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Developing a new school with a coaching for excellence model within a research-led environment

Written by: Sue Plant
4 min read

Location and context

John Taylor Free School is a non-selective, non-denominational secondary school near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. It opened in September 2018 with 210 Year 7 students, and the school will grow each year until it reaches capacity at 1,550 students.

Vision for learning

The school follows the mantra of ‘succeed and thrive’, which applies to staff as well as students.

Professional learning sessions

Leaders who create a stimulating and collaborative professional environment, with a shared school vision and goals, are those who can best raise student achievement.

Helal and Coelli (2016), p.28

The coaching for excellence model within a research-led environment means that the school has invested in professional learning for staff – two hours every week to share best practice, draw on the latest research, plan together, and develop coaching capacities to enable each and every member of staff to be the very best that they can be. The school is developing ‘coaching as way of being’ (Van Nieuwerburgh, 2017, p. 11) and not just training staff in a set of coaching skills. Sessions covered so far include: ‘Leaving evidence of high-quality learning – what does the research tell us about displays?’; ‘High quality spirals of enquiry – how to conduct micro research in school’; ‘Developing coaching to facilitate learning’; and ‘The challenge of being excellent’.

Research hub

The lead teacher for research has created an online hub which provides summaries of relevant research across all aspects of the curriculum. He also shares blogs and other articles following the professional learning sessions, which support or challenge thinking. This keeps the staff at the forefront of educational practice and allows them to question themselves in terms of what they are doing and why. By having a research lead, most of the hard work is done for staff, and time is created in the weekly professional learning sessions to read, digest, discuss and debate. Teachers don’t always agree and nor should they. They are able to professionally disagree in a safe and mutually respectful environment, providing a valuable learning opportunity for staff.

Student learning coaches

A key part of the coaching for excellence model is the development of co-construction and the growth of specialist student learning coaches. A coaching culture means that students ask better questions, listen more effectively, become more resilient, develop greater self-confidence and experience better relationships. This, of course, has a positive impact on their learning and their progress. A team of coaching champions will be trained in coaching skills and they will co-construct learning with the staff to maximise the progress that students make.

The curriculum model

The opportunity for creating a school from the ground up means that John Taylor Free School can set in place a culture that suits their learners. They have a blended approach to the curriculum; for 55 per cent of their time, students follow the STRIPE programme, which develops the following behaviours (see Figure 1):

  • Self manager
  • Team player
  • Reflective and resilient learner
  • Innovator and creator
  • Participator
  • Enquiring mind.
Figure 1 shows a graphic with six labelled circles arranged in a bigger circle. The circles are labelled: "Self Manager - Motivated and Focused, Follow a Plan, Meet Deadlines, Time Management", "Team Player - Work Well in a Team, Adaptable and Flexible, Compromise to Succeed, Motivate Others, Leadership Skills", "Reflective and Resilient - Persistent and Determined, Understand my Strengths and Weaknesses, Review my Progress, Set and Meet Goals", "Innovate and Create - Create Different Ideas, Take Risks and Experiment, Develop and Explore Ideas, Select the Best Ideas", "Participator - Active Listener, Positively Contribute, Behave to Learn", and "Enquirer - Suggest Questions, Skim, Scan and Summarise, Analyse Information". The initials of each key word form the acronym STRIPE, which is displayed on the left of the diagram.
Figure 1: The STRIPE programme

These learning behaviours stem from the work of Professor Claxton (2008; 2018) and Art Costa (Costa and Kallik, 2009), where powerful learning requires the development of dispositions of mind. To enhance the learning process, students need to understand how they are learning as well as what they are learning. With a driving question – ‘How do we conquer terrain?’ – and through multi-disciplinary projects, students combine academic rigour with real-life learning.

Student learning conferences

These mark the changeover between the projects, and involve students articulating to one another their learning journey for that half-term. They are developing their oracy skills and distilling their knowledge, whilst at the same time getting prepared for the next project by learning from their peers. This approach develops confidence in talking about learning, mistakes, successes and what the next steps are in all aspects of school life. As they progress throughout Key Stage 3, time spent on STRIPE projects reduces. In Year 8 it is 25 per cent of the curriculum, and by the time they reach Year 9, their skills will have become habits, which are demonstrated in discrete subject lessons and showcased during STRIPE theme days. Effective learning behaviours demonstrated habitually across the curriculum lead to a powerful learning environment.

Future developments

Going forward, the school is building the learning community to be future-proof, as they understand that what may work with a small staff and student body also needs to be successful as the school grows. A coaching culture means that there are specific sessions for developing coaching skills, but it also means that staff understand the coaching process and are moving towards a ‘coaching way of being’ (Van Nieuwerburgh, 2017). The impact of this is productive working relationships in school which are built on mutual trust and respect.

Observation technology is very much part of this plan, with staff taking ownership of their own professional learning. They will be able to watch normalised teaching and learning to analyse, critique and develop their own pedagogy. As the school grows, there will be NQTs and trainee teachers for whose professional growth and development this type of technology will be invaluable.

John Taylor Free School is building a learning organisation where staff and students discuss, share and debate both content and approach to learning, where innovation and creativity are welcomed, research informs delivery and excellence in practice is celebrated.


Claxton G (2018) The Learning Power Approach. Camarthen: Crown House Publishing.

Claxton G (2008) What’s the Point of School? Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Costa A and Kallik B (2009) Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum. Alexandria: ASCD.

Helal M and Coelli MB (2016) How Principals Affect Schools. Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 18/16.

Van Nieuwerburgh C (2018) A Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools. London: Sage Publications.

Van Nieuwerburgh C (2017) Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide. London: Sage Publications.

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      Author(s): Bill Lucas