Sally Fox is a Headteacher at Pool-in-Wharfedale CE (VC) Primary School and has been in post since 2015.
I first got excited by the idea of sharing and collaborating on schools-based research when I joined the Learning First community. What motivates me is that it’s not about knowing what’s right. No-one is judging you and you’re given the space to test ideas and collaborate on research to develop practice, going beyond ‘doing it for Ofsted’ and ticking boxes.
Over the last few years, our school has gone from ‘requires improvement’ to a ‘good’ rating and my team and our school are growing in confidence. We are no longer questioning ‘are we good enough?’ and our staff team have developed a mantra: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What impact is it having? I joined the Chartered College of Teaching at the beginning of the year and attended the inaugural conference in Sheffield. Whilst listening to the speakers, I turned to a colleague and commented on how great it would be to base a school development improvement plan on evidence-informed research. We are always asking our children to be curious, so why aren’t we?
Before Ofsted visited in January 2015, we were constrained by a very strict Ofsted action plan, with very little room for creativity. Once the reins are off, you’re left thinking, ‘what do we do next?’ Looking at our current plan, it’s done little to inspire what I feel are a very forward-thinking staff and seems again like we’ve been ‘box-ticking’. But for whom? And what has actually changed as a result? Improvements have happened within the school but not necessarily as a direct result of the plan. Feeling empowered, I spoke with my Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to share my ideas about research-based school improvement and they too felt excited – particularly as they could see that, by engaging with this plan, it could also provide opportunities for personal growth and professional development.
I’ve since spoken with our governors and wider staff team and the response has been unbelievable. We have all agreed that we want our children to be involved and my colleagues are so excited by this idea – the potential for exploring different paths of research. I’m keen to emphasise that in no way do I want this plan to create more work for staff. In my view, this plan should reflect what we are already doing on a daily basis. One concern from the governors was that this research-informed plan should not mean we lose focus on other key areas, such as literacy and maths. I’m confident this will not be the case and my team are mindful of the need for keeping up to date with subject development and specific monitoring required to maintain our children’s development.
Between now and the end of term, our staff team will be deciding on our Key Areas of Research (KAR) and ideas that will be at the heart of our new school development plan. We are very lucky and proud to have articulate children who have great attitudes to learning and we will be talking with them more to explain these themes and hear their views. Once we’ve decided our research themes and engaged our pupils, the plan will be to speak with the parents to explain this new development and the impact it will have on the school.
We have two training days scheduled before the return to school in Autumn. By then we will have agreed the plan and will be discussing implementation – how we will conduct the research and who will be leading on what? From then, the intention is to meet every half term to share progress, with contributions from the whole staff team.
This is a completely new approach for me and our staff at the school. It’s a very different mindset to what we are used to and it’s so exciting: to know that we will have the research to back up new directions that the school will take; ones which are right for our school and our children. I’m so intrigued as to where this will lead us: what will we find out, what new things will we discover and how will it change our practice?
I’d love to hear from anyone else who has done anything like this. We have so many questions before we get going: What are the basic research skills required? How do you research effectively? Will everything else get done? Will research take over? How long do you run with a particular research theme – how much time do you spend on it and how deep do you go? How will it benefit the children? In the spirit of true collaboration, I’m keen to hear your views and share our progress. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Fox graduated from Middlesex University in 1997 with a BA (Hons) in Education. The Chartered College of Teaching will follow Sally and her team at Pool-in-Wharfedale CE (VC) Primary School on this journey and report back as they develop and implement their research-informed school development plan. We will catch up with Sally again in September when they’ve agreed their plan and research questions they aim to address.