HELLO ALISON. HOW DID THE PLA START?
The PLA was part of the council’s Attainment Challenge bid. Inspired by how the world’s best schools improve, we wanted to close the poverty-related attainment gap by investing in our practitioners. Our team undertook considerable research into how the best schools improve. Ultimately, we felt that investing in our workforce and teachers was important as it ensured that whatever we did was sustainable and would improve the quality of learning and teaching, as well as attainment and achievement.
SO WHAT ARE ITS MAIN AIMS AND OBJECTIVES?
The focus is very much on attainment in numeracy and literacy in primary schools, as well as some S1, S2 and S3 pupils. We have high numbers of children from levels 1 and 2 of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), which is one reason why North Ayrshire was given this level of support. Through research-based approaches, our aim is to upskill practitioners and provide them with support and inspiration to close the attainment gap. It is, though, not just about going on a course, or professional learning in isolation. We offer follow-up sessions and in-school support, with a team teaching approach. The focus is on teachers working with our most vulnerable children. So we have early years practitioners, primary and secondary teachers, speech and language therapists, and educational psychologists, all working together to support and improve the skills of practitioners.
The focus is on teachers working to improve attainment in numeracy and literacy with some of our most vulnerable children.
WHAT PRACTICAL STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO PUT THE ACADEMY IN PLACE?
We started with a roadshow to generate interest. Our Executive Director met with all of the schools across North Ayrshire and presented our strategy to improve learning and teaching and close the attainment gap. He was clear that this was an investment in our most valuable resource – our staff. We also spoke to staff and stressed the importance of the PLA, because we wanted to recruit our most talented teachers. This was quite a major step as we had to find the teachers, then find replacements while they were at the PLA. We also felt it was really important to have a “base” for the PLA to exist. So although we work across all schools, we also have, with the support of the Scottish Government, developed a facility at Auchenharvie Academy, where staff can come for professional learning and development.
AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE SO FAR?
We’ve been up and running for a year-anda- half and, overall, it’s been really positive – staff have welcomed the professional learning opportunities. Of course, it’s early days in terms of attainment evaluation, but we’re seeing very positive results in the schools we’re targeting.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST HURDLES YOU’VE FACED? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY SURPRISES?
Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle has been staffing; persuading schools to release teachers for the “greater good” and finding someone to replace them is a challenge, as we don’t have a lot of supply staff out there nationally at the moment. The other hurdle is staff expectation. This is not a “quick fix” and attainment is not going to rise significantly after one training session. This is a long game and we’re really just at the start of this process. This links with our desire to ensure that our schools have: •• no poverty of ambition •• no poverty of expectation, and •• no poverty of opportunity for all our pupils.
HAVE YOU HAD TO ADAPT AND MAKE CHANGES?
We’ve had to refocus our priorities, because we recruited fewer staff than we originally planned. Obviously we want the very best practitioners, but as I’ve said, freeing them up is challenging.
ALISON’S 3 ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS FOR CREATING AN ACADEMY
1. Give it a physical space – it doesn’t need to be big, but just a specific area, laid out how you would expect the ideal classroom to look.
2. Research, research, research – don’t start your journey until you’ve done your homework and explored global examples of best practice.
3. Seize the opportunity – if you’re given the opportunity to do something like this to develop professional learning, grab it with both hands.
HOW DO YOU SEE IT SITTING WITHIN THE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AWARDS THEMSELVES?
The Professional Learning Awards are quite new to us, but we were really pleased that GTC Scotland recognised our work in its very early stages. The key for us is equity and collaborative professionalism; no child is disadvantaged and every child can get the very best teaching. And for the teachers, it’s about collaborative professionalism and opportunities for teachers to work together and to learn the best practice.
WHAT’S BEEN THE IMPACT ON PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AND TEACHING PRACTICE?
There’s been more opportunities for professional dialogue as staff get the opportunity to meet with other teachers and work collaboratively. We’ve also seen an increased confidence in professional judgment around progression. It’s also been an authority-wide vision, so we now have a strong focus on our improvement plans across schools, as well as shared expertise and standards from other professionals. And, of course, people are seeing and using new methodologies to promote literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing across the curriculum.
AND WHAT ARE THE OUTCOMES FOR THE LEARNERS THEMSELVES?
Staff are receiving different learning opportunities because they’re coming back with new practices and modelling them in the classroom. The academy offers targeted support, helping staff who teach our most vulnerable children. The increased confidence demonstrated by staff translates to the children too. The learning from the PLA provides more opportunities for success in the classroom and more breadth and challenge in the learning and teaching.
FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOUR AIMS FOR THE FUTURE?
To continue to work collaboratively, providing the best opportunities for the young people of North Ayrshire. We aim to continue with the academy after the Attainment Challenge is over, by ensuring that the infrastructure is in place and that the academy is sustainable. We hope to work more closely with parents and carers to help them better understand, and therefore support, their children’s learning. We will therefore expand the professional learning opportunities to support staff further.
WHAT ARE THE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AWARDS?
GTC Scotland’s ambitious suite of Professional Learning Awards celebrate, promote and encourage teacher professionalism and professional learning at all stages of a teacher’s career. The Awards recognise and celebrate the impact of teacher professional learning, along with the leadership of learning cultures in which teacher professionalism can thrive and bring about real impact.
Read more about the Professional Learning Awards