St John the Baptist School – exceptional education in all areas

Congratulations to St John the Baptist School in Woking, who have become the first school to be accredited as ‘transforming’ in all 12 strands of the SSAT Framework for Exceptional Education. Senior education lead, Alex Galvin writes…

This represents a really significant achievement. They completed an accreditation process for each strand through the SSAT Leading Edge network in which their practice was reviewed by another school in the network and by an SSAT moderator.

James Granville Hamshar, Headteacher and Josie Belli, Learning and Teaching Lead Xavier CET, described why they have found the Framework for Exceptional Education useful – “it’s a great auditing tool and a yardstick to measure where we are”. They explain how, when they first engaged with the framework, they know that some strands were established strengths of the school, whilst other strands provided a useful focus for development work. Notably a recent focus on wellbeing has led to the development of a rich programme of support. Their peer review school commented:

“The ethos of the school champions wellbeing in everything they do by recognising that everyone (students and staff), do better when they feel valued and nurtured. The school provides a very supportive environment where each individual thrives.”

James and Josie say that they have valued the way that working with the Framework for Exceptional Education has helped them to review standards but has also shown how they have evolved over time. They enjoyed working with their peer review schools and their moderators, finding it useful to be asked “healthy, challenging questions.” The opportunity to connect has been valuable, even when it has only been possible to meet online.

St John the Baptist School has a long-standing, national reputation for excellence. James and Josie say that this has been sustained and developed over time by ensuring that every member of their team has a genuine love of teaching. The team put learning and teaching at the heart of all they do, and this is underpinned by the belief that every child can achieve. There is a continual focus on delivering excellence in the classroom at all times and finding those ‘marginal gains’ that will move practice on further. James referred to the All Blacks’ mantra “leave the jersey in a better place,” explaining how their team continually seek to move forwards and build upon previous work. They say that they liked that the strands of the Framework focus on those areas of practice which need continual attention, providing a focus for review and planning.

Precision coaching has become a central element of professional development at St John the Baptist School; staff at all levels have coaches. This has reinforced the exceptional classroom practice at the school and supported a culture in which people will proactively seek support when needed. As Josie said

“I want us to be at a point where someone asks me to come in and see the year 9 class that they are struggling with.”

James explained that they think that coaching in schools works in much the same way as in sports teams – whilst you see the performance on the pitch or in the classroom, it is the work that goes on behind the scenes that makes that possible.

The team attribute their success to focusing on doing a few things really well. They have invested a lot of time in developing their expertise in pedagogy, carefully considering the science, craft and nuances of what makes great teaching. Individuality and creativity are valued and celebrated. James explains that they want “individuality underpinned by shared principles.” James uses the helpful analogy of an art class – whilst the class might learn a particular technique, you wouldn’t want everyone to produce identical artworks. The leadership team visit every lesson every day, which Josie says provides the “litmus test” for the quality of teaching and learning.

Like most schools, the team at St John the Baptist have been revisiting their curriculum planning in recent years. Their recent focus has been on looking at cross-curricular knowledge, identifying where the same concept, idea or skill is being taught in different ways and aiming to reduce pupils’ cognitive load. There has been a shift in how professional development is managed, allowing more time for subject-specific pedagogy. Staff training sessions have been shortened and are always immediately followed by time in departments. Josie explains that this provides time for teams to immediately contextualise and embed new ideas. Time has been set aside to allow opportunities for in-department masterclasses and these have played an important role in sharing expertise and supporting less confident members of staff. The team feel that this time in departments is essential for developing subject-specific pedagogy and mastery. Their peer reviewer for Effective Learning Behaviours commented:

“The development of the school’s work over the last seven years on mastery learning was inspirational and provides us with real food for thought as we move into the second year of our own journey in this area. In particular, the interplay of the school’s teaching model, curriculum planning and assessment approaches to create a truly coherent “mastery” curriculum was impressive.”

The successes at St John the Baptist are founded on a commitment to support every child to achieve. As Josie says, they recognise that every member of the team is employed first and foremost as a teacher and as such their focus is always on how to improve what happens in the classroom. Their motto “Have faith … believe you can!” is lived out by staff as well as students.

Framework for Exceptional Education

The Framework for Exceptional Education is SSAT’s flagship school improvement and planning tool. It can be used as a self-evaluation tool and is free of charge to all SSAT member schools. Find out more.

Leading Edge

Leading Edge is a national network for high-performing schools. Find out if you are eligible.

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