Ten ways a headteacher can improve the quality of teaching and learning

Written by: HTU | Published:

Gilnow Primary School has transformed its curriculum as part of its work to tackle areas for improvement identified by Ofsted. HTU speaks to head Jo Riley about her 10 steps to improving teaching and learning

Gilnow is an expanding primary school situated in Bolton. There are 233 pupils on roll with a high proportion of lNAs (international new arrivals), which presents its own particular challenges. Pupil Premium numbers are also much higher than found nationally.

New headteacher, Jo Riley, took over in September 2011 with the school categorised as "satisfactory". An Ofsted-identified area for improvement was to develop current topics so that pupils studied them in greater depth, strengthening links between subjects. Another key focus was to raise standards in writing at key stages 1 and 2.

Ms Riley immediately started work by redesigning the whole curriculum, with a focus on a rigorous, personalised curriculum framework and developing high quality creative teaching and learning.

Shortly afterwards, she also introduced new, innovative marking systems for writing and maths as well as a whole-school responsible behaviour programme. As a result of her professional courage, little more than a year later an Ofsted visit resulted in a judgement of good, with recognition of some outstanding teaching. The report said: "Teaching is now consistently good throughout the school and some teaching is outstanding."

So, how has Ms Riley managed to secure such success in her school in such a relatively short period of time? She believes that improving teaching and learning is at the heart of what needed to be done and has highlighted 10 key ways to do this that have worked for her:

1. Vision and aims.
2. Ownership.
3. Personalised learning.
4. Consistency of approach.
5. CPD.
6. Shared leadership.
7. Managing change.
8. A presence in school.
9. Monitoring and evaluating.
10. Use of Pupil Premium.

Vision and aims

“It is vital that you have a clear picture of your desired destination so you can plan a journey. By putting in place actions that will directly lead to your end goal you are more likely to get there faster. Then, setting an achievable, ambitious yet realistic timeframe is an important part of school improvement. You also need to know your pupils well so that you can really plan for their needs and personalise your vision.”


“The next step involves selling your vision to the rest of the staff. In the case of developing our curriculum, I made sure we used a quality product with supporting services. It’s important that everyone feels involved and there is a shared ownership of what you are trying to achieve. Involving all stakeholders, including parents ensures that there is joint planning and a clear understanding of the journey you’re about to embark on. Pupils also need to have a say in their own learning and that is a real part of our curriculum model, which Ofsted was quick to spot.”

Personalised learning

“Our curriculum is carefully matched to needs of all learners and means that everyone can access what is being taught at their own level. We have introduced ‘Personal Learning Quests’ and ‘Pupil Voice Projects’ (from Dimensions Curriculum), which enable pupils to take real ownership of their own learning in a structured yet independent way. We don't fall in step with the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.”

Consistency of approach

“We have developed a relevant, well-organised and, most importantly, sustainable curriculum which provides a strong framework for learning. The approaches and principles that run alongside are constant and consistent, regardless of educational political change.

Also, by introducing innovative whole-school approaches, marking has since been identified as a strength of the school. We also ensure there is a consistent approach to behaviour as our decisive behaviour programme has a shared language that parents as well as staff are familiar with through workshops and training. There are no mixed messages.”


“Staff development is vital in the process of improving teaching and learning. It should be relevant and involve the whole school, as far as possible. It is important to source quality training that will lead to clear outcomes with a practical impact in the classroom.”

Shared leadership

“I think it’s important to match skills to individuals’ roles and responsibilities. Round pegs in square holes never works. Find out strengths and weaknesses and try and foster a climate of support and trust where staff collaborate and celebrate together. Empower people by not only giving them not just the ‘what’ of a task but, most importantly, the ‘how’. I believe a head should be an enabler. Improved communication (listening as well as talking) also works wonders.”

Managing change

“Give others the chance to see your vision in action. Share what you have seen and read; encourage colleagues to do the same and be willing to learn from each other; model good practice for others to see. Build capacity through staff development and develop a culture of enablement by encouraging risk-taking and confident use of professional judgement.”

A presence in school

“I think it’s vital you have a presence around school, both indoor and out, regularly visiting all areas and interacting with adults and children. It’s really important to make time to talk to the children. This will help to build positive relationships and foster mutual trust and respect. You can also pick up on any issues that may be rumbling in the background and deal with them quickly and effectively, such as parental concerns or potential staff conflicts.”

Monitoring and evaluating

“It’s crucial to design and implement a monitoring timetable that you then stick to. There must be clear expectations and criteria linked to this in order to introduce greater accountability across school. This kind of monitoring process speeds up school improvement because you can really measure progress and it helps keep your overall vision on track, even if you have to tweak things along the way.”

Use of Pupil Premium

“We looked for high-impact, low-cost investment with our Pupil Premium funding. How this money is used must be needs-driven and our "Essential Learning Experiences" are something we value highly. Peer support and assessment has developed through our new marking systems, which have improved learning outcomes for everyone, and we have also set up a nurture class using the Pupil Premium funds.”

Further information
Jo Riley, headteacher of Gilnow Primary School, Bolton, worked with resources and training support from Dimensions Curriculum to re-design her school's curriculum.

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