Eliminating a fear of being wrong is central to inspiring creative teaching and learning at Ysgol Cynwyd Sant. With a strong focus on pupil voice, the primary school has encouraged staff to experiment with different ways of providing learning experiences using real-life contexts. This case study represents the school’s curriculum development in relation to their progress in self-evaluation, planning and preparation and realising change.
Ysgol Cynwyd Sant is in Maesteg. There are 300 pupils on roll, including 40 nursery-aged pupils. There are 11 classes, included five mixed-age classes.
A few pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes. The school has identified that 23% of pupils have additional learning needs, including a very few who have a statement of additional learning needs. A few of the pupils are eligible for free school meals. Very few pupils come from ethnic minority or mixed backgrounds.
Stage 1: Evaluating the current curriculum within wider self-evaluation arrangements
The school has developed rigorous and effective self-evaluation procedures that are central to the leaders’ ability to plan and ensure improvement. All stakeholders play an active role in the process of identifying strengths and areas for further development. Pupil voice is a strong feature of the school’s self-evaluation arrangements. Pupils contribute meaningfully to the process by carrying out lesson observations, contributing to curriculum planning and helping to formulate policies. Their voice has a strong influence on ensuring a successful curriculum and securing successful arrangements for the creative arts. The system of teachers observing lessons in triads is also an excellent feature of this process. Staff are given clear guidance on how to evaluate the effect of teaching on pupils’ progress through peer observations in established triads.
These arrangements have enabled the school to implements change quickly. School leaders engage regularly with other stakeholders to evaluate current provision in order to develop a broad and exciting curriculum for all pupils. Initial monitoring reports identified that schemes of work were not comprehensive enough to meet the needs of all aspects of the curriculum. For example, the scheme for science did not provide enough challenge for pupils, and opportunities for them to use their investigative skills to work independently were limited. As a result, the school stopped using commercial schemes of work to plan lessons, and developed their own planning in line with the school’s vision to provide a wide range of experiences and opportunities for pupils, so that they make informed choices and decisions based on these experiences in the future.
Stage 2: Planning and preparing for change
A strong feature of planning for improvement at the school is the staff’s understanding of their own role and responsibility. School improvement priorities include specific objectives and actions to develop a knowledgeable workforce that will deliver the new curriculum. Leaders ensure specific times for the teacher triads to meet in order to plan and evaluate their work regularly. They regularly consider research and practices from other countries, such as the provision for expressive arts in Quebec, Canada, for support and guidance on revising the curriculum.
The school includes all stakeholders successfully in the process of establishing the new curriculum. Effective communication with staff, governors and parents ensures their understanding of and commitment to any developments or changes in provision. The positive attitude of all stakeholders towards becoming involved in continuous improvement is a key part of the school. As a result, teachers trial and implement any changes, such as whole-school themes that promote the four purposes and 12 principles of innovative pedagogy. Working together in cross‑phase triads reinforces this work effectively and allows staff to plan collaboratively and to observe each other’s lessons.
The oldest pupils have a very good awareness of the new curriculum and of the four purposes. When preparing pupils for change, the school provides worthwhile opportunities for pupils to discuss the four purposes and contribute towards the preparations. The learning mats created by them are a good example of this. Pupils also contribute effectively to whole-school project planning. For example, pupils in Year 6 share ideas for themes such as “Penguins”, “Big Science Questions” and “Oh, no problems!” by proposing multimedia activities to develop elements of the digital competence framework.
Leaders plan purposefully to develop effective pedagogy that reflects the 12 pedagogy principles of Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015). Lesson observations by triads lead to challenging feedback and specific training on how to develop aspects of pedagogy. The school is a training hub for teachers across all four consortia, and staff who deliver the training benefit from learning and sharing good practice with delegates. This has a very positive effect on their own teaching skills as they strengthen their awareness of teaching styles outlines in the 12 pedagogy principles. Leaders offer high quality support for staff and make decisions jointly about what, how and when to introduce new styles by considering and acting upon measured risks.
Stage 3: Realising change
As well as implementing new teaching strategies across the school, the staff have written their own definitions of the 12 pedagogical principles identified in Successful Futures, (Donaldson, 2015). Teachers use a range of teaching styles that encourage the development of pupils’ thinking skills and their ability to use assessment for learning methods to improve their own work. This is shared successfully with other schools in assisting them to identify their own steps for curriculum development.
Staff are encouraged to experiment with different ways of providing ambitious experiences for their pupils that promote the four purposes and the digital competence framework. Members of the school council have created and branded stickers and posters to represent the four purposes. These are presented to pupils when their peers or members of staff feel that they have been ambitious, capable learners or if they have acted as ethical citizens. For example, pupils were awarded an ‘ethical citizen’ sticker, having established a food bank in the town. In addition, staff have been given freedom to plan a series of lessons on a whole-school theme in order to try to include the pupil voice, the four purposes and the 12 pedagogy principles in planning. A short whole-school project on ‘penguins’ ensured valuable opportunities for pupils to develop their numeracy, literacy and ICT skills, and to familiarise themselves with the four purposes. Pupils in Year 6 created a plan for a ‘lip balm’ business, conducted market research, marketed the product and calculated profit and loss. This project enabled the pupils to practise their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills in a real-life context, and encouraged them to use their creative and performing skills for a purpose.
The school works closely with the Arts Council to plan exciting activities to develop pupils’ oracy skills, their self-confidence and creativity. Pupils work collaboratively with other schools as well as a creative agent and practitioners. Leaders have a clear focus on developing members of staff as creative practitioners. In order to inspire the creative nature of staff and pupils, the school believes strongly that there is a need to eliminate the fear of being wrong, in the first instance. This is central to the school’s pedagogy in order to develop a creative and innovative learning community.