Shout it loud: my teachers are marvellous

6th March 2009 at 00:00
Inspectors gave staff 66% grade 1s. Now the head wants their skills to be available to others

According to Lesley Perry, her school would not be as successful if it were not for the talent and expertise of her teachers.

It is hard to argue with her after Estyn's recent verdict. Inspectors awarded 66 per cent of the 62 lessons they observed at Newbridge School, near Newport, a grade 1 - almost unprecedented for a state school. Good schools in affluent areas would be overjoyed with 45 per cent of lessons receiving the top grade. So to say this result is "unusually high" - the inspectors' words - fails to do the achievement justice.

As Mrs Perry puts it, her 11-16 school - which was inspected last October and achieved six grade 1s and one grade 2 - "wants to shout their success from the rooftops".

According to inspectors, the school's greatest asset is its staff. "Teachers' subject knowledge and expertise are particularly strong and greatly benefit the school and its pupils," they wrote. They singled out history and ICT at key stages 3 and 4 for particular praise, but they found outstanding features in four other subjects: English, design and technology, music and PE.

The inspectors say Newbridge staff have good training opportunities, their lesson planning is meticulous, their pupils receive clear explanations, and there is an emphasis on producing the best from the brightest pupils.

But Mrs Perry's arrival has undoubtedly given staff a boost. Since taking over in January 2008, she has gained the respect and loyalty of both staff and pupils, say inspectors. Such is her presence, she wears her graduation gown in school when there are important visitors.

Her one disappointment is that the strengths of her "wonderful" teachers cannot be shared.

"The quality of teaching here ought to be a source of pride and celebration - not only for Newbridge School, but for the profession. I believe this is a lost opportunity for the profession as a whole, and for professionals at Newbridge," said Mrs Perry.

The inspectors said that Newbridge School is becoming a centre of excellence - quite an achievement considering how bleak it was when the mines closed in 1985.

Since then, however, the town has experienced something of a renaissance. Unlike other former mining towns, it does not have to deal with debilitating poverty. Just 14 per cent of Newbridge pupils are entitled to free meals - far fewer than other schools in the Valleys.

Newbridge also punches well above its weight academically. Its GCSE results for 2008 put it 19 points higher than the local and 14 points higher than the national averages for pupils gaining five or more good passes.

Compared with other schools with a similar percentage of pupils entitled to free meals, attainment in core subjects was average or above. And the gap between girls and boys also closed significantly and was lower than the national average.

But Newbridge is not without problems. It has below average attendance. So its next challenge - a key recommendation of the inspection report - will be to develop strategies to tackle this.

`Wales needs a central forum where teachers can share their expertise and inspiration'

There are not enough opportunities for outstanding schools to showcase their successes for the benefit of all teachers and pupils in Wales, says Lesley Perry.

The head of Newbridge School, which recently earned inspectors' praise for its excellent teaching staff (above with pupils), believes the Assembly government should look to England for lessons on how to capitalise on good practice.

Mrs Perry, who has worked in three local authorities in England, acknowledges that there is much to praise in the Welsh system, but is frustrated by the lack of national co-ordination in the sharing of good practice. She supports the idea of training or beacon schools.

"I would like to see Newbridge School benefit from funding to become a training centre, where its good practice could be shared with others," she said. "In so doing, we could benefit the profession as a whole, while facilitating highly motivational further professional opportunities for our own outstanding practitioners."

Similarly, Mrs Perry would like the opportunity to learn from other top schools. "I have read many Estyn reports that speak of good and outstanding practice in other schools," she said. "I really would like to know more about them."

She laments the lack of a central outlet to facilitate this - the equivalent of a Specialist Schools and Academies Trust or a National College for School Leadership.

Such organisations, she says, encourage the networking, collaboration, sharing of good practice and emphasis on innovation that motivate and make a difference. They also provide opportunities to reflect, be inspired and re-energised by others.

Mrs Perry hopes the school effectiveness framework in Wales will create a system whereby good practice can be shared between schools and local authorities.


Walking through the corridors of Newbridge School, her graduation gown trailing in her wake, Lesley Perry could be mistaken for an old-fashioned schoolmarm. But her approachability belies an appearance that could seem aloof.

Pupils greet Mrs Perry with warmth and openness. She knows her pupils and is interested in the welfare of them all. She also isn't shy of celebrating their successes.

But she commands respect too. When she enters a classroom, every pupil stands, immediately aware that if she is wearing her gown, the school must have "an important visitor".

The school's motto - Inspire, Exceed, Excel - seeps out of every nook of this old grammar school. Young people want to succeed here and their excellent teachers give them a head start.

All subject heads - Jacqueline Williams (ICT), Gillian Hayward (history), Robert Willbourn (design and technology), Lisa Worgan (English), David Carey (Music) and Sarah Llewellyn (PE) - are a credit to their school.

The majority of pupils are also obviously highly motivated.

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