The headteacher at Ysgol Cynwyd Sant is committed to the concept of teachers as researchers. Senior leaders have introduced innovative ways to develop teachers’ research skills as part of their everyday work, and without overburdening them. Research now supports and underpins teachers’ professional development, performance management and school self-evaluation successfully.
Ysgol Cynwyd Sant is in Maesteg in Bridgend local authority. There are around 300 pupils on roll, including 40 nursery pupils. There are 11 classes, five of which are mixed-age. Welsh is the main medium of the school’s life and work. Around 30% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.
Around 12% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The school has identified that around 23% of pupils have additional learning needs. A very few pupils come from ethnic minority backgrounds. A very few pupils are in the care of the local authority.
The headteacher, who was previously the deputy headteacher at the school, was appointed in September 1999.
The school is a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools on developments relating to the curriculum and professional learning. It is also part of the Welsh Government’s lead creative schools programme and is a hub school for its regional consortium. This means that it supports other schools in the consortium by providing training and opportunities to observe and share good practice.
Strategy and action
The school has always invested considerable resources into developing the skills of its staff as teachers and leaders. This includes teaching assistants with responsibility for leading learning with classes and groups.
The headteacher is an experienced leader who instils confidence in her workforce. She encourages them to try new ideas and different ways of doing things, and supports them to do so by providing the time and resources to plan and execute things properly. As a result, members of her leadership team and other staff develop strong leadership skills and considerable self-assurance. They are not afraid to evaluate their work critically and adapt or abandon plans when necessary. Leaders do not risk damaging pupils’ progress or wellbeing and always ensure that there is good evidence to suggest that any changes will have positive outcomes. Although teachers have high levels of autonomy, there are clear guidelines within which they should work. For example, when planning a topic, senior leaders identify a set of non-negotiable expectations. This includes a preparatory week when teachers remind pupils of basics, including the importance of purposeful talk, classroom and school rules, presentation and spelling, and the four purposes.
The school has a joined-up approach to everything it does, and ensures that all developments link to one another. School improvement planning, performance management, professional learning, teacher research and changes to the curriculum all link closely and this ensures that teachers do not feel as if they are repeating work unnecessarily, or carrying out work for the sake of it. In nearly all cases, anything teachers do fulfils multiple purposes.
In recent years, the school has changed the emphasis of classroom observations. The headteacher and other senior leaders still carry out statutory observations, but, three years ago, teachers started to work in triads with their colleagues. Staff feel that they now gain far more from this collaborative approach to improving teaching.
The headteacher is also committed to the concept of teachers as researchers. Senior leaders have introduced innovative ways to develop teachers’ research skills as part of their everyday work, and without overburdening them. Research now supports teachers’ performance management and school self-evaluation.
To maintain and extend the strengths identified in teaching at the time of the last inspection, the school has worked hard to remain at the forefront of educational developments. The headteacher has searched out opportunities to improve her own professional knowledge and understanding, working closely with outside agencies, including the Welsh Government and arts organisations, to make international visits and carry out research. She has extended the school’s involvement in sharing good practice by expanding its role as a hub school. She enables members of the school’s staff to provide training for staff from other schools, and hosts many visitors to the school. For example, several members of staff recently facilitated a course on assessment for learning for other schools. Preparing for these activities provides teachers with good opportunities to reflect on the work of the school, as well as learning about the approaches that other schools use.
The school first embarked upon triad working several years ago, initially inspired by guidance from the Welsh Government. However, the school has done what it often does particularly successfully, and has adapted the idea to suit the needs of its own teachers and the school’s context. At the outset, staff agreed a way of working that was less prescriptive and formal than the guidance suggested. Each triad is made up of a senior leader, and two other members of staff with different skills and different levels of experience. They plan lessons together and observe one another teaching their own classes. They then come together for a professional discussion. These conversations are supportive, but raise many important and interesting issues, which teachers debate critically in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching on raising pupils’ standards.
To facilitate teacher research, the school has taken a different approach to performance management. The new approach not only ensures that performance management connects well to other school developments, but also secures the commitment and full engagement of all teachers in the process. At the start of the year, teachers set themselves a research question. For example, one teacher has chosen to consider whether increased physical exercise has a positive impact on the motivation, engagement and academic progress of a group of boys at risk of disengagement. These research questions become the main driver for teachers’ performance management throughout the year and they set targets related to the research question. Although teachers have a free choice of research questions, leaders’ expectations of teachers are clear. During the year, leaders expect teachers to:
- undertake action research with their pupils
- carry out related professional reading and research
- evaluate their findings and prepare a report to share with colleagues and as part of their annual performance management review
To reflect this alternative approach to performance management, the school has also taken a completely different approach to school improvement planning by using a whole-school research question, which, for 2017-2018, focuses on the school’s preparation for the new curriculum. The current line of inquiry focuses on how well staff use the pedagogical principles outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) to raise the standards and wellbeing of all pupils.
As a result of the strong focus on developing leaders and continuing to improve teaching, the school has made considerable progress in preparing for the new curriculum. For example, pupils talk about the four purposes confidently at a level suitable for their age and stage of development. Pupil involvement in planning topics is an important part of the school’s philosophy. This ensures high levels of engagement in learning and contributes to strong pupil wellbeing and progress from starting points.
As part of the school’s self-evaluation, staff have started to evaluate progress against the four purposes outlined in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015). The school also carries out a survey to assess the attitudes of pupils towards learning and the responses of teachers to their professional learning. In both cases, responses are positive. For example, a recent staff questionnaire confirms that all staff questioned feel that their understanding of the changes in the new curriculum is good or very good.
Teachers are highly engaged in their own professional learning and welcome the opportunities they have to take part in research and in sharing good practice with others. They are a confident staff who respond enthusiastically to new ideas and are flexible in their approach to all aspects of their work. They have high expectations of themselves, their colleagues and pupils.
Next steps as identified by the school
The school intends to:
- Develop further its triad working for teachers and support staff, to include staff who cover classes regularly
- use experienced staff in the school to enhance certain aspects of training and mentoring
- increase the number of joint planning sessions and joint lesson observations for teacher triads from two to three in a year and ensure that the team leader produces a report on the outcomes of the triad’s work to share with other staff across the school
- enable individuals to reflect within triads on their performance and use the professional teaching standards to identify personal areas for development
- Focus on one of the pedagogical principles identified in Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015) as a school, with the intention of creating a whole-school strategy for critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving
- Encourage staff to use a personal inquiry approach as part of performance management so that they take responsibility for their own personal development and identify their development against the professional standards
- Work in triads with two primary schools from neighbouring local authorities to create a strategy for pedagogy