Highlighting best practice
Year 12 and 13 students on
Gold Duke of Edinburgh Canoe
Top performing school in
Northamptonshire 2017
Southfield School, based in Kettering, has undergone an
incredible journey in the past four years. From a school
Ofsted considered to be “requiring improvement”,
Southfield has become the best-performing school in
Northamptonshire and is now among the top five per cent
nationally. It even has ambitions of attaining “world class”
status in the near future. Many may wonder how a school
could achieve such a feat in so short a span of time. Here head
teacher Steph Roberts provides the strategies she and her team
applied to achieve the school’s upturn in fortunes, in the hopes
that they can be used as a guide and implemented elsewhere.
Southfield’s journey to world class status
Five years ago, Southfield School received a “requiring improvement” judgment
from Ofsted with key performance indicators below the national average. Two years
later our Ofsted rating had improved to “good” and a Progress 8 score of +0.27
made us “the best performing school in Kettering”. This year, with a Progress 8
score of +0.69, we are now “the best performing school in Northamptonshire” and
among the top five per cent of all secondary schools nationally.
Where to start? Change the culture!
At Southfield we consider our culture to be the cornerstone of our recent success.
Our starting point was challenging behaviour, however low-level, that was not
wholly conducive to learning. Our approach is “zero tolerance” and the sanctions
»Head teacher:
»Founded in 1913
»Based in Kettering,
»Type of school:
Comprehensive secondary
school for students 11-18
»Staff: 67 teaching, 44 support
»No. of students: 1,020
»Single sex for ages 11-16 with
a mixed sixth form
»Progress 8: +0.69
Southfield School
are both clear and immediate. Our
simple strategy was the introduction of
“behaviour for learning” cards worn
on house lanyards. Concurrently we
restructured our student services team
and staffed it almost exclusively with
non-teaching staff. This enabled us
to respond instantly and effectively to
behavioural issues as they occurred.
An underlying lack of resilience
among students was identified as
a shortcoming that needed to be
addressed. Although potentially
controversial, assessment results were
displayed within the school, a “year 11
mock exam results day” gave students
a realistic feeling of what the actual
GCSE results day could feel like and
year 11 assemblies leading up to exams
included motivational speakers – some
being former students – and were
aimed at focusing students on the
challenge ahead. For those students
with higher educational aspirations
our “Top University Club” gave them
something tangible to aspire to. A
key strategy aimed at addressing
the resilience issue is the Duke of
Edinburgh award scheme. Southfield
School is one of only a few schools in
the county that holds “Direct Licensing
Centre” status. Over half of year 9
annually enrol in the scheme and
many follow it all the way through to
completing gold in sixth form.
We resolved to refrain from sending our
year 11 students on study leave prior
to exams. This demanded buy-in from
both our students and our staff. Because
of this additional demand placed on
our already highly committed staff,
we invested in staff well-being. Using
existing staff PPA periods we created
“Planning Off-Site” (POS) opportunities.
For each staff member an already
existing PPA was complemented by a
covered tutor time to facilitate either a
late start or early finish once a fortnight.
During this time, focused individual/
team planning and/or marking/
moderating could take place off-site.
Additionally, we created opportunities
for external training in which new
ideas could be brought back and
shared among the teaching staff.
Southfield has supported staff to
become examiners for awarding
bodies, and we benefited from this
by generating more focused skills in
preparing students for assessments
and accuracy in the marking of internal
assessments. Most significantly,
Southfield staff are treated with
respect, and are trusted to conduct
themselves as professionals. They
consequently feel valued and respected
– perhaps this is the reason why they
are prepared to go that extramile.
Where next? The answer is in
the data!
A key enabler of improvement of
outcomes is collection, tracking and
analysis of data. Enabled by a highly
skilled data manager with the ability
to write programs to answer specific
questions, data is the starting point
of any targeted improvement strategy
for individual students. SISRA Analytics
is also used school-wide, especially
among senior and middle leaders, with
the aim of accurate data interpretation.
Of course, data is only a means to an
end. In consultation with curriculum
leaders, analysed data is used to create A respectful, safe and
purposeful learning
staff are
treated with
respect, and
are trusted to
themselves as
Highlighting best practice
specifically targeted intervention
which manifests itself in the form of
an extensive programme of lunchtime
and afterschool skill-based revision
sessions. Furthermore, we instigated a
programme of one-on-one interviews
with year 11 students, conducted by
senior and middle leaders, aiming to
focus upon students’ current progress,
targets and aspirations for the future.
Don’t be constrained by
staffing or the timetable
To enable specifically targeted
intervention there are knock-
on implications for staffing and
timetabling. We purposely overstaffed
in the core subject areas of English,
maths and science to facilitate small
group intervention.
Ahead of GCSE examinations, year 11
timetables were rewritten to provide
a coordinated “lead-in” and year 11
tutor groups were rearranged based
on specific learning needs, whether
that be crossing the C/D borderline in
English or achieving a targeted A* in
physics. This focused rearrangement
of tutor groups, together with hand-
picked, subject specialist tutors,
created more opportunity for targeted
intervention. Another subtle attempt
to use precious time effectively was
taking the latest permissible start time
for external examinations preceded
by a final focused revision session
and breakfast. Students with poor
attendance records and those with
complex travel arrangements were
collected for exams by the school
“Personal development” days were
introduced for the whole school once
per term. This involved collapsing the
normal timetable by six days per year
and provided students, by year group,
with personal development activities
tailored to their needs. While year 7
may have been building their resilience
at an outdoor activity centre, the year
11s were “heads down”, focused on
GCSE exam preparation and stress
management techniques.
Perhaps the pinnacle of this
programme of targeted intervention
was the year 11 residential revision
weekend, held at the end of April,
which involved 24 hand-picked staff
members taking out a timetabled
Friday and Monday as well as the
intervening weekend for focused core
subject revision. Although this required
rescheduling for that Friday, student
feedback suggested that this was the
single biggest factor that assisted them
in reaching their target grades.
The future – “world class”
Southfield School has a shared vision
of continuing to strive for “world
class” status, with focus clearly on
excellence in teaching and learning.
A new leadership team, recruited
both internally and externally, has
created “pull through” opportunities
for advancement in middle leadership
and an ongoing need for succession
planning for the future. Hopefully the
best is yet to come!
The pinnacle
of this
programme of
was the year
11 residential
Year 11 revision