All posts by Mr Rees

The nonsense of OFSTED, League Tables and Funding in Education…

I’ve read a couple of interesting and honest posts from Headteacher colleagues in the last week or so, speaking truths about the way the system is at the moment and how it offers no incentive for schools to be inclusive.  They both reminded me why a sense of moral purpose rather than a drive to become ‘top of the pile’ is the most important part of school leadership, perhaps more now than ever before.

Brian Walton (@oldprimaryhead) writes here about the problems we have in the system with career-defining OFSTED judgements and the inordinate amount of emphasis placed on published data from high stakes testing and calls for more integrity and moral backbone from school leaders who, interestingly, he blames for bringing this mindset on themselves.  Whilst I’m less convinced about the root of the problems than Brian (or either whether trying to pin the blame on anyone is important), his post articulates many of the problems with the current regime with both passion and a fearful honesty that only someone sat in the hot seat of Headship will truly recognise.

In this post, Simon Smith (@Smithsmm) talks about his ‘fight to be an inclusive school’ and how the system seems ‘rigged’ against inclusion from a funding perspective.  I feel Simon’s pain as much as I admire both his honesty and commitment to inclusion.


I’ve written previously about why I think elements of our system need to change and, in particular,  why the OFSTED Outstanding tag should be ditched.  Here are a few more thoughts on a few problems with the current wider system and why OFSTED grades and league tables often aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

  1. Schools that are top of the league tables are generally those from more affluent communities or those with fewer disadvantaged children include children or those with SEND.  In Northamptonshire (my county) for example, the top 10 performing primary schools in 2016 were all in villages; the lowest 10 were all in towns.  The knock on from this is that many talented teachers and school leaders outside the towns are deterred from taking jobs in the areas of most need and the wrong messages are both written and read about the contribution that many great teachers and schools make.
  2. Schools that are graded outstanding are not necessarily the best schools; they are those who have very low levels of deprivation. In fact, if you have less than 5% of children eligible for Pupil Premium, there’s almost a 50% chance that you will be in an outstanding school and you are 3 times more likely to be outstanding than a school with high levels of deprivation.  The most concerning statistic is perhaps that by taking on a Headship of a school with more than 23% of children eligible for Pupil Premium, you are 15 times more likely to be judged ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED than by running a school with less than 5% disadvantaged children (Source: Education Policy Institute, November 2016).
  3. It is more difficult for schools with higher levels of deprivation to make the jump up between OFSTED grades compared to schools with more disadvantaged children on role.  The EPI report in 2016 into OFSTED inspections in England shows that the least deprived primary schools are twice as likely to improve their  OFSTED rating as those with the most deprivation whereas secondary schools are three times more likely.
  4. A key plank of the ‘self-improving system’ is currently built on the myth that the great practice in outstanding schools is replicable into schools in areas of more deprivation and that somehow, the magic of National Leaders of Education and National Challenge Schools will rub off on failing schools and all will be well.  The reality, however, is that the majority of these schools and NLEs exist in areas of low deprivation and therefore the same systems and practices that work well in these schools just aren’t replicable and often these types of intervention fail or are no more than surface level engagement.  We must challenge this assumption; it’s as daft as taking managers and coaches from Barcelona who are used to large budgets, highly skilled players and silky pitches and getting them to try and introduce a one touch pass and move game at Northampton Town to try and keep ‘The Cobblers’ from being relegated back to Division 2.
  5. There is no incentive in the system for those teachers and school leaders to leave their successful schools and take on big challenges in tough communities.  Why on earth would a Head who is sat on a successful school in an area of low deprivation give up this relative security to go and enter the crazy world of town or inner city headship with its inevitable annual battle with floor standards, intervention and uncertainty over their future unless they are driven by a moral purpose or a personal desire to take on a bigger challenge?
  6. Schools that include more children with SEND receive less money to support these children which creates a perverse anti-incentive for schools to  be inclusive and has, sadly, driven some schools to some disappointing practices around inclusion.  I am incredibly proud to be a Headteacher of an inclusive town school with a Special Unit with 12 children on roll, a further 24 children who have either an EHCP, Statement or High Needs Funding and an additional number of children that you would expect to find in any typical primary school who either receive SEND Support or are in the process of investigation or diagnosis.  When schools receive funding for children with EHCPs or High Needs Funding, there is an assumption that the school will fund the initial £6,000 from its budget via a ‘notional SEN’ amount but in reality there is no more funding in the first place for schools who have more children on their role with SEND.  At our school for example, there are apparently 24 lots of £6,000 ‘in our budget’ (£144,000) which are then ‘topped up’ by the local authority yet we only receive the same base funding as a school that may have 4 children with similar needs and so needs to provide less notional funding into their staffing (£24,000).  This disparity is wrong and unmanageable and, again, creates a disincentive for schools to become great at inclusion and to make this publicly known.
  7. Schools with Special Units do not have this taken into account when their data is published either in league tables, via RaiseOnline and it is not taken into account in measures such as floor targets or coasting schools.  Whilst in reality, good inspectors will always recognise this and take account of it during inspection, it means that these schools always have to start conversations on the back foot challenging an external assumption that the school is underperforming .  Inclusive schools shouldn’t have to exist on a process of being viewed as guilty before being proven innocent.
  8. The same schools who have higher deprivation, higher levels of SEN (and therefore more chance of getting into trouble with OFSTED) are those which are set to lose more money than the others through the proposed funding changes.  Read here about how the biggest losers are those schools in Inner Cities or Urban areas.  in Northampton Town, it’s the schools with high deprivation who are set to lose the most according to the NFF consultation spreadsheet.

So, in summary, our current system rewards those schools, teachers and headteachers both financially and in terms of OFSTED and league table recognition with low levels of SEND and deprivation in their schools and, unwittingly, drives unwanted behaviours and practices around inclusion in some schools.  It then proposes as a solution that the same methods that work in the most privileged communities can be picked up and applied to those in the most challenging areas despite evidence that clearly shows it is a different game altogether whilst, at the same time, providing no incentive for those school leaders in successful schools to get their hands dirty in those schools and communities that desperately need more help and support.

I think perhaps there might be better ways to go about improving schools and social mobility in England and that the ‘self-improving system’ needs a different set of levers to drive the behaviour of schools and their leaders if it is to make meaningful improvements to schools in challenging contexts.

What do you think?


Do it Again: A ‘withitness’ strategy for improving behaviour…

Let’s assume that children in a school know by the age of 5 that they shouldn’t run through the corridors, push their way into a classroom or talk as they come into assembly. So what is the best way to respond when you see unwanted behaviour like this from children across school?

Public humiliation (Stand up you two – we don’t talk in assembly!); futile rhetorical questioning (Why are you running through the foyer?) and disproportionate sanctions (You’ll come back at lunchtime and practise walking into class!) are all tools I’ve seen reached for in primary schools. Staff are right to intervene, for to ignore is to condone and it takes every member of the team to achieve consistency and high expectations.  But there are better ways and I learned this really simple and effective technique from one of our lesson study triads this year as they fed back with recommendations to our whole school behaviour policy (I wrote separately about this process around improving Teacher CPD and Behaviour here).

Do it Again

Do it Again!

This technique (No. 39 in Doug Lemov’s excellent ‘Teach Like a Champion‘) is dead simple and does what it says on the tin. You simply ask children to repeat something until they do it properly. It could be that they’ve called out an answer without raising their hand, made a half-hearted attempt to complete a task or to a whole class who didn’t get it quite right when walking through a corridor.  No lectures, sanctions, raised voice or blood pressure; just repeating it until it’s right. You can even praise or thank the children when they do it right to further cement the habit.

A resource we’ve used this year in school is Geoff Petty’s really useful chapter on ‘Evidence Based Classroom Management’ which uses Marzona’s meta study of behaviour (2003) to frame behaviour management strategies and approaches.  One interesting element of this study is that it’s not the carrot and stick approaches that are found to have the most impact on classroom behaviour but a teacher’s ‘Mental Set’ which is described as ‘strategies to develop your awareness of what is going on in your classroom and why.  A conscious control over your thoughts and feelings when you respond to a disruption‘.  Within this mental set, strategies known as ‘withitness‘ have the largest effect size in the study (1.4) with an average 42% decrease in classroom disruption.  ‘Withitness‘ is defined as an ‘awareness of what is going on in every part of your classroom, and a quick response to disruption’.  

For me ‘Do it Again’ is a great ‘withitness’ strategy as you can intervene quickly, retain emotional objectivity and build the right classroom habits and expectations.

So next time you see someone a little hasty in a corridor, heavy handed with the resources or talking on their way into class, why not avoid the lectures and sanctions, go easy on the blood pressure  and simply ask them to ‘do it again’.




Evidenced Based Teaching, Geoff Petty (2006) Nelson Thornes

Classroom Management that Works, Marzano, R. et al (2003) ASCD

Teach Like a Chamption, Doug Lemov & Norman Atkins


Remove the ‘OFSTED Outstanding’ label and put system-wide improvement ahead of islands of excellence…

Acouple of weeks or so ago I found myself engaged in a twitter conversation about how OFSTED could change.  An idle tweet sent whilst watching my daughter swim on a Saturday morning and before I knew it I was involved in a debate between OfSTED’s National Director, Sean Harford and various other keen Saturday morning twitterers.

Anyway, my view (developed further from the input of many on that Saturday morning tweet-fest) remains that the OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ tag remains more of a hindrance than a help in improving education for the the 8.56 million children of school age in England.
I should, at this point, make it really clear that there are many schools I know who are outstanding in every sense of the word (we have one in our trust).  They not only give a great deal to the children in their own building but play their part in supporting others in schools who need help.   There are others however, with the tag who just aren’t and I’m not sure what good it does anyone reading the celebratory OFSTED banners as I drive around the country.
Others have already written posts which set out a case for change in OFSTED including Jarlath O’Brien in the TES who gives seven reasons why the outstanding grade should be scrapped and Stephen Tierney who this weekend wrote about the huge opportunity for change in the OFSTED system in the years ahead.  Here are some issues that I have with the ‘outstanding tag’:
  1. The schools with the outstanding tags are not always the best schools; they are sometimes those with a more privileged intake and therefore are easier to run.  Remarkably, OfSTED itself has now admitted this.
  2. The vast majority of schools aiming to be outstanding will fail by definition as only a small minority can ever be classed in this category.  Bearing in mind that 9/10 schools are already good or better, that’s a lot of 3 year roadmaps with a destination of ‘outstanding’ that will never come to fruition.
  3. The pursuit of ‘outstandingness’ can drive insular behaviour from schools with little incentive for school leaders to get out and play a part in improving the wider system as opposed to protecting the greens on the RaiseOnline.
  4. Competition for the top grade results in back-door selection taking place in schools such as compulsory admissions tests that take place at weekends which put more barriers in the way of those who are disadvantaged or discouraging those with SEND to apply to the school.
  5. The system is clearly broken if it’s possible to have an outstanding school at one end of the street and an inadequate one at the other.  Surely truly great schools would make it their business to play a wider part in the community?  Take, for example, the recent evaluation  where an infant school is 3 times more likely to be outstanding than the junior school and think of the impact over the years that this has on staff at those junior schools.
  6. Careers are defined by the term ‘outstanding’ and the word appears on bios and CVs of almost every Dame, Knight and  Government advisor as though this is a certificate of magical powers which will transform any unrelated educational setting.
With the outgoing Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, leaving us with parting words that we should prioritise teacher and leadership recruitment and retention rather than tinker with school structures, the HMCI-elect, Amanda Spielman will be assessing how she can make a genuine impact in her tenure in charge of OFSTED in the middle of such radical reform.  Although there will be political challenge and calls that such a move would be dumbing down standards, I think a big step forward would be to remove the top grade and focus on making all our schools good enough.
So I’d ditch the outstanding grade and keep the following 3 categories:
Grade A: Good and Improving 
Good and Improving is what all schools should aspire to be and currently represent around 90% of the schools in the UK (Good & Outstanding).  Clearly, there is a huge range of both context, academic outcomes across these schools and there will be a wide range of different ethos and approaches.  Ultimately, children will achieve good educational outcomes in relation to their starting points, behave well, be safe and leave these schools with a well-rounded bunch of experiences across the currciulum which help develop them as individuals.
 ‘Good and Improving’ schools offer their children a good deal and the taxpayer good value for money.  Leaders of ‘Good and Improving’ schools would base their priorities around maintaining and improving their own schools AND playing a proactive part in system-wide school improvement collaborating and supporting others within a trust, geographical cluster or local authority.
Grade B: Requires Improvement
The school is not yet good.  The teaching at the school is not consistently good and educational outcomes and behaviour is not as good as it should be.
Grade C: Inadequate
As above  AND the leadership of the school does not have the capacity to improve the situation quickly.
Children are not safe.
The bottom line, surely, is that we all want as many of these 8,560,000 children in our country to be in a good, improving and inclusive school where they enjoy attending regularly, develop personally, achieve academically,  with the welcome side effect that parents and the local community feel that the school is great.
I think that not having the outstanding tag would help.
What do you think?

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.


Clarity from the STA on KS2 floor targets…

After the uncertainty yesterday about what the new Key Stage 2 floor targets were going to be, I headed to the DfE stand today at The Academies Show  to try and find out if anyone there knew.

The confusion was around what the new floor standards were going to be at Key Stage 2 following last week’s announcement that 65% (not the previously touted 85%) was the new floor target for Maths, Reading and Writing.  Unclear messages from a Northamptonshire DfE briefing had led one group of Heads to understand that floor was now 65% overall attainment in separate subjects Reading, Writing and Maths rather than 65% combined which was previously assumed.

In these situations, Northampton Headteacher, Jamie Nairn, did what everyone else in the country would do when unable to get a straight answer from the government, ask Michael Tidd and ‘School Data Updates‘ on Twitter!  Unfortunately, on this occasion, even these two very weren’t clear – a sure sign that something’s not right.

So, hopefully to clear things up, the following is the clarification that I received from the STA after checking directly with the DfE Accountability Team:

 “Individual pupils need to meet the expected standard in all 3 subjects, reading and writing and in maths.

For progress, schools will get three progress scores – one for reading, one for maths and another for writing.

 When calculating attainment we’ll be looking at the % of pupils that achieve the expected standard in all three subjects.

When looking at progress we’ll be looking at whether schools have made sufficient progress score in each of the subjects separately,  reading, maths and writing. There won’t be a combined measure, but a school will need to have made sufficient progress in all three of the subjects.

To be above the floor standard schools will need to either meet the attainment element or the progress element.”

My understanding of this is that attainment will be a combined measure as we know it (the percentage of children who achieve the expected standard in all 3 areas combined) and that the progress measure will be separate measures (as with 2 levels historically) but that all three will need to be ‘sufficient’.  The ‘sufficient progress’ marker is likely to be a negative but that’s a whole separate discussion and one that we shouldn’t hold our breath on finding out any answers soon. In the meantime, you can get your head around the new calculations thanks to the following video from Michael Tidd…

As an aside, I met the STA’s Will Emms today, famed for presenting some of the information videos that have emerged so far this year.  He was a thoroughly nice chap and very helpful; we should try and remember that there are good people trying to do their best in managing a very difficult project on behalf of the government at the moment.

A final thought that 65% or 85%, combined or otherwise, it doesn’t really matter; our next move is still the same – to give all our children the best change of success next summer whilst maintaining an enjoyable, creative and broad curriculum and keeping our staff positive and hopefully still enjoying what is a wonderful profession to be in.


September Blues…

Welcome back everyone and what a great start we had to term today!

It was good to hear how positive everyone was about returning to school this week and looking forward to the year ahead.  We sang the ‘September Blues’ today and the lyrics are below. Please see if you can write a verse of your own and add it as a comment. If there are enough verses by Monday’s assembly, we will get the Simon de Senlis staff blues band to play while we sing along!

I woke up this morning,
Got a pain across my head.
I said I woke up this morning,
With a feeling of dread.
Yes the holidays are over,
I don’t wanna leave my bed.

September Blues,
I got September Blues.
I gotta pack my bags,
I gotta polish my shoes.
Yes the holidays are over,
I got September Blues.

I can’t believe it’s over,
Lazy mornings, sunny days.
Swimming, cricket and football,
Lots of rest and lots of play.
Yes the holidays are over,
I’ve gotta go to school today.

September Blues…

Now I’ve come to school this morning,
I’ve heard about the holidays you’ve had.
I’ve seen awesome behaviour
And now I’m not feeling quite so sad.
The hall projector’s been fixed,
I’m feeling school isn’t quite so bad.

No more blues,
No more September Blues.
I gotta pack my bags,
I gotta polish my shoes.
Yes the holidays are over,
No more September Blues.

Now I’m thinking about the future,
And the good times we’ve got ahead.
I’ve seen fantastic writing today,
I’m so glad I got out of bed.
I’m started to get excited,
About the year we’ve got ahead.

No more blues…


Class Names – Year R and 1…

Whilst the world votes on our class names for Years 2-6, we are after some more ideas for names for our youngest classes.

With the older classes all named after real people who have made a dent in the Universe, we’re looking to name our Year R and 1 classes after children’s fictional characters.

For example:

Reception:  Gruffalo Class & Simba Class

Year 1:  Matilda Class & Potter Class

The idea with these names is that the characters all represent great stories where personal characteristics shine through.  Think for example of the resilience that Matilda shows in Roald Dahl’s classic novel or the quick-thinking agility of the mouse in The Gruffalo to keep him out of trouble.

At Simon de Senlis, we want children to be curious, industrious and agile learners who make a dent in the universe.  Can you think of any other fictional characters who fit this bill?




New Class Names – The Vote!

In my post earlier this week here, we launched a campaign to find out who our school community thought were people who had made a dent in the Universe who we should rename our classes after.

You can now have your vote on the finalists on our survey at

We want our children to be curious, industrious and agile learners who make a dent in the universe. Who do you think fits the bill and would help inspire our children on this journey?

Mr Rees

New Class Names!

At Simon de Senlis, we want our children to go on to make a ‘dent in the universe’ and are looking to rename our classes after famous people who have helped to change the world to inspire us on that journey. To help us, we want to find out who our school community thinks are the people in the world who have been most inspirational or who have changed the world for the better.

Later this week, we will be letting our school community vote from a selected shortcuts but first, please post your names either on this blog post or on our Facebook page.

They could be from the following categories or could be completely different!


Mr Rees

New Curriculum Themes September 2013!

In assembly this week, I talked to the children about the new topics that we are planning from September.The sheets are now stuck up around the hall for children to give their feedback on and you can also have your say by commenting on this post.

Which ones excite you?
What would you like to learn about within these themes?
Are there any themes that you are less keen on?

The themes are as follows:


On Your Marks…
Let’s Find Out
Let’s Celebrate!

What Happened Next?
Going Places

curriculum themes.JPG

Back to the Future
Our School, My Future


Please do comment and let us know your thoughts!

Mr Rees