When Ofsted labelled behaviour ‘Poor’, our new head knew that only by changing the culture, and overhauling the climate for learning, would teachers be able to teach effectively.
Since February and the arrival of new headteacher, Mark Rhatigan, the senior leadership team (SLT) have been relentlessly supporting staff to make classrooms purposeful learning environments where students can make progress.
Too many students were acting boisterously and dangerously; starts and ends of lessons were chaotic with many students arriving late, and students were defiant towards teachers who challenged them. Staff had given up teaching – they were just trying to get through.
The new head told the staff what we would do as a team and why. He wanted them to be able to teach again so students could achieve. He established his vision with the students in assemblies to each year group and we set about implementing it, making sure all staff followed and if students weren’t on board, they were excluded.
"All meetings were cancelled as nothing was more important. We were changing a culture, second by second, conversation by conversation."
This was now a ‘no touching’ school. Play-fighting saw a same-day detention. Students sat boy, girl, boy, girl in rows; facing the front, no excuses. They followed instructions first time, every time. The mantra was adopted by staff across the school and repeated by us as senior staff in the many post-exclusion meetings with parents.
We were in and out of lessons, every lesson – all meetings were cancelled as nothing was more important. We were changing a culture, second by second, conversation by conversation.
This climate for learning established the next phase: a structure for learning and progress. We did developmental work with staff on planning around the teacher standards, setting a ‘Kingsbury Standard’ of non-negotiables: visible learning objectives and success criteria, a basic structure to lessons which would produce high quality outcomes.
We asked staff to write lesson plans and we gave them feedback. Every teacher had an ‘active file’ – we gave them the data for their groups through a computer programme called CLIPS to produce meaningful seating plans so they could tailor questioning and activities in their lessons, differentiating through support and challenge effectively. They kept records of CPD in these files too.
We gave additional support to those that didn’t meet the standards yet. Every lesson, we checked that staff were doing what we had asked them to do, giving them support and feedback as necessary; collating these together at every SLT meeting, until we were sure it was embedded and all were following expectations. It was relentless but staff welcomed it. They were teaching and we were clear that they should ‘teach’ – lessons are for learning.
Ofsted agreed on their visit this June: ‘Teaching is improving’, they said. HMI talked about staff morale and ‘team spirit’. The report (released today) was the best outcome we could have but it couldn’t have come without the relentless legwork to ensure consistency, underpinned by a firm belief that structure liberates children to achieve.
This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.