Unless you are living under a rock (and I assume if you are reading this or following me on Twitter you are not) then you cannot fail to have noticed the inordinate amount of press that Parklands Primary school in Leeds gets. There are many reasons for this, some of which I will attempt to explain in this blog.
The first time I met Chris Dyson (@chrisdysonHT) was at Northern Rocks earlier this year. He gave me a hug and introduced himself (in that order). We weren’t total strangers; we had lots of previous twitter conversations and I think we have some common ground with our thinking on primary education. What is apparent early after meeting him though is how he bleeds his school. Introducing me to his staff that had accompanied him I could sense his overwhelming pride in his staff.
Fast forward several months and Parklands Primary is now recognised by OFSTED as outstanding. How has Chris achieved this and, more importantly, how can we apply the lessons learned in our own settings? To do this we must look at sections of the OFSTED report in detail (full text available here)…
The headteacher is an inspirational leader who lives and breathes Parklands Primary School. His enthusiasm and ambition for pupils and the community are boundless.
This is evident when you meet Chris or follow him online. Everything he does is to improve the chances of children in his school. No stone is left unturned in his quest to find things that work. He is passionate (and I hate that word) about his school, his staff but, most importantly, the children and community in which he serves. Parklands truly is the centre of the universe for all who work and attend it.
The leadership team are gifted teachers who lead by example. They have robustly supported the headteacher in monitoring, evaluating and improving teaching across the school.
Chris is not an island, neither is Parklands. By building a team and sharing a vision for improvement a sense of community has been engendered. The school celebrates success in a way very few others do. They dominate Twitter as a team; all are encouraged to share work, share ideas and join in edu-chats. This gives them exposure but also opens them up to criticism. How they deal with this is exemplary and a prime example of how an open culture should be. We may not always agree with their methods but we surely admire their results…
Governors have a deep understanding of the needs of the community the school serves. This has enabled them to robustly challenge and consistently support school leaders.
How many of us can honestly say this about our governing bodies? Is there something governors are missing? As a school governor myself this report has made me think deeply about my role. The school I serve as a governor is not without its own issues. As a member of the governing body do I truly understand these issues and how the school is positioning itself to deal with them? This is a question I intend to raise at our next GB meeting.
Members of the governing body have a full understanding of how additional monies, such as pupil premium or primary school PE and sport funding, are used.
This is key. Parklands gains a lot of additional funding by virtue of its location. More than average amount PP children means more than average funding, but this has to be justified and spent in a way that helps those children. Governance is providing the correct level of oversight here to ensure the money is being appropriately spent.
The shared vision of the headteacher and senior staff has been instrumental in the rapid improvements made in the school…
That shared vision thing again – if your SLT truly have vision and share it across school then ownership is given to the staff. This engenders a culture of trust and mutual support.
Leaders at all levels are involved in coaching other staff to help them reflect on their lessons. Staff debate and research teaching techniques, and have regular access to well-chosen training, enabling them to continue to improve.
This is about empowerment and true mission command. Given a shared vision for success, staff are able to get out and see what constitutes best practice and how they can implement this into their own school. Staff are keen to learn and keen to share.
Which links nicely with…
Teachers across Parklands Primary express unwavering belief in the abilities of their pupils to achieve well.
Nobody writes these children off. Everyone has a shared sense of purpose that allows these children to grow and flourish in their environment. Children are rightly proud of their school and identify strongly with it. Is this how children in your school are?
Staff appreciate that there are no local libraries, so pupils are encouraged to borrow any book they choose from school.
A subject close to my heart at the moment as I try to engage my Y4 class with reading for pleasure. I spent last Wednesday evening talking to parents in consultations about how I am not precious about what children read as long as they read. Providing reading opportunities for children in the day is so important, but so is not judging what they read. Every child is a free reader when they find the text that hooks them in.
The work done by school staff to involve the local community is exceptional.
None of this great work would be possible without engaging the wider community. Parklands embodies this, as can be seen from their website and social media feeds. They positively encourage the community to come into school and share what is going on. This makes connections between the school and the outside world that some of us can only dream of. Lots of what I do in my own school is derived from what I see Parklands doing on engagement.
Now before I’m accused (possibly rightfully) of being a CD fanboy we need to look at this in context. Parklands is far from unique across the country. What they are doing though is celebrating every little step they take. This commutative effect is spreading like wildfire across social media and others need to take heed. When OFSTED visited, under the new inspection framework (you know, the one that’s supposed to make OUTSTANDING near impossible to reach), the Parklands team could show how what they were doing was making a real difference to the children and their community.
Lots of people will write more eloquently about Parklands than I have but I feel we all owe it to ourselves to take a long look at the school and what they do to see if we can apply some of the magic in our own settings. I know I have…