Kingsnorth Church of England Primary School, part of the Aquilas Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust, has achieved Flagship School status for the second time.
Kingsnorth CofE Primary School is part of the Aquilla Multi-Academy Trust which now has 15 primary schools. When the school joined there were only four schools in the Trust and the Headteacher said they had chosen the Trust very carefully, because they could align themselves to their vision and ethos. The Trust allows the school a great deal of autonomy in the way they work, but provides a certain amount of support, that is valued by the school. The school was rated a ‘good’ school when they joined the Trust and therefore, didn’t need a huge amount of support, they are able to get on with it. The Trust schools in the local area carry out peer to peer reviews, which is a great way of sharing good practice and learning from each other. The Covid pandemic has meant that this collaborative work had to stop, but there are plans to revive it in the near future. The Trust is still fairly new and is still evolving some parts of its work including Senior Leadership Programmes. However, there are some courses provided at Middle Leadership Level and many staff have participated in them. Aquilla does not prescribe school curriculum or pedagogy… the school has designed its own curriculum around its own vision and values.
Networking for Support
The Headteacher told me that because the school is not classed as vulnerable, they have a lot of autonomy from the Trust. The CEO of the Trust line manages the Headteacher but there is not much direct involvement. The Local Governing Board are very good and provide a great deal of expertise around policy development and local issues. Although the Trust provides many model policies the school personalises them to suit their context. There are good connections with other Heads in Trust and in the local area and there are many amongst that group who support each other.
Popular Local School
The school is popular with parents and most children live in the local area. I was told that the population of Ashford has changed over the last twenty years and is growing quickly with families from a wide socio-economic group and increasing numbers of pupils who have English as an Additional Language. The school is now more multi-cultural than it has ever been. The school building is relatively new and has been extended a number of times, so that it is accessible to children with a variety of needs. It is well maintained and is obviously respected by the pupils and is looked after by a dedicated Premises Manager. The Premises Team are key to the success of the school, and they are very involved with children in all sorts of curriculum areas. The school is easily accessible for all pupils.
Investing in People
The school is fully staffed, and they have recently recruited some new Teaching Assistants. The school values staff at every level and Teaching Assistants are paid to attend training and INSET Days. All staff are treated with dignity and respect. I met the Office Manager, who is the wellbeing champion and she told me there is lots in place already but it’s a developing process. Currently, they are applying for a wellbeing award. She told me that there are appraisal processes in place for all staff, including cleaners and mid-day supervisors. As part of the award process there is a survey of parents and staff about wellbeing and the services provided by the FLO during the Covid particularly. The FLO has been ‘highly commended’ for all the mental health support she has provided.
Post Lockdown Care
There are four members of staff who are trained as ELSA’s – one was the Assistant Head/Senco, and one is the FLO, and one is the SEN Assistant, and the others are Teaching Assistants. They all have broad job descriptions but also carry out their roles as ELSAs. The Family Liaison Officer described the way she had been working during lockdown. She talked to parents about their children and the fears they had when they came back and provided lots of children and parents with support. She said that the fall out for many children has been identified and addressed. Many children came back with tics brought about by severe anxiety. They used lockdown to complete the ELSA course (run by Aquilla) as they knew that children would come back with more needs than they anticipated. The ELSAs are assigned children to work with and have planned actions and interventions and will start work with them next week. They told me the EP does group supervision with them as this is a condition of the qualification. Children are identified by the SENCO and class teacher (in consultation with parents). The work is on a one-to one basis. They observe the child first and identify any concern and look at the bank of interventions available. They use solution focused activities when working with children. They may also use drawing and talking activities. There is regular refresher training, and each supervision means somebody brings something to the table to discuss. I was told the school has signed up for the Nurturing Programme to be implemented across the whole school. The school use Boxall Profiles to assess pupils that they will support. The aim is to develop a Trauma Informed Approach and training is currently being planned.
Teachers are encouraged to learn from each other through involvement in peer work and the school is involved in peer reviews with a number of other schools. We talked about CPD, and decisions made around it. They use IRIS Connect to look at their own lessons, often with a colleague or leader and this puts teachers in control of what is being judged. They take responsibility for their own professional learning. Performance Management has been developed into a coaching process and they make sure it happens in school time. The paperwork around Performance Management has been refined to make it more manageable and more of a reflective process. The process has been reviewed and revised many times and will continue to evolve until they are all happy with the model. Talking to some of the teachers they commented that the discussion part of the Performance Management process is useful, but they think there is too much unnecessary paperwork. Everybody has been trained as a coach and then they are paired up to form coaching pairs. Asked how decisions are made about who is paired with who and was told its more of a logistical exercise than anything else – who is not teaching at the same time. The aim of coaching is to continue the process of improving the quality of teaching across the school. Talking with some of the subject leaders we all agreed their role was a tough one. As a primary teacher they had to be able to teach every subject but as a subject leader they have to develop a deep knowledge and understanding of a particular subject so they can advise others and inform the curriculum in that area. The school is big enough with enough teachers to cover every subject and now have an expert curriculum team. Training is provided for all subject leaders and help is provided to help them develop their action plan.
Growing our Own
One of the Middle Leaders is a student teacher mentor, and she works in the school and for the Aguilla Trust supporting student teachers. I was told the school is to become a Researcher Hub School. Many of the Middle Leaders met had already completed or were currently completing their NPQL or NPQSL qualification. They all told me that the school is involved in trialing many different initiatives but assured me that these were within their capacity and there was no initiative overload. They told me that there is currently a lot of investment in subject leaders – with good reason. Being part of the Aquilla Trust means there are many opportunities to meet with others doing similar roles and there are various Trust training programmes for ITT. One of the subject leaders worked with Aquilla to help to develop the music curriculum. Most of those I met had had some input into supporting the other school and they said this was good experience for them and was helpful to colleagues.
The school has been developing its Leadership capacity and been supporting another local Trust school that had been having problems. The Headteacher has been the Executive Head of both schools for a few years now and several members of Kingsnorth School including the SENCO and Assistant Head have been providing support to the other school. This school is now under new leadership and no longer need Kingsnorth Support. However, the supported provided by Kingsnorth has been so effective the school they were supporting was recently inspected by Ofsted and was graded good. Not only that but the Leadership was rated outstanding. As part of the support offered to the local school staff in both schools have been given many opportunities to develop their leadership skills and expertise and they were able to benefit from participating in various national leadership courses. These helped to increase the leadership capacity in the two schools.
Meeting with two Governors, one a coopted Governor as well as a parent and part of the PTA, and the other a newly appointed Staff Governor. The more experienced Governor is also the Safeguarding Governor, and she is very knowledgeable in this area. She is a parent of two children in the school and she told me that her role as part of the PTA does not conflict with her role as Governor. She says that it is difficult to get parents involved in the PTA so they have tried to run a series of Parent Forums and the FLO organises this and hopefully, these will resume soon. Discussion about the way the Governing Body works and their relationship with the Trustees revealed that all the meetings are clerked, and the induction (for the new Governor) process has been very thorough. The Trust are represented at all meetings, and he advises the governors on what they should do (or not do) in different situations. His input is very useful. Governors have not been able to visit the school during Covid and meetings have been online. However, it is hoped that these with be face-to-face this year. Similarly, individual governor visits to the school are now being scheduled. Governors were involved in agreeing risk assessments during the last eighteen months and have been kept fully informed about the school actions.
Provision during Lockdown
The Covid pandemic took its toll on the school, but staff came together to support the children and each other. The school used TEAMS and SEESAW (which they bought into) were used during lockdown. They did not do live lessons but pre-recorded them and they found this worked well for the children. The school stayed open throughout the lockdowns and then became a HUB for other schools (during the last lockdown), so they had high numbers of pupils attending. They really wanted to support the community and ensure essential workers could get to work. They also wanted to support the more vulnerable children and ones who found themselves struggling at home. There were a number of children who thrived during lockdown. They liked working at home and being able to pause the lesson and rewind meant they could work at their own pace. Since returning to school children have settled well but had to relearn how to learn in a classroom.
Post Lockdown Resilience
The school have managed to not only survive the Covid pandemic but appear to have thrived and moved forward despite the challenges. Staff and pupils are shown great respect and they feel valued. I spoke to many pupils who had a range of needs and they told me how the school has supported them and makes sure they can take part in all the activities the school provides. They appreciate all that is done for them.
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