In 2010 I became head teacher of a primary school in Devon. After assessing the challenges we faced we became involved with the Cambridge Primary Review Trust, and in association with other interested schools we began to research ways to enhance pupils’ engagement in their learning. That small scale project became the bedrock of our school improvement plan. Four years on, the same thread of thinking, firmly embedded in the principles of the Cambridge Primary Review, continues to inform our work.
If you visited us, what would you see that’s distinctive, or that marks us out as a member of CPRT’s Schools Alliance?
Principles pursued with confidence. We strive for a principled approach not only to the curriculum but also the whole experience we offer to children in our care. The Trust’s aims have been used as aspirational tools to remind us of what is important over and above government priorities. If you visit our website you can see how we have made our educational philosophy explicit to parents and others. My previous school moved from being deemed inadequate by OFSTED to outstanding, and my experience of leading this process gave me the confidence to take responsibility for the independent path we have chosen to follow in my present school.
Planning informed by CPRT priorities. While continuing to drive for improved progress and attainment in English and mathematics we have incorporated CPRT priorities into the actions we take in relation to these goals and strategic planning more widely. Thus (i) we work to help pupils take greater responsibility for their own learning (Pupil Voice, Community); (ii) we ensure that assessment drives the progress and attainment of every pupil rather than merely measures it (Equity, Assessment); and (iii) keeping our aims firmly in mind we use high-quality teaching to achieving the very best outcomes for all (Pedagogy, Curriculum, Aims).
Practice informed by evidence. To ensure that evidence continues to inform our practice we operate a tiered approach to action research. This includes termly and half-termly whole school classroom-based research projects with shared foci, lesson study in cross year/school groupings, and individual research projects. Following recent training as part of CPRT’s South West Research Schools Network, we are now going one stage further and developing pupil-led research projects. All this in-school research activity links to the three strategic strands listed above and gives a depth to our school’s practice which it would not have if we merely followed government guidelines or requirements to the letter. Researching and discussing research are therefore no less fundamental to our approach to professional development and performance management and have enabled us to provide leadership for research and development in more than one teaching school.
Flexible curriculum, responsive teaching. Keeping the curriculum meaningful and engaging is essential but also challenging, and we have developed a number of ways to monitor and refine it. Of these, the most obvious yet important is engaging pupils in frequent discussion about their learning. In addition, an assessment tool called Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) provides quantitative whole-school data, while our home learning approach is pupil driven: the more positive the response in the home learning to learning experiences in school, the more inspiring the topic. Our teachers are now used to adjusting the curriculum in line with evidence from these sources so that it is truly responsive to pupils and their world.
Values-based staff recruitment. Being a church school we recruit people who in the first instance can show how they will contribute to its distinctiveness. But as a member of CPRT Schools Alliance we also ask candidates to observe our children and teachers at work and identify how what they observe reflects CPR aims and CPRT priorities. This enables us to identify those who are genuinely receptive to the values and principles in which the school’s teaching is embedded.
Revisiting core ideas. In a period of increasing instability and sudden policy shifts it’s all too easy to be deflected from the long-term educational path one has mapped out. Re-reading the CPR final report and revisiting the CPRT aims and priorities reminds us why we are in teaching, and it provides the evidence and arguments to justify our belief that we can and must trust ourselves as professionals to provide for our pupils’ development and learning.
Jo Evans is Head Teacher of St Leonard’s C of E Primary School in Exeter, and Joint Leader of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust’s Schools Alliance.