How external advice, a curriculum revamp, and becoming an academy helped one school dramatically improve its Ofsted rating from special measures to outstanding.
A school from Sheffield has revealed how a total rework of its curriculum has enabled it to move from ‘Special Measures’ to receiving an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating – in the space of just eight years.
Staff at Totley Primary School, based on the outskirts of Sheffield, were devastated in 2007 to be judged inadequate and put into Special Measures. Despite its location in an affluent area, the rating categorised the school as one of the worst primary schools in the city. Today, the school proudly bears the ‘Outstanding’ rating, has transitioned to an Academy, and – based on its KS2 attainment – is now placed 33rd in the country.
The School’s Journey from Special Measures to Top 40.
Headteacher Nicola Wileman explains the school’s journey over the past eight years that took them from special measures to top 40 in the country:
“We began seeking external support for improvement after the news we had made insufficient progress and had been placed in Special Measures. The leading staff at Totley were aware of the need to dramatically improve the school’s quality of teaching and learning, and we recognised that an outside perspective was essential to help us identify the steps to take to improve.”
“In particular, we needed support to ensure that our curriculum was inspiring, skills-based and progressive. In 2007, this was simply not the case: all things were taught to all pupils, resulting in a lack of provision for those with a higher ability.”
The first step towards improvement was made when the primary’s then-headteacher and deputy, Angela Lant and Chris Stewart, attended a 2008 conference addressing the issues of teaching and learning. There, they made a link with Keith Adams, a consultant working with education and curriculum specialists, Focus Education. A previous headteacher himself, Keith had worked in primary education for over 40 years before becoming a consultant on school improvement – specialising in teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and inspection issues.
“Working with Keith, we developed a more skills-based curriculum,” commented Nicola. “Together, we devised a strategy to change the way we lead lessons and approach lesson planning – moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching, to clearly differentiated lessons. Now, we set children off at different points during the lesson, with clear, targeted teaching to ensure that they achieve their year group targets. The effect was noticeable and we quickly moved from ‘Special Measures’ to ‘Good’ in our 2008 OFSTED report.”
Working with the external support, Totley Primary School adopted its own key, consistent practices, which Nicola describes as ‘non-negotiables.’ Marking and feedback for children’s work is delivered in a timely fashion and provision is made for higher ability pupils throughout all lessons. Children are encouraged to take pride in their work and understand the importance of presentation, and their voices have become a key part of developing lessons and the curriculum.
The Learning Challenge Curriculum
In particular, Totley cite the ‘Learning Challenge Curriculum’ – a curriculum designed by Focus Education to identify and progress through the subject-specific challenges children encounter in learning – as having had a great impact on their teaching philosophy, which has allowed the end-of-year KS2 results to improve year-on-year for the past five years.
Changing to an Academy
With children and staff benefiting from a vastly improved education system at the school, Totley began looking at how to transition to an Academy. After a lengthy consultation with Governors, the school decided to form a MAT with a local secondary school and formed the Mercia Learning Trust, converting to an academy on 1st February 2014.
Nicola explains: “Our decision came as a result of understanding that the education horizon was changing. There have been many benefits: we now sponsor one secondary school and one primary school, and have another Outstanding primary school as part of the Trust. Across all the schools in the Trust, good practice is shared. The products, curriculum, and assessment procedures that we have used since 2007 are now part of everyday practice across the primary schools we are working with.”
From Good to Outstanding
Focus Education Consultant, Simon Camby, also worked alongside Totley Primary School. A previous senior Local Authority adviser and lead Ofsted inspector, Simon’s school improvement advice brought the school’s rating up to ‘Good with Outstanding Features’ in 2010, finally achieving ‘Outstanding’ in 2015. Like Keith Adams, he had also worked as a headteacher in several schools.
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