Maintaining a clear focus to improve the consistency of teaching

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Children learning together

Through its consistent approach and focus, Neyland Community Primary School has successfully improved the quality of its teaching. After their core inspection in September 2014, leaders in Neyland Community Primary School reflected that they had previously been trying to do too many things at once and this had led to a lack of consistency and embedding of agreed practices. Leaders decided to focus on what mattered the most in order to bring about improvements in their school. They introduced a list of non-negotiables for all classes, which in partnership with teachers has evolved into a teaching and learning charter.


Context

Neyland Community School is in Neyland in Pembrokeshire.  Currently 333 pupils attend the school, 52 of whom attend the nursery.  The school is organised into five mixed-age and six single-age classes.  Nearly all pupils are of white British ethnicity.

Around 18% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that over 40% of pupils have additional learning needs.  No pupils speak Welsh at home

The headteacher has been in post since September 2006.  Two of the three other members of the leadership team and most teaching staff who were in post at the time of the inspection continue to work at the school. 

Strategy and action

The senior leadership team agree that the findings of the inspection team came as a shock initially, but they were determined to make the improvements necessary.  All agree that the recommendations helped the school to focus on the most important areas and enabled them to say no to initiatives that, although interesting, were not right for the school’s stage of development.  Leaders reflect that they had previously been trying to do too many things at once and this had led to a lack of consistency and embedding of agreed practices.

Leaders recognise that at the time of the inspection a lack of consistency across and between year groups was an issue.  After the inspection, the leadership team constructed a list of non-negotiables for general classroom routines and for the six recommendations.  These non-negotiables were what they expected to see in all classes.  At staff meetings, teachers discussed the non-negotiables and had good opportunities to feed into the process.  The non-negotiables have evolved as teachers have trialled new practices.  For example, the school found that one of the original non-negotiables around feedback and marking was too complicated and cumbersome for teachers and pupils.  In a few cases, teachers were spending more time writing comments than pupils had taken to complete the work.  This led to teacher discussions about the purpose of marking and feedback and an agreement from all teachers to have meaningful conversations with pupils about how they can improve their work.  Teachers also agreed a marking code that all classes use consistently and importantly, pupils understand.  Through whole staff discussion, teachers reached a consensus that marking should always be meaningful and that the quality of the feedback to pupils was more important than the quantity.  School leaders follow-up well on how marking helps to improve pupils’ understanding by conducting work scrutiny with pupils and asking them how the comments of their teacher and peers help them to produce better work. 

The non-negotiables have evolved into a learning charter that the school revisits each half term.  Prior to the learning charter meetings, leaders carry out a range of self-evaluation activities linked to the priorities and agreements in the charter.  These activities include work scrutiny with pupils, listening to learners, governor feedback and lesson observations.  Minutes from staff meetings demonstrate clearly how leaders follow-up on all monitoring activities and provide staff with honest feedback and clear next steps.  Leaders take the time to celebrate all that is going well and emphasise the progress that everyone has made.

Leaders observe every teacher every term against an agreed charter priority.  The school uses the proforma from the regional consortium for assessing the quality of teaching and learning.  When leaders first introduced regular formal lesson observations, teachers saw the observation more as a performance and felt they were under the spotlight.  Leaders state that using the consortium proforma has helped teachers and themselves rethink the purpose of lesson observations.  They now focus more clearly on the impact of teaching on pupil outcomes rather than on the teacher as an individual.  After each observation, the teacher receives brief oral feedback.  The senior leader writes up the observation notes and meets with the teacher for an in-depth professional dialogue about pupils’ standards, the teacher’s contribution to charter priorities, areas of strength in teaching and any further development or support needed.  Senior leaders meet after the round of lesson observations to pull together whole school strengths and areas for development as well as progress toward the charter priorities.  They report their findings honestly and openly to staff.  For example, discussions around lesson observations identified pace as an area for development as pupils stated that they had to listen too much before doing anything.  Teachers introduced the ‘ten second rule’ to try to ensure that they engage pupils actively throughout the lesson and do not become embroiled in lengthy explanations.  Lesson observations also started a discussion about differentiation as leaders felt that although most teachers differentiated activities they were not always considering well enough the starting points of the pupils in the class.  These discussions led to teacher agreement about how to differentiate activities and the importance of having frequent check-ins with pupils to understand how well they are coping with the demands of the lesson.  Senior leaders undertake most lesson observations.

At the time of the inspection, the senior leadership team consisted of a headteacher, deputy headteacher and two senior teachers.  After the secondment of one of the senior teachers, the headteacher extended an invitation to four members of the teaching staff to sit in on and participate in senior leader meetings.  These middle leaders now take responsibility for projects such as lesson study, mastery maths, continuous and enhanced foundation phase provision and moderation.  This has distributed leadership and responsibility well across the school and has improved the professional learning opportunities for these aspiring leaders.

Leaders know their staff well.  They have moved at a pace that staff are comfortable with and have involved staff in many important decisions around what the school should do to achieve consistency and grow its professional practice.  Three teachers explored and trialled the lesson study approach last year.  They are building their experience of the approach during the autumn and spring terms of 2017/2018 with the plan of coaching Year 5 and Year 6 teachers in the methodology in the summer term.  Leaders check constantly that what they are doing is right for their school and are not afraid to stop doing something if it is not working for their teachers or pupils.  The school is just beginning to introduce peer observations, as previously not all teachers were comfortable with this activity.  Feedback from the first round of peer observations was positive with teachers mostly welcoming the opportunity to share their practice.  Senior leaders and a few teachers have had the opportunity to observe practice in other schools.

The headteacher recently undertook an audit about perceptions of professional development in the school.  She ranked the school as emerging, bronze, silver or gold against a range of statements and questions about the school’s current approach to staff development.  The questions focused on topics, such as whether there is a clear vision for effective professional development, the role of leaders in modelling good professional development, how comfortable are staff in sharing their practice and how well the school supports staff to grow and develop their professional practice.  Leaders have used the outcomes from the audit to inform a priority in the school development plan.  Targets against the priority include engaging teachers in longer-term professional learning activities rather than attending one off courses or events and for staff to participate in whole school or phase development activities.  The school has already started this phase of its journey by buying in an external provider to lead a staff development day on what makes excellent teaching.  This day encouraged staff to think about their practice and to share ideas and methodologies.  After this day, and the ensuing professional discussions, staff amended the learning charter to reflect that their lessons would contain a series of mini plenaries to check pupils’ understanding and offer more frequent opportunities for pupils to influence how and what they learn.  Teachers in Year 3 and Year 4 have all attended the same four-day professional development course on how to engage pupils in co-operative learning.  The course, joint fortnightly after-school planning sessions and co-operative learning as the focus of the lesson study trial have led to a consistent approach across these classes and a greater focus on pupils’ social and communication skills and their emotional wellbeing.  Teachers have worked together to think about, for example, how the organisation of their classrooms and their questioning leads to greater levels of co-operation and reduced anxiety for pupils.

Outcomes

The school now ensures that:

  • Monitoring activities lead to clear actions
  • Leaders have a much better understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement in their school
  • All staff now take responsibility for the practice in their classes
  • There are greater levels of consistency, particularly in marking and feedback
  • The whole school considers the impact of teaching on learning
  • Staff are more confident to take part in peer observations
  • The school distributes leadership more effectively
  • Staff have greater opportunities to develop professionally and learn together

Next steps as identified by the school:

  • Provide more opportunities for and embedding of peer observation
  • Consider the financial implications of rolling out the lesson study approach across the school if it proves successful
  • Make more use of research to inform practice, including staff taking part in action research projects
  • Become more external facing and arrange for more staff to visit other providers to share and see other good practice
  • Develop the capacity of staff to reflect on their practice and against the new professional standards

Links 

http://zebra2.neylandcommunityschool.co.uk/