Planning and listening to pupils’ needs improves standards

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The Bishop of Llandaff High School listens to families’ recommendations for their children’s futures. The school undergoes regular self-evaluation for its performance, management, teaching and provisions. Focusing on pupil support has raised standards.

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.  A robust set of quality assurance measures, coupled with a fluid self-evaluation cycle, has helped to secure very high levels of intelligent accountability, which is clearly understood by all.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

To help secure rapid school improvement, the school introduced a range of quality assurance measures to help staff at all levels understand their roles clearly and impact positively on provision to influence student outcomes.

  1. Visible presence of school leaders

    In 2014, a new headteacher joined the school.  He launched a commitment to staff, parents and students that school leaders would be highly visible, which has had a significant impact on helping to shape school culture.  Part of this visible leadership is about providing opportunities for stakeholders to engage openly.  From the first meeting with families, the new headteacher encouraged parents and staff to complete a simple questionnaire where they identified three things the school did well, two things that needed addressing immediately, and one piece of advice for the new headteacher.  The feedback facilitated a number of quick wins where small issues could be addressed with relative ease.

    The school introduced a monthly slot where families could come to meet the headteacher to discuss any concerns they may have without an appointment.  While initially there were significant numbers of parents who would come to express concern about certain aspects of teaching, these visits are now more closely linked to career paths and options choices.  This initiative provides families with direct access to the headteacher.  The model has been so successful that a similar approach has been adopted within the sixth form and, more recently, within the school’s specialist resource base for students with autism.  A significant aspect of the visibility of leadership has been the introduction of daily learning walks.  These are timetabled each period, every day, where a member of the school’s leadership team visits every class.  The walks are not used to measure the quality of teaching.  However, the primary purpose of the walk is to ensure that the climate of learning is as desired and to catch people doing things well.  These opportunities promote a culture where discussions around learning become the norm as opposed to managing conflict or issues relating to behaviour.  Another feature of visible leadership has been a shift to an atmosphere where leaders actively seek to discuss matters with stakeholders, rather than communicating via email or letter alone.  This personal approach has been well received and ensures that an interest in members of the community is at the forefront of the behaviours, which leaders seeks to model to others.

  2. Self-evaluation cycle

    At the core of continuous improvement is a three-year action plan, which focuses clearly on the school’s identified priorities.  Using the acronym TEAM, the plan focuses on developing the following areas:

  3. Teaching for learning

  4. Ethos and environment

  5. Achievement and standards

  6. Maximum opportunities for staff

    Each strategic priority has a set of success criteria to enable the school to identify progress.  In establishing the plan, the school developed an improvement group, chaired by the headteacher and made up of a range of staff including support staff, teachers and leaders at all levels.  Split into one of four groups, teams were set the challenge of identifying the actions necessary to meet the success criteria.  These groups would meet regularly over a period of a half-term before presenting their findings to the school’s leadership team.  Once this process was complete, the headteacher then worked with a small group of students who were able to add their views on how the school would be best placed to achieve its strategic goals.  Finally, the work was then supplemented by a select group of governors who were able to scrutinise and add their own views.  As a result, the three-year direction of the school is set by and shared amongst the school community.

    The cycle of self-evaluation is designed to be an ongoing process of continuous improvement.  Covering the duration of the school year, it begins with reflections on examination performance and teacher assessments.  As a first step, all curriculum leaders evaluate the performance of the previous year.  In the first half of the autumn term, this performance relates to key stage 3, while key stage 4 and 5 it is evaluated in the second half of the term (because of lack of verified examination data).  In addition to this, all curriculum leaders are asked to identify trends from item level data taken from examination boards.  This seeks to highlight any particular areas of weakness that need addressing.  At the same time, leaders will consider how the areas for development link to desired actions to bring about improvements.  Working closely within their own teams and line managers, three-year departmental improvement plans are established and modified to focus on priorities arising from self-evaluation activities.  In the summer term, middle and whole-school leaders use the evidence from work scrutiny and lesson observations to make accurate assessments about the effectiveness of teaching, assessment and standards as identified in work scrutiny activities.  The process of middle leadership self-evaluation and improvement planning feeds into the whole-school process.  In the autumn term, the section relating to standards is completed following the submission of all curriculum reports while, in the summer term, the emphasis is placed on provision and teaching.  To support staff at all levels in the process, the school creates WAGOLLs (What A Good One Looks Like) based on a fictitious department so that all leaders have a very clear success criteria.  It has been very helpful in delivering consistency across departments and helped to build confidence in leaders’ ability to evaluate the work of their teams effectively.

  7. Performance management

    Very clear expectations around performance management ensure that individual targets are closely related to the school’s ambitions.  All agreed individual performance management targets are linked to one of three clear areas:

  8. Standards: This would be related to the value a teacher added to their examination classes, using nationally recognised benchmarking tools such FFT. This would be a very straightforward indicator to measure against. A class would either achieve positive value added (average per entry) or not.

  9. Teaching: This would be linked to an agreed area of teaching, for example questioning techniques . For a TLR holder, it is likely to be connected to an aspect of teaching identified as a shortcoming within departmental self-evaluation. As a TLR holder, the expectation would be that actions had a positive impact on the work of those in the team they were responsible for.

  10. Personal: This could be linked to an area of interest or potential career development opportunity.

The process has proved to be straightforward and clear for all staff to understand.  Performance objectives can be easily measured while staff have the opportunity to help shape their own training through identified areas of improvement.  As whole-school leaders, the objectives would be closely linked so that a standard objective for an assistant head may be linked to the value added performance of a team they are connected to.  Therefore, the model provides a joined up approach.  As a result, staff have a very clear idea of how their work will be assessed and, more importantly, a “no blame, no fail culture” has been developed.

  1. Line management

    A clear and detailed strategic plan helps to ensure consistency in important areas of school leaders’ work.  All leaders in the school receive an additional section within their staff handbooks that provides guidance in relation to line managing others.  This includes actions that leaders should undertake on a daily, weekly and half-termly basis as well as providing the leadership team with line management information on shared actions that need to be considered on a half-termly basis.

    The school’s deputy head is responsible for achievement.  To support this, she meets with every curriculum leader once per half-term to quality assure accuracy in professional predictions.  One of her roles in the quality assurance of standards is to monitor which students are performing below expectations but, more importantly, check the actions being undertaken by leaders to ensure that final performance is not negatively affected.  This has led to a very robust level of accuracy of student data and a consistent approach in quality assuring the work of staff.  The impact of this approach has been a far greater level of rigour in the quality assurance of departments.  It has proven successful in providing clear expectations for leaders at all levels and, ultimately, given a high degree of consistency across all departments.

  2. Lesson observations and reviews

    In seeking to establish a school culture of continuous improvement, the school abandoned formal lesson judgements when observing lessons.  Seeking to develop a mindset that all staff have the ability and potential to improve even if they may not need to was a primary driver behind this.  However, it was clear from engaging with staff that formal judgements to lessons provided staff with greater anxiety around the purpose of observations.  While the school’s framework enables staff to identify ‘What excellent looks like?’ not providing an overall judgement of the lesson has helped to engage staff fully with the benefits of observing practice.  As a result, teachers are now far more confident in observing lessons and being observed, while taking learning risks in the knowledge that an error would not be seen as a negative.

    A similar approach was taken to the use of formal reviews of subjects and departments.  As with most schools, individual subject reviews were an everyday part of school life.  However, from 2014 the focus on delivering high quality teaching, linked closely to the school’s identified framework for teaching, saw a move towards cross department thematic reviews.  This approach was more like a mini-inspection where each term an area would receive attention.  Throughout the course of the year, each member of staff would contribute towards one of the thematic reviews to ensure that the full breadth of teaching staff was included.  However, while reports would be written in a similar format to an Estyn style inspection, there were no formal judgements awarded.  Instead, reports would identify recommendations for improvement at whole-school, departmental, and individual classroom level.  At the same time, these reports would highlight highly effective practice, which would be shared across the whole school to model excellence to others.  As a result, this process encouraged far greater sharing amongst staff and reduced the fear of reviews and observations from the daily practices of teachers.

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.  The systems for quality assurance in school have ensured that the performance of staff is highly effective, which impacts positively on provision and standards.  As a result, 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.  Leaders and staff at all levels 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.