After the uncertainty yesterday about what the new Key Stage 2 floor targets were going to be, I headed to the DfE stand today at The Academies Show to try and find out if anyone there knew.
The confusion was around what the new floor standards were going to be at Key Stage 2 following last week’s announcement that 65% (not the previously touted 85%) was the new floor target for Maths, Reading and Writing. Unclear messages from a Northamptonshire DfE briefing had led one group of Heads to understand that floor was now 65% overall attainment in separate subjects Reading, Writing and Maths rather than 65% combined which was previously assumed.
In these situations, Northampton Headteacher, Jamie Nairn, did what everyone else in the country would do when unable to get a straight answer from the government, ask Michael Tidd and ‘School Data Updates‘ on Twitter! Unfortunately, on this occasion, even these two very weren’t clear – a sure sign that something’s not right.
So, hopefully to clear things up, the following is the clarification that I received from the STA after checking directly with the DfE Accountability Team:
“Individual pupils need to meet the expected standard in all 3 subjects, reading and writing and in maths.
For progress, schools will get three progress scores – one for reading, one for maths and another for writing.
When calculating attainment we’ll be looking at the % of pupils that achieve the expected standard in all three subjects.
When looking at progress we’ll be looking at whether schools have made sufficient progress score in each of the subjects separately, reading, maths and writing. There won’t be a combined measure, but a school will need to have made sufficient progress in all three of the subjects.
To be above the floor standard schools will need to either meet the attainment element or the progress element.”
My understanding of this is that attainment will be a combined measure as we know it (the percentage of children who achieve the expected standard in all 3 areas combined) and that the progress measure will be separate measures (as with 2 levels historically) but that all three will need to be ‘sufficient’. The ‘sufficient progress’ marker is likely to be a negative but that’s a whole separate discussion and one that we shouldn’t hold our breath on finding out any answers soon. In the meantime, you can get your head around the new calculations thanks to the following video from Michael Tidd…
As an aside, I met the STA’s Will Emms today, famed for presenting some of the information videos that have emerged so far this year. He was a thoroughly nice chap and very helpful; we should try and remember that there are good people trying to do their best in managing a very difficult project on behalf of the government at the moment.
A final thought that 65% or 85%, combined or otherwise, it doesn’t really matter; our next move is still the same – to give all our children the best change of success next summer whilst maintaining an enjoyable, creative and broad curriculum and keeping our staff positive and hopefully still enjoying what is a wonderful profession to be in.
If you haven’t yet worked through the KS2 interim assessment framework yet, it’s well worth doing. I spent some time on training today with a group of Y6 teachers unpicking the new frameworks in Reading, Writing and Maths and the implications that these have on our practice back in school. Teacher Assessment is such an important area and the change to timings this year so that these are submitted prior to the test results being returned will ensure that any schools who got lazy and weren’t rigorous enough in this area will have to sharpen their practice.
The first thing to say is that they are progressive and that the increased demand in expectation is clear to see. Whatever is written negatively about the focus on grammar and arithmetic, there is no doubt that this increase in standard will result in children who have higher skills within these subject areas. The reality is that too many young people have spent 13 years in formal education and have still left without the ability to read, write and properly; I know this having read many job applications over the last 10 years. Our challenge is to make sure we can deliver on this without losing the creativity, engagement and enjoyment which is what primary education should be all about.
There were concerns raised about an interesting announcement that random schools will be selected in March to complete the tests which will then inform the standardisation process for the rest of the schools that take the tests in May. Apparently, these school will then not take the tests in May but is it the case that these March results will then be published alongside the others? No-one had any concrete answers on this. Bearing in mind that the revision period from March to May is often the key to succeeding in tests, this is potentially a difficult one. I’ll be relieved if Simon de Senlis isn’t drawn out of that particular hat.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IS INCORRECT – this practice will only take place at KS1, see the comment below from Michael Tidd. Twitter apparently now provides us with more accurate information than official training!
Here are a few of my notes from the different subject areas with some of my thoughts as we went through the day…
For reading, there are only statements published for ‘Working at the Expected Standard’. Working towards and working at a deeper level are not covered here – this will be for the test to decide. This leaves us the following very concise and clear set of 9 statements which ALL need to be achieved for a child to be assessed as ‘working at the expected standard’.
The pupil can:
read age-appropriate books with confidence and fluency (including whole novels)
read aloud with intonation that shows understanding
work out the meaning of words from the context
explain and discuss their understanding of what they have read, drawing inferences and justifying these with evidence
predict what might happen from details stated and implied
retrieve information from non-fiction
summarise main ideas, identifying key details and using quotations for illustration
evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reader
make comparisons within and across books.
A useful discussion took place around the teaching of reading and how schools are approaching Guided Reading. We are currently trialling the teaching of reading without the traditional Guided Reading structure with a focus on extended novels and whole class texts which we hope will help children to become more familiar with texts outside their usual choice and develop their ability to enjoy and appreciate ‘whole’ texts.
The increase in expectation here is dramatic. Common consensus is that to achieve ALL of the elements that are included in the ‘Expected Standard’ will mean that this feels more like a old Level 5 standard than the 4B/4A that was previously suggested.
Writing is interesting because it remains the only area that will be reported on via Teacher Assessment in 2016. Since the Writing Test was taken out, standards in writing have apparently risen significantly whilst in Maths and Reading, overall percentages have been more moderate. This has brought into question the rigour and integrity of assessment in this area. We were given the opportunity to prove that Teacher Assessment was a more effective way; it is almost certain that this will disappear and we will return to a test in 2016.
A couple of areas that caused skirmishes but were expertly extinguished by our visiting moderator were around the use of Passive Voice and Handwriting. We were reminded that the expectation on passive voice was not for all pieces of work but for those where it was appropriate and therefore as long as there was a broad range of writing in genres such as explanation, instruction and reports, it’s likely that there will be plenty of evidence of this. With handwriting, cold sweats broke out when this was highlighted that children needed to maintain ‘legibility, fluency and speed in handwriting through choosing whether or not to join specific letters’ in order to meet the expected standard. The following caveat from the Framework allayed the initial fears:
‘Where pupils are physically able to write and meet all of the statements except for being able to produce legible handwriting, they may be awarded the expected standard but cannot be awarded the ‘greater depth’ standard.’
So potentially handwriting can prevent a child being awarded the higher standard but having read the following expectations for ‘greater depth’, handwriting is likely to be the least of our worries…
The pupil can:
write for a range of purposes and audiences: managing shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures
selecting verb forms for meaning and effect
using the full range of punctuation taught at key stage 2, including colons and semi-colons to mark the boundary between independent clauses, mostly correctly.
As reading, it is only the ‘expected standard’ that is published and, predictably, it is the higher expectation that jumps out straight away; to achieve the expected standard requires many concepts which I have memories of being taught at secondary school. As reading, having a narrower focus helps to sharpen the mind and, as reading, ultimately the test trumps Teacher Assessment.
This area was the least discussed, possibly because it was the last one we got to and we all were running out of steam but more probably because there was less controversy. The expectations mirror what is in the curriculum and the real pressure is about trying to ensure that children will be prepared to do well on the challenge of the new arithmetic and reasoning papers which cannot be achieved by test preparation alone and will require on a teaching approach across school which develops a deeper approach once the basics are mastered.
Key Points from Today
The bar has been raised – repeating what may have ‘worked’ in the past, will not bring success in the future.
This demand for higher expectations in Year 6 must be shared with teachers across school. Without ensuring that the foundations for these higher outcomes are in place throughout school, success in Year 6 will be limited.
Until the exemplification materials are published in January, any standardisation or moderation is unlikely to be effective as many of the statements are ambiguous and require examples to illustrate what is expected.
We are now in ‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ – A key point to note is that ALL of the expectations need to be met for a judgement in that stage.
To finish the day, a familiar discussion ensued which questioned all the announcements and rumours about changes to floor standards, combined results and progress measures for next year. Will the Government change the pass mark to ensure that standards don’t appear to drop in these transition years; will they keep the bar high and take a hit knowing that they have four more years left in power so they will have time to show an improvement? Honestly – I couldn’t care less.The politicians will do what the politicians do and the good schools will do what the good schools always do: keep working hard to give children the skills they need to succeed in the future.
I’m back off to school to control the controllables and set up a semi-colon blog.
At this time of year as the country stops to remember, Poppies are on sale across everywhere we look. Schools join the campaign, selling poppies to their children, parents and staff in support of the British Legion and this worthy cause. I remember the Poppies coming around at school, always by the oldest children. I spent years looking forward to that opportunity when, as a fourth year Junior, it would be my turn to have half an hour out of class to take the collection box round and collect donations in exchange for a poppy and a pin.
Which leads me on to a question that I was asked several years ago by friend and mentor, Peter Hall-Jones who was helping me to think about the curriculum as a whole in my school.
“Who takes the poppies around in your school?”
It’s not a line of challenge that OFSTED or school improvement types are ever likely to include in their proformas; it’s not anything that we’re likely to start including in the SEF but it does tell you a bit about how we use different aspects of school life to give our children opportunities to develop wholistically.
When I asked teachers opinions on Twitter this week (because I was interested but mainly because I wanted to try out the ‘poll’ function), 93% said that it was children in KS2 and 7% replied KS1. That’s no real surprise; often lots of the extra ‘responsibilities’ get handed to Year 6 as they’re considered to be privileges of being in Year 6. They’re also older and so will do a good job.
But as Peter helped me to understand, there’s a missed opportunity if we always default to giving responsibility to our older children as, often, it can provide no real challenge. Taking Poppy selling as an example, this is a relatively simple job for children who typically walk to school themselves, have been on residential trips to foreign countries, can explain fronted adverbial phrases and long division, have performed in front of large audiences and who have at least 6 years of public speaking opportunities at school. Lower down the school however, we have plenty of children in whom we are still trying to develop independence and confidence as well as providing a range of real opportunities for speaking and listening.
And it’s not just the Poppies! We should also look at all these types of additional responsibility across school including the assembly monitors, Digital Leaders, Lunchtime Play Leaders and even the specific roles in classes. By choosing the children who already can, they will do it well; by choosing the children who almost can, we can create more opportunities for learning and personal growth.
So this time I’ve asked the Year 1s to do it. I caught up with a pair on Friday as they returned to the office looking very proud of themselves. They said that they were nervous to start with and that an adult had to help them practise what to say. They also said that they’d got better as they went round the different classes, that occasionally they needed a reminder of what to say but that they were confident by the end. When I asked if they’d enjoyed it, they smiled and nodded enthusiastically, told me they hoped they could do it again and then skipped off down the corridor.
That sounds like learning to me and that’s what we’re here for. Thanks Pete.
Today, I spent 7 hours in a hotel room with 152 other teachers from the Northampton Primary Academy Trust at our annual conference, learning more about Growth Mindset with Mike Gershon, co-author of the widely popular Growth Mindset Pocketbook and highly renowned for his work around Growth Mindset in schools.
In teaching, things can often be discovered and celebrated; lauded as the next ‘thing that makes a difference’ in education. Then they get adopted into practice (or not), criticised, occasionally dismissed and gradually find their way either woven into the fabric of school life or cast aside for ‘the next thing’. Growth Mindset as a concept has now become so popular in schools that it has hit that point where it has started to attract a small minority of critics and those who are keen to find satisfaction in categorising the approaches as ‘trendy’.
In defence of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck’s research and work spans over 35 years (I’m sure she certainly wouldn’t describe it as new or revolutionary) and underpins much of the work that many schools have been doing in recent years, particularly around feedback and assessment for learning. Lots of the good stuff that works from our educational heroes such as Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and Ron Berger is either built on Dweck’s research or links very closely to it.
Books and resources which package Carol Dweck’s work for teachers are now a-plenty and the internet is awash with ‘Growth Mindset’ quotes and images from a wide range of individuals such as Henry Ford, Gandhi, Michael Jordan and Yoda for enthusiastic types (including me) to post, like and retweet in various online networks. Amidst this backdrop, the staff and school leaders across our trust are convinced of the importance that Growth Mindset can bring to schools and have put this at the heart of our curriculum development plan for the next 3 years. Today was a great opportunity for us all to hear it from a real expert and I had the pleasure of spending the day as pupil, taking on board the messages that Mike Gershon delivered expertly to us.
What Mike did today was both clever and useful. He gave us all a comprehensive introduction to both the Science and Research around Growth Mindset which was informative and thought-provoking, even for those amongst the audience who have done all the pre-reading. He also did what we often cry out for within training in schools, made it simple and gave us practical approaches and strategies to take away and use which were in the following six areas:
Trial & Error
Throughout the day, we worked through a range of different strategies to use in the classroom which related to each of the above six categories. Some were new but many were those which staff were familiar with – the learning here was less about revolutionary new practice and more about how they all linked together within the context of Growth Mindset and related areas of pedagogy such as feedback, challenge and pupil talk.
We also enjoyed wrestling with the biggest question of the day, would you rather ‘own’ a dragon or ‘be’ a dragon, given the choice? This was posed by one of the Weston Favell staff – I think it’s what comes from working in an outstanding school!
Some key messages for us to take away? Here are mine:
Avoid trait-based feedback and celebrating outcomes – instead celebrate the processes and application that led to success.
Diminish the cost of failure in school (both for staff and students) through a range of activities that encourage trial and error or ‘trial and improvement’. Speed debating was one which we enjoyed today.
Work hard at getting feedback right across school.
Create a common ‘Growth Mindset’ language which is shared and used throughout the school community – work with parents to share this work and engage them as much as you can.
Work harder at getting feedback right across school.
Develop scripts for reframing fixed mindset language that you hear in the classroom. e.g. ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’.
Growth Mindset storytelling – providing examples, models and drawing on children’s own ‘Growth Mindset’ stories as reference points for staff and children.
Work even harder at feedback.
Never give out grades or levels alongside feedback if you want anyone to listen or act on the feedback!
One that I want to unpick further is about ‘targeted effort’ which is the beautifully simple premise that ‘If we focus our attention on improving something specific, we’ll get better in that area’. I’m conscious of the amount of different feedback and targets that we provide children with and wonder whether this helps provide clarity or confusion on their next steps. We’ll look at this one a bit closer in the next few weeks at school.
A thought provoking and enjoyable day but I still can’t draw… YET.
This post was originally published in the September edition of #TheFeedUK, a monthly online publication of blogs and stories about technology in education from schools.
And so another school year is underway, bringing an autumnal mix of both fresh and well-trodden challenges to schools. Assessment. Curriculum. Technology. Behaviour. OFSTED. Safeguarding – just a few of the many challenges that will be occupying the thoughts of teachers and school leaders this September. Another week, another headline around the use of technology in schools, this time not calling for more industry-ready skills or computing in the classroom, but announcing that ‘Computers do not improve Pupil Results’ – a loose interpretation of the recent OECD report, ‘Students, Computers and Learning’ which is well worth a read in its entirety at http://www.oecd.org/publications/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm
Well no, on their own and without the right approach, they don’t. And neither do pencils, uniforms, books, assemblies, paintbrushes, letters home, furniture and other vital threads of a school’s rich tapestry. Technology as a tool for learning, is only as effective as the quality of teaching that accompanies it (I’ve been banging this drum for a while now). So before we all gather up the devices and ask the digital leaders to list them on eBay to raise funds for textbooks or Latin teachers, it’s worth digging behind the headline a little further to understand the real messages.
WHAT DOES THE REPORT ACTUALLY SAY?
In short, the report highlights that education systems that have invested heavily in technology, have not yet seen a noticeable improvement in academic attainment as a result. Whilst this may provide a concern for some, these findings are consistent with previous research such as that by the Sutton Trust and John Hattie which indicate only a ‘moderate effect size’ where technology is used. This comes as no surprise to those of us who see schools grappling with the implementation of technology in the classroom, still searching for the right route in this still relatively new labyrinth.
A key message from the report is that teaching approaches (not devices and software) must change to make effective use of technology. I believe this is essential, but not just for the sake of leveraging the potential of technology; traditional instruction remains the default pedagogy in classes across the world and this is another indicator of how many miles there are still to tread on the march to develop more widespread contemporary practice in order to develop a generation of learners, fit for the modern world. As Andreas Schleicher (OECD Education Diectoriate and author of the report) says: ‘We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”
Changing practice is the crux of the issue; for a variety of reasons, there still remains the misconception that the ‘magic bullet’ of technology can be dropped into a school and will solve problems and raise standards. The 2013 paper ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’ (Fullan & Langworthy) cuts eloquently to the heart of this issue:
“In much of the language and thinking on technology in education, there has been a quest for a “holy grail” that would transform education through technology. By now, it is clear that no holy grail exists; rather, technologies used to enable and accelerate specific processes can dramatically improve learning, but its impact depends on how it is used.”
HELP OR HINDRANCE?
In a sense, it’s reports (and headlines) like this that contribute to the slow evolution of schools and education systems by awarding success or failure on the basis of the PISA tests and their narrow academic focus. Never has the case for developing a wider set of skills and competencies been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all joining the clamour for 21st Century skills, competencies or habits to be the focus of children’s education. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning); the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools and the OECD’s own paper, ‘The Case for 21st Century Learning’ (authored by Andreas Schleicher), all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the academic ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But still governments and the world’s media dances to the tune of achievement in the 3Rs. This too, must change if the world is to move beyond rhetoric.
Helpfully though, the report also highlights some areas where the potential impact of technology is now clear. It also provides us with the following call to action:
“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”
WHAT DO WE DO?
Having been fortunate to work with many teachers and schools where technology IS making the difference to learning, I’ve pulled together some ideas and suggestions that might be useful when planning how to develop technology further in your school this year…
Create a Digital Strategy that is understood by everyone and sets out why and where technology is used in your school and what the plan is for further adoption (I’ve written about how we did this at Simon de Senlis earlier this year).
Stay up to Date with school technology so that it is current and remains appealing for the school community to use. It costs money and time-heavy to implement and maintain but as soon as it becomes dated, usage stops in school. In too many situations, it just doesn’t compete with what’s at home (or in pockets).
Think Learning not Tech. An infinite number of shiny possibilities present themselves as we start to use technology more in the classroom. Continually asking ‘What makes Learning Better?’ is important to avoid waste time and energies into things which are cute or clever but don’t make learning richer or deeper. As John Hattie tells us, ‘Know Thy Impact’.
21st Century Learners need 21st Century pedagogies – This point is already made heavily above but researching this area or using approached such as Building Learning Power (by Guy Claxton) or 21st Century Learning Design provides a framework that helps develops the ‘stuff that matters’ in children
Switch it Off and Put it Down – Whilst an essential and powerful learning tool, knowing when not to use technology is a critical 21st Century skill. The OECD report also tells us that a high percent of the school day spent in front of a screen is counter-productive.
Empower leading teachers to champion the use of technology to make learning better. It’s the best teachers (not techies) who will see where the impact on learning really is. Invest in developing expertise and make sure that things work and are effective in these classrooms before transforming these ‘islands of excellence’ into common practice across the school.
Embed non-negotiables about the use of technology into daily routines. Many schools have this in place for administration such as online registers, email and logging behaviour; do the same for learning as long as it’s the stuff that makes a difference (see points 3 & 4).
Manage expectations amongst staff around new hardware, systems or upgrades – it won’t change their life in the flick of a button; it will almost certainly require troubleshooting and snagging before it runs smoothly; it might make learning deeper, more relevant and more engaging.
Nurture a growth mindset amongst staff around the introduction of new technologies in school. New hardware or systems are a great place for us to develop more of the resilience and problem solving that the Carol Dweck posters in our staffrooms promote.
Share your successes and failures with others through platforms such as educational blogs, twitter or other social networks. Only a wider network of educators prepared to innovate and share in this way will help us gather momentum and establish the reformed and contemporary approach to learning that the 21st Century is so deeply in need of.
I’ll be using the column in #TheFeedUK column to write more about how schools I’m fortunate enough to work with in the UK are facing up to these challenges throughout the academic year. We’re also hosting a series of #RedefineLearn events at Simon de Senlis to continue the debate and create opportunities to support schools through this transformational time in education.
Staying in the moment. Being mindful. Listening to understand; not waiting to talk. Detaching from online devices and the digital world. Making space to think. Just a few of the mantras that many (including me) are trying to learn from.
And it’s difficult. In a fast paced world where instant responses are expected once message is sent and ‘Did you get my message’ has become a acceptable greeting (for some), our brains are constantly wired. We’re fighting to keep our heads above water against the tsunami of daily information which engulfs us from a multitude of devices, screens and targeted marketing.
The side effects of constant distraction and connectivity took centre stage when I visited the Louvre in Paris this week as part of our annual school trip, #FranceTrip15. Leading a party of 43 children through the world’s busiest and most famous art gallery can be a stressful experience and so I certainly can’t claim that I took in as much of the history, art and architecture as I would have liked, but what struck me this year was the number of people who didn’t have 43 children to headcount, but still couldn’t pay attention to what was on show.
Headsets, audio/visual guides, devices, phones, cameras, tablets – all forming a wall of digital filter between the visitors’ senses and the paintings which hung heavily and unappreciated on the historic walls. Statues who used to flex their chiselled muscles as they were admired for minutes at a time by the throng of international visitors, now sigh wearily, as another iPad or phone quickly appears, clicks, and then disappears with perhaps an occasional giggle at their naked torsos.
And the selfies; those inconsiderate selfies which have risen to new heights of self-indulgence with the latest piece of fiendish 21st Century engineering: the Selfie Stick. Leading the children through the grand corridor now held an added layer of danger as we ducked, swerved and hurdled the selfie-sticks, wielded with the proficiency of a 3 year old boy with his first light-sabre, as their oblivious owners would pout, take, retake and filter their self-portraits, blissfully unaware of the works of romantic Italian artists that looked down, unloved, from the walls.
Our party pauses as a large man bustles into one of the children without noticing. He points his iPad furiously at an oil canvas, then another, and another before continuing his march through the corridor. A date with social media presumably awaits where his photos will join an infinite number of others on the internet and he can sit back and relax, enjoying ‘the moment’ as the beeps and vibrations notify him of the likes, retweets and comments that his online friends will reward his efforts with.
And then we find a peaceful moment. In a quiet and less-trodden corner, sits a young French artist, painting on canvas. We stand with the children and watch as 15 minutes pass. The teacher urge takes over and I quickly round up those with a real interest in art so we can look more closely at his palette and admire his patience, mixing and careful use of several brushes. A man, free from the pressures of time, deadline or distraction who achieves no quick-win, measurable outcome, metric or impact but who models the power of mindfulness, with an air of timeless ease. I stand still, quietly fighting the inner urge of impatience to ‘press on’ until it is no longer bearable and, after another frantic headcount and reminder to stay in pairs, we make for the main event, The Mona Lisa.
This experience is as unique as the painting itself and we join the throng of amateur paparazzi who inch forward in a trance-like pack until they are close enough to hold up their phones and cameras. Selfie-sticks not allowed here apparently; some relief but this doesn’t deter the self-portraiters.
To try and help navigate through this important issue, I’ve collated several useful links to announcements and publications that I’ve found useful give information on how assessment is changing in schools. The most recent are at the top.
And so September comes again with its fresh autumnal winds and shortening evenings reminding us that change is afoot. Each new school year brings us new challenges but this one does so in spades. After several years of discussion, consultation and piloting, the rubber is about to hit the road in the world of life beyond levels and, for the first time in many years, children’s achievements in Year 2 and 6 will be reported in a new (as yet undefined) currency. Anyone who still belongs to the ostrich camp must now remove their heads from the sand, at least long enough to read the new sample papers, and appreciate the difference in challenge that children will face in their end of Key Stage tests and the significant implications this has for classroom practice. The goalposts have moved; the game has changed, and rightly so. Repeating what has worked in the past will not bring success in the future.
A brief (and over-simplified) examination of ‘success’ within that retro age of levels gives us two contrasting possibilities. Were schools sitting pretty in the league tables because their children had acquired deep and meaningful knowledge, skills and understanding through a rich curriculum which meant that they were able to sail through formal assessments with ease? Or were ‘successful’ outcomes bought at a price of intense test preparation, coaching and booster groups which had children jumping nicely through the hoops of Year 6 assessment, only for this shallow and quickly acquired knowledge to be lost without trace by the time they arrived at secondary schools four months later? And were OFSTED astute enough to see the difference between these realities or brave enough to report on it? This dilemma, of course, is part of Tim Oates and co.’s compelling case for removing levels that was argued for so eloquently last year which has led us to this new dawn.
Either way, the removal of National Curriculum Levels provides us with a chance to think differently about what, how and why we teach and assess in our schools. I believe this is an important opportunity for us to fundamentally reform and evolve our approach to classroom practice to ensure that we are teaching children the right things in the right way so that they are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in the turbulent waters of the 21st Century; it is one that we should grasp with both hands.
But our window of opportunity is likely to be brief so seize it quickly, as the OFSTED wheels are about to start turning again and will quickly reveal the inevitable (and probably preventable) problems with inconsistency on inspection that declaring a free-for-all on measuring pupil progress will bring. Odds are surely now very short on the re-introduction of a common ‘in-school’ measure by either OFSTED or the DFE which may then return the debate to annual percentage gains and KPIs rather than learning and children.
But September is no time for scepticism or pessimism; it’s a time for us to be inspired by the latest leg of adventure in making learning more irresistible for children in our schools and to be optimistic about what the year might bring. I believe it’s the time for us to find the conviction and courage to evolve our schools away from the narrow academic focus that our paymasters demand, legacy of a bygone era. Rather than simply finding a new way to measure the 3 Rs, surely this is now the time to establish a progression around the wider range of skills, competencies and habits that young people need to succeed in the modern world.
Never has the case for taking such an approach been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all talking this common language. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning) and the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But what are these skills? Hasn’t everyone been talking about 21st Century skills for so long it feels out of date? And now we’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years, isn’t it about time we got this one nailed down?
There are several models that schools can reach for when looking for a starting point. The Campaign for Learning has championed the ‘Learning to Learn’ approach for many years and the ‘5 Rs of Lifelong Learning’; Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ is used by thousands of schools and the recently formed ‘Expansive Education Network’ offers resources and CPD/networking opportunities for schools. School Leaders within our Multi-Academy Trust have spent a great deal of time over the last 12 months researching, exploring and discussing which strategy to take and have adopted 21CLD (21st Century Learning Design) as a model to drive this broader approach to education. 21CLD is an approach built on the ITL Research Project and authored by Maria Langworthy which offers the following six dimensions of global learning. Helpfully, this model has also developed a series of rubrics and resources for teachers which unpick progression through these areas to support planning and assessment. This resource is also a product of the must-read ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ paper, authored in 2013 (Fullan & Langworthy) which is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the status quo in education system is OK as it is.
My teaching staff at Simon de Senlis have all read ‘Educating Ruby’ over the summer, by the inspiring Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, which provides a robust and well-informed argument that there is a bigger picture to education than just chasing the numbers in academic subjects and is a call to action for us all to do more in this area. We spent part of our September training day talking about the implications for this and how we will use 21CLD to drive our planning, teaching and assessment in the future. This is a big change for teachers and school leaders who will, over the course of this year, plan, teach and assess these dimensions of learning more explicitly. The professional conversations were rich and we consolidated our collective belief that each of these areas of child-development should be viewed as equally important, with ‘Knowledge Construction’ encompassing the academic focus but encouraging the deeper approach to learning and greater cognitive challenge that is now explicitly required within the National Curriculum and demanded of children within end of Key Stage testing.
Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with are meeting the same challenge.
Simon de Senlis Primary are hosting an event on the 15th October to look more deeply at aspects of the 21CLD approach as part of the Microsoft Showcase Schools UK tour.
‘The architects of tomorrow are in the sandpits of today’
A colleague Headteacher once shared this quote with me as he walked me around the early years setting at his school. He was passionate about children learning through exploratory, first-hand experiences – as are many of us. Too often, he argued, this approach to learning is one which is limited to the Early Years setting and children soon lose the opportunity to learn independently and through enquiry once they make the transition into more ‘formal’ instruction in Years 1 and 2. More time in the sandpits perhaps?
Microsoft have worked closely with ISIS Concepts to create a stunning ‘Showcase Classroom’ at their London offices. It’s a really interesting space – hi-tech and hi-spec whilst remaining thoughtful and playful. As you would expect, the room is packed full of technology and flexible furniture and this surely played its part in helping to inspire and open minds throughout our day there, where we got to grips with new devices and technology. It includes lots of different break-out spaces and we were able to work in different ways together at different times during the day, in different size groups, with and without technology – some of which is captured on this YouTube video.
The big question for me when reflecting on all this on the train home was simple: Why not have one of these resources in a school?
Yes – a school! This would mean that children and teachers would be able to use it every day and evaluate its worth, shape its future. Instead of a ‘showcase’ or ‘classroom of the future’, rather a perpetual prototype which we can tinker with, carry out research in and learn lessons from with real children. We could share it; invite other teachers and their children in; other people who have nothing to do with school and see how they learn?
And so, with thanks to ISIS Concepts, BENQ and Microsoft Education UK, the concept of ‘The Sandpit’ was born – and without a grain of sand in sight. As well as the flexible nature of the room – designed to allow different types of physical spaces dependent on the learning, it’s also equipped with a one to one Windows 8 (soon to be 10) deployment and two moveable screens
We were delighted to launch the space in its first iteration last week, and look forward to the tinkering, the prototyping and the learning that will come in the future.
There will be opportunities for other schools and teachers to come and visit and more information including dates will be published shortly; follow the school’s twitter account to keep up to date.
PS – For those interested, this next section is taken from our teaching handbook which sets out some of the vision and also the ‘nitty gritty’ around learning environments and display at Simon de Senlis.
“Environment as the third teacher…”
We believe passionately that the learning environment plays a crucial role in enabling high quality learning. To be happy, we need to have bright, welcoming spaces that promote community; to be creative, children need clean and collaborative spaces to get messy, explore and generate ideas; to achieve mastery, children need individual quiet spaces to consolidate, apply and reflect.
At Simon de Senlis, our learning environments are:
Flexible and Functional
Designed to Make Learning Visible
Cluttered rooms clutter thinking. Surfaces should be clear. Bookshelves should be neat and organised. Everything should have its place.
Walls should be clear and free from ‘wallpaper displays’. Space around displays is as important as the content of them as it draws attention and avoids not seeing the wood for the trees.
Glass is glass – it was designed to let light through and shouldn’t have notices, posters or prompts covering it. This applies to doors and both internal/external windows.
Flexible and Functional
Furniture should be minimal to allow as much space as possible for movement, creativity.
Furniture should be flexible in its layout to allow for different configurations at different times for different size groups/ways of walking.
All core learning resources should be clearly labelled and accessible to children inlcuding pencils, pens, rulers, paintbrushes, paint, maths equipment (including rulers, tracing papers, protractors etc.)
Making learning visible…
We have three types of learning based displays:
Celebration display are where high quality work is presented. This is displayed using the following guidelines to ensure that it its the quality of work, not the frills of the display that draw the eye:
Muted colour backgrounds and clean crisp backing and borders ensure that the eye is drawn to the work.
Only work of the highest standard (in relation to the child’s current ability) should be displayed. This is to model what good work looks like in our school.
Each final showcase display should be labelled with an engaging title and a brief insight into the process behind the finished piece.
Working displays are used to make learning visible. The following displays should be evident in each room:
Maths working wall
English working wall
Virtual Displays allow learning to be shared, presented and interacted around through online spaces which add another dimension to traditional display. Use of blogs, social media and online tools can increase engagement, make learning more visible, give an authentic audience to final work and give parents opportunities to engage in learning where they otherwise may not.
Each class will keep a blog as a way of offering an insight into their working week as well as being a place where communications take place with parents. Each class blog should be updated at least once a week with post sharing some of the learning that has taken place in the class that week.