Sustaining excellence in teaching

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Herbert Thompson Primary School provides high quality professional learning opportunities for its entire staff. These opportunities link well to classroom practice and are supported by effective coaching. The professional learning activities build the capacity of all staff and enable them to ‘aim for excellence’ in their teaching.


Context

Herbert Thompson Primary School serves the Ely area of Cardiff.  There are 524 pupils on roll, including 70 in the nursery.  Pupils can join the nursery on a part-time basis at the beginning of the term following their third birthday.  Many pupils are of white ethnic background, the remainder are of mixed ethnic groups.  Around 7% of pupils speak English as an additional language.  No pupils speak Welsh as a first language.  Around half of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that about 38% of pupils have additional learning needs

There are currently 14 full-time teachers and nine part-time teachers at the school.  The headteacher was appointed in 2016 having previously been the deputy headteacher for three years.

Strategy and action

The headteacher and senior team do not take the excellent judgements for granted or underestimate the planning and determination needed to sustain the school’s high performance.  The school sees developing practice and pedagogy as an ongoing improvement priority that has at its heart a shared understanding of what constitutes good and excellent teaching in Herbert Thompson.  Quality professional learning opportunities linked to classroom practice and supported by effective coaching build the capacity of all teachers and learning support assistants to ‘aim for excellence’ in their teaching.  All staff have challenging performance management targets and receive beneficial support to help achieve their targets.  The senior team actively seek to ensure all staff feel valued and respected by taking steps to improve wellbeing across the school.  These include, for example, ensuring that staff have enough time to carry out their tasks and that meetings focus sharply on core issues.  Leaders make sure that they build in regular opportunities to thank colleagues and celebrate the work and life of the school.  Teachers and learning support assistants are proud and happy to belong to the school community.

Through its improvement hub, Herbert Thompson has delivered a range of development programmes for schools across the Central South Consortium including one designed to improve the skills of teachers who already perform well.  The school has enabled many of its own teachers to follow this programme.  The senior team are clear that however good these professional learning opportunities are, it is necessary to follow up and build on the skills developed.  They therefore make a commitment that teachers can reflect and improve on focused aspects of their pedagogy over time.  To facilitate this they invest time and resources to release teachers to undertake peer observations and to use the coaching skills developed during professional learning time.  This allows teachers to share ideas, practice and resources, and begin to unpick the pedagogical principles outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015).

These actions drive home the point that improving teaching is central to school improvement.   The school is planning further opportunities to facilitate discussions about pedagogy to sustain the improving practice.  Alongside the established initial teacher and newly qualified teacher programmes and the pedagogy and coaching work, the school is now sharpening its action research activity to be a manageable yet meaningful addition to the professional learning that takes place. 

Learning support assistants in the school benefit from strong professional learning opportunities.  Through mini learning reviews, learning support assistants reflect on the quality and impact of their work.  These reviews give support staff the time to reflect on how well they deliver aspects of their work, what still needs to improve and how the school can support them.  Support staff have also led professional learning sessions with schools across the consortium on some of the programmes developed by the school.  This has improved their confidence and skills.

Outcomes

As a result of these actions, teaching in Herbert Thompson continues to be very strong and the school has sustained its excellent practices.  The school uses evidence from pupil outcomes, lesson observations and drop-ins, work scrutiny and listening to learners to make this judgement.  All pupils continue to make very strong progress during their time in the school, including groups of pupils vulnerable to underachievement.

Perhaps the biggest difference that the focus on teaching has had is that leaders, teachers and learning support assistants all share how extremely proud and happy they are to belong to the school community.  They feel valued and supported as well as challenged to be the best they can.  They continue to make a significant contribution to enriching the learning experiences for pupils at the school.  Leaders and all staff live out the vision of the school, and exemplify the positive values and behaviours set out for all members of the Herbert Thompson community.

Next steps as identified by the school

Through its rigorous self-evaluation processes, the school has decided to focus on two of the pedagogical principles this year.  Staff are now linking their performance management targets to the new professional standards for teaching and learning, and in particular to the pedagogy dimension of advancing learning.  Teachers can choose from blended learning experiences or real-life, authentic contexts.  As part of performance management, senior leaders have a monitoring and evaluating impact target from the new formal leadership standards that they link to improving pedagogy.

Links 

http://www.herbertthompsonprimary.co.uk/