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Case study: An Ofsted approved approach to staff development

How do you ensure a vibrant learning environment for all your staff? With over 150 staff members to train, Joanna Broadhead reveals her steps to Ofsted success

Author details

Suzanne O'Connell has more than 25 years' teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and...

School informat​ion

School: Little Heath School
Location: Reading, Berkshire
Number of pupils on roll: 1,638
Headteacher: David Ramsden
Category: Comprehensive voluntary aided 
Level of PP: below average
Level of SEN: below average  

Comments from Ofsted

‘Since the last inspection the school has researched and implemented a range of teaching methods to raise levels of student achievement. The school’s ‘Great Teaching and Learning Strategy’ involves both staff and students. Student researchers (STARs) have enjoyed and valued the opportunity to improve how they are taught. The positive outcomes have resulted in the award of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) Research Mark’ (Quality of teaching).

‘Training for staff is of a high quality and is a strength of the school’ (Quality of teaching).

Little Heath School had been judged to be requiring improvement in September 2012. The framework had just changed and the school was inspected within the first two weeks, ‘It was disappointing,’ explains Jo Broadhead, deputy headteacher, ‘Our maths let us down and it was like a set of dominoes, one thing fell after another. Achievement was not good enough and everything else followed suit. We knew after this we just had to pull ourselves together and get on with it.’

Little Heath School is far from little. With 1,638 pupils on roll it perhaps wasn’t surprising when the inspectors in 2012 commented that there was insufficient ‘house style’ in their approach to teaching and learning. Jo leads the professional development team; ‘We set about establishing the key factors, the ‘must haves’. We recognised these elements of conformity whilst not wanting to straitjacket ourselves and stifle innovation.’

The great teaching and learning strategy

Little Heath embarked on their ‘Great Teaching and Learning Strategy’. ‘We chose the word ‘great’ because it’s neither ‘good’ nor ‘outstanding’,’ explains Jo. There are five strands in the strategy:

  1. Great planning
  2. Great progress and great questioning
  3. Great feedback and great RWCM (reading, writing, communication and maths)
  4. Great homework and independent learning
  5. Great monitoring

An innovations group has researched each of the first four strands to identify what works at Little Heath. These groups are led by one of the professional development team (PDT). Their role includes to research good practice, visit schools, find out information and then adapt it and adopt it at Little Heath.

The process has worked so well that they have been awarded the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) Research Mark. ‘It’s not just the staff who are researching,’ Jo explains, ‘we have a strong background of pupil voice here. Our pupils are avid researchers too.’


These STARs (students as researchers) work in small groups to research specific questions posed at department and senior level. For example, one group has been researching great writing, including extended writing and feedback. In order to establish what works for pupils, they conducted a survey of a sample across the school. STARs discovered that what was important was time for self-reflection.

‘The school has feedback stickers on which staff write detailed comments about a piece of work,’ says Jo,  ‘What emerged was that in some departments there was a tendency for these to be completed at the end of a unit. Those sampled felt that this wasn’t the best time to receive detailed feedback and would have preferred it to be when the topic was in progress so that there was time to act on any comments made.’ Now some teachers are trialling this approach and sharing their findings so everyone can see the benefits. 

In another strand to this research it’s not only teachers who select the work to feed back on. At the end of a topic the pupils themselves have started to identify two pieces of work that they feel would benefit from in-depth marking. ‘It’s about giving students greater control of their learning,’ adds Jo.

Multiple strategies

Although Jo has an annual budget of £30,000, it doesn’t go far when it is spread between upwards of 150 staff. She is very aware of the need to use as many different ways as possible of keeping staff learning and developing. ‘We can’t always fund everything,’ says Jo, ‘And now there is less money available for university-based courses, such as masters. We have to make sure that we provide as many opportunities as possible for development.’

With such a large staff, there is plenty of expertise in-house and staff are involved themselves in delivering workshops. ‘It’s a challenge for them,’ says Jo. ‘We select a group and give them a subject. They have to go away, research it and then contribute a workshop at an INSET day or twilight session. It sounds tough, but they really enjoy the challenge and they know there’s plenty of support for them if they need it. It’s a bottom-up strategy.’

This approach to ‘flipping the classroom’ is a recurring theme at Little Heath, ‘We’ve used it with our students too,’ explains Jo. ‘They prepare for the lesson at home and we then build on what they’ve done in the next lesson. With staff, a task is set, such as reading a paper, and this is followed up in an INSET session. People bring some understanding to the session already, maximising the time available together.’

Optional insets

Alongside the four whole days of INSET, there are three compulsory twilights and optional additional twilights. Some of these are one-off sessions and others are part of a series. They provide opportunity to tackle emerging issues as well as allowing for planned training sessions. ‘We have had a sudden intake of students who spoke English as an additional language this September, ’ says Jo, ‘We are running a session on EAL as a response.’ 

A very popular series of workshops has been the middle leaders’ course. This includes six sessions:

  1. Introduction to leadership and management
  2. Leading teaching and learning
  3. Managing your workload
  4. Leading support staff
  5. Change management
  6. Moving forward

‘The feedback has been extremely positive,’ explains Jo, ‘The course was originally promoted to staff who were new to TLRs but attracted a much wider cohort with more than 30 attending. One of the sessions was delivered by an LA adviser. It included more theory and some of the participants found this particularly beneficial.’


This emphasis on in-house training helps to reduce the cost of sending people out on courses. However, the school’s commitment to visiting other schools and research prevents development becoming too inward looking.

‘We’ve also found ‘TeachMeet’ helps keep us fresh and brings in new ideas at low cost,’ says Jo. TeachMeet operates across the country. Getting together in a variety of venues, teachers can share what they’re doing in the classroom. Little Heath hosted four TeachMeet events last year and has four more planned for this year, ‘We even had some teachers joining us from America,’ Jo points out.  

Through these different strategies great teaching and learning is gradually becoming embedded, ‘It’s our second year of the strategy now,’ says Jo, ‘For the first year it was just getting it up and running. Now we want to put more emphasis on the monitoring side to things and providing a more formal evaluation.’

Approved by Ofsted

Jo doesn’t want to leave out the governors, who she recognises have supported the school throughout, whilst sharpening their own monitoring and strategic management skills. The creation of the ‘pupil progress committee’ has contributed to governor awareness of how developments in teaching and learning are having an impact.

‘The committee meets between five and six times a year,’ explains Jo, ‘It includes representatives such as the assessment leader, the raising standards leader and the heads of key stage 4 and 5.They look at pupil progress overall and groups like pupil premium.’ 

It’s been a challenging two years since the last Ofsted, and almost on the anniversary of the 2012 inspection, Little Heath were visited again. This time the outcome was ‘good’ and Jo was pleased to see that their staff training and development strategies were recognised in the report.

‘I would advise anyone with acute issues to face after an inspection, to identify some quick wins but also remember you can’t achieve everything over night,’ says Jo. On the one hand Little Heath has been very proactive at embracing the inspectors’ advice and forging a new plan for CPD. ‘But it’s not all been about change,’ she adds, ‘Our ‘Shout’ magazine (Sharing outstanding teaching) is now into its 20th issue.’

With their ‘great’ strategies in place, Jo and her team are well poised for their next challenge - achieving outstanding.

More information


Last Updated: 
19 Mar 2015