St Lawrence College Junior School is an inclusive independent school catering for over 160 pupils from the ages of 3 to 11. The school offers a supportive, caring environment, based on Christian values, in which children are given a wide and exciting range of learning opportunities. Academic expectations are high for every pupil. Personal attention is given within small classes, alongside which plentiful enrichment and co-curricular opportunities enable talents and interests to be discovered. Here we look at how the school’s achievement of the Quality Mark award further cements its reputation for excellence, both in terms of pupil outcomes and in reflecting the dedication of the leadership and teaching team.
A focused lens on English and maths
In 2021 the school’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) acknowledged that throughout the pandemic, whilst the focus had naturally been on the pupils’ wellbeing, gaps in pupils’ education had occurred. English and maths were identified as the priority - checking the quality of their provision would be the precursor to any action plans, and given the ambitious continuous improvement targets the school sets itself, the process had to be both rigorous and impactful.
The SLT identified that the Quality Mark accreditation would help the school identify areas for further improvement in their provision of English and maths, as well as providing that focused sense-check for staff and leaders. Quality Mark is an internationally acknowledged accreditation supporting and recognising improving standards in the provision, practice and performance of English and mathematics, and providing evidence of high-quality education.
Kirsty Danes, SENDCo and member of the SLT, explains,
We wanted to be pro-active and ensure our teaching and learning was up to the highest standard, and accelerate our pupils learning and progress post-pandemic."
An inclusive approach to supporting the development of a high-performing team
Initially, the framework seemed a bit daunting, but upon closer inspection, any apprehension experienced by the team soon turned into excitement as they realised the Quality Mark framework and audit tools were there to support their evidence gathering.
It became a very useful tool in enabling all teachers to participate in developing good practice– it was a really valuable team working exercise and very rewarding. We saw just how good our practice was and it highlighted the great work we were doing and gave us meaningful targets for our next steps.”
The Quality Mark audit tool, documenting evidence against 10 specific elements, became established as a very important document for the school – it was a live document that aided self-reflection and helped surface what they were doing well and equally what the school might develop further. It also helped validate their approaches in a way that gave the school an objective evidence base – staff were confident they were doing a fantastic job in many areas but previously they didn’t necessarily have all the documentation to prove or showcase that.
For middle leaders and Heads of English and maths, participation in the Quality Mark also afforded them the opportunity to objectively review and subsequently renew teaching resources to better fulfill the needs of the children at this current time. One specific outcome of this was the school bringing in some more diverse reading literature that proved to be inspiring for not only the children but the staff too.
Effective Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
The Quality Mark is often seen as an effective CPD tool for participating schools. Kirsty recognised how middle leaders’ ownership of the self-evaluation audit tool has helped develop their skills in effective self-evaluation whilst also enabling them to identify areas of further development to progress their practice and leadership.
The accreditation process itself is a learning experience for all staff involved. It’s definitely an effective way of inspiring middle leaders to develop and follow their ambitions, and has certainly led to lots of positive conversations about what is best for the development of the school and its staff.”
A critical friend
The Quality Mark assessment process involves a virtual or on-site visit by an experienced school improvement specialist. The Assessor conducts focussed discussions with key stakeholders, observation of learning environments via a virtual ‘learning walk’, and a review of relevant supporting evidence and documentation. For St Lawrence College this was an invaluable aspect of the accreditation.
The Quality Mark Assessor acted as a critical friend, providing incredibly useful, informative and constructive feedback to inform the school’s next steps. This input has subsequently become part of the school’s improvement plan and will help guide the school going forwards.”
Whole-school impactTaking part in the accreditation afforded the school the opportunity to objectively consider how English and maths provision looks to children, staff, and to parents. Achieving the award meant everyone could be confident that the school’s approach to continuous quality improvement stood up to external scrutiny and would therefore continue to support the high ambitions of the school.
It was a great feeling for everyone to get that external validation that we’re doing an excellent job, especially coming out of the pandemic period.”
Whilst on the Quality Mark Primary Award journey, the school quickly set about the Early Years accreditation which is nuanced to the phase but employs a similar framework based on internationally accepted best practices. For Kirsty and the SLT “It just made sense to include the Early year's Award and to give a holistic approach to our whole primary school.” The other key reason for undertaking the Early Years award was the introduction of the new Early Years framework in 2021 – the school wanted external validation that they were getting things correct on that front.
The ability of staff to transfer the skills and approaches demanded by the Quality Mark to other areas of the school beyond English and maths provision is not lost on Kirsty. As SENDCo and the Forest School leader, Kirsty welcomes aspects such as stronger links with parents and carers, and cross-curricular links spilling over from the Quality Mark process – anything that can help their children grow, and flourish and are free-thinkers is very well-received by the school.
“I would recommend the Quality Mark journey to all schools. It gave us focus and drive for our aspirations and motivated our teaching team to increase their dialogue, research and an opportunity to further share good practice. The important aspect of the process has been that it encourages reflections and next steps to be led by Middle Managers who then have ownership and commitment to the changes, leading to longer term sustainability of new methods of teaching, learning and assessment. It has given us confidence in our provision, stretched us to introduce new practice and given us the opportunity to welcome the highly experienced assessor from Quality Mark to give us further recommendations for improvement.”
Head Teacher, Ellen Rowe
Supporting continuous quality improvement
Obviously quality is a journey, rather than a destination, so, St Lawrence College Junior School will go through the process again in two years’ time to renew the award. In the meantime, the school is anticipating a full ISI inspection in the not-too-distant future. Staff are not fazed by this – the Quality Mark has set them all in the right frame of mind and they know they have all their supporting evidence and documentation in place. Through its Quality Mark accreditations, St Lawrence College Junior School’s reputation for providing an outstanding rounded education is celebrated.
Find out more about how Quality Mark accreditation supports excellence in independent and state-maintained schools and settings
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