.  The rationale behind this ensured that additional curriculum time could be allocated for core subjects (English, mathematics, science, Welsh and religious education) while maintaining the full breadth of the curriculum for non-core subjects.  The additional time in English and mathematics, in particular, has helped strengthen the foundation knowledge and skills required to access the full curriculum, while all subjects across the school curriculum remain popular at all key stages.  This change ensured that the school curriculum met the needs of students while not compromising on the basics of a broad and balanced offer.

5. Modelling of leadership activities

School leaders have been effective in modelling leadership activities to support middle leaders and classroom teachers to develop at a rapid rate and ensure that the energies of staff are focused primarily on highly effective planning and delivery of teaching.  To support middle leaders with writing self-evaluation reports and improvement plans, the school produce WAGOLLs (What A Good One Looks Like) so that staff enter the process from a position of strength, working closely with their leadership team link member to produce highly effective documents that accurately identify existing performance, as well as intended outcomes from focused actions.  Staff with leadership responsibilities have additional sections in the staff handbook, which highlight specific actions leaders should be undertaking on a daily, weekly, half-termly and termly basis; a strategic planning cycle to map out the school year; and a toolkit to support leaders in evaluating lesson planning.  These processes and actions have provided clarity to leaders at all levels and have ensured that the process of self-evaluation and improvement planning moves away from activities undertaken at specific capture points throughout a school year to an ongoing process of continuous improvement that is valued and understood.

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

Over the last four years, there have been rapid improvements in the quality of provision at the school.  Highly effective teaching across nearly all subject areas has led to outstanding outcomes for all groups of students.  Achievements at the school are consistently very high against nearly all indicators.  However, the greatest impact of the work has been the embedded culture within the school.  As a result, nearly all staff have a very clear understanding of the principles and practices that take place at the school to support each person to become the best version of themselves.  This commitment to staff development has led to rapid school transformation.

How have you shared your good practice?

The Bishop of Llandaff is a Central South Consortium Professional Hub and has developed a number of staff development programmes for both primary and secondary schools within the region to focus on the leadership of change and school transformation.

The school has worked closely with other providers to help bring about school improvement.  This has involved working with another secondary school in the local authority for 18 months.  This partnership involved sharing leadership practices and strategies to help secure change.  In addition, a number of staff were seconded to the partner school to help introduce sustained improvement practices, two of whom have secured substantive roles in the school.  As a result of the partnership, both the partner school and The Bishop of Llandaff have secured continuous improvements in provision, standards and leadership.

These approaches have helped contribute to a school led, self-supporting system.  The school regularly hosts training events and visits for colleagues from other schools.

Links: www.bishopofllandaff.org