At Braunstone Frith Primary School the vision of ‘Positive Thinkers and Lifelong Learners’ applies equally to children and staff. Since being appointed as Headteacher of the Infant School in 2009, Amelia Smith has worked hard to use this vision to lead the school on a long journey of improvement. Whole Education was delighted to shine a spotlight on Braunstone Frith’s work when they recently hosted a virtual visit for primary leaders.
Braunstone Frith’s infant and junior schools came together to become a large primary school in 2014, then joining the LiFE Multi Academy Trust in 2019. The staff are proud to be part of the trust and the opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of expertise this provides.
Over time, they have built a staff team who are dedicated to children, families and the community, and they have high expectations of what they can achieve. They see themselves as central to their community, something which has never been more important than over the last year. Below, we highlight some of the key insights from Amelia herself.
One of the most important things to support the development of a whole education is to have a very clear vision. I have shared the same vision every year I have been Headteacher: to get to the ‘land of outstanding’. This does not necessarily mean in the Ofsted sense – although it might have at one point – instead it is to be in a position that offers our children, our parents and our community the very best possible education that enables them to believe in themselves, be brave and try things they can’t do but want to learn.
Since joining LiFE Multi Academy Trust I have developed a love of reading. The first book I read was ‘Leadership Matters’ by Andy Buck after it was recommended to me by a colleague. It was quite literally pulled from his bag and thrust into my arms so I had no choice but to read it! I shared it with my SLT and we used it to directly shape and change our provision of a whole education.
Steve Munby’s book, ‘Imperfect Leadership’, inspired me to ask the staff to think about the analogy of an orchestra. Everybody has a part to play and a job to do; each of them brings a different skill or, in this case, instrument. For example, I play the trombone which is a fine instrument on its own but is actually much more interesting when played alongside other instruments. So we have a conductor with a musical score who can get everyone to play in time, in tune and with passion and we can all make beautiful music together.
To enable a whole education to develop, you need to value everybody in this way. If you can establish this with your staff, they will do the same with the children. We are united by the passion we have for our children.
We have been on a number of journeys at Braunstone Frith. We select our priorities for improvement carefully, work hard to embed them, keep them alive, renew our thinking and share our practice. This makes it an exciting place to be! If you visited our school you would see children running into school because they enjoy being here. They are confident and would be happy to talk to you because they are excited about their learning.
Cascading coaching through the school
People are our greatest asset. I believe that getting them to work together is the best way to improve so we began developing a dedicated coaching programme in 2012/13. We engaged the support of a professional coach and invested in Iris cameras so that we could share progress and discuss practice. We also recorded the participation of children in reading sessions which really supported the staff to analyse their teaching and learning alongside a coach or in a CPD meeting.
I will never forget an early observation of live ‘in ear’ coaching which involved a coach being linked to a NQT who was teaching a lesson. During the lesson the coach prompted the question ‘why?’ through the NQT’s ear piece. Seconds later she asked the same question to the Y1 children and the lesson completely transformed. Learners became active rather than passive and the impact of the coaching was immediate.
To maximise the impact of coaching it has to underpin everything you are doing. Working as part of the MAT has taken this work to another level. Everything we now do is based on this coaching model and it’s the foundation of our development of quality-first teaching. I have coaching from the CEO every three weeks and I coach SLT every three weeks, as well as offering short term coaching for other staff linked to specific projects. This is prioritised in my diary. We no longer have staff appraisals as these have been replaced by Personal Improvement Plans (PIPS). This approach is used with all staff and fits with our mission of supporting everyone to be the best they can be through development.
We started out with a staff team who wanted to be told what to do. They would do anything we asked of them because they didn’t want to let us down. As a result, children also wanted to be told what to do and weren’t responsible for their own learning. So, as a senior leadership team we discussed that we wanted staff who were ‘thinkers’, who could respond to children’s needs, wouldn’t be afraid to get things wrong and who were confident to do what they thought was right. We knew that developing this mindset in the staff meant they would do so with the children.
“There is a world of difference between distributing leadership and delegation. If it is just delegation, because there is lots of work to be done, this is more like distributed pain than distributed leadership.” (Steve Munby)
At different stages of a school’s journey, different styles of leadership are required. As an individual school I was confident that we were securely in the middle section of Andy Buck’s diagram (below) so I talked to the staff about the journey the school had been on and where we had got to so far. I then shared the next stage of our journey in becoming a ‘great school’ and how we were going to do this by utilising the support of our MAT.
Last spring we embarked on a whole school programme of lesson study focused on meeting the needs of all learners. This enabled staff to take ownership and do the thinking rather than being told what to do – something SLT also had to learn before taking this approach with the staff! We based our lesson study on research, gave staff time to do some reading and then facilitated them working in triads. Staff chose their focus and planned their approach. After the first round of lesson study, we asked the staff to evaluate this new way of working. This world cloud shows their thoughts:
The school now feels different and it is exciting. I’ve changed as a leader and have been able to role model the school vision of ‘positive thinkers and lifelong learners’ as a result of working outside my comfort zone and finding the new skills required to do what is needed for the school. I have been supported by the LiFE CEO to do this. One of the best pieces of feedback on my leadership over the last six months was from an SLT member who said: “greater trust is given to others (I tried to find a way of saying you have become less of a control freak!)”.
We have over 100 staff in school and, over time, we have significantly improved the quality of teaching. There are exciting things happening at Braunstone Frith and we have developed a staff team who are passionate about children.
We were halfway through the second round of lesson study when we closed due to the COVID pandemic. I was concerned that this would have a negative impact on our pursuit for distributed leadership. However, what is so amazing is that we have achieved it via a different route – the setup of remote learning. Our orchestra has been playing beautiful music together and I as the conductor could stand back and watch!
Many thanks to the staff from Braunstone Frith for sharing their journey with us. The feedback from school leaders who attended this event was incredibly positive.
“The fact that you could hear inspiring leaders talk with really practical ideas that lead to growth, development and inspiring outstanding entitlement for all.”