Introducing a staff coaching programme

Written by: HTU | Published:

Faced with a decline in teaching standards and low staff morale, deputy head Pauline Hughes instigated a coaching programme to help staff develop and share best practice across their school.

When I first took up my role as deputy head at Ryelands Primary School back in 2002, the school was good with some elements of outstanding. By 2007, changes in the pupil intake and the loss of several good and outstanding teachers had contributed to a gradual decline, with attainment dropping to below expected national averages.

Serving a deprived area in Croydon, 22.7 per cent of our children have English as a second language and 41.5 per cent are eligible for free school meals. A high number of pupils also have emotional and behavioural difficulties, and the school had a mobile population that rated in the lowest percentile of “stability” measures.

Following a disappointing Ofsted report in June 2012, which saw the school decline in many areas from good or outstanding to satisfactory, it was clear that there were significant issues that needed to be addressed.

In particular, inspectors wanted to see teaching standards improve, highlighting the need for better differentiation, planning and questioning. Another challenge was low staff morale. Teachers were demoralised by the Ofsted report, by students constantly arriving and leaving, and by the huge difficulties they faced. Many felt students would never progress at the rate at which they should.

This negative attitude became a big initial barrier, with many members of staff very resistant to any additional observations or coaching. I knew I needed a way to gain their trust. I did this by developing coaching relationships throughout the school, working with class teachers and leaders, and encouraging colleagues to support and feedback to each other.

Introducing coaching

It was clear that teachers’ ownership and accountability for each child was lacking in some cases. Over the past years I had attended several training sessions that had focused on coaching, and I knew some of these techniques could be used to engage teachers in transforming their practice.

I decided we needed to coach all staff to use assessment as part of their teaching in ways that would develop their understanding and application of it as an effective tool. I began by working with a new temporary teacher who had been assessed as unsatisfactory and his line-manager. My intention was to coach the teacher and to develop the coaching skills of the leader using a format described in the book Leverage Leadership.

This approach involved observing a lesson and giving the NQT specific feedback on one aspect, followed by a detailed practical discussion of how this could improve next time. I would report my feedback to the line manager and we would have a detailed discussion about how she could support the NQT to make these changes.

My coaching with the manager also encouraged her to develop leadership skills. She raised her expectations of her colleagues and students and was able to see how working on one aspect of a teacher’s skills can allow them to improve, and that feedback without immediate further action is much less helpful. She also realised the importance of a leader being able to model necessary skills and being aware of colleagues’ strengths in order to signpost team members to best practice. 

Calling in the support of others to demonstrate a skill and discuss it in detail afterwards allowed the NQT to gain more understanding. For example, feedback on classroom organisation was followed up with a discussion with three other teachers, resulting in a number of useful ideas which he then put into rapid practice.

As a result, the manager grew in confidence. She received more training around marking and feedback, differentiation and teacher-pupil dialogue, and was able to give the NQT regular and useful feedback. She further trained him to use our online tracking system, School Pupil Tracker Online.

A change in attitude

After this experience, the staff involved were now more willing to ask for coaching support. Ofsted’s new framework emphasises the importance of whole-school collaboration and the line manager was happy to both support her own team, but to model good practice to others in the school. Now they are all happy to share good ideas and cascade them through the school. 

Teachers from this phase group now visit each other’s classes to observe and give feedback, while two NQTs from different phases worked with an NQT from last year to share ideas and resources. As a result, the anxiety of an “observation” has really decreased. 

The manager also sees feedback as vital to improving her own role and feedback to all her group as the way to move the whole phase group on. Soon, more staff, whether they were underperforming or just wanting to learn new strategies, became confident to turn to me for coaching because they saw it would help progress their teaching and their pupils’ progress.

Increased accountability

As well as improving teaching practice, I wanted to increase every teacher’s sense of accountability for each child. I did this by emphasising the shared commitment and involvement in assessment, improving how staff assessed students in class and through marking, revising assumptions around interventions for students not progressing well, and by making data a whole-school concern.

This began with creating an assessment diary. It broke down the work from what the head and deputy do to what class teachers do each half-term. My aim was to demonstrate that we are all working on joint goals and to emphasise how we are reliant on each other to achieve these. This was introduced during INSET and is now referred back to for all staff to ensure consistency and to reiterate the importance of deadlines.

I also introduced a new data tracking system to encourage teachers to take ownership of the data and input the figures themselves each half-term. For this we used School Pupil Tracker Online, which allowed teachers to track all the vulnerable groups including children funded by Pupil Premium instantly and compare them to the progress of other groups of pupils.

I set up a series of training sessions, enabling everyone to be more confident to analyse and evaluate their own students’ data. New members of staff are given small group or personalised training in analysing data for progress and attainment, writing reports and inputting data.


This has resulted in the staff “owning” their data and I followed this up with some changes to how we organised student interventions. Previously, teachers wanted inclusion staff themselves to work with children who were underachieving, but we encouraged them to use their colleagues for practical advice and to develop their teaching and differentiation.

To do this, I sharpened practices and now meet every half-term with the inclusion manager to carry out progress reviews for specific students, such as Pupil Premium and those with English as an additional language. Our inclusion manager observes our teachers’ practice and suggests specific improvements. We review progress and can target areas for development in our staff, providing a suggested plan to improve support or practice where they have discovered a difficulty.

One key emphasis was developing feedback and marking skills. We conducted an audit and developed a feedback and marking policy, which was simplified into a single reference sheet to use as a guide for good marking.

The leadership team carries out weekly reviews, looking at examples from various groups of students, including more able students, Pupil Premium and other groups, meaning they are all aware of how both pupils and teaching staff are working.

Impact – teaching and attainment

When it came to the end of the first year, teaching had significantly improved, with 88 per cent of lessons rated good or better as observed by the head. Our teachers’ use of assessment had improved, and after coaching there was now much more focus on the learning objectives, thanks to practices taken from the book Teach Like a Champion, and a greater use of in-depth questioning as found in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers are now more aware of pupils’ prior knowledge and use assessment carefully to plan their lessons.

By last summer, more than 80 per cent of pupils (compared to 52 per cent in June 2012) were achieving or above national expectations in writing, and progress over the whole school had accelerated, with improvement going up by more than four points of progress on average across reading, writing and maths.

The future

This year I’m taking the work with coaching further in a bid to help us meet some challenging new targets for the school – four points of progress on the average point score for key stage 2 in a year and five for key stage 1. This is in order to bring attainment up to national averages in all subjects.

  • Pauline Hughes is deputy headteacher of Ryelands Primary School in Croydon.

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