Using evidence-based teacher led professional development sessions to improve teaching at a whole school level

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Professional learning is a high priority in Ysgol Uwchradd Abertifi and leaders have invested considerable time and finance into this priority. The professional learning opportunities afforded to staff have led to better teaching practices and a much greater consistency in delivering good teaching across the school. Giving teachers the chance to lead professional learning activities has strengthened the school’s leadership capacity.


Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi is a bilingual 11-19 school situated in the coastal town of Aberteifi in Ceredigion.  The school serves pupils from the town and the surrounding rural catchment area.  There were 534 pupils on roll at the time of the core inspection in January 2015, but there has seen a considerable increase in pupil numbers since then.  The school now has 603 pupils on roll, with 84 pupils in sixth form.

Around 30% of pupils come from homes in which Welsh is the main language spoken.  However, over the last three years, the school has increased the number of pupils who study Welsh first language to 67%.  The school has also increased its Welsh‑medium provision considerably since the time of the core inspectionAround 16% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  The school identifies that 34% of pupils have an additional learning need.  Most pupils come from a white British background.  The school hosts a learning resource centre.  

The headteacher was appointed in January 2012.  The senior management team includes the headteacher, an assistant headteacher and an acting assistant headteacher.

Strategy and action

Since the core inspection, the school has appointed a new deputy headteacher and three assistant headteachers.  The headteacher has shared her vision for improving teaching with all staff.  This vision is to ensure that all teachers collaborate with and support each other to secure a culture of a self-improving school, which is aiming for excellence.  Teaching and learning are the central focus in this vision and much energy and time are devoted to ensuring teachers deliver the best possible lessons consistently.

Highly effective faculty reviews take place annually for each of the eight faculties.  The robust and comprehensive review includes pupils taking part in twice-a-year teaching and learning surveys for each faculty.  Leaders also scrutinise evidence from the minutes of faculty meetings and evaluations of professional learning to judge the extent to which teachers are making use of training and guidance.  The full governing body receives the faculty reviews, which include recommendations about how to improve the faculty.  Heads of faculty then present an action plan to the next meeting of the governors’ standards committee.

A senior leader, with responsibility for teaching and learning, has invested much of her time in action research and exploring good practice in other schools.  She uses strong practitioners at school to support her in the drive to improve teaching.  The school has made productive and beneficial use of research into pedagogy to provide high quality and bespoke training for all staff.  These activities have led teachers to amend and update policies on teaching and learning and marking and assessment.  These two policies have a common aim; for teachers to be consistent and fair through creating an atmosphere of trust with the pupils they teach.  The policies emphasise the importance of teachers using their planning and assessment time wisely and productively to reduce their workload.  To this end, the policies include well-considered appendices on practical ways to reduce workload and increase impact.

Since the core inspection, continuous professional learning is a key focus of school development planning.  Over the course of the academic year, teachers, as part of their directed time, take part in a series of 11 professional learning events and training sessions.  This has allowed leaders to train staff and put in place the well‑researched pedagogy underpinning the headteacher’s vision for improving teaching.  All leaders of professional learning events are required to base their input on evidence gleaned from reliable and effective action research.  As a result, staff respond very positively to training and guidance from their peers.  After every professional learning event, all faculties carry out a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis of the quality of their current provision.  Faculties then draw up an action plan to address the outcomes of the analysis.

Leaders place high importance on capturing pupils’ opinions and pupil voice plays an integral part in most self-evaluation activities.  For example, school council members and key teachers sit on a teaching and learning committee.  This innovative group plays an important role in supporting teachers to improve their practice.  The committee devised the school’s ‘Quality Teacher 10’ strategy, which is based on the principles of effective planning and includes guidance such as having an inspiring start to lessons, purposeful content and a beneficial plenary.

Research into pedagogical strategies to develop pupils’ independence and resilience underpin many of the school’s agreed procedures for planning and teaching.  These include boy/girl seating plans, strategic positioning of pupils from vulnerable groups, random pupil questioning and ensuring appropriate ‘wait time’ for pupil response, both orally and in response to written work.  Teachers make effective use of a well‑considered matrix of questioning techniques, which enables them to develop pupils’ thinking and problem solving skills well.  The school expects teachers to place as much importance on ‘wait time’ as on ‘talk time’.  Leaders provide well-considered guidance, derived from comprehensive research, to teachers on how to assess pupils’ work effectively and provide useful feedback.  All teachers employ the school’s agreed model for marking pupils’ work.  This model encourages teachers to dedicate equal attention to the content of the work, the application of skills and areas for improvement.  Teachers highlight areas of pupils’ work that need improvement and give useful suggestions that help pupils to take responsibility for improving their own work.  Teachers give pupils time in lessons to respond to comments about their work.

In order to support its goal of excellence in teaching, the school has adapted its quality assurance documents.  For example, lesson observation forms and work scrutiny reports make clear that good standards, provision and teaching are the minimum expectation.  If leaders judge any activity or lesson in need of improvement it is based on the fact that too few pupils made enough progress.  Teachers also use common systems for planning lessons and success criteria.  They share with pupils three levels of expectation, explaining the minimum expected level and what good and outstanding success looks like.  Across the school, teachers make clear to pupils that nearly all of their work should be at least good.

Leaders set up many thematic projects as part of their whole-school focus on improving provision in general, and teaching in particular.  The school identified a group of teachers in their third or fourth year of teaching who would benefit from clear direction and a fresh approach to improving their teaching.  Leaders not only wanted these teachers to benefit from professional learning, but also to use their personal development to benefit the school through becoming leading practitioners.  These teachers became the improving teaching group.

The group made productive use of video technology to evaluate strengths and areas for development in their own teaching.  They met regularly, sharing video clips of themselves teaching and identifying areas of focus for the next meeting.  They organised focused learning walks in school and visited other providers.  In time, they identified particular strengths in their practice, which were shared with the whole‑school staff in the form of ten minute ‘how to’ clips.  The school has now increased this platform of support and guidance by enabling more teachers to create the clips, for example ‘How to use multiplication tables correctly in cross-curricular numeracy tasks’, ‘How to get a class settled and ready for work successfully’ and ‘How to plan effective and inspiring starter activities’.  The work of the improving teaching group has given staff greater confidence and expertise in planning purposeful activities.  This has secured improvements in the quality of teaching and the standard of work in pupils’ books. 

The school also identified a group of excellent practitioners and enabled them to join the regional outstanding teacher programme.  These practitioners provided whole‑school leadership and training, based on sound pedagogical theory and methodology following their participation in the programme.  For example, they led whole-school professional learning activities on using effective questioning techniques.


The school has successfully changed its culture and become an organisation that is continuously striving to improve.

Professional learning is a high priority for the school and leaders have invested considerable time and finance into this priority.  The professional learning opportunities afforded to staff have led to better teaching practices and a much greater consistency in delivering good teaching across the school.  Giving teachers the chance to lead professional learning activities has strengthened the school’s leadership capacity.  This has improved the school’s succession planning agenda successfully and has significantly improved the quality of middle and senior leadership. 

Teachers now have more frequent and beneficial opportunities to reflect on and evaluate their own practice and that of their colleagues.  Learner involvement in quality assurance activities, such as work scrutiny, has created worthwhile opportunities for staff to work collaboratively with pupils to prioritise improving outcomes. 

Performance outcomes at key stage 4 have improved since the core inspection and the gender gap has closed considerably (Welsh Government, 2017c).  The school has also seen a great improvement in pupils’ behaviour and attitudes to learning.

Next steps as identified by the school

  • Strengthen further teachers’ skills in questioning and other assessment strategies, to increase the level of challenge to pupils
  • Make teaching and learning more consistent across the school by finding opportunities to disseminate best practice through the use of technology
  • Improve pupils’ involvement in their learning by making assessment and marking practices more consistent across the school in order to give better feedback to pupils on their progress and to ensure that students know what they should do to improve their work
  • Share best practice in involving pupils in assessing their own progress and developing their independent learning skills
  • Develop teachers’ understanding of the revised professional standards and engage teachers in action research as part of the new performance management procedures