The national dip in English GCSE results in 2012 caused discussion across the UK – probably nowhere more so than at The John Bentley School in Calne, Wiltshire, where the adverse effect of the unexpected variability in grades, coupled with an impending Ofsted inspection using the tougher new framework, led the school to take immediate action.
With commitment to its students already an overarching priority, John Bentley was rich in student data, but had identified an issue around its reliability and use. So in the autumn of 2012 school improvement specialists EdisonLearning were commissioned to review and sharpen up the school’s plans.
“We liked their holistic, bespoke approach,” said deputy headteacher David Howe. “They were interested in working with us, not parachuting in with a one-stop solution. We grilled them in relation to our agenda and what they might do for us and decided they were people we could work with. We liked their track record and the impact of their evidence – and of course the fact that they were endorsed by The Association of School and College Leaders.
“A big school like this is complicated. Having converted to academy status in November 2011 we were due our first Ofsted inspection as an Academy and, with the predecessor school of the same name already judged to be ‘good’, the main issue was to ensure standards rose, or, as a minimum, were maintained. We also faced the challenge of the new, more demanding Ofsted inspection framework and the general feeling that getting a good rating is tougher than it’s ever been. It’s much harder for schools to be ranked as ‘outstanding’ now.”
With a 1,205-strong, fairly stable pupil population, The John Bentley School is of above average size, serving the rural Wiltshire town of Calne and its surrounding villages. Most of its 11-18-year-old students are from white British backgrounds, with the proportion with special needs and disabilities slightly above the national average. It is the lead school in the Calne Extended Services Cluster.
Having identified what it needed to do and a partner to help, the school wanted to act fast, so there was a tremendous focus on drilling down into the data and linking it more directly with teaching and learning during the first two months of the autumn term.
With Ofsted placing more focus on RAISEonline - which provides interactive analysis of school and performance data, what happens in classrooms and the students’ workbooks - the first priority was to align the school’s existing programme of faculty and year group staff meetings more closely with data entry points so that the student data could be used more efficiently to inform planning for learning and progress.
Having made sure that the school was able to use its data more sharply and effectively, the second stage of the process was to improve the discussions the senior leadership team had with middle leaders so that they were held more accountable and to focus on classroom practice in a number of areas of teacher expertise.
Two of the most useful processes used were ‘ Bull’s Eye’ and the ‘classroom recipe’.
Bull’s Eye is a basic graphic organizer which helps teachers to focus on classroom strategies and on the students requiring the most support – it’s all about converting data to represent individual students graphically and in that way explore what they need and ensure that they make rapid progress. That could be KS3/4 subject specific or via tutor groups horizontally across subjects. The school was encouraged to be absolutely ruthless in their agenda for the data meetings, which had to be very driven and data focused. They took their cue from the business world, no flapping, no ‘any other business’ allowed.
“The beauty of the data meetings was that we could easily target different groups,” said Mr Howe. “For example, all the subject teams might do something different, say, one looking at free school meals, one at C/D borderline students, another on ‘boys’ alone – it was so flexible, with good utility and impact.”
The second crucial process was to give subject teachers a ‘classroom recipe’ of six essential steps for lesson planning. This began by covering information and outcomes and showing staff that good or better teaching starts by using quantitative and qualitative data to identify and really understand where the students are and where they need to head next, incrementally and over the longer term. A lot of this thinking was underpinned by John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’, which identifies features that have the most impact on learning.
Then came a focus on the bigger picture - great teaching ensures students see where new learning fits into where they are currently and really engages them from the start. Next teachers were shown how to consider the shape and structure of their lessons and how good or better teaching is coherent in its sequence, building knowledge, understanding and skills incrementally.
Staff were reminded to make sure the students were ‘getting it’ by looking at assessment opportunities during the lesson. Good or better teaching has progress checking as part and parcel of its structure and can be quite informal; sometimes something as simple as scanning the room or listening in to peer talk.
Finally came adaptability. Teachers were reminded that good or better teaching is flexible and ensures that pace and content is responsive to the needs of individuals, groups and the whole class. How do you change things up if students catch on more or less quickly than expected?
“It was very easy to win the hearts and minds of our middle leaders and teachers as the process was so simple, user friendly and student centred,” said Mr Howe. “We quickly saw results and there is now a persuasive correlation between working with EdisonLearning and our improved results which are very strong. In summer 2013 61 percent of students achieved 5 GCSE A*- C including English and maths and 81 percent for 5 GCSEs A*-C not including English and maths. A level results were exceptionally strong - 27% A-A* ; 78% A*-C ; 99.6% A*-E .”
When Ofsted did carry out their inspection in June 2013, the John Bentley team was proud to have been judged ‘Good’ overall and ‘Good’ in all four categories.
“It was particularly pleasing as there is no question that the new framework is more challenging for all schools, with the Government having raised the bar in the way schools are judged,” said Mr Howe. “I was also pleased that Ofsted noted that ‘students currently in the school are making good progress in all year groups as a result of good teaching’ and ‘in many lessons observed students made Good or Outstanding progress as a result of high expectations’ . It is a testament to the strength of the school that a major area for development is to work towards making all teaching Outstanding – something which we are very well placed to do.
“Our approach to teaching and learning was standard operating procedure linked to learning goals. EdisonLearning have ensured that our learning goals were embedded, intelligent and sophisticated. Using our data more effectively has been a huge factor in our improvement and allowed us to develop a more robust accountability structure.”
For further information visit www.edisonlearning.net or call 01376 562953.