The General Teaching Council for Scotland

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Powering attainment

What we can all learn from the experience of one school in Grangemouth

Lynda McDonald, Headteacher, Bowhouse Primary School, Falkirk Council

The attainment gap between children from deprived and more affluent households is well documented as starting early, prevailing throughout their school years, and culminating in leaving school earlier with fewer qualifications leading to poorer employability prospects. Our current national policy drivers set out to close this attainment gap through the National Improvement Framework and, most recently, the Pupil Equity Fund, which place increased expectations, autonomy and accountability on schools to improve attainment in literacy and numeracy, outcomes in health and wellbeing as well as increasing family engagement.

Collaboration between staff and ownership of the interventions have been integral to our learning and improvement journey. We have also benefitted from working in partnership with other professionals

Over the past 18 months in Bowhouse Primary we have set out to establish what and where these gaps are and to empower practitioners and families to use tailored and creative solutions to move towards improvement.

In January 2016, while undertaking study for Into Headship at Glasgow University, I was appointed Headteacher of Bowhouse Primary. The school sits within the town of Grangemouth and while the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation data paints a picture of significant need at Bowhouse (with 53 per cent of pupils in SIMD 1 and 2), the children are talented and aspirational, which makes for a very good starting point. The professional learning of Into Headship, particularly around strategic leadership and educational policy, gave me a secure knowledge base from which to lead and implement change. As a first step our whole school community set out to identify and agree upon a set of shared values as a backdrop for our improvement journey; this process engaged all our children, parents and staff.

The Model for Improvement was then introduced to all staff as a tool to articulate what we are seeking to improve, to identify the measures and data we need to collect and then to test our change ideas. As a school community, all teachers, early years practitioners, support staff and the senior leadership team began to use the model by identifying a child, asking the question, “what is getting in the way of their progress?” planning an intervention and gathering data. The data was collected on a daily or weekly basis, often by the children themselves and shared on the improvement wall. Studying this data over time allowed us as a staff to identify what was working well and leading to improvement, as well as giving us the knowledge to adapt some interventions to try out new change ideas. As a school community, a variety of practitioner-led change ideas were tested including peer tutoring in reading and mental arithmetic, Breakfast Blether to address late-coming, vowel recognition for our Polish children, and vocabulary acquisition for our youngest learners. Collectively, we learned much about the process of plan, do, study, act as well as learning from each other’s work to scale up and plan further improvements for more children.

We have continued to build on our shared learning this session. Ongoing examination of quantitative and qualitative data through tracking meetings and collegiate sessions enable us to identify what and where the gaps are in terms of attainment, attendance and engagement. Most importantly, we have used this data as a starting point to discuss the individual needs of children; we have put faces to the data to plan meaningful and targeted interventions.

This year’s change ideas have been closely aligned to the priorities of the school improvement plan in literacy, numeracy and family engagement. Having established measurable improvement aims in these areas, we explored the main drivers that were necessary, and matched our change ideas to this. For example, we recognised that to improve attendance and late-coming it was essential that children and families felt secure and welcome in school, so we tested interventions around nurture, friendship groups and a breakfast club and are seeing the benefits in children being in school on time and ready for learning.

Collaboration between staff and ownership of the interventions have been integral to our learning and improvement journey. We have also benefitted from working in partnership with other professionals such as Community Learning & Development and Library Services. Our partnership working has become increasingly focused, targeted and evaluative to ensure greatest impact; for example, Library Services worked with some Primary 1 children, their parents and senior pupils to measure the impact on family confidence around storytelling.

Throughout our journey so far, all staff have observed and celebrated the positive impact on children and families, and have talked about the improvement work as being part of their practice rather than an “add on”. Our work continues in session 2017–18 with a range of professional learning opportunities and interventions planned from the Pupil Equity Fund to continue our work towards improvement. In the long term, if we are to close the attainment gap at Bowhouse Primary, we recognise that knowing our families, understanding our data, continuing professional learning and collaboration are the keys to further improvement.

About the author

Lynda McDonald presented this work at ICSEI 2017 in Ottawa, Canada, having been awarded a bursary from GTCS and the University of Glasgow. Lynda recently achieved the Standard for Headship, having completed Into Headship with the University of Glasgow, and this year continues her studies with In Headship.

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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