How two schools in Staffordshire are transforming teaching for the better
A quintessential English village, bordered on one side by a National Trust estate, and on the other by the calmness and serenity of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, might seem an unlikely location for a revolution. But something big is happening in the quiet town of Kinver in South Staffordshire.
A government-funded project to support and develop teachers has heralded a step-change in education – and what’s more, it’s right on the doorstep of Gavin Williamson, the new Secretary of State for Education and South Staffordshire MP.
Back in 2018, Kinver High School and Ounsdale High, its neighbour just 10 miles down the road, started working with the Transforming Teaching programme, delivered by education charity Ambition Institute.
"A quintessential English village might seem an unlikely location for a revolution."
Transforming Teaching works on three levels. Firstly, it works with teachers who want to develop their practice and keep getting better. They receive fortnightly professional development sessions by experts in education from Ambition Institute. The sessions are delivered in school, so there’s no additional travel time or time out of lessons for teachers.
Then it works by supporting teacher educators – teachers who support other teachers with professional learning. They receive face-to-face training on the evidence-informed tools and knowledge required for high quality teacher education; one-to-one coaching to support them; and the opportunity to plan and deliver their own training, supported by Ambition’s experts.
Of course, school leaders need to create the conditions for this training to flourish. The final strand of the programme gives training sessions to school leaders to help them implement the changes, as well as twice-yearly conferences to work with peers in similar schools, tackling the big challenges facing them in their day-to-day jobs.
So what does this mean? What tangible changes have taken place as a result?
Imagine the scene. A teacher stands on the threshold of their classroom, personally greeting every single pupil as they enter. Their words of greeting are carefully chosen to bring the best out of that pupil.
For some, it might be a reminder to knuckle down and concentrate. For others, some praise on their homework. But no matter the message, every single child receives a consistent welcome and, just like that, the expectations for learning are set. As the students enter the room and take up their seats, there is a task on the board or on their desks for them to work through independently while the teacher finishes their greetings.
This is called a ‘Do Now’ activity. It needs no explanation from the teacher, so students can get into a learning mindset as soon as they enter the class. They do this task in silence. Gone are the days when lessons take several minutes to settle down before work begins. Every single second in a lesson is used for quality teaching, and all those minutes add up.
"At Ambition Institute, we’ve got experts who understand how adults learn as well as how children learn, and we use that insight to craft programmes that have lasting impact."
These three things – the greeting, the do-now and the silence – are what teachers at Kinver called Smart Starts. Every teacher should start a lesson this way. But of course, embedding change is hard. Teachers may have their own ways to start lessons and may feel resistant to change. That’s why the Transforming Teaching model works so well. Teachers aren’t just given a diktat to adapt their lessons – they are given consistent support and encouragement every day, by teacher educators who’ve been there and who understand why it’s hard to change.
As Melanie Hooson, who leads Transforming Teaching in Kinver, said: “Change in schools is hard. The reasons why change doesn’t happen isn’t because teachers don’t have any good ideas. In fact, it’s the opposite – there are loads of great evidence-led ideas for school improvement coming from grass-roots teachers every day.
“Change fails because the implementation isn’t right. That’s why we work with teachers at all levels to support, challenge and create the right conditions for change to stick. At Ambition Institute, we’ve got experts who understand how adults learn as well as how children learn, and we use that insight to craft programmes that have lasting impact.”
So did it work?
Senior leaders at Kinver certainly think so. After working with 41 staff across the whole school, their praise for Transforming Teaching couldn’t be higher.
Carene Spooner, assistant headteacher at Kinver, said: “The Transforming Teaching Programme has made a significant difference to all of the staff and students at Kinver High.
“Our teachers are more consciously competent practitioners in their classrooms with a good understanding of how students learn and what has the biggest impact on their students.
“Our teachers are more engaged in the latest educational research and most importantly, they can then apply this to the learning of the students in their classrooms.”
In nearby Ounsdale, the focus was different, but the outcomes are similar. There, the focus was on embedding ‘responsive teaching’. This means setting clear goals and planning learning carefully; identifying what students have understood and where they are struggling and then responding, adapting their teaching to support students to do better.
The teachers on the ground at Ounsdale received bespoke training in behavioural insights, informed by the best evidence on how students learn, as well as how to check their understanding of lessons.
"I’ve fallen back in love with teaching after starting this programme.”
Ashley Weatherhogg, deputy head at Ounsdale, said: “The work that we have done with Ambition Institute (formerly the Institute for Teaching) has been incredible and revolutionised our school.
“Their Transforming Teaching Programme is like nothing else out there. It is research based, cutting edge and the training quality is second to none. The fact that it has come as part of the government's Innovation Fund has meant that we have received this for free. Without it, we would never be able to afford something like this. Our school is heading in the right direction and our school has truly been transformed.
“It is a shame that every school cannot enjoy this.”
"The work that we have done with Ambition Institute has been incredible and revolutionised our school."
The programme is run by Ambition Institute, a graduate school of education which runs development programmes for educators serving children in disadvantaged areas. It counts more than 15,000 teachers and school leaders across the country as its alumni.
Marie Hamer, executive director for learning design and teaching at Ambition Institute, said: “We’re really proud of our work on Transforming Teaching. It shows the impact we can have when we bring evidence-informed teaching into the classroom, and it re-energises teachers, helping them to stay in their school and in the profession, for longer.
"It also supports the new Ofsted framework because it encourages senior leaders to give more thought to the intent of their curriculum, something which we know is a hot topic in the staff room."
Nothing quite makes this point like the words of one of the teachers who was helped on the programme. They said: “I’ve fallen back in love with teaching after starting this programme.”
Transforming Teaching is our bespoke whole-school programme designed to improve teaching, staff retention and career progression in schools, making measurable, sustainable change.Find out more