Heolgerrig Community School is in the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil. There are currently 233 pupils on roll, including 31 full-time nursery pupils. The rolling average of pupils eligible for free school meals over the last three years is around 7% and ALN figures in recent years have averaged around 20%.
Our approach to professional learning has changed significantly in recent years. Once seen as an isolated activity for individual members of staff, we now look at professional learning as being holistic and used to support individuals as well as the whole school community – staff, pupils and beyond.
Initially changes were made to the way professional learning was organised and accessed to ensure activities tied in with the school development plan, the monitoring cycle, performance management and individual needs. There is always flexibility, as often professional learning opportunities arise that could not be planned for in advance.
Staff could put themselves forward for professional learning or be recommended to help support a wider agenda for the school. This was carefully managed to ensure the right person accessed the right professional learning and that responsibilities were shared.
A shared electronic drive was set up whereby staff who accessed professional learning created a one-page summary of what they did, what they learnt and how it could impact on our school. More often than not however, time was allocated in weekly staff meetings for the sharing of this in a more collaborative way.
Weekly staff meetings changed from date sharing and going over unnecessary business that could be done through email or bulletins and became the forum for professional learning.
There is seldom a staff meeting where a staff member is not at the helm – sharing good practice, leading learning or supporting others. All staff are factored in to meeting agendas over the course of the year, some having regular slots where they deliver an element of professional learning themselves, set staff off with tasks to try out in the class and then follow up with feedback and reflections in later staff meetings. This has happened for a whole host of professional learning over recent years such as for the development of oracy, reading, the new curriculum etc.
All staff are recognised as leaders. It may only be one person who accesses professional learning outside of the school linked to a given priority, but they then cascade this learning to all other staff in the school in a focused and measured way to ensure everyone gets access to the learning in some way.
On every weekly agenda, a new professional teaching standard is shared for discussion or reflection. Where the standard links directly to an aspect of our own school improvement journey, it is unpicked further. In addition, all staff are asked to identify any professional learning they feel would be beneficial when setting performance management targets so that this can be factored in. There is a blended approach to professional learning. It doesn’t always come from outside of the school. Sometimes leaders within school will be the ones responsible for sharing expertise or we look to the cluster and beyond. Reading and research is used more and more as a means to access professional learning.
The focus for professional learning in recent years has been linked to the new curriculum and pedagogy. Staff had the opportunity to link with a staff member from a neighbouring school to research a Pedagogical Principle, observe each other teach, share books, and reflect on practice. This proved valuable and impactful.
This approach is further enhanced with effective collaboration with the cluster. More recently learning together to develop a non-negotiable cluster-based curriculum. Professional learning was sourced from the region as the catalyst for this. Staff were then given time to read, research, share good practice and draft the non-negotiable documents.
Staff have also been given professional research time with opportunities to read relevant research linked to pedagogy, decide on a mini action research project for their own classes and feedback to others. The focus is always on the application of the learning, asking staff to try things out, reflect and refine. The blended approach to professional learning has empowered staff, helping to develop them all as leaders and to have an impact across the school. This has built their confidence and capacity, impacting on pedagogy and practice.
The way professional learning is now organised allows for better use of time and resources. Staff work together, learn from one another, and are prepared to say what is working well or not. Professional development linked to aspects such as reading, oracy and ALN in recent years are just a few aspects that have seen improved standards for pupils.