Rebuilding professional trust to improve the quality of teaching

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Through listening carefully to staff, valuing their opinions and their work and providing beneficial professional development opportunities leaders at Rogerstone Primary School have successfully improved the quality of teaching across the school.


Context

Rogerstone Primary School is in Newport.  There are 609 pupils between 3 and 11 years of age on roll, including 76 part-time nursery pupils.  The school has two learning resource bases with places for around 20 pupils from across the local authority.

Around 7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  Most pupils are of white British ethnicity and come from homes where English is the first language.  A very few have English as an additional language and only 1% of pupils speak Welsh at home.  The school identifies approximately 25% of its pupils as having additional learning needs.  A very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.

The headteacher was seconded from another school at the time of the inspection.  He became the substantive headteacher in September 2014.

Strategy and action

The school’s focus is always firmly on improving pupil progress and raising standards and wellbeing.  The aim is for all professional learning to have a purpose that links to a school priority and is clear to all staff.  Senior leaders encourage all staff to reflect on their practice and to take responsibility for improving teaching and learning in their classrooms.

As the school moved out of significant improvement, senior leaders had to work hard to improve professional trust throughout the school.  Now, the mutual respect and agreed understanding of high quality teaching that exists in the school is central to the school’s culture.  This ethos encourages teachers and support staff to develop very positive attitudes to their own professional learning.  Leaders, all of whom are effective teachers, model and share their own practice.  Teachers welcome and benefit from these opportunities.  The headteacher maintains that you cannot underestimate how important it is to know your staff and take them with you, particularly in challenging times.  An example of this is taking care to allocate tasks to the most appropriate people, taking into account their strengths and particular skills as well as their aspirations.

The school now uses a published framework to support all teacher observations.  There are three levels of classroom observations: formal lesson observations, informal ‘drop-in’ sessions, and collaborative, reflective observations between groups of three teachers.  All teachers take part in observations at one or more levels, depending on their role and the school’s focus at the time.  All senior leaders work together to quality assure the outcomes of classroom observations.  They personalise any follow-up to lesson observations so that they can address teachers’ individual developmental needs effectively.

When leaders carry out formal classroom observations, for example for performance management purposes, they consider all aspects of the published framework, always keeping pupil progress and standards as the main driver.  When senior leaders or subject co-ordinators carry out brief ‘drop-ins’, they focus on specific areas of the framework, relevant to school priorities or the needs of individual staff.  In a recent example, the mathematics co-ordinator looked at the pace of mathematical warm-up activities, and considered how successfully teachers pitched the session to meet the needs of different groups of pupils. 

To support teachers to work in triads, the school invested resources in video equipment and time for teachers to film themselves working.  Initially, teachers carried this out individually.  When teachers saw themselves teaching their own classes, many felt that this was a major turning point for them.  They could identify their own strengths and areas for development, without fear of criticism from others.  They had the time and space to reflect on their own teaching and the learning of the pupils in their classes.  Once teachers were comfortable with this practice, senior leaders organised teachers into phase coaching groups.  The groups planned a series of lessons together and then observed and filmed one another teaching.  After these observations, they reflected on a specific focus or on a general teaching point, using small extracts of the films as examples of good practice or to illustrate an area to improve.  This systematic approach meant that teachers became used to working in this way gradually.  It enabled them to discuss teaching more confidently and openly with supportive colleagues and develop a culture of genuine collaboration and self-evaluation.

A relatively new development is the use of pupils’ contributions to improve aspects of teaching.  A designated group of key stage 2 pupils observe teaching and learning alongside a member of staff.  They agree a focus and prepare a list of questions to ask pupils as they carry out a learning walk or a lesson observation.  The main focus for the group is to consider the experience of pupils, for example the usefulness of resources and displays and how well pupils engage in their learning.  However, this means that they also note aspects of teaching, such as teachers’ relationships with their pupils and look at how well teachers encourage their pupils to practise the skills they have learnt before.  Recently, for example, the pupil group carried out a learning walk through the school during early morning activities to see how well pupils were practising their spelling.

Leaders encourage teachers to be innovative in their approach to teaching and to place all learning into real-life contexts.  The school does not use a scheme for literacy and numeracy, but uses the literacy and numeracy framework as a spine for teachers’ planning.  This means that teachers have to be creative and flexible in their approach.  They design rich tasks to do this, focusing each term on a cross-school subject driver, such as geography, history, creative arts or science.  Teachers and pupils build their projects around this – they call it their ‘topic takeover’.  Each topic aims to cover a set of skills, but how they do this is up to the classes.

Outcomes

The school has moved forward considerably and is now has a good reputation within its community and across the local authority and consortium.  As a result of successful professional learning and the development of skilled leaders in the school, several teachers have moved on to senior posts in other schools.  Others have been appointed to the senior leadership team within the school, for example to become head of foundation phase and head of key stage 2.

The quality of teaching is a strong feature of the school.  Only a very few teachers currently receive support to improve and, because of the very clear and supportive framework and strategies the school uses, they are fully engaged in this process.  One of the key features of success noted by teaching staff at the school is the professional trust that has developed over the past few years between the head teacher, senior leaders and other staff.  Results of staff questionnaires say that a climate of trust and honesty exists in the school.  Staff feel valued.  They know their roles and responsibilities, they feel free to give honest feedback, and they are happy in their work.

Teachers say that the subtle changes that take place because of the school’s work to improve teaching are sometimes the most effective.  For example, after observing themselves at work, teachers began to think more carefully about how they used their support staff during lessons.  When discussing elements of particular lessons, teachers remind one another of elements of training they may have forgotten, or agreed strategies that might be missing.  Most importantly perhaps, teams of teachers build one another’s confidence by reflecting on what they do well, then sensitively, but honestly, talk candidly about what could be better.

Professional dialogue between staff is of a very high standard.  There is a culture of exploration as they embrace the purposes of Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) into their current curriculum and prepare for the challenges of a new curriculum.  Teachers and support staff embrace new ideas, are willing to try new approaches, and are confident that they have senior leaders’ support to do so.  For example, teachers felt that they were not doing enough to build on pupils’ oracy skills to engage them in learning.  To address this, one teacher set a group of disengaged, but able Year 3 boys the task of planning, writing, creating and filming a television magazine programme.  Senior leaders supported this approach by engaging specialist outside providers to help pupils to do the filming and recording and to work alongside teachers to develop their skills to make activities like this a sustainable feature of the school’s work.  Similarly, support staff know that senior leaders value their opinions and listen to requests for specific support.  For example, a recent survey of support staff revealed some gaps in their digital competency, so the ICT co-ordinators tailored sessions for support staff that met their needs precisely.

Pupils recognise that their voice matters in the work and life of the school.  They contribute effectively to school self-evaluation, collaborate with teachers to set their own targets and have opportunities to make suggestions about how and what they learn.

Next steps as identified by the school

The headteacher and deputy headteacher feel that the school has now reached a strong point in its improvement journey.  There are no current plans to introduce new strategies, but improvement planning focuses on consolidating and sharing the good practice that exists across the school to ensure consistency.

Links

https://www.rogerstoneprimary.com/