Below is a summary of an email I sent to my new school after Vic really kindly invited me to visit Passmores, a school which shares a similar profile and similar issues to the school I’m about to start working in. He gave me almost three hours of his time. His pride in and love of his school was truly infectious and his willingness to – and enjoyment in – sharing so many brilliant ideas has left me reeling with the possibilities! I focused on Pupil Premium (particularly in relation to attendance and well-being), Teaching and Learning, and staff well-being.
Hard to identify one specific successful strategy, but here are some things they do at Passmores –
A big focus on mental health, which is an issue for many students (I really liked the fact that the ‘inclusion’ department, which includes learning support, a full-time school counsellor and support with literacy and numeracy is at the very heart of the school and that everything revolves around it.)
Many pupils on pupil premium are also on School Action or School Action Plus, and they have behaviour mentors who see them every morning to touch base – a sense of routine and stability.
Vic talked about NAF children – Need to Avoid Failure at all costs, so don’t try. Big focus on developing resilience, failure as part of the journey.
Vic points to vertical tutoring as a significant step in building self-esteem and peer relationships.
The school conducts a regular survey on bullying to keep this in heck.
For G&T students who are also Pupil Premium, there is coaching available.
The school has an Educational Welfare Office which is shared with other schools (greater efficiency).
Teaching and learning
Vic used to lead on this, but acknowledged that the best teachers in a school are not necessarily in SLT, and that staff are more likely to listen to their peers, who face the same day-to-day routines and challenges – he says adopting a bottom up rather than a top-down approach has made a big difference.
He started with short spots – ‘nano presentations’ in staff briefing in which staff were invited to share elements of their good practice with others – this was very inspiring.
This then developed into the appointment of five Leaders in Pedagogy from the staff body. Each leads on an area of particular strength. Examples of their work can be found here – together with loads of other brilliant ideas and resources!
These ‘ped leaders’ lead on all elements of teaching and learning, and have had a huge positive impact – their roles in the school vary hugely, including one NQT+1 and a second in department. The work has been excellent developmental experience for them and puts them in a great position to apply for SLT posts. Passmores doesn’t have ASTs/Lead Practitioners, but uses this model instead.
There are also – I thought this sounded great! – student Ped Leaders, who come to staff CPD to talk about lessons they have found particularly powerful or memorable.
He has two deputy heads, one in charge of ‘teaching’ and the other in charge of ‘learning’.
They have got rid of lesson objectives, lesson judgements (apart from one formal observation a year for appraisal purposes) and regimented, formulaic lessons, but students should always be able to answer the question: ‘how do you know you’re being a success in this lesson?’
Another great idea – they have a ‘buzz directory’, in which, as a result of (non-judgemental) observations, staff’s strengths are recorded and they can be directed to observe one another to build on good practice.
They are big on filming lessons and have invested in Iris connect – which costs £15k. Staff have responded very positively to this, on the whole (this is something I would be keen to work on, and would volunteer to film myself first…!)
For staff appraisal, in addition to one observed lesson, the ‘big picture’ is crucial, in terms of overall staff performance.
Students are rewarded through a voucher system, and vouchers can be exchanged for material rewards.
Students are streamed from Year 7, which may go against some of our liberal instincts, but is extremely effective in terms of closing gaps – and providing a ‘safe place’ for the most vulnerable.
Walking around the school, there was a real ‘buzz’ – students were out and about, using ICT stations for research, conducting questionnaires, studying in the canteen. There was a sense of real happiness and safety, in a context where risk is clearly encouraged.
Vic stopped to have a chat with all of them, and was continually in and out of lessons, which staff clearly saw as both routine and supportive. Being clear and visible and approachable – and really knowing his staff and students – is clearly a massive feature of his leadership.
The school has set up its own charity called No Child Without, which staff regularly raise funds for.
The school has various ‘services’ it buys in for staff, including ironing, car valeting and a hairdresser.
Staff meetings are kept to a minimum, with 2 briefings a week, and a compressed school day on the day of the weekly meeting, so that staff are able to leave by 4.20.
Thank you, Vic. We are very lucky to have you!