Sometimes all you need is a little perspective, a little fresh perspective – something well understood at Corporation Road Community Primary School, Darlington. With a new head and new leadership, the school’s breaking down barriers and fostering aspirations. The school is part of the Lingfield Education Trust; in the September issue of EdExec, we caught up with headteacher Ann Pringleton and Nick Blackburn, chief executive officer, to find out more
At Corporation Road Community Primary School more than 50% of pupils do not have English as a first language – the national average is 20.5% – and just two years ago it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted. Yet, the school is bucking trends; it was recently ranked in the top one per cent, nationally, for pupil progress in writing and maths and in the top six per cent, nationally, for progress in reading – an achievement by any standards.
But, what has set the school apart? And what drives this continuous improvement? Perhaps it’s a fresh perspective on leadership.
Tell me a little about Corporation Road Community Primary School and what sets it apart.
Ann Pringleton: Our ethos is around ensuring that teaching and learning focuses on ‘all of the children, all of the time’. This, along with the development of the self-image of each child, underpins our whole school culture. We have a strong focus on community, adopting the moral values, ethics of the culture and diverse background of our families – and we’re committed to high standards across the curriculum.
Our staff are very aware of the high-deprivation factors affecting children within the school and how this impacts on the children’s daily lives and their ability to be school-ready. We’re situated in an area of significant social and emotional deprivation; 76% of all our children and 84% of our nursery children come from the 20% most deprived families in the country. The numbers of children and families known to be vulnerable is increasing rapidly and, as of September 2017, this figure stood at 22%. Further, 56% of our pupils are not English or don’t have English as their first language.
What sets us apart is the rapid progress we have made over the last two years. In February 2016 the school was in special measures but, we have taken action to improve and we were recently ranked in the top one per cent in England for progress in writing and maths.
Nick Blackburn: In Darlington itself the school is unique as it has a high black and minority ethnic population; children speak a range of languages. In the last two years progress has truly been transformational; the school has gone from ‘inadequate’ to what we know will be ‘good’ at our next inspection. Importantly, Ann also takes care to extend the school vision, time and energy into the local community in which the school operates. This is very much aligned with our overall Trust values.
The school has seen dramatic improvement since its February 2016 inspection. Can you tell us a little about the progress that’s been made, and the basis for it?
Ann: The quality of education and provision has improved dramatically in school over the two years since I’ve been the headteacher, especially since the February 2016 Ofsted inspection. This is a school which has worked extremely hard to address the category of ‘special measures’ it was placed in.
Validated national assessment information confirms that pupils who left Year 6 in 2017 made well above average progress in reading, writing and mathematics. This places the school in the top one per cent of schools nationally on this measure. Pupil premium pupils made better progress in all three areas than pupils nationally. The school did not have any pupils identified as ‘high attainers’ in the Year 6 cohort and the ‘low prior attainment’ pupil group, made particularly impressive gains.
Because of the outstanding progress Year 6 pupils made during their time at the school, 66% of pupils met the required standards in reading, writing and maths combined, compared to the 61% seen nationally and across Darlington. Average scores in reading were 103 compared to 104 nationally and across our local authority, while average scores in maths, at 107, surpassed the 104 seen nationally and in our local authority.
Nick: Corporation Road has ensured that the quality of teaching across the school is consistently good. Barriers for pupils are removed and children flourish in an environment where they are loved and cared for. It is a school where all adults believe that children can achieve, coupled with high expectations and aspirations for them.
At school level, how does leadership support and drive this level of progress and attainment?
Ann: From the minute you step into the building, the rise in aspirations and the care and love provided for the pupils is palpable – through the flowers, calm music and relaxing aromas and the attention to detail in our displays. We have made significant alterations to the internal and external learning environments to support improvements in teaching and learning and better outcomes for all our children.
We have tackled and eradicated weak teaching and staff turbulence, so that teaching, learning and pupil progress is now considered to be good, with an increasingly outstanding proportion. This has resulted in the substantial gains now being seen in attainment and progress and we also now have a more stable and engaged support team in place which is effectively administered.
Our relatively new middle leadership support and challenge team is developing well, with responsibility for the development of the wider curriculum and for tracking, monitoring and evaluating the progress pupils’ make in the core subjects.
We have put a rigorous timetable of support in place to support staff who are new to school and our leaders take a very active part in developing the skills of new teachers in school especially in reading, writing and maths.
Finally, we have placed a huge emphasis on forging relationships with our parents. Because of this, they are more confident in approaching the school to help them support their children better at home, especially with issues around behavioural problems.
How do you ensure that all key stakeholders – from students and teachers to support staff and the SLT – are on the same page and share the same vision, ethos and determination to progress?
Nick: Through regular meetings and a commitment to ensuring that we communicate clearly about our Trust, school values and what we stand for. We go beyond lip service and, where people aren’t on the same page, we challenge and work with them where possible.
What have the benefits been?
Nick: The benefits of all the impressive work which has been undertaken at the school include a positive impact on children, staff and reputationally overall. Corporation Road is one of three disadvantaged schools we have which sit in the top 10% and the other two also performed brilliantly last year. We’re not complacent, and this progress proves that our overall approach is working.
What’s on the horizon for the school?
Ann: Our next Ofsted inspection should be in the next 12 to 18 months and we expect things to go from strength to strength for Corporation Road. We are working very hard to build links with the wider community and to raise the aspirations of both the children and the parents in school – at the moment we’re working in partnership with Teesside University to allow children to gain an insight into higher education.
We’re also building links with Darlington College, again to inspire our children and give them an insight into some of the more practical aspects of further education. We’re looking at delivering some essential skills training to our parents with the college’s ESOL department in English and maths.
One of our parents has also been encouraged to volunteer in the school and she has very recently been accepted onto an apprenticeship programme. Essentially, future plans are around opening more doors for children and, hopefully, their parents, so they can at least see possibilities and options to make informed choices around their future.