Tag Archives: Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with  are meeting the same challenge.


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

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

What I Think About 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