A three-pronged strategy to improve teaching and learning

Written by: Amelia Nelson | Published:
Photo: iStock

The strategy to improve teaching and learning at Long Cross Primary School focused on three areas. Deputy headteacher Amelia Nelson explains

I joined Long Cross Primary School in January 2014 after the school had become an Oasis Academy. There were significant difficulties with behaviour and too many teachers were struggling to deliver good lessons. One of my first jobs as deputy head was to lead on systematic assessment, because we just didn't know what our children knew.

The results were quite positive and showed that children were intelligent, but also that they had big gaps in their knowledge. We had been in special measures for five years, making it hard to recruit and so we'd had to depend on lots of supply teaching. There had not been consistent teaching and what there had needed to improve. So starting in the September that became my next project.

The aim was to get the typicality of teaching to 80 per cent "good" or better – and the new Ofsted framework meant that this wasn't just related to lesson spot-checks, but teachers' entire teaching and learning profile.

After an initial audit of skills it was clear that not every staff member needed support in the same area. Typicality generally needed improving in lesson delivery, feedback and marking, and work being pitched at the right level for pupils in class. Rather than plan staff meetings to focus generally on these areas we took a different approach to CPD and varied our input to maximise the impact.

We found these three things have had the most significant impact so far:

  • Creating a school specific framework for teaching and learning – called the 12 Pillars of Learning.
  • Coaching – peer-to-peer, leadership team to teaching staff, teacher to support staff.
  • Links to other schools giving teachers the chance to see and share practice other than their own.

Before we could even begin any of these approaches, it was clear that to have an impact on those delivering in the classroom I had to lead from the front and get into the classroom myself.

I knew I wasn't going to change my colleagues' minds unless I demonstrated that I understood the challenges they were facing, so I started a half-timetable and taught every morning.
I realised that behaviour was a big problem and that it had led to our teachers getting into bad habits.

They were nervous of group activities because they all-too-often led to chaos, so they relied on too much didactic teaching from the front. They also set work that was too easy because that kept the pupils happier – and of course getting a whole page of right answers is pleasing, but it wasn't stretching them.

I spent the afternoons doing team-teaching and observations, allowing me to work out which teachers were doing well at particular elements and where the areas for improvement were. I guess it was an addition to our skills audit to some extent, but I didn't describe it like that. The point was to understand my colleagues better as individuals and work out what their professional needs were.

The 12 Pillars of Learning

Working in partnership with Oasis Academy Brightstowe, we created the 12 Pillars of Learning which underpinned all of our CPD and professional conversations with staff. The 12 Pillars cover many of the "key" Ofsted areas of learning as well as areas we felt particularly pertinent to our school, including Pillars such as showing passion in everything we do, questioning to squeeze every last drop of learning out of pupils, quality marking with time for feedback.

Coaching

This led to a programme of CPD that had a variety of options. The first was a personalised programme based on my observations of each staff member's development needs; a colleague and I gave them coaching and best practice sessions, helping them to work on particular elements of their teaching. The initial work was used as a baseline to see how things were improving as time went on.

Once we started to see some success in the coaching model we used our more experienced colleagues who were performing well to take part in peer-support, buddying up teachers who had complementary development areas. So someone who was great at marking was paired with another teacher who needed to see some best practice, and they in turn helped the first teacher with their differentiation. It worked really well, and helped make talking about practice a more frequent part of everyday work life.

Links to other schools

I also brokered visits to other schools, allowing people the chance to see how other schools did it and to ask a different group of teachers questions about how they dealt with particular issues.
This three-pronged approach – individual support, peer support and external advice – was really effective and it showed staff how much we trusted and believed that they could improve.

One particular teacher had poured her heart and soul into the school but had found its demands almost too much, resulting in her very low morale. She was a great teacher though and this project saw her take a mentoring role, and her confidence is now very much restored.

This was very much a story shared by many of us; there was a growing sense that everyone had something to contribute to someone else's development and that working as a team made us far more effective. The multiple aspects of the new Ofsted framework helped that come about – no-one felt that they had nothing to contribute.

It also helped being part of Oasis; there are a few other schools in Bristol and that meant I could find out what they were doing and more easily arrange visits to these schools. I am also part of the Future Leaders programme, and that means I can get in contact with people all over the country who are also working in challenging schools and ask for their advice and practice.

It wasn't all plain sailing; I had to have difficult conversations and be clear with people that things needed to change. This was one part of the Future Leaders training that I have used again and again. But I always had the confidence that I was doing the right thing because our children needed better teaching and as a school we were offering colleagues the support they needed to get there. We weren't asking the impossible and leaving them to fail alone.

Early signs are promising – we started the year with 30 per cent of teaching at "good" or better in key stage 1 and 2, and we are now at 70 per cent.

It is amazing to see how hard everyone has worked, and that the school really is changing. It is partly happening because everyone is accountable – we know that we can all contribute to the success, and having that sense of ownership is really inspiring.

  • Amelia Nelson is deputy headteacher at Long Cross Primary School in Bristol.

Future Leaders

Future Leaders is a leadership development programme for aspiring headteachers of challenging schools. To apply or nominate, visit www.future-leaders.org.uk. The Future Leaders Trust is also recruiting for Talented Leaders, a programme to place exceptional school leaders into headship roles in the areas that need them most. Visit register.future-leaders.org.uk


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