Four ways to develop and inspire high-quality teachers


How does a school create exceptionally high-quality and motivated teachers? Headteacher and member of the SSAT Vision 2040 Group, Stephen Tierney, discusses four core approaches that his school is developing.

My timing could not have been worse. One Tuesday evening recently, I received our first full set of student voice data on teaching and learning after a pilot last November to test the ICT system and programme used to collect and analyse the data.

It arrived on the same day the new School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document was published, with the suggestion to use student voice data to help make decisions around the impending move to performance-related pay of teachers – disaster.

Everyone interested in education knows that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers in it”. The difference seems to be how best to achieve the desired outcome, of exceptionally high-quality, motivated teachers – and performance-related pay simply won’t deliver this.

The research evidence is pretty conclusive that teaching is a far too complex profession for performance pay to have a positive impact. 

Not only that, but it has now agitated the teaching unions into industrial action and will cause a loss of the “discretionary effort”, which teachers and others working in schools give in such abundance and is crucial to a school’s success. 

Not deterred and keen to avert disaster, we are working at my school, St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool, on systemising key aspects of developing teaching and learning. Here are my four wishes (and one prayer).

Wish 1: Student Voice

We have used student voice before on a number of occasions in a rather hit and miss way. The programme we have now implemented is getting feedback, from students on 25 different aspects of teaching and learning, at a whole-school, departmental and individual teacher level.

With a programme written by John Jenkins, one of the ICT teachers, and the use of Google Docs, just over 2,700 responses were inputted by students over a three-week period. At whole-school and departmental levels we can track impact in all 25 areas and focus our CPD on specific areas. However, the real power of the data is at a teacher level. 

The information for each teacher is only available to her/him. Each teacher has been asked to identify an area of strength and become “expert” in it. As an expert they can provide support for any colleague who wishes to develop this area of their practice. 

Each teacher has been asked to focus on one area of her/his practice which needs to develop. The data collection will be repeated every six months so we can track progress. Everyone making small steps forward has a massive impact on the overall quality of teaching and learning.

Wish 2: Innovation Fellows

For about five years we have given teachers the opportunity to work as Innovation Fellows for a two-year period. Teachers apply for the position in about February/March each year, giving an area of interest that they would like to research.

The only criterion is that they must have an “outstanding” grade in one of their lesson observations. Each Innovation Fellow appointed has a reduction in their contact time from one day a fortnight to one day a week giving them the capacity to do their work. 

The Innovation Fellow will lead a research programme first of all, working on their own or in a pair, and in the second year extending it to a department, learning house or group. The Innovation Fellow also works alongside colleagues in the classroom in a coaching role.

Wish 3: Formative Lesson Observations

This started with me observing a lesson alongside a trained Ofsted inspector to moderate my judgement of lessons. Then I would moderate senior staff’s judgements and they in turn would moderate heads of department. 

What was soon apparent was the real value and richness of the conversations around what constituted high-quality teaching and learning. 

This year, I worked with each new member of staff in the school, in pairs, carrying out joint lesson observation. It is a real “lightbulb” moment for teachers new to the profession to be able to dissect a lesson, in real time and understand the importance of viewing the impact of their teaching. I once stood next to a very talented teacher who just kept saying, “OMG I do that, OMG I do that...”.

I think you learn a lot more by observing a lesson with a colleague experienced in lesson observation than you ever do being observed. We are going to use the autumn term to carry out formative lesson evaluations with all staff new to the school and existing members of staff. 

The only record kept will be a set of bullet points that will be collated to identify good practice and areas for focus during CPD, which we hold on Thursday afternoon from 3 to 5pm.

Wish 4: R&D Communities

This is a new idea for September 2013 that is currently being consulted on with staff. It has engendered a lot of interest but we are still working on the detail. I offer you this as a rather rough draft at present. An R&D Community can be set up to develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the college:

  • A R&D Community can be used to take forward an idea, innovation or approach by a group of staff that will lead to improved standards of attainment, levels of achievement, student wellbeing or student personal development. A R&D Community can be set up by any member of staff. 

  • Each R&D Community must have a named leader who will be responsible for the community, its outcomes and leading a group of staff between three to eight people in size.

  • Funding of £100 per person in the R&D Community will be made available to fund the work.

  • The leader of the R&D Community must commit to knowledge capture and transfer at the college, local and regional level as required.

  • Applications can be submitted any time in June or July and the funds will remain in place for the following academic year.

  • Funding will be released following the R&D Community’s idea and success criteria being accepted.

  • Student research and developers may be useful additions to the R&D Community.

If you are interested in leading an R&D Community you should look at the DIY Evaluation Guide from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) which will be really useful in shaping this the action research (see further information). Alternatively the community might want to adopt a “Lesson Study” process approach, more details of which are also online.

Proposal – Building Capacity

As an addition to the final wish, what are your thoughts on the following proposal to provide capacity for those staff who had a particular issue they wanted to research or develop?

  1. The lead member of the R&D Community will be given a period a fortnight reduction in contact time. If agreed, then submission would be required prior to the May half-term to account for the time as part of the timetabling process.

  2. Each R&D Community will request a number of “cover vouchers” which they could use to free/keep free company members for meetings/activities as appropriate up to their allocation. The cover vouchers will be redeemable through the college A&E process.

  3. Approximately half-termly, a voluntary meeting slot will appear in the calendar for R&D Communities that may be used if some/all of the community members wish to.

And a prayer…

This is a little more hopeful and long-term but I would like to help the staff understand how powerful Twitter, blog posts and a simple application or programme for capturing storing and organising online material that is of interest and use to you. 

Here’s how it works – get your self a Twitter account and then put the Twitter app on your phone so the two can synchronise with each other. Follow some people who may be of interest to you. 

There are loads to choose from but a few to start with are @headguruteacher, @TeacherToolkit@SSAT, @HuntingEnglish and @SecEd_Education but there are lots of interesting people to follow. Simply scan the tweets for useful information and links to articles that you might want to read.

If you want to capture one of these articles, to read later or keep for future reference, then Pocket is a neat little app and very easy to use. As you get more advanced, or depending on preference, then Evernote or Diigo (PowerNote is the app for your phone) are different options to Pocket. 

As a short aside, I introduce 6th form students who are doing their Extended Project qualification with me to using Twitter, for research, and Diigo to store and organise any key information they find.

Now you have Martini CPD – anytime, anyplace, anywhere professional development at your fingertips and convenience. You can tap into some rich online content that is of interest to you and then start putting your own thoughts onto a blog. I’ve been using Wordpress and find it very easy. 

To borrow a few phrases from the hugely successful London 2012 Olympics, Better Never Stops – so just take the next step.

  • Stephen Tierney is headteacher at St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackpool and will become executive head of St Mary’s Catholic College and Christ the King Catholic Primary School in September. The schools have joined the SSAT Redesigning Schooling campaign and Stephen is a member of SSAT Vision 2040 group. You can follow him on Twitter @Head_stmarys or read his latest posts on

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