Though the school had received a ‘good’ judgement from Ofsted in 2014, it had since been struggling to get to grips with the new curriculum, which had been introduced in September 2014, and also hadn’t found a consistent way of assessing without levels. As a result, the Local Authority had classed Willoughton as a ‘vulnerable school’. One of the first things Jessica realised when she became Head was how much the school would benefit from making connections with other local schools in the area, joining local networks, and engaging more consistently with the Kyra Teaching School Alliance, in order to rectify these issues. However, Jessica faced further challenges when, in her first year as Headteacher, she had a complete turnover of teaching staff (the school consists of only three classes). Her new staff team was made up of two NQTs and an RQT, who all started in the 2017/18 academic year.
“Taking all of these factors into account, it became clear that staff professional development and CPD were going to have to be a real priority for us at Willoughton”, says Jessica, “I had always believed in the importance of actively engaging in professional development, being involved in networks, and collaborating with colleagues in other schools, and I could see that as a school, Willoughton would particularly benefit from these things. I wanted Willoughton to become a school that looks outwards, by getting myself and my staff involved in lots of CPD and networks in the local area; because we are a small school, I knew this was going to be especially important”.
Networking and Collaboration
Jessica quickly got in touch with other Headteachers in the local area and introduced herself. “Luckily one of the first Heads I rang put me in touch with the Gainsborough partnership” says Jessica, “and when I went along to my first meeting I met many local Headteachers and made connections; this meant that whenever I had an issue I could phone someone straight away for support or advice. Everyone in the partnership was really supportive and always happy to help, which I was really impressed by.” Willoughton was also a member of Kyra when Jessica became Headteacher, but up to that point, had not been particularly involved in making the most of Kyra’s training, networks, or events. Jessica tells us, “I wanted to use our membership with Kyra to its full potential, so I went along to some training. I felt that Kyra really held the same values as myself, and I saw that building the school’s connection with Kyra would really benefit everybody, staff and pupils alike. Therefore, I made sure I got my staff booked in to the relevant training and networks for them as soon as I could.”
With only three teachers at the school, who were all new to teaching, and also teaching mixed-year group classes, Jessica knew that an up to date curriculum needed to be in place as quickly as possible, so that professional development and CPD could be made the priority. Jessica made the decision to use the Cornerstones curriculum, which supports schools in implementing a rich, meaningful and relevant curriculum in a variety of subjects. As well as this, Jessica needed to make sure that the school’s pupil assessment data became accurate, and in line with the new national curriculum; “I paid for an external consultant to come into the school”, Jessica tells us. “The consultant comes in once every half term, and does a one-to-one session with each teacher for two hours, really unpicking the children’s books carefully so that the teachers can be secure in their assessments and know how to move them on to the next level. This alternates each half term between a focus on English assessment and Maths assessment.” Her staff have also attended Kyra moderation sessions to support them in making accurate assessments of pupil progress. With every teacher at the school having more than one year group in their class, this has been particularly useful in helping them to gain a clearer knowledge of whether pupils are attaining the national standard expected for their age.
Jessica also knew that helping her teachers to meet and network with colleagues from other schools was absolutely vital. Each of the teachers at the school was assigned a ‘buddy’ from another school; “their ‘buddy’ is someone who they can talk to, to discuss curriculum, issues or ideas. It’s so useful to have someone to bounce ideas off, or share concerns with, and because we are such a small school, I think it’s important that our staff have someone, who is teaching the same age group as them, who they can talk to”, says Jessica. “It also means that as a school we are looking outward, learning about what teachers are doing in other schools, and engaging in professional dialogue.” Jessica has also involved Willoughton in a peer review group, which keeps the school looking outward, and continually reflecting on any strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve further.
As all of the new teachers who joined Willoughton after Jessica became Head are in the very early stages of their career, Jessica has been responsible for ensuring that they are continually developing their teaching pedagogy and practice. With only three classroom teachers at the school, she has also had to begin to develop them as leaders too. She tells us, “trying to keep on top of the day to day running of the school, as well as leading all subjects, being SENCo, and everything else in between, was never going to be something I could do by myself. Fortunately, my staff have all been keen to become subject leaders. However, I have had to be really careful to ensure that, while they are developing professionally, they are also not taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed. It’s been very important to find the right balance.”
Each new member of staff has been on their own bespoke journey of professional development since starting at Willoughton, depending on their specific needs, and their specific interests (in terms of leadership roles). Jessica tells us, “I’ve invested heavily in my staff’s professional development, because I want them to be the best teachers that they can possibly be for our pupils, and also because I know it is the best way to secure improvement and excellent standards of teaching and learning at Willoughton long-term. When staff are out on CPD, I am usually able, and very willing, to cover their classes for them. When that is not possible, we are very lucky to have two higher level teaching assistants, who do a brilliant job of covering classes when necessary.” However, Jessica, like all Headteachers, still has to watch her budget carefully; she tells us, “CPD can be expensive, so you can’t always afford to send all staff on every course you might like to. Therefore, the general rule at Willoughton is that any member of staff who has been on training then comes back and delivers it, including any appropriate activities they’ve done, to the whole staff, which sometimes means requesting additional time during INSET or twilight. This means that we really get the most out of all of the CPD which staff attend.”
Jessica’s first new member of staff, Jade, joined the school is September 2017 as an NQT. “I made sure that I signed her up for the Kyra NQT Support Package straight away”, says Jessica, “as I knew it would really help her to build her confidence. She met a lot of other NQTs through this, and developed a strong network, as well as learning vital skills such as how to plan for children with SEND, and all sorts of other important aspects of teaching and learning.” Jade did so well during her NQT year that when Willoughton was invited by Kyra to take part in LEAP (the Lincolnshire English Attainment Project), Jessica thought that this could be the perfect opportunity for Jade to develop her leadership skills by becoming the school-based lead. “Jade was keen to take up the opportunity, and being the school-based lead for LEAP has been extremely useful in helping her to develop as a leader”, says Jessica. “As part of LEAP, she is able to discuss evidence-based research with a group of professionals, and then bring that knowledge back to Willoughton and share it with us. As a result, we have been able to implement and evaluate new strategies in our English teaching, and that has been really valuable to us as a school.” Jade has also had the chance to ‘buddy up’ with a Local Leader of Education, and has taken part in coaching sessions, which have included book scrutiny and monitoring in English at another local primary school. “Jade is now the English Lead at Willoughton, as well as teaching a class made up of Year 4, 5 and 6 pupils”, says Jessica, “and on top of that, she is now taking an active leadership role in the Kyra NQT/RQT forum.”
In January 2018, a second new member of staff, Nicole, joined Willoughton to teach Years 2 and 3. “Nicole was really keen from the off to develop as a leader”, says Jessica, “and began shadowing me as Maths Lead almost straight away. She showed real potential, and I wanted to support her as much as possible, so we booked her on to the ‘Learning to Lead’ course with Kyra, and I also made sure that she attended Maths Lead forums, to give her the opportunity to network with more experienced leaders.” More recently, Nicole has become the school-lead for “Mobilise LAMP” (the school’s Mobilise project choice - Lincolnshire Attainment in Maths Project), and has also had the opportunity to work with a maths consultant, with a particular focus on monitoring, evaluation and book scrutiny. “Nicole’s enthusiasm, combined with her engagement with lots of relevant and meaningful CPD, has meant that she was able to progress really quickly, and she is now the Maths Lead at Willoughton.”
The third and final new teacher to start at Willoughton after the start of Jessica’s headship was Odette, an NQT who took up her post as teacher of Early Years and Year 1, also in January 2018. “Since Odette was new to Early Years, I felt that she needed a bespoke package to cater for her CPD needs. She did do some of the Kyra NQT-support programme, such as planning for SEND, but I also arranged for an Early Years specialist from the Local Authority to come in and work with her.” Odette attends the Kyra Early Years Network, so that she is able to meet other EYFS teachers who she can discuss her practice with. She has also attended forums for teachers with mixed-age classes and visited other schools with mixed-age classes. She is now in the process of completing her NQT year, and looking ahead to becoming the school’s Science Lead.” Odette has already booked to attend a 2-day STEM course, and is also looking to do the Science Quality Mark, to help her to prepare for taking on this role in the near future.
As well as individual CPD, staff at Willoughton have all been involved in whole school CPD, including training to support the development of Maths teaching, and ‘Read Write Inc’ training to support the delivery of Phonics and Reading. “This CPD was a large investment but it has reaped huge rewards” Jessica tells us, “maths teaching has become much less procedural at the school and much more practical for the pupils, with a focus on problem solving and reasoning skills, which is having a positive impact on pupil outcomes. Read Write Inc has also been extremely useful, and has helped us to significantly improve the school’s Phonics results.”
Jessica, as a new Headteacher, has also ‘walked the walk’ and made sure that she has also engaged in plenty of professional development too. This has included attending Kyra’s ‘New to Headship’ training, and working closely with a mentor and the Locality Lead. She is also currently undertaking postgraduate training at Northampton university on Special Educational Needs, to help her to develop in her role as Willoughton’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo).
“It is my hope that the professional development provided for staff at Willoughton not only has a positive impact on staff retention, but that it also continues to open doors of opportunity for my staff in terms of their career development and progression. It’s important that, even though Willoughton is a small school, all of the teachers have an opportunity to progress, and have the opportunity to work towards taking on the roles that interest them the most, for example, becoming an SLE. I know that one of my teachers is keen to become a School Improvement Champion for peer review, and I know that our links with Kyra will mean that we can get them involved in the relevant training to help to make that possible. Another wonderful result of the CPD has been being able to watch my teachers grow so much in their abilities and in their confidence, and develop into effective leaders, since they have joined Willoughton.
Most importantly, however, I have seen the positive impact that our investment in professional development has had on the pupils at the school and their outcomes. We are constantly looking out for the impact of our CPD (during monitoring and evaluation activities, and performance management reviews) on the teachers’/leaders’ practice and in the outcomes for children, and the evidence of impact is clearly there, and that makes me feel very proud indeed. Ofsted have also recognised the school’s improvements in teaching and learning, and in our pupils’ outcomes, and in September 2018 we were judged as a ‘Good’ school. Of course, all of this has been made possible because of just how willing and open colleagues in Lincolnshire have been, and I have been truly blown away by the generous support we have received at Willoughton. As a school we are really hoping to give back in the future (we have already started to), and I hope that there will be plenty of opportunities to come for us to support other schools just as much as we have been supported.”