Oakdene Primary School: Striking the perfect balance of external challenge and recognition of excellent work
In March 2013 Oakdene Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees received an Outstanding Ofsted grade. Having achieved a high standard across all aspects, the school didn’t want to stand still or be complacent. They looked to the Quality Mark accreditation as a way to achieve this and to also recognise their ongoing improvement.
Quality Mark provided the external validation of their teaching standards as well as recognition of the school’s commitment to continuous quality improvement. Nine months after achieving the award, the school successfully achieved Quality Mark Early Years so those same high standards became embedded throughout the whole school.
The impact of continuous improvement on the pupils is clearly evident, with the Executive Head teacher now witnessing ‘outstanding’ on such a sustained basis it could be easy for this to be almost taken for granted. Oakdene has developed a professional improvement culture that invests substantial resource in teacher and staff development. This ensures that there is a strong commitment to regular review of practice often resulting from school-led action research programmes and knowledge gained from wider research. As a result, the school constantly evolves.
“We saw Quality Mark as a really powerful tool – it gave the perfect balance of external challenge to make sure we weren’t just ticking along, and also the recognition that we’re doing a great job.”
Liz Bramley, Executive Head Teacher
For Liz Bramley, Executive Headteacher at Oakdene Primary School, their outstanding Ofsted grade was recognition of a great team effort, but as a visionary leader she viewed it as not the end of the journey but rather as another milestone in improving provision for the school’s pupils. This, coupled with the government’s approach of risk-assessing outstanding schools, led to the school turning to Tribal’s Quality Mark, a nationally recognised accreditation of a Primary school’s excellence. It enables them to continue to be reflective, outward-facing and take a pro-active approach to subsequent assessments.
A whole-school approach to continuous quality improvement
Oakdene initially applied for the Quality Mark award for their Primary phase, designed to help schools reflect on the quality of practice and provision. It celebrates and supports continuous improvement in focusing on the core subjects of English and Maths.
The Quality Mark Assessor spoke with a range of stakeholders to gain a comprehensive view of the school’s practices in regard to the 10 elements of the Quality Mark, from their whole-school improvement strategy to the range of teaching approaches and learning styles employed. Feedback was obtained from the Head Teacher and Senior Leaders, literacy and numeracy subject leaders and the SENCo, as well as pupil, parent and governor representatives.
Subsequently, the school’s practice was judged to be outstanding across the range of Quality Mark elements, with particular commendation being given to the involvement of parents and carers in developing their children’s Maths and English skills and the target setting for the improvement of the school’s performance.
Keen to achieve the same recognition for EYFS, Oakdene quickly engaged with the Early Years Quality Mark, achieving the award in 9 months. Liz is an impassioned Early Years specialist commenting, “You can’t underestimate the importance of EYFS. It really is the foundation to everything.”
Accordingly, staff work relentlessly, with the help of Quality Mark, to get their Early Years Good Level of Development to national standards, but by KS1 and KS2 they are significantly above the standard. This achievement becomes more impressive taking into consideration the level of mobility faced by the school. Many children even by end of year two are on their 4th school and have significant gaps in their learning, so the children themselves don’t expect to be there for long. However, Oakdene has a strong track record of saying, “this is going to be your last school” and breaking the cycle with the vast majority of these children. Liz credits her staff, “We’re high on nurture but also share high expectations and ambition for all pupils regardless of their backgrounds. We try to remove those barriers to get every child there; so staff implement the non-negotiables supported by the Quality Mark framework which also gives staff the scaffold to improve their practice.”
When the school appointed a new Early Years leader Quality Mark also gave them the opportunity to lead within the scaffold of the framework. Liz added, “Our ‘Sustained School Improvement Plan’ means everyone knows what we’re working on and how we’re going to get there. It’s not about school improvement - all schools need to improve – it’s about sustaining that excellence and even as an outstanding school, you don’t hit a brick-wall – we find out what’s beyond the wall and there’s the drive here to just keep improving.”
Moving with the times
For Liz and her staff, the Quality Mark’s alignment with government strategy, along with its rigour and flexibility meant it was easy to see how it was right for their school. Liz noted, “It’s very much current. As a National Leader of Education looking at policy, the Quality Mark agenda reflects national policy and absolutely dovetails with pedagogy but also has the flexibility other accreditations or processes are unable to offer. Quality Mark has moved with the times.”
- Helps schools embed best practice which is ratified by external assessors. Even if key staff leave, the school can continue that practice as it doesn’t rely on a single stakeholder.
- Is not an ‘add-on’; it is evident in the school’s DNA.
- Provides the framework against which the school’s approach is validated and continuous improvement is embedded in all that they do.
- Gives staff the scaffold with which to improve their practice
- Brings transparency and whole-school involvement to the improvement process
- Aids staff and pupil recruitment as it is a visible external validation of improvement, particularly useful if a school’s Ofsted report isn’t current.