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Every Day is Judgement Day

Carolyn Amado from Joyce Frankland Academy considers how all teachers can be enabled to drive improvements in curriculum implementation and impact, as part of her CTSN/UCL IoE 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to induce stress in an instant among the teachers at a school, it’s that dreaded call. At once, the school’s Ofsted Visit Plan springs into action and the whole school body are suddenly on high alert. There is a concerted effort to prove that you’re at least a good school, if not that elusive ‘outstanding’.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could make our Quality Assurance such a natural part of everything we do that when Ofsted did appear it would feel not much more than an everyday occurrence?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that the leadership team operate Ofsted-style on a daily basis. Instead, the question is: how can we make our QA practices smarter and inclusive at all levels in the school so that teachers and middle leaders feel confident and welcoming of the Ofsted Inspector that steps into their classroom or office to review practice - and what would be the reason for that confidence? Well, simply put, it would be because our QA and CPD are so closely aligned at all levels, and such a part of our daily routines, that we can confidently evidence the improvements and progress made.

As Assistant Head responsible for curriculum development and standards across Joyce Frankland Academy, this has been my mission and the ambitious route, a year on from starting the 'How do we know it works - Leading Change', that I have set my sights upon.

This particular journey began when Ofsted announced its new framework and we began to review our curriculum offer on a grand scale. Much work was done initially with subject leads on curriculum intent and in planning programmes of study. This is where we began to embed a practice which we hope to develop further as part of our QA/CPD roadmap. We spent time working with our subject leaders at the planning stage, and through targeted tracking talks (subject leads each meeting individually with two members of the leadership team) examined with them the decisions relating to curriculum design that they had made.

As far as possible, we used what we thought would be the Ofsted approach, but we did it in a supportive framework, always with the understanding that this was CPD. Staff were guided to a wide range of research articles on curriculum design in the lead up to the process and Guskey’s five level model was a useful tool at both the planning and implementation stages, serving as a reminder that it is through empowerment, trust and support that real progress will be made. In most cases, our subject leaders were able to articulate the intent that had driven the curriculum design for their subject and then the subsequent decisions within that design. Where this was not the case, subject leads were guided through line management to review and revise plans.

On completion of this stage, we surveyed our subject leads asking them to self-evaluate their knowledge and skills related to curriculum design. The results of this survey were encouraging and allowed us to plan where further support and development are needed. One of the questions which came from this was how could we develop what we had learned from this QA process to develop our middle leaders QA practices? And, from that how could we then embed QA at the individual level so that all teachers become reflective and innovative as an integral part of their practice and so that all feel confident discussing curriculum intent, implementation and impact – as will be an inevitable need when Ofsted come calling.

The second thing that we implemented was a Deep Dive exercise in which we focused on the impact of the curriculum on our lower prior attainers in Y10, and this enabled us to work further with our middle leaders. As part of our Deep Dive, we first met with subject leads to gain insight into what we could expect to see when we visited lessons; then, during the lesson visits we used targeted questions with students we had already identified as part of our research cohort – these targeted questions required verbal responses from the students but also allowed us to collect book scrutiny data. Finally, we met with the teachers of the classes we had visited, not to give feedback as in a traditional lesson visit model but to gather from them some further data about their curriculum delivery decisions.

As a result of this process, we were able to highlight areas of curriculum implementation that were good or outstanding and areas where further development was needed. Moreover, the Deep Dive approach allowed us all to try out some of the practices that Ofsted had identified as their new approach and use this as a CPD opportunity with middle leaders in developing their QA skills. Again, we tried to do this in a supportive, non-threatening way and at all stages collaborated with staff and gathered feedback from them about how we could improve our practices as leaders in delivering supportive but challenging QA.

And so, in planning our QA for the post-COVID world we have taken what we have learned over the past two years and amended our QA policy so that it is now more closely aligned to our vision of Explore, Fulfil, Flourish, and so that it acknowledges that progress will best be achieved via a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach.

Our intention from September 2021 is to focus and enhance the QA work we do with individual teachers as our Deep Dive highlighted a need in this area. As such, we intend to link individual QA to Performance Management targets, thus making explicit the clear link between self-evaluation practices and development and progress. In this way, we hope to develop our staff body to a point where the dreaded call is not so dreaded – to a point where they can talk with ease about the curriculum – its intent, implementation and impact - and the role they have played in this.

About the author

Carolyn Amado has been a member of the leadership team at Joyce Frankland Academy, Newport for the past six years, initially as the SENCo and now as the lead for the Quality of Education. She is inspired by the following leadership goals: Freedom, Trust and Responsibility. Carolyn participated in the CTSN/UCL Institute of Education 'How do we know it works? Leading Change' project in 2019-2021.

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