Leaders at Sketty Primary School have supported staff well to address the shortcomings in teaching and the variability of practice across the school. Through joint observations and the use of a buddy system, teachers now have a shared understanding of what constitutes good teaching and have higher expectations of what pupils can achieve.
Sketty Primary School is in Swansea. There are currently 472 pupils on roll from 3 to 11 years old, taught in 15 classes. Of these, 54 attend part-time in the nursery.
Around 5% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Many pupils are white British. A few pupils speak English as an additional language and no pupil speaks Welsh at home.
The school identifies around 8% of its pupils as having additional learning needs. A very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs. Very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.
Since 2012, the school has had three different substantive headteachers as well as brief periods when an acting headteacher was responsible for the school’s leadership. The school’s current headteacher took up the post in September 2017.
Strategy and action
Following the core inspection of 2015, the school needed to work strategically to address all recommendations. Leaders realised that the unsatisfactory judgement for teaching made this the key priority for improvement. In particular, leaders were acutely aware of the need to address issues of inconsistency in the quality of teaching across the school. These issues included ineffective planning in a minority of classes. This meant that in too many instances, pupils did not build on their prior learning effectively because they were receiving lessons that did not contain activities with the right level of challenge. There was also too much variability in the quality of feedback to pupils, which meant that they did not understand well enough how to improve their work. Processes for ensuring the accuracy of teachers’ assessments were not rigorous. Leaders set out a plan for improvement.
The school amended its staffing structure and redefined the responsibilities of leaders. It made sure that these roles supported the school in achieving its strategic aims, which at this stage were the inspection recommendations. For example, leaders became responsible for carrying out lesson observations, scrutinising pupils’ work and giving professional feedback to teachers under their direct line management.
Initially, senior leaders worked with members of staff who needed support as part of a buddy system. This enabled colleagues to start to visit each other’s classrooms to share practice. At this point, it was important for the school to develop a shared understanding of what good teaching looked like. They began to use the regional consortium’s teaching toolkit. Senior leaders worked in pairs to observe lessons. This was helpful in supporting senior leaders to have professional dialogue about aspects of teaching practice and to arrive at agreed judgements about the quality of teaching. This practice was also effective in laying the foundations for teachers to become reflective practitioners.
During the follow-up visit in May 2016, inspectors noted that, ‘School leaders have used regular, systematic monitoring of lessons, undertaken internally and by the regional consortium, to identify strengths and areas for development in the work of individual teachers. They have used guidance and training from the local authority and regional consortium well to increase the range of teaching approaches and to develop the capacity of staff to reflect critically on their own teaching.’ However, for a few staff, the constant pressure of judgements and the very wide range of expectations within the teaching framework proved daunting. They saw this more as an affirmation of what they were not good at doing. More recently, leaders have acknowledged this, for example by using non-judgmental lesson observations that focus on identifying strengths and areas for improvement.
To develop consistency of expectation and practice, senior leaders undertook shared book scrutiny work with their ‘buddies’. This was helpful, for example in addressing inconsistencies in written feedback to pupils. It enabled staff to evaluate whether they were working in accordance with the school’s policy. Over time, the school has developed this practice further by using additional strategies, such as marking in different coloured pens to identify strengths and areas for improvement and by leaving a blank page alongside an initial draft for pupils to respond to marking. The challenge presented by teachers’ marking and the target setting arrangements now helps pupils to make progress in line with their needs and stage of development. Across the school, pupils understand and respond well to these systems.
The school re-launched the use of other assessment for learning strategies that had faded over time. These included regular opportunities for pupils to talk with partners, for example to discuss prior learning.
At the same time as introducing the teaching framework, the school identified the need to visit high performing schools to observe effective practice. Teachers went to schools for focused visits. They worked on effective strategies to use assessment information to plan next steps for learning that meet pupils’ needs successfully. They introduced this practice well in classes. For example, when planning to teach pupils to write for different purposes, teachers use books from the previous year as a starting point. This enables teachers and pupils to pick up from the appropriate starting point by identifying what they did well, for example in their last piece of recount writing and what they needed to improve upon next time. Over time, teachers have taken this approach further by introducing a useful child-friendly target setting process to support continuity and progression in learning. This practice gives pupils a voice in assessing their own work against specific criteria and in identifying how they can improve further. All teachers now keep the impact of this work under review to continue to ensure consistency and to share practice, for instance in phase meetings where different departments meet to evaluate their work.
The school has developed a sound understanding of foundation phase pedagogy. Staff implement this consistently in their daily work. They ensure that in most sessions there is a suitable balance between child-initiated and adult-led activities. Teachers make effective use of direct teaching strategies, for example, to teach early writing skills. Staff now plan learning activities in areas of continuous provision well and generally enhance these areas appropriately with resources that capture pupils’ interests. The school has developed useful resources to teach pupils in the outdoors. Worthwhile training opportunities for support staff have strengthened their questioning skills and improved their capacity to intervene in and enhance pupils’ learning at appropriate points.
The school has developed the capacity of staff to use specific schemes well, for example to teach pupils early reading skills and to develop pupils’ understanding of different genres of writing. Initially, the school used these as a tool to support consistency. However, it is beginning to make more discerning use of these resources. For example, teachers are starting to use them when needed rather than as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The school’s internal monitoring arrangements identify that, in combination, this work has improved the quality of teaching so that many lessons are good or better. The school judges that now, there is no teaching of an unsatisfactory standard.
There is a shared understanding of what constitutes good teaching and staff respond well to high expectations.
Strategic decisions, such as staff working as buddies and the introduction of phase meetings, have supported the staff to develop a culture of reflection and sharing.
The school is building well on these foundations. The new headteacher has developed a strong team ethos in a very short time. Subtle strategies, such as the competition to produce a design for classroom doors, have helped generate a team ethos and healthy competition. She has changed the staffing structure to increase leadership capacity, for instance by introducing teaching and learning responsibility posts. She is empowering the senior leadership team and teachers to reflect on successes in improving teaching and to secure further improvements. For example, she has introduced a new system of video observations sensitively in a supportive and non-threatening way. Overall, staff are positive about this development. They are keen to reflect on their own professional practice against a published teaching toolkit to identify strengths and areas for development. There is a strong sense of ownership and optimism among leaders and teachers in relation to how the quality of teaching will improve further from this point.
The school has already begun to use the recently published national professional standards for teaching and leadership. It uses these appropriately to support wider curriculum reform, for instance to embed the 12 pedagogical principles from Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) in its work. There are many instances of this, for example, the school collaborated with an external provider to improve foundation phase pedagogy. This led to bespoke on-site coaching for staff. Staff found this beneficial in developing their continuous and enhanced provision and in improving the skills of teaching assistants to use these areas with pupils. For instance, during numeracy activities, teaching assistants were finding it difficult to develop pupils’ numeracy skills. Through coaching and support, they have developed a ‘golden numeracy thread’ of the week, which builds on skills that pupils have developed the previous week in direct teaching activities. Leaders have worked collaboratively with community partners to plan learning experiences in authentic contexts such as a project to make, market and sell soap. These opportunities combine many areas of learning effectively and challenge pupils at the right level. The introduction of the Dw i’n meddwl bod (I think that) has helped develop pupils Welsh and English language skills. It has also deepened pupils’ capacity to think and articulate their feelings about issues and to develop creative skills, for example by responding to a challenge to develop a new chocolate bar for Willy Wonka and to describe the powers it may hold.
Next steps as identified by the school
- Develop the culture of reflective practice further through the use of video technology
- Strengthen the capacity of senior leaders as observers of teaching so that they can provide the right support to individual teachers with different professional needs to help them improve
- Build on the initial use of the professional standards for teaching and leadership to support improved teaching pedagogy and to enable effective curriculum reform
- Improve provision to develop pupils’ digital skills