Making better use of observations to support teachers

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Leaders at Tonypandy Community College have improved their ability to use lesson observations to support teachers to develop aspects of their practice. Leaders identify well shortcomings that need addressing across the school or are pertinent to groups or individuals. Through a range of whole school development sessions, bespoke coaching packages and the use of video technology the college has improved the quality and impact of teaching.


Tonypandy Community College is a mixed 11 to 19 community school serving the town of Tonypandy and its surrounding area in Rhondda Cynon Taf.  There are 619 pupils on roll, of which around 90 are in the sixth form.  Since the last inspection, the overall number of pupils in the school has fallen by around 200 pupils.  This is largely because the sixth form is being phased out as part of the local authority reorganisation.  Tonypandy Community College is due to close and a new 3-16 school will replace it on the current site in September 2018.

Many of the school’s pupils come from the nearby villages of Cwmclydach, Llwynypia and Penygraig.  Around 28% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  Most pupils come from a white British background, and a very few pupils speak Welsh at home.

The school identifies that around 21% of pupils have additional learning needs.

At the time of this thematic visit, an acting headteacher and acting deputy headteacher, both of whom were members of the school’s senior leadership team during the core inspection, lead the school. 

Strategy and action

Senior leaders in Tonypandy Community College consider that their improvement journey began shortly after Estyn placed the college in special measures.  After the inspection, school leaders reviewed their self-evaluation activities and judgements.  They reached a clearer understanding of strengths and areas for development across the college, which allowed them to set more sharply focused priorities for action.  One of the most urgent priorities was to improve teaching across the college, and, in particular, to make more explicit the link between the quality of teaching and pupil outcomes.

The post inspection action plan prioritised teaching and learning, with a particular focus on a few key aspects such as questioning, setting objectives and success criteria.

In addition, leaders recognised that staff wellbeing was key to creating a culture in which to improve.  They ensured that all staff had the training to underpin the improvements expected, and that they knew how to access additional support and guidance.  For example, many staff took part in personal development activities, such as attending mindfulness courses.

To improve communication and distribute leadership more effectively senior leaders clarified and refined their own and middle leaders’ roles and responsibilities.  Over time, faculty leaders took more of a role in monitoring and evaluating the impact of the work, as well as supporting their colleagues.

Leaders reviewed the teaching and learning policy and staff handbook to ensure that their expectations around classroom practice were clear.  They also produced a toolkit that outlined these expectations in detail, and gave guidelines on how to apply a range of teaching and assessment strategies.  A few staff took part in a consortium led teaching programme.  However, the college soon decided that it was gaining more from focusing on a few clearly articulated expectations for all teachers rather than having staff attend external events.

Leaders built up a clearer picture of strengths and areas for development across the college through more robust and accurate observations.  This enabled them to arrange more relevant and, in some cases, bespoke professional learning activities.

One of the activities that the college considers to have had most impact is the use of video technology.  This enabled individual teachers to consider and reflect on their own practice, and to have an opportunity to share and discuss their teaching with other colleagues.  Each faculty had a trained ‘champion’ to support this activity, and to date most teachers have used the technology to reflect on their own practice.  In a few cases, the senior leader with responsibility for teaching and learning used the facility very beneficially to provide direct coaching through an earpiece.  All teachers that took part in the direct coaching activities improved aspects of their practice rapidly and have sustained these improvements.

Along with visits to other schools, and opportunities to observe each other, the culture in the college has become more collaborative.  Teachers talk about an open door policy and value the learning culture that is now more prevalent.

In preparation for the move to a 3-16 school, the cluster has worked more closely together.  Collaborative curriculum planning has been a rich opportunity for teachers to share practice in how teachers can best support pupil progress and to agree how best to develop pupils’ knowledge and skills.  Teachers are enthusiastic about these professional learning experiences as they have encouraged and supported cross phase work.


Nearly all staff participate in and engage well in the professional learning opportunities offered.  Teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities they have to innovate and develop their skills.  Many now feel more able and confident to take risks and try new techniques.

Most pupils feel that teaching has improved.  They know what to expect in lessons and feel they are more involved in their learning.  They feel listened to through pupil forums, and think that the college responds to their feedback.

The college’s greater emphasis on good classroom practice has led to improvements in teaching and pupil outcomes.  For example, in 2017, around 45% of Year 11 pupils achieved the level 2 threshold including English and mathematics.  This is around a 15 percentage point increase on the results at the time the core inspection (Welsh Government, 2017c).

Next steps as identified by the college

As the college is preparing for closure, it will continue to work on its existing priorities prior to becoming part of the new 3-16 school.