How can schools learn good practice from one another, without Ofsted getting in the way?
Throughout 2023, I’ve been working with a brilliant primary school in London, England.
Together, we have been unpicking the science of learning, as well as looking at how the school (generally) compares to the State of the Nation to support its staff and governors on their journey towards excellence.
Here are some key statistics I have anonymised to help give you as sense of the school.
Number of pupils
The school has approximately 482 pupils on roll. When we compare the school to similar schools, it’s slightly smaller, but when compared to all primary schools, and those within the local authority, the school is relatively larger.
45.9 per cent of pupils are girls, with 11.6% of pupils with SEN support, and 1.46% with an educational health care plan (EHCP). They are working with an annual budget of £3.15 million, which has been reduced from £3.71 in 2019/20.
The school has 48.5 full-time equivalent members of staff (64 headcount) and 21.4 FTE teaching staff.
The school has 32.5 per cent of pupil premium pupils. As you can see from the following graphic, when comparing the school to local schools, schools with similar demographics, and all primary schools across England, this school is proportionally working with many more pupils living in poverty.
According to the latest statistics, there are now 2 million pupils eligible for free school meals; one-quarter of all pupils in English state schools!
English as Additional Language
Research tells us that maintaining at least two languages is an advantage for later academic achievement. Many schools do a fantastic job at celebrating the wide range of English as Additional Language pupils in their schools. I once worked in a school which had 95 per cent EAL pupils, with over 75 languages spoken across the school!
In this particular primary school, you will see that staff are working with 86.3% EAL pupils.
When compared to similar schools, there is a negligible difference, however, when compared to other schools in the same local authority and all schools nationally, this primary school is working with double the demographics. This means that the teaching and support staff have to work hard to deepen the dialogue between pupils and parents who have a dominant home language, not necessarily English fluency.
This is not an easy task.
Fixed Term Exclusions
Now, here is the remarkable thing.
When you consider the school’s demographic challenges, when you compare this school (at least on the surface) statistically in relation to exclusions to all other schools, only 0.2 per cent of pupils received a fixed term exclusion (FTE).
Of course, there will be lots of reasons, but at least on the surface this allows us to ask:
What is this school doing differently than everyone else?
Teaching and learning
I wanted to highlight some of the things that this school is doing in the classroom and across the staff body.
I’ve been privy to the development of their teaching and learning policy, as well as their performance management appraisal documents; continuing with my interest in studying teacher autonomy – what conditions make teachers thrive – I’ve identified some reflections from both policies for you to consider.
Firstly, the school has adapted Rosenshine’s principles of effective instruction and reshaped them into 10 very simplified steps.
- Begin a lesson with a short review
- Present new material in small steps
- Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students
- Provide models
- Guide student practice
- Check for student understanding
- Obtain a high success rate
- Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks
- Require and monitor independent practice
- Engage students in weekly and monthly reviews.
Really concise and simple for teachers to use, threaded into professional development sessions, as well as providing a route map for classroom consistency.
On paper, there is some work to do in this regard, but their teaching and learning vision is clearly laid out; staff are highly reflective. More importantly, the leadership team are reading available research, and then translating various recommendations to suit their context.
In terms of adaptive teaching, this is one of the areas that all teachers struggle with the most (see below). It is important schools support their teachers to meet the needs of their pupils. Working with high proportions of EAL and SEND is not an easy task …
All schools must work to develop resources and procedures to support teachers with scaffolding and modelling; even more essential for pupils with EAL.
Appraisal and performance management
The school’s performance management policy is 31 pages long. This is typical when compared to the documentation I see when I work with schools. One key thing I’m supporting schools to do is to reform their appraisal procedures to make them fit for purpose for the next decade.
The first thing to do is to look at accountability procedures and traditional numerical targets, instead, flipping performance management dialogue to ‘research inquiry’ to engage staff with professional development in line with their own and whole school priorities.
There is of course much thinking that I have done beneath the surface, but at least on paper, removing the word ‘target’ and replacing this with ‘research question’ is one simple step all schools can do to help improve staff culture.
At the time of writing, the school currently has some work to do here, but I am confident its leadership team can dramatically reform its current policies and make even further improvements to its work, and those pupils it supports.
… and I’ve not mentioned its Ofsted report once.
In a period of time when English state schools are facing (proportionally) fewer teachers compared to increasing pupil numbers, schools must work hard to nurture and retain their current staff.