The topic of the week is David Taylor on ‘The School You Wish You Worked In!’
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We really enjoyed speaking to David Taylor this week. David is headteacher at Stanley Park High School in Surrey, UK. David attended a Secondary Modern school himself and knew he wanted to be a teacher very young. He studied PE and Maths and his first role was at the International School of London where he had a very small class.
In order to broaden his horizons, he moved to what he describes as a ‘tough’ state boys’ school in Croydon as teacher in charge of Geography. The school was one of the first to enter Special Measures. He was promoted quickly through various positions until he left and became deputy at Stanley Park.
David was appointed head at Stanley Park which was in very challenging circumstances in 2005. Within a year the school became the ‘one-school pathfinder’ for the London Borough of Sutton and it was required to be innovative in all aspects of schooling. Stanley Park is in the one of the most selective areas of the UK with several schools nearby selecting by ability or other talents. David describes the situation as the majority of the schools ‘creaming off’ the high ability students. This means that while Stanley Park had a wide range of abilities, it had a greater number of lower-ability pupils in 2005 when David took over the headship.
An emphasis on relationships
Relationships were very fraught when David took over – conflict was at the heart of everything which was going on. Part of the pathfinder designation was going to require the school to almost double in size and so they were very worried that relationships would get even worse.
Relationships are the glue that binds us together
In the two or three months the school had to do its visioning work, they sought out examples of good practice. They looked for schools which were doing new and different things. In the UK they found Bishop’s Park in Clacton where they had developed the ‘schools within schools’ model. Three schools were created around a central learning space. Teachers were allocated to schools and there was a cap on the number of students the teachers saw in a week so each student was known incredibly well – this was the start of Stanley Park’s visioning.
From there, they then went to the US and Hellerup School in Copenhagen where there didn’t seem to be any formal lessons going on and it appeared to be uncontrolled but where the relationships seemed to be built on trust, equality and respect. David took his whole staff of 70 teachers to see what was going on. David describes it as the cheapest and best CPD he has ever put on. Every teacher came back with a multitude of things they liked to use at Stanley Park and to be built into the vision and approach.
Rather than long documents, the plan for 4 schools within a school was created on the back of a napkin. One of the schools, Horizon’ contains two Autism opportunity bases – a unique situation for state schools in England. The other schools are Performance, Trade and World and feature a common experience for all students in Years 7 and 8. Each school as a particular specialism but students are allocated randomly, ensuring gender numbers are the same in each of the 9 classes in each school – which is more classes than other schools would have for the same number of students.
So there are 3 teachers for 70 students because Stanley Park believes that smaller classes means better relationships. The year 7 students spend half of their time with a single tutor in one of the large studio spaces working on the unique Excellent Futures Curriculum. There are half-termly themes and outside this the students still have separate English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages and Physical Education lessons. So in Year 7 they have a maximum of 7 teachers which helps in the transition from primary school.
In year 9, students can choose to go to another of the schools for different subjects in addition to English, Maths and Science in their home school.
After a formal graduation, students move into small vertical tutor groups with a maximum of 16 students per group. Students can nominate friends of the same age and older to go with them.
Are the differences at Stanley High all positive?
There is a genuine alternative for students, parents and teachers to other less innovative schools in the area. It does require a lot of explanation which has taken a long time but parents have become increasingly positive about the school.
What about Ofsted in a school where you have a high number of lower ability children?
David has recently written a blog post about the un-validated recent research which suggests that it is easier to achieve an outstanding Ofsted rating if you have more high-ability children than it is with more lower-ability students. It is also more likely that a school with more lower-ability students will receive an unsatisfactory rating. This seems unfair. Paul and David agree that the really outstanding schools are the ones which can teach the whole range of students equally well and David believes that schools should be for the whole range of local chidren.
A relatively new idea at Stanley Park is the student-led conference. The move comes from a dissatisfaction with Parents’ Evenings and David shares a range of worrying research about the unsatisfactory nature of these events. He is concerned that students are not properly involved in them if they even turned up at all. David was keen that students were put at the centre of reporting to parents.
So the student-led conference was born with input from parents themselves. Students prepare for the conference in all their lessons with support from teachers and then 90% of the half-hour conference is led by the child. They refer to three pieces of learning in each of their subjects and the parents are given the opportunity with the tutor to question and probe the student about their learning. The conference is recorded and the child takes away a pro-forma and the recording so they can reflect on the conference.
To make the logistics work, the school invests time in the process. Teachers are given time to prepare with students and the conferences take place on an optional Wednesday evening, Thursday all day and Friday all day. The time is freed up by having a PSHE shut down day partly with outside providers as well as the year 11 examinations taking place at this time.
Feedback from parents has been incredible and these conferences are moving and hugely beneficial.
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