10 Feb 2017
February 10, 2017

From Special Measures to Good

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From Special Measures to Good:

Taking on the challenges no one else wants…

Sam Coy Headteacher



Challenge can be defined in a number of ways; one definition is the dispute of truth or validity. This definition is probably why, just over a year ago, I decided to take on the challenge of becoming head of school. The school was in special measures, in a very disadvantaged area, with a high proportion of mobility.

At only 27 years old and having had limited leadership experience, many thought I had lost my mind, many thought I was arrogant, naïve and clueless. All are probably true in different forms. However from the first moment I walked into the school I wanted to dispute the truth and argue the validity of reports that the teachers were poor, the children had no chance, the school would never achieve.

I could see potential from the very moment I entered the building. Teachers were hard working, children were friendly and their eyes flickered with curiosity and hope. I instantly felt at home. I love children and I love people. I wanted to help everyone to achieve, however I was very aware I probably didn’t have the skills required to achieve it. Selfishly, I thought I could suppress my feeling of moral obligation by going for the job and undoubtedly being unsuccessful.  I applied for the job, thinking the experience of application would give me a good bench mark and I could sleep at night knowing I had offered to help. Shockingly and looking back, with great admiration and respect, my Executive Headteacher took a risk, a huge one, a brave one!!! I had got the job…. the excitement lasted for about 30 seconds before fear set in.

Talking had always been a strength of mine but for the first time in my life words escaped me. I have recently read a book by Dave Harris called ‘Brave Heads’, he talks about the word FEAR, his definition of the word is exactly the feelings I had at this time and even more so on my first morning in post; F***, Everything, And, Run.

Luckily I managed to ignore this feeling and pull myself together, only allowing it to come back to me for brief periods on a daily basis. Nerves and the feeling that someone might find out you don’t know what you are doing never leaves you. Before starting the job, I read lots of leadership manuals and I twisted myself in knots about the right ways to lead. Then one night at about 3am (in teaching sleep is a luxury) it hit me. Leading a school is no different to leading a difficult class. You spend the first 6 weeks focusing on strengths, building trust, deciding who you can rely on and making sure that everyone begins to row in the same direction. You don’t pick fault, you don’t isolate, you set an expectation but you give everyone the chance to achieve it.

Like the sign at Burnley football club reads ‘only the person who isn’t rowing has time to sink the ship’. Luckily for me everyone began to row.

Outlined in this article are my top 5 tips for becoming a head of school in a special measures school.

Tip One: Relationships

Every interaction is important. Everything we do in school is built on the positive relationships we create with all stakeholders. Smiling wins you lots of support and when people are already down they need lifting not destroying. Focus first on all the things that are good… this develops trust and allows confident and comfortable relationships to form. Once these relationships are built, people will respond more effectively to the areas of development that are given as they are seen as support and nurture not annihilation. As every child need a champion (Rita Pierson), so does every member of staff.

Tip 2: Systems and consistency

Systems and consistency are vital for school improvement. In order to create a sense of collective responsibility, the goalposts must be the same. As educators we talk about not setting up our children to fail, we must do the same with staff. If staff have a network of clear systems, workable policies and the correct tools and resources in place; they will fly. Teachers are professionals with the capabilities to manage learning effectively, but they need to understand the school’s vision, the leaders’ expectations and the direction the school is taking. Carefully implementing these systems and structures and ensuring they are consistently followed will make staff feel more comfortable which in turn will bring about school improvement.

Additionally, and most importantly, consistency and structure across the school is vital for our children. Many children don’t have these structures at home and it is vital we make it clear to our children how we expect them to behave, learn and develop.

Tip 3: Leading by example

Lead by example in everything you do. My dad always said to me, ‘people may not believe what you say but they will believe what you do’. This has always been something I have held close to me on my professional journey. Being a school leader is hard work but lead by example in every way. If children are struggling with behaviour… help out. If the school canteen is short of staff… put on an apron. If someone is sick… clean it up. If a class needs covering one afternoon… teach and teach well. You won’t be able to do this forever but for the first few months, staff need to see you can do what you are expecting them to. Also doing this helps you to know your school inside out. Lead from the front… own the journey you are expecting others to make.

Tip 4: Belief and positive growth mind set

‘Success is never final, failure never fatal, it’s courage that counts.’

Growth mind-set to lead school improvement is imperative. I’m not saying don’t have doubts, fears or feelings of hopelessness – these feelings are important and in my opinion should be embraced. But use these negative feelings to drive you forward. Above all have a steely determination that you won’t fail. Know inside that you will achieve and present that message to your staff. It’s fine to cry in the office once everyone has gone home, but during the working day present to your staff and children the persona that it will be ok, that you will achieve and that together your team will get what it deserves. Use positive language, talk about why and when you will be graded good. Highlight constantly the direction you are going and allow this to fuel and ignite passion in the staff. If you believe and lead by example, they will believe as well.

Tip 5: Trust in others’ abilities

It’s difficult when going into a special measures school as naturally people assume everything is going to be bad. From my experience this is not true. Trust in the abilities of others, harness raw skills and talent and use the experience of others. The people in the school know the community and the families –  use them, as this information is the key to setting your vision. Prior knowledge in any form is a weapon. If you know the facts you can make strategic judgements.

Teachers and other staff in your school will have a wealth of skills and as an effective leader we must find them out, trust in them, deploy them effectively and develop them to get the best possible outcomes for children. Don’t be too quick to make judgements as they can often be wrong. Find out about your staff and when you’re confident in their strengths… tell them. Then trust in them by giving them responsibility to lead. This can be in their classroom, a subject, an initiative or as part of your Senior Leadership team. People very often rise to the challenge if supported to do so. If they don’t, reflect on yourself and make adjustments to make sure they do… just like you do with the children in school.

Above all remember why you do the job. Every child deserves a chance.. Children should be at the heart of every choice you make but remember staff will only make these choices work if they believe in them as well. Be a creator, not a dictator.


Early Reflections on Peer Review, with CfBT’s Schools Partnership Programme

  • Helen Barker, Headteacher of Sturton by Stow Primary School (Helen.Barker@sturton-by-stow.lincs.sch.uk)
  • Ian Tyas, Headteacher of Ingham Primary School
  • John Beaven, Headteacher of Pollyplatt Primary School
  • Ben Stephenson, Headteacher of Marton Primary School
  • Alyson Bristow, Headteacher of Newton on Trent C of E Primary School
  • Charlie Hebborn, Headteacher of Scampton C of E Primary School

We are a group of six small primary schools in rural Lincolnshire, all different in size, structure and character.  After 3 years of working in partnership we were looking for a deeper level of collaboration that would enable us to further our own school improvement, as well as supporting the developments in schools across the partnership.  Before embarking on Peer Review as an official programme we had engaged in reciprocal learning walks, sharing of data and improvement plans, and other similar activities, but were frustrated at the absence of rigour and hard edged accountability.  We were concerned about becoming too comfortable with one another, but also that our own styles and interests could prejudice our feedback to one another.  We wanted a framework, and quality assurance; but ultimately we wanted to be able to tangibly drive improvement across our partnership of schools for the benefit of all of our children.

“Before embarking on Peer Review as an official programme we had engaged in reciprocal learning walks, sharing of data and improvement plans, and other similar activities, but were frustrated at the absence of rigour and hard edged accountability”

Through our alliance with KYRA we learned of CfBT’s Schools Partnership Programme.   CfBTS’s Peer Review model was co-constructed with school leaders, and builds on but goes beyond the Ofsted framework.  It involves a reciprocal cycle of self-evaluation, peer review and school led support and challenge.  We have now completed four rounds of Peer Review in a combination of different triads, having signed up to the CfBT Schools Partnership Programme in October 2014.

Integrity, trust, honesty and credibility have been at the core of our systems, agreements and behaviour.  We signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the outset, and spent a great deal of time during the period of our training considering our processes and protocols.  The existing relationship between the Headteachers and schools was a significant strength and advantage.  We are able to be frank and open with each other, and the relative ease of relationships has also influenced how the teaching teams feel about the process.

“The existing relationship between the Headteachers and schools was a significant strength and advantage.  We are able to be frank and open with each other, and the relative ease of relationships has also influenced how the teaching teams feel about the process. “

Staff teams have been encouraged and supported to have an ‘open door’ approach.  Well before the day of the Review the Reviewers visit the school to meet the staff team, where we talk about the approach we are taking, encourage staff to ask questions about the process, and generally try to put a ‘friendly face’ to the process.  This has enabled the Reviews to shine a light into all aspects of the school, and we have found that staff have been very honest with Reviewers.  This has led on to the teams being more open with each other, their Headteachers and Governors.  Therefore the Review has had an enabling impact on the relationships within the schools, improving the social and decisional capital of the group.  We see this as far more powerful than the more visible impact on the school improvement plan for example, as this development of professional capital will drive a fundamental shift in the improvement dynamics of our schools.

Other KYRA Alliance Schools have approached their Peer Review cycles in ways to suit their own needs.  We have needed to be flexible and open minded at times in our approach, as this has varied for each review to meet the different needs of the reviewed schools.  The approach has been slightly different in each case, in terms of aspect, focus or breadth.  This has been deliberate and the lines of enquiry and scope of the review have been agreed between the Headteacher and the Reviewers.  It was important to us that the reviews were ‘done with not done to’, and therefore each Peer Review must be focused on the Self Evaluation completed by the school.

There has been a positive impact on the relationship between staff and governors in every case.  This has come particularly through sharing the Self Evaluation, and even more so when governing bodies have fully engaged with the feedback and Improvement Workshops.

The process has not been ‘cosy’ though.  There has been significant challenge and searching questions prior to and during the reviews: ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ was how one Headteacher described it.  Every Reviewer has felt enormously privileged to ‘access all areas’ in another school.  We agreed a completely open approach to seeing each other’s schools ‘warts and all’, and this has been a tremendous learning experience for the Reviewers too.  Excellent practice has been identified in all of the Reviewed schools, and has already begun to be shared across the wider collaboration.  We are also sharing our findings with Michael Fullan who is leading international research on the impact of Peer Review on a school led system.

“There has been significant challenge and searching questions prior to and during the reviews: ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ was how one Headteacher described it. “

We have found that the Improvement Workshop, and the role of the Improvement Champion, is crucial.  Our Improvement Champions are talented leaders who will in the future be looking to lead their own schools.  This role is giving them opportunities for impact not only beyond their own classrooms but also beyond their own schools.  The Workshop is the discussion forum following feedback.  Each Workshop has been formatted around a number of questions that have been the outcome of the Review, and have been facilitated rather than directed by the Improvement Champions.  It is essential that a focus on improvement, rather than just the overall ‘outcome’ of the review, is embedded into the whole process.  A ‘plan for positive action’ mind set is crucial, and the Workshop, led by the Improvement Champion, is where the seeds of this planning begin to grow.

Our experience of SPP as a collaboration has been extremely powerful. It has been a significant catalyst for change and improvement in a truly collaborative culture, growing our thirst for delivering school to school support, sharing CPD needs, and identifying opportunities for research and further Joint Practice Development.   As a collaboration of schools working within the KYRA Alliance we are deeply committed to looking within and beyond our own schools, developing our leadership of the system and our accountability to one another, to ensure that all children across our schools benefit from the highest standards of teaching and learning and are inspired, supported and prepared to fulfill their potential.

“The staff and governors working together – governors hearing the teachers’ voices, and discussions between teachers and governors – was brilliant. You could see them thinking ‘We’re part of the same team’.  The whole process has been fantastic and has already been a catalyst for changes in relationships and in perceptions and that is before we get on to the great list of things we have for ideas of what to do next!”
Ian Tyas, Headteacher of Ingham Primary School

“Having the SPP Evaluation Framework has been particularly beneficial in enabling Governors and the teaching team to achieve a shared view of the school against a richer more holistic framework.”
Ben Stephenson, Headteacher of Marton Primary School

“I enjoyed the process in terms of being able to have a fresh pair of eyes on something we’d worked on for a period of time. It correlated with our views which was great and has enabled us to start thinking about the next steps.  I think I enjoyed the doing and being done process equally.”
John Bevan, Headteacher of Scampton Pollyplatt Primary School

“I thought the Improvement Workshop was excellent and extremely professionally run. Our school has received a huge amount of valuable feedback and it is now our job to implement the most impactful ones.  Thank you to the Reviewers for their honest and constructive feedback which framed each session, and thank you to the Improvement Champion who ran the evening brilliantly, kept us on task and came up with lots of thought provoking ideas in the group sessions.”
Andy Hutchinson, Chair of Governors at Ingham Primary School 

To find out more about CfBT SPP click here or contact Kyra@lincolnmountstreet.lincs.sch.uk

Theresa Peacock, Specialist Leader of Education, Research & Development.

Built into action research is the proviso that, if as a teacher I am dissatisfied with what is already going on, I will have the confidence and resolution to attempt to change it. I will not be content with the status quo… – Jean McNiff

At the very heart of Kyra’s DNA lies the harnessing of our collective professionalism, expertise, and moral purpose, to ensure no one is left behind, and every school and individual in our partnership thrives – to the benefit of all children. This means that, as a collective, we constantly engaged in cycles of action research: we adapt our practice, put it into action and then reflect on the outcomes before starting the cycle again. This leads to refinements, enhancements and new elements to increase chances of success for all. As a TSA, we have been able to formalize this process over the last 24 months so that research and development is able to benefit everyone in the partnership: adult and child alike.

During 2012-2014 we were fortunate enough to work with nearly 100 teaching schools and the NCTL to explore three key national themes:

  • Theme 1: what makes great pedagogy?
  • Theme 2: what makes great professional development which leads to consistently great pedagogy?
  • Theme 3: how can leaders lead successful teaching school alliances which enable the development of consistently great pedagogy?

We were able to develop a small cluster of schools to investigate what makes great professional development and our case studies have contributed to the research publications which are now available to read here.

From the final reports that were created by Kyra and other teaching schools, the NCTL were able to draw out:

  • Seven key messages about great pedagogy
  • Thirteen firm findings about leadership
  • Six messages about great professional development
  • Ten common messages for all three themes

You can read the summary here. 

As a teaching school we found taking part in NCTL research projects beneficial in numerous ways. We were able to build trust and relationships that allowed us to engage in deep conversation about our practice. We felt energized and motivated about engaging in R&D. Riding the wave of this positive experience of engaging with R&D, we were lucky to meet Richard Churches from CfBT. Richard Churches gave us the tools to take control of our own research projects. Around 20 members of the TSA spent the day with Richard in December where he shared key skills that will help us to add substance and rigour to own projects. This means we now have several staff across the alliance who are able to conduct random control trial (RCT) projects in education. They are able to create randomised control and intervention groups, choose the correct statistical analysis for the results and then report on them in terms of months progress impact with an acceptable degree of probability.

Staff across the alliance have been able to use these new found skills to design projects that are relevant to the children in our schools. The fact that we have been successful in winning £10,000 of grants to design our own RCTs is testament to their dedication and passion to be ambitious for the children in Lincolnshire. We currently have 5 RCTs happening across the alliance:

  • The impact of peer reading on PP learners- Bridie Bear (Monks Abbey Primary School)
  • The impact of active spelling strategies
  • The impact of video feedback on attainment- James Siddle (St Margarets)
  • The impact of the community on reading attainment and enjoyment- Laura Stratford (Mount Street Academy)
  • The impact of the classroom environment on attainment- Bill Lord (Long Sutton)

These projects have been designed to address the needs of our children, to close gaps that we have identified as an alliance, to refine and enhance what is already happening.

The RCTs that are currently running will be ready for publication in September 2015. We will be holding an event during the Autumn term so that all findings can be shared across the alliance ensuring that these 5 RCTs benefit all, help to develop our professional learning community and so that we can celebrate the success of our partners as we would our own.

Theresa can be contacted at:

Theresa.Peacock@monksabbey.lincs.sch.uk or via @treepea80


“Teaching is not something one learns to do, once and for all, and then practises, problem free, for a lifetime, anymore than one knows how to have friends, and follows a static set of directions called ‘friendships’, through each encounter. Teaching depends on growth and development and is practised in dynamic situations that are never twice the same. Wonderful teachers young and old, will tell of fascinating insights, new understandings, unique encounters with youngsters, the intellectual puzzle and the ethical dilemmas that provide a daily challenge. Teachers, above all, must stay alive to this.”

William Ayers, To Teach

The continuous professional development of staff is essential to the success of our schools and our children’s learning. National research, impactful practice in other schools, and shared professional inquiry, are all essential for achieving a deep culture of professional learning and improvement. The question is – how can we make the most of these sources to achieve effective professional development within schools and partnerships?

For some time now it has been argued that simply ‘going on a course’ and listening to others’ accounts of ‘best practice’ has a limited impact on changing our professional behaviours and ways of working. Indeed, Professor David Hargreaves in his work on ‘self-improving’ school systems, has said that the most powerful form of professional development is that of Joint Practice Development because it is ongoing, involves regular peer dialogue and feedback – including the use of experienced coaches and mentors, and integrates the learning process with daily activities and practice in schools.

What is Joint Practice Development?

“The emergent model is less about attending conferences and courses and more about school-based, peer-to-peer activities in which development is fused with routine practice. Professional development becomes a continuous, pervasive process that builds craft knowledge, rather than an occasional activity that is sharply distinguished in time and space from routine classroom work.

Joint practice development (JPD) is a term that captures the essential features of this form of professional development:

  • It is a joint activity, in which two or more people interact and influence one another, in contrast to the non-interactive, unilateral character of much conventional ‘sharing good practice’.
  • It is an activity that focuses on teachers’ professional practice, ie what they do, not merely what they know.
  • It is a development of the practice, not simply a transfer of it from one person or place to another, and so a form of school improvement.”

Prof. David Hargreaves & National College; A self-improving system: towards maturity. 2012

The Professional Learning Community model

Schools within Kyra have been developing the PLC model for sometime now. For example, leaders such as James Siddle at St Margaret’s in Withern have capitalised on strong partnerships and collaboratives between local schools and have developed ongoing professional learning communities that have seen teachers collectively sharing and developing practice on an ongoing basis – with positive results. 

So what does this look like in practice? In the case of James’ group, colleagues have used the Education Endowment Fund’s evidence on effective feedback for learning as a starting point. The research shows how effective feedback can contribute to improved learning experiences for pupils – an issue that all those involved in the community wished to explore further. The sessions involve opportunities for the group to review and discuss the relevant research, to compare how they have applied their learning in their own settings (often within their sub networks) and what the impact of this has been, and to build on the sharing of information by action planning for further development and testing of their practices.

The sessions usually take place every four weeks and last no less than 75 minutes each. The standard format of the sessions – which is evidence-based and draws on the work of leading thinkers such as Dylan William and others – is usually as follows:

  • Introduction (by the ‘Community lead’ – usually someone with particular expertise or with a deep interest in the area of focus) 5 minutes
  • Collective Discussion – individuals summarise what they have done /implemented since the last session, including what has been trialed and tested through their action plan (developed at the previous session);
  • A Research Activity – Group discussion of a relevant research paper or article. This may take the format of a ‘book club’ based on reading recommended at the last session;
  • Planning action plans – Group and individuals plan their next steps for further refining their particular practice. This may include planning work for sub-partnerships or groups. This session may also include planning of lesson observations and further action research. In James’ words “everyone should leave the room with a self-improving agenda, the outcome of which will be shared with the group at the next session – if not before.”

James’ shares a number of key lessons for developing successful and sustained Professional Learning Communities:

  • Ensure the PLC is accessible to all. The format allows for all starting points as the discussion is always based on a sound research base and includes elements of individual planning which can then be implemented at a local or individual school level;
  • Start with a robust and sound evidence base upon which to build discussion and trial new practices. In James’ group, they have started with the EEF toolkit, which is based on research and analysis contributed by thousands of schools and subject to academic
  • Ensure groups are led by someone with the necessary enthusiasm, commitment and expertise to sustain them. We believe SLEs should play a key role in developing this approach to CPD based on their areas of knowledge and expertise.
  • Tap into existing partnerships and networks at first before expanding the group. This will ensure a culture of trust and openness is achievable from an early stage. Professional capital – i.e. sharing knowledge and best practice to the benefit of all schools and children – is an essential basis.
  • Draw upon and align with Randomised Control Trial projects where possible. This provides a framework for trialing various approaches and hypotheses with a clearer understanding how different variables contribute to improvements in children’s learning. The principles of RCTs should underpin these communities wherever possible.
  • Keep regulation of the community to a minimum. Whilst it is important to work with evidence-based formats and methodologies, the members of the group should feel a strong degree of ownership and be able to access the community from a range of starting points.
  • Ensure that the culture of openness extends to data and the need to measure impact. This leads to better understanding and evidence around what works and – crucially – what doesn’t!
  • Finally, promote your findings widely with other schools and practitioners. This will lead to even greater opportunities to share ideas and evidence, to the benefit of more children.

James Siddle & Michael Pain

Further reading:

Scaling Up Formative Assessment by Dylan William : http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers.html

Towards a self-improving system: towards maturity by David Hargreaves & National College for School Leadership: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/15804/1/a-self-improving-school-system-towards-maturity.pdf

Creating a strong culture of professionalism by Michael Pain, Forum Education: http://www.forumeducation.org/article-on-high-performing-systems-a-culture-of-professionalism/

Since the introduction of the new curriculum for mathematics, there has been much talk, in various forums, about how the teaching of mathematics has radically changed. It is unequivocal that the new programmes of study are more demanding. Content has moved to earlier year groups and expectations between key stages are higher, for example; NC14 states that by the end of Y4, children should know their multiplication tables up to 12×12.

The new programmes of study have broad aims that are embedded throughout the curriculum; some of the key areas are that pupils are being asked to develop higher levels of fluency and the ability to reason mathematically. This has been achieved through an emphasis on problem-solving, making connections across mathematical ideas and applying knowledge in other subject areas.  This is empowering us to teach mathematics beyond pure factual and procedural recall. Although these are both important skills that children need to develop, it is essential that children explore mathematics through a conceptual approach; this means discovering the ‘why?’ rather than the ‘what?’ and the ‘how?’

So, what is new? Well, the biggest developments in mathematics teaching have linked to the old!


School’s are now re-resourcing the hands-on enactive mathematics resources that have been thrown out or pushed to the back of the maths cupboard. Cuisenaire rods, base 10, place value counters are all on the comeback and rightly so.   These manipulatives enable children to solve ag-related (if not higher) problems with a greater proficiency.  The uses of concrete and pictorial representations of number are now being used to support written calculation policies. This is building on from the National Strategies ‘Models and Images’ documents to show a progression of calculation rather than a formalisation of calculation as seen in many policies. Further to the traditional paper policy, schools are now using handheld technology to digitalise their policies and hosting them so that children can access high-quality explanations from home; this is extending the learning opportunities for our children through innovative and engaging platforms.  Further to the use of manipulatives, schools are beginning to develop problem solving through introducing schemes such as OUPs ‘Inspire’ or ‘Maths no Problem’ to complement their current provision. The NCETM are currently researching the effectiveness of these programmes, which are based on the Singapore Bar Method, using their Maths Hubs – Year 1 teachers in 68 primary schools are currently part of the trail. 


There are huge developments in how the new curriculum is being structured. With the new programmes of study not having blocks or units, it has been up to schools to map out their mathematics provision. This requires a whole-school vision, of the school’s strengths and weaknesses of mathematics, to ensure that areas of weakness are addressed early in the year and threaded through other topics. A common area of development that I have seen has linked to ‘problem solving’ and when it should happen. A simplistic answer is that it should be happening all of the time. The new curriculum is asking us to provide opportunities to explain, prove and justify – these are difficult skills to develop if children are not exposed regularly to them.

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) is a fantastic resource to support you develop problem solving or investigative-rich schemes of work. I advise all teaching staff (including Teaching Assistants) to sign-up to this website as it provides incredibly high-quality resources to support the teaching of mathematics. This includes: subject knowledge support, academic articles, possible activities linked to every strand of the new curriculum as well as videos that showcase how we could teach some of these new and challenging areas of mathematics.

Josh Lane is a Specialist Leader of Education and can be contacted at: jlane@prioryacademies.co.uk