Ofsted impressed by St James’ improvement (but can one head really run two schools?

News / Tue 29th Apr 2014 at 07:59am

OFSTED have written a glowing report as they monitor the progress of St James’ school in Harlow after it slipped into special measures.

The school is now being led by an executive head, Mary Evans, who divides her time between St James and Henry Moore in Church Langley. Although the report is positive, the government watchdog does make reference to slippage when the head is away.

The government watchdog has made the following observations:

MORE children in the Early Years Foundation Stage are developing skills that are typical for their age so early achievement is improving to be more in line with that expected. To date, children have made good progress, particularly in their writing skills.

Pupils’ progress has continued to improve in Key Stage 1, school assessment information and pupils’ work show that more are achieving the levels expected for their age in reading, writing and mathematics. A smaller number of pupils than previously predicted are on track to reach higher levels of attainment.

In Key Stage 2, the picture is more variable. Disruptions to staffing mean that pupils in Year 6 made less progress than they should have in the autumn term. Despite this, in mathematics and reading, more pupils than in 2013 are on track to reach expected and higher levels of attainment. Current assessment information and pupils’ work suggests this improvement is not matched in writing. This term, Year 6 pupils’ work clearly shows that improved teaching and a range of extra tuition is making a rapid difference. It will, however, be difficult to accelerate learning sufficiently to make up for the lack of progress caused by variable teaching in the past.

In most classes, pupils demonstrate a growing confidence in their reading and writing skills. This is because teaching has improved and pupils are using these key skills to learn across a range of subjects. Pupils say that they find learning more interesting because of this and that they are expected to work harder.

Challenging targets have been set to improve pupils’ achievement. Progress has improved in most year groups. There is still, however, too much variability in the progress pupils make due to the remaining differences in the quality of teaching. This means that some higher-ability pupils, pupils who speak English as an additional language and some pupils supported through the pupil premium (additional funding for pupils in local authority care, those known to be eligible for free school meals and those with a parent in the armed forces) make less progress than they should. Support for disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs is more specifically targeted and this is enabling them to make improved progress from their starting points.

The quality of teaching

Work in pupils’ books, discussions with pupils and observations of teaching show that the quality of teaching in most classes is improving quickly. In these classes, teachers are using more accurate ways of assessing pupils’ progress; they match work more carefully to the abilities of different groups of pupils and expect them to work harder. However, there is still not enough good teaching in Key Stage 2 to enable all pupils to make the progress they should. Where teaching is not good enough, leaders are taking rigorous action to improve it.

Pupils in almost all classes told inspectors they are enjoying their learning more. This is because teachers are empowered to develop new, more exciting approaches to teaching. These are enabling pupils to use their reading and writing skills in meaningful ways to explore different subjects so they understand the purpose for their learning better. Pupils respond enthusiastically in lessons where this happens and talk excitedly about the different things they are doing. In a Year 5 lesson, pupils shared a range of work in different subjects; they talked with pride about their achievements and showed great interest in their learning. Year 2 pupils explained how using key features from a story they were studying – sandwiches and cakes – had helped them understand simple fractions.

Teachers are challenging pupils to take an increased pride in their work and to present their work more carefully. Classroom environments have been improved to provide good support for pupils’ learning, and lively displays make expected standards clear. Nearly all teachers are using the agreed approaches to marking. Their comments tell pupils how well they have done and what the next steps in their learning are. In classes where teaching is good, pupils’ responses show good improvement in their work against this feedback. Pupils say it helps them understand how to improve their work.

Behaviour and safety of pupils

Pupils are more engaged in their learning and are working harder because teachers are planning activities that are more challenging and enjoyable. Pupils talked enthusiastically about the creative work they are doing, such as mask making and clay modelling. They say the singing is better because they now have someone who plays the piano and makes it fun. Work to develop pupils’ understanding of key values, such as excellence, is making sure that they develop greater resilience in their approach to learning. As a result, pupils are becoming more determined to overcome any difficulties they encounter and are making better progress.

The quality of leadership in and management of the school

The executive headteacher is leading the staff team effectively to improve the quality of teaching and raise pupils’ attainment. She has rapidly established a clear understanding of what needs to happen to bring about the necessary improvements. Drawing effectively on an independent improvement adviser and local authority review, she has monitored the work of the school and arranged for targeted support to improve the quality of teaching. Rigorous actions have been taken to address performance that is not good enough in many aspects of the school’s work, and staff attendance has improved. Staff acknowledge that the executive headteacher has raised expectations, gained their trust and respect, and improved morale. As a result, there is a shared determination to improve rapidly.

Other leaders have made good use of support and have particularly benefitted from working with their peers from the partner school. They have become increasingly involved in monitoring the school’s work and in leading development; their actions are bringing about improvements in the quality of teaching and the accuracy of assessment.

The school improvement plan is brief. It identifies a timeline of key actions and monitoring activities. It meets current needs but is not comprehensive enough to drive improvement over time.

The interim executive board met first in December. Members bring relevant expertise and enable good collaboration between the local authority and the diocese. Since his appointment, the Chair has robustly addressed key issues with the executive headteacher and, as a consequence, the school’s finances are secure, and health and safety issues have been quickly addressed. The board recognises that current leadership arrangements are not secure because considerable improvements are still required. Consequently, demands on the executive headteacher are significant. Leadership arrangements when she is not in school are not well enough defined.

External support

The local authority brokered the role of the executive headteacher and implemented the interim executive board; both of these changes have been effective in bringing about the current improvements. Additional support has been given to extend
leadership capacity because of the demands on the executive headteacher’s time. This has facilitated stability but has not otherwise had a significant impact on the improvements required. Support from an external consultant is effective in enabling leaders to develop their monitoring skills. Teachers are learning from the good practice in the partner school.

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