Action research: Transformational CPD

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Turnaround: Pupils at Tuxford Primary Academy, which has doubled its pupil numbers and is now over-subscribed

CPD, action research and family engagement have been key to transforming the fortunes of Tuxford Primary Academy. Dorothy Lepkowska explains more

Louise Davidson became executive principal of Tuxford Primary Academy in 2013, with only 130 pupils on roll and its reputation at rock bottom.

With the words “the school is rubbish” ringing in her ears from the local community, and a pile of consistently poor Ofsted inspection reports, she knew drastic changes were needed.

Her first move was to work closely with existing teachers to foster their development and confidence via a high-quality CPD drive.

But it was embarking upon action research that, she believes, brought about real and sustained changes to the ethos and performance of the school in Nottinghamshire. Consequently, they now have 325 children on roll and the school is over-subscribed. This has also enabled them to appoint additional new staff.

Earlier this year, Tuxford Primary Academy was awarded the Research Mark from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) at “Established” level for its work in action research.

Ms Davidson quickly recognised that the predominantly White, low-income population had low aspirations and this was the initial focus of her school improvement strategy. Every teacher had the opportunity to become involved in research programmes and the outcomes informed the school improvement plan as their relevance and effect became known.

Ms Davidson also enrolled the school onto the Families and Schools Together (FAST) programme, a successful early intervention programme run by Save the Children and Middlesex University. The programme aims to closely involve parents in their children’s education and improve attainment in English and mathematics.

It involves families taking part in structured activities together with their children in the school setting for up to three hours per week over a six-week period. Starting with fewer families, it proved so popular and aroused such interest that many more joined as it was taking place.

Improved interaction between teachers, parents and children created supportive relationships between the school, home and local communities. Parents became more engaged with their children’s learning and their lives generally, creating a positive impact on their youngster’s wellbeing and life chances.

Liz Hankin, the NFER’s author of a report on Tuxford’s Research Mark, said one of the teachers involved in the project particularly noted improved relations with parents: “Parents were no longer worried that if a teacher asked to speak to them it was for behavioural or disciplinary matters, but rather that they were able to suggest different approaches to engage with their children’s learning. The teacher wants the programme to run again.”

A second project entitled Aspirations was launched by the school to raise expectations and aspirations among pupils, which were lacking when Ms Davidson took up her post. As part of their research, teachers referred to the OECD publication Understanding the Social Outcomes of Learning through which they sought to understand better the social capital of their school and the community it serves.

The newly developed spirit of cooperation between the school and parents fostered through FAST, and the increased engagement of the latter, enabled staff to consider the aspirations of children and how the parents of those in years 5 and 6 could raise their expectations.

Ms Davidson said: “Many of our parents knew little about what it meant to go to university and had some misconceptions. We used Pupil Premium funding to pay for years 5 and 6 to go to Cambridge University, and took a couple of parents who reported back to others on their impressions.

“Everyone, including the parents, was blown away by the experience. For the parents it presented exciting new opportunities they had not considered for their children. Previously their aspirations were for their children to do an Apprenticeship and to have a detached house. There is nothing wrong with doing an Apprenticeship, of course, but now the prospect of going to a university like Cambridge was a real possibility. Their children now had options.”

Research at Tuxford has now become an on-going process and part of the professional life of the school. As a member of the Trent Valley Teaching School Alliance, one of its first pieces of research was on Beyond Levels, an extensive national piece of work designed to help schools develop new approaches to assessment in primary schools following the abolition of national curriculum levels.

At Tuxford, this meant teachers using an online platform to record and track progress in mathematics using a “traffic light” system. The baseline assessment of pupils in Reception gave a trajectory for the score at year 6. The scheme was so successful that the school is now running its own assessment system, which includes pupil feedback.

Additionally, the academy has been supporting a PhD student from Nottingham Trent University who has been exploring children’s experience of bullying, with specific reference to friendships, their sense of belonging to the school and family support. This research will hopefully help teachers to identify trends in behaviour and inform action as part of the school development plan.

Ms Hankin concluded: “When schools are well-informed about their strengths and areas for development, they are able to target professional learning and research opportunities effectively. They engage in disciplined innovation to address school improvement priorities that lead to positive outcomes for students.”

Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.

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