John Bald, an independent educational consultant, and blogger, once inspected Gateway School, an example of how excellent literacy standards can be achieved in the most challenging circumstances
Delighted to see Louisa Lochner, head of Gateway primary school, strongly featured in the Evening Standard’s literacy campaign last week. Leading the inspection of Gateway in 2005 was one of the highlights of my career, and I still look at the report with astonishment. The team and I had simply never seen such a concentration of excellence in an urban primary school before – there were only three good lessons all week, with everything else graded very good or excellent, including an exceptionally high proportion of excellent grades using the demanding 7 point scale that was abandoned, like so many other good features of Ofsted, in 2005.
A population with an exceptionally high proportion of children who spoke no English at all when they joined the school – and many joined late in the juniors – not only reached the nationally expected standard at 11 – even 100 per cent doing so in some years, but very often exceeded it, with two-thirds typically reaching Level 5 in English, maths and science.
How did they do it? In addition to the quietly superb leadership of the head, Keith Duggan OBE, and his wonderful deputy, Maureen – now his wife – the answer lay in the very clear focus of the teaching on developing children’s knowledge, skills and understanding in all subjects, and particularly in Louisa Lochner’s own determination – she was literacy co-ordinator – to use every possible avenue to develop their spoken language and literacy. Beginning with expert use of a phonic scheme (Jolly Phonics), very carefully matched to the needs of the young children, Louisa and her colleagues understood that, as the children were still meeting little or no English outside school, the later stages of literacy needed to be equally carefully taught, and so reading and discussion were built into all lessons.
There were so many cameos of excellent teaching – another feature stupidly removed from reports in 2005 – that they sometimes had to be inserted in the report back to back. Here are a couple:
Excellent teaching in Year 6 enabled a class to identify successful features in an advertisement for the London Eye, and to use them in designing their own radio advertisement for London zoo.
During the initial exploratory talk with the teacher, both open and targeted questions were used to focus pupils on the persuasive character of the task. As well as finding alliteration, similes, rhetorical questions, emotive language, double adjectives and puns, they noticed the cadences and stress points in the spoken language.
The teacher modelled expressive speech in a lively way, explaining about stressing the key words, also demonstrating this in writing, using the interactive whiteboard. Pupils then planned and drafted their own texts to the given criteria, using the features discovered, discussed them with their partners before improving them, and finally in the plenary evaluated one another’s work. Presented orally, the features with most impact were identified amidst fun and laughter. All pupils worked quickly and achieved the criteria, generating some exciting and innovative expressions. Previous solid learning, clear structure to work to for all ability groups, collaborative modes of work, and excellent integration of speaking and listening with a writing task made this an excellent lesson.
Excellent teaching in Year 6 enabled pupils to move rapidly from constructing simple to complex electrical circuits.
Challenge 1 – construct a series circuit with two bulbs, adding a switch. Main challenge – construct a parallel circuit where one bulb can remain permanently on and the other could be switched on and off. All pupils accepted these challenges with enthusiasm and success. The teacher was as excited as they were on completing the challenges. Now for the big challenge – the Bathroom challenge. There are two lights in the bathroom, which need to be turned on and off. One light is above the mirror. The other light has a fan attached to it. The challenge is to draw the circuit and then set it up. So to another round of enthusiastic success as these 11 year olds rise to the challenge of work that is of a much higher standard than expected for them for their age.
Having successfully completed that challenge, the teacher then gives them a series of increasingly difficult challenges on parallel circuits, using the white board. All pupils are included in this very well planned, paced and excellently resourced lesson. The teacher expresses her delight as pupils respond to, and successfully complete, the challenges. Pupils could show and talk about how different components of a circuit would, or would not, work. Teaching and learning were excellent. Pupils’ attitudes and behaviour were excellent. Achievement was excellent. This was scientific investigative work of the highest order.
Seeing Louisa’s picture in the Standard not only brought this all back, but reminded me of the importance of using Gateway’s excellence to inform and improve teaching everywhere else. It was not the work of one person, either, or the judgement of one inspection team – one of the teachers had picked up no fewer than eight excellent grades in the previous inspection. Excellence is the cutting edge of progress, and Boris should visit Gateway. He may very well feel at home.