Category Archives: General News

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.


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 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

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



Some questions and clarification from today’s KS2 assessment webinar.  These are my notes and I did my best to keep up with the questions and answers but they might not be 100% accurate so the usual disclaimer about taking them in that spirit and please refer to the DfE for any further clarification on anything controversial!


  • Confirmation of KS2 Teacher Assessment submission date that has been ‘relaxed’ to the 30th June (as before).
  • 1900 schools will be tested in Science this year – schools will be contacted by the end of April about this.
  • There will be a number of schools contacted to trial the online times tables test this Summer ahead of all schools having to carry this out in 2017.
  • There will be some ‘revised guidance’ published shortly around the exemplification materials.  A clear statement was made that there doesn’t need to be ‘huge amounts of evidence collected.
  • Read the guidance information carefully around access arrangements as there have been changes to the application process.
  • Children working below the standard of the tests should not sit them.  Read the Rochford Review for information on children working below the ‘working towards standards’.
  • Children with additional needs may not apparatus such as numicon, number squares etc. within the tests, even if this is part of their normal classroom practice.  Only the apparatus listed in the test may be used.
  • Clarification was given on the use of ‘standard methods’ within the Maths test.  If children get the answer correct, they achieve full marks; if they get the answer incorrect, they will only get the 1 ‘working mark’ if they demonstrate one of the ‘standard methods’ in the revised National Curriculum.
  • Clarification again on the 65% floor targets and progress measures which has been explained in great detail here by James Pembroke.
  • GPS is not part of the ‘combined’ floor target but will still be published as an individual subject.  Combined is Reading (test), Writing (TA) and Maths (test).
  • The process of calculating scaled scores was explained in response to the questions about why these can’t be released earlier – they will be available on the 5th of July along with the results.  The trial data was only based on children who hadn’t studied the National Curriculum for 2 years and only this year’s Year 6 cohort will have done this.  Therefore, this year, it will have to based on this ‘live’ sample of children.
  • The school progress measure will be calculated well after the tests (Autumn?).
  • Tests and Teacher Assessment will be reported in different languages this year.  Tests will be reported as ‘scaled scores’ whilst Teacher Assessment will be reported against the definitions in the interim assessment frameworks.
  • Unlike KS1, there is a statutory requirement to report both test and Teacher Assessment outcomes to parents.
  • There will be no further sample tests published prior to May.


  • More moderation guidance will be issued shortly in response to the new dates for submission of Teacher Assessment.
  • It was suggested that a range of writing opportunities can all contribute towards the evidence base but nothing ‘too heavily scaffolded’.
  • ‘Independent’ work within an evidence base was discussed and there will be some more guidance issued shortly around how independent, ‘independent’ writing has to be.  It was suggested that work with some peer feedback, self review etc. can be considered as independent.
  • As previously, there is no special dispensation for children with dyslexia with regard to the teaching assessment of writing.  If any child doesn’t meet the spelling statement, they cannot meet the ‘secure fit’ for writing, however capable they may be in other aspects of writing.
  • For children with physical difficulties, the handwriting element is exempt for the expected standard but not for the ‘greater depth’ standard.
  • In response to questions around the standard of writing demanded in the exemplification materials, it was suggested that ‘Morgan’ from the exemplification standard is considered to be more of the 4B example that was announced.  Leigh, is considered to be more of a borderline between ‘expected’ and ‘greater depth’ – he is considered to have some but not all of the aspects of the ‘greater depth’ descriptors.
  • For children who are working at a ‘greater depth’, there is no requirement for any additional evidence base to be collated.  It is expected that the greater depth statements can be evidenced within the existing body of work.
  • There was an announcement of a ‘high score’ which will be measured after the tests which will be published similar to a previous Level 6? This will also be published.
  • The definition of ‘coasting schools’ was re-explained. There’s a definition here which I think is right.


LAs will be informing schools that will receive a moderation visit on or after the 20th of May either the afternoon before or on the morning of a moderation visit.

  • Moderators will choose the specific children that will be moderated either before or at their moderation visit.
  • The ‘supportive’ process of moderation will now take place before data is submitted (as previous) so that moderation should inform the final data that is submitted on the 30th of June.  Schools will be expected to have data on judgements available for moderators before the 30th of June, should they receive a moderation visit.
  • Moderators will not be involved in moderating judgements of children working at pre-key stage standards (old P-Scales). These should be moderated locally by either clusters or between schools.
  • The evidence base for each child may vary – there is no pre-requisite for there to be the same pieces of work for every child.
  • STA will be sampling 48 (a third) of local authorities to QA the moderation process across the UK this year.


KS1 Assessment ‘Clarification’ Webinar – February 2016

Some questions and clarification from today’s KS1 assessment webinar.  These are my notes and I did my best to keep up with the questions and answers but they might not be 100% accurate so the usual disclaimer about taking them in that spirit and please refer to the DfE for any further clarification on anything controversial!

Exemplification Materials

  • A key message that the exemplification materials are ‘a guide’ to support children in making the judgements and not something statutory.  There is no requirement for tick sheets.  Ultimately, the relationship between test and TA hasn’t changed and this will be a teacher judgement. (This does appear to be at odds to the ‘secure fit’ statement and sounds more like the best fit world that we have just left behind?).
  • Reiteration that individual pieces of work should not be assessed using the interim frameworks.  The interim frameworks should be used to assess the ‘body of evidence’, rather than individual pieces of work.  This is a key message at the top of the interim framework documents.
  • Clarification on the ‘Some, Many, Most’ terminology within the Interim Frameworks.

‘Most of the time’ – see it regularly, usually correct, generally speaking is accurate with occasional errors.

‘Some of the time’  – means seeing it now, occasionally but is not secure, consistent or frequent.

‘Many’ is ‘somewhere in between’ the two above statements and is a matter for professional judgement and will not be defined by a number.


  • The KS1 tests still have to be taken in May, despite the deadline for teacher assessment date being pushed back.
  • KS1 tests can be administered more flexibly in small groups and at different times in the day but the general rule of thumb is that each paper should be administered on one day.
  • There is no requirement to cover all displays however schools should ensure that they don’t put children at an unfair advantage.
  • Schools will not be expected to report test outcomes to parents – it will only be Teacher Assessment outcomes that will be required to be published.  This is as previous years.
  • Readers can be used within the GPS test if this is part of ‘normal classroom practice’ and it doesn’t put anyone at an unfair advantage.  Whole class reading of tests isn’t really acceptable.
  • Children working below the standard of the tests should not sit them.
  • There is no strict time limit on the length of the tests.  Teachers should use their professional judgement on how long children need to show in the test what they are capable of doing.  Rest breaks and the use of scribes may also be used (if this is part of normal classroom practice) and there is no requirement for reporting or requesting these access arrangements (unlike KS2).
  • KS1 tests should inform the Teacher Assessment judgement, not be the ultimate measure.
  • Conversion tables for scaled scores will be published on the 3rd of June.  These will be set against the national standard and not calculated as any average of children’s achievement on tests.


LAs will be informing schools that will receive a moderation visit on or after the 20th of May either the afternoon before or on the morning of a moderation visit.

  • Moderators will choose the specific children that will be moderated either before or at their moderation visit.
  • Moderation will now take place before data is submitted (as previous) so that moderation should inform the final data that is submitted on the 30th of June.  Schools will be expected to have data on judgements available for moderators before the 30th of June, should they receive a moderation visit.
  • Moderators will not be involved in moderating judgements of children working at pre-key stage standards (old P-Scales). These should be moderated locally by either clusters or between schools.
  • There was a mention of ‘5 or 6 pieces of work’ as a reasonable evidence base to make a judgement from.
  • The evidence base for each child may vary – there is no pre-requisite for there to be the same pieces of work for every child.
  • STA will be sampling 48 (a third) of local authorities to QA the moderation process across the UK this year.
  • Children should be able to spell in context not just in spelling tests although the spelling test can provide useful evidence as to whether children can spell at the expected standard.
  • Children do not  need to join their handwriting to be awarded the ‘expected standard’.


  • Emails have already been sent out to confirm those schools who are being asked to take one of the KS1 tests early for sampling purposes in April.  If you haven’t heard, you’re in the clear!  If you do administer these tests in April, you should still administer the other 2 in May.
  • Approximately 2200 schools (30,000 pupils per subject) have been chosen for the early KS1 test exercise.


Why STEM Matters: Using Astronuts & ‘ArtSci’ to redefine learning.

As you read this, the International Space Station is currently travelling around the world at approximately 17,100 miles per hour, some 200 miles above the earth’s surface. In the time between the BETT Show opening and closing, it will have completed just over 50 orbits of the earth and within the titanium walls of this truly incredible feat of multinational engineering, floats my new favourite Twitter celebrity and astronaut, Tim Peake, taking his incredibly complex daily chores in his cool, amiable stride in the way that perhaps only a military pilot-turned-astronaut can.

And somewhere in his life, I’m willing to bet that a teacher who was passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths, gave him the time, attention and inspiration to want to find out more about Science, space and how the world works.

Watching the launch and following the events of the first UK Astronaut to visit the ISS is hugely inspiring to me and has surely added more wind in the sails of the STEM movement across the UK. But if astronauts alone aren’t enough to make you want to rush into school tomorrow and bleat continuously that we should be doing more to develop this area further, one could always take a reality check from the CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey (July 2015) which reiterates the familiar picture that there just aren’t enough professionals in the UK who are skilled in the ‘STEM’ areas.

According to the report, just over half of UK businesses (52%) have a shortfall in experienced STEM-skilled staff with 46% reporting that they are aware of problems amongst their employees in basic IT skills. That’s an awful lot of people in employment who aren’t up to scratch, either at the basic or experienced level and, as schools, we have to look this one squarely in the eye and do more.

‘There are widespread difficulties in recruiting people with STEM skills at every level, from new entrants to train as apprentices to people with more than five years’ experience of STEM-related work… The STEM crisis can only be addressed by business and education working together’.

(CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey, 2015)

The gender gap is alarming too, ‘disgraceful’ even, according to Nicky Morgan who, in one of her earlier speeches, highlighted the shocking statistics that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe (just 9%) and that only 14% of entrants to engineering and technology first degree courses in the UK were women. I do hope that our Education Secretary will be able to report more positive statistics sometime soon; I predict, however, that this will be more of a slow burner which will require continued attention from successive governments and Education Secretaries.

But whilst the Government is getting bogged down with the politics of religion in schools and the predictable, counterproductive march towards more standardised testing in the 3Rs, much work still remains to be done on the broader STEM agenda. The word ‘Technology’ appears to be out of favour with OFSTED and high influencers at the DfE. It would be helpful if those with responsibility for empowering future generations would bang the drum a little louder for a highly skilled, creative and digitally fluent next generation. Whilst there has been an array of initiatives sprinkled across schools in recent years such as cash incentives for Secondary Maths & Science teachers, links to industry and continued government funding for the STEMNET project, the next step must be bolder and should now focus more on a STEM ethos within our schools.

‘ArtSci’ – A SHIFT towards STE’A’M Thinking across schools…

A vital shift in thinking is for schools and policy makers that really needs to happen is making STEM less about specific subjects areas and more about the holistic learning ethos and learning design within the school. This will develop the types of thinkers and learners that we need for the future. Collaborative, digitally-fluent problem solvers with a curiosity to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not’ cannot be developed through traditional classroom practice with a narrow focus on discrete teaching of academic subjects. Our children must have opportunities to learn through projects and problem-based learning which require them to apply creatively the skills that they have mastered throughout the curriculum. They should be given opportunities to chase red herrings, fail, fail again, reflect and evaluate within the classroom. They must also move beyond the ‘I’m finished; what’s next’ mindset and develop the habit of creating something and then prototyping it several times before moving on, whether this is a piece of writing, a choreographed dance, a watercolour of a satellite or an online game created collaboratively in Scratch by a group of children from different schools across the world.

We also need to myth-bash the common misconception that a focus on STEM is to the detriment of other subjects, such as the arts, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. As Ann Myers & Jil Berkowicz articulate in their must-read book, The Stem Shift: A Guide for School Leaders, ‘There is a new culture forming in which art, science and technology are inseparable. The arts serve a STEM environment and support the development of young innovators. Those have been the domains of creative thinking and motivated learners. Add them to the mix of STEM, and a new environment emerges. The trend toward interdisciplinarity within the sciences and the arts leads to ‘ArtSci’.’

Whilst the change is system-wide, it must start and be most evident in our Primary Schools as too many children are arriving at Secondary School already switched off from Science. The 2015 CBI ‘Tomorrow’s World’ report is clear about this issue and suggests teacher CPD and squeezed curriculum time as key issues to address; areas which are only too familiar to those of us in Primary Schools juggling too many balls and trying to fit the quart into the pint point. It will also take the OFSTED and DfE rhetoric to join the 21st Century and hold schools to account more directly in this area for real progress to be made.

‘By the time that young people reach secondary school, many have already ‘switched-off’ from science – deciding that it is not something that they want to pursue. If we are to tackle the growing shortages of science-based skills in our economy, we need to ensure that children are engaged in and enthused by science from the beginning of their education. (Tomorrow’s World: Inspiring Primary Scientists, CBI – 2015)

I’m delighted to be ‘Resident Headteacher’ in the Microsoft Showcase Classroom this week at The Bett Show where I’ll be working with a number of teachers across the UK who are all leading innovation with technology in their schools. We’ll be looking at how new technologies such as the micro:bit will be giving more opportunities for innovation in schools, how the phenomenon which is Minecraft might be harnessed within the classroom and how other Microsoft technologies such as OneNote, Sway and Office365 are being used by teachers across the UK. Alongside the inspiration and innovation, we’ll also look at practical steps that schools can take to help develop STEM back in the classroom such as how teachers can be upskilled within technology and how problem-based learning and ‘Design Thinking’ can provide a curriculum structure to encourage 21st Century pedagogies.

When BETT is over and it’s back to school, here are 5 areas of focus that we’re working on to develop STEM further at Simon de Senlis and across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust in 2016.

  1. Redefine Learning: The #RedefineLearn conferences and activities joining up teachers from across the world are really inspiring opportunities and we’re hosting a number of these at Simon de Senlis where School Leaders from across the UK can come and take part in the debate and hopefully pick up ideas and inspiration to take back to their schools. Practices such as Design Thinking, Flipped Learning and 21st Century Learning Design are all examples of areas that schools are using to innovate across the curriculum and develop the learning habits and skills that we know children need.
  2. Micro:bit With a million free micro:bits about to land in the hands of Year 7 students across the country, there’s a lot of interest and discussion about how different schools will plan for the learning opportunities these offer. As an Academy Trust working under the Microsoft Showcase Schools Programme, we will also be giving micro:bits to all our primary students. I’m really excited about seeing how 2,500 primary age children will respond to this opportunity and the potentially many and diverse ways that they will be used across the curriculum.
  3. Staff CPD – I wrote in a previous article about ‘just in time training’, a concept where training is organised in a more fluid way so that staff can access it when they need it, not when it happens to come round on the staff meeting schedule. Since then, there has been a relaunch of the Microsoft Educator Community which now offers all free online training to all school-based staff via a badged accreditation system. Rather than assign this development to staff meeting times, I’ve offered our staff a day off in lieu in exchange for achieving completion of various different training programmes so that they have flexibility to learn as and when they are motivated and need to.
  4. Gaming & Gamification: Last year, my biggest takeaway from BETT was understanding the difference between ‘Gaming’ – a game you play and can usually win or lose at – and ‘Gamification’ – where extrinsic rewards similar to those found within games are used to motivate people such as badges for professional development, competition between groups, classes etc. This year, I’m fascinated in how teachers and children across the world are developing learning within Minecraft and how we might tap into the huge motivation and engagement that the majority of our learners have within this game. The badge reward system within the MEC is a good example of how professional development can be gamified.
  5. ‘Design Thinking’ – This curriculum approach which we first developed at Simon de Senlis 3 years ago with Peter Ford and Ewan McIntosh from Notosh provides us with a creative process using stages such as Immersion, Ideation & Synthesis, Prototyping and Showcase/Evaluation.       Our next steps are about redeveloping more of our curriculum topics so that they work within this structure and developing further the skill sets and mind sets in teachers and students that are required within Design Thinking.

But for now, enjoy the BETT show! Find Inspiration. Meet colleagues who you will know in 10 years’ time. Play with some technology you’ll never buy. Debate things you are passionate about. Most of all, take back some conviction to make positive change back in your schools so more children have the opportunity to develop a passion for, and expertise within, STEM.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if, when we’re all too old and wrinkly to be teaching or leading schools anymore, the UK was leading the world in Science and Technology and our Schools & Universities were the envy of the world?

Wouldn’t it be worth it if the children in schools across the world today were the ones who work together to find a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s and make actual inroads into reversing the effects of climate change?

And maybe, just maybe, one day a child who’s learning in your school today will look down on the earth from space and remember the teachers and school that inspired them to get there.


Leading Change, Assessment after Levels & why we should talk less and do more…

2015 was an exciting and challenging one for us all and brought to an end a turbulent year of change and uncertainty in schools. The world of assessment without levels has arrived and many teachers and school leaders still feel like they’ve been asked to play a new game but without the rules being fully explained yet. Let’s imagine for a moment how the All Black and Australian teams would have felt as they walked out to play the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham last November; warm up, stretch, national anthems, Haka if only then, at the eleventh hour with all the preparation done, would the referee reveal the rules of engagement whilst leaving the explanation of how to score to follow gradually over the Tannoy system at 10 minute intervals throughout the match. This is how many colleagues appear to feel with so many unanswered questions around assessment that still remain this late in the day.

Of course teaching hasn’t changed THAT much. It’s still very much the same game, but with a greater focus on deeper learning through the mastery agenda rather than a rush to push children on from one quickly-acquired concept to another. Many school leaders are now able to describe new assessment systems with admirable values and principles which, refreshingly, aren’t infatuated with data but are based on reflective teaching rather than constantly weighing the pig. A growing belief exists that great teaching should bring great learning which in turn, will lead to high achievement, however this is measured. But when it comes to the crunch, will schools be able to carry through their ideals around learning and assessment against a backdrop of fear and high accountability on testing, or will they resort to relying on tests to generate data which drive their thinking and actions? Let’s see.

In a recent meeting with our Academy Trust Headteachers, we had an impassioned discussion about the role that tests should play in our new trust-wide assessment system as we move forward through this pivotal year. There is a role for testing but strong views exist on why and when we test and what we do with the resulting information. Dylan William’s words, ‘assessment is a good servant, but a terrible master’, may be a helpful mantra for us all at this time.

Nottinghamshire Deputy Headteacher, Michael Tidd, is providing us with great leadership on this subject at the moment and has written several key posts including the excellent ‘Testing Times’, in which he articulates the heart of the issue well.

Tests have had a bit of a bad press over the years, but in reality it’s the way we’ve used tests that has been problematic. The over-use of high-stakes tests trying to predict outcomes or to usurp teacher assessment was an error, but the fault didn’t lie with tests themselves. Used appropriately, carefully-chosen tests can support assessment in the classroom, and help us to benchmark our pupils’ attainment against external measures.”

It’s Just Change…

Trying to keep perspective at times of change is so important. There’s an image of the change curve in my office to remind me that negative emotions and behaviours such as denial, fear, anger and resistance are all very normal parts of the process. This is important information when working in education where the only constant is change.   What I’m learning is that, where I see these reactions to change (whether amongst the children, staff or parent community), it’s my job to answer the following 2 questions:

  1.  Is the change that’s happening well thought through and worth fighting for?
  2. Is the change being managed well?

If the answer to either of these is no, it’s time to go back a step and revisit either the strategy or delivery. If the answer to both is yes, it’s important not to slow down or shy away but to see it through. They say that dawn follows the darkest hour so make sure you keep on going and get to enjoy the fruit of your labours once positive change has occurred or new systems are embedded.

Change Curve

As someone who’s been involved in leading technology across schools for some time, I recognise these emotions on the change curve well. It never stops surprising me how a computer is capable of generating such a range of primal responses in grown adults (including myself). A technical crisis still holds the power to hijack meetings, presentations or lessons; I do admire the technicians who work across our schools who are able to deal with the many pressures and requests that come their way without appearing to raise their heart rate.

A key part of supporting colleagues through change is through useful and timely training; this is a real challenge in school where professional development time is so limited each week. The current system of set training days and contracts is so restrictive that it doesn’t allow for all the necessary training that teachers and school staff need. I envy industry in this regard where week-long inductions are common place and going out for training doesn’t involve finding good quality cover. Pay teachers more and reduce their holidays by a fortnight to allow for two more weeks of quality inset perhaps? Not in a million years…

But these constraints challenge us to think more innovatively about how we solve the problems and using ‘just-in-time’ training is a really useful concept I was introduced to last year that might help. This works on the premise that lots of training is wasted because the gap between training and implementation is usually too long. How many times have we heard staff saying that they don’t know how to do something whilst using for the first time whilst leaders get grumpy and retort ‘But you’ve had the training’? The just-in-time model requires us to be able to release experts (these may be children as we have plenty of them on hand who are usually fairly tech-savvy) to go and support staff at the moment they need it. This has certainly helped in our school with a great example being 10 year old Caleb, who spent lunchtimes in September happily setting up staff with their new wireless connections to their classroom screens, showing them how to work it just before they needed it.  At another level, having consultants and trainers working in the classroom alongside teachers has become effective common practice as has lesson study with teachers coaching each other in the classroom.

 No blog post would be complete without a list of suggestions and tips so here are 7 things to consider when leading change in your school: mainly learnt (and still learning) the hard way…

  1. Take People with You:       No-one likes being ‘done to’ and so any significant change of any significance should be consulted and discussed with those it affects and tailored with them. A rushed implementation can often end up as a false economy due to the amount of time then managing fall-out that comes from resistance to change. When we converted to becoming an academy in April this year, the Governors and Leadership team set up several high profile events alongside lots of informal discussions so that staff and parents had several opportunities to air any concerns and seek reassurances and clarification.       As a result, the formal consultation period was smooth and the process a very positive one for our school community.
  2. A Focus on Well-Being:       The emotions that accompany change can be draining and exhausting so it’s important to look out for staff during times of change. Little things can make a real difference and with this in mind, we made tea and coffee free for staff at Simon de Senlis and discounted the Christmas bash so that more staff can get together at this important time of year. This term started with some CPD around time-management for all staff and we are all trying to be more effective and work smarter (not harder) in 2016.
  3. Look After Number 1: Any well-being initiative should also extend to the person who is leading change so make sure you eat well, get plenty of sleep at times of challenge as the last thing anyone needs is for you to be ill half-way through a testing time (I’ll let you know when I’ve found a way to model this myself).
  4. Face to Face Time Beats Email:  Although it’s important to provide clarity through communications such as email, memos and letters (if it involves the parents), nothing is more important than hearing it from the ‘horse’s mouth’ so make sure that you are visible. I find that 15 minutes a day on the school gate can save hours of potentially more difficult communication where there are issues that need resolving.
  5. Size Doesn’t Matter:  One of the most painful lessons I learned as a new Headteacher several years ago was that it wasn’t always the big changes that caused a stir. The most controversial and unpopular policy change I have ever led wasn’t the academy conversion or the inevitable side-effects of managing underperformance through an RI cycle, but an adaptation to the Healthy Eating policy as this impacted directly on the shopping habits of parents. This was a time-expensive piece of learning and taught me the benefits of informal consultation and testing ideas with the parent community first.
  6. Pick Your Battles:  on too many fronts is the shortcut to certain defeat and so assessing the impact of any change including the risks and unintended consequences. If the majority of leadership communication with parents is spent in conflict around uniform expectations, it’s possible that there are more productive areas of change to enact (Sutton Trust Research tells us that Uniform has an effect size of 0 on pupil’s progress). At Simon de Senlis this year, we’re really campaigning hard for more reading at home and school as we believe that the impact of this will be well worth the struggle!
  7. Just Do It:   Whether it’s a new website, assessment system or way of working, often we can get caught in cycles of too much discussion or hypothesis and not enough action. It’s important that sometimes we throw caution to the wind and just make something happen that we know is right and we feel passionate about.  A great example of this is my colleague Headteacher, Leigh Wolmarons, who leads his remarkable school, Lings Primary, from the front through his passion for Drama, Sport and Technology. Leigh has an distaste for meetings, a tardis (I honestly don’t know how else he finds the time) and an indomitable spirit which combine to make extraordinary things happen for his children.

Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that ‘complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions’; so enjoy wrestling with the headaches and spending time to find the right answers.


This post was written for and first published in December’s edition of ‘The Feed’, an online publication for schools by Microsoft Education UK.

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.


Who takes the Poppies around in your school?

At this time of year as the country stops to remember, Poppies are on sale across everywhere we look.  Schools join the campaign, selling poppies to their children, parents and staff in support of the British Legion and this worthy cause. I remember the Poppies coming around at school, always by the oldest children.  I spent years looking forward to that opportunity when, as a  fourth year Junior, it would be my turn to have half an hour out of class to take the collection box round and collect donations in exchange for a poppy and a pin.

Which leads me on to a question that I was asked several years ago by friend and mentor, Peter Hall-Jones who was helping me to think about the curriculum as a whole in my school.

“Who takes the poppies around in your school?”

It’s not a line of challenge that OFSTED or school improvement types are ever likely to include in their proformas; it’s not anything that we’re likely to start including in the SEF but it does tell you a bit about how we use different aspects of school life to give our children opportunities to develop wholistically. 

When I asked teachers opinions on Twitter this week (because I was interested but mainly because I wanted to try out the ‘poll’ function), 93% said that it was children in KS2 and 7% replied KS1.  That’s no real surprise; often lots of the extra ‘responsibilities’ get handed to Year 6 as they’re considered to be privileges of being in Year 6.  They’re also older and so will do a good job.

Tweet Poll

But as Peter helped me to understand, there’s a missed opportunity if we always default to giving responsibility to our older children as, often, it can provide no real challenge.  Taking Poppy selling as an example, this is a relatively simple job for children who typically walk to school themselves, have been on residential trips to foreign countries, can explain fronted adverbial phrases and long division, have performed in front of large audiences and who have at least 6 years of public speaking opportunities at school.  Lower down the school however, we have plenty of children in whom we are still trying to develop independence and confidence as well as providing a range of real opportunities for speaking and listening.

And it’s not just the Poppies! We should also look at all these types of additional responsibility across school including the assembly monitors, Digital Leaders, Lunchtime Play Leaders and even the specific roles in classes.  By choosing the children who already can, they will do it well; by choosing the children who almost can, we can create more opportunities for learning and personal growth.

So this time I’ve asked the Year 1s to do it.  I caught up with a pair on Friday as they returned to the office looking very proud of themselves.  They said that they were nervous to start with and that an adult had to help them practise what to say.  They also said that they’d got better as they went round the different classes, that occasionally they needed a reminder of what to say but that they were confident by the end.  When I asked if they’d enjoyed it, they smiled and nodded enthusiastically, told me they hoped they could do it again and then skipped off down the corridor.

That sounds like learning to me and that’s what we’re here for. Thanks Pete.


A Poppy painted by Ayisha last year as part of the Year 6 remembrance topic…



Classroom Strategies for Growth Mindset, Pocketbooks and Dragons at the #NPATConf

Today, I spent 7 hours in a hotel room with 152 other teachers from the Northampton Primary Academy Trust at our annual conference, learning more about Growth Mindset with Mike Gershon, co-author of the widely popular Growth Mindset Pocketbook and highly renowned for his work around Growth Mindset in schools.

In teaching, things can often be discovered and celebrated; lauded as the next ‘thing that makes a difference’ in education. Then they get adopted into practice (or not), criticised, occasionally dismissed and gradually find their way either woven into the fabric of school life or cast aside for ‘the next thing’. Growth Mindset as a concept has now become so popular in schools that it has hit that point where it has started to attract a small minority of critics and those who are keen to find satisfaction in categorising the approaches as ‘trendy’.

In defence of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck’s research and work spans over 35 years (I’m sure she certainly wouldn’t describe it as new or revolutionary) and underpins much of the work that many schools have been doing in recent years, particularly around feedback and assessment for learning. Lots of the good stuff that works from our educational heroes such as Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and Ron Berger is either built on Dweck’s research or links very closely to it.

The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer...
The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer…

Books and resources which package Carol Dweck’s work for teachers are now a-plenty and the internet is awash with ‘Growth Mindset’ quotes and images from a wide range of individuals such as Henry Ford, Gandhi, Michael Jordan and Yoda for enthusiastic types (including me) to post, like and retweet in various online networks. Amidst this backdrop, the staff and school leaders across our trust are convinced of the importance that Growth Mindset can bring to schools and have put this at the heart of our curriculum development plan for the next 3 years. Today was a great opportunity for us all to hear it from a real expert and I had the pleasure of spending the day as pupil, taking on board the messages that Mike Gershon delivered expertly to us.

What Mike did today was both clever and useful. He gave us all a comprehensive introduction to both the Science and Research around Growth Mindset which was informative and thought-provoking, even for those amongst the audience who have done all the pre-reading. He also did what we often cry out for within training in schools, made it simple and gave us practical approaches and strategies to take away and use which were in the following six areas:

  1.  Trial & Error
  2. Targeted Effort
  3. Feedback
  4. Metacognition
  5. Language
  6. Embracing Challenge

Throughout the day, we worked through a range of different strategies to use in the classroom which related to each of the above six categories. Some were new but many were those which staff were familiar with – the learning here was less about revolutionary new practice and more about how they all linked together within the context of Growth Mindset and related areas of pedagogy such as feedback, challenge and pupil talk.

We also enjoyed wrestling with the biggest question of the day, would you rather ‘own’ a dragon or ‘be’ a dragon, given the choice?  This was posed by one of the Weston Favell staff – I think it’s what comes from working in an outstanding school!

Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf
Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf

Some key messages for us to take away? Here are mine:

  •  Avoid trait-based feedback and celebrating outcomes – instead celebrate the processes and application that led to success.
  • Diminish the cost of failure in school (both for staff and students) through a range of activities that encourage trial and error or ‘trial and improvement’. Speed debating was one which we enjoyed today.
  • Work hard at getting feedback right across school.
  • Create a common ‘Growth Mindset’ language which is shared and used throughout the school community – work with parents to share this work and engage them as much as you can.
  • Work harder at getting feedback right across school.
  • Develop scripts for reframing fixed mindset language that you hear in the classroom. e.g. ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’.
  • Growth Mindset storytelling – providing examples, models and drawing on children’s own ‘Growth Mindset’ stories as reference points for staff and children.
  • Work even harder at feedback.
  • Never give out grades or levels alongside feedback if you want anyone to listen or act on the feedback!

One that I want to unpick further is about ‘targeted effort’ which is the beautifully simple premise that ‘If we focus our attention on improving something specific, we’ll get better in that area’. I’m conscious of the amount of different feedback and targets that we provide children with and wonder whether this helps provide clarity or confusion on their next steps.   We’ll look at this one a bit closer in the next few weeks at school.

A thought provoking and enjoyable day but I still  can’t draw… YET.