Focussing teachers on improvement priorities with collaborative professional development projects

Northants secondary school achieves measurable impact on its improvement plans


Angie Dabbs, Assistant Headteacher, Moulton School and Science College

Having always prided itself on delivering high-quality collaborative professional development, Moulton School and Science College in Northamptonshire recently boosted teachers’ progress still further by using BlueSky Projects, to design and manage a programme of cross-school collaboration. Assistant headteacher Angie Dabbs explains how the work has made a measurable impact on the school’s improvement priorities.

About the school
Moulton School and Science College is a high-achieving secondary school and sixth form set in rural Northamptonshire. Its 87 teaching staff look after 1,342 pupils, mostly white British with English as their first language. The number qualifying for the pupil premium and free school meals is low at approximately half that of the national average. Moulton School became an academy in 2011 and is graded as ‘Good’ by Ofsted, with teaching rated ‘good and improving’.


The challenges faced

We wanted our collaborative professional development programme to have a measurable impact on our school improvement priorities (SIP) which are currently;

  • to promote independent learning,
  • to close the gap between pupil premium students and other students, and
  • to close the gap between boys and girls.


However, with 87 teachers and only two days and four 90-minute after-school ‘twilight sessions’ available for training, this has traditionally been difficult to achieve.


So to help with this I designed a programme of cross-school research projects called ‘Collaborative Triples’ which, as the name suggests, involved our teachers working in groups of three, carefully selected to balance interest and experience.


These ‘Triples’ have four aims;

  • to enable colleagues to meet several of the Teacher Standards,
  • to provide an opportunity for them to develop their skills through observation and discussion,
  • to encourage outstanding practice through sharing expertise, and
  • to enable colleagues to focus on, and make an impact on, the SIP.


The first year we managed the ‘Triples’ using emails and the school’s shared drive. While the idea of this collaborative approach proved popular, the downside was that it was difficult for staff to share resources and there was no easy way to bring the projects together and evaluate their success or impact.




The solution


While we have always aimed to give teachers an opportunity to choose their own CPD area, we realised that by asking them to choose a mini-project focused more tightly on the school’s improvement policies they could help us make some positive changes and progress towards meeting our SIP. Also, by working in threes, ‘experts in their field’ could positively influence the development of others.


Then, real transformation came when we began using the Projects area within our BlueSky Education online staff performance and development solution.


BlueSky Projects is where individual, departmental or whole school expertise can be shared with others – within one school or across a group or schools. It’s much more sophisticated and targeted than Facebook, but that’s a good analogy – a forum with threads where project members can lead discussions and share documents securely. We can also use it to upload, teaching resources, links to YouTube videos, lesson plans, questionnaires, other professional ideas and photographs. As soon as a new discussion thread or resource is added to a project, everyone working on that project is informed.


As soon as I found Projects, I realised it was exactly what we needed to manage our Collaborative Triples. Using the software’s Self-evaluation Module, we identified project topics corresponding to the SIP.


It’s hard to believe that we used to do all that work on paper! It took just a few hours to move everything online – a little laborious, but once done, the savings were great.


There are several ways of setting up the Projects section, but I decided to set up and ‘own’ all the projects and decide the main threads so that I can then invite the best mix of teachers for each one. It has been working really well. Every project includes an outline, a method, a section for results and a conclusion. I ask questions to get the thread going.


Projects in action


The types of projects our teams have run have included;

  • an investigation into the barriers to learning for pupil premium children (via direct contact and wider theoretical research),
  • identification and implementation of strategies for raising achievement among pupil premium children,
  • a project to engage boys with homework to improve their GCSE results;
  • an investigation into whether the gender of the teacher and the perceived gender of the subject affects pupil outcomes at KS3,
  • the impact of independent learning on pupil attainment overall, and
  • research into identifying students in need of intervention and researching well- targeted and well-timed interventions.




The benefits


The number one benefit has to be that we have made a measurable impact on our school improvement priorities by keeping them ‘live’ in people’s minds. Our teachers have demonstrated tremendous focus on the SIP, while developing their careers at the same time. The projects have also helped them get to know their pupils better than ever, to build relationships with them and drive parental expectations.


It was great that our last Ofsted inspection noted that, ‘….the head teacher has focused successfully on improving the quality of teaching. Improvements have been made because of an effective system for managing teachers’ performance.’


Our projects work has definitely helped to raise the profile of teaching and learning at the school. For example three years ago 10% of our teachers were outstanding – now that has risen to 38%.


I grade our teachers from 1 to 4 and use ‘a’ to ‘c’ within grades 1 and 2, with a 1a being securely outstanding, and 2c being good with some elements that require improvement. I used to have 30% of teachers deemed as 3 (requiring improvement) – now that’s down to 5%. Where I had 23 staff at the lower end of ‘good’ (2c) in 2012, we have now got that down to just four teachers. Overall, our data consistently shows teaching and learning at 95% good or better.


The focus on CPD and the SIP has also significantly raised the quality of our conversations around the school. We speak a lot more about differentiated learning, about stretching the more able pupils (which always needs additional work) about our pupil premium children and their targets and about where and when interventions are required. It has also allowed our subject leaders to monitor our strengths and identify areas for development.


As a result we are helping students achieve their target grades. Our GCSE 5 A*-C figures for 2014 were above the national average at 63% – the same as we achieved the previous year, which was a great result bearing in mind the affect of the change in English to speaking and listening tests. Our A2 results are also very strong.


BlueSky has been hugely helpful in helping us to link teaching and learning, appraisals and CPD together – driving the quality of delivery and positively affecting how our children make progress. Staff no longer see BlueSky as ‘just’ a performance tool. They have a reason to log in throughout the year and not just at appraisal time.


The opportunity to build and develop bespoke professional development, engage teachers as researchers and also providers of CPD for their peers, has had a demonstrable impact on a culture of improvement across the organisation.


We are also saving money on the school’s CPD budget by maximising the potential of the expertise available within school, so that we don’t need to send teachers on as many courses.


The expertise may always have been there, but previously it was not so well managed and archived. We now have such a great system for pooling our huge amount of expertise and maintaining momentum as any communication within the project is instantly notified to the whole group. Not everyone shouts about their achievements – some teachers could be hiding their light under a bushel and NQTs often have great fresh ideas but lack the confidence and forum for sharing. Now BlueSky Projects pulls all that work together like a huge resources folder – which we don’t lose when people leave.


As we build up the projects and staff continue to engage with their ‘Triple’, we will have more and more evidence to measure their impact on the school priorities – all aimed at developing outstanding practice through innovation in teaching and learning. BlueSky has enabled us to continue to build professional capital through reflective practice, collaboration and peer-to-peer observation’.