Ofsted encouraged as St James primary continues to try to climb out of special measures

Education: Primary / Thu 17th Jul 2014 at 08:06am

OFSTED have returned to St James’ primary in Harlow and have made encouraging observations as the school attempts to climb out of special measures.

The school has an executive head in Mary Evans, who is also head of Henry Moore in Church Langley.

Ofsted said:

Achievement of pupils at the school

Because of strong team teaching and effective one-to-one support for identified pupils in Year 6, progress has accelerated, particularly in writing and mathematics. Pupils have worked hard, and attainment has improved to above the school’s 2013 outcomes.

In all subjects, attainment at the end of Key Stage 2 is assessed as in line with national at the expected Level 4 and at the higher Level 5. More pupils have made the progress they should, and progress is now strong in reading and writing.

Again, because of continued developments in teaching, progress has improved in Years 1 and 2, and outcomes at the end of Key Stage 1 are in line with the 2013 national results. Because pupils have made more progress, more are reaching expected and higher levels of attainment, which means they are well placed to make the move into Key Stage 2.

Fewer pupils across the school are reaching the higher levels of attainment in mathematics because a smaller number are making better than expected progress in mathematics than in reading and writing. Progress in some year groups and subjects remains variable where teaching has not improved strongly.

The quality of provision in the Early Years Foundation Stage has improved and, as a consequence, children are making good progress in acquiring key skills. More are on track to reach expected standards by the end of the year.

Steps have been taken to ensure that assessment through the school is accurate and work in pupils’ books reflects the improved attainment and progress.

However, because not enough attention has been paid to ensuring that pupils take care over the standards of the presentation of their work and the quality of their handwriting, these aspects of their work require further improvement. In addition, although pupils are making better progress in acquiring an understanding of phonics (the sounds that letters make) some, particularly the lower-attaining pupils, are not supported to understand and use these skills well enough to make good progress in their reading.

The quality of teaching

Improvements in the quality of teaching have continued; where it is best, pupils are clear about what they are expected to learn and are well supported to make progress. In these lessons, teaching is lively and high expectations ensure that lessons move on quickly, pupils acquire new learning rapidly, share their thoughts and ideas confidently and work hard to achieve success.

The quality of marking has continued to improve; it is used by all teachers to give pupils clear feedback about their progress and, in most classes, as pupils respond to this marking, they improve their understanding.

Teachers are using assessment information and analysis of pupils’ progress to more- accurately identify when pupils are falling behind in their learning. As a result, work is better targeted at pupils’ specific learning needs and they are more effectively supported to make progress.

Whilst improvement has continued, there are still a few instances where teaching is weaker. Where this is the case, teachers do not make sure that all pupils are ready to learn, are listening carefully to explanations or that they have a good enough understanding of what is expected in a lesson. In some lessons, too much is happening for teachers to accurately gauge how well pupils are understanding new learning. Lower-attaining pupils receive too much support to complete their learning and, consequently, do not develop independent learning skills or take enough responsibility for their own progress.

Behaviour and safety of pupils

Pupils’ learning behaviour is strengthening. Where teachers make expectations clear, they work hard and aspire to achieve well. When they are given opportunities to share and discuss their learning, pupils’ contributions are thoughtful and they develop their ideas well. When teachers are not challenging enough regarding expectations of behaviour in lessons, some pupils do not concentrate fully on their learning and, consequently, make less progress. In some classes, pupils are encouraged to think carefully about how they present their work and take pride in
their achievement. This practice is not embedded in all classes, and poor presentation detracts from the overall content of work.

Lunchtimes are organised well; pupils socialise happily and enjoy each other’s company. Pupils understand the behaviour policy and know what rewards and sanctions are in place to support them to behave well. Pupils discussed incidents of name calling which cause them concern; the school has arrangements to work with pupils to address this.

The quality of leadership in and management of the school

Working closely with the executive headteacher, senior leaders have established an accurate evaluation of the work of the school. The leadership team is an emerging strength because highly committed staff are working effectively together to make sure that improvement happens. Good advantage has been taken of the support of the local authority; collaborative work with the staff of the partner school, of which the executive headteacher is also headteacher; and an independent partner; so leaders have developed improved monitoring skills and teaching has improved. Leaders have an increasingly good understanding of the quality of teaching and achievement in the subjects and phases for which they are responsible.

The executive headteacher has continued to challenge underperformance and to take rigorous actions to secure healthy and safe premises. Much has been done to improve the school environment and to ensure that pupils have the right equipment to enable them to learn well. In discussion, pupils were clear that they recognise these improvements and they know expectations of their behaviour and their work have been made more challenging. The amount of time managing these issues has taken has meant that the time the executive headteacher has to undertake other monitoring has been placed under pressure. As a consequence, the rigour needed to drive improvement in the quality of teaching as rapidly as is necessary has been lacking.

The assessment leader has ensured that assessment and tracking systems are used effectively to identify where pupils are not making enough progress. She works with teachers in pupil progress meetings to identify the actions they will take to ensure that pupils are supported to make accelerated progress. She has also produced a comprehensive, accurate analysis of the achievement of all pupils, and of different groups, across the school. This is ensuring the impact of teaching and the use of resources are well understood and that further improvement is planned.

The special educational needs coordinator has reviewed how pupils’ particular needs are identified and has established rigorous procedures for checking the impact of support on the progress made by disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs. Procedures for ensuring that pupils receive effective support are
working more efficiently because staff are working better together to analyse achievement and use their skills and knowledge where they are most needed.

Almost all parents spoken to said that they are confident the school is improving and that they feel their children’s needs are being better met. In a very few instances, parents expressed less certainty about the impact of the changes happening and said they are not clear about the progress being made towards the school achieving academy status.

Minutes of meetings of the interim executive board (IEB) show that its members ask challenging questions about the progress being made. The Chair of the IEB has worked tirelessly to ensure that finances are efficiently managed and the executive headteacher has been well supported to take the actions necessary to address underperformance and improve the school environment. Despite significant work by the IEB to attract leadership candidates, they have been unsuccessful in securing a head of school. Consideration is urgently being given to how to secure robust leadership which will bring about the next stage of improvement rapidly, given the already significant demands on the executive headteacher’s time.

External support

The local authority provided robust support at the start of the year which ensured that the school was able to begin to address priorities identified at the inspection. This included establishing the interim executive board. Since the last inspection, the support has been less intensive because the executive headteacher is providing confident leadership and the school is drawing more on the work of an independent consultant and on the practice in the partner school. Continued monitoring is possible through the standards and excellence commissioner being a member of the interim executive board. As a result of the support accessed, leaders have developed strengths in monitoring and in leading the professional development of all staff. As yet, support the local authority has provided has not enabled the interim executive board to secure increased leadership capacity for the school.

Priorities for further improvement

Further action should be taken by the interim executive board to secure sufficient leadership capacity to enable the executive headteacher to spend more time monitoring and securing improvements to the quality of teaching.

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