Christabel Shepherd & Chris Llyod
Christabel Shepherd and Chris Lloyd
Executive Headteacher and Head of School at Holybrook Primary School (Bradford, West Yorkshire)
Programme cohort
2018 Leading Together

How we went from inadequate to outstanding in one Ofsted cycle

Leading Together was the key to unlocking the leadership potential in staff at Holybrook Primary and transforming the school and the local community. We spoke to the school's leadership team about their astonishing progression from Inadequate to Outstanding in one Ofsted cycle (during the pandemic, no less).

Holybrook was in special measures in December 2017 when it joined the Exceed Academies Trust. It serves the Ravenscliffe estate in Bradford, and our children are predominantly white British (with 60% entitled to Pupil Premium funding). A quarter of our pupils have special educational needs.

Leading Together allowed all our senior leaders to take ownership of what needed to change

It felt like a really good opportunity to make sure all of our senior leadership team (SLT) would be part of a learning journey together. We wanted them to identify why we had problems, work together to come up with solutions and develop as leaders at the same time. 

Teacher sitting with pupils in classroom

Our Achievement Partner helped us tackle issues with behaviour

One of the main things we needed to overcome was problems with behaviour. Neither the children nor the community had any faith in the school whatsoever. We had big challenges with parental engagement and very low aspirations amongst the children and the community. 

There were three main things we did with our Achievement Partner. We created a new behaviour policy with a really positive ethos and were determined to be consistent in applying it. We started forging better engagement with the parents, and we worked hard on raising the quality of teaching and our expectations. It definitely took some time but, oh my goodness, you should see it now. We started planning to push for outstanding when our next Ofsted visit came round. For a school that was in special measures five years ago, that’s pretty great!

Excellent teaching and a consistent approach has increased children’s trust and enthusiasm  

A huge thing was the quality of teaching. The children are taught consistently well, and they know that what they experience in one class, they will also experience in another. They know that across the teaching staff and the leadership team they’re going to get the same treatment and the same message. So, they feel safe. They know where the boundaries are. In 2019, our pupils got the best results they had in about 10 years.

I think it's a gorgeous school now. When you walk in, the children are happy to see you. And yes, many experience a range of personal and academic challenges, but they have access to a range of excellent support and provision to help address and overcome those problems. 

three pupils point to a colourful map

We have developed into a confident, supportive leadership team

The staff at Holybrook have had to face a much more difficult set of circumstances than at many other schools, yet during the COVID-19 pandemic they just got everything done. They were so open to virtual teaching, learning what worked and what didn’t, and they just did all of it seamlessly without a complaint. I think it's because they became such a tight team during the programme.

One of the best things for us was also watching our colleagues starting to recognise their own strengths. Our Teach First Achievement Partner, Clare, ran lots of activities to start us thinking about our individual qualities and how we all fit together to make a leadership team that could take the school forward effectively. We started opening up to each other more, leaning on and learning from each other.

We’re delighted that the school has been judged Outstanding in every area and that, as such, Ofsted recognised the relentless work which has been done to develop and embed a culture of excellence at Holybrook. The commitment, hard work and collaborative efforts of all stakeholders has meant that our children and the community now have the outstanding school they deserve and should expect. Of course taking a school from Inadequate to Outstanding is a significant improvement but our children deserve no less than this. We’re immensely proud of them and of the staff and governors who stuck with us, grew with us and had the same high aspirations for our children, and we are immensely grateful to our powerful coalition across Exceed Academies Trust.

Tailored professional development for all leaders 

Teach First supported us to develop a strong SLT where everyone saw that they were a leader. The coaching, training and guidance that Clare provided helped us to identify our strengths and gaps as leaders and to address these effectively through evidence-based professional development (PD) with dedicated time and space to work together.

The bespoke training for all staff focused on our identified improvement priorities. Through Teach First, all teachers accessed professional coaching and the power of this was clear. Coaching conversations are now evident in our approach to PD across the school. Through the programme, we learnt about excellent models of practice which then became embedded into our work. 

Two pupils kicking a ball

Aspirations are now high for all our children

This outcome has lifted the entire community. It demonstrates that they should always expect exceptional education for their children and has shown children - and their families - what they can achieve.

Our gorgeous children wear their Holybrook uniform with pride and are keen to face a challenge and learn. They have so much more self-belief and higher aspirations. At the start of this journey they just didn't believe they ‘could' and now they know they ‘can'.

The Leading Together programme

If you're part of a school considering taking the Leading Together programme, absolutely do it. The benefits are way beyond what you expect them to be: it will build your leadership team and develop skills within each staff member. It gives them the skills they need to take a school forward and therefore, in the long-term, it does lead to sustainable school improvement

It’s a leap of faith, but trust me, it will be worth it in the end.

Could your school leadership team benefit from a bespoke, focused training package? Find out more about our free Leading Together programme.

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