Great Schools: What makes them great?


Closing the Gap between Vision and Reality: Some practical ideas for the year ahead

A Great School is where a deep sense of morality underpins the direction that children and professionals travel – sharing, empathising and co-constructing respective learning journeys together.

It’s easy for us all to say that it’s the children who matter the most in our school, but in reality much harder to ensure that our actions are genuinely and meaningfully benefitting our children. A reality check can often be to see if a particular vision or policy applies equally to both children as well as staff and the wider community. For example, if we aspire to empower children to be lifelong learners, then are we living out that policy through our commitment to consistent professional development and empowering learning through community engagement?

One of the common strengths of great schools is the tangible impact that community engagement has on the children. Whilst we all have various community events, ranging from fetes and fayres to services and sales, these are usually centred around meeting the funding or socio-spiritual needs of the children and school, rather than ‘giving’ to the community. Consider for a moment whose needs your community events serve.

A superb example of mutual benefit can be found at Owslebury Primary School; a small rural village primary school in Hampshire. There has been a concentrated focus on developing lunchtime; not because there was an issue, but instead because the team saw opportunities to extend learning beyond the curriculum. A number of actions have taken place which have been largely led by Learning Support Assistants and Lunchtime Supervisors. First, the introduction of a focus on table manners and behaviours – with exemplary behavior being rewarded both individually and collectively. The manners taught build on the traditional rules about eating with closed mouths and quiet voices, but then start to explore the art of mealtime conversation, healthy choices, clearing up our own spills and caring for others. For individuals showing superb manners, children are rewarded with a lunchtime place for themselves and a friend at the Golden Table – a kind of Top Table with special cups, plates and treats to complement their school dinner or packed lunch. For collective excellence, children’s ‘houses’ earn group rewards each week. One of the most significant areas of impact has been the vertical collaboration – KS2 children teaching EY and KS1 children about good table manners for example, and also the noise levels in the large hall have reduced which has enabled a much calmer and less intimidating environment for the new Reception children in their first few months at school.

Consequently, and building on the importance of learning the social aspects of mealtimes, the school has introduced Community Lunches, whereby villagers of all ages are warmly welcomed into the school to enjoy school dinners with the children. What follows is a shared exchange of knowledge; with villagers learning about ‘the youth’ and what the experience of school today is really like as well as having much welcomed companionship over a shared meal. Children in turn learn about the history of their school and local area, and get to know more about local people, geographies, history and lifestyles. Featured recently by the BBC this has been a high impact activity for both the school and local community alike, and importantly, connects people who would not otherwise have an opportunity to engage meaningfully with the school.

A Useful Question is to consider who lives or works near to your school but whom you don’t currently engage with – significantly moving thinking beyond parents. Then, consider how they might benefit from engagement with the school – for their personal or working needs, and perhaps, as a staff activity, use your long term plans and topic themes to see where local knowledge or expertise might complement existing provision, but more importantly, play a moral role in supporting wider community needs.

A Great School looks beyond walls and structures; out of classrooms and buildings, out of catchments, stakeholders and staffing bodies to the wider landscape. 

With many schools needing to find more space to accommodate additional children and needs, yet on a limited budget, much attention has turned to how the wider school site is used. We are no longer restricted to static ICT suites, books all migrating to a single library or ponds being the limit to animals on site. Many newer schools such as Four Dwellings Primary School in Birmingham have had the good fortune to have learning-centric (and award winning) architecture integrated into the build with roof classrooms and flexible communal spaces. But we are also seeing that schools are becoming increasingly creative with uses of space in order to extend learning opportunities for children beyond the traditional curriculum. Christ Church SW9 in Brixton has a superb approach with walk-in greenhouses being made out of plastic 1litre lemonade bottles, and herb and vegetable gardens as separators instead of playground walls. Perhaps most creatively of all the school has a natural kiln and city farm on it’s roof – no small achievement for a ‘70s style building.

Sacred Heart RC Primary in Westhaughton, as showcased last year during their Prime Ministerial visit, has raised the bar with thinking about outdoor learning offering opportunities to extend and excite the traditional curriculum; through sculptures which aid creative writing, sheep onsite providing wool for art and design work, firepits bringing history alive and allotments enlivening science work.

Another superb example, particularly for Victorian buildings with awkward ceiling heights can be found at South Rise Primary School in Greenwich where lengths of voile are hung across areas of classroom and communal space to create learning spaces and more focused areas. Traditionally this kind of fabric use has been a budget friendly solution to create cosy reading corners or dramatic role play areas, but it can also play a vitally important role in supporting children who are easily distracted, those who need work zones, and for younger or higher need children who can be intimidated by vast spaces and high ceilings.

A useful activity might be to consider what the physical and logistical challenges facing specific groups of children are – perhaps as part of Pupil Premium provision planning, vulnerable group analysis, or targeted challenges such as your white working class boys and the challenges your existing learning environments present them with. Then, what would the ‘money no object’ solution be? This often raises ideas which can be more realistically achieved using creative means; just think about that plastic-bottle-made greenhouse. Space doesn’t need to mean cost – particularly if there are ways to engage the school community in collecting, building, decorating, or repurposing – activities which often bring people together.

A Great School is where Children – both those on roll, and those in other schools, towns and countries – are ultimately and unapologetically, at the heart of every action. 

Dame Vicki Paterson, Executive Headteacher of the Brindishe family of schools says that ‘if you focus on looking after the children in your school then Ofsted will look after itself’. Whereas Sir Michael Wilkins from Outward Grange Trust said that ‘The Ofsted Framework is a great starting place for self-auditing and planning school improvement’. Importantly neither see Ofsted as an end goal or an outcome, and both assume excellence; using Outstanding or whichever label it happens to be called at the time as an assumed pre-requisite to their real ambitions for the school.

A Great School is where ‘we’ and ‘our’ describe ambitions and actions. It is where excellence is both an assumption and a springboard. 

A useful activity to explore with SLT and T&L Governors is to timeline each of the Ofsted Framework descriptor bullet points at three points in time; your school as it is today, your school at the point of Outstanding, and your school in 5 years time. Key Question: What is the common theme of the journey or trajectory that makes you take? Then, taking on board the actions that need to happen, what do children, teachers, leaders and governors each need to do? A good checklist is ensuring that each of these groups of people have an active role in development – either through outcomes, actions, or both.

A Great School is where local, national and international applies both to the curriculum, but also to professional development, family engagement, and to the contribution to (and from) our wider teaching profession. 

In the Autumn Term we see the expanse of the year stretching before us so now is the time to put into place the actions that will make a difference for the children and staff of this year. With the rising of the College of Teaching and the success of international events such as the Festival of Education, collaboration has never been more important or more achievable. Action: Consider today, how you will encourage collaboration between children, between staff, between governors and for your own professional development this year.

 

Fiona Aubrey-Smith

Founder of One Life Learning: Connecting Expertise Together.

 

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine September 2016]

 

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Community means many different things to schools


[First published by Headteacher Update magazine June 2016]

 

Making that extra 1% difference…

 

“Why should…

…where you live, which school you attend,

…where you work, who you know,

…where you are, or what you can afford,

 

define the boundaries of your learning,

and therefore your chances in life?”

 

Particularly since the introduction of the Pupil Premium, there has been a huge focus on how we can ‘Close the Gap’, with attention largely focused on disadvantaged children. But of course there are gaps for all our children in the learning experiences they are able to access.

 

This  is the first in a series of articles that will share ways in which headteachers across the country are making ‘that extra 1% difference’ to the lives of their children and staff, and we start by considering one of the most obvious issues – that of community.

 

Community: Means many things to many people

When we join a school, we become aware of features of the community around it – we might observe the type of catchment, the style of home-school relationships, or the nature of the partnerships that the school has for example. But whilst we can’t change the location of your school, we can certainly change the school community; who’s part of it and what difference that makes to the learning of those around us – both children and adults.

 

 

Community: Where the child is the centre

Raynham Primary School

http://www.raynhamprimaryschool.co.uk

 

Raynham Primary School in Enfield, led by the inspirational Marva Rollins, very much blurs the lines between the school and the wider community in such a way that has ultimately led to the school being consistently amongst the highest performing primary schools nationally for children’s progress. Marva’s view is that every child faces a unique set of barriers to learning, but every child equally deserves to have the best possible start to their lives. As Marva so poignantly puts it ‘Society doesn’t have expectations of our children because of their backgrounds (81% EAL, 28% turnover, 45% PP, 12% SEND); no-one is looking at these children to see the next Prime Minister’ and that social injustice is very much the driver behind the relentless dedication across the staff at Raynham Primary School. Staff deeply and passionately believe in their children and will stop at nothing to make sure that each and every of the 880 children attending the school, has the right support to achieve the national expectations across the curriculum. For many children who have arrived at Raynham from war torn countries, or children whose home environments are unable to support their education, this belief is literally life-changing. As one child puts it ‘When I am at school I feel safe, and I feel like people believe in me. That makes me want to do well.’

 

The team at Raynham Primary School have carefully considered the key barriers that their children face, and have invested time and resource in appropriate and often innovative and creative solutions. Through family liaison; the school are on constant look out for issues that are preventing a child from learning – and work with families to overcome these. Examples include supporting a parent in accessing medical help so that the child does not have to be carer to their parent and thus preventing them from attending school and learning. This is far beyond the official remit of the school but Raynham’s approach is very much to go the extra mile because they know it makes a life changing difference to the children.

 

Another issue facing the children at Raynham, as with many other schools, is where children are going without breakfast and families are dependent on food banks. Raynham’s solution has been to seek out funds through charitable funds in order to provide a nurture breakfast club which not only provides food but also nurtures the children’s start to the day and showing them that they are valued and supported.

 

Above all, it is the belief that stems from Marva as headteacher – that everyone can achieve, with the right support. This is probably the biggest single influence on the school. But belief is hard to teach – and how do you spread this passion across a staff of 200 professionals and further afield? Marva provides extensive professional development for her staff through Learning Breakfasts, Lunch & Learn sessions, Peer Mentoring and Coaching. These sessions are vital because they empower the staff with skills, understanding and knowledge – both spreading the passion as well as the practical solutions, and ensuring sustainability across the staff and consistency for the children.

 

Another wonderful example is this can be found at Harbour Primary and Nursery in East Sussex – a pioneer for Achievement for All work, and multi award winning school. Christine Terrey the Headteacher has an infectious enthusiasm for learning, and says We share a common vision that seeps into and across the curriculum that we offer, and the values that we promote. We have a short and simple school motto ‘Always Be Curious’ our ABC!  We expect all staff, parents and children to remember that at Harbour Primary we aim for everyone to ask questions, be keen and eager to learn, be inquisitive, be enquiring and to appreciate the wonder of discovering something new and different.

 

It is important to us that our children feel safe and secure and that they develop a sense of belonging, that strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed as the children grow. We try hard to ensure that our environment is vibrant and rich, and that activities are planned to excite and inspire children to learn. We give children the opportunity to mix with, and learn with and from each other. We use peer tutoring within school and learn from children in other schools using technologies such as Skype. We also maximise the use of technologies to share our learning at home, for example through our on-line learning journals”.

 

Harbour Primary and Nursery School

http://www.harbourprimary.co.uk

‘A strong sense of community runs through the school.’ (Ofsted 4-5th May 2016, Harbour Primary)

 

Community: Underpinned by Meaningful Values

The Compass Partnership of Schools

http://www.compass-partnership.com

 

The common thread across school leaders who are passionate about the importance of their learning community is of course shared Vision and Values. Whilst we all have these in place, the meaningfulness and the embeddedness of them makes a significant impact across school operational outcomes.

 

The Compass Partnership consists of seven primary schools with very contrasting communities in Greenwich. Led by executive headteacher John Camp, these schools have built a community which share a vision and set of values which underpin the work of the schools, but also are deeply and sustainably embedded within the culture within and between the schools. This means that the community of schools – including staff, children, parents and partners – share an understanding about what the role of the partnership is and where they fit within it. This kind of focus on equitability between children, and in the interactions between children and all adults, not just teachers and leaders, is both profound and purposeful. For example, the partnership made a strategic decision to develop behaviour, learning, and learning behaviours all without the use of reward systems – instead focusing on creating a powerful and sustainable culture of conversation. Precision in conversation, and the tools to make this possible is found everywhere – from books to wall mountings – and all adults, not just teaching staff, are trained and supported with the tools and vocabulary for structuring conversations, phrasing challenge and providing support in such a way that exemplifies the values themselves. This subtle yet powerful and positive use of the environment is what empowers the schools to move beyond traditional behavioural systems – so that every interaction between child and child, child and adult, or adult and adult, is embraced by a cultural familiarity – a culture of conversation – and it is this impact on behaviours and social interactions which reaches far beyond the classrooms and school building.

 

Community: Coming Together

The New Wave Federation

http://www.newwaveteachingschoolalliance.co.uk

 

The New Wave Federation is a group of three schools work led by executive headteacher Michelle Thomas, who says “We wholeheartedly believe our schools gain many benefits from working collaboratively and maximise the benefits of working in a group of schools. We have made a commitment to have a shared responsibility to the wider school community, through the provision of high-quality education and the improvement of life chances for pupils in the community beyond that of our own three schools.

 

We want to develop a passion for learning, inspired by high-quality teaching, developing and building upon individual strengths and talents. We expect all children in our schools to reach age-related levels, in line with national expectations, as a minimum, and we aim to ensure that the barriers to learning are removed, so that every pupil in all of our schools reach their full potential. We do this with innovation and collaboration at the heart of all that we do both for us as adults and the children.

 

Some of the many practical ways we work together include sharing specialist staff – for example we have a shared ‘Performing Arts Department ‘which offers all our children specialist teaching each week in Music, Dance, Art and Drama. We also share a fulltime Spanish teacher so all year groups are taught this language. As an Apple Regional Training Centre, we also share the skills of our staff within our federation and beyond; including 2 Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) and 2 Computing at Schools (CAS) Master Teachers.

 

Our children now go on joint trips together as we share the same curriculum through the 3 schools. This is a great way to utilise resources and teacher time as teachers plan together in much larger groups. This year this way of working has been a godsend as we cope with life after levels. For us, we have an instant larger group of staff and children to share and moderate our work with. Staff all see themselves as working for the federation and would not think twice about helping out in another school if there is a need”. 

 

Reflecting on the examples above, consider for a moment how your school defines community, and what that looks like in practice – to what extent each stakeholder has a passive or assertive role, and how far the ripples of impact therefore flow…

 

 

 

Fiona Aubrey-Smith

Founder of One Life Learning

http://www.onelifelearning.co.uk

 

 

Reflecting for Planning: Preparing for your September 2017 Early Years intake


[First published by Headteacher Update magazine October 2016]

Reflecting for Planning: Preparing for your September 2017 Early Years intake

 

With our first half term completed already and our Early Years intake now settled into our schools, it’s a good time to reflect on our processes for transitioning children into school in readiness to plan for next year. With most primary headteachers having a background of expertise in KS2 rather than Early Years, learning from peers about successful EY strategies is particularly important. Fiona Aubrey-Smith brings together some top tips from schools across the country.

 

How well do you understand children’s perception and first impressions?

For a very young child these first moments and first sights can make a significant difference to their emotions about ‘starting school’. As one Headteacher said with a smile; ‘if, as an adult, you don’t have to bend down to see and reach everything in EYFS then you’ve got it at the wrong height’.

As extreme as it may sound, try crawling around your EYFS space so that you are at the height of your youngest children; you will ‘see’ exactly what your EY children experience. Where are the signs, labels and displays? Can children see around and between furniture for a clear view of their classroom?

 

What is most important to a child new-to-school? The basics of survival are about accessing food, drink, a toilet, and safety/who to go to for help. It’s therefore crucially important to empower children to know how to access these. Think about your guided tours on the first day, but also your signage – using real pictures and words rather than clipart, and making sure that toilets, snack bowls and drinking areas are inviting, clean and accessible.

 

What is being inferred about your expectations through your environment? Think about the first impressions a child will have of your school, classroom and environment. If it’s tidy, clean, and everything has a place, then your new intake of children are more likely to keep it tidy and clean. But even more powerful than this is the subliminal message you are giving to children about the ‘nature’ of your environment. If the adults care about its presentation and organisation, then the message that children will receive from that is that school is somewhere to live up to positive and high expectations. We all have high expectations written into our school ethos and behaviour policies, but at its most basic, this begins with both adults and children caring for their environment around them –  and that starts with being tidy.

 

[PULL OUT BOX 1]

Marva Rollins, Headteacher at Raynham Primary School has a national reputation as a leader for bringing the best out of children regardless of their background and starting point. Children at Raynham often come from complex backgrounds; many without English, without previous experiences of education or childcare or as bewildered refugees. However, Raynham continually sees some of the highest rates of both progress and attainment in the country. Marva shares four of the most important aspects of Early Years transition which ensure that children get off to the very best start.

  • When children come with varying and challenging behaviours, remember that the children are not the behaviour. Have patience.
  • Staff need to be fully trained in Early Years development and practice, and supported to be empathic to the families emotions and needs.
  • Staff should be supported to develop strengths in closing the gap for children whose starting points can be 18 months below their age related stage of development. With the challenges already facing them beyond school it is even more important for these children that they catch up quickly and then thrive at school.
  • Develop strong links with Early Years agencies who can support children with a range of needs, and make sure you as a leader build capacity to follow through on the recommendations made.

 

Anna Trott, the Deputy Headteacher at Raynham Primary School shares practical ideas;

  • Ensure that introductory parents’ meetings have opportunities for parents to spend time in the class setting – they may never have been in one before, or may have had a negative experience that needs to be overcome.
  • For home visits, ensure that bilingual support is there if necessary.
  • Plan for Stay and Play sessions where children spend time in the setting with parents, and then independently if ready. Be mindful of bilingual needs and provision for both children and parents.
  • Plan for staggered entry with a clear settling in policy.
  • Ensure that initial observations determine additional support needs; both their first language as well as English development and SEND.
  • Have a weekly rota for small groups of parents to stay and play or listen to children read.

 

[PULL OUT BOX 2]

Sacred Heart RC Primary School has been identified as ‘the school that every Outstanding school should learn from’. Martin Johnson, Headteacher shares some suggestions for supporting Early Years leaders with planning for transition;

  • Ensure that time is given to look through, and action plan from, the entry profiles sent from the different settings, and ensure that you meet with parents of children who have not had a nursery setting – be ready for the journey.
  • Ensure that all Reception staff are sure of their roles and the learning challenges during the ‘baseline’ period at the start of term.
  • Arrange early triangulation meetings with Reception staff and senior leaders, so that any emerging issues are handled with speed and sensitivity.

 

Laura Skinner, the Early Years Leader at Sacred Heart RC Primary School shares a handful of successful practical strategies;

  • Hold a summer term drop-in coffee morning to meet the parents and children together. Explore the learning environment with them, and ensure that families have plenty of time to meet and talk to their teacher together.
  • Year 3 children can become ‘Guardian Angels’ who write to their allocated child/family before they begin school, building up relationships before day one.
  • Warmly invite parents into school at the start of the day to enable children to settle and so that they have someone focused on their individual journey, showing them where to put their things and where to go.
  • Differentiate provision for transition – some children settle much more quickly if their parents leave them at the school door.
  • Use nature – we have an urban farm. Our animals and the sensory garden help to calm any child who is anxious. Going to talk to a goat or stroke a cat really does help (and we use them for children to read to aswell!)
  • Group children with ‘buddies’ so that they all have someone to play with and talk to during all the differnet parts of the school day.
  • Get to know the children as individuals. What do they like? What would they like to know? What questions do they have? They will all be unique.
  • Hold a ‘SHARE’ meeting at the start of term; for parents and teachers to share curriculum information and practical tips.

 

When does transitioning into school begin?

The most successful transitions into school happen over a long period of time. Have a think about the whole of the year ahead in readiness for your 2017 intake. Could you;

  • Invite your pre-schools to Christmas Fayre’s as well as summer events? Many children love the idea of ‘meeting’ Father Christmas in their future school which can be a great first-introduction to ‘big school’.
  • Share the school daily routines with pre-schools and parents so that children can get their body clocks used to snacks, drinks, lunch, outdoor and quiet times over the summer holidays, and so that they can talk as a family about what will happen and what to expect.
  • Provide children with opportunities to make friends at the school prior to their arrival – taking older children into pre-schools to help out with specific activities so that they are introduced in an environment where the younger children feel safe and familiar.
  • Arrange opportunities for parents to get to know each other, and encourage them to arrange playdates with future classmates. Children will feel much more confident in their new school if they have a friend who they can look forward to seeing.
  • Consider what you could put in place for the children during August; either facilitating parents connecting together or ask your PTA to get involved – so that children have a sense of school community in the long gap between pre-school ending and school beginning.

 

For children overwhelmed by the first day

Both emotionally and cognitively there is a huge amount for children to become familiar with on their first day in September. Consider the following top tips;

  • Children’s senses will be overwhelmed with the stimulation of their first day and they will need opportunities to consolidate and rest their minds for a few minutes. Provide a retreat space where children can sit cosily to reflect with their own security object (cuddly toy, book etc).
  • Some teachers have found children very distracted by small things such as their new shoes rubbing, or not realising they can take their school jumper off if they get hot. Consider carpet time without shoes and jumpers as a way of children feeling ‘at home’ on their first day.
  • Many schools invite parents in for an early lunch with the children on the first day which gives children something to look forward to in an otherwise daunting day.
  • Send children home with a whole class photo (including their teachers) on their first day so that they have some prompts for discussion with parents

Pupil Premium: Evidence based Decisions & Planning for Impact


[First published by Headteacher Update magazine May 2013]

Pupil Premium: Evidence based Decisions & Planning for Impact

Given Ofsted’s recent recommendation that schools should ‘prove it or lose it’, headteachers and governors are under pressure to provide hard evidence of the impact that pupil premium has had on standards. Here we provide a summary of some of the practical guidance and resources available to schools, to help make the right choices.

 

Summer Term Actions

At this time of year it becomes important to think about evidencing impact of the 2012-13 pupil premium on standards, and also how to learn from that to make the best investment choices for the 2013-14 pupil premium funding, which increases to £900 per child[1]. It is in everyone’s interest to be able to evidence the impact that Pupil Premium funding is having so that teachers, leaders and politicians can all make informed choices about what has the most impact on children’s education. The new School Data Dashboard[2] for parents provides a data snapshot comparing disadvantaged pupils with their peers, and is at the forefront of this accountability, alongside performance tables, the new Ofsted inspection framework, and online reports for parents.

 

The new Ofsted framework specifically refers to seeking impact of Pupil Premium decisions when focusing on pupil achievement (52), quality of leadership and school management (58) and data evidence (69)[3], with inspection outcome statements such as “The pupil premium funding is used extremely well to implement specific interventions, leading to an immediate and positive impact on standards for those pupils… Governors make sure that the pupil premium is well spent and reports from committees or the headteacher to the governing body are suitably detailed,” (Haseltine Primary School, Ofsted, 2013).  Such is the importance being placed on the £2.5 billion investment, that the Department of Education are providing additional awards of up to £10,000 for schools who can evidence the most impact of Pupil Premium investment choices[4].

 

Evidence based Decisions

The Department for Education has been publicising their relentless focus on encouraging teaching to be an evidence-based profession, including Ben Goldacre’s recent paper and presentation ‘Building Evidence into Education’ receiving high profile[5], and in this context, Ofsted’s recent review of Pupil Premium visits and survey made three very clear recommendations[6];

 

  • Target the designated children.

This sounds obvious, but are we targeting intervention programmes at the children for whom the funding has been designated or are we providing intervention programmes for groups of children identified through low attainment or attendance? This is not to say that children not receiving PP should not benefit from the intervention strategies put in place. But, in order to provide clear evidence of the links between PP investments and FSM children’s outcomes, the intervention must be targeted at the named children, and their specific needs and priorities.

 

Remember to ensure that you are encouraging every family who is entitled to FSM to claim so that all entitled children benefit from the associated PP funding.

 

Once designated children have been identified, prioritise training for all those professionals involved to understand the importance and detail of your tracking data; so that governors, leaders, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff all share responsibility for ensuring that progress is made towards the agreed and expected outcomes. One of our most cited Headteacher tips is to genuinely share responsibility for achieving the agreed intervention outcomes; not just sharing the task-management or actions involved.

 

  • Identify clearly how the money is being spent.

This is about being able to provide hard evidence about what you are investing your children’s pupil premium in, what evidence you have based those decisions on, what impact you expect to see, and how you will monitor and manage these activities in order to ensure that the impact happens.

Headteachers who have seen outstanding progress made by children receiving PP have recommended the following ‘top tips’ for identifying best where to invest your funding, and notably, being able to evidence the reasons for your decisions;

  • Look first at your day-to-day teaching and what can be improved, before relying on intervention strategies
  • Analyse why children are underachieving; particularly in English and Maths, and don’t confuse children receiving Pupil Premium with low-ability children
  • Use your best teachers to deliver intervention groups, don’t just rely on TAs
  • Track the impact of intervention groups during the intervention, don’t wait until it’s completed
  • Assign a senior leader to manage and monitor Pupil Premium, and have regular 1:1s between them and class teachers about the PP children. Include this in performance management.
  • Capture evidence of impact throughout the year – case studies for each child.

 

  • Spend it in ways known to be most effective.

We return to The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit as an accessible summary of educational research which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.  Found at http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit , the top two intervention strategies recommended, which evidence show make the greatest impact on pupil premium investment are:

  • Feedback (adds 8 additional months of progress over a year )
    • Which is specific, accurate, clear and prompt when given by the teacher to the child
    • Includes recognition of the progress that the child has made, and encourages further effort
    • Which provides specific guidance on how to improve, and is succinct and given sparingly
    • Which is supported by an effective professional development programme for teachers.
  • Meta-Cognition and Self-Regulation/Learning-to-Learn Strategies (+8 months)
    • Where children understand how to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning (eg; effective use of ‘Plan-Do-Review’)
    • Questioning (eg; How do you know that is right? What could you do to make it better?)

Other strategies which evidence shows to make a positive, significant impact on progress and attainment of disadvantaged children include those listed below, and these make interesting reading when we think about the most common uses for pupil premium where impact is difficult to see.

  • Peer Tutoring (+6 months)
  • Early Years Intervention (+6)
  • One to One Tuition (+5)
  • Collaborative Learning (+5)
  • Phonics (+4)
  • Small Group Tuition (+4)
  • Behaviour Interventions (+4)
  • Digital Technology (+4)
  • Social & Emotional Intervention (+4)
  • Parental Involvement (+3)
  • Reducing Class Size (+3)
  • Summer Schools (+3)
  • Sports & Arts Participation (+2)
  • Extended Schools (+2)
  • Individualised Instruction (+2)
  • After School Programmes (+2)
  • Learning Styles (+2)
  • Homework (+1)

Significantly, evidence shows that the following interventions make either no difference, or make a negative impact:

  • Teaching Assistants (0)
  • Performance Pay (0)
  • Aspiration Interventions (0)
  • Block Scheduling (0)
  • School Uniform (0)
  • Physical Environment (0)
  • Ability Grouping (-1)

 

Given that one of most controversial interventions on the list is that of Teaching Assistants, it is important to look in more detail at the evidence for each of the strategies that your school is or is not using in order to be clear about why these strategies can have a negative or positive impact;

  • Ofsted found that… over two fifths of schools are using the funding to pay for new or existing teaching assistants or support workers. Whilst in many cases this is a natural consequence to changes of budgetary organisation, it’s important to review the impact that the existing staffing arrangements are having. Is progress good or outstanding for those children who are working with those staff? If so, how can this be evidenced? If not, what intervention needs to be woven into the work that those staff are undertaking; for example specialist training, mentoring, coaching, or professional study, in order to increase their skills in extending progression for the children that they are working with. Are these the right staff, undertaking the right kinds of intervention programmes, for the designated children, or are we sometimes at risk of continuing with programmes in the absence of exploring other strategies?
  • Evidence suggests… that where teaching assistants are deployed with a well-defined pedagogical role (rather than task management), or have responsibility for being accountable for the specific intervention, then the impact can be seen on their use[7].
  • The implication is that… both the deployment, training of both teaching assistants, and teachers management of their TAS need to be targeted in order to achieve positive impact in terms of attainment of the targeted children.

 

Suggested Next Steps

  • List your Pupil Premium investments, and assign a governor, leader or teacher to research the evidence for/against continuing with these strategies. What alternatives are there which could have a greater impact on children? What would the true cost of adopting and implementing those strategies be? What would the success criteria be if those strategies were implemented instead of, or as well as those you already have in place?
  • Revisit your monitoring strategy for PP investments; what exactly should you see each day, week, month, term, year? How can you better align the professionals involved in delivering the intervention with the responsibility and accountability of ensuring that the impact is achieved?
  • Whilst PP intervention strategies are funded with the target and priority of your FSM children, how could sharing success stories across your school (perhaps in half termly staff meetings) improve consistency of success? In other words, how can you encourage staff to improve their own practice above and beyond the PP foci as a result of this investment?

 

Recommended Reading

Ofsted (2013) The Pupil Premium: Analysis and Challenge Tools for Schools

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-analysis-and-challenge-tools-for-schools

For… a useful set of questions, to prompt discussion and data collection for school leaders and governors.

 

Ofsted (2013) The Pupil Premium: How schools are spending funding  successfully to maximise achievement

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium-how-schools-are-spending-funding-successfully-maximise-achievement

For… a set of narrative case studies and strategy ideas, to inform your governor and staff discussions and decisions.

 

EEF (2013) Teaching and Learning Toolkit – updated Spring 2013

http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/toolkit/Teaching_and_Learning_Toolkit_(Spring_2013).pdf

For… research and evidence about each of the main strategies adopted, to inform your school PP investment choices.

 

 

 

[1] DfE (2013) Pupil Premium: What you need to know

[2] http://dashboard.ofsted.gov.uk/

[3] Ofsted (2012) The Framework for School Inspection

[4] http://www.pupilpremiumawards.co.uk/

[5] http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/b/ben%20goldacre%20paper.pdf

[6] http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/pupil-premium

[7] http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/approaches/teaching-assistants

Intelligent Accountability?


[First published by Headteacher Update magazine October 2013]

Intelligent Accountability? These Primaries have their own answer.

 

Intelligent Accountability; where schools take the lead through models of peer accountability, proving that the profession can self-regulate, challenge and support itself.

 

On 1 June 2013, five Oxfordshire primary schools became the Oxfordshire Primary Education Network (OPEN) trust. All are or are becoming academies. But as it is an umbrella trust, no one school dominates – a vital factor to the heads, staff and governors involved.

 

The five members of the OPEN trust

Heather Haigh, headteacher, Cholsey Primary School

David Burrows, headteacher, Ladygrove Park Primary School, Didcot (inc nursery)

John Hawkins, headteacher, Manor Primary School, Didcot

Jane Ratcliffe, headteacher, St John’s Primary School, Wallingford

Jane Hemery, headteacher, Willowcroft Community School (inc nursery: ages 2+) Didcot

 

The change was precipitated by Oxfordshire local authority’s decision to encourage all its schools to become academies. ‘Politically we were not that keen,’ says Jane Ratcliffe, head of St John’s primary school in Wallingford. ‘But we talked about our options, the different models available.’

 

John Hawkins, head of Manor Primary School in Didcot, takes up the story. ‘A core group of very proactive governors formed a working party to explore the options and invited a number of people representing different options to address them, including the head of a stand-alone academy and the head of a multi-academy trust (MAT). I was keen for the umbrella trust of primaries.’

 

They found an all-primary umbrella trust in Leicestershire, with 10 primary school members, and invited one of their head teachers to speak to the group ‘and get the story. The main point we gleaned from this was that in an umbrella trust we are all responsible for the other schools if they get into difficulties.’ [For more on umbrella trusts, see  http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/academies/secondary/faqs/a00204883/academy-chains-faqs#faq10]

 

The issues that led to this kind of partnership

 

Why did these heads decide they wanted to take this route? ‘It all started with the ending of the school improvement partners (SIPs) in Oxfordshire,’ says Jane Ratcliffe. ‘They went after I had been a headteacher for only a year. Schools were left to sort themselves out.’

 

So a group of three heads, who already knew each other through existing school partnerships in Didcot and Wallingford, met to discuss how they could progress the school improvement model. From Autumn term 2011 they planned a number of sessions in each other’s schools, looking at the schools’ key performance data, undertaking joint monitoring, looking at headteacher performance and consulting governors.

 

The schools’ governors were concerned at first – ‘they thought we would be too cosy with each other.’ But after just one meeting, the heads and governors agreed the proposed approach was more challenging than the former SIPs process. They looked at outcomes, working plans, lesson observations, pupil progress… it was really successful,’ says Jane.

 

‘It worked for a number of reasons. There was absolute trust – and no spin! There was honesty on all sides, and openness to hear what colleagues had to say about your school. These people had spent time with one another over months and in some cases years. They had genuine relationships of trust.’

 

Even a member of the local authority service who knew the three heads and what they were planning said they thought ‘you’re doing a better job than we could do.’ The authority then supported the trust financially, through the strategic school improvement programme. Although only two of the headteachers from that partnership went on to become part of OPEN, it is clear that the success of the partnership was an important influence on the formation of the umbrella trust.

 

A member of the local authority service said they thought ‘you’re doing a better job than we could do.’

 

Accountability

 

Within OPEN there is no lead school, and there are officially no lead members of the trust, although there is an elected chair. When the proposal was discussed with the Department for Education, their position was ‘there has to be a head of accountability.’  DfE favoured some kind of hierarchy, but eventually allowed the umbrella trust, once they were assured of the formal joint accountability.

 

The OPEN members have no problems with the principle of accountability: ‘We do need formal responsibility – to each other,’ says Jane Ratcliffe. ‘So John (Hawkins) is detailing the annual risk assessment, using the red-amber-green traffic light system to look at performance, leadership, behaviour and attendance.’ This will be carried out in autumn 2013 for the first time for all schools in the trust.

 

‘A resulting action plan will be drawn up by the school concerned,’ John Hawkins explains. ‘If the overall score is red at the end of a year, the umbrella trust has the right to take control of the school’s governing body, by putting in three additional governors with five votes each.’

 

The umbrella trust has the right to take control of [any failing] school’s governing body, by putting in three additional governors with five votes each

 

Trust programmes and activities are to be planned by the combined senior leadership team of all the schools, a total of 16 people.

 

Clearly, a situation in which the trust members collectively take responsibility for their own school assessment and improvement runs the risk of complacency. Also a lack of awareness could develop as to how you are shaping up against the real world’s success criteria. The group takes action to avoid this risk. ‘We’re aware that other groups of schools are doing similar things,’ says David Burrows of Ladygrove Park school in Didcot. ‘And it’s important to keep in touch with them, compare progress, and help each other.’

 

David Burrows and John Hawkins have previously trained as Ofsted inspectors, and Jane Ratcliffe is considering doing so. Willowcroft Junior School head Jane Hemery likes this idea: ‘Inside knowledge! I’d like to be in a position to practise arguing with Ofsted.’

 

Financial factors

 

Another attraction to the stand-alone trust was cost, or rather value for money. The five heads felt that belonging to another organisation or grouping, such as academy chains, a multi-academy trust (MAT) or even remaining under LA control, would top-slice their income without necessarily providing the services they needed. And under a MAT, says John Hawkins, ‘the senior trust committee holds the funds and revenue, is the employer, and exerts control. We don’t want that. We have found that if you don’t coerce people, they will volunteer’ (and usually perform better and be more fulfilled).

 

The issue of control was crucial. Despite some initial anxiety, all the heads were happy to commit to their joint responsibility – peer accountability. Heather Haigh of Cholsey Primary says, ‘it’s less heavy-handed but more robust than the Whitehall inspection process. It gives primary schools the confidence that they can look after each other. We don’t need big brother to look after us.’

 

‘It’s less heavy-handed but more robust than the Whitehall inspection process. It gives primary schools the confidence that they can look after each other.’ Heather Haigh, Headteacher, Cholsey Primary School

 

A key factor was the high level of trust and respect between the five school’s heads, and increasingly other members of their staff with their opposite numbers. ‘Historically, schools are very insular,’ says Jane Hemery. ‘At Willowcroft, I felt I was thrown in at the deep end in my first year as a head. We opened in 2007 from the ashes of a school in serious weaknesses. We had three visits a year for three years from HMIs. I’m still fighting to make it a school of choice for parents. I thought this was a brilliant opportunity to be supported by the best schools in the area.’

 

How the umbrella trust is working so far

 

From practical and financial points of view there are immediate benefits to the umbrella trust: they have been able to rid themselves of many of the costs of external services covering premises management, health and safety, accountancy/finance, pupil information and management systems, ICT, etc.

 

OPEN has created a group of its business managers to work together on these issues. ‘They are really collaborative and show a group sense of ownership,’ says Heather Haigh. The five business managers now work continually as one group, emailing each other as a matter of course.

 

On the broader issues of developing plans for the umbrella trust, all staff and governors – nearly 100 people in total – met together. ‘We wanted to go beyond what our partnerships might have done in the past,’ says Heather. ‘They had done various things – but did it have impact?’ The OPEN meeting came up with many ideas of what the trust could offer. All ideas contributed were assessed through a dot-voting exercise. One of the most important considerations was staff development. Among the favoured ideas were shadowing and secondments: staff were enthusiastic and keen to run with it.

 

Since then, groups of staff with similar interests and responsibilities in the different schools have sprung up without any input from the headteachers. These include SEN coordinators, a moderators group for the early years curriculum, and forest school leaders.

 

Support and challenge

 

In between the annual risk assessments, the schools undertake ‘mini Ofsted’ inspections, working in pairs looking at episodes of learning, for example. Jane Ratcliffe recalls one occasion when her two fellow heads identified the need to differentiate lesson planning more thoroughly at St John’s. ‘This development feedback hurt me more coming from colleagues whom I trust than it would from Ofsted. But a crucial point is to know the truth. Top-down hierarchical accountability systems encourage organisations, including schools, to hide the truth. Instead, we have trust and honesty: we can research in a safe environment for the truth in our schools.’

 

Heather Haigh agrees: ‘I’m petrified at the thought of you lot coming to find my truths. But we owe it to our children. We’re all in this together.’

 

Clearly, it’s harder to reject or ignore criticism that comes from people you know and respect.

 

The OPEN heads believe their approach to school accountability is actually more useful than the official one. ‘Ofsted’s five-yearly visits – what good is that?’ says John. ‘We will have annual risk assessments, so we’ll always know how we’re getting on.’

 

 

‘We will have annual risk assessments [by our peers], so we’ll always know how we’re getting on.’ John Hawkins, Headteacher, Manor Primary School, Didcot