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

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

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

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

Let’s do the Math…

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

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

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

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

showmethemoney-jerry-maguire-1

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

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

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

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

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

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

With cynical optimism…

TR

 

 

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.
keep-calm-we-are-ofsted-outstanding
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.
Or
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?
TR

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR

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

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

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

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

Wanted INclusion Leader

Inclusion Leader Vacancy May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 16th May @ 10.15am

Tuesday 17th May @ 3.45pm

Thursday 19th May @ 11.00am

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

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

Yours sincerely

Tom Rees

 

SATs: Shouldn’t Children Feel the Pressure?

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot (47)

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

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

TR

Empowered Learners & The Great Traditionalist/Progressive Debate

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

Cue a familiar conversation that plays out as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arts or Technology?

Discrete teaching of subjects or a connected curriculum?

Group work or individual work?

Mixed ability groups or sets?

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

Detentions or a free for all on behaviour?

PSHE as a core subject or high academic standards?

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

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

Empower Definition

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

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

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

Co-construction

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

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

TR

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

Empowered Learners & The Great Traditionalist/Progressive Debate

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

Cue a familiar conversation that plays out as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arts or Technology?

Discrete teaching of subjects or a connected curriculum?

Group work or individual work?

Mixed ability groups or sets?

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

Detentions or a free for all on behaviour?

PSHE as a core subject or high academic standards?

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

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

Empower Definition

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

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

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

Co-construction

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

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

TR

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

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

Class Teacher Vacancies:  March/April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 12th April @ 3.45pm

Wednesday 13th April @ 9.30am

Wednesday 20th April @ 9.30am

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

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

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