School improvement stories: Our 7 steps from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant event: SSAT School Improvement 2018

Douglas Greig, Headteacher, Plumstead Manor School, writes: my first headship, facing a significant budget deficit, falling roll, battered reputation and deflated staff morale meant that the challenge was on

Plumstead Manor is a large girls’ comprehensive school in South East London. Around 50% of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 57% have English as an additional language. We have just been graded ‘good’ in all respects by Ofsted (May 2018), having been found to require improvement two years ago, and now have a waiting list for places in year 7. So, the inevitable question is ‘how?’ What follows are what we believe are the key ingredients of our recipe for success so far.

Moral purpose and strong vision

Our starting point for improvement had to be vision. We undertook a genuine and careful process of talking, listening and thinking together about a new vision for our school, built around the core values of success, harmony, excellence and justice.

We undertook a genuine, careful process of talking, listening and thinking together about a new vision built around the core values of success, harmony, excellence and justice

Living within our means

We had to get on with sorting out our finances, and empowering governors to address this was a quick priority. While any kind of reorganisation and restructure is painful, no school can live beyond its means. Nothing we did could threaten the education of our young people. So, we had to listen to people and find out what they thought might work, and where they thought things could be done differently.

Focusing on the basics

The next step was to bring staff together around some clear basics which, if we got them right, would help move the school forwards. Key aspects of this were:

  1. A simplified behaviour system, which has high standards at its heart and a simple referral system that staff and students can understand. Central to this is a focus on empowering all adults in the school to have authority, but also to ensure young people are treated humanely and fairly.
  2. Placing an equal focus on rewards as well as sanctions: this was a rebalancing we had to get right as part of the school’s culture. During our ‘visioning process’ the school community distilled out five key qualities that they wanted to underpin all learning at school. These habits, or dispositions – curiosity, collaboration, discipline, resilience and imagination – are the backbone of a reward system that has real currency among students.
  3. We had to establish very clear and high expectations for lessons, learning and teaching, based on a series of strategies that are known through research to be effective in promoting longer lasting, deeper learning. From high quality feedback and a focus on promoting metacognition, through to forensic use of assessment information to personalise learning, we set out a clear suite of expectations that staff were supported and trained to deliver consistently in all lessons.
  4. Moving away from graded lesson observations, and towards a professional model of performance review with ‘coaching’ at its core. Placing a focus on the development of our staff ‘over time’, rather than labelling them at one particular moment, we changed the dialogue about teaching quality.
  5. Introducing systems to trigger early help and support for students, through a professional counselling service, a school police officer, and a safeguarding and child protection officer – making sure we had the right people in the right place to promote inclusion at the heart of our school was vital.
  6. Making sure we used assessment information properly, so that there was accountability across the school for raising achievement and narrowing gaps. Our key focus was on ‘getting the learning right’ the first time, but also on putting in place strategies proven to remove barriers to learning, and doing so at an early stage.
  7. Fostering leadership capacity: our improvement journey could not have taken the path it has without a clear focus on growing and enhancing leadership at all levels. This has been about nurturing staff to take on leadership roles, providing them with the chance to take on responsibility, and to learn from other more expert colleagues in our own school and beyond.

Back to good, and beyond

This has also come at a time when, after 105 years of being a girls’ school, Plumstead Manor will welcome a first cohort of boys as well as girls into year 7 in September 2018. This is a watershed moment for us, and one about which the entire school community is excited. In approaching this change we’ve carried on those things that have been the ingredients of our success so far. We’ve consulted with people, we’ve listened hard, and in making hard decisions we’ve made an authentic attempt to bring people with us.

So, our real story at Plumstead Manor over the last three years has been to build a clear vision about what our school’s role is in the lives of young people and the local area. It has needed us all to be tireless in our attention to raising standards and improving the quality of education we provide. While we are delighted to have received a positive inspection outcome, we are confident that it will not end there. Our vision to offer young people a world-class education, based on high quality teaching in a safe and friendly environment is gaining momentum, and we are very much on our way to realising our goal.

SSAT School Improvement 2018: Your six quesitons answered is a highly practical day filled with helpful insights into what works in schools in a range of contexts. Friday 29 June, central London. Find out more and book your place here.

Read on the SSAT blog: 15 steps to transformation

Douglas Greig, Headteacher, Plumstead Manor School

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