Sheffield Park Academy is an 11 to 18 school with a roll of 928 students. It serves a diverse community in south east Sheffield. Since 2011, the academy has continued to make rapid and sustained progress in all areas, with outcomes at key stage 4 in 2013/14 reaching 65 per cent of students achieving five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths, which is likely to exceed the national average.
Against this backdrop of success, I was appointed curriculum area leader for the arts in 2011 and was put in charge of a faculty which included the four subject areas of art, dance, drama and music – all of which had previously been individual departments.
A key aim of my role was to develop an arts curriculum that would enable all departments to work collaboratively and share best practice within creative subjects.
Personally, this was a big step for me. I was developing as a leader and taking the next step in my career, taking on responsibility for a team of seven staff, as well as having to encompass a number of subjects outside of my specialism.
In short, I had moved from being a one-person department within drama to a position which required me to develop my skills working within a team and to delegate tasks to move the faculty forward.
Upon taking responsibility for the performance of the faculty, I set out to work with staff to improve their knowledge on how lessons within the arts at key stage 3 could enable them to be more successful at key stage 4 qualifications. Meanwhile, we were developing key stage 4 courses and moving from BTECs to GCSEs, which we felt were more suitable for our students’ future aspirations.
My aim was to develop a vision for the whole team, which would see everyone buy-in to the new challenges and changes, and inspired to advance the faculty further within the school’s Development Plan.
In 2012, we moved to deliver not only subject specialist courses, but also branched out to develop a GCSE qualification called expressive arts in which students combine two art forms. This was initially challenging as I was now working with a much larger team than I was used to, comprising of teachers who had worked within the sector for a number of years and some of whom who had more management experience than I did. My goals were:
To build a team that would “buy-in” to a vision which would move the arts faculty forward and develop student progress.
To raise the literacy levels of all students within the faculty to improve exam results.
To work with staff to develop their teaching and learning within the faculty.
In order to achieve my goals, I focused on three key areas: team-management, literacy, and the quality of teaching and learning.
1, Team management
I was aware that I would need to get the staff’s support for my vision of what the arts faculty would look like, and I wanted them to them to feel a sense of ownership for that vision.
In our first meeting, I asked the team what they felt made a successful arts department and to describe what a successful department looked like.
It was important to show that we were a team who made decisions together, with myself providing motivational support and guidance, as well as delegating key tasks such as supervising study sessions, providing extra-curricular activities, taking charge of checking reports, and analysing data.
This ensured everyone played a role in developing the vision and allowed for a feeling of collective ownership and responsibility for the results of the department.
I also wanted staff to develop their individual skills and to feel that all decisions were properly communicated to them. To enable staff to develop individual skills I looked into appropriate CPD within school and from outside agencies.
2, The significance of literacy
When joining the academy, many of our students had low literacy levels which presented a significant challenge when dealing with GCSE coursework and exams. As a team, we quickly identified literacy as a key component in exam success.
The whole department looked at the development of literacy starters, with a focus on comprehension tasks which would help students to develop an understanding of key words.
This became a whole-school initiative, helping staff to develop quality resources which were shared not only between the faculties, but also between staff across the academy.
We used the same approaches as other faculties – using existing tools such as displays in classrooms, sentence starters and word mats to improve literacy levels and develop students’ understanding. Building these strong cross-curricular links allowed us to tackle literacy as a whole-school issue, with a consistent approach resulting in an increase in students’ confidence.
3, Quality of teaching and learning
To improve teaching and learning within the faculty, I looked at the following areas:
Establishing goals and expectations (for example students making at least expected progress in all lessons).
Strategic resourcing and planning.
Co-ordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum.
Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development.
Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment (for example, ensuring students are on-task and making progress in lessons through exciting activities).
All of the above were discussed within the faculty and involved honest discussions with staff regarding their areas of strength and what was required to ensure progress in the future.
I held a one-to-one meeting with each staff member, identifying three target areas that would be worked on to improve students’ progress. I also conducted learning walks to see the progress that was being made in the classroom, as well as directing staff to training sessions on understanding and implementing the school’s “behaviour for learning” policy.
Working with staff as a group meant that they felt an integral part of the team and enjoyed the collaborative and supportive approach of working together.
This enabled self-development and encouraged staff to continually challenge how we do things, seeking more effective and efficient methods to ultimately ensure student progress. They believed in the vision, as they had been part of shaping and implementing it.
The impact of this approach on examination results is self-evident, with this year seeing the academy record its best ever expressive arts results, with 87 per cent of students achieving four levels of progress and 100 per cent achieving A* to C grades.
All staff within the department achieved either “good” or “outstanding” in their lesson observations and the CPD programme has been implemented across the school.
Further informationTeaching Leaders is an education charity whose mission is to address educational disadvantage by developing middle leaders working in schools in the most challenging contexts. Applications for the 2015 cohort open soon. To find out more, visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk
Do all you can to get staff “buy-in” as soon as possible so you can move forward together.
Work as a team to build up a series of literacy resources which all teachers can access.
Be supportive of staff’s ideas and allow them to develop the vision together. Staff will then form good working relationships and feel secure in recognising areas for development.
Build on the assets within your team and use them to develop/support members of staff where required.
Louise Pleasance is curriculum area leader of the arts at Sheffield Park Academy and is a Fellow of the Teaching Leaders programme.