Trusting staff to lead on improving pedagogy and practice

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At Pontarddulais Comprehensive School the combination of the culture created and nurtured by the headteacher and headship team and their trust in aspiring leaders to lead and manage whole school developments, has ensured excellent outcomes and innovative approaches to pedagogy over time.


Pontarddulais Comprehensive School is an 11-16 mixed school maintained by Swansea local authority.  There are approximately 800 pupils on roll.  The school hosts a unit which supports key stage 3 and key stage 4 pupils with profound and multiple learning disabilities from across the local authority.  The school serves pupils from Pontarddulais and the surrounding villages.  Around 15% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that approximately 29% of pupils have additional learning needs.  Around 3% of pupils have a statement of special educational needs.  Most pupils come from a white British background and very few pupils speak Welsh at home. 

The headteacher has been in post since September 2011.  The senior leadership team is made up of two deputy headteachers and two acting assistant headteachers.

The school is currently a pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to the curriculum and other professional learning.

The school has recently restructured its staffing to align with the four core purposes of Successful Futures (Donaldson, 2015).

Strategy and action

Leaders place a strong emphasis on ensuring that staff lead on school improvement initiatives and that teachers lead, develop and refine the school’s pedagogical practices.  This has ensured that there is a positive learning climate across the school.  Pontarddulais staff are involved fully in the construction and implementation of the school development plan.  The headteacher and senior team hold a Saturday school development-planning day at an external venue in the city, which, along with the school’s robust self-evaluation cycle, helps to formulate key priorities.  Staff attendance at this voluntary event is high and this has helped to continue to foster a collegiate, inclusive approach to school improvement.  All staff are members of working groups that lead on these key priorities and are therefore advocates for whole school initiatives. 

In order to raise expectation within their departments, middle leaders set ambitious targets using value-added data.  They conduct forensic monitoring of pupils’ progress through a nine-week tracking cycle based on thoughtfully scheduled assessment across subjects.  This results in a meaningful progress check for each pupil.  Pupils have ownership of their learning and progress through this system and they reflect genuinely on their learning and progress.  The school shares this work effectively with parents and carers.  This creates a mutually supportive relationship that focuses on improving standards.  Teachers use this information beneficially to inform their planning and to intervene at an early stage when pupils are at risk of underachieving.  Where appropriate, the school uses highly effective intervention programmes in both key stages to support pupils with weaker skills.  These programmes build pupils’ confidence across the curriculum and are a strong feature of the school’s work.  

Over time, the headteacher has established and maintained a positive learning climate in which teachers lead and embrace change and innovation.  There is a culture of sharing of good and excellent practice and an open and transparent self‑evaluative approach in all aspects of the school’s work.  For example, the whole school approach to the delivery of the Literacy and Numeracy Framework has ensured that skills development is an integral and fundamental part of every teacher’s pedagogical toolkit.  Working together, teachers led on how to embed the skills of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.  This has resulted in very high levels of consistency in approaches to reading and writing and high levels of pupil confidence when reading complex texts and when undertaking a wide range of writing tasks for a variety of audiences and purposes.

Teachers have also have implemented very effective changes to the school’s approach to marking and feedback.  A working group of teachers undertook an action research project to look to improve the consistency of approach to diagnostic marking and pupils’ responses.  This group were keen to align the school’s ethos and its culture of growth mind-set as part of this work on assessment.  As a result, they revised the school’s marking policy and clarified the school’s approach to marking the technical features of pupils’ work.  Most importantly, the teacher led group initiated a consistent approach to giving pupils opportunities to respond to teacher feedback following key assessment tasks through introducing dedicated ‘STAR’ (stop, think, act and reflect) time.  This has resulted in pupils taking purposeful ownership of their learning and has helped them not only to understand what they need to do to improve but also given them frequent, timely opportunities in which to do so.


The school has a rich culture of support, challenge and collaboration.  Strong leadership, at all levels, has enabled the focus on learning and teaching to flourish.  The headteacher and leadership team have established an ethos of excellence in all aspects of the school’s work.  They have high expectations of everyone in the school community coupled with an intrinsic trust in their staff.  The school has robust systems for self-evaluation and for gathering first-hand evidence and this is aligned to very effectively planned and tiered continuing professional development and learning for all staff.  The combination of the culture created and nurtured by the headteacher and headship team and their trust in aspiring leaders to lead and manage whole school developments has ensured excellent outcomes and innovative approaches to pedagogy over time.

As a result of this culture and approach, pupils at Pontarddulais Comprehensive School, understand and have pride in the ethos of the school and its expectations of the highest quality of teaching and learning.  Pupils can articulate confidently the school’s focus on standards and the excellent working relationships between teachers and pupils, which means that pupils feel valued and known as individuals.  Pupils have high levels of engagement and motivation in their learning.  They demonstrate strong reading, writing and numeracy skills across the curriculum and the overall standards achieved by pupils are well above modelled expectation.

Next steps as identified by the school

The school is committed to ensuring leadership continues to focus upon teaching, learning and assessment and through its pioneer role, the school will look to share its good practice and learn from others locally and nationally.