In 2008, less than a term after I became headteacher at Hall Mead, we were subject to a one-day reduced tariff inspection in which were given the classic “good with outstanding features” judgement and left feeling like the whole event was something of an anti-climax.
As a new head, I suppose it gave me the breathing space to take stock of what we needed to develop as a school and which aspects were part of the fabric of what made the school the long-term success it was and continues to be.
However, for the staff it was a real non-event as just a couple of odd lessons were visited briefly and a few other teachers may have caught a random glimpse of our HMI as she glided through the corridors confirming what the data had already told her.
Despite sometimes feeling we were on a permanent war footing as we watched successive frameworks come and go, suspecting our inspection was imminent, we eventually stopped mentioning the “O” word every staff briefing and concentrated on “sticking to the knitting”; making teaching and learning the cornerstone of every improvement plan we developed.
Our results climbed steadily as we honed our practice but resisted jumping on the GCSE equivalents bandwagon, and we evolved to meet the changing landscape of educational policy.
Then, in summer 2012, despite believing that our teaching and learning was the best it had ever been and looking forward to a record set of results, like many schools we suffered at the hands of the GCSE English scandal. And this was the year Ofsted would definitely come!
We held our nerve, knowing that across the school progress was at least good and often outstanding and we had faith in the pedagogy our teachers had developed and the response we had made to the moving of the GCSE goalposts.
In February, when the inspectors did finally arrive, we were ready and we were comfortable in our own skin.
Two days later, I sat in our conference room with one of my deputies and the chair of governors and heard the confirmation: outstanding in all categories, including teaching.
Here is a summary of the approaches we have taken to move our teaching forwards and achieve outstanding:
Hall Mead has always been founded on the strength of its family ethos, with positive relationships between pupils and staff.
Everyone who visit us comments upon it and through any development that has evolved within teaching and learning, we have kept a keen eye on ensuring that the very essence of what gives us a climate for learning that enables teachers to take risks, set high expectations and challenge pupils through effective differentiation and questioning is never lost.
The high standards of behaviour we expect and the warm atmosphere of collaboration we have are critical essentials for us which allow teachers the freedom to teach and give pupils a culture for learning.
The Learning Challenge
Since 2008, we start each new academic year by giving staff a fresh “Learning Challenge”. This sets out the focus area for pedagogy in the coming year and is accompanied by a folder which contains relevant resources, details of CPD for the year, and records for training and appraisal information.
This year our mantra was “Plan More, Teach Less”, with which we branded all staff training and improvement plan objectives.
For this year we really wanted pupils to be the ones working the hardest in the lessons, but for teachers to collaborate more with joint departmental planning, to make greater consideration of the various sub-groups within their classes, and for cross-curricular links to be factored more thoughtfully into lessons.
Above all however, the main focus was on planning for progress, being able to allow pupils to “show what they know” at least three to four times during the lesson.
To meet the demands of this year’s Learning Challenge we revised our lesson plan format. We have an expectation that any observed lesson will be accompanied by a written plan in the house style which if at all possible is emailed in advance of the observation so that rhetorical feedback on the plan can be posed by the observer.
For day-to-day lesson planning, staff have freedom to use their planners but all lessons at Hall Mead should be planned under the framework of the writing template.
The template is concise, in many ways de-cluttered from previous ones, but it contains key prompts to encourage regular progress checks and consideration of literacy, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and pupils’ prior learning and attainment.
Academy lead teachers
Following our conversion to an academy in 2011, we have created a small number of posts for teachers across subjects who have demonstrated consistently outstanding practice.
These “Academy Lead Teachers” work closely with individual colleagues in a coaching capacity to help address areas identified through observations.
They also network and collaborate with our academy partners and help lead and advise on teaching and learning policies and professional development sessions.
Hall Mead has had an excellent reputation for its learning support work for many years. Under the leadership of its director of access and autism, the SEN and disabilities agenda has dovetailed smoothly into the “Plan More, Teach Less” approach.
The department has provided teachers with bespoke training, coaching and feedback on differentiation for specific pupils with great success. Bite-size morning case conferences have helped address wider issues in a manageable way and the empowering of learning support assistants to become more involved in the lessons and provide teachers with “Post-it note” lesson feedback relevant to the pupils they are in the classroom to support led Ofsted to remark on how effectively “other adults” were deployed in the school.
Our CPD diet has been rich and varied over recent years but in the last two years we have elected to maintain the richness but reduce the variety. This has taken us away from the scatter-gun approach that sometimes infects school CPD menus and allowed us to match twilight training, improvement plan objectives, teacher appraisal and the work of the Academy Lead Teachers into a coherent picture under the “Plan More, Teach Less” banner.
Critically, it has been an alignment of focusing on pupil progress, differentiation across the whole ability spectrum, effective questioning, literacy, and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Linking these aspects to teacher appraisal targets and being supported in constructively developing more rigour in our judgements through consultancy from a registered Ofsted inspector have helped ensure that our work on this agenda has had high impact and is sustainable.
An added bonus
A really exciting outcome from all our work on teaching and learning this year has been the extension of “discretionary effort”.
There is enormous satisfaction as a senior leader when you find out second-hand that two or three teachers have got together to develop their pedagogy just through word of mouth or shared interests and you can see the development of pedagogy take on a life all of its own.
Further informationThis article has been compiled with support from SSAT. Simon London and Hall Mead School have been working with SSAT, as part of the organisation’s wider work with headteachers, teachers, academics, leading thinkers and partners to debate and identify the core education principles for redesigning schooling. The New Professionalism – SSAT National Conference 2013, in December, will provide a framework and strategies for developing all teaching staff as outstanding teachers. Visit www.redesigningschooling.org.uk and www.ssatuk.co.uk/nationalconference2013 Free Redesigning Schooling resourceSecEd this week publishes Redesigning Schooling, an eight-page supplement considering the future of the four key tenets of the Redesigning Schooling campaign – curriculum, teaching and learning, professional capital, and accountability. Download this for free via http://bit.ly/16NPRfA
Simon London is headteacher of Hall Mead School in Essex, a co-educational, 11 to 16, converter academy with Leading Edge status and specialisms in technology and modern foreign languages. It was graded as “outstanding” across all categories in February 2013.