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Pilton Community College: how coaching with Steplab transformed our culture
Case study • 8 May '24
Caroline Sherwood

Caroline Sherwood is Deputy Headteacher at Pilton Community College. In this case study, Caroline shares her school's experience working with Steplab and the impact this has had on her school community.

Pilton Community College was struggling to improve, with challenges linked to our context in a rural area of North Devon, where part of the catchment area is in one of the most deprived wards in England – and with many ‘Requires Improvement’ judgements from Ofsted to contend with. But we were determined to turn things around. And Steplab played a massive role in this transformation.

Building an open, supportive culture

Our goal was to create an environment where teachers are open to feedback and committed to continuous development. Previously some loose coaching was happening, but the school really needed the structure and the intelligence of Steplab to make this vision a reality. We started by recruiting passionate teachers to become coaches, and fostering a supportive culture in which everyone could learn and grow.

Adapting to challenges

As is the case for many schools, we had serious obstacles to contend with. Staffing issues meant we couldn’t offer fortnightly coaching to everyone for the entire year. This could have been a setback, but we chose to adapt. We implemented a system in which half the staff received coaching for half of the year, and the other half for the next.

Responsive leadership

Challenges like these evolved my leadership. I realised the importance of hope and being a hopeful leader – reminding myself and the school body routinely of the end game. And I have often had to choose courage over comfort, having challenging conversations to ensure our teachers are getting the PD that they deserve.

Bringing these principles throughout the school, we also refined accountability measures to make sure everyone received quality coaching and could be confident in the system. Steplab has been there throughout this journey. Their resources and personal guidance have helped us navigate challenges and find creative solutions.

Results in

The impact of coaching at Pilton has been undeniable.

  • 93% of staff agree or strongly agree that they value coaching
  • 83% of staff feel they've made improvements to their teaching
  • We're seeing consistent improvements in areas like student attention
  • Staff are requesting coaching for their trickiest classes – showing trust in the process

Looking forward

In February 2023, we received our Good rating from Ofsted, and Pilton’s best Progress 8 ever. It's still not where we want it to be yet – still room for improvement. But we’re moving in the right direction. I was delighted that Ofsted noted how our leaders are prioritising teachers’ PD and that we’ve established a strong culture of reflection and feedback. Much of that is down to coaching and Steplab.

Going forward, we’ll continue to develop our coaching team, and methods – for example with more video analysis. Meanwhile, Steplab will be integrated ever further with our own ‘Learning at Pilton’ model, to fully embed our approach into our school culture.

During Pilton’s transformation – in which Steplab has been instrumental – I’ve learned that everyone can get better, regardless of our starting point. We feel empowered to continue this journey, providing our teachers with the development, and our students with the education, they deserve.

If you’d like to hear more about how Steplab provides 1000s of schools with professional development that really works, contact [email protected] or book a free demo.


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