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HMI Best Practice Report

Best practice with disadvantaged students in the North West

St Thomas of Canterbury was invited to take part in an HMI enquiry. 


What is the work about?

This is a collaborative project. It is not an inspection and they wanted to learn from our school, to respond to a key theme in this year’s Annual Report by HMCI. As you know, the North West has many pupils and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not achieve well. St Thomas of  Canterbury was invited to take part (of eight schools in total in the first phase of the project) because we ‘buck the trend’. Pupils entitled to free school meals do very well, consistently.


Please read the report below from the outcome of the HMI visit:



St Thomas of Canterbury primary school is situated in Higher Broughton Salford. The number of pupils entitled to free school meals is appropriately three times the national average. Over two-thirds of pupils are from minority ethnic backgrounds with the number of pupils learning English as an additional language being three times above the national average. The school offers an outstanding education for its pupils with all groups making outstanding progress.


The headteacher, David Deane, reflects “The school sets as a central objective the enrichment of all pupils’ language. There is a strong focus in Early Years on developing enhanced speech and listening skills so that pupils will be better able to tune into phonics, and thence to developing their reading and writing skills. Pupils are introduced to a language rich environment structured to maximise the development of speaking and listening skills. Role play is a key. Pupils are encouraged to apply what they have learnt into concrete situations: they are provided with numerous opportunities to make learning tangible. At the very start of their education at St Thomas of Canterbury pupils are encouraged to ask questions, to enquire and reason, to ‘stand and deliver’ among their peers.”

One teacher noted “It’s about enriching language and getting children to speak and to listen. Establishing relationships where they are confident to speak and express their opinions, to explain and to reason. From the start children are encouraged to stand up among their peers and give reasons why they are doing things. In this atmosphere children start to encourage and support each other.”

In a nursery class on counting numbers pupils warmed up with a mathematics song. The teacher reflected quickly on the key lesson skills; too look and listen. Pupils then split into three ability groups. Lower ability pupils focused on numbers 1 to 5; middle ability pupils on numbers 1 to 12 and higher ability pupils on numbers 1 to 20. In the middle ability group pupils started by reciting numbers 1 to 12. The teacher worked with a series of cards which pupils choose. On the back of each card was a picture of type of dog, a numicon shape and number. When children turned the card over there would be a discussion about the shape and name of the dog as a means for extending vocabulary. Pupils would then seek to recognise the numicon and number and this would be re-enforced by counting out the appropriate number of pennies. All would be interspersed with the song “How much is that doggy in the window?” Pupils were joyfully, fully involved and eager to learn.

Next, pupils have a longer period of learning, independently and co-operatively. Pupils can choose an activity or move between activities. The learning space was divided into specialist areas; role play; reading; construction;  number; mark making; small world; wet; cuddly toy parlour and cooking. Each of these areas was also found in the outside space. Each area had embedded the concept of number which reflected the work of the first session. Pupils moved fluidly from one area to another exploring and re-enforcing number. They not only developed their number skills but also language, listening, awareness and co-operative skills. Teachers and teaching assistants supported learning and exploration skilfully and sensitively.

Fast forward several years later and one can see the impact of this focus on speaking and listening in a Year 5 class. The subject was addition and subtraction. Pupils were working in groups with each group given a specific task. One group had the theme “using brackets in calculation”. Their task was to develop a tool kit to demonstrate the theme and then to film an explanation as an aide memoire for other children to better understand the topic.  They choose to role-play a classroom situation with a ‘teacher’ explaining the concept and asking challenging questions to students. They scripted and filmed the role play. Application to the task was intense and purposeful. They demonstrated a command of the subject and fine-tuned independent learning and co-operative skills. In another group three boys prepared the planning and resources for a lesson on “adding fractions with the same denominator”. Again they designed the tool kit application, resources such as bar models and cube sticks and the delivery mode of the lesson. Teachers moved with ease from group to group, to support and encourage learning. Role play was used as a means to better apply and embed mathematical language and to understand of mathematical concepts. Pupils were developing their understanding of the mathematics concepts through speaking and listening and employing high order learning skills. These were self-confident learners who were fully engaged and making outstanding progress.

On another occasion this class was visited when two students were giving a PowerPoint presentation on how they approached an algebraic problem. The class listened intensely as the students went through the different stages towards the solution. Their peers asked questions which were answered concisely and confidently. At the conclusion different pupils presented their own pathways to the answer and outlined variances in their approach. The teacher listened with interest to the informed and lively dialogue. Here were students fully confident in mathematical language and concepts, exploring and deepening their conceptual understanding of mathematics. The process informed and added to their self-confidence and oracy.

Another example

In a Year 1 guided reading class pupils read an extract from a reading book on St George and the Dragon. With the teacher they explored the differences and similarities in words, for example, ‘village’ and ‘villagers’. They then recorded the words with the letter ‘g’. They explored the sound of the ‘g’ in different words. Role paly was used to aid and embed understanding. Pupils were encouraged to explore different meanings and to ask questions of word(s) in context and then placed in a different context. Pupils explored how to model a comment or question the meaning of parts of the text in order to establish and deepen their understanding. The key principals of developing speaking and listening were skilfully woven throughout the fabric of the session.

Materials linked with this case study

(To be supplied by Patrick Geraghty HMI)