Category Archives: What I Think About…

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.

‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ & Why I won’t lose sleep over what the DfE does next…

If you haven’t yet worked through the KS2 interim assessment framework yet, it’s well worth doing. I spent some time on training today with a group of Y6 teachers unpicking the new frameworks in Reading, Writing and Maths and the implications that these have on our practice back in school. Teacher Assessment is such an important area and the change to timings this year so that these are submitted prior to the test results being returned will ensure that any schools who got lazy and weren’t rigorous enough in this area will have to sharpen their practice.

Higher Expectations

The first thing to say is that they are progressive and that the increased demand in expectation is clear to see. Whatever is written negatively about the focus on grammar and arithmetic, there is no doubt that this increase in standard will result in children who have higher skills within these subject areas. The reality is that too many young people have spent 13 years in formal education and have still left without the ability to read, write and properly; I know this having read many job applications over the last 10 years. Our challenge is to make sure we can deliver on this without losing the creativity, engagement and enjoyment which is what primary education should be all about.

There were concerns raised about an interesting announcement that random schools will be selected in March to complete the tests which will then inform the standardisation process for the rest of the schools that take the tests in May. Apparently, these school will then not take the tests in May but is it the case that these March results will then be published alongside the others? No-one had any concrete answers on this. Bearing in mind that the revision period from March to May is often the key to succeeding in tests, this is potentially a difficult one. I’ll be relieved if Simon de Senlis isn’t drawn out of that particular hat. 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IS INCORRECT – this practice will only take place at KS1, see the comment below from Michael Tidd. Twitter apparently now provides us with more accurate information than official training!

Here are a few of my notes from the different subject areas with some of my thoughts as we went through the day…

READING

For reading, there are only statements published for ‘Working at the Expected Standard’. Working towards and working at a deeper level are not covered here – this will be for the test to decide. This leaves us the following very concise and clear set of 9 statements which ALL need to be achieved for a child to be assessed as ‘working at the expected standard’.

The pupil can:

  •  read age-appropriate books with confidence and fluency (including whole novels)
  • read aloud with intonation that shows understanding
  • work out the meaning of words from the context
  • explain and discuss their understanding of what they have read, drawing inferences and justifying these with evidence
  • predict what might happen from details stated and implied
  • retrieve information from non-fiction
  • summarise main ideas, identifying key details and using quotations for illustration
  • evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reader
  • make comparisons within and across books.

A useful discussion took place around the teaching of reading and how schools are approaching Guided Reading. We are currently trialling the teaching of reading without the traditional Guided Reading structure with a focus on extended novels and whole class texts which we hope will help children to become more familiar with texts outside their usual choice and develop their ability to enjoy and appreciate ‘whole’ texts.

WRITING

The increase in expectation here is dramatic. Common consensus is that to achieve ALL of the elements that are included in the ‘Expected Standard’ will mean that this feels more like a old Level 5 standard than the 4B/4A that was previously suggested.

Writing is interesting because it remains the only area that will be reported on via Teacher Assessment in 2016. Since the Writing Test was taken out, standards in writing have apparently risen significantly whilst in Maths and Reading, overall percentages have been more moderate. This has brought into question the rigour and integrity of assessment in this area. We were given the opportunity to prove that Teacher Assessment was a more effective way; it is almost certain that this will disappear and we will return to a test in 2016.

A couple of areas that caused skirmishes but were expertly extinguished by our visiting moderator were around the use of Passive Voice and Handwriting. We were reminded that the expectation on passive voice was not for all pieces of work but for those where it was appropriate and therefore as long as there was a broad range of writing in genres such as explanation, instruction and reports, it’s likely that there will be plenty of evidence of this. With handwriting, cold sweats broke out when this was highlighted that children needed to  maintain ‘legibility, fluency and speed in handwriting through choosing whether  or not to join specific letters’ in order to meet the expected standard.  The following caveat from the Framework allayed the initial fears:

‘Where pupils are physically able to write and meet all of the statements except for being able to produce legible handwriting, they may be awarded the expected standard but cannot be awarded the ‘greater depth’ standard.’

So potentially handwriting can prevent a child being awarded the higher standard but having read the following expectations for ‘greater depth’, handwriting is likely to be the least of our worries…

 The pupil can:

  •  write for a range of purposes and audiences: managing shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures
  • selecting verb forms for meaning and effect
  • using the full range of punctuation taught at key stage 2, including colons and semi-colons to mark the boundary between independent clauses, mostly correctly.

MATHS

As reading, it is only the ‘expected standard’ that is published and, predictably, it is the higher expectation that jumps out straight away; to achieve the expected standard requires many concepts which I have memories of being taught at secondary school.  As reading, having a narrower focus helps to sharpen the mind and, as reading, ultimately the test trumps Teacher Assessment.

This area was the least discussed, possibly because it was the last one we got to and we all were running out of steam but more probably because there was less controversy. The expectations mirror what is in the curriculum and the real pressure is about trying to ensure that children will be prepared to do well on the challenge of the new arithmetic and reasoning papers which cannot be achieved by test preparation alone and will require on a teaching approach across school which develops a deeper approach once the basics are mastered.

Key Points from Today

  1.  The bar has been raised – repeating what may have ‘worked’ in the past, will not bring success in the future.
  2. This demand for higher expectations in Year 6 must be shared with teachers across school. Without ensuring that the foundations for these higher outcomes are in place throughout school, success in Year 6 will be limited.
  3. Until the exemplification materials are published in January, any standardisation or moderation is unlikely to be effective as many of the statements are ambiguous and require examples to illustrate what is expected.
  4. We are now in ‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ – A key point to note is that ALL of the expectations need to be met for a judgement in that stage.

To finish the day, a familiar discussion ensued which questioned all the announcements and rumours about changes to floor standards, combined results and progress measures for next year. Will the Government change the pass mark to ensure that standards don’t appear to drop in these transition years; will they keep the bar high and take a hit knowing that they have four more years left in power so they will have time to show an improvement? Honestly – I couldn’t care less. The politicians will do what the politicians do and the good schools will do what the good schools always do: keep working hard to give children the skills they need to succeed in the future.

I’m back off to school to control the controllables and set up a semi-colon blog.

TR

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.

TR

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

 

 

Change is afoot: Assessment, New Beginnings & 21st Century Learning…

And so September comes again with its fresh autumnal winds and shortening evenings reminding us that change is afoot. Each new school year brings us new challenges but this one does so in spades. After several years of discussion, consultation and piloting, the rubber is about to hit the road in the world of life beyond levels and, for the first time in many years, children’s achievements in Year 2 and 6 will be reported in a new (as yet undefined) currency. Anyone who still belongs to the ostrich camp must now remove their heads from the sand, at least long enough to read the new sample papers, and appreciate the difference in challenge that children will face in their end of Key Stage tests and the significant implications this has for classroom practice. The goalposts have moved; the game has changed, and rightly so. Repeating what has worked in the past will not bring success in the future.

A brief (and over-simplified) examination of ‘success’ within that retro age of levels gives us two contrasting possibilities. Were schools sitting pretty in the league tables because their children had acquired deep and meaningful knowledge, skills and understanding through a rich curriculum which meant that they were able to sail through formal assessments with ease? Or were ‘successful’ outcomes bought at a price of intense test preparation, coaching and booster groups which had children jumping nicely through the hoops of Year 6 assessment, only for this shallow and quickly acquired knowledge to be lost without trace by the time they arrived at secondary schools four months later? And were OFSTED astute enough to see the difference between these realities or brave enough to report on it? This dilemma, of course, is part of Tim Oates and co.’s compelling case for removing levels that was argued for so eloquently last year which has led us to this new dawn.

Either way, the removal of National Curriculum Levels provides us with a chance to think differently about what, how and why we teach and assess in our schools.   I believe this is an important opportunity for us to fundamentally reform and evolve our approach to classroom practice to ensure that we are teaching children the right things in the right way so that they are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in the turbulent waters of the 21st Century; it is one that we should grasp with both hands.

But our window of opportunity is likely to be brief so seize it quickly, as the OFSTED wheels are about to start turning again and will quickly reveal the inevitable (and probably preventable) problems with inconsistency on inspection that declaring a free-for-all on measuring pupil progress will bring. Odds are surely now very short on the re-introduction of a common ‘in-school’ measure by either OFSTED or the DFE which may then return the debate to annual percentage gains and KPIs rather than learning and children.

But September is no time for scepticism or pessimism; it’s a time for us to be inspired by the latest leg of adventure in making learning more irresistible for children in our schools and to be optimistic about what the year might bring. I believe it’s the time for us to find the conviction and courage to evolve our schools away from the narrow academic focus that our paymasters demand, legacy of a bygone era. Rather than simply finding a new way to measure the 3 Rs, surely this is now the time to establish a progression around the wider range of skills, competencies and habits that young people need to succeed in the modern world.

Never has the case for taking such an approach been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all talking this common language. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning) and the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But what are these skills? Hasn’t everyone been talking about 21st Century skills for so long it feels out of date? And now we’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years, isn’t it about time we got this one nailed down?

There are several models that schools can reach for when looking for a starting point. The Campaign for Learning has championed the ‘Learning to Learn’ approach for many years and the ‘5 Rs of Lifelong Learning’; Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ is used by thousands of schools and the recently formed ‘Expansive Education Network’ offers resources and CPD/networking opportunities for schools. School Leaders within our Multi-Academy Trust have spent a great deal of time over the last 12 months researching, exploring and discussing which strategy to take and have adopted 21CLD (21st Century Learning Design) as a model to drive this broader approach to education. 21CLD is an approach built on the ITL Research Project and authored by Maria Langworthy which offers the following six dimensions of global learning. Helpfully, this model has also developed a series of rubrics and resources for teachers which unpick progression through these areas to support planning and assessment. This resource is also a product of the must-read ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ paper, authored in 2013 (Fullan & Langworthy) which is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the status quo in education system is OK as it is.

 

21CLD
The 21 CLD app available in the Windows store is a great resource for helping teachers explore the different dimensions of 21CLD.

My teaching staff at Simon de Senlis have all read ‘Educating Ruby’ over the summer, by the inspiring Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, which provides a robust and well-informed argument that there is a bigger picture to education than just chasing the numbers in academic subjects and is a call to action for us all to do more in this area. We spent part of our September training day talking about the implications for this and how we will use 21CLD to drive our planning, teaching and assessment in the future. This is a big change for teachers and school leaders who will, over the course of this year, plan, teach and assess these dimensions of learning more explicitly. The professional conversations were rich and we consolidated our collective belief that each of these areas of child-development should be viewed as equally important, with ‘Knowledge Construction’ encompassing the academic focus but encouraging the deeper approach to learning and greater cognitive challenge that is now explicitly required within the National Curriculum and demanded of children within end of Key Stage testing.

Twitterdeb26c1
We had some great discussion as a staff who are committed to ensuring we develop the right skills in children for their futures.
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading...
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading…

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 and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with  are meeting the same challenge.

TR

Simon de Senlis Primary are hosting an event on the 15th October to look more deeply at aspects of the 21CLD approach as part of the Microsoft Showcase Schools UK tour.

This is free and you can sign up online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/developing-a-schools-digital-strategy-free-15th-october-2015-tickets-18532702813

What I Think About: Shiny Things, The BETT Show and Buying Devices for Schools…

One of the most common questions I often get asked by colleagues in other schools is which devices should a school buy.  Laptops or Notebooks? iPads, Chromebooks or Windows 8?

My answer:  I’ll tell you what we’ve chosen at Simon de Senlis and why but I’ll also tell you why in almost all cases, I think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

The only example I can think where the choice of kit defines success is in Formula One, where the manufacturers seem to influence the eventual winners of the championship more so than the drivers.  In every other example I can think of, it’s the vision, commitment, mind set, execution and resilience of the individuals/team that makes the difference.  Cristiano Ronaldo would still be one of the word’s best ever footballers whether clad in Nike or Adidas, Ian Botham would still have taken the Australians apart in 1981 whether he was wielding a Duncan Fearnley, Gray Nicholls or Slazenger Bat and I’m willing to bet that outside of the sporting world, today’s most successful individuals and companies would have achieved equally highly, regardless of which car manufacturer, brand of clothing, deodorant, laptop or mailbox provider they chose to use. You get my point.

Moving this back into the educational world, my view is the same around a choice of phonics scheme, curriculum resource or data tracking package.  It’s never about what you choose; it’s always about how well you use it, how this supports the overall vision for learning and the leadership that follows.  With technology and in particular devices, this is critical as the stakes are high, both from a cost and time perspective with any new implementation.

I’ve written recently about the process that we have undertaken to create our vision for learners and digital strategy at Simon de Senlis and this has been crucial in supporting our implementation of Windows 8 devices and combination of Yammer/Office 365/LP+ SharePoint learning environment.

We have chosen Windows 8 ahead of other technologies because it offers us a combination of hardware and infrastructure, at a price that we can afford to implement with low ratios of student to device.  I believe that Microsoft offers the most manageable, cost effective solution to a school with  a (growing) range of quality educational tools that support our vision for learning.  Creating the environment for classes to be able to work 1:1 with mobile tablets and also the full functionality of office and an online/app environment gives us the platform and flexibility (we think) to support our vision of creating curious, industrious agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe.

Moving on to the BETT Show, this week thousands of teachers will descend on the Excel centre in London for the biggest educational technology show in the world.  Going to BETT always reminds me of this scene from Red Dwarf.  For those who didn’t watch it, the Cat is a humanoid who has mutated from the ship’s cat over several million years.  In this clip, he gets completely besotted by ‘shiny things’, like kittens do with balls of string.  Similar uncontrollable excitement will be available at BETT – but will we be able to articulate what it is that the shiny things will do to make better learning and teaching?  Or will our kitten-like enthusiasm forget to watch out for the vision, strategy and pedagogy that will inevitably sit behind any genuine school success story?

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My goal this year is to look for the learning not the technology; look for questions not answers and enjoy the shiny things!

TR

PS – One of the markers of aging in a school is when the NQTs start and declare their Dates of Birth.  Mr Prosser’s admission that he was born in 1991 was a cat amongst the pigeons last year and brought both hilarity and sheer panic to the staffroom.  The other arbitrary measure is how many people remember the comedy programmes that are referred to within conversation.  It used to be me who smugly shook my head and made jokes about UK Gold when well-respected staffroom elders talked about Monty Python; now it’s me that gets a bewildered smile and nod when quoting Blackadder, Ferris Bueller or The Fast Show.

Last week when we were planning our visit to the BETT show this year and I showed this video of ‘Cat’ from Red Dwarf, several teachers revealed that they were far too young to have ever seen it.

#gettingold

 

 

What I Think About What Works in Schools…

We had a great staff meeting in school last week looking at changes to the new SEND Code of Practice and reviewing our approach to interventions within the school. Like on many occasions in school, teachers find themselves with decisions to make about what the right type of learning is they should plan, with a format to fill in and a deadline to have it done by.  It’s one of those crunch points where, in an ideal world, there would be more time available each half term to spend quality time thinking these through, prototyping them with colleagues and resourcing.  Inevitably, the realities of school-life bite and this process becomes another priority in the priority-infested waters of the new term.  I’d like to be writing that I have a transformational solution to this but I don’t.  It’s the way things are.

So one great resource to turn to, as the holiday idealism transforms into term-time pragmatism, is the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit which gives a wonderfully simplistic analysis of the cost, impact and evidence base of a variety different interventions.  As the toolkit is described on its website:  The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The Toolkit currently covers 34 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence supporting them and their cost.

600px-EEF_toolkit_screenshot

Like with anything that appears to be too simplistic to be true, there are health warnings around simply scrolling to the bottom, choosing the top 5 high impact topics and then rewriting the school development plan accordingly.  But then surely there are worse approaches to take when prioritising your time and resources?  What a bit of time spent looking at the toolkit does allow, is a periscope: an opportunity to see from above what you can’t necessarily see from below and, whilst horribly mixing my metaphors, making sure that the ladder is lent against the right wall before spending a frantic half term climbing it, seems sensible to me.

The Toolkit is a simpler (although not dissimilar) resource to the work of John Hattie which has been celebrated widely (and then recently criticised) for its wide influence in education policy across the world.  As Peter Ford  writes in his post, ‘Everything Works’, ‘The most enlightening research of recent years is John Hattie’s finding that 95% of all interventions that take place in schools have a positive effect on achievement. Hattie’s seminal synthesis of over 900 meta-analyses relating to influences on achievement builds a powerful story of the powerful influences on learning exerted by educators. It’s a surprising world where EVERYTHING WORKS!’

So in a world where ‘everything works’, the challenge is for us all to keep evaluating, reading and researching and occasionally putting up the periscope to make sure that what we are doing is high-impact, cost-effective and backed up by a significant body of research.

The EEF Toolkit – a great resource, discussion starter and document to help challenge your practice.  Now you see if you can read it without concluding that feedback and meta-learning are the two baskets you want to load all your eggs into this year.

TR

What I Think About Training Days…

On Monday, we had a training day at Simon de Senlis.  It was an excellent and important day of training and one of my colleagues took the time to share his reflections on the day on the Simon de Senlis PE blog.

In schools, we are allocated 5 training days a year which are the only opportunities we have to spend a full day focusing on staff development together.  Other development takes place after school or in snatched meetings unless it means teachers being covered out of classes to attend training and courses.  Quick Maths will tell you that (using official contracted hours), training days  take up just 27.5 hours out of the available 8760 in the year (around 0.003%) or 2% of the 1265 directed hours of a teachers working life.  This is well below the UK national average for time spent off work sick (74 hours) and (according to a well-know tabloid) three times less than the 91 hours that Men apparently spend on the toilet each year!

With this in mind, it’s absolutely crictical that we make the most of  these limited opportunities and plan them with thought and care, ensuring that they are aligned with our biggest priorities and challenges in school.

But selecting the right content isn’t enough; it’s also important to spend time thinking about the delivery – ensuring that we employ the same principles around engagement that we expect teachers to in the classroom to avoid staff feeling like the staff in one of my favourite toe-curling scenes from The Office.

Some things we might consider when planning staff training:

  • Who does most of the talking? The person leading training or the people who we are planning will develop their thinking and practice?
  • Do we move enough? Do people come in and sit still for long periods of time or do they have opportunities to get up and move and keep energised?
  • Multi-sensory.  Although ‘VAK’ may not be a buzz word of 2015, are we ensuring that we deliver any learning using a range of Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic methods and resources?
  • Do we give enough opportunities for people to learn by ‘doing’ and putting themselves in the position of children?
  • Are we clear enough about the ‘so what’ at the end of any training to ensure that everyone knows what the next steps are?
  • Have we planned when we will come back and revisit this issue/initiative/policy/discussion so that it becomes part of the journey of change rather than a one-off event which created some initial excitement but didn’t become embedded in the ongoing fabric of the school.

I’ll certainly be thinking more about these as we try and develop better training opportunities for our staff within 2015.
TR

What I think about New Year’s Resolutions…

Happy New Year everyone!

As is the way at the beginning of every new year, the world is saturated with new year’s resolutions.  Everywhere you look, people are promising somebody (mainly themselves) that they want to do things better this year.  Get thinner. Maintain friendships better. Spend less time on social media. Make healthier choices.  Work harder and get promoted.  Write more blog posts. The usual things.

Statistically (apparently), 90% of such resolutions are broken before the end of January. Does this mean that making some positive statements about what we want to change in our lives is pointless at this time of year?  Maybe. Maybe not.

2014 was a great year to be a part of Simon de Senlis.  Put simply, so many good things happened and, as Headteacher, it was ehappy_new_year_2015xciting and rewarding to see staff and children develop so well and achieve great things on the sports pitches, on the dance and drama stage as well as in the classroom, test papers and OFSTED reports.

So undecided as I am as to whether New Year’s resolutions are a catalyst for change or a waste of time, here are mine:

1) Keep spending time doing the things that work well and make a difference and not be distracted by fads or bandwagons.

2) Listen more and listen better.

3) Give better feedback to children and staff in school (I’m really inspired by the growth mindset work taking place in schools at the moment and feel this is an area that I can develop my own knowledge in as well as the school).

4) Share more of the thinking and development that goes on at school via this blog.

5) Complete a triathlon.

One step at a time. Here goes 2015.

TR