Mary Immaculate is a Roman Catholic, English-medium comprehensive school for 11–16-year-olds based in Wenvoe on the outskirts of Cardiff. Almost 40% of its pupils are entitled to free school meals. It has gone through a period of improvement in recent years attracting praise from Estyn and Education Ministers.
Mary Immaculate takes a ‘whole school’ approach to Professional Learning, aligning activities with the Professional Teaching Standards and the national approach to professional learning.
Each year a series of core and option training sessions are offered which address areas for development that fit with the current and new curriculum. Each member of staff must complete a minimum of 10 hours, 6 of which must be core twilight sessions. The option sessions can then be chosen from four areas for development identified from self-evaluation assessments of staff. In 2020-21 those areas were:
All the sessions are run in-house and led by a member of the Teaching and Learning team. The team is overseen by the Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning, led by a Head of Teaching and Learning and supported by three Learning and Teaching Coaches (LTC). The LTC role can be undertaken by teaching staff who have completed the in-house excellent teacher and coaching programme. It is a paid role limited to two years as this allows other staff the opportunity to become LTCs.
The premise is that the Teaching and Learning team do the groundwork and present teaching and learning strategies that work across subjects. These strategies are presented with descriptions, examples, and links to resources.
Each LTC leads the sessions for one of the professional learning options and has their own Professional Learning Community (PLC) within the school through which they lead action research and facilitate collaboration linked to this area of development. The sessions are driven by relevant educational research and staff take the knowledge from the sessions to carry out deliberate practice.
LTCs also undertake book samples, faculty reviews and carry out weekly learning walks to find best practice and to celebrate excellent examples of professional learning in action.
The school holds a series of further in-house training opportunities for staff at different stages of their career every year including:
Leaders considering practitioners’ starting points and ambitions
During March each year, all teachers at Mary Immaculate High School are asked to carry out a self-evaluation assessment outlining their strengths and areas for development. Leaders at the school are keen to impress on teachers that these are individual teaching and learning reviews, the results of which are only shared with their Heads of Department. School leaders encourage staff to be open and honest and are seen by staff to be receptive to their views.
‘They’ve listened to us as teachers – in the teaching and learning review we can put our voice forward and offer suggestions. It’s great for us – we know that the school leaders are listening and all opinions are valid’
The information from the self-evaluation process is collated at departmental level and then merged at a faculty level to generate an overall summary of strengths and areas for development or improvement. The Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for Teaching and Learning then utilises this information to create a bespoke professional learning plan for that academic year which also incorporates the professional teaching standards.
‘The leaders are so organised and so passionate – it filters down. We are developing all the time.’
Leaders considering practitioners’ individual learning needs in context of school’s priorities
Whilst school leaders oversee, orchestrate, and design the professional learning provision at the school, it is very much a collaborative approach. The core and optional Professional Learning sessions for staff are firmly linked to the needs of the school and the feedback from the annual self-assessment process.
This professional learning provision is then delivered ‘in-house’ by the school’s three LTCs. Due to the action research approach taken within the Professional Learning Communities, there is no specific direction as to what has to happen. Whilst these Professional Learning Communities are steered in a certain direction by the LTCs to fit the identified areas of development, that direction is mostly driven by the staff themselves and enabled by the senior leadership team. The leadership team itself is also very open to feedback and provides an opportunity at the end of each Professional Learning Community for staff to reflect and identify what did and did not work well and that, in turn informs future planning.
‘Staff feedback on all CPD is important. Sometimes it’s challenging – but that is how we’ll improve!’
Leaders considering practitioners’ learning preferences and styles
Within the Professional Learning Communities, school leaders encourage differentiation to enable individual practitioners to look at specific issues most pertinent to them or adapt the approach within a Professional Learning Community to fit with a practitioner’s objectives – those who are keen to take on leadership roles in future are encouraged to lead a session for example: ‘We try to be bespoke’
Whilst some of the core sessions have specific content that must be covered, the majority are based on sharing and learning about best practice using techniques such as ‘speed dating’ and TeachMeets and Carousel. The sessions celebrate good practice and practitioners are encouraged, in a relaxed group format, to look at how the learning can be applied to their subject area or their needs: ‘Nobody has to do it in any specific way… this action learning approach tells us as leaders what works.’
The deliberate practice is captured on OneNote in the form of reflective notes, photos and videos highlighting teachers and their areas of expertise and celebrating their achievements. This allows learning to be shared with practitioners beyond those participating in particular activities.
Leaders considering practitioners’ well-being
School leaders are keen to ensure the well-being of staff in the professional learning process. Practitioners are encouraged to take on roles such as that of a Learning and Teaching Coach or to undertake the Excellent Teacher programme, in the knowledge that they will be fully supported throughout by the Senior Leadership Team.
The leadership team is keen to stress that there is no stigma and no sense of failure attached to professional learning – the focus is always on how to improve and make it better rather than on finding fault or blame. As such, practitioners feel able to give new approaches a go or to turn to colleagues for feedback. Every week, the Teaching and Learning team recognises excellent professional learning and award a member of staff with a bottle of wine.
Leaders considering practitioners’ day to day commitments
The school has timetabled department professional learning time within the timetable that allows teachers or teams to take part in additional professional learning above the 10 hours of twilight.
All staff must complete the twilights that are explicitly timetabled in the calendar as they equate to the 2 days off throughout the year and therefore all staff, including Teaching Assistants attend. The leadership team feel that the attendance of all staff is important as it provides an opportunity for all teaching staff to feed into discussions and to become familiar with teaching strategies so that they are fully implemented during deliberate practice.
The mantra from the school lead on Teaching and Learning is ‘Low Effort, High Impact’. The in-house provision of professional learning is based on sound academic and pedagogical research undertaken by members of the Teaching and Learning team. The Teaching and Learning team continually update the school’s interactive Teaching and Learning toolkit so that practitioners know that where all the knowledge and expertise they need is without having to spend their time planning or researching or becoming overwhelmed in their attempts to find solutions:
‘These strategies don’t take hours to prepare. You know they work because others have used them – they [the Teaching and Learning team] have led the way – finding great models and templates that you can just pick up. It doesn’t take hours and it’s instant impact.’
The school’s collaborative approach to professional learning had resulted in a greater focus on impact rather than planning. The structure allows for good practice to be identified and shared across the whole school. Staff feel that their strengths are recognised within a professional learning structure that supports their individual needs and the strategic direction of the school.