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BEST PRACTICE - A NEW CLASS OF SCHOOL

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A redesign of Rhondda Cynon Taff's education service has left a unified and more effective system, says William Lit...
A redesign of Rhondda Cynon Taff's education service has left a unified and more effective system, says William Little

Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC overhauled its education services to make strategic planning and joint working between the council, schools and the local education advisory service more effective.

The changes have had a direct impact on the ability of education officers and teachers to innovate and to share knowledge and good practice.

This has led to clear improvements in school standards, better literacy among children from disadvantaged backgrounds and fewer children excluded from school. The number of students attaining A* to C in their GCSEs increased by 8.6% last year while, during the same period, only one pupil was permanently excluded from the 160 schools in the borough. The council's education department was highly commended in this year's LGC Awards.

Steve Lamb, head of the school effectiveness service, explains that education services were previously split into 19 teams reporting to the director of children's and educational services directorate. The teams worked in silos with little opportunity for joint working or skill sharing. Overall management was difficult due to the large number of teams.

In its place is a three-team structure, with each team focusing on early years, special needs or school effectiveness.

The teams working in the school effectiveness service now have clear aims and can work across all the schools in the region. The teams are staffed by local teachers, making the links and relationship between the council's strategic management and work in the schools stronger still.

An example of this has been the strategic role the team leader for literacy has been able to play since the service was set up.

Previously, says Mr Lamb, the team leader worked on her own, spending a lot of time chasing phone calls from schools and making little progress.

Now, working within a dedicated reading recovery team, she has space to plan. The team received a strategic intervention grant of£120,000 from the Basic Skills Agency. From this, she employed teaching assistants to support schools with the lowest levels of literacy.

The Catch Up literacy scheme has now been implemented in 93 schools with children in transition between key stages one and two. The scheme also trains teachers and teaching assistants, so progress can be maintained in the long term. Pupils, says Mr Lamb, have made improvements of up to two years in reading age.

The reforms also introduced sophisticated analysis of school data, which has helped the council to plan effective development and uncover problems. The data is analysed by a link worker from the council, who works with school staff and governors. This has helped to establish a self-evaluation process for the schools.

Mike Keating, divisional director for school support and improvement, says the council can interpret trends and reallocate resources more effectively. 'It also acts an early warning system for schools that may need support, because the data is checked monthly,' he says.

The new system also enables the council to produce more sophisticated analysis of a school's performance. One local comprehensive had been judged to be underperforming based on an analysis of its results in the context of the social background of pupils, which was indicated by the number of children receiving free schools dinners.

However, when using data and information from other council departments, it was discovered that many children were no longer entitled to free school dinners because their families were on the family tax credit scheme. This new information gave the council a more accurate picture of pupils' social background and revealed the school was not underperforming.

The data also enables the council's local education advisory service, which covers three other councils, to share learning across the schools. For example, a history department in one local comprehensive was underperforming. The advisory service identified this and worked with the teachers to suggest improvements, such as using a different examining body.

Another improvement programme introduced last year was the 'effective teaching for effective learning initiative', a subject-specific project in secondary and primary schools. Teachers from a secondary school and its associate primary schools have worked together on innovative teaching, learning and curriculum development to improve transition between key stages two and three.

Mr Lamb says one of the most useful outcomes has been to move education officers into areas where they will be most effective. He cites the establishment of the post of secondary school improvement officer, and filling that post from someone in Life Long Learning, who has experience of working with 14-19 year olds.

The champion

Gareth Rees is the secondary improvement officer working for the school effectiveness service. He has been a history school teacher for 18 years and has also worked in careers and vocational education.

He joined Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC in January 2001. His current role allows him to work more closely with the educational advisory service.

'A key part of my role is to

co-ordinate the planned involvement of agencies such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in the curriculum,' he says. 'The Prince's Trust, through the XL initiative, will enable pupils in year 10 and 11 to work with youth workers to give them ownership of their learning.'

Key points

>> The council created a school effectiveness service to oversee improvements in standards

>> Staff work strategically

and jointly across all schools instead of working in silos

>> Improved data collection and analysis means that schools

know when they need help to improve standards earlier

>> The setting up of a literary programme in 93 schools called 'Catch Up' has improved reading ages by up to two years.

Other examples of best practice

Barking & Dagenham LBC has pioneered innovative approaches to key stage three since the mid-1990s and in September 2000 was chosen to pilot the strategy 'Transforming Key Stage 3'.

>> This has involved looking at the continuity of teaching, based on interactive whole-class teaching from primary to secondary schools, introducing visits from secondary teachers to primary schools to observe teaching styles and introducing a project which identifies the attitudes of pupils before and after their transfer to secondary school

>> The education and welfare needs of the most vulnerable children are also being addressed. Unauthorised absences from secondary schools reduced from 2.6% in 1997 to 1.9% in 2001.

Sheffield City Council's education human resources and school effectiveness service won beacon council status for their work in 'Transforming the School Workforce' in April 2004. The council was awarded the status for:

>> A range of activity across the breadth of the school workforce

>> Clear focus on how workforce transformation can impact on school improvement

>> Evidence of sound foundations to take forward remodelling

>> Evidence of positive outcomes

>> High levels of engagement in schools in this area

>> Links with community cohesion and regeneration

>> Sheffield Education Service Supply Agency was set up as a self-financing teacher supply agency, co-managed by schools and governed by a management board. It provides paid professional development opportunities and paid pastoral support for all supply teachers.

Sources of funding

>> Grants from the Basic Skills Agency: www.basic-skills.co.uk or

020 7405 4017.

>> The Arts Councils of England, Wales and Scotland give grants to schools for projects. Wales: www.artswales.org; England: www.artscouncil.org.uk; Scotland: www.scottisharts.org.uk

>> External funding from the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Prince's Trust: www.theaward.org; www.princes-trust.org.uk

Find out more

>> For information on the school effectiveness service, e-mail Stephen.j.lamb@rhondda-cynon-taff.gov.uk or visit www.rctednet.net

>> For details of the catch-up programme, visit www.catchup.org.uk

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