Tag Archives: Curriculum

What I Think About What Works in Schools…

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

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


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

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

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

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


Development Day at the Uni…

Today was the first NorthantsBLT development day this academic year and saw a different approach to the focus and structure of historic events.

Previously, the days have focused around lots of sharing from schools with lots of opportunities to swap opinions on apps, use of online tools and ideas for using these in the classroom. This year, we have tried to focus more around the ‘B’ and the ‘L’ in BLT: Better Learning.

We were delighted to welcome Ewan McIntosh to lead the day who set up our thinking with an inspiring keynote on the theme: Visable thinking, visual learning. There were so many gems that came out of this session and here’s my reflections on a couple of things that have stuck with me throughout the day…


Design Thinking is clearly a passion of Notosh and Ewan and, having recently become familiar with the concept, I can see what an effective model this would be for structuring learning in a school. In particular, I agree that often as teachers we can hold on to the divergent creative thinking aspect and introduce learning already packaged up to children in a format we’ve decided on.

Incidentally, when I returned to school this evening, a teacher proudly brought me two pieces of ‘home learning’ that children had excelled in based on their recent visit to an Indian wedding. He told me that he couldn’t believe how much better the writing was compared to what he sees in the literacy books day in day out. When we unpicked what was different about the task, it became clear. The home learning was open ended, it was based on a real experience and children were allowed to choose which aspect of the Indian wedding they wanted to focus on, how to present it and how much to do. Both children had owned the divergent phases of the design thinking model and the results were spectacular. I’ll certainly be revisiting this model as we develop our Learning model at school.

Prototyping was another aspect that struck a chord with me. Ewan talked about 18 prototypes being an optimum number within a design phase and we were asked to reflect on how many opportunities children have to ‘prototype’ their work within a lesson or unit of work. Typical responses were possibly 1 and at best 2 but in most instances we expect learners to move straight to a finished article from a set of instructions, modelling, demonstration or explanation. If we want to develop resilient learners, we have to give them opportunities to fail, reflect and improve – something that prototyping seemed to describe well.

A Design Thinking Model around Learning


Often, when you’re exposed to inspirational ideas like today, the concern for lots of colleagues is that they would love to implement some of these practices but they feel that there’s a conflict between develop genuinely great learning and the testing/progress agenda in schools.

I find myself having this discussion with colleagues a lot (and I know I’m in the minority) but I don’t think that testing conflicts with great learning. I think that if you create great learners, they are more than likely to be able to become capable readers, writers and mathematicians and take tests in their stride. If you like, success in tests is a by-product of being a great learner.

The one exception to this (I believe)is the Year 1 phonics test – something I’m yet to find a supporter of!


Today, Ewan described the age old issue of asking children what they learned at school when they got home and the standard response that parents get. All parents in the room (including myself) nodded in agreement and talked about how from 4-18, ‘nothing’ followed by a range of confrontational and avoidance behaviours is the norm in almost every household. It made me realise that we’re all stuck in this repeating cycle of asking children questions, being disappointed by the response and then bemoaning either the school or the child respectively for either not providing enough memorable learning or for not being interested in education. A thought struck me: Perhaps our questions are wrong and not the answers.

When I came home this evening, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of asking Stanley the questions that I wanted the answers to – I asked him questions that I thought he would be interested in answering. Who’s the tallest in your class? Who’s the naughtiest in your class? If you could bring any bit of your school home, which bit would it be? What’s the silliest thing that’s happened at school this week? Tonight I had a much more talkative Stanley about school and found out lots about his school day!

So today got me thinking and I hope others found it provocative too. Yet again, it reminds us that while technology is a great tool for learning, it’s the skill of teaching and a well developed approach to learning which is the key to making it effective.

Thanks to Peter and Ewan for leading today and to Helen and Gareth at the University of Northampton for providing the venue and being great hosts. Here’s to more successful BLT events in the future: Better Learning with (or without) Technology