Supporting excellent teaching and learning

Written by: Cassie McClelland | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A Teaching and Learning Team, CPD triads, coaching and quality-assurance all helped to raise standards of teaching and learning at one school. Cassie McClelland explains more

In an area of high unemployment, crime and deprivation, Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy plays a crucial role in raising the aspirations of the local community.

Sixty-five percent of students are on free school meals and a third are looked after children. High-quality teaching and learning is absolutely vital if the school is to engage students with the opportunities education offers them and prepare them for a successful life after school.

Therefore, I felt a huge sense of responsibility in my role as assistant headteacher for teaching and learning as we aspired to raise standards by pushing the percentage of good or outstanding teaching from 65 to more than 80 per cent.

This would mean managing some difficult conversations with my peers, but it was important for me to take on that role of “critical friend” if we were to improve outcomes for children.

Quality-assurance of whole-school teaching and learning had to be at the heart of my strategy. By empowering middle leaders to lead and model excellent practice, providing targeted action plans for teachers falling below our high expectations, and improving the whole-school CPD package, my aim was to raise progress and attainment of students at all levels.

Empowering leaders at every level

In order to embed the quality-assurance process, I needed to ensure that leaders at all levels bought-in to the initiative. By ensuring that the senior leadership team was standardised in lesson observations, they in turn could empower middle leaders to take on lesson observation responsibilities, leading and modelling exceptional practice in their faculties.

Buy-in from our headteacher meant that every head of faculty had the opportunity to discuss teaching quality strengths and areas for development with him.

As a result of this, we were able to tie performance management into the quality-assurance process. Any colleague not showing progress within their observation was offered support and development opportunities and was re-observed within a two-week period. This led to rapid progress in the quality of teaching within the school – within two terms, 90 per cent of teachers were delivering high-quality lessons.

Teaching and Learning Teams

The quality-assurance process has also fed directly into the school’s CPD provision. Our Teaching and Learning Team is made up of outstanding practitioners. These colleagues have been used in lesson observations, and they all have three or four coaching triads that they coach and develop.

Teaching and learning meetings occur once a fortnight, where the coaching triads work on personalised targets from the quality-assurance process and they showcase new ideas that they have developed, commenting on their impact to date. This has had a positive response from staff, who commented that it felt like a more developmental and celebratory experience.

Targeted CPD for all

We also offered a whole-school CPD programme based upon the targets from the coaching triad feedback and from the quality-assurance process. It was then tailored to the needs of individuals and departments.

Furthermore, I implemented two “Friday Leader” programmes. These ran on Fridays for half an hour and were voluntary for both those in or aspiring to middle leadership and those aspiring to join the Teaching and Learning Team as lead practitioners. It was based on the Future Leaders programme CPD model, and covered similar themes, delivered by the senior leadership team.

As a result, two members of middle leadership were given senior leadership responsibility, and three teaching colleagues had middle leadership promotional opportunities.

All of this has had an impact by helping us to raise standards of teaching and learning and it shows in the quality-assurance results analysis.

Tackling difficult conversations

Of course, this close scrutiny on improving individual practice meant taking on some difficult conversations with my colleagues and peers. Holding colleagues to account can be challenging, but it is a crucial element of this process – and one that senior leaders cannot shy away from.

A particularly difficult conversation involved giving critical lesson observation feedback to a colleague on a similar level to myself. I had been nervous about this conversation – however, because of the work we had already done, there was emerging in the school a developmental and supportive culture based on a coaching model. This was as a result of how we had embedded the quality-assurance process.

In the end, therefore, neither they nor I felt embarrassed by the process. Instead, they were keen to improve and felt empowered to do so, which led to an exceptional series of lessons being delivered after coaching.

Learning from others

Embedding this strategy was a steep learning curve, and a daunting task – but one I felt confident and empowered to take on as a result of the training and support I received during my time on the Future Leaders programme. I have learned so much from colleagues working in similarly challenging contexts, all of which fed in to this project.

For example, as part of the Future Leaders programme I visited Ark Globe Academy, an inner city school in London, to learn from their great practice. It had an immense impact on me.

The experience inspired me to change the way that I use teaching and learning; indeed, it was the impetus behind much of this strategy, from the coaching triad model, to influencing change through middle leaders and empowering outstanding practitioners in the school to deliver CPD.

Transferring and adapting this learning to my school’s context has been instrumental in the buzz we were able to create around teaching and learning.

I cannot recommend the sharing of best practice – whether between colleagues, schools or groups of schools – highly enough. It was at the core of the school’s internal improvement process and it should be the first port of call for schools seeking inspiration and advice to raise outcomes for students.


As a result of this range of interventions, my school earned positive feedback from both internal and external inspections.

The Ormiston Academy Trust review inspection stated: “The management of teaching is outstanding and, as a result, the judgements made of teaching over time are accurate. The academy uses a range of criteria to judge the quality of teaching including student voice, work scrutiny and learning walks, as well as formal lesson observations. Records are meticulously maintained.”

They commented that the programme of CPD was outstanding and a model of best practice. As a result I shared our processes with other schools within the Ormiston chain. Furthermore, we also had an Ofsted practice visit which stated that the quality of teaching and learning was “outstanding”, and that the CPD programme was exceptional, creating a supportive culture from which colleagues can develop.

Even the prime minister himself, on a visit to the school, complemented the leadership team on the achievements made in raising the quality of teaching and achievement for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ultimately, the actions planned at the beginning of 2014 resulted in the level of “good” and “outstanding” teaching and learning rising to 83 per cent across the whole school and 90 per cent for qualified teaching staff by the summer term.

Crucially, we cultivated a far more developmental culture within the school, both for staff and students – meaning that the school can continue to build on successes year-on-year, improving outcomes for more students into the future.

  • Cassie McClelland wrote this article based on her work at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy in Runcorn. She is now assistant principal at Bloxwich Academy in Walsall.

Future Leaders

The Future Leaders programme offers leadership development support for aspiring headteachers of challenging schools. Find out more at


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