Forest School- an Approaching Momentum School
Forest School is an 11-18 comprehensive school in London. Total student numbers are around 943, 56% boys and 44% girls. The school is extremely diverse, with over 60% with EAL and around 20% eligible for free school meals. The percentage of students achieving five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths has fluctuated over recent years (between 55% and 42%), reaching 50% in 2014 (nearly 10% below the LA average and 3.5% below the national average). The school was placed in special measures following an Ofsted inspection in October 2011. A new leadership team was in place by June 2012 and the school came out of special measures and was rated as requiring improvement at June 2013.
Having come out of special measures the new leadership team embarked on a programme of improvement for the whole school, prioritising action across the four main areas of student achievement, teaching and learning, behaviour and safety and leadership and management. The falling school roll is bringing challenges, not least putting significant pressure on the school budget and impacting on teaching capacity.
CPD at Forest tends to be generic and focused on pedagogy, with lots of teachers teaching beyond their subjects, although there is limited support for subject knowledge (except for literacy- see below). This places the burden of providing subject knowledge support squarely on heads of department who are not necessarily well placed to respond. The professional learning environment at Forest is a collaborative one, including mutual lesson observations (made possible in part by a new open-door policy) and good collaboration in middle leaders’ meetings. Teachers are open to expertise, and the large scale Literacy CPD programme delivered by an external expert team has had an impact on the manner in which all professional learning is carried out. Specialist expertise does exist in the form of support provided by the local authority, and there is targeted support for both NQTs and teachers who have been graded as requiring improvement.
There is a teaching and learning team, led by the deputy head, whose role is to support professional learning. Where observations identify teachers who need to improve in specific areas, the teaching and learning team provides rapid and specific support. Forest holds fortnightly twilight CPD sessions, but attendance is very variable, and there are some worries that the image of professional development which is presented is not an accurate reflection of the reality. Much of what is taking place in school is a reaction to their last Ofsted inspection, but it is unclear how the CPD offer (with the exception of Literacy training and individual coaching) is tied in to the quality of teaching and learning or performance management. There is a strong literacy drive, hence the school’s adoption of the Literacy, Language and Communication programme. In addition to this, Forest is focusing on Assessment for Learning, differentiation, behaviour for learning, independent learning, teacher/student dialogue, and supporting progress. There has been an attempt at a common teaching and learning approach, but not all staff have agreed with or owned this so there is no substantive, shared understanding of what makes a lesson outstanding. Teachers are exposed to strategies and ideas through a number of methods including modelling, but the extent to which there is take-up of these strategies is variable. The leadership team encourages teachers to reflect on practice, and use book looks with both SLT and heads of department to establish overall quality of teaching and learning. There is a review of at least one key stage conducted every term. Behaviour systems are inconsistently applied, and low-level disruption is an issue in need of resolution. However, the use of peer mentors has had a positive impact on stopping more serious behavioural issues like bullying. The senior leadership team are re-launching their behaviour policy, with the aim of raising its profile with staff and students. There is still some way to go in communicating and building ownership of the SLT’s goals around higher aspirations (i.e. going beyond curriculum achievement) for all staff members. The teaching and learning vision and components are not universally shared across the school, inhibiting its capacity to gain and sustain momentum.
Forest’s leadership have a strong moral purpose and their vision and values are crystallised and operationalised through the staff handbook, and both development and departmental plans. The SLT are relatively new and are looking to make a positive impact by providing a good induction for new staff and making sure their expectations are clearly outlined. The teaching and learning team who lead CPD in the school see themselves as role models who must “practice what we preach”. Similarly, leaders of EAL and SEN also see themselves - and are seen as - leaders of practice. Throughout the school, leaders model practice and offer support through mentoring and coaching. The school conducts half-termly reviews of student progress, data summaries are frequently widely circulated, and data are actively used in middle leaders’ and departmental meetings. Performance management, (including formal lesson observations and book scrutinies) are linked to wider school improvement objectives.