Monday, 20 March 2017
Monday, 23 January 2017
Different Language, Different Focus, Same Principles, by Shaw Goodwin of St Christopher's Primary School
Yesterday I sat in the school hall watching my infants taking part in a Yoga lesson. I watched two boys, who show strong autistic traits, unrolling their yoga mats and having real concerns that the mats would not lie flat; they continued to curl upwards. For the rest of the class this was not an issue, but for these boys, it was a real problem.
Whilst I might not have predicted their exact reactions, their behaviour did not come as a surprise to me. School staff are always watching and assessing how their children react to different stimuli. Often the children’s responses are what we expect, particularly if we know the children well, but hopefully, as yesterday, we observe and learn something new. One of the children pondered the problem and decided to flip over the mat. Good problem solving young man! Maybe not earth shattering to many, but it clearly showed to me that the child had made significant progress in how he reacted and dealt with that challenge.
Despite all the recent changes to school curricula and methods of recording and reporting children’s achievement, the core skills of assessing where a child is in order to plot their next step of learning, has not changed. It remains that same focused ability to observe how a child reacts to learning opportunities. So when asked to talk on the topic of Implementing Effective Assessment at a regional conference, I did question what I could share that fellow professionals might find useful.
However, when reflecting on how we have implemented the ‘new’ curriculum and introduced a new tracking system, there have been some significant changes in how and what, we use the assessments for.
- Significantly more focus and granularity in recording what each child “can do” against each objective.
- · The ability for Leaders in Learning to analyse and recognise strengths and weaknesses in the year group, class and school learning, has increased.
- · Identifying what each child’s learning gaps are.
- · Using summative assessments to support formative assessment.
- · Gone has the end of term ‘assessment of attainment’ – that process Is now system driven.
You won’t be surprised to hear that we don’t yet have a documented curriculum or set of objectives for yoga, but if we did he would now be working at 2 developing+, having made 1.5 steps of learning and a target for lying still for more than 15 seconds J. He contributed positively to the Year group, SEN group and Boys Group outcomes, but this now gives me the headache that the Pupil Premium group has not made as much progress – had I better start thinking of what intervention I need to put in place?
On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to sharing how we have approached all these changes and challenges; developing and moving our practice forward. I’m also hopeful of finding some answers, from others, to areas we are still working on.
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
‘It's so easy to string together a bunch of platitudes and call them a mission statement. But what happens if you actually have a specific mission, a culture in mind, a manifesto for your actions?’
BP finds oil in two out of three of its drilling explorations. That is three times higher than the industry standard. How do they do this? They came up with the slogan, ‘no dry holes’. Because they realised the waste of drilling in an adhoc way. This had been sustainable in the days of ‘Spindletop oil’ in the early 1900s when huge oil fields were first discovered in Texas, but this is not sustainable when wells were costing up to 40 million dollars to get working. The earlier theory had been, if we are successful in one in ten then that is fine. But with rising costs, strategy needed to be sharper.
So the mantra became ‘no dry holes’. What was the effect of this? It meant that geologists had to make a compelling case before ordering up a rig. Now the geologists at BP probably thought they were doing everything they could already, so what it needed was a shift in thinking. A commitment to doing fewer things in greater depth, literally. This is a tough discipline and it can feel counterintuitive particularly before the results are seen. The temptation is usually to do more of the same in the hope of different results.
How might ‘no dry holes’ translate elsewhere? What might a school look like which adopted this simplified strategy? What would the equivalent of ‘no dry holes’ look like in a school? Well, if we take the example of BP again, the first insight is to ask ‘what is the big piece of work which needs to be done here?’ What is the problem that needs to be addressed? In the oil industry it had been accepted that many attempts at digging wells were needed before reliable sources of oil were found. With rising costs, BP realised that it needed a vision which said, things could be different. So, what is the underlying ‘big, hairy goal’ in a school? In a primary school, it might be, every child a reader. In a secondary, it might be all students at 16 reaching a positive value added score in their GCSEs. What we pay attention to usually changes. Then, we turn it into something which everyone can relate to. Everyone, from adults, to children to school support staff, to the reception staff, canteen staff, cleaners, site staff. Everyone.
In a school which had historically found that some parents were reluctant to come in and meet teachers, the big goal might be translated into ‘everyone welcome’. Now, if everyone really is welcome, what does that mean? Are the receptionists welcoming towards everyone, even the awkward squad? If they are, this doesn't happen by accident. They in turn have been made to feel welcome by leaders of the school. They are appreciated for their work, often difficult, unsung work. And leaders do this by noticing, talking about it and thanking them for the great contribution they make to the school. Everyone appreciates being told they are doing a good job. So it means, that if they have been appreciated for what they have done in the past, they are likely to be open to conversations about how to make things even better.
This moves the agenda away from, how can I get away with the least possible, to how can I give my highest contribution? Because in this thought experiment, the big mantra has been ‘everybody welcome’. It is a phrase which everyone can use, can understand and where it is very clear whether it has happened, or not. It also shifts the focus from helpless to hopeful.
When we have committed to a big mantra, over time, it permeates our behaviour and our attitude to everything. However, it has to be deeply and truly meant and embraced. It is no good paying lip service to it, because lip service stays on the lips. It doesn't change anything. In the same way that ‘no dry holes’ was a phrase to drive all thinking about finding oil, so ‘everyone welcome’ would need to drive all thinking and behaviour within a school. And this is not necessarily easy, because it is one thing to welcome those we like, or those who are like us. But what about those who are not like us and who we don't necessarily like?
That is where the depth comes from. If we are working to these principles, then it has to go deep and embrace the tough stuff as well. And that is when the transformation takes place. And then to the classroom. What does it look like here, if we decide that ‘everyone is welcome’. It means that the teacher and adults working with children, are genuinely pleased to see the children. They talk about this and about how they are looking forward to working with them today. The talk about how all their contributions are welcome.
And they talk about what it means to be made to feel welcome. What it means to make someone else feel welcome. What the difference is between just saying the words and really meaning it. What happens when we are not made to feel welcome? What sort of work are we prepared to do when we feel we are not welcome? How does that compare with feeling welcome. What is the difference? Is it worth it? And if it is, how might we do more of it?
These are big, demanding pieces of work. But what they also have about them is simplicity. They are something which everyone can understand. It is very easy to see whether they are being acted on or not, very easy to check whether it is real. And above all, they have the power to make all of us feel hopeful, not helpless.
From Mary Myatt’s latest book ‘Hopeful Schools’
Friday, 16 December 2016
NEARLY ONE IN TEN TEACHERS LEFT THE PROFESSION LAST YEAR – THE HIGHEST PROPORTION FOR A DECADE – AND ALMOST A QUARTER OF TEACHERS NOW LEAVE WITHIN THREE YEARS.
Friday, 14 October 2016
Wednesday, 12 October 2016
Nobody has deliberately set out to increase workload. But increased it has. So what can senior leaders do to address the drivers for this and how can they find ways of cutting through anything which is not absolutely necessary? This chapter explores further the three main strands identified in the Government’s Workload Challenge, set out in the previous chapter: planning and resources, data management and marking.
First, to planning. It is essential for leaders to have conversations with colleagues about the difference between ‘lesson planning’ and ‘lesson plans’. Planning is critical and is fundamental in providing the structure and architecture for pupils’ learning. Results are better when the following apply: teachers are given time to plan together on a scheme. These should identify the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the content to be taught. Best practice in planning starts with an overarching question; ideas for opening up the content and the things to be taught over the medium term. These constitute the big picture and framework for what is to be taught. They are the roadmap. This is a useful metaphor for thinking about the curriculum to be taught. A roadmap shows the destination, but provides a number of routes to get there. This allows for teachers’ autonomy in the delivery of the scheme as it unfolds, lesson by lesson. When good quality schemes of work are in place, they should reduce teacher workload.
The Department for Education’s workload review group on planning and resources  identified planning a sequence of lessons as more important than writing individual lesson plans. So what leaders could do to support this aspect of the workload challenge is to stop asking for detailed daily lesson plans, if that is current practice. The only situation where daily lesson plans might be an expectation is when senior leaders are supporting a colleague via coaching. Here, precise planning might be needed to improve practice, in which case the plans should be prepared jointly with the senior leader as coach, as part of the larger scheme of work.
The most compelling reason for moving away from compulsory daily lesson plans are that not only are they not necessary, they can get in the way of the bigger ‘flow’ of the sequence of learning. As leaders, this might appear risky. So, let’s be clear about why it might not be risky to do away with daily lesson plans. First of all, what do lesson plans tell senior leaders that they don’t already know? If they have an overview and indeed have had some input into some of the longer-term plans, they do not need a detailed lesson plan to tell them this. If they are honest, how many leaders read the individual lesson plans from every teacher? In a school with 10 teachers and five lessons a day that would be about 250 plans to check; with 100 teachers, 2 500 to check. Each week. Are any senior leaders doing this, seriously? And if they are, wouldn’t the time be better spent going in to the actual lessons to see how things are going? Not as lesson observations, or learning walks, but simply by walking about. And offering support if needed and affirmation for work well done. How much more powerful than reading all those plans, which often bear little relation to what is happening in the classroom.
Second, senior leaders might deem it too risky to do away with lesson plans because they believe that they might be needed for an inspection. Ofsted has made it clear that they do not expect to see lesson plans, only evidence of planning. This has been made clear in its guidance document, Ofsted inspection: myths. Apart from anything else, time is so tight on an inspection that there wouldn’t be time to read files of lesson plans. The only thing which inspections comment on is impact – the impact of the delivery of curriculum plans on children’s learning. It would be technically possible to have perfect plans, which do not translate into meaningful practice for children in the classroom. And the danger of this is that it is possible to be seduced into thinking that the piece of paper is the work, when in fact it is the action in the classroom, which is the work.
Third, senior leaders might believe it is risky to stop insisting on lesson plans as they will have less control and view of quality assurance. But this is like a restaurant checking that all the orders have been placed so that dishes can be prepared. It suggests that the paperwork is more important than the meals that eventually end up in the restaurant. Any decent restaurant will check on the final product. And tweak it to make it better. Rather than thinking that the process stops at the ordering. So, for those leaders reluctant to let go of the safety net of lesson plans, they might want to trial it for half a term. Then check what difference it makes not having them. Those schools which have done this have found that the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom goes up, not down. It is a case of fewer things, done in greater depth.
Given the above, one of the recommendations in the ‘Report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review’ is that ‘senior leaders should consider the cost benefit of creating larger blocks of time for this practice to make the planning activity as productive as possible and reduce the amount of time spent by individual teachers on individual planning.’  As John Hattie says ‘planning can be done in many ways, but the most powerful is when teachers work together to develop plans, develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate on understanding their beliefs of challenge and progress, and work together to evaluate the impact of their planning on student outcome’.
Now, to the workload related to collecting data in schools. This is the advice from the Report of the Workload Review Group on data management: ‘leaders and teachers should challenge themselves on what data will be useful and for what purpose and then collect the minimum amount of data required to help them evaluate how they are doing.’  The move away from levels should help with this. The advice from the NAHT and the DfE’s Commission on Assessment Without Levels report  is that key performance indicators are the most efficient way forward. In other words, schools should identify the key ideas and concepts which are taught, and whether pupils have understood and have grasped these. The vital word here is ‘key’: not every aspect of what is being taught, but the big concepts and ideas only. It is not possible to evidence everything, so schools should not be seduced into thinking that this is possible. The right sort of evidence tells a big story about what pupils are able to do. Emma Knights, in her chapter on governance, points out that these principles should also be welcomed and supported by governing boards.
Leaders should keep in mind that the most robust evidence of progress and attainment is what pupils produce and say about what they have learnt. This is why their work, including written work as well as how they articulate their learning, provide the best insights into how well they are doing. Some schools are using tools like SOLO taxonomy  to capture whether children’s learning is surface, deep or conceptual. Leaders need to hold in the forefront of their thinking that the data or information is a symbol for what pupils know, understand and can do. Any data collection is meaningless if this relationship is not made, checked and moderated. For example, an inspection team will ask school leaders how well pupils currently in the school are achieving. They will look at any system which the school is using to capture this. Then they will ask to see children’s work and to talk to children about their learning, to gauge whether the information or data collected is in line with what the children are saying and producing. The key question is: is the work done by children broadly at age related expectations? And if it is not, how are leaders and teachers using this information to close the gaps in learning?
One of the problems sometimes seen in schools is that investments are made in commercial tracking systems, which are very similar to old levels. They create a false impression of what pupils can actually do and in some cases they drive how the curriculum is delivered. This is completely the wrong way round. School leaders and teachers need to agree what is to be taught and then work out the simplest way of capturing this. Otherwise, commercial packages drive the learning, rather than the other way round. Some schools, like the Wrexham School  keep their tracking to the minimum. Instead, they have regular, high quality conversations with pupils and parents about what they are doing well and where they still need to develop. Pupils, in discussion with their teachers, identify key pieces of work which show what they are capable of. These are used to share with parents and anyone else who needs to know.
It helps everyone if there is a timetable for data or information collection, together with a rationale for its frequency. In this way, all those involved in its input and analysis are clear about what is expected of them and why.
And finally, to marking. The report of the workload review group on marking acknowledges that ‘marking is a vital element of teaching, but when it is ineffective it can be demoralising and a waste of time for teachers and pupils alike.’  So the critical thing for leaders is to make sure that it is effective. What are the key principles which senior leaders need to consider here? First, that quality always trumps quantity. There is no link between the quantity of marking and pupils’ progress. At its worst, teachers write extensive comments on children’s work and children do nothing with the feedback provided. This is a complete and utter waste of time. Wise leaders are describing how marking fits into the bigger agenda of feedback. Feedback is information and advice, whether verbal or written, which improves a child’s learning. Leaders discuss with colleagues the purpose of high quality verbal feedback. And together they explore how powerful this can be. Then, they agree what high quality, purposeful written feedback looks like. This is linked closely to curriculum planning. In depth feedback might only be needed at the end of a significant piece of work, because most of the feedback will have been verbal and given in a number of lessons, leading up to a final piece of work. And they talk through why anyone would feel the need to have a verbal feedback stamp. Why would anyone use these? A waste of time and ink. And above all, they consider the main audience for the feedback. It is for the child, not the adult.
As a result, there should be no more cries of ‘should I be marking every piece of work?’ Why on earth would you, when most of it is redundant. So leaders’ role in this is to have some big conversations around a few simple themes: What would happen if we didn’t mark at all? If we are going to mark, who is the main beneficiary? How much of this should be done during the lesson? What would it look like if we limited marking to just a few pieces of work?
Tom Sherrington has written a very careful analysis of what high quality marking and feedback looks like . The grid at the bottom of his blog post shows how teachers might do less, more effectively. While it is written with secondary colleagues in mind, it is a useful talking point for colleagues working in all phases. Joe Kirby has analysed marking which is maximum impact, minimum effort. As identified above, much of this takes place during the classroom, because that is where the learning takes place. Feedback should be as close as possible to the action. And Dylan Wiliam has thought and written more than anyone else on what meaningful, effective feedback looks like.  Any of these would be very good starters for a discussion about marking less and doing it really, really well.
To summarise, in all these elements affecting the workload challenge, there is a simple line running through and it is this: fewer things, done in greater depth, produce better results. The job for senior leaders is to set aside the time, in professional development time and elsewhere, to begin the conversation.
Are there things that you do, or are required to do, (in marking, data management or lesson planning in particular) that seem pointless? Have you asked why they are done?
Can you point to a meaningful purpose, based on pupil learning, for the work that you do?
Emphasise quality, not quantity – in marking, planning and data management.
 Hattie J (2012) ‘Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximising Impact on Learning, pages 67-74.
Author of ‘High Challenge, Low Threat’