All posts by head

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

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

 

 

Wanted: An Inclusion Leader ready to make a dent in the universe…

I am excited to share the following vacancy that we have at Simon de Senlis for a part time Inclusion Leader to join our school this September.

Inclusion is at the heart of what we do at Simon de Senlis and we are passionate about meeting the needs of all learners in our school.  We go the extra mile for all children (including those with SEND) and we are very proud of the provision in the school which impacts on children in both our mainstream provision and SEND special unit.

Below is the advert for this role and you can access all the application documents on our website at http://simondesenlis.org/index.php/contact-us/vacancies

Wanted INclusion Leader

Inclusion Leader Vacancy May 2016

We are looking to recruit a talented and inspiring Inclusion Leader to join our hard-working team where Inclusion is at the heart of our practice. This role is a permanent 0.6 FTE position (Teachers Pay Scale + TLR2A) from 1st September 2016.

The successful candidate will have a sound knowledge of the SEND Code of Practice. They will be experienced in providing effective inclusion in a primary school setting.

They will be able to work effectively as a member of the team, have excellent interpersonal skills and consistently support the school’s values and approaches.

Simon de Senlis is an exciting place to work; whether it be through our work as a Microsoft Showcase School, and IQM Centre of Excellence or via our involvement in the Arts and Sport we continue to strive to further improve the attainment and progress of pupils within a creative and vibrant learning atmosphere.

In return, we can offer you a great team of professionals; children with outstanding behaviour and a supportive school community.

The successful applicant will be required to apply for an enhanced DBS disclosure. We are committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of our children and expect all members of staff to share this commitment.

Visits to the school are encouraged; please email pa@simondesenlis.org to book one of the following showrounds:

Monday 16th May @ 10.15am

Tuesday 17th May @ 3.45pm

Thursday 19th May @ 11.00am

To be considered for the role please email your completed application form and Disqualification Declaration to pa@simondesenlis.org.

The closing date for applications is 5pm on Tuesday 24th May 2016. Interviews will be held on Friday 27th May 2016.

Yours sincerely

Tom Rees

 

SATs: Shouldn’t Children Feel the Pressure?

Today the BBC published this story with the Headline that 90% of current Year 6 children feel pressure to do well in tests.

This isn’t news; it’s a statement of the obvious.  My only surprise was that there were 10% who said they didn’t feel under some pressure.

Of course children feel under pressure to do well in tests. That’s all part of it isn’t it? Our children also feel nervous and under pressure in many other school situations such as waiting for the whistle to blow before they start a sports fixture, standing in the wings about to perform on stage, at the top of the abseil tower being encouraged by their peers or sitting on the coach leaving for a foreign country for the first time waving goodbye to their family for a week.

Butterflies in the stomach, seeking reassurance from parents and teachers, nervous conversations with friends; these are all part and parcel of the personal growth that goes alongside a rich and varied school curriculum.  Children should be placed in situations of moderate pressure and stress in order for them to become resilient for future challenges – that’s my view anyway.

This week, there will be an unprecedented clamour about the place of testing in primary schools with many quick to portray SATs as the villain in the piece – responsible for all that is wrong with childhood in modern Britain.  Are the current testing and assessment arrangements perfect? Clearly not, but that doesn’t mean that we should jump on the bandwagon to demonise standardised assessments.

Screenshot (47)

The problem with headlines like this is that their motivation is not to contribute constructively to the debate but to stir up opinion with the end goal of hitting targets of online readers.  And when the news becomes presented like this, it stops being ‘news’ and becomes ‘entertainment’.

Our role in schools is to make sure that the level of challenge and pressure on students is carefully balanced and that we don’t pass down the unhealthy stress of accountability on adults and organisations to the children.  Trying to retain a broad, balanced and (yes) creative curriculum, treading the fine line between a healthy pressure and unhealthy stress is a difficult challenge but one we have to accept; it would be easier to acheive without the country’s news enertainment outlets stirring things up.

TR

Empowered Learners & The Great Traditionalist/Progressive Debate

Too many children sleepwalk through their school life being compliant, playing by the rules and allowing a combination of children and adults to do most of the thinking and learning for them.  It’s an easy trap to fall in to (intuitively we are programmed to follow the path of least resistance) but one that, if we’re not careful, we can allow children to exist in when really we should be making sure that they work ‘at least harder than their teachers and parents’.  For many years now, schools have been moving towards a focus on the learning rather than the teaching (many schools even went to the trouble of changing the words ‘Teaching’ and ‘Learning’ around on their policies) but, in reality, unless children are consciously handed more responsibility and accountability for their learning, they will continue to rely predominately on teacher-led, direct instruction – becoming participants in (rather than the owners of) their education.

Cue a familiar conversation that plays out as follows:

Whoa, wait a minute. What’s wrong with direct instruction?

Me: There’s nothing wrong with direct instruction. It remains a really effective way of teaching children basic facts and knowledge but teaching is also more than that, so we have to look at other approaches and styles to make sure that children are really engaged in the process of learning like self-regulation and meta cognition.

That all sounds a bit like wishy washy nonsense to me Tom. My children just need to learn to behave & listen so I can fill the gaps they have in their knowledge and understanding.

Me: Yes it’s funny how so much research and great practice that takes place in schools can still manage to be perceived as ‘wishy washy nonsense’ isn’t it?’. The Education Endowment Fund carried out extensive research which shows that up to 8 months additional progress can be made in a single year by using self-regulation and meta cognition strategies yet still, we have more to do in terms of transferring this into classroom strategies and practices more consistently. It stands to reason that when children are more engaged and involved in the process, they will learn better.

That all sounds great but, at the end of the day, children need to pass tests and our appraisal targets says I have to get them through, so I’m going to do what I know works to get them there.

Me:   That’s your end of the day. My end of the day is that the 5 year olds in my school today will probably still be working into the 2070s and I need to make sure that their formative years provide them with the foundations to go on and lead a successful and happy existence in the future, not just jumping through some high stakes testing hoops to keep OFSTED at bay. But, as I’ve already pointed out (and as is backed up by substantial research), these progressive teaching methods do actually improve those test scores too.

As the writer, I get the last word this time but there’s a real debate that’s waging in education at the moment between progressive and traditional types of instruction which is important to understand.   Too often, we can see these arguments played out either in the press or through social networks which play in to the predictable media format which is to firstly find the issue of the day, and then find two people to be quoted or interviewed who have opposite views who can argue, provide readers with brief entertainment or distraction from their daily lives and then move on without finding an answer. This often then reduces a useful debate to an ‘or’ argument where approaches or teaching methods become pitched against each other such as:

The Arts or Technology?

Discrete teaching of subjects or a connected curriculum?

Group work or individual work?

Mixed ability groups or sets?

Technology in education or a complete ban on all types of devices?

Detentions or a free for all on behaviour?

PSHE as a core subject or high academic standards?

Reducing these issues to simple closed options does the debate a disservice. Professor Guy Claxton illustrates a more nuanced version in his blog describing the three ‘tribes’ in the education debate from the book, ‘Educating Ruby’, which he and Bill Lucas offer real hope and direction for those who want to see progress in education policy and practice.

In Educating Ruby, we offer a potted guide to the educational scene. Basically there are three tribes: Roms, Trads and Mods. The Romantics believe that children will blossom if we leave them alone. The Roms have almost completely died out – except in the mind of the second tribe, the Traditionalists. The Traditionalists seem to believe that all would be well if we had lots of old-fashioned grammar schools teaching Latin and algebra. They blame all educational ills on the (non-existent) Roms. If kids don’t do well at school it’s because the ‘trendy liberals’ have mucked things up – or the kids are too unintelligent (‘low-ability’) or lazy. Trads like to keep things simple, even if their beliefs are damaging or wrong. The third tribe is the Moderates, which includes the vast majority of people who work in or care about education. Where the Trads are simplistic and pugnacious, the Mods like to think and tinker (or ‘thinker’, as Michael Ondaatje put it).

Empower Definition

So back to the original point about how we can empower learners…

The empowered learner works harder than their teacher.  They spend time both in and outside of the classroom genuinely interested in their studies and asking questions of their teachers, parents and peers which consolidate their understanding and extend their thinking.   They remain curious for longer than their less empowered peers who will switch off quicker and are less keen to play an active role within the classroom. The empowered learner is able to make independent decisions about aspects of their learning (self-regulation); they are also engaged in thinking about the learning process they are involved in (meta cognition).   Having genuinely empowered learners in your class or school is a privilege and a pleasure but they don’t occur by chance or good fortune; this empowerment has (usually) been carefully permitted, delegated, authorised and unshackled skilfully by teachers using a range of progressive teaching methods.

As a self-diagnosed ‘mod’ with a tendency to ‘thinker’, I’ve pinched the three definitions (Teacher-Led, Co-construction & Child-Led) from Professor Stephen Heppell’s typically refreshing and useful post around learner-led learning research and have adapted them to describe different styles of curriculum or learning experiences which empower children in the learning process at different levels in the following table.

Co-construction

I often return to Professor Heppell’s definitions when we’re developing new ideas or looking at curriculum projects and it’s been a really helpful gauge when we’ve introduced our Design Thinking curriculum approach over the last two years at Simon de Senlis as we constantly look at where we can loosen the reins and allow children to take more of a lead, without losing the necessary rigor within the curriculum. The irony of empowering learners in UK schools is that we often allow most responsibility to our youngest learners.   At 4, children can use the toilets as and when they need to within their daily provision; by 10, usual practice is for them to have to wait until break times and by 14, the chances are that the toilets are locked until the bell goes as children can’t be trusted to use them without supervision. A similar pattern exists with learning styles – the freedom that we see our youngest learners with, gradually erodes until suddenly at 16, the common room and study periods allow it flooding back in again. Have we really got it right?

But anyway, the debate will go on. Some will say that the children should be set free and allowed to take more of a lead; others will say that the teachers know best and that if they just listened and did what they were told, things would be better. I know that I spent far too much of my own school life feeling bored and frustrated, responding to closed questions and listening to lectures, anecdotes or extracts from teacher’s unwritten autobiographies – how many children would still say the same today? Some people think that we could get so much more from the children if we tapped into their interests as starting points and allowed them flexibility in how they work; others think that the discipline they learn from a well organised and structured academic curriculum is what it’s all about. I think that there’s a bit of truth in it all and, whilst we all accept that some fads have just been fads and distractions (learning styles springs to mind), we can’t ignore necessary, well-researched change for the convenience of doing what we’ve always done.

TR

This post was originally published in the March edition of ‘The Feed’, an online educational publication by MIcrosoft Education UK. It was also published in the Guardian Partner website.

We are Recruiting: Come and make a Dent in the Universe at Simon de Senlis!

Class Teacher Vacancies:  March/April 2016

We are looking to recruit two talented and inspiring Class Teachers to join our talented and hard-working team.  These are full-time roles (one permanent) from 1st September 2016 and we would welcome applications from colleagues at all stages in their career including NQTs.  The vacancies are not year group specific however experience or an enthusiasm to teach within Year 2 or 6 may be an advantage for one of the roles.

The successful candidates will be knowledgeable in the use, application and assessment of the new National Curriculum. They will have knowledge of planning and assessing pupils’ progress and be confident in the use of technology. They will be able to work effectively as a member of the team, have excellent interpersonal skills and consistently support the school values and approaches.

Simon de Senlis is an exciting place to work; whether it be through our work as a Microsoft Showcase School or via our involvement in the Arts, Sport and Inclusion, we continue to strive to further improve the attainment and progress of pupils within a creative and vibrant learning atmosphere.

In return, we can offer you a great team of professionals; children with outstanding behaviour and a supportive school community.  There are also superb opportunities for professional development as part of our work with partner schools in the Northampton Primary Academy Trust.

The successful applicant will be required to apply for an enhanced DBS disclosure. We are committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of our children and expect all members of staff to share this commitment.

Visits to the school are encouraged; please email pa@simondesenlis.org to book into one of the following showrounds:

Tuesday 12th April @ 3.45pm

Wednesday 13th April @ 9.30am

Wednesday 20th April @ 9.30am

To be considered for the role please email your completed application form and Disqualification Declaration to pa@simondesenlis.org

The closing date for applications is 5pm on Thursday 21st April 2016. Interviews will be held w/c 25th April 2016.

All documentation regarding these vacancies is available to download here or available on our website at http://www.simondesenlis.org/index.php/contact-us/vacancies