From special measures to outstanding in four terms

22nd April 2016 at 00:00
One headteacher explains how he turned around his primary school in record time

In September 2015, Foxfield Primary School was recognised by Ofsted as “outstanding”. This was a fantastic achievement for many reasons, not least because we became one of only five schools to have moved from special measures through to “outstanding” in just two section 5 inspections.

What makes our story unique is that we managed to achieve this feat in only four academic terms. How did we do it? Here are a few of the main points.

1 The learning environment

We undertook a complete overhaul of our school’s learning environment. Our aim was to ensure that all pupils received a consistent entitlement to learning in spaces that inspired curiosity, promoted enquiry and modelled excellence across the curriculum. Minimum learning wall expectations were introduced so that adult scaffolding of new learning was pitched at a high level and modelled to a quality standard.

We also introduced topic challenge tables for maths and English, and developed topic areas to promote critical thinking. The latter encouraged our pupils to apply problemsolving strategies across the curriculum.

We then developed a ‘mastery’ approach to curriculum design and pedagogy. This involved the leadership team reviewing all medium- and short-term planning formats, along with the introduction of a new framework for the curriculum.

2 Narrative of improvement

Pupils’ books became a focus so that we could track the impact of teaching and assessment through the school’s carefully planned teaching sequences. The senior leadership team developed teaching expectations rubrics as well as a new teaching and learning policy to ensure that our aims were visible and clear.

We encouraged all of our teachers to plan sequences of learning that promoted reflection and depth by extending topics across other curriculum areas. One year’s topic of migration, for example, led on to a theatre performance, dance lessons, art and persuasive writing. Pupils commented that lessons were more fun, engaging and relevant as a result of this approach.

3 Pride in Learning

Doing these first two steps meant that the quality of learning in books improved immediately, which created momentum and self-belief from children and staff. Pupils produced learning of a higher quality and were able to sustain learning for longer because they were enjoying the new curriculum topics. Pupils demonstrated greater pride because we placed renewed emphasis on the quality and depth of learning. We introduced pen licences in order to celebrate quality handwriting and feedback responses became a focus to check for extending learning and for pupils’ reasoning about learning.

4 Leadership of learning

We made sure to evaluate the impact of the changes we had made and the results were exactly as we had hoped. Students described feeling more connected to their learning and said that their study had a greater sense of purpose due to it being linked to the wider world – and also because topics stretched across subjects. We also realised that students could now speak much more confidently about what they had studied and that they were much more willing to talk about their new knowledge with their families. Best of all, when students evaluated their work, they focused on improvements rather than whether a task had been ‘completed’ – proving that the focus of the staff had transferred to the students. Ofsted inspectors commented that “these characteristics support them extremely well in learning and are evident in the way they work for long stretches”.

5 Parents as partners

Parent engagement – with the curriculum and with the changes that we implemented – was central to our improvement. We organised a parent forum group to help address the key findings within the inspection report. Our aim was to rebuild trust across the school community so that we all pulled in the same direction to ensure rapid improvement. Thereafter, the forum met monthly to review and plan school improvement activities and this was critical in strengthening the partnerships between home and family. The new activities included:

The provision of new homework packs to support home learning.

Reviewing our home reading policy so that parents were better prepared and supported in helping pupils develop reading skills.

Phonics workshops and basic skills training for families.

Organising a variety of parenting skills classes and coffee mornings to help families feel more connected to the school and to our shared ambitions to provide the very best for our children.

6 Partnerships work

Another strategy that we deployed to secure rapid improvement was to partner with a local school, Woodhill Primary School, which provided us with intensive school improvement support. Woodhill is currently a school that “requires improvement” in Ofsted terms, but had the capacity to ensure support that enabled both schools to improve rapidly. This support included the development of a shared leadership programme, which had a wide range of continuous professional development packages that included:

A newly qualified teacher programme.

Middle-leadership training.

Bespoke programmes for staff in subject leadership coaching.

Staff also worked across the partnership schools to monitor and evaluate teaching together and developed shared frameworks to support self-evaluation, as well as the joint moderation of standards. This ensured that expectations across both of our schools were consistently high and that standards of teaching and learning continued to increase across both schools. The leadership teams from Foxfield and Woodhill developed some shared protocols and resources that supported self-evaluation processes. These protocols included establishing frameworks for reporting to the governing body through an executive governing body committee and shared governance between the two schools.

Robert Carpenter is executive headteacher at Foxfield and Woodhill primaries in London @carpenter_rob

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