Moving a Department from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’

Introduction:

As part of a recent interview for a Second in Science position (covering a 6 month period of maternity leave) I was asked to produce a presentation (see link at end of blog) on how I felt the department could improve towards becoming ‘Outstanding’. This provided an opportunity for me to have a detailed look at the school’s development plan, the department’s SEF and the two most recent Ofsted inspection reports: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/106523. Since many schools and departments will face similar challenges to be judged as ‘Outstanding’ under the new Ofsted criteria (http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/school-inspection-handbook), and in the true spirit of sharing rationale and good practice that is common place in our profession, I have once again gone into ‘blog-mode’. I sincerely apologise!

 

Departmental Strengths:

The strengths of the department are clear to see; the broad curriculum gives pupils an excellent opportunity to make good progress and good student-staff relationships promote good Behaviour for Learning (BfL). Students make good progress and achieve challenging targets at the end of KS3 (2012). The department is a ‘Good’ Department (Ofsted, Jan. 2013) in all areas and has ‘capacity to improve’ to develop a more holistic positive learning environment. This mirrors the strengths of the school, where a similar ‘Good’ judgement (in all areas) was achieved some 9 months after the subject inspection (Ofsted, Oct. 2013).

 

Departmental Priorities for improvement:

The department has a variety of priorities to drive forward Teaching & Learning (T&L) in order to allow students to make further progress (in now more challenging circumstances due to the requirement of 4 ‘levels’ of progress between Yr7 & Yr11 rather than the previous 3!). First and foremost we need to instigate more opportunities to share ‘Outstanding’ practice in order to develop a positive (inclusive) T&L culture in order to drive more lessons from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’. Monitoring the consistency of marking (‘Making Marking Matter’) to drive progress further is one major focus (as it is whole-school), along with assessing the use of Assessment for Learning (AfL). Students ultimately need to be responding to marking and setting self-targets and we as practitioners need to be facilitating this process by integrating DIRT (Dedicated Independent Reflection Time) into SoWs (see previous blog for information on DIRT). From a science perspective these SoWs should give students the opportunities to apply practical skills by designing their own experiments based on curiosity so that we are nurturing resilient, reflective, independent learners. It follows that the development of a new KS3 curriculum (in response to the new 2013 PoS: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-science-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-science-programmes-of-study#key-stage-3) to promote curiosity and self-discovery is of paramount importance; revitalising and enriching the KS3 curriculum to engage more students (with a focus on Pupil Premium) gives us the best chance of helping students foster a love of all subjects. In addition to this, by fully integrating ‘Learning Skills’ into SoWs and making links to SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual & Cultural) development we will be preparing KS3 students doing following the new KS3 curriculum (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244221/SECONDARY_national_curriculum3.pdf) better for the tougher demands of all new KS4 courses (http://comment.ofqual.gov.uk/gcse-reform-june-2013/), which, in science, will relate to developing students’ extended writing and constructing arguments.

 

Whole-school Challenges (to becoming outstanding):

One whole-school challenge to becoming ‘Outstanding’ centres on developing students’ reading, writing and numeracy skills. From a (national) departmental point of view these are often a barrier to progress in science (particularly in lower sets). The use of well-designed topic ‘word walls’ in classrooms and associated glossaries in students’ books maybe one way to provide effective intervention here. Clearly we will need to develop specific literacy strategies for particular groups of students though, which will be challenging enough. Fully integrating numeracy into ALL lessons will be more of a challenge in other subjects than in science; rather finding shared common ground in terms of the ‘best way’ to apply maths skills to unfamiliar situations maybe the real challenge here. A further challenge centres on effectively tracking pupil progress in order to provide accurate screening and early intervention strategies to prevent against potential lack of progress. I have listed further challenges below (some of which are priorities for improvement):

  • Fully differentiate SoWs to FULLY support SEN provision.
  • Promote sharing ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ practice to develop a positive T&L culture.
  • Celebrate students’ successes more in order to drive student ambition and desire to do well.
  • Prepare students at KS3 better for challenges of new KS4 curriculum.
  • Prepare students at KS4 better for challenges at KS5.
  • Create more opportunities to share ‘outstanding’ practice in order to drive more lessons from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’.
  • Develop SoWs that has content better matched to the needs of students to facilitate more progress.
  • Embed DIRT and fully integrate SMSC.

 

National Challenges (the ‘Big Picture’):

  • The new PoS at KS3 in Science has new, higher-level content.
  • KS3 has NO assessment levels anymore. 
  • There is a possible re-introduction of KS3 SATs within 2 years.
  • ‘Inflated’ target grades for students as progress is now measure against a 4 ‘level’ movement at KS3.
  • Tougher GCSEs with current Yr7s (those that started in Sept. 2013) being the first cohort to take them.

 

Conclusion:

KS3 is more important to the success of a school more than ever before. The skills that students develop in Yrs 7-9 are of vital importance to the progress that they are going to make at KS4 and beyond. The limiting factor to this progress may well be literacy-based and so may require whole-school intervention, but this should not be instead of subject-based intervention strategies being used to support students’ progress. The development of engaging SoWs that are well-differentiated and that naturally incorporate key skills and SMSC are a must.

 

Make KS3 ‘Outstanding’, make the school ‘Outstanding’.

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