Teachers talking to teachers leads to improvement

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Teachers talking to teachers leads to improvement

Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen in Gwynedd has recently increased teachers’ involvement in the school’s self-evaluation process. This has led to staff joining the wider discussion on lesson planning as well as the ability to share good practice. They have also utilised an online learning platform for pupils to take more responsibility for their own work. As a result, teaching is more effective and has led to an increase in standards of achievement.

Number of pupils: 370
Age range: 11 - 18 years
Date of Estyn inspection: November 2012

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen is a naturally bilingual community comprehensive school for pupils and students between 11 and 18-years-olds. It has 370 pupils, including 50 students in the sixth form. The school serves the town of Bethesda, one of the main centres for the slate industry in Gwynedd, and the surrounding rural area. Eighty-five per cent of pupils come from homes where Welsh is spoken. All subjects are taught through the medium of Welsh, and there are units of work in all subjects through the medium of English. Nearly 18% of pupils receive free school meals, which is a little higher than the national average. Twenty-four per cent of pupils have additional learning needs which is also higher than the national average.

Lesson observation has been a key part of the school’s self-evaluation process for several years. All teachers are observed annually as a matter of course. There is an oral discussion at the end of the lesson and a written report is produced as soon as possible, using Estyn’s judgements and definitions.

In the past, it was mainly the senior management team who conducted the observations, but during recent years, advisors from Cynnal have been part of the system, along with other heads of department and, more recently, other teachers. Very often, this can mean that there are two or three individuals in a classroom, observing the same lesson.

The follow-up discussions between the observers are one of the strengths of the system and have raised the awareness of all teachers of the characteristics of effective learning and teaching.

All teachers are now observed and they observe a fellow teacher as part of the formal self-evaluation process. This is one of the strengths of the school’s system and provides opportunities to share and develop the best practices.

Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

Before the new inspection framework in 2010, between 20% and 25% of lessons observed would be awarded a Grade 1. This was true during the school inspection in 2006 and a similar pattern observed during internal lesson observations.

When the first cycle of lesson observations was conducted under the new framework in January 2011, no ‘excellent’ judgements were awarded. During the following two self-evaluation cycles, there was a focus on strengthening the ‘good’ lessons and working towards ‘excellent’ judgements.

As part of the feedback from these lessons, there were constructive discussions between a member of the senior management team, one of the Cynnal advisors and a head of department or another teacher. Very often, this was the first time for some teachers to observe a fellow teacher and be a part of a wider discussion on that lesson. This proved to be excellent in-service training, and gave rise to beneficial professional discussions among teachers – both formally and informally. This process has led to improved consistency in planning good and excellent lessons across the school.

Following each period of observation, a staff meeting is held to discuss the strengths observed and the issues that need improvement. This sharing of good practice is very valuable. In addition, staff meetings are held to discuss the characteristics of excellent lessons and to look at examples of excellent lessons.

The specific strengths of lessons that are excellent in the school are the pace of lessons, and the detailed plans that identify pupils’ and teachers’ activities within specific time limits. This careful planning ensures that all pupils, including the most challenging are ‘on task’ at all times. The other characteristic of the good or better teaching is the high quality feedback that pupils receive on their work.

Another characteristic of teaching at the school is the innovative and creative use made of a virtual learning platform, which is a system for delivering learning materials to pupils via the internet. Use of this system has strengthened the link between the school and home and has compelled pupils to take more responsibility for their own learning. Through the learning platform, pupils have access to specialist software that reinforces their learning and offers useful opportunities to provide thoughtful and detailed feedback to one another. Boys are especially motivated by this kind of working.

Pupils complete their homework on-line and receive timely feedback from the teacher. In some lessons, pupils use the learning platform to share their opinions with their peers and evaluate each other’s work. This process helps to develop pupils’ discussion, analysis and evaluation skills. This method is also successful in raising standards of achievement in general as pupils redraft their work.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards

The inspectors noted:

The quality and consistency of teaching is one of the school’s strengths and half of the teaching is excellent. In the excellent lessons, teachers question successfully. They develop pupils’ understanding of subjects, their thinking skills and literacy in a very creative and effective way. Teachers’ expectations and the challenge level of tasks are high and extend all pupils successfully. Activities are often exciting and stimulating. Tasks are timed particularly well and this ensures that the pace of lessons is excellent.

Teachers have particularly good subject knowledge. Lessons are planned thoroughly and they include suitable activities and interesting and stimulating experiences for pupils. Teachers gain the interest of all pupils and promote high standards. Teachers use a wide variety of teaching methods and colourful and appropriate resources in order to respond to the requirements of all pupils. An extremely good working relationship can be seen between teachers and pupils and their classroom management is very effective.

Inspectors also noted that:

In key stage 4 in 2012, pupils’ performance has been excellent and in the top quartile in all main indicators since 2010-2011. Since 2010-2011, results for the level 1 threshold, level 2 threshold and level 2 threshold including Welsh or English and mathematics, the core subject indicator and capped points score have improved and are higher than the family’s average. This places the school among the top 25% in comparison with similar schools in all indicators. Pupils’ progress is significantly better than expected from key stage 2 to key stage 4, and is excellent.