John Brennan describes how his school transformed outcomes for children 

Our school is in an economically deprived part of Sheffield, with over 60% of the pupils eligible for pupil premium funding. A large proportion of the parents of nursery children are themselves under 20 years old. When Wendy Wheldon took over as headteacher in 2009 the school was regarded as failing; it was struggling to reach floor targets and key stage 1 results were the lowest in the city.

We aren’t only concerned about results, but about developing children who will grow into happy, rounded young people who will face the world with resilience and be able to play a full part in society.

By 2013, 100% of pupils achieved two levels of progress in reading, writing and maths – the highest rate of progress in Sheffield. In September 2014, Ofsted reported that the more able, pupils with special educational needs and lower attaining pupils make good progress, and achievement in the early years is outstanding. How did we do it?

Structured conversations

Soon after joining, Wendy came to the governing board with a proposal to register with Achievement for All as the best way of improving the school at every level, as the programme works with the whole school and its community. Relationships with parents were very poor, but introducing structured conversations, managed focused meetings between teacher, parent and child – transformed the situation. Very soon, the school was working with parents to help them support their children’s learning, and this approach was rolled out across the entire school.

Many of the children come into nursery at well below age expectations. One day a week a foundation stage teacher hosts a number  of  free-to-access  activities on school grounds, to which 0-three year-olds and their parents are invited. Staff model playing and communicating with the children and encourage parents to do the same.

We have also developed and implemented a communication, literacy and language programme for reception and key stage 1. Parents and children learn finger, action and nursery rhymes and are given activities to support further play at home. The school delivers the 10-week programme to all children, who are baseline assessed at the start and re-assessed at completion.

Children who still do not make the expected progress are followed up with one-to-one support. Home- school activity packs focus on stories, numbers and art and crafts. The school puts the packs together and children can borrow specific items.

Where we are now

•  92% of parents regularly attend parents’ meetings and 100% attend at least once a year

•  key stage 1 results are at the national average for level 2b+, and are double the national average for level 3

•  at the end of key stage 2 the results for level 4 have matched national averages for the past three years and are on track to exceed them this  year.

We aren’t only concerned about results, but about developing children who will grow into happy, rounded young people who will face the world with resilience and be able to play a full part in society.

Early language development is just one of many transformations we have been delighted to see in our school. The deputy head leads a wide range of carefully chosen strategies. His essential partner is the achievement coach who comes into school every three weeks as a critical friend and source of advice, training, expertise and challenge. Working from the school’s needs analysis, together with governors, they identify barriers and solutions, train staff, evaluate impact and celebrate success. We have been very pleased with  our partnership with Achievement for All, because we can see that our  children are happier in school and eager to learn. 

John Brennan is chair of governors at Greengate Lane Academy, Sheffield

This article first appeared in Governing Matters magazine. Governing Matters is published by the National Governors' Association (NGA) for its members. For more information about joining the NGA visit:

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