Schools across the country have fought to stay afloat as they confront the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid. Any educator knows that, even in the best conditions, an improvement journey is a challenge. In the face of a changed Ofsted framework and the everlasting impact of the pandemic however, battling for ‘outstanding’ is extraordinarily so.
In particular, knowing how best to address national trends of absenteeism which have doubled since the start of the pandemic, manage the rise of misbehaviour in the classroom and navigate the growing pressures on the SEND system all present barriers to that outcome.
In that context, we are exceedingly proud of our turn-around of Beddington Park Academy, and especially because our progress from the lowest grading to the highest in just three years is down to inclusion, not exclusion.
The school went into the pandemic in ‘special measures’, having been judged ‘inadequate’ in most areas in January 2020. It joined STEP Academy Trust ten months later. This October, Ofsted returned to rate the school as ‘outstanding’.
This is in large part due to the trust’s successful strategic model of school improvement, developed since its inception in 2011. The model ensures each school receives appropriate, specific support from a multi-layered leadership and governance structure overseen personally by our CEO.
But what does that look like on the ground?
Achieving this involved reviewing our SEND provision school-wide to create a core SEND team. Their purpose was to give classroom teachers the capacity and capability to implement a more pupil-centred approach to their teaching by enabling them to oversee SEND pupils’ development, giving them a full view of each child’s process.
This approach removed barriers between SEND pupils and their teachers, ensuring that one person monitors a pupil’s knowledge and progress, while addressing their additional needs. Moreover, it ensured that classroom teachers had the capability to amend the curriculum to ensure every pupil could access it. We knew that if we got the curriculum and its delivery right, we would have fewer disruptions and could maximise every minute of lesson time.
While we knew that early intervention of pupils with SEND was our top priority, improving pupil behaviour would be intrinsic to our improvement journey. We know the rise of poor behaviour in schools has been a significant challenge. Lost learning and social isolation have had a detrimental effect on children and young people and have caused a rise in disruption within schools, which can have a negative impact on both pupils’ learning and teachers’ mental health.
To improve behaviour, we introduced expectations of conduct around our school and five behaviours for learning that we teach explicitly throughout each day: active listening, full participation, explaining your ideas, encouraging peers and completing all work.
Ofsted, the education select committee, the media and teachers around the country have raised concerns about poor national attendance. This is a top priority for every school, and no less of a challenge for us.
In its report, Ofsted recognised that our communication and efforts to build “impressive, strong links with parents” have strengthened the school, building trust between leaders and the wider community. This has been vital for the success of implementing a framework for improvement.
During the pandemic, this was even more necessary. Due to the physical barriers caused by lockdowns, we were always swift on communication and sharing messages with parents. This was crucial to building trust between staff and our parent body, aiding buy-in to the new approaches we were implementing and leaving a legacy we have been able to build on ever since.
Tackling low attendance, improving behaviour and widening accessibility are challenging, especially in our current national context. But we are proof, confirmed by the inspectorate, that the key to ‘outstanding’ is not to make these challenges another school’s problem by gaming the system, but to know your pupils and provide them with tailored support that meets their needs.