Visiting Coombe Girls' School: A Great Idea for CPD

January 14, 2014
Pip Edwards

I spent half a day in Coombe Girls’ School which is an all-female secondary school and mixed gender sixth form in New Malden, Surrey. The school is a Training School, has Leading Edge status and specialises in languages. The original purpose of the visit was to look at pedagogical methods, but it was the CPD programme that I engaged with and took away as an exciting and interesting workable approach: surely staff training and empowerment underpins any successful system for teaching and learning.

 In a discussion with Andy Platt, Deputy Headteacher, I asked him how Coombe challenges the more able. This is a key issue discussed by academics and politicians and it is also an area of focus in the academy where I work.  Andy cited the importance of placing emphasis on pedagogical methods and of having a more standardised approach to learning characteristics. He also acknowledged the importance Coombe place on the learners’ contexts and on nurturing good learners. The approaches they used to achieve these ends interested me thoroughly. It was soon clear that there was more to this than promotion of student expectation, strong pastoral support, the teaching of skills and careful crafting of an accessible and nurturing curriculum: the teachers take risks and make the lessons engaging.

 Coombe’s approach to CPD fascinated me most. They hold inset time and have a set observation cycle two weeks later, then three months later, and a longer term follow up. This tracks the use of specific strategies. I  perceived the benefit of this to be standardisation; getting people to try new pedagogical approaches; monitoring of the effectiveness of CPD; and, more frequent exposure of students to certain techniques which may improve effectiveness for students. 

 This idea came from Andy Platt who was fairly new to his position. His enthusiasm, passion and creativity were extremely evident. You could assume that he would be a ‘breath of fresh air’ in any school. I was interested in how he approached his task to improve teaching and learning through staff development. He said that he had held a set of initial observations to identify where the need was, then he crafted a Twilight CPD session for three hours, for all staff. He put together a workshop with 42 strategies intended to improve active engagement such as ‘the line of confidence’ to actively monitor student progress; using timers and clocks to add urgency and competition; and ‘just a minute’ to actively involve students to articulate their learning. Following this, he introduced the approach cited above, where use and effectiveness could be tracked and monitored. 

 For higher ability students, Andy stated the importance of planning to have opportunities for the top end with no ceiling on learning- ‘why can’t a bottom set class achieve a  level 7?’ He also stated that the school has made it their policy to have differentiation for the top end and that they have adopted the mantra that target grade areas should be a minimum (shifting thinking). We have all seen those psychological experiments where students do better when the bar is set higher and expectations follow suit: it perhaps takes advantage of the ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ outcome.

 It is always beneficial to meet with colleagues. As a result of my visit, I have added a few more kinaesthetic strategies to my lessons and I use use De Bono’s more frequently, and I have refreshed my passion for adopting innovative and kinaesthetic strategy. We cannot afford to do the same things every lesson; we would be ignoring the learners’ contexts and diferentiation would be inadequate. I also wondered how important the boredom deterrent could be: how much of a barrier to learning is predictability, mundaneness and  safety.

Here are some Coombe staff reflections on CPD

  1. Coombe is excellent for staff development.  We have frequent INSET time, which delivers practical advice, strategies and resources that enables teachers to keep up-to-date with current pedagogical approaches and implement them immediately in the classroom, benefitting both teachers and pupils.  For example, we were shown ‘running dictation’, an active learning strategy with a strong focus on literacy, which enables pupils to learn new information whilst developing their reading and communication skills.  The strategy ensures that pupils are engaged in the learning making the experience more memorable for them.  The INSET time also allows staff across different subjects to work collaboratively together and discuss the different ways to implement new strategies and share their own excellent practice.  Learning walks and lesson observations are a regular feature at Coombe, which provides teachers with regular feedback so that we can continue to develop our practice, embed new ideas and skills and ensure pupils are engaged with the learning process and make excellent progress.

     Felicity Jones

     Head of History/Government & Politics/Citizenship

  1. The key strengths of CPD at Coombe Girls’ School are that it is planned and evaluated as an integral part of performance management.  The focus of the evaluation of CPD is upon how staff use what they have learnt and the effect on the learning of our students.  For example, our teaching and learning CPD sessions are followed by an observation cycle where every member of staff is observed using one or two of the newly learned strategies.  These strategies therefore become more embedded in practice as a result.  Lesson observations later on in the year demonstrate that staff have developed and continued to employ a variety of the strategies from the earlier CPD sessions.   Integral to the success of this at Coombe Girls’ School is the careful planning for CPD and that the implementation of the impact evaluation is a collaborative process so all staff are involved in Teaching and Learning focussed coaching and mentoring.

 Elaine Ward

Advanced Skills Teacher

  1. One of the most interesting and perhaps fruitful parts of the CPD programme at Coombe is the Federation INSET day that we share with the Boys’ School. Ideas are shared and developed in a collaborative environment through co-planning and facilitating the in-house workshops, giving plenty of fresh inspiration for the planning and embedding into lessons. Because of this, students are accustomed to a wide range of pedagogical approaches and are willing participants in the development of pedagogical techniques and enjoy experimenting with new teaching styles. A rigorous observation cycle including learning walks and mid-year review is also conducted to keep track of progress towards meeting targets and identifying any potential barriers to success. The entire process puts a lot of emphasis on the teacher as a professional and encourages creativity as well as self- management.

 Alistair Dixon

Head of Spanish

There is a real opportunity for increased accountability and teacher empowerment: in danger of being juxtaposed features of school life. It seems to me that the key to this school’s success was a blend of ‘top-down’ training with an acknowledgement of profssional capital and value. It was an environment that clearly advocates challenge and risk taking. Inspiration is key, and this comes from trying out new ideas, finding they work and inspire and seeing disappointed faces when the bell goes because everyone is so engrossed that they’ve lost track of time: this is the Holy Grail of teaching.

I also had confirmed the idea that collaboration is crucial to success and the feeling of being part of a team. There is a strong sense of sharing, collaboration and integration in the teaching and learning of all subjects. This has the potential to create opportunities to create resources that are useful for all subjects and are an amalgam of best practice.

I would like to thank Heather Buchanan, Head of Centre, for facilitating my visit at short notice. I would also like to express my appreciation for their time to Andy Platt (Deputy Headteacher- Staff Development), Alistair Dixon (Spanish Teacher) and Elaine Ward (Advanced Skills Teacher and Head of Psychology). Thank you for sharing and showcasing the teaching and learning that takes place at Coombe Girls’ School.