Leaders at Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen have worked successfully to create a culture of shared responsibility for improving teaching. All members of the school’s leadership team have improving teaching as one of their core responsibilities. After support and professional development, middle leaders have increasing accountability for the quality of teaching in their departments. All teachers have a performance management target relating to improving teaching.
Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen is a bilingual 11-19 school in Caernarfon in Gwynedd. There are 853 pupils on roll with 171 pupils in the sixth form. Overall, there are almost 100 more pupils than at the time of the core inspection in March 2016.
Approximately 16% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Almost 90% of pupils speak Welsh with their families and 92% are fluent in the language. Most pupils come from a white British background. The school identifies that around 13% of pupils have additional learning needs.
Since the core inspection, the substantive headteacher has been seconded to work in a regional consortium and the deputy headteacher has taken up the post of interim headteacher. One of the four assistant headteachers has taken up the post of interim deputy headteacher. In order to support the leadership team, four middle leaders have taken up further interim leadership responsibilities.
Strategy and action
Improving teaching is a main priority in the whole-school improvement plan, and the school states that it is trying to ‘create an atmosphere that allows the school to push the boundaries of teaching and learning’. The interim headteacher’s vision is for the school to be as inclusive as it possibly can. She believes strongly that all pupils deserve high quality teaching and high levels of support and guidance. In order to reflect this raised level of expectation and increased staff accountability, senior leaders amended or rewrote school policies and procedures.
All senior leaders have improving teaching and learning as one of their core responsibilities. Purposeful training has taken place to ensure senior and middle leaders understand the qualities of successful lessons. All teachers have a performance management target related to teaching. Teachers understand that they have a professional responsibility to improve aspects of their teaching in order to contribute to the whole-school vision. Governors support this priority well. They have prioritised spending to enable teachers to attend beneficial professional learning events. In return, leaders expect staff to share their learning about teaching methodologies and pedagogical issues with their colleagues, either in departmental meetings or at whole-school events.
The substantive headteacher and deputy headteacher (now the interim headteacher) identified the low expectations and lack of ambition of many pupils as a risk to the school achieving its aim of improving teaching and learning. To this end, they split each year group into two parallel bands. This enabled the school to allocate two classes to core subject teachers in each year group, if needed. Splitting year cohorts into two sets of 1, 2 and 3 instead of having sets 1-6 resulted in raising pupils’ aspirations and promoting their belief in being able to reach their potential.
Senior leaders identified the need to make leadership more distributed across the school. They increased the accountability of subject middle leaders, giving them clear direction in terms of their responsibility for teaching and learning within their departments. All subject middle leaders became accountable for the quality of teaching and the consistency of marking and assessment within their subject. As a result of the increased distributed leadership, the rate of improvement and change was fast.
Most staff understood the need to improve teaching and shared the school’s vision and ambition for greater consistency in the quality of teaching. A few teachers volunteered to lead pedagogical programmes to further their own learning and gain leadership experience. However, a minority of teachers were averse to radical changes in the organisation of classes and in the rapidly growing culture of self‑reflection and self-improvement. A significant few were apprehensive about the pace of change. In order to reduce anxiety, the headteacher put in place practices to promote a culture of openness and sharing among staff.
The school introduced triad working which gave teachers the opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues. Leaders ensured that they and other key staff were available to support the triads with the planning and delivery of lessons if needed. Leaders also arranged worthwhile opportunities for teachers to visit other schools to observe strong practitioners. Prior to senior leaders observing lessons, all teachers had the opportunity to co-plan the lesson with a peer of their choice.
Outcomes from monitoring activities showed that the pace of pupils’ learning needed to improve. Leaders spent time researching successful ways to engage pupils in their learning. They shared their findings with staff, emphasising the importance of pupils being at the centre of the lesson and reducing the amount of teacher talk.
The school organised bespoke whole-school professional learning days and events, led by renowned practitioners with a successful background in change management. These strategies helped to reduce teacher anxiety and contributed to a more open culture within the school.
Due to the need to prepare for the introduction of the Digital Competence Framework (Welsh Government, 2016) the school invested heavily in improving its ICT hardware. Leaders purchased tablet computers, white boards, digital resources and specialist hardware for teachers. They provided bespoke training for staff on how to use these resources. They made explicit their expectations of how staff should use the new resources in lessons. In a comparatively short space of time, nearly all teachers have developed good practices in the use of digital technology in their lessons.
Leaders place a strong emphasis on celebrating good practice in teaching and assessment across the school. For example, after every period of work scrutiny, they produce a compendium containing examples of effective feedback and assessment.
Pupils reacted well to the significant change in teachers’ practices and, generally, attitudes to learning across all year groups improved significantly in a short space of time. Pupils interviewed as part of this thematic review praised the changes in the quality of teaching highly. They made particular reference to teachers bringing the learning alive through interesting and engaging tasks that enabled them to think things through themselves.
In a relatively short period, the school has succeeded in improving the quality of teaching across the school. Nearly all teachers have enthusiastically approached the school’s priority to ‘push the boundaries of teaching and learning’. As a result of this new and ambitious drive for improvement, performance at key stage 4 has continued to be at least good for the third year running and standards of wellbeing have improved considerably over the same period.
Next steps as identified by the school
The school will continue to embed the practices introduced to ensure maximum collaboration and co-operation between staff.