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.


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.


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.


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



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.

Flux Capacitors, Stopping the Boredom in Schools and Getting Started with Technology…

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

October 2015 is a historic date for those of us who grew up to the backdrop of Michael J. Fox’s skateboard, lead guitar and time travel adventures. In part 2 of the Back to the Future trilogy, ‘Marty’ is catapulted 30 years forward from 1985 into a futuristic world, brimming with technological advances, dreamt up by the prophetic Robert Zemeckis. For many, these scenes of what 2015 might have looked like have provided food for thought and discussion over the years as well as a flurry of articles recently about what has (and hasn’t) become a reality. And now the 21st of October 2015 has been and gone and there are still no streets full of hoverboards, flying cars or automatic laces on shoes; no self-drying jackets or giant holograms outside cinemas. There are many accurate predications though such as the widespread use of technology, cashless payments, tablet devices, targeted advertising, voice enabled interactive TVs and (sadly) murkier themes around the use of guns in society, corporate greed and corruption which I won’t dwell on in this education-focused and more optimistic publication.

Whilst Marty was still riding around Hill Valley on his skateboard in 1985, I was in the First Year (Year 3 in new money) at Earls Barton Junior School, waiting weeks at a time for a turn on the rota to use the school’s single Acorn computer which sat in the corner with floppy disks and tapes, providing us with the excitement of ‘Trains’ or ‘Granny’s Garden’ to break up the sunny pre-national curriculum days of reading, music and rounders that I now look back on with affection, undoubtedly through rose-tinted glasses. Today, 30 years later, as a Headteacher I have walked around school seeing 10 year olds hold an online conference with a school in Palestine via Skype, 8 year olds programming their own online games and designing web content whilst 5 and 6 year olds talk confidently about inputs, debugging and algorithms. The world has changed beyond recognition and, overall, I think that Zemeckis called it pretty well.

Granny's Garden on the Acorn...
Granny’s Garden on the Acorn…

Rarely is the future accurately predicted when it comes to technology and in schools this is particularly true. If we were to head back just 10 years from today in a Delorean, we’d be reminded of a world where the Government gave schools e-learning credits to spend on technology which were used up readily like Tesco clubcard points; Headteachers scouring through the catalogues to see what gadgets might transform their still largely-analogue schools. At this time, classrooms were unlikely to have more than the odd few desktops and the now obligatory screen or board was a new addition; having individual class cameras with rechargeable batteries was fairly forward-thinking and the explosion of handheld devices was still lurking ominously in the shadow of the much-heralded IT suite. The Government of the day was still dreaming up the statutory targets for schools around every child having access to a learning platform with parental access (which were never enforced or checked on) and the march towards this online future fizzled out predictably, partly due to a change of Governments but mostly because there were no obvious benefits to learners of these expensive and complex side-shows.

Even in more recent years, predictions about how technology is used in schools have been more often about automation in the classroom. How could tasks be allocated? How could tests be auto-marked? How could assignments be managed? In the future, would we even need teachers as we know them, as online quizzes and class voting systems enjoyed a brief spell of being in vogue? Wiggle the flux capacitor a bit and we’re back to 2015 and whilst the efficiency of technology has clearly played an important part in improving the effectiveness of school business and communication, it’s not this mechanical aspect where we’ve found any real impact in learning. The explosion of communication and social media in recent years has led us to richer pastures with opportunities to create, collaborate and publish now revealing themselves as the areas where learning can really be made better.

At October’s #RedefineLearn conference in London, this thinking was distilled provocatively by Mark Sparvell who challenged us to ‘Use Technology to humanise learning, not digitise the curriculum’, a call to action which echoes the never-more-relevant work of Michael Fullan who talks about harnessing the ‘pull effect’ of technology as a way to combat the widespread disengagement of learners in modern day schools. Global research shows us that enjoyment and engagement levels decrease with every year a child spends at school so that by the age of 16, only 40% of children are intellectually engaged in their schooling (Jenkins, 2013; Willims et al., 2009). Technology must be used thoughtfully to help reverse these depressing truths around school engagement. The challenge is, as Fullan and Langworthy write, that “Education under these terms needs to be radically rethought — partly to stop the boredom, but mostly to blow the lid off learning, whereby students and teachers as partners become captivated by education day in and day out.”

So (partly) with this call to action ringing in my ears, we’ve started the school year by announcing a series of #RedefineLearn conferences which will be held at Simon de Senlis over the course of this academic year. Sponsored by Microsoft, these are free and are aimed at all school leaders or teachers who would like to join the debate around the place of technology to improve learning. They include hands-on sessions with devices as well as opportunities to see the school in action and exchange ideas with colleagues from other schools. What these sessions have taught me so far is that as well as the obvious need for developing a school vision around learning and practice, schools still have lots of questions about upgrading hardware, procurement and deployment as they wrestle with the practicalities of updating their infrastructures within tight budget constraints.

Redefine Learn
Images from our Redefining Learning Conferences at Simon de Senlis…

So in the spirit of keeping it simple, here are some answers to some questions that I was asked by a group of school leaders who attended the #RedefineLearn workshop at Simon de Senlis earlier this month which are focused on getting started – particularly if you’re new to a school or have decided that the time has come to update the technology but aren’t sure where to start. Unfortunately, there are no Deloreans, freebies or shortcuts to get there quickly but with a clear vision, a pragmatic strategy and plenty of patience, it’s possible.

Where do I start?

At the very beginning! When I joined Simon de Senlis Primary in September 2012, the technology picture was one that many schools will still recognise. There was an aging server and an IT suite that was so slow logging into the network that staff had stopped using it. A handful of iPads were scattered around the school and the staff laptops were old. Everywhere I looked there was someone else telling me that we needed to ‘update the laptops’.

Although there was pressure from everyone to buy new devices, we realised that it was pointless until we had upgraded the broadband and installed an enterprise standard Wi-Fi solution. The first year’s budget was spent on these upgrades and updating the oldest staff devices. It wasn’t until Year 2 that we started to really invest in new devices for staff. My advice to anyone is to fix the infrastructure first before looking at buying in more devices.

How do we fund it?

There’s no easy answer to this one – particularly with the decrease in capital budgets in recent years. It has to be staged over a number of budgets with a plan around which areas of school to impact on first. There are still some Local Authorities where capital loans are available with either zero or very low interest rates which are worth looking at if you can afford the 3 or 5 year commitment to repayment.

The good news is that the cost has come down significantly. When I priced up 60 laptops and our Local Authority Learning Platform in 2012, the cost including storage was around £30,000. This summer, with more cost effective Windows 10 devices and free Office 365, we have been able to achieve the same solution for just over £10,000. With the cloud now our main storage site, we’ve also taken out the cost of on-site servers and the maintenance of these which is a worthwhile saving.

So who gets the devices first?

I’m an advocate for flooding a year group or department at a time rather than sharing out new technologies on a rota. If classes still only get to use devices once or twice a week, there’s no way that daily practice will change so I’d prefer to see a year group where they get access all the time so that children get used to having technology as just another classroom resource like the paint brushes, numicon and pencils. At Simon de Senlis, we started with Years 5 and 6 and then targeted different year groups as and when the budget allowed. One thing I would recommend is to allocate sets to individual classes which works much better in my experience than shared trolleys where there can be more issues around devices not being returned, charged or stored securely – having clear ownership means that children and staff tend to care and look after the kit better.

Which devices should we buy?

We have a variety of different devices across school at Simon de Senlis and part of the rationale for having a ‘mixed-economy’ is so that children can choose the right tool for the job which all run on the common platform of Windows 10 and Office 365. Smaller tablets are used for capturing media, having quick access to content online and for online games and applications whereas notebooks and laptops are more effective when producing writing, creating multi-media content or coding. It’s good to have some more powerful devices in school for more complex working but the vast majority of work carried out is based online and therefore can be achieved without breaking the bank. In my experience, the cheapest rarely offers best value though and our choice has been for mid-range student devices to increase longevity and higher-spec teacher devices to keep the staff productive.

So should we get rid of the IT suite?

If you can afford the space, replacement and maintenance, I think that dedicated suites are still a really valuable resource, particularly for specific curriculum areas such as computing where all children need simultaneous access to programmes or cloud applications. They do offer more stability and reliability than laptops but they don’t change practice in the classroom.
How do we set up our devices… on the server or as stand alone machines?

To avoid the slow startup times that can be associated with a server, we’ve set student devices up as stand alone and then children log into their Office 365 accounts or other cloud applications as and when they need to open, save or edit content. This means that as soon as you switch on the device, you’re online and so get that instant interaction with the web that we now expect and demand. In Windows 10, staff and students are also able to login with their Office 365 IDs which is another great way to have children interact with their documents and online.

I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet; but your kids are going to love it… Marty was 30 years ahead of his time and it's a good reminder that whilst we need to have an eye and one foot in the future, we also need to make sure that our attention is focused around the realities of the here and now when implementing new technologies and change in a school.  Some of us who have been trying to introduce technology in schools for some time will recognise the glazed looks that enthusiastic and avid 'expertise' can create in a staffroom and so we must do better at simplifying the processes, expectations and technology itself if we are to avoid having to shuffle awkwardly out of CPD sessions muttering something about how the kids will love it, even if you're not ready for it yet.
I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet; but your kids are going to love it…
Marty was 30 years ahead of his time and it’s a good reminder that whilst we need to have an eye and one foot in the future, we also need to make sure that our attention is focused around the realities of the here and now when implementing new technologies and change in a school. Some of us who have been trying to introduce technology in schools for some time will recognise the glazed looks that enthusiastic and avid ‘expertise’ can create in a staffroom and so we must do better at simplifying the processes, expectations and technology itself if we are to avoid having to shuffle awkwardly out of CPD sessions muttering something about how the kids will love it, even if you’re not ready for it yet.