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‘Over-steer’

Early in my teaching career, I started to get annoyed by those people in the staff room who would declare that they’d seen everything in education come round before. You know the ones? Where every new development in school gets met with a knowing nod and a declaration that it’s just one big circle and everything comes back into fashion?

I mean there I would be, just trying to  enthusiastically deliver the latest initiative that would revolutionise the teaching of someone who’d been doing it for 20 years longer than me, and there they were, folding their arms and telling me they’d seen it all before.

Turns out they were mostly right.

Over-steer

If you’ve ever tried to play one of those car games in the arcade, you’ll know the feeling well. You try to turn left but you do it so hard that before you know it you’re out of control and have crashed into the barrier on the other side.  And scarred by that experience you quickly pull the wheel too vigorously in the other direction and bang, you’ve hit the barrier you were trying to avoid in the first place.

I trained in the late 90s and was a child of the literacy and numeracy strategies. Clear, rigorous, primary, instruction. Crisp four part lessons. 8-10 minute plenaries only. Punctuated with mini-plenaries.  Mechanical coverage was ensured.

Then came the noughties; the lure of learning styles, the freedom of the creative curriculum. Life-skills. Topic work. Curriculum freedoms (remember those?). After all, what does it matter what we do in school when the skills needed for future jobs haven’t been dreamed about yet and who needs handwriting or spelling when we’ve got laptops and spell checker (and they only count for a handful of marks on the SATs test)?

And now the teenies and social media has brought all extremes together in a single timeline that can persuade, embarrass, divide, unify and both create and dispel edu-myths alike. 

Marking. Too much marking. No marking.

Curriculum in balance. Curriculum doesn’t matter. Curriculum matters.

What’s technology? Use technology. Avoid technology.

Can we prevent ourselves from over-steering; from pulling the wheel down too hard for fear of crashing off in one direction only to find ourselves so far off the track on the other? Can we avoid lurching from initiative to counter-initiative, ignoring the nuance and context in the bright lights of the ‘next thing’.

Can complex problems be solved with simple solutions?

Does educational extremism ever solve anything?

Over-steer is ‘a thing’.

Let’s keep the balance.

 

Stopping the Marking Runaway Train…

For the last six months, like many schools, we have been reviewing our approaches  to feedback and marking and this September we’ll be starting term with a revised approach. We hope that this will have a more positive impact on learning whilst reducing the workload of teachers in the school.

Having been through this process, here are 10 things that I know or think about marking and feedback in no particular order:

  1. Although it is widely talked about that feedback has the biggest effect size on children’s learning, in 38% of cases feedback has shown to have a negative effect on learning (Kluger & Denisi – 1996).  Therefore, we should be really thoughtful in the future about the models of feedback that we use in school.
  2. Feedback can be more effective when it used sparingly rather than children being overloaded with feedback.
  3. Unless children are given time and an opportunity to respond to feedback, it’s pointless.
  4. Misconceptions and careless errors are separate things and should be marked or fed back on using different strategies.
  5. There is lots that is known about marking and feedback that we probably don’t know enough about in schools. Documents such as those from the EEF and Teacher Workload ‘Marking Policy Review Group’ are really important but, due to time pressures, many teaching staff are unlikely to have read them.
  6. Despite what I’ve said in point 5, there is not enough evidence around the effectiveness of marking to be sure of much really and so we should hold on to our ideas and beliefs lightly as more research takes place into this.
  7. When you talk to teachers or read what they write on twitter, they generally say that they predominately mark for book scrutinies and OFSTED rather than for any real effect on learning.
  8. There are crystal clear messages from OFSTED that there is no requirement for any specific type or frequency of marking and that we do not need to spend time creating evidence of verbal feedback which is simply a part of teaching and can be seen in almost any lesson.
  9. There are more effective ways of giving feedback to children than through written comments such as verbal feedback or responsive teaching (read: teaching).
  10. It is still impossible to write a feedback or marking policy without quoting Dylan WiIiam.

‘If there’s a single principle teachers need to digest about classroom feedback, it’s this: The only thing that matters is what students do with it. No matter how well the feedback is designed, if students do not use the feedback to move their own learning forward, it’s a waste of time.’

Dylan Wiliam

How did we get into this mess?

Throughout the last 6 months, I’ve reflected a lot on how we have got to this point on marking nationally, not for the purposes of attributing blame but through genuine interest into how a mix of bright ideas, poor evidence and the pressure of accountability can quickly become runaway trains like marking approaches have become across the country or ‘hornets’ ( to quote Joe Kirby’s excellent blog).

I think that there are  two key misunderstandings we have made as a profession:

  1. ‘Feedback’ has been interpreted to mean ‘marking’.
  2. ‘Responding to marking’ has been interpreted to mean ‘children writing comments in response to marking’ rather than children putting the feedback they receive into practice in their future work.

At the heart of all this lies one of the biggest problems for all of us involved in education: we can’t see learning. Because we can’t see learning happening, we often focus on the visible things that we associate with good learning or ‘proxies for learning’ (Read more about Rob Coe’s ‘poor proxies for learning’ here) . Focusing on the visible and the ‘easy measurables’ makes the job of monitoring easy but potentially means we value the wrong things; I think that marking falls into this category. Far more valuable than marking is the verbal feedback that takes place in every lesson up and down the country every day but will never (or should ever) be seen in a book scrutiny. The irony is that although marking is a visible end-product, the process of marking is often invisible with teachers spending hours, often at home, in the evening wading through piles of books.

When I asked on twitter what teachers’ perspectives were of who was responsible, I was interested in the response that came back. It would seem that the mythbusting messaging from OFSTED is cutting into our perceptions and really shifts the onus onto us as school leaders to grab a hold of this issue where it exists and help staff get a handle on marking.

Naturally, Sean Harford (National Director of OFSTED) was keen for us to move on from the blame game and to focus on how to fix it rather than cause. Quite right Sean – I’d say exactly the same. Let’s crack on!

The opportunity cost of marking policies in schools is huge and we should embrace the current opportunity for change with both hands.  As an ex-year 6 teacher who has spent thousands of hours of my life marking hundreds of children’s books (many before the days of PPA time) this development is both liberating and wildly frustrating.  Why has it taken us until 2016 to come to this conclusion?  What could I have done instead with all those hours of my life? And why as a leader did I not become wiser to this sooner so I could have saved my staff all these hours and let them focus on things that matter more?

I’ll duly hold my hand up and say that our staff have been marking too much in recent years. Although we felt we had a workload-friendly approach (teachers were not expected to provide written feedback in core subjects more than once a week), the reality was that the staff were doing much more and there are far more useful things they can be doing with their valuable time.

The process of changing marking approaches…

Marking is such an ingrained habit for teachers and so we have taken time and been cautious with this change not to throw out processes that, on reflection, we still feel are valuable and important. The following process was led brilliantly by one of our Assistant Heads and I take no credit for it.

  1. Reading and Research – At this stage, a handful of us were reading about different approaches to marking and finding out what the approach of other schools is and how they are (or aren’t) changing these. As part of this process, a survey was also carried out with teachers in our school to find out how much time they were spending on marking and also to understand their perceptions of what was more and less useful. It’s great to be able to read about other schools’ experiences as they’ve changed their processes too and learn from their experiences; the early bird may catch the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.As usual, Michael Tidd’s posts are invaluable and this one in particular was very influential in us understanding the ‘diminishing returns of marking’ amongst other things.
  2. Working Group Trials and Pilots – A working group was set up consisting of 6 teaching staff who met and trialled different approaches including whole-class feedback, marking crib-sheets keeping tabs on how long processes were taking and what effect they felt this was having on learning.
  3. Presenting Ideas to Staff – At a staff meeting, the rationale for change was made alongside some suggested practices for staff to use. This was a really important point for me – you can’t pull the carpet from under people’s feet unless you can offer answers to what should happen in its place.
  4. Whole Staff Road Test – At this stage, we had outlines for practices which had been tested in some classes and in other schools and all staff were told that there was no expectation for more than one written comment in children’s books throughout the half term. We collected feedback at staff meetings throughout these 7 weeks and staff were great at emailing round their thoughts – it was great to hear how much time they’d saved and also how they felt they were able to spend more time planning responsive teaching rather than working through the process of documenting it in individual books.
  5. Feedback – At the end of the Summer Term, we spent a staff meeting with staff feeding back on how the process had been and what their thoughts were about how we should adapt the process further for September. My Assistant Head then did the policy work which we will present back to staff at the beginning of term.
  6. Implementation – We already know that staff have found it hard to kick the habit and that feelings of guilt still exist because they are not spending time every evening putting written comments in books. Like all habits, it will take time and so we will keep working on this to make sure that teachers can adapt to the change.

Our revised Feedback Policy

Some key points from our revised approach are as follows:

  • Our policy is for Feedback rather than Marking and pays attention to the important business of verbal feedback to children and responsive teaching first and foremost.
  • There is no requirement for staff to evidence ‘verbal feedback’. Verbal feedback is an integral part of teaching and learning which can be observed taking place in almost every lesson.
  • Marking crib sheets such as the one below are now commonly used to support whole-class-feedback and inform ‘responsive teaching’. The one below is from Mr Thornton’s blog – we have adapted similar versions which staff can use either as paper copies or are more often using online versions in our OneNote planning documents.
This example is taken from Mr Thornton’s blog at https://mrthorntonteach.com/2016/04/08/marking-crib-sheet/

 

Things I think are still worth thinking about with marking and feedback…

  • The differences in successful marking approaches between different subjects or age ranges are significant and therefore a blanket approach clearly isn’t appropriate. Even the subtle differences between year groups are worth discussing and being specific on – the difference between the ability of children in Year 1 and 2 for example to respond to written feedback is considerable.
  • Where we hear about ‘no more marking’ approaches, I hope that this isn’t interpreted as ‘no more looking at children’s work on a daily basis’ approach. My teachers know their children inside out – partly due to the attention they pay to reading their work. Although I understand that at a secondary level, there may be challenges over reading through the books of the hundreds of different, this is not the case in primary and it’s reasonable to think that primary teachers will still read through children’s work throughout the week to keep that personal.

Our draft marking policy is available at the link below. It may change again slightly after we’ve been through it with staff at the training days ahead. If you’re ahead of us on the journey, I’d love to hear your feedback or critique. If you haven’t yet stopped the marking runaway train in your school, I hope that this post might be helpful to you.

Simon de Senlis Draft Marking Policy September 2017 Download

References – All these posts or documents were really influential in our policy change.  Thank you to everyone who was involved in writing or contributing to them!

Education Endowment Fund Marking Review, ‘A Marked Improvement’, April 2016. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/EEF_Marking_Review_April_2016.pdf

OFSTED ‘Mythbusting’ Document, August 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-from-september-2015/ofsted-inspections-mythbusting

Michael Tidd, ‘A Policy for Feedback not Marking’. https://michaelt1979.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/a-policy-for-feedback-not-marking/

Clare Sealy, Why my school banned marking and the policy that replaced it. https://www.thirdspacelearning.com/blog/2017/confessions-of-a-primary-headteacher-why-my-school-banned-marking 

Joe Kirby, ‘Marking is a Hornet’. https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/marking-is-a-hornet/ 

Mr Thornton, ‘Marking Crib Sheet.‘ https://mrthorntonteach.com/2016/04/08/marking-crib-sheet/

Department for Education, Teacher Workload: Marking Policy Review Group. https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/teacher-workload-marking-policy-review-group

NCETM Primary Marking Guidance  https://www.ncetm.org.uk/files/33333022/NCETM+Primary+Marking+Guidance+April+2016.pdf 

To our Year 6 Leavers… (courtesy of Dr. Seuss)

Dear Year 6

It’s difficult to find the words to say everything that your teachers and I want to say, so here’s some words from Dr. Seuss instead.

Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.)

KIDS, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So… be your name be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…  get on your way!

Mr Rees (but mainly Dr. Seuss – ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’).

Some Perspective on KS2 SATs Data…

So the KS2 Data Outcomes were published today and many Heads and Teachers (including myself) across the country spent a bleary-eyed Tuesday analysing results after a late night spent clicking refresh on the NCA Tools website until the data finally arrived just after midnight.

Today there will have been a vast contrast of emotion and behaviour from staff across the country: cheers and tears, celebrations and (sadly perhaps) resignations. Whilst the national average gradually and predictably inched forward, this headline fails to capture the extreme highs and lows in data across our schools and in different contexts.

Yesterday I sent this tweet out, encouraging heads and teachers to keep perspective which I meant sincerely. I have said the same to at least 20 or so other colleagues in the last 24 hours, either in conversation or on email, text or twitter messages.

It’s important to keep some perspective about what the results mean.  Whilst the overwhelming interpretation for Teachers and School Leaders is that the headline data is a personal reflection of their worth, the truth is that published data across the country remains more a reflection of the context in which we work than the overall quality of teaching within our school. I have written previously about the nonsense of the league tables and the often flawed-accountability that accompanies this data; we must remember this and also the fallacy that seems to exist that everyone’s data must somehow be above the national average.
But of course we shouldn’t devalue the prize of academic success.  The ability to achieve a national expectation in English and Maths remains the key marker for children having all doors open in their futures once they leave Primary School. No-one should pretend that it simply doesn’t matter; we should all want for higher academic standards.  For improvements to be made in a school and across the system though, staff must keep their self-belief and motivation that they can make things better.

I urge everyone to do put some space between any disappointing outcomes so as to avoid knee-jerk decisions that might follow. It’s important that we consider carefully and analytically what data means within individual contexts rather than making sweeping generalised statements around what this now means in terms of potential OFSTED judgements, floor targets or decisions about academisation.

There are many great teachers and leaders who have chosen to work in challenging areas in order to make a difference to those who need it the most.   I hope that they will see any shortcomings in outcomes today as inspiration that they still have room to make a difference in that community – rather than an indictment of their failure as a leader or teacher.

And don’t just take it from me.  Take it from Amanda Spielman, our new HMCIwho said the following just 10 days ago:

“I have no doubt that it requires stronger leadership and management skills to achieve the same outcomes in schools with much more disadvantaged intakes.”

“I want to ask for your help to do the same: to make clear that no head, manager or teacher will be penalised by Ofsted for working in a challenging school.”

Let’s take OFSTED at their word and switch off from the data for the evening.  And on that note…
TR

 

Dear Amanda Spielman (HMCI)

Dear Amanda

Congratulations on your speech at the Education Festival on Friday which I was fortunate to attend.  I thought you spoke clearly and boldly about the big challenges ahead for education and Ofsted. I wish you luck in your important role, particularly with any attempts to ensure that we do not lose the real ‘substance of education’ in the current world of high-stakes testing and narrow accountability measures.  I write to you as a father of three, Headteacher and Education Director for a Multi-Academy Trust of 8 primary schools.  I want all of my children in these 3 contexts to have an education which offers them a wealth of relevant knowledge and skills through a rich curriculum with both breadth and depth of experience and opportunity, the side-effects of which should be high academic outcomes.  Unfortunately, I think that the substance has long-since been eroded in many parts of the system and so I therefore welcome your clear direction and challenge to us all in standing up for an education system worth having.  I sincerely hope that significant change can be made on the issue of flawed accountability which drives many of the unhelpful and unhealthy practices such as gamification of pupil outcomes and reduced breadth of curriculum that we too often see in our schools and which you highlighted.

In order for real change to come about, I do think that it needs acknowledging more clearly the role of ‘main protagonist’ that OFSTED has played  in creating this chaotic culture of unwanted behaviour as well as highlighting the obvious problems with such behaviours. Take, as an example, this letter that all Headteachers in Northamptonshire received a year ago from OFSTED raising ‘concerns about the quality of education’ and highlighting the ‘systemic underperformance’ in our county which is written entirely on the basis of narrow high-stakes performance data. As you rightly pointed out yesterday, ‘If our job depends on clearing a particular bar, we will try to give ourselves the best chance of securing that outcome‘.  It is this type of lever, in the context of an increasingly fragmented system, that has led to further narrowing of curricular, challenges with recruitment and more short-term intervention focusing on borderline groups of children on high stakes test outcomes – certainly in our locality. I am keen to learn more about how OFSTED could be part of the solution in our context in the future rather than part of the problem.

I also valued your comments around ensuring that leaders in tough schools are valued by OFSTED and thought these were very relevant to Northampton Town where I work. I was interested that you referenced the Education Policy Institute report which highlights the fact that schools in disadvantaged areas find it far more difficult to achieve good and outstanding OFSTED grades. Although you pointed out in your speech that often the Leadership and Management judgement is higher than the overall judgement in deprived areas, this is of little consolation to Headteachers who are routinely losing their jobs in challenging contexts due to overall judgements and the inevitable impact that this has on the morale of  communities, staff in schools and recruitment to these areas. The impact of such pressures is exemplified by the current catastrophe around school leadership in Northampton Town where, in our total of 11 mainstream Secondary Schools, there is only a single Headteacher that has now been in post for 5 years or more. I have seen first-hand many talented and capable leaders and educators broken from their experiences of trying to take on the biggest challenges without been given the time to do so and I therefore respectfully disagree with your comment that, ‘OfSTED really does recognise the leadership challenge in tough schools’.

Your comments around the importance of effective school ‘management’ as opposed to the established narrative of heroic leadership and ‘Super Heads’ are also very important.  I believe that the removal of the outstanding grade would be a useful consideration when looking at how a reformed OFSTED could drive more community and system-focused leaders as opposed to ambitious leaders  focusing on achieving an outstanding OFSTED as either a career target or to satisfy an ego.  I have laid out some of these reasons separately here as to why I feel that removing the outstanding tag would help drive system-wide school improvement rather than disparate islands of excellence.

Overall, I believe that there is also room for a much better conversation between the regulators, paymasters and policy makers around how areas of educational challenge can be addressed and that OFSTED can play a better role in encouraging great teachers and school leaders to want to take on the steepest climbs. We must remember that, fundamentally, we all serve the same outcomes; that every child should belong to every school and every leader should feel responsible for improving the schools around us.

There are huge challenges for us all in education and I believe that this week, you showed the system that you have picked the right battles. Like many others, I look forward to being able to play my part in these challenges and to be part of a better conversation in the months and years ahead.

I hope you receive my comments in the constructive manner that they are intended.

Yours sincerely
Tom Rees

Headteacher

Improving Routines, Relationships & Responses through lesson study, research & The New Teacher CPD Standard…

Reading various posts around behaviour in schools recently has made me reflect on some work we’ve been doing this year on teacher professional  development and improving behaviour at Simon de Senlis.  This is quite a long post which outlines the work over the last 6 months that we’ve put into behaviour and teacher CPD across the school (written by me but led by others).
 Behaviour in our school has been a real strength in recent years: the use of sanctions is not often necessary, exclusions are really rare and you can hear a pin drop as children come in and out of my assemblies. Generally our classrooms are places where teachers teach and children learn, and supply teachers always comment on what a lovely day they’ve had and how refreshing it is to be in our school (perhaps they tell all Heads this?).

Nevertheless, and despite the ‘behaviour and safeguarding is outstanding’ stamp, we felt that we could up our game at the end of last school year and that there were specific examples of where behaviour could be improved to overall impact on learning including:

  • Further improving classroom routines and expectations so that higher standards of classroom behaviour were displayed by all children and so that learning opportunities aren’t missed.
  • Improving transitions and movement around school so that it is  slicker, quicker and that lesson time is maximised.
  • Reducing lunchtime arguments/injustices and resolving them quickly to minimise any spill in to afternoon curriculum time for teachers.

Influences in our Approach…

There has undoubtedly been a shift in tone and thinking on behaviour over the last few years from educational reading including social media.  Previous training that we’d attended for example around OFSTED expectations had given messages that outstanding behaviour was less about being silent in the corridors/opening doors/ folding your arms and more about the learning behaviours in the classrooms such as peer feedback and being self-reflective which probably described our children well.  A new wave of prominent and more ‘traditionalist’ voices in education was challenging this and pointing out that conformity, good order and high expectations were still the right things to insist on and debates around schools approaches such as Michaela were useful for us to follow and to challenge our existing beliefs and expectations.  OFSTED have also made it quite clear that they are not looking for any particular methods when they inspect (follow Sean Harford’s mission to bust all the OFSTED myths here) which really frees you up as a Head to think less about what other people might want to see in your school and more about what works for your children and staff.

Collaboration across our Multi-Academy Trust is also healthy as we get to go and review other schools within the partnership and see what standards are like.  In one of our most challenging schools, I sat through an impeccable singing practice with over 400 children engaging 100% and, at another, I watched as 210 children in the Eastern District of Northampton filed inside, outside then inside again in smiling silence at a lunch time.  What becomes so apparent when you see such well-licked routines, is the absence of distraction and how much easier it makes the teachers job who doesn’t have to start lessons by calming classes down or establishing order.

Whilst searching and reading for inspiration about how to move forward with September’s school improvement, we also stumbled upon two useful documents from the most unlikely source: The DfE.  These were ‘Developing Behaviour Management Content for Initial Teacher Training (ITT)’ and the new ‘Standard for teachers’ Professional Development’.  If you haven’t read these documents yet, they’re really useful and products of DfE expert groups on behaviour and Teacher working parties led by Tom Bennett and David Weston respectively, both experts in these fields and whose work I have a lot of respect for.

September Inset

So this September’s training days were about re-securing some of the basics and paying attention to the two key areas of teacher development and classroom behaviour.  We unpicked the two different papers as described below with staff in order to kick-start a new way of working.

Developing Behaviour Management Content for Initial Teacher Training

Although this document was mainly written to influence Initial Teacher Training providers, we found some of the content really useful – in particular the section around the ‘3 Rs of the behaviour curriculum’: Routines, Responses and Relationships which we used as a lens to view different aspects of behaviour management across the school.  This also prompted us to carry out further reading and use other sources to support some development work under each of these headings as follows:

ROUTINES

We had year groups (Teachers and Support Staff) working together to write down all their different routines that take place (there were hundreds) and then got them to evaluate how good each routine was using highlighters and then picked 5 to improve on.  They then spent some time working on a plan with staff in the year group on what attention to these routines they would give to make them ‘consistently slick’.  Our focus routines included:  coming in to class in the morning, coming in and out of assembly, children going to the toilet, lunch hall, transitioning from carpet time to working at desks, Getting out whiteboards, coming in from the playground, having snack (in reception) etc. etc.

3rs

RESPONSES

The first thing we did here was to evaluate the different responses that already exist within our behaviour policy and check that 1) everyone understands what these mean and is confident to use them and 2) got them to rank how effective they felt each strategy is in different situations.

responses

Next, we revisited some of the principles of 1, 2, 3 Magic which underpin our 1, 2, 3 system in school and unpicked some of the key parts of this around stop/start behaviours and teacher talking – particularly with younger children.

responses2

RELATIONSHIPS

Then we looked at relationships and introduced this model which is from ‘Evidence-Based Teaching’ by Geoff Petty.  This was a great exercise and we got staff to plot their relationships with different classes/children and then asked them to discuss in groups as to how they feel they could develop these in the year ahead.  Staff were really honest and typically felt that they were too cooperative at times, particularly with classes or children they had taught before where over-familiarity played a part.

relationships

The paper also makes some suggestions as to how ITT can be extended into the NQT year so that there is mandatory training and accreditation that happens once teachers are in the job.  I feel that this would be a positive move and would welcome additional measures to strengthen behaviour training for teachers who are young in their careers.

Teacher CPD Standard

This document made a lot of sense to us and we were able to unpick the different parts of the standard and really reflect on where we were using these already and where we had gaps.  An interesting exercise was for us to go back and evaluate some different school improvement initiatives we’d implemented over the previous 4 years and then match how effective they were with how many of the different CPD elements we’d included.  Our handwriting implementation ticked all the boxes and stands as a really successful implementation in school that has impacted standards significantly.  In other school improvement areas which had been less effective, we were able to reflected on where perhaps we hadn’t had the real expert challenge in this area or that initatives hadn’t been ‘sustained over time’.

The biggest change we implemented was around how we planned staff CPD across a term.  Co-ordinating the weekly staff meetings, if I’m honest, used to feel a bit like being air traffic control: trying to land all the different demands for statutory training, Improvement Priorities alongside teacher developmental time, research and reading etc.   A particular challenge at Primary level is the constant need to update teacher’s subject knowledge as the curriculum changes and they have to deliver so many different subjects and inevitably this can lead to limited training time being a compromise.

So we reflected on this and decided that we would just focus on two (which we then reduced to one) area of teacher development which would stick to and only allow one ‘indirect’ professional development opportunity per half term to get in the way.  This meant that we had to get comfortable with saying ‘no’ and staff who were chomping at the bit to get moving with other initiatives would have to just be patient until their turn came around, knowing that they would have a bigger opportunity to make an impact when it did.

cpd

A key part of this was to reintroduce lesson study as the predominate form of CPD which we felt was the perfect tool to use for the ‘Collaboration, Reflection, Challenge’ element.  We have used Lesson Study over the past 4 years in different guises but within this model, it allowed us really see it through and avoid the usual barriers of not enough time, attention and empowerment that get in the way.

Lesson Study

The lesson study triads were set up and after the initial input in September, were asked to identify two or three specific behaviour priorities to focus on over the half term.

Over the half term, two lesson study observations took place alongside various other coaching, planning and evaluation sessions with the idea being that all teachers involved would be able to take away elements to develop their own classroom practice.

Here were some of the areas of focus from the teachers’ lesson study triads:

  • Ensuring all students on task  
  • Getting all students actively listening during whole class input
  • Need to establish culture for learning with effective routines.
  • Transitioning  effectively from teaching activities to the main tasks.
  • Reducing any low level disruption
  • Was the starter engaging and useful for all the children bearing in mind the huge range of abilities within the class?
  • How long could the children apply themselves to a teacher-led task and concentrate for?

How independent are the children in the class?

Feedback from Lesson Study Triads

In order to make sure teachers were accountable for the outcome of the lesson study, each triad was asked to present to the staff as part of our training day at the beginning of November.  This was, without doubt, my favourite training day afternoon as I just got to sit back and hear them present back on the following questions:

  1. What have I learnt so far from the Lesson study about my own practice?
  2. What changes have you made/ will you make to your practice as a result of the LS
  3. What has worked well so far?
  4. What impact have the changes had?
  5. Which pieces of research have supported your change?

Feedback from the staff was of a significant positive impact on behaviour with some of the following pieces of feedback from their reports on their reflections of what they’d developed:

  • The importance of table and seating positioning.  I knew the importance of this but looking at someone else’s classroom made me think about my own more carefully.
  • The importance of routines – they are now more clearly set each day and are consistent
  • Increased awareness of how children respond to clear direction.
  • Need to be explicit and expect 100% compliance.
  • Made me think more about the boys as individuals and the challenges they face. Also, the impact their behaviour has on the rest of the class. Just one action of moving someone’s peg in the cloakroom has had a huge impact on her daily experience at school.
  • I now use ‘do it again’ (Lemov strategy) consistently and children respond well without me having to ‘over-intervene’.
  • Overall classroom behaviour is really good in classes across school with really high levels of engagement and few issues of disruption.
  • There is a common language which is developing well including ‘Track the Speaker’, ‘100%’, ‘Gorilla sitting’, ‘Whole body listening’, ‘Set the Standard’.
  • Assembly routines are now ‘consistently slick’.  432 children enter the hall and leave in silence and behaviour in assemblies is good.
  • More rigorous tracking of behaviour incidents and follow up has meant that where issues happen, they are picked up and dealt with quickly.

Feedforward into Policy Change

As part of their presentations, staff were asked to make any recommendations to the Teaching and Learning Handbook and also to the Behaviour Policy.  These have now been reviewed over the Christmas break and incorporated into the new draft policy which will go back out to staff this half term and help us further improve behaviour in 2017.

I really like this cycle of teacher action research informing policy and we’ve started a new cycle for the teaching of Reading this January which we’re equally enthusiastic about.

TR

Improving Routines, Relationships & Responses through lesson study, research & The New Teacher CPD Standard…

Reading various posts around behaviour in schools recently has made me reflect on some work we’ve been doing this year on teacher professional  development and improving behaviour at Simon de Senlis.  This is quite a long post which outlines the work over the last 6 months that we’ve put into behaviour and teacher CPD across the school (written by me but led by others).
 Behaviour in our school has been a real strength in recent years: the use of sanctions is not often necessary, exclusions are really rare and you can hear a pin drop as children come in and out of my assemblies. Generally our classrooms are places where teachers teach and children learn, and supply teachers always comment on what a lovely day they’ve had and how refreshing it is to be in our school (perhaps they tell all Heads this?).

Nevertheless, and despite the ‘behaviour and safeguarding is outstanding’ stamp, we felt that we could up our game at the end of last school year and that there were specific examples of where behaviour could be improved to overall impact on learning including:

  • Further improving classroom routines and expectations so that higher standards of classroom behaviour were displayed by all children and so that learning opportunities aren’t missed.
  • Improving transitions and movement around school so that it is  slicker, quicker and that lesson time is maximised.
  • Reducing lunchtime arguments/injustices and resolving them quickly to minimise any spill in to afternoon curriculum time for teachers.

Influences in our Approach…

There has undoubtedly been a shift in tone and thinking on behaviour over the last few years from educational reading including social media.  Previous training that we’d attended for example around OFSTED expectations had given messages that outstanding behaviour was less about being silent in the corridors/opening doors/ folding your arms and more about the learning behaviours in the classrooms such as peer feedback and being self-reflective which probably described our children well.  A new wave of prominent and more ‘traditionalist’ voices in education was challenging this and pointing out that conformity, good order and high expectations were still the right things to insist on and debates around schools approaches such as Michaela were useful for us to follow and to challenge our existing beliefs and expectations.  OFSTED have also made it quite clear that they are not looking for any particular methods when they inspect (follow Sean Harford’s mission to bust all the OFSTED myths here) which really frees you up as a Head to think less about what other people might want to see in your school and more about what works for your children and staff.

Collaboration across our Multi-Academy Trust is also healthy as we get to go and review other schools within the partnership and see what standards are like.  In one of our most challenging schools, I sat through an impeccable singing practice with over 400 children engaging 100% and, at another, I watched as 210 children in the Eastern District of Northampton filed inside, outside then inside again in smiling silence at a lunch time.  What becomes so apparent when you see such well-licked routines, is the absence of distraction and how much easier it makes the teachers job who doesn’t have to start lessons by calming classes down or establishing order.

Whilst searching and reading for inspiration about how to move forward with September’s school improvement, we also stumbled upon two useful documents from the most unlikely source: The DfE.  These were ‘Developing Behaviour Management Content for Initial Teacher Training (ITT)’ and the new ‘Standard for teachers’ Professional Development’.  If you haven’t read these documents yet, they’re really useful and products of DfE expert groups on behaviour and Teacher working parties led by Tom Bennett and David Weston respectively, both experts in these fields and whose work I have a lot of respect for.

September Inset

So this September’s training days were about re-securing some of the basics and paying attention to the two key areas of teacher development and classroom behaviour.  We unpicked the two different papers as described below with staff in order to kick-start a new way of working.

Developing Behaviour Management Content for Initial Teacher Training

Although this document was mainly written to influence Initial Teacher Training providers, we found some of the content really useful – in particular the section around the ‘3 Rs of the behaviour curriculum’: Routines, Responses and Relationships which we used as a lens to view different aspects of behaviour management across the school.  This also prompted us to carry out further reading and use other sources to support some development work under each of these headings as follows:

ROUTINES

We had year groups (Teachers and Support Staff) working together to write down all their different routines that take place (there were hundreds) and then got them to evaluate how good each routine was using highlighters and then picked 5 to improve on.  They then spent some time working on a plan with staff in the year group on what attention to these routines they would give to make them ‘consistently slick’.  Our focus routines included:  coming in to class in the morning, coming in and out of assembly, children going to the toilet, lunch hall, transitioning from carpet time to working at desks, Getting out whiteboards, coming in from the playground, having snack (in reception) etc. etc.

3rs

RESPONSES

The first thing we did here was to evaluate the different responses that already exist within our behaviour policy and check that 1) everyone understands what these mean and is confident to use them and 2) got them to rank how effective they felt each strategy is in different situations.

responses

Next, we revisited some of the principles of 1, 2, 3 Magic which underpin our 1, 2, 3 system in school and unpicked some of the key parts of this around stop/start behaviours and teacher talking – particularly with younger children.

responses2

RELATIONSHIPS

Then we looked at relationships and introduced this model which is from ‘Evidence-Based Teaching’ by Geoff Petty.  This was a great exercise and we got staff to plot their relationships with different classes/children and then asked them to discuss in groups as to how they feel they could develop these in the year ahead.  Staff were really honest and typically felt that they were too cooperative at times, particularly with classes or children they had taught before where over-familiarity played a part.

relationships

The paper also makes some suggestions as to how ITT can be extended into the NQT year so that there is mandatory training and accreditation that happens once teachers are in the job.  I feel that this would be a positive move and would welcome additional measures to strengthen behaviour training for teachers who are young in their careers.

Teacher CPD Standard

This document made a lot of sense to us and we were able to unpick the different parts of the standard and really reflect on where we were using these already and where we had gaps.  An interesting exercise was for us to go back and evaluate some different school improvement initiatives we’d implemented over the previous 4 years and then match how effective they were with how many of the different CPD elements we’d included.  Our handwriting implementation ticked all the boxes and stands as a really successful implementation in school that has impacted standards significantly.  In other school improvement areas which had been less effective, we were able to reflected on where perhaps we hadn’t had the real expert challenge in this area or that initatives hadn’t been ‘sustained over time’.

The biggest change we implemented was around how we planned staff CPD across a term.  Co-ordinating the weekly staff meetings, if I’m honest, used to feel a bit like being air traffic control: trying to land all the different demands for statutory training, Improvement Priorities alongside teacher developmental time, research and reading etc.   A particular challenge at Primary level is the constant need to update teacher’s subject knowledge as the curriculum changes and they have to deliver so many different subjects and inevitably this can lead to limited training time being a compromise.

So we reflected on this and decided that we would just focus on two (which we then reduced to one) area of teacher development which would stick to and only allow one ‘indirect’ professional development opportunity per half term to get in the way.  This meant that we had to get comfortable with saying ‘no’ and staff who were chomping at the bit to get moving with other initiatives would have to just be patient until their turn came around, knowing that they would have a bigger opportunity to make an impact when it did.

cpd

A key part of this was to reintroduce lesson study as the predominate form of CPD which we felt was the perfect tool to use for the ‘Collaboration, Reflection, Challenge’ element.  We have used Lesson Study over the past 4 years in different guises but within this model, it allowed us really see it through and avoid the usual barriers of not enough time, attention and empowerment that get in the way.

Lesson Study

The lesson study triads were set up and after the initial input in September, were asked to identify two or three specific behaviour priorities to focus on over the half term.

Over the half term, two lesson study observations took place alongside various other coaching, planning and evaluation sessions with the idea being that all teachers involved would be able to take away elements to develop their own classroom practice.

Here were some of the areas of focus from the teachers’ lesson study triads:

  • Ensuring all students on task  
  • Getting all students actively listening during whole class input
  • Need to establish culture for learning with effective routines.
  • Transitioning  effectively from teaching activities to the main tasks.
  • Reducing any low level disruption
  • Was the starter engaging and useful for all the children bearing in mind the huge range of abilities within the class?
  • How long could the children apply themselves to a teacher-led task and concentrate for?

How independent are the children in the class?

Feedback from Lesson Study Triads

In order to make sure teachers were accountable for the outcome of the lesson study, each triad was asked to present to the staff as part of our training day at the beginning of November.  This was, without doubt, my favourite training day afternoon as I just got to sit back and hear them present back on the following questions:

  1. What have I learnt so far from the Lesson study about my own practice?
  2. What changes have you made/ will you make to your practice as a result of the LS
  3. What has worked well so far?
  4. What impact have the changes had?
  5. Which pieces of research have supported your change?

Feedback from the staff was of a significant positive impact on behaviour with some of the following pieces of feedback from their reports on their reflections of what they’d developed:

  • The importance of table and seating positioning.  I knew the importance of this but looking at someone else’s classroom made me think about my own more carefully.
  • The importance of routines – they are now more clearly set each day and are consistent
  • Increased awareness of how children respond to clear direction.
  • Need to be explicit and expect 100% compliance.
  • Made me think more about the boys as individuals and the challenges they face. Also, the impact their behaviour has on the rest of the class. Just one action of moving someone’s peg in the cloakroom has had a huge impact on her daily experience at school.
  • I now use ‘do it again’ (Lemov strategy) consistently and children respond well without me having to ‘over-intervene’.
  • Overall classroom behaviour is really good in classes across school with really high levels of engagement and few issues of disruption.
  • There is a common language which is developing well including ‘Track the Speaker’, ‘100%’, ‘Gorilla sitting’, ‘Whole body listening’, ‘Set the Standard’.
  • Assembly routines are now ‘consistently slick’.  432 children enter the hall and leave in silence and behaviour in assemblies is good.
  • More rigorous tracking of behaviour incidents and follow up has meant that where issues happen, they are picked up and dealt with quickly.

Feedforward into Policy Change

As part of their presentations, staff were asked to make any recommendations to the Teaching and Learning Handbook and also to the Behaviour Policy.  These have now been reviewed over the Christmas break and incorporated into the new draft policy which will go back out to staff this half term and help us further improve behaviour in 2017.

I really like this cycle of teacher action research informing policy and we’ve started a new cycle for the teaching of Reading this January which we’re equally enthusiastic about.

TR

Christmas Message from Mr Rees

Dear All

 The end of a term always offers an opportunity to reflect on what takes place in our school and this Autumn term has been yet another busy and exciting time at Simon de Senlis for the staff and children. 

2016 has been such an odd year on Planet Earth and we finish it with so much political uncertainty, conflict and anxiety in the world.  It is against this backdrop that I believe it is so important for us to ensure that our children grow up with more knowledge and understanding than ever about the world they live in, and with the skills and attitudes to work together to form a peaceful and prosperous society.

 A quick read through this edition of ‘Simon Says’ gives us a flavour of the variety of different experiences that children enjoy as part of their school life – something that the staff work hard to achieve.  This term alone we have seen experiences such as farm trips, visits to the gurdwara and our local churches, an overseas residential, the Christmas productions, many sporting competitions, ballroom dancing, the remembrance service and Forest School expeditions.  All these parts of the curriculum, alongside an ongoing focus on creating better mathematicians, readers and writers, are important parts of the rich tapestry which represents what being a student at Simon de Senlis is about.

Whilst I hope that the children enjoy a wonderful and relaxing time over the holidays, I also hope that they will find time to enjoy learning more about William Shakespeare and his plays ahead of our trust-wide project in the spring which will see our children be inspired by ‘The Tempest’.  The teaching staff have been engaged in training ahead of this with the Royal Shakespeare Company and will be on the school minibus later in the week to watch the play at Stratford; we look forward to the children being inspired by this curriculum project in the new year.

 Alongside their Shakespearian home learning, I heartily recommend that all children enjoy a daily festive dose of reading along with practising their spellings/sounds and number facts/times tables as many times as possible throughout the holiday.  A fortnight’s break is a long time away from school and the more that children can practise these important areas, the more helpful it will be for their learning when they return in the new year (I’m even happy for you to use the ‘Mr Rees says you should…‘ line if it helps!).

I hope that the Christmas period brings you all a well-earned rest and some important family time together.  On behalf of the staff and governors at Simon de Senlis, I’d like to thank you all for your support in 2016 and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and happy New Year.

 Happy Christmas!

 Tom Rees, Headteacher

winter-happy-holiday

Show me the money: Why I’m hopeful about a National Funding Formula for Schools

This week, the Government is hopefully about to publish its fairer funding proposals for schools which are planned to be implemented in September 2018 having already been delayed  earlier this year.

As a Headteacher in a  Local Authority which has been chronically underfunded, I am cynically optimistic about this development.  Northamptonshire is one of the lowest funded 40 Local Authorities for education in the country in an unfair system which is explained in a nutshell on the F40 website as follows:

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has calculated that the 10 best–funded areas on average received grants of £6,297 per pupil, compared with an average of just £4,208 per pupil in the 10 most poorly funded areas. (F40 – Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education).

Let’s do the Math…

2014-15 budget information provided by the ASCL indicates that the average Local Authority ‘per-pupil’ funding national average is £4550.54.  In Northamptonshire average is £4118.60 which equates to a difference of £431.94 per pupil.

So crudely, in my school of 432 children, if we were to be funded at the national average per child, this would be an increase to the budget of £186,598.08; the equivalent of an additional 4 and a half experienced teachers, 13 Teaching Assistants or 1 stonking staff wellbeing program!

Across our Multi-Academy Trust with around 2700 children, that would equate to over a million pounds (£1,166,238) across seven schools.  Imagine the impact on learning and outcomes we could make with a teaching war-chest like that.

Now I know it doesn’t work just like that and there’s a far more complicated calculation which means that funding wouldn’t be distributed this way but it makes it really clear why there’s such a need to even out funding across the country, particularly as underfunded schools continue to be judged by the same standards as the rest of the country.

showmethemoney-jerry-maguire-1

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Earlier this year, myself and the other 370 odd Headteachers in Northants were treated to this letter from Ofsted’s regional director, Chris Russell, expressing his concerns about the quality of education in our county.  You can read the long list of data outcomes which compare poorly to other regions and Local Authorities.

Whilst this ruffled various feathers across the county, sadly, this was business as usual for the majority of school leaders; Northamptonshire has historically seen lower educational outcomes in comparison to other counties.  For the last 9 years of my life as a Headteacher, I’ve been shuffled in to a room with other colleagues and been lectured as to how we need to up our game due to poor comparisons with our ‘statistical neighbours’.

Now, I could do the obvious thing which would be to plea poverty whilst also pointing out that, despite having one hand tied behind our backs, we’ve managed to raise standards to above the national average (and therefore significantly above the LA average) both at Simon de Senlis and in schools across the trust but that would be to put egos before a more systemic and more important issue so I’ll avoid that route.

Instead I’ll simply make the point that if we want to raise standards across the country and improve social mobility in some of the areas of the country where historically it’s been hard to do, a starting point would be to make sure that these areas are funded properly to do so.

In reality, the National Funding Formula in the context of a predicted   decrease in real-term funding is only likely to mean that there are losers and big losers rather than winners.  Whilst I’m hopeful that Northamptonshire schools will feel some actual increase in funding, I feel for those colleagues in authorities where there may be sizeable negative adjustments for them to make.

With cynical optimism…

TR

 

 

Today in our Multi-Academy Trust: Collaboration, Shakespeare and Minibuses…

Today I reflected on the significant and positive amount of collaboration that is taking place between the 7 schools who are a part of NPAT, our Multi-Academy Trust.

The world of MATs is often viewed through a lens of a business model of education and sometimes with negative assumptions about forced takeovers, centrally dictated policies and lumpy top-slices taking money away from classroom essentials to fund central reincarnations of small local authorities.  We’re lucky to belong to a trust which has an ethos that I’m very proud to be a part of.  It’s about the important stuff: great teaching and learning, inclusion and collaboration with a genuine commitment to excellence in sport and the performing arts.

In just 24 short hours, I had the following 10 interactions and experiences as a result of the collaboration between the 7 NPAT schools.

  1. Email exchanges with Headteachers last night reviewing each others’ School Improvement Plans and giving each other some advice/critique as to how we could develop these and focus our school improvement actions.
  2. Some nice supportive ‘thank you’ emails to wake up to this morning from Heads in the trust for some work I’ve done around the new online assessment system we’re currently introducing to all schools.  Everyone appreciates being thanked from time to time.
  3. A carpark conversation with my Reception staff on the way in to school this morning who were really enthused and excited by the training that was held for all Early Years teachers at Lings Primary School ahead of out trust-wide project on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ which all 2700 children will take part in.  This is led by the Head at Lings, Leigh Wolmarons and offers all staff and children in the trust an opportunity to benefit from their work with the Royal Shakespeare company.
  4. A trip for our Year 1 classes at Simon de Senlis to take part in ‘Experience Christmas’ – a great initiative run as part of the ‘Prayer Space’ project by the community at St Peter’s Church in Northampton and offered to us through Weston Favell Primary School, an outstanding church school within the trust.  I was privileged to escape the office and spend an hour with the first class this morning who hasda really special time learning from church volunteers about the Christmas story in a traditional way which I fear may bypass many, on their rush through a modern and focused school curriculum.
  5. The loan of a minibus from Abington Vale Primary which meant, alongside ours, we could ferry the children to the church and back without the costs of a coach that can start to make these trips prohibitive.  I know that minibus loans aren’t ranked highly by EEF in terms of impact on learning, but they’re a life-saver at times when you’re knee deep in the practicalities and logistics of running a Primary School.
  6. An opportunity for all Headteachers and Business Managers to come to my school this afternoon and be involved in second interviews for the position of COO of NPAT – a really significant and important appointment for the trust which, typically, key staff are encouraged to be a part of the decision making process.
  7. Simultaneous staff meetings across the trust this evening as teachers got their hands on the new assessment system; emails flying down the A45 and back between different schools with different questions and things to clarify – at one point, one of the Heads put me on speaker phone with their staff to clarify the finer points of how to record children not yet working at the expected standard.
  8. A chance meeting with the Strategic Director of the trust after the interviews who, in her really grounded and approachable style, camped out in my office whilst I was involved in staff meetings and caught up on her email – she even allowed me to help clear up her technical faux-pas politely as she bravely attempted to create new groups in the trust’s Office 365 system.
  9. An email since I’ve been posting this blog from my Year 1 teacher and English leader organising cover for reciprocal visits with Headlands Primary next Thursday so that she can see their outstanding phonics provision and, in turn, share our successful approach to handwriting which we have embedded in school over the last 4 years.
  10. Another email, this time from the Reception Teachers who were inspired by the Shakespeare training yesterday and want to order various Shakespearian texts for their children ahead of the project in January.

So my reflections today on the way home were about how, alongside the inevitable extra meetings, emails and discussions that are a part of the MAT, come rich opportunities for staff development, children’s curricular experiences and support for school leaders in a way that I’ve never experienced before and am grateful to be a part of.

TR