Wootton Park School in Northampton achieves Flagship School status.
It was a pleasure to visit the school in person rather than doing a virtual visit. After a short welcome from the Head and Deputy I was taken on a tour of the school. The building is very new, and it is purpose built to be an all through school. The building has great facilities including a large library (with a full-time Librarian) and specialist rooms for Science and Art and DT and Drama and Dance. The PE areas are top notch, and the grounds are impressive.
Great Spanish Lessons
I was then able to sit in on a Reception Class Spanish lesson. The Head of Sixth Form who is a language teacher was doing a great job teaching the class their numbers and colours in Spanish. They responded with great enthusiasm. The class were ably supported by a Teaching Assistant who is normally attached to the group.
My first meeting of the day was with the SENCO who organised my visit. She is also my EAL and is responsible for Pupil Premium pupils who make up 15% of the cohort. We had a brief discussion around the set up and provision for SEN pupils, for EAL pupils and for Pupil Premium pupils.
Safeguarding is a Key Concern
Safeguarding is a key concern for the school, and I met with the DSL who is supported by a Deputy DSL and a team underneath them. The DSL is the gatekeeper and has oversight of the area and she and her deputy decide who will follow up on which concern or alert. There is a safeguarding assigned person as part of the SEND Team, the Wellbeing Team and a member of SLT. The Deputy DSL is on the Attendance Team. They meet every week to review all recent concerns and to review actions taken around previous cases. This way they can check on what has happened and what still needs to be done and ensure no child slips between the gaps.
The School use MyConcern
The school use MyConcern to report and record all safeguarding issues and concerns. Alerts go to the team and are all looked at every day and the DSL decides who is the most relevant person to follow up. The DSL is the only person to file and keep records. She views all the notes and the team talk them through at their weekly meeting. They look at the history (of the child concerned) in terms of safeguarding. Notes are transferred from nursery to primary and secondary through MyConcern. If there are no notes on MyConcern, the school scans their records and puts them in a historical file.
Staff Training is Extensive
The school is part of the SWAN Teaching School Alliance and get updates from the Local Authority. The links with MASH service are very strong and local schools are good at sharing information. There is also a good system for casual entrants. Training for staff is extensive, especially in September and there are regular updates throughout the year. The DSL team has regular Level 3 safeguarding training. Most recently all staff have completed the Peer-on-Peer Abuse training and there have been more detailed training for the DSL and her team. The training was online, and the staff had to complete a Quiz just to check they had taken it on board. The school is signed up to the Andrew Hall Safeguarding network.
The PHSE Curriculum
The PHSE curriculum is mapped across the primary and secondary school. The primary team is trained to use Jigsaw as a framework and in the secondary school PHSE curriculum was devised by a member of SLT who is trained in that area. This way the programme can be adapted according to the cohort. This means if there is an issue that is raising its head across the school, they can respond not only to individuals but to whole year groups. For instance, there were a lot of instances of sexting during and after the most recent Covid lockdown and the school was able to respond quickly in terms of educating children and parents. Children and their parents must understand that such behaviour is damaging and is never a joke. The school website contains a lot of information on the subjects and this is constantly being updated with advice and guidance for parents on the legalities on eSafety.
Prepared Well for The Lockdowns
The Safeguarding Policy was amended during the Covid pandemic and the school had prepared well for the Covid lockdowns and had their lists of vulnerable pupils and families to contact on a regular basis. The school went into action very quickly to ensure that children were safe and offered lots of advice and guidance on wellbeing. There was a lot of contact with home in order to support children and parents. Furthermore, parents were encouraged to call the school when they needed advice or just someone to talk to. Staff emails have been published and they can be contacted in this way but are left to decide when they respond. Most will do this quickly, but parents are given a timeframe about when they can expect a response. Some clearer guidance on this would be helpful so that teachers are not overwhelmed with emails especially in the evenings and weekends.
The Focus According to the School
Currently, there is no formal supervision for DSLs, and this is something the school should consider organising. There is a safeguarding governor who comes in every term (online at the moment) and has done a recent review. The governors have picked a focus according to the needs of the school and have included the following:
- The transfer of files.
- Peer on peer review.
- Online safety.
Following Covid Rules
The DSL gives her a briefing sheet before her visit and she writes a report and gives it to Governors. She also looks at site security. The Single Central Record is done by Human Resources. All Governors have safeguarding training, and all receive the Staff Safeguarding Newsletter produced by the DSL. Moving around the school is very controlled and I was able to observe this in action. The rule is that pupils walk on the left and that they are silent as they move along the corridors. This appeared to work well and there was not an overpowering staff presence to police it. The children know what is required and do it.
It was diversity week when I visited the school, and I had the opportunity to observe Talk Tuesday with a class of Year 2 pupils. This is a fairly new activity designed to get pupils to talk about a number of issues. In this lesson they were talking about children who looked different or were different from each other in some way. The teacher was very skilled at drawing children out and getting their responses to the PowerPoint she was showing. The children responded with confidence and the message that we are all different and that is OK was well received and understood.
Wellbeing is Important
Wellbeing is high on the agenda, and I met with the lead person (who will be an Associate Principal next year) for Pupil Leadership and wellbeing. I also met the teacher with responsibility for the wellbeing curriculum. They put their case simply: wellbeing is the foundation to excellent learning. Children need to be in the right place emotionally and mentally to benefit from their learning.
The Wellbeing Curriculum
The wellbeing curriculum was designed a few years ago (pre-pandemic) and is still evolving and developing. There is a wellbeing coach and a school counsellor in school and they are seeing pupils identified by the Edukit survey and are using the information to structure a long-term wellbeing plan. This year, the school has been focusing on self-image, using the Rowan Kemp documentary but they have tailored it to meet the needs of the school. There are five form tutor sessions every week and three out of the five sessions are around routines, wellbeing, and friendships. Here pupils can discuss issues with their peers and their teacher. The strong relationships with tutors and teachers and school staff are key to promoting wellbeing at this school. During the latest lockdown there was a booking system where pupils could book a call with their tutor. They could talk about things they were worried about or just have a chat. This was not only about the known vulnerable children but the ones who do not normally show anxiety.
Support Groups Are Available
For pupils who need more support there are various intervention groups such as self- esteem for girls and resilience. Year 10 pupils were struggling the most and had great anxiety about mock exams and exams in general. Year 11 have left now but they struggled following such a disrupted period in their lives. Anxiety about whether they would be doing GCSEs or not was very common and the school did a great deal to support them. Talking Tuesdays were introduced to ‘get Wootton Park’ talking (there are displays throughout the school) and were adapted from a National Programme linked to the Rowan Kemp campaign and to an Ant and Dec campaign to always ask people if they were OK twice. Other anxieties were about friendships. Lego therapy was introduced in primary, and all teachers were trained in how this works. In addition, pupil Wellbeing Ambassadors were put in place to support their peers. The wellbeing team was widened to include governors and parents. Next year the plan is to involve 6th form students and to get them to support younger pupils. The new addition to the Five Wootton Ways is: “The more I talk, the better I feel”.
Staff Wellbeing is Vital
We talked about staff wellbeing, and they have been looking at teacher workload to try to improve it. One concession is that teachers do not have to produce lesson plans but planning by PowerPoint following the guideline is allowed. Also introduced this year is that teachers can work at home during their PPA time if it is possible. There is a wellbeing coach available to staff after school and there is an Employee Support system that the school pay into and can provide counselling and support. Meetings and directed time have been rationalised and everyone is entitled to a Golden Day once a year. In addition, there are several ways staff are recognised such as “Colleague of the month” and thank you cards from SLT. Furthermore, every member of staff is part of a coaching tree, and they meet with a line manager to talk through their work.
Extensive Enrichment Opportunities
One of the Vice Principals and Assistant Vice Principals met with me to talk about the curriculum and about Teaching and Learning and Continuing Professional Development. I was told the curriculum is focused on the individual learner and how learners learn and develop their learning behaviour and it is about developing a moral aspect to the curriculum. There are extensive enrichment opportunities and a detailed PHSE programme to make sure the school delivers high quality pastoral and academic provision. Both are of equal value.
Pupils Make the Progress They Need
The pupils in the primary school are taught in mixed ability classes whilst there is grouping by ability in the secondary stage. I was told that this makes it easier for teachers to teach because they can focus on and make sure pupils make the progress they need. The curriculum is skill and knowledge based and a lot is based on home learning. Parents are expected to get involved and the school sends out a lot of different home learning activities. I was assured there are not hours and hours of home learning but just enough to add to their learning programme. There is a silent study period every day before or after lunch for older pupils. I was told that teachers have been very much involved in developing the school curriculum and the Heads of Department are proactively working with their teams to refresh and adapt it and to make sure diversity issues are adequately covered and celebrated.
The New Sixth Form
The new sixth form opens in September and all the special facilities are ready for them including a fabulous sixth form common room and study area. Teachers are currently preparing and training to teach A Level and some BTEC courses. They have been supported by the network from the Swan Teaching Alliance and all new schemes of learning are externally validated.
A Spiral Curriculum
There is a spiral curriculum in place from reception upwards. Schemes of learning and planning formats have been carefully designed and planned. Whilst there are basic expectations in terms of planning, they are never intended to become a strait jacket. There are lots of partnerships between teachers in different phases of the school with the view to helping them learn from each other.
There are several ways that the quality assurance schemes are relevant and not too oppressive. There is an open-door policy and teachers are used to SLT and middle leaders dropping into lessons. Remote learning on TEAMS has meant there has been no hiding place and teachers and SLT were free to visit online classes. There are weekly drop-ins and book clubs and opportunities to hear pupils’ voices. There are also learning walks to check the learning environment. There are formal lesson observations for Performance Management purposes. They try to do these with teachers and feedback is always as positive as possible.
The CPD Plan
The CPD plan is based on feedback from Performance Management targets (three are set to cover the SDP, Performance in the classroom or responsibility role and a personal target. This triggers what will be covered in INSET days. The school promotes and uses the Kagan principles, which are around developing cooperative and independent learning strategies. These have been used since the school first opened and they are revisited annually. The Kagan principles are intended to make teaching more focused on the individual pupil and is highly valued.
Finally, I was able to meet with two groups of pupils who were more than happy to tell me all about their school. I asked the primary group first of all what the best things about the school are. There was no shortage of responses. They mentioned good learning opportunities, wellbeing, friendliness, learning new things, kind people. They also said that there was no bullying. They also said the teachers are good and teach them well. Others mentioned ACORNS, which is the wraparound care in the morning and after school. Dancing club, art club, Irish dancing club, multi-sport clubs and lots of other clubs were real favourites. One pupil even mentioned the litter picking-club as the best thing.
Then I asked them what would be even better and they listed the following: if there were no bubbles, more breaks and lunchtimes, more trips and visits and no fighting and falling out. Another said it would be better if there were no whole class detentions if it is about one pupil. Finally, one child said he would like more lesson time.
The Behaviour Policy
I asked what happens when they misbehaved, and they described the behaviour policy about getting their name on the board and they said if they were repeatedly misbehaving, they would be sent to see another teacher. However, they were also able to tell me about the various rewards they got for good behaviour. There were lots of these and they all wanted them.
Experiences During Lockdown
Next, I met with the older year pupils who told me about their experiences during lockdown. They spoke about the remote learning and how their work was monitored and how they got feedback from teachers. They all had to be present in registration every morning and if they did not turn up their parents were contacted. They had the option to contact their tutor if they were anxious and wanted to talk to them. They were more or less used to the Covid restrictions and quite liked being in year group bubbles as they have all got a lot closer this year.
The Best Things About School
I asked them to tell me the best things about the school and they were very articulate in their response. They said:
- The teachers are very observant and know you well and things you struggle with and offer to help.
- The school is smaller than other schools and they do not get lost in the system.
- Those who need support get it.
- They support you and are like a family.
- There is lots of work around diversity including diversity weeks.
- They learn about and talk about Black Lives Matter, Stephen Lawrence and racism.
- Good support for mental health and this is related to what is happening around the Rowan Kemp campaign.
The pupils spoke about a number of other issues including behaviour which they said is strict but is mostly good. However, one pupil commented that he does not like the rules when they apply to him. For instance, rules about what colour your hair is and not being allowed to have shaved hair. Other pupils commented that having afro hair was a struggle in school as there were many rules about braids. None of the pupils had concerns about the silent corridors. They are used to them now. They loved the after-school clubs but these had been restricted because of Covid 19. Normally there were lots of choice of clubs. Normally there are lots of trips and residentials and they miss them.
Even Better Ifs
Their even’ better if’s’ included:
- If there could be work experience for pupils in Year 10 or 11.
- If socialising in lessons was allowed as they often want to help each other with work (the 4 Bs before you ask the teacher).
- If all teachers gave out House Points (lots do not).
- If more teachers used praise cards.
- If all homework was marked – sometimes it is not marked and they just walk around and say well done. Pupils said they want feedback.
- If there could be more Wellbeing Ambassadors.
- The pupils commented that they really miss the different year groups. The whole school used to work together and they are missing mixing with other year groups (even though they are now closer together as one year group). They said the silent study period helps them get their homework done.
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