CPD at the heart of school improvement

CPD at the heart of school improvement

A small primary school in Cornwall has become a CPD powerhouse after placing professional development at the heart of its school improvement plans. Yvonne Gandy takes a look.

St Mary’s Catholic Primary School is a whitewashed, single-storey building less than a mile from the sea in the Cornish town of Penzance.

It looks like a typical primary school, but it has become something of a powerhouse for the professional development of staff across the area.

When you hear executive headteacher Demelza Bolton describe the rich programme of professional development, coaching and mentoring that St Mary’s leads across its four-school cluster, it is something of a surprise to learn that the school was in a very different place just four years ago.

Ms Bolton joined the school in 2016 and noticed a lack of staff in leadership roles and a CPD “blank canvas” – points that were picked up by the Ofsted inspectors who arrived just five weeks later. They placed the school in special measures and highlighted the development of CPD as a key action in the post-inspection improvement plan.

Since then, that blank canvas has been transformed into a great example of how professional learning can have a distinct and direct impact in more than one school.

When the inspectors returned and took the school out of special measures, they remarked that CPD was paying dividends, helping to increase leadership capacity and improving the quality of education at the school. The school is now rated as good.

Ms Bolton says that her participation in the NPQEL programme (National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership), run by the Outstanding Leaders Partnership, led her to develop a coaching programme at the school.

She explained: “My approach to CPD is to coach and support each other. I’ve trained myself to be a coach and developed colleagues to become coaches as well.”

The St Mary’s cluster, which includes primaries in Falmouth, Bodmin and Camborne and is part of Plymouth CAST MAT, now has 12 members of staff who have completed coaching training. This team, a mixture of senior leaders, teachers and teaching assistants, are on hand to support all staff across the cluster and within their own schools.

The St Mary’s instructional coaches have an important role to play. A group of staff across the cluster provide weekly support for teachers to help them develop their teaching skills.

This coaching approach involves three or four teachers and their instructional coach working together in a professional development group which was face-to-face before the pandemic and has been held online since. Over the course of a fortnight-long cycle they focus on an aspect of teaching, observe and coach each other, and then monitor the impact of any new approaches that they adopt as a result.

Professional development programmes have an equally important role to play. One of Ms Bolton’s first moves after the inspection was to enrol colleagues on the NPQML programme (National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership) so that she could start building leadership capacity. She made sure that the school improvement projects they were expected to complete as part of the programme defined improvement priorities for the school.

The National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) continue to be central to the cluster’s CPD approach; eight staff members are currently enrolled on the NPQs for school leadership – all of them working on projects with a direct relevance to school improvement.

Ms Bolton is one of them. Currently completing her NPQEL, her improvement project is focused on improving wellbeing and behaviour for learning of selected year 5 and 6 pupils who have fallen behind in reading, writing and maths during the past year and are struggling with their wellbeing because of the pandemic.

The children are taking part in fortnightly sessions focusing on their behaviour for learning goals. This is reviewed half-termly and their progress is shared with parents. The sessions have been held in school because of their vulnerability.

Early data indicates that the project is having a significant impact – 80 per cent of the participating children have shown improved behaviour for learning and confidence; nearly all of them are meeting expectations and almost half have shown accelerated progress across maths, writing and reading.

The pandemic has not diverted the St Mary’s cluster’s CPD expansion plans, says Ms Bolton. “I felt it was important to stay on track with my plans for cluster coaching, for the wellbeing of staff more than anything,” she added.

“Weekly instructional coaching has continued online in three of our schools during the pandemic and our teaching assistants are carrying on our work coaching children to improve their learning behaviours across the cluster.”

The St Mary’s cluster CPD approach is also spreading far and wide; Ms Bolton is now leading a strategic coaching and mentoring course with Cornwall Teaching School.

It is clear that Ms Bolton’s passion for coaching and professional development is a powerful force across the cluster: “I think it comes naturally to me and I think the same could be said of my colleagues across the cluster,” she said. “I like to see myself as the lead coach. Staff come to me now not with problems but with solutions that they want to get a sense-check on. I think this approach is a proactive form of shared leadership which is focused on solutions. That can only be a good thing for the future of our schools.”

Yvonne Gandy is programme director of the National Professional Qualifications at Best Practice Network, which supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Visit www.outstandingleaders.org and www.bestpracticenet.co.uk.