Aim: To develop the subject-specific knowledge of the teaching staff to ensure that all students receive a high quality academic education.

Background: The school was categorised as Outstanding by Ofsted in 2011 and consistently achieves strong examination results at A Level and GCSE. The school’s intake is diverse, serving both Durham City and a number of former mining villages. It was felt that detailed subject knowledge and stimulating teaching would afford the students, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, access to further education, better employment opportunities and instil greater self confidence. The school was inspected again in February 2015 and was again categorised as being Outstanding.


Year 1:

A new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme and a new school calendar were designed to maximise training opportunities. A target was to further increase results in all areas, with a particular focus upon disadvantaged pupils.

Contact was made with the Art, Geography, History, Mathematics and Music departments at Durham University and with key teachers in partnership schools. In addition, the relevant Local Authority Advisers were contacted.

Years 2 & 3:

A much greater emphasis was given to subject-specific training time for staff and the importance of subject leadership. Eight new staff appointments were made based upon a modified, subject-specific recruitment plan. Increased cultural opportunities were provided for disadvantaged students via Art, Geography, History, Maths and Music.

There was increased subject involvement in PTI training: five departments met, or were working towards, the PTI Mark and middle leaders of Art, History, Maths and Music have delivered training and designed Subject Days for the PTI.

A survey by middle leaders confirmed the disparity of practice between departments. A working group of three middle leaders was convened to design a set of expectations and protocols, which would govern the work of the leadership group in support of middle leaders and their departments. This resulted in the strengthening of middle leadership at the school, a strength identified by Ofsted as part of the school’s 2015 inspection.

Evidence: Exam results, inspection, subject-specific student questionnaires, lesson observation and work sampling.

Impact: Subject- specific CPD has proved successful and good subject specialists have been recruited. Key departments have also performed very well academically. The biggest challenge was trying to introduce and sustain a large project whilst avoiding generalisations and maintaining nuance; we wanted to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Reflections: Providing more time for subject specialists to work together is pivotal, and imposing generic, whole-school systems on departments should be avoided. There were difficulties in classifying ‘disadvantaged’ students; with such a broad term, some of the initial assumptions were, retrospectively, quite inaccurate.

Contact: Andrew O’Sullivan,a.o’