Why did the school receive a judgement of RI after so many years as a good or better school?
It is difficult to summarise a complex issue into a neat soundbite. In its crudest sense:
- Historical results had dropped for two years
- We were not tight and consistent enough (variation between classes)
Although there was clear evidence of improvement since September there was insufficient time to say it was fixed – green shoots of recovery after seven weeks.
Was it a surprise?
Yes and no. We already knew that historical standards could only be graded as requiring improvement (RI) but we have graded everything else as good. OfSTED disagreed with this. If you get RI for Teaching , Learning and Assessment (TLA) it would be RI for overall effectiveness. Therefore the final outcome a surprise.
What changed with behaviour?
Last year there was a spike in measures of poor behaviour, such as exclusions, yellow cards and reflections. Addressing this was not so much a new policy as it was to do with removing inconsistency in the application of the policy. Behaviour has improved measurably, and this is what OfSTED were reporting
Who are the leaders and why are there so many new leaders?
Headteacher (HT), Deputy Headteacher (DHT), Year Leaders (YLs), SENCO and School Business Manager (when needed) make up our School Leadership Team (SLT). The previous excellent DHT left about a year ago to take up her first headship. Our highly experience SENCO retired in the summer. Two YLs stood down from leadership to concentrate on being the most effective class teachers they could be. Strong appointments were made in March/ April, to get leaders in place for September 2017. (Staff list)
Changes are already in place – why weren’t the parents told earlier?
We publish and annotate our School Development Plan (SDP) and Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) via our website each year so that parents can, if they wish, track changes/innovations etc. Not all parents want this level of detail. Every June school leaders write an SDP identifying the coming year’s issues. The original SDP is still available on the website and it confirms the main areas identified by the school long before our inspection and therefore proactive/responsible leadership. Had we not recognised issues we would have rightly been accused of poor leadership and management and our judgement could have been harsher. OfSTED recognised and confirmed that the changes leaders were making across the school were appropriate and beginning to show encouraging signs of progress. For example, changes to tracking and assessment, setting up an Acorns group to target gaps in early years knowledge etc.
The report was damning of governance – how is this being addressed?
OfSTED feedback was that governors are keen and active, but need to be more rigorous in holding leaders to account. Governors already had an action plan which they use in-year to target activities and monitor progress. Governors have met in small groups with the DHT to set achievable but demanding actions with dates/milestones. A review of governance will happen in the spring to assess where we have travelled from (OfSTED report acts as a baseline), whether we are ‘on track’ and our next steps.
Has the change to academy status been responsible for a drop in standards?
We don’t believe so. It is true that it has been a busy few years with multiple changes in advice and rules for academies/trust management. It is also true St Mark’s is an active partner in our trust but we have never neglected our responsibilities to this school. There is great strength in our formal partnership with Exeter House and Wyndham Park – giving us access to considerable experience and expertise. The capacity of the local authority is already stretched and increasingly MATs have to develop and deliver their own school improvement models.
How can parents help? Will homework change?
We can only deliver with the assistance, understanding and support from parents. For example homework will change from January and will focus on four key areas:
Part of our challenge is going to be to make homework fit for individual children and their own standards, and to make it fun for all. We will find ways to share advice, links and ideas with parents.
- This is the link to the national curriculum spellings
- This is the link to Bitesize maths page (and a game for you to check your skills, if you like)
- Underwater times tables game
Are lower results a one-off or a trend over time?
Results have not been good since the new curriculum – last year was in the lowest 20% for writing progress and was the second year that a dip occurred. Our school, unlike many others, has not narrowed the curriculum to focus purely on the test subjects. However, we must now find ways to enable children to prove what they can do to the test standard, by improving spelling and handwriting (presentation and GPS), without damaging the children’s enjoyment of their schooling which was noted as good by OfSTED. Ironically, inspectors place a heavier weighting on a broad and balanced curriculum. Balance is everything.
Why are Y5 and 6 singled out?
Y5 and 6 were among the cohort that built their foundations of learning under a previous system (the old curriculum) which valued content over presentation. We have actions in place to now underpin these foundations. We are lucky that it is easier to reinforce spelling and presentation than to repair weak composition, effect, text structure etc. The children and teachers etc in Y5 and 6 (as were the recent leavers), are just as fantastic as Y3 and 4 children and teachers etc. That is, the children are equally good across the school. The children have, however, been impacted by having a bigger gap to catch up, due to the hike in expectations that hit everyone two years ago. Our aim is to raise standards with pride and positivity, avoiding any negative impact on the morale of children.
What is the plan to address to address the issues and when will parents be able to see it?
The plan is written and will be published via the school website in the OfSTED section. There is a shorter version which is more user-friendly – the long version is written by the school for staff, governors etc
We do not want knee-jerk reactions. The school is not ‘broken’ but it needs to get better. The process will be planned, phased and well-considered. We hope that improvements will be embedded so as to allow for a long-term trend to lead us back, not just to a ‘good badge’ but to be a solidly good or better school (including governance). We wish to achieve this by the end of 2018.
Is there liaison between OfSTED and the school throughout the improvement process?
We should get an appointed HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) to liaise with us, support us and monitor our progress. We are awaiting this contact.
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Prior observations have found consistently good teaching – what can we do to address Ofsted findings?
What are the weaknesses mentioned here?
Judgements for TLA must be rooted in outcomes and validated by someone else. Theoretically children can make progress despite the teaching. Theoretically children can make no progress despite herculean efforts, resources etc. Outcomes are the product of TLA inputs. Good attainment is a product of good progress made over time.
How can we actually eliminate inconsistencies between year groups, and how to track?
Monitoring more frequently and ensuring triangulation of observation, scrutiny and interview. New assessment tracking considers change over six week cycle.
What is a ‘sequence of learning’?
Put simply a progression of chronological skills. Think of it like a recipe. You can’t expect children to produce quality writing outcomes without the ingredients e.g. ideas, openings, characters, build up, resolution etc in the correct order. This helps the teacher and children know what is next and when something doesn’t work which bit to fix. You can’t accelerate to removing a perfect cake from the oven without all the other steps being successfully executed.
‘Increasing expectations’ sounds like an ‘easy win’? Is it?
How to evidence?
This is rooted in more in-depth discussions about challenge at all levels – year team, staff meetings, SLT, governors etc. Raising expectations – setting ‘the bar’ higher for all children is a difficult balancing act. Too low and it serves little purpose. Too high and it seems unobtainable and therefore of little purpose. Children never cease to amaze us with when the glass ceilings are removed.
How to increase pupil confidence in applying maths skills and problem solving?
More maths lessons – we have moved from four to five since September. We also adopted the White Rose Maths scheme, as many other schools have done so. It places more emphasis on developing reasoning and problem solving skills. We are already seeing some ‘green shoots’ compared to this time last year.
Handwriting and spelling – yes, but, how?
More dedicated time to address spellings – first in thing in the morning (four times a week) and every afternoon. Dedicated handwriting sessions in class modelled by the teacher. More details via the website.
Disadvantaged Learners and SEND
How do you make it a bigger focus?
The new DLL (Disadvantaged Learner Lead) is Miss Frankel who has been in post since September. Although the progress of these children is too early to call the school has made it higher profile, adjusted the resources used and increased dialogue amongst staff/governors regarding needs/strengths/weaknesses etc.
The new SENCO is Mrs Lambert who has been in post since September. Although the progress of these children is too early to call the school has made it higher profile, adjusted the resources used (e.g. setting up of Acorns group – focusing on specific interventions) and increased dialogue amongst staff/governors regarding needs/strengths/weaknesses etc.
The school will undertake an external review of DL by Easter.
How to be more effective?
- More dialogue with Year Teams and individual teachers
- Setting up of the Acorns Group – a small group who are significantly behind their peers in English and Maths.
- SENCO involved in PPM (Pupil Progress Meetings)
- More monitoring of standards
- Sharper focus on interventions
- More feedback via briefings/staff meetings/SLT
- More SEN meetings/forums with parents
How to manage review?
An external review will be arranged hopefully in March 2018
In meantime, what do we know we need?
The new governance arrangements, reporting and oversights etc need to bed in for a few weeks to pressure test the new scheme of delegation at Local Governing Committee level (from January 2018). Focusing on data/ the new SDP etc.
Can progress data be available each meeting?
Yes – The tracking data spreadsheets (anonymised) will be available each meeting.
Following up on our actions and reports will be key – how can we do this better and evidence?
New Governor Management Plan makes the expectations of governors very clear. All actions/outcomes will be recorded and challenged via the GMP at each of the six LGC meetings.
How will standards be tracked?
No substantive changes – just more consistently followed
How often will judgements be made and can they feed into Local Governing Committee (LGC) meetings?
Six weekly cycle. Data will be available (most recent) for each LCG