Case Study - Riverside Community Primary School

Brian Jones, Head Teacher

Head Teacher Brian Jones
The system that Liz and Stuart created, feeding back to staff, letting them solve their own problems but in a productive way, is one that I would wholeheartedly endorse and I think could be very effective in a lot of schools – because schools are changing and we’ve got to make sure we change with them.

Brian Jones is the head teacher of Riverside Community Primary School in Plymouth. Riverside is a growing school, with pupil numbers set to rise from 572 in 2013 to 700 by 2016. The children are aged 3-11. The school has 108 staff, including 27 teachers and 42 teaching assistants.

How has Liz Scott Coaching and Training worked with Riverside School?

Brian brought Liz Scott Coaching and Training into the school in 2011, since then eight members of staff have received coaching. The coaching schedule is to continue, together with coaching training, which will enable the coached staff to pass on the skills to colleagues in a ‘cascade’ system.

What was did the school hope to achieve through the coaching?

Brian explains: “The most important thing we have here is our staff. We’ve got some brilliant teachers. We have a team leader structure so that staff members are responsible for a large team of staff – it’s like four mini schools. We took a look at what our staff needed and felt we could increase the range of skills; some of the staff were lacking in confidence when talking in large groups; some didn’t like having difficult conversations; some would come to me for answers to situations even though they were perfectly capable of resolving them. So we felt we needed to build up confidence. We decided that an individual approach would be best and Liz was recommended to us by another school.

What did the process involve?

We had an initial discussion and I liked what Liz was able to offer. I felt Liz could raise the confidence of my staff in those areas where confidence-building was needed. We brought Liz in on a trial period of a year to start with, during which she worked with my deputy and four team leaders.  She took them off-site for an initial meeting and then had six telephone conversations a year with each of them, tackling problems that they had raised themselves. Some have been completely confidential and with some, staff have come to me and asked my opinion.

Coaching has made a noticeable impact at the school

What has been noticeable has been the outcome. The staff are more confident and they’re feeling that they can tackle issues where before they would have asked for advice. Instead of walking away from problems such as a capability issue with a member of staff, people are happy to say ‘actually, I’ll confront this’. And they are now coming to me to say ‘this is what I’ve done’. So it has made my job easier.  It has also created a better atmosphere and has shown to staff that I value them by investing in them. And knowing I trust in their ability has again increased their confidence.

Coaching is making such an impact we are going to continue with it

We felt the coaching has had such an impact at Riverside that if we just kept it at team leader level, we’d be missing a trick. So we’ve continued with the team leaders for a second year and we’ve bought in my deputy team leaders this year. These are predominantly core subject co-ordinators and they take staff meetings. Although they’ve got the ability, not everyone likes doing it. By asking to receive some additional support and putting them into a situation where they feel more confident with themselves, it means they are able to lead staff meetings in a more professional and confident way. And if this is portrayed, people are more likely to come on board and so the impact is trickling down across our school. We’ve found that each new layer has got more confident and has passed it down to the layer below. I would now say that the impact is getting right down to the floor level.

The coaching programme has been so successful the head teacher wants coaching

Brian Jones goes on to say: “I am very confident in my ability. I’ve been a head for 10 years and I think I can do my job. We are a successful school and recently got ‘good’ in our Ofsted. But after seeing the impact the coaching has had with my staff, I think maybe I could do my job in a slightly more productive way by looking at myself in a slightly different light. Are there other ways that I can do things? So I will be having coaching from Liz from September 2013. Hopefully, this will help me see things in a different way and possibly some of my weaknesses will be reduced. And my decision to have the coaching has been perceived by the staff as very positive.”

The coaching has had an impact on our ‘good’ Ofsted

Brian believes the coaching is a contributory factor behind improvements and the ‘good’ Ofsted result: “Definitely. There is no doubt at all because if you have people who are able to do their job effectively, that knocks on to everything else in the school. We are a happy school. I would say that two years ago, we weren’t as happy. We’ve not lost any staff this year; nobody wants to leave us; my team leaders who are all excellent and could be promoted are all saying ‘no’ I want to carry this job on because if you value me, then we’d like to stay to make sure this school can move to the next stage, which is ‘outstanding’. Middle leaders were graded very highly by our recent Ofsted. So I think it has had an impact on us as a school and taken us forward. Schools are changing. The days of schools running with just a head are gone and I’m very keen to make sure that everybody here feels that they can contribute to us as a school.”

Riverside School is now planning to generate a coaching culture

Brian’s long-term aim is for a coaching culture throughout the school: “That’s where we’ll go. If it can have this much of an impact on staff, on middle leaders’ role – and hopefully on a head – then we’re keen for all staff to just ask things in a different way. It’s about them deciding whether they need to tackle things in the way they would normally tackle them, or thinking of other ways that they can support the class teachers to make sure they can make the improvements that we need.

The coaching is making a real difference

We are very pleased with the process and the impact it has made within our school. The staff are happier, more confident and more productive in their role. We have a layer of management at Riverside that I would hold up to any other example. We’ve got good team leaders that are running their departments in a much more professional way than we had before. Their weakest areas have now become their strongest and that to me has been a really important part of what we’ve tried to do at Riverside.

The school feels different. The staff look different – they actually look taller. They’re walking around in a different way; they’re feeling that they can take anything on. They look like they are more confident in their job. They come to school with a smile, most of the time, and if they’re faced with a challenge, they will face it head on and they will do it in a totally professional way. And then they’ll come back to me and say ‘this is what we’ve done and this is the outcome’. There’s a lot or confidence across the school – and that it so important because it’s a tough job.

This has been the ‘best training’ they’ve ever had

Both Liz and Stuart are very professional and they have been very well received by my staff. They have the confidence of my staff. Some have said that it’s been the best training they’ve been involved with.

Liz Scott Coaching and Training is whole-heartedly endorsed by Riverside

The system that Liz and Stuart created, feeding back to staff, letting them solve their own problems but in a productive way, is one that I would wholeheartedly endorse and I think could be very effective in a lot of schools – because schools are changing and we’ve got to make sure we change with them.”