Transforming the school experience

Leighton Andrews highlights some examples of good teaching practice that he has discovered across Wales

I like learning new stuff. And so do most people I meet in education. We have some world class teaching and learning in Wales and I am continually excited at what I see in schools in Wales where excellent teachers are sharing ideas and examples of good practice.

One of the most exciting developments has been teaching through new media. Some schools have already grasped digital technology as a tool to enhance the learning experience and importantly engage with pupils ‘in their world’. I have seen this at first hand when I recently visited Casllwchwr School in Neath Port Talbot. The school received NAACE’s Third Millennium Learning Award in December 2011 as it has embedded ICT into all aspects of school life.

The use of technology at this school has transformed the learning experience. The curriculum has been reshaped by access to a toolkit of apps and a wealth of information. And the school has noticed improvements in pupil performance, in particular boys’ literacy. The school is also keen not to leave parents behind. It has now started a parents training club so that pupils and parents can learn alongside each other.

In Rhos y Medre Primary school in Wrexham we also have examples of the school working on the digital literacy of parents, using Macbooks bought with the One Wales laptop pilot money. This is a school where Flying Start is integral to the work it is doing and where there is a clear understanding that the Foundation Phase is about far more than play.

Or take Bishop Gore School in Swansea. By setting an aspirational grade, the school has raised expectations for all pupils. It has set a global grade for all pupils which gives them one grade for their overall progress across all subjects, which means there is a clear understanding by all – pupils, teachers and parents. The grade is reviewed with parents and parental attendance at these sessions stands at between 85 per cent and 90 per cent.

Eirias High School in Conwy together with its catchment primaries has carried out a detailed study of pupils’ progress from entry to primary school up to Year 11. By Year 11, pupils are expected to have progressed by at least seven national curriculum levels. A detailed analysis is made of those pupils that don’t.

The school also leads a PLC for mathematics with its fellow secondary schools in the county. The head of mathematics supports neighbouring schools and researches best practice in mathematics pedagogy. There has been a positive impact in that there has been a 15.2 per cent rise in the last two years in the numbers of pupils at Eirias-led schools gaining a pass at grades A*–C in GCSE mathematics.

One of the most improved schools in Wales is St Mary Immaculate in Cardiff. In its Estyn inspection during May 2009 the school was found to be in need of significant improvement. Following that inspection the current headteacher took up post and in its re-inspection in January 2011, the school was found to have made good progress and removed from this category.

The school uses detailed pupil tracking systems on a uniform basis. It attributes the sharp rise in performance and the challenging targets set for 2012 and beyond to this system. Over the last two years, standards for the Level 2 threshold including English and mathematics have risen from 9.7 per cent in 2009 to 40 per cent in 2011; in mathematics they rose from 10.7 per cent in 2009 to 46 per cent in 2011; in English standards rose from 39.8 per cent in 2009 to 60.2 per cent in 2011.

Another exemplar of best practice is Sandfields School in Port Talbot. It has highly effective transition procedures and pupil tracking. The school works very closely with all feeder schools to ensure transition is the best it can be. The school has a teacher dedicated to developing highly effective transition processes for all Year 7 pupils. This begins in Year 4 with pupils in each feeder school and the teacher spends one day in each feeder school, working directly with individual pupils.

Year 5 pupils are set Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs) in the autumn term by Sandfields in each feeder school. The Transition Teacher ensures consistency across all feeder school staff. This teacher then spends the first three weeks of the new autumn term in the secondary school to help pupils develop their emotional intelligence and key competencies during this time.

The best practice here is that the school knows its pupils well. Teachers and pupils are aware of their annual targets for improvement, as well as their work on progress targets. Parents have access to certain information so that they can be kept informed about progress, or otherwise.

We can learn from Herbert Thompson Primary school in Cardiff. They have worked to encourage parents to play an active part in the life of the school and to take a close interest in their children’s education. A particularly good feature is the parent council.

The council provides an effective way to ensure that the school engages effectively with its parents by listening to parents’ views and ensuring that parents feel valued. Success of the approach is demonstrated through the Key Stage 2 outcomes for core subjects. These have improved significantly over the past four years and the core subject indicator is well above the average for similar schools. The gap between the achievement of learners eligible for free school meals and those who are not has narrowed over the past four years and is now smaller than the average for similar schools and the national average.

Another school that knows its pupils well is Lliswerry Primary School in Newport. It uses a number of interrelated strategies across the whole school to tackle the underachievement of its disadvantaged learners. Using an assessment tracking and monitoring system, the school has been effective in identifying disadvantaged learners who are underachieving and raising their achievement. The school tracks the progress of individual learners, groups and classes. The senior leadership team then analyses the data.

The team also analyses learners’ progress in literacy and numeracy to highlight good features and shortcomings in both teaching and learning. Information from Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs) which are taken in Year 4 is used to inform target setting.

At the end of the year the analysis is passed on to the receiving teacher to inform planning and to set targets for each pupil. Learners are given realistic and challenging targets and each child’s achievement towards these goals is tracked.

Ysgol Emmanuel School in Rhyl has in place detailed systems for moderating teacher assessments. It has worked to eradicate within school variation in assessment. Governors at Ysgol Emmanuel have an in depth knowledge of the performance of the school and rigorously hold it to account for the standards it achieves. They take an active role in the process.

The school has identified governors to be responsible for different aspects of the school’s work, including individual curricular areas. For example, the governor responsible for literacy plays a full part in monitoring the standards of literacy at the school, through a range of activities including lesson observation.

The school has a robust and meticulous system to track progress leading to clear actions that have an impact on standards. The school leaders also discuss the core data sets with the governors and identify the actions to be taken. Governors, acting as critical friends, are able to challenge the school leaders in a supportive manner.

These examples of good practice that I have highlighted have come about because practitioners are forensically examining pupil data and acting upon it to identify the precise learning needs of individual pupils. These should not be isolated examples but normal practice throughout Wales. Working together, learning together, we can make a difference.

Leighton Andrews is Minister for Education in the Welsh Government. This is an edited extract from a speech he delivered at a conference at the All Nations Centre, Cardiff last week on Teaching makes a difference: one year on. The full text of the speech is available in our lecture archive here. The title refers to a lecture Leighton Andrews gave to an IWA meeting in Cardiff a year ago, which can be viewed here.

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