Estyn: Improving Teaching through an Emphasis on Professional Learning –

At Y Pant Comprehensive School, teaching and learning has improved through an emphasis on reflective practice. The school has implemented a number of mechanisms for colleagues to share and reflect on what they do well.

Number of learners: 1,271

Age range: 11-18

Date of inspection: January 2017

Information about the school

Y Pant Comprehensive School is an English-medium 11-18 school maintained by Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority. It serves the areas of Pontyclun, Talbot Green, Llantrisant and Llanharry. There are 1,271 pupils on roll of which 216 are in the sixth form.

Around 12% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, which is below the national average in secondary schools of 17.1%. Around 3.5% of pupils live in the 20% most deprived areas in Wales. Nearly all pupils speak English as their first language and come from a white, British background. Very few pupils are fluent in Welsh.

The percentage of pupils with special educational needs is around 18%. This is lower than the national figure of 25.1%. The proportion of pupils who have a statement of special educational need is 1%, this is below the national figure of 2.4%.

The senior leadership team consists of the headteacher, deputy headteacher, six assistant headteachers and the bursar.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The fundamental objective was to generate a sense of urgency in order to place excellent teaching as central to everything we achieve. The school believes that if the main focus of all colleagues is habitually high quality teaching, then this will result in excellent progress over time.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Clear Vision

Our vision of excellent teaching and learning is made clear, simple and memorable. Autonomy is valued and all colleagues are trusted with a degree of flexibility as long as high standards are met. There is, however, a nucleus of key principles which should be at the forefront of all pedagogy. These key principles constitute the ‘Y Pant way’; rigorously explained to all new colleagues and regularly reinforced to existing colleagues through effective professional development activities.  They form a central part to any dialogue following lesson observations because they are used as success criteria when evaluating teaching.

It was also decided the most effective way to improve teaching and learning was to cultivate reflective practitioners. This involved propagating effective mechanisms for colleagues to share and reflect on best practice.

Lesson Observations

The school has moved towards judging teaching, rather than teachers. Lesson observations are no longer graded in keeping with the school’s assessment for learning philosophy. This generates more meaningful dialogue following the lesson and has helped develop an open door culture. Having two observers - a member of the senior leadership team and a subject specialist - also improves the quality of feedback. Lesson observations have subsequently become more about improving teaching rather than judging teaching.

Outcomes, student voice and book reviews, rather than lesson observations, are now utilised as irrefutable success indicators when evaluating teaching and learning. Much of this has been devolved to departments who regularly self-evaluate through quality assurance meetings. The senior leadership team can then verify or modify any judgements made.

Learning walks

These are considered an excellent vehicle to share and reflect on best practice. Time is allocated in lieu of one INSET day in order for colleagues to plan, complete and report on learning walks, both cross-curricular and within departments. These can have a particular focus or be more generic in nature. The key findings are published and discussed annually.

Strategy groups

Research and action research were pioneered as foci for after school ‘Strategy Groups’ to keep abreast of the evolving nature of education and to further equip colleagues with a rich repertoire of pedagogical practices. Widely acclaimed academic texts were carefully selected and assigned to groups of colleagues. The aim of each group was to read through their text over the course of the year and discuss the findings most pertinent to Y Pant. Each group could then provide a synopsis of their text to all staff at the end of the year. Colleagues were more receptive to new concepts having had the opportunity to discover the ideas for themselves rather than passively receive the information via the senior leadership team.

The following year, colleagues were encouraged to contemplate the practical applications of what they had discovered and initiate individual or collaborative action research projects.

Bespoke continual professional development (CPD)

The organic and constant sharing of good pedagogical practice described above is supplemented by high quality INSET days. Some of these are utilised as a means of addressing whole-school developmental needs with all staff.  However, the school often deviates from this ‘one size fits all’ approach and affords colleagues the opportunity to select sessions from a varied menu of CPD according to individual needs. Each session is led by a colleague disseminating on an area under their remit identified as best practice.

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