Endangered Species or Survivors?

I find myself to be a recently endangered species. David Attenborough may well spring out in 4 years’ time to catch a glimpse of me emerging from my office for my final lunch time home-made soup before I’m finally brought to heel by some executive board or national schools commissioner.

“Go on now, go walk out the door

Turn around now

You’re not welcome anymore”

My crime-being a maintained school head teacher! We have tried to be good. We did what they asked and became a Teaching School. We currently offer support to 5 other schools and yes we do charge them as we were told to, although we welcomed more than 100 visitors without any charge before this because we don’t believe that we should ask for money. We openly share our ideas on our blogs because we believe that education should be about supporting all schools and children. Did I mention that we did achieve quite a nice Ofsted grade but only mention it because it seems to be something that others want to talk about and whilst I’m crowing, our measures of progress place us very nicely for those obsessed with league tables. I’m only really interested in soccer tables myself but I have learned to play the game [not the PIXL one yet!] if I need to.

The local community seems to value us-they keep sending their kids to us and I think that is because “we know our students best and make sure that every single child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential” Where have I heard someone else use that quote of late? I was delighted when I glimpsed the new White Paper and saw that greater freedom was being given to school leaders. And then my mind shifted to that scene at the end of Braveheart-“Freedom”, shouts William Wallace before his head hits the basket!

If we have to go, we’ll have to go I guess but there are a few provisos that I think we should put on the table as our own Bill of Inalienable Rights [a bit like Desert Island Discs, if I’m allowed] I’ll be blunt and bullet point them for those in my little school community to debate.

  • We are only going to be mates with schools with similar philosophies-I don’t do lesson grades, unqualified teachers, collect data every 6 weeks, pay beneath nationally agreed standards, deliver generic professional development for teachers only or let my NQTs sink or swim and ignore poor behaviour. I’m usually a very nice man but can get proper nasty if people aren’t nice and supportive to each other.
  • I admit to buying all of the staff Easter eggs and drinks at the summer do but I wouldn’t expect our new mates to do that. I would expect a wellbeing and workload committee across the MAT [see I can mention the word!] and I would expect trade unions to be welcomed as necessary support mechanisms I can work with.
  • I think that I might be beginning to possibly warm to an idea of a few like-minded schools who placed both staff and students [and their learning and development] first and where PD for all staff is predominantly subject based and personalised, that horrible word ‘bottom-up’ and where appraisal is linked to PD/impact on learning. I’m not prepared to drop our research leads and teaching school roles and I would have to insist on collaborative PD and an open door policy across the MAT focused on development and the latest evidence.
  • This Butterfly Trust of 3-18 would open up a range of whole new possibilities and brilliant PD across the age ranges and whole mat inspections would give us the chance to make sure we supported our weakest areas and collaborated to improve the learning and teaching for all. Our succession planning would provide the very best PD for our potential leaders and I know that the schools we would choose to work with would want to work with our most vulnerable students and ensure that they stayed within our MAT, cared for and supported-not thrown out to fail elsewhere. We would welcome students of all abilities and aptitudes through our admission policy and our SEND quality teaching would provide the same opportunities for all abilities as we proudly do now. If you feel that behavoural problem and SEND children are not your specialty and issues you could do without, don’t call us.
  • You will have to work for profit if you join our MAT-the profit of improving educational outcomes not making money out of sponsorship. Ok we can’t afford to give you cash and we can’t lose any-our school might suffer-but we have plenty of colleagues who can give time and considered advice. We will work with any RI/SM school and we will help you turn around your fortunes but this will be based on data rich discussions, real needs, developmental targets over time and no bullying or ridiculous demands. Rigour is setting challenging targets that you know are necessary, that you agree with and that you know we will both celebrate as we jointly achieve them. We can call this our school improvement strategy, if you like.

I’m sure that many MATS are like this now but I haven’t spoken to that many to be honest. Of course I’ll do whatever is right for our school and involve the whole community in consultation. If we decide to stall and fight, so be it. The LA isn’t worth fighting for in its current state but our freedom and future is. We won’t be taken over, we won’t be under the auspices of executive heads and executive boards from other schools, we won’t work with schools who have fundamentally different beliefs than ourselves BUT we will extend the hand of co-operation, collaboration, shared ideas, research and resources to anyone who will honestly reciprocate. Our educational heart and soul is open to the nation and not just to our school. No difference really then, just a name? Any takers?



Perhaps Secret Teacher has a point!

Ok, I admit it, I’m a school leader-boo, hiss, and I often don’t even bother reading the Guardian’s Secret Teacher posts because they are guaranteed usually, to be a string of criticisms targeted at senior leaders in schools. The additional feedback comments pour scorn in their hundreds with isolated voices interceding and trying to be heard with, “they aren’t all like this-some are good guys.” I would hope to be one of the latter, although the judgement has to come from my colleagues and the long Autumn/Winter term of appraisals, reviews and lesson obs/book scrutinies might not be the best time to ask.

I didn’t really want to write this post-I prefer to share ideas and be positive about the work of my own school, and the general collaborative positivity that most others on twitter display. However, I have been getting crosser and crosser about some of the practices that I hear of and that have impacted on ex-colleagues, friends who are teachers, and our own school. After so many years in our profession, I shouldn’t keep quiet, when others are simply being treated wrongly and the job that I love is being undermined by cynical and short-sighted practice at times. I don’t get it right all of the time and perhaps Secret Teacher is right some of the time!

Two of my ex colleagues who are good professionals and would offer any school far more than just their classroom teaching, so I am told, are on the verge of quitting. Their crime, it appears, is not being able to fit in with the very different expectations of their new school. Granted that the school is in trouble with Ofsted and that senior leaders there will be under intense pressure to turn their school around but short term ‘big stick’ tactics might satisfy an interim HMI report but it does nothing to sustain and develop long term morale and improvement. The more experienced of the two failed an observation [don’t get me going on grading lessons!!] and was told they were too friendly with the students. This isn’t an easy school for discipline and they were on engaged and on task and most of us would call ‘friendly’ creating a good working relationship. I’ve observed hundreds of teachers-they are a good teacher and damned hard-working with bags full of ideas that they share constantly. When they attempted to share an idea that had worked them in a subject leader’s meeting, they were taken aside after the meeting and told “showing off wasn’t done there and who did they think that they were!” FFS! They were just trying to be supportive of others as they had learned for 5 years at our school was the way it should be! I can hardly ring their school and complain about the treatment of a fellow professional but if they leave teaching, what an indictment of senior leadership.

The other ex-colleague has been criticised in front of colleagues and has had their confidence shot to pieces. They are sensitive and creative and not a soft touch, but like most young teachers, they need to have their leaders listen to them and show their belief in the risks that they are prepared to take in their teaching. Not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening; and they will be lost to teaching. As senior leaders, external pressure in any guise is ours to take-we need to have broad backs and shield our staff. If we pass our angst and fear on to pressurise others, we shouldn’t be in the role.

A current colleague was interviewed for a post at another school recently. It was a very strange affair with her being asked about her personal life and “have you been hospitalised over the last few months” etc. without any questions on leadership which she was naturally expecting. Nobody rang her that evening, nor next morning [there were only 2 candidates!] and when she got through to the head, he thought that she would have realised the job wasn’t hers as nobody had rang her! He did mention that he ran another school and that another job was coming up-she wasn’t impressed and left it at that. However he rang during half-term and asked her if she could come for interview the next day and said that she would have half an hour to plan a lesson for him [there were no kids to teach obviously] and then would have to give her notice in on the Friday so she could start after Xmas. No official approach was made to me and we would have found ourselves a teachers short after what in soccer would be an illegal offer! Another school also pulled a similar stunt on us last year-approaching a colleague with an offer of more money for a post that wasn’t advertised. Is this what some leaders have become? Like a child who wants something for themselves that they need and takes it without any consideration of the consequences for others?

There are students with behavioural issues that for many years of my career would have been taught and supported outside of mainstream schools but who now are in our system and don’t find it easy to cope. When they choose to attend our school, they are ours and difficult as it often is for our teachers to work with them, we do our very best. Sometimes we fail and they have to go to other LA provision but it is as a very last resort and with my regret. Our school is a popular one and we get lots of appeals for students to join us-when is full really full-and when we do favours it really stretches our resources but we are a school who tries to cope and offer chances. Sadly many of the appeal cases come from the same schools-there seems to be no accountability from LA level that asks them why students want to leave and perhaps more to the point are they being pushed! Procedures are not followed rigorously, external child support has not been exhaustively used and to cap it all one school’s head added a letter suggesting that our school might be a better bet! Pressure from the LA, pressure from Ofsted, pressure, pressure, pressure but we should be better people than this in our treatment of fellow professionals and the students in our care.

Secret Teacher will still irritate me and I will still defend the decent human beings I have to believe that most school leaders are but sometimes I begin to waver and wonder.




G.C.S.E. Chocolate teapot system

I’ve waited a few weeks before sounding off about the disaster zone that the current G.C.S.E. system is becoming just in case our own re-marks and re-moderations caused even more lack of trust and faith in the system. Currently I think that we have spent approximately £3000 on re-marks and, providing that in the current economic climate, a school can manage to find the cash-it’s money that is well spent, even though it shouldn’t have to be spent! At least 1/3 of our results changed including changes in science and maths of at least 8 marks-how can this be so?

When I toured around our faculties on inset day, there was an angry groundswell of opinion, that despite our results holding up, some of the marking didn’t seem to reflect what we felt individual students effort and ability deserved, some marking seemed inconsistent and 1 set of moderation in particular had savaged work that in the previous year, completed by the same teacher to the same model, had been fine. [we had already sent a letter of complaint about the unprofessional conduct of the visiting moderator-first time ever!] At this point I would imagine that some Heads might begin to do a quick sum in their heads to work out how many Ds need to be converted into Cs to change a few headline figures! I made it clear that any students remotely near grade boundaries of any grades not just the D/C and who the teacher felt had given their best effort deserved us finding the money to pay for a re-mark. I felt that we had to send out a clear message to students and parents that we would fight their corner-it is their right and far too important to just let it lie and not challenge the exam boards. Lots of random thoughts came out of this;

  • G.C.S.E results stick with you for life. Every time you fill in an application form-there they are but what if they are wrong and cost college places, jobs or just prevent the fulfilment of personal satisfaction on seeing hard work rewarded? How many are actually wrong because the school didn’t act?
  • I then wondered how many schools can actually afford to pay or do some still expect parents to pay for re-marks. The financial situation is really biting some of our neighbours and many of our parents certainly couldn’t pay.  I would imagine some of the parents in wealthier areas than ours who have the luxury of private tutors may chase the boards but for most parents the price of £70 for re-marking the English papers would be off-putting.  School paying for them is the right thing to do and we just had to find the money from somewhere.
  • I can’t understand why all of the papers aren’t simply returned to us to use to improve our learning and teaching and provide professional development. Wouldn’t this be an obvious method of moving the whole system towards high performance? Granted that the boards share far more than they use to and our evaluation, using their evidence, is far sharper than it ever was. However some is still far too shrouded in mystery, whether it be obtuse moderator’s comments which you can never get the exam board to clarify or the bizarre idea of allowing schools to look at 20 of their papers for free, for just a week [and not telling all of the schools who entered the exam that this service was available!] This actually happened when a colleagues from another school told me how one of his subject leaders had found this service really useful. Great, I thought and hurried off to tell my leader who rang the board to get her free papers, only to be told the service finished 1 week after the results came out! Madness! Another colleagues rang the board to ask why marks had changed this year to be told that she had unluckily had the chief moderator looking at her work this time and they were always more rigorous!
  • I know that SATS marking, A level marking, some of the international bacc marking and a host of different subject marking at any level have caused consternation and upset. There is a lack of faith in the system and a feeling from many that it is no longer fit for purpose. I have just completed our appraisals, have reported to governor committees on our exam results and will recommend pay awards shortly. If anyone wants to argue that payment by results relying on a system that is constantly being found wanting is the way forward-think again! Similarly how can any inspecting body or results data service, ever be totally sure that they are commenting on or comparing totally accurate statistics? Are schools and teachers to be judged on statistics that may change depending on the ability and will to pay for re-marks?
  • Our appraisal targets, SIPs and DIPs all show a relentless individual and collaborative focus on doing everything we can to deliver the examination goods for our students. The commitment shown, attention to individual detail and professionalism from all concerned fills me with pride BUT I still don’t know if it will be deemed good enough to get the rewards it deserves from the current chocolate teapot system we work in. Hard working teachers, students and parents deserve better.

Using homework more effectively-making learning stick!

A few problems this weekend with our blog bit of the school web-site-must be the Irish sea wind or I’ve broken it! We always have issues with the font leaping around and weekend gremlins but apologies if you have favourited or re-tweeted yesterday’s post to find nothing there! Here is the post on my own secret site!

As a teacher who has discussed more key historical ‘turning points’ with classes over the years than I can bear to remember, I have been excited by the ‘turning point’ in my own school and I’m sure many other schools this school year, with the growth in interest in using academic research/sharing ideas from other schools to inform our own practice. When we have been able to create time and opportunities for our staff to read teacher friendly research and trial their adapted versions, I believe that our learning and teaching has had the chance to develop further. If you throw in the leadership and collaborative sharing that this time allows in to the grand mix of personal development for all colleagues-we are on to a winner!

Of course we have to be very careful of jumping on any initiative bandwagon and I’m wary of the increasingly loud voice of some educationalists who perhaps see their way as the only way-that isn’t supposed to be what this is all about! Nor am I pretending that 2014-15 has been in any way a halcyon year for teaching. As a school leader, it has been one of the most bitterly disappointing and divisive years in my memory, and whilst I only have a huge sense of optimism for the learning and teaching future developments here based on the growing confidence and skills of our staff and students-some other national issues, I find bullying and morally bankrupt. This isn’t the forum for that, although I know that it will take a large part of my time and strength next year to fight our cause and beliefs, my focus will always be on helping all in our community to improve their learning. Recent blogs have explained how external visits have really helped us to focus and reflect on our own practice and I liked Steve Munby’s piece in Schools Weekly, where he talked about ‘invitational leadership’ and the chances to work together to create an ‘ambitious self-improving system’ I hope that by sharing our ideas and opening our classrooms to visitors, we are playing our small part in building a brighter future. Let’s hope the ‘point’ can ‘turn’ in the direction that the majority in our profession know that it should do.

Rant over and back to what matters most! We discussed the Sutton/Durham Univ report ion November with subject leaders, with some lively debate on some of the chosen great learning and teaching factors. Previous blogs have explained our early attempts at interleaving and the science faculty lesson study, focused on initial testing, offering a variety of revision methods, and then re-testing.

  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material

This was small scale classroom research with no control groups-the emphasis was on collaborative planning and trialling some different approaches to see the impact on individual learning and whole class.

The slides from the initial meeting are below to show the content of part of the discussion. I borrowed slide ideas from Rachael Edgar and the Swindon Academy and when we came to our Whit inset day, some colleagues suggested that ‘stickability’ –remembering knowledge/demonstrating previously learned skills at different intervals was certainly a desirable facet of great learning. A bigger argument came with the report’s views on independent learning-the scientists in particular were stung by the negative comments re independent learning but once we had reasoned that independent learning without early scaffolding/teaching the skills how to study on your own, was a waste of learning time, colleagues asked for one of our learning hubs to look at independent learning in terms of improving student revision and memory retention and home-learning.




I shared some interesting blogs with the group e.g. Velcro Learners from Ruth Powley; http://www.lovelearningideas.com/blog-archive/2015/2/27/velcro-learners

and have used Tom Sherrington’s blogs on the value of homework with my NPQSL group and now with the hub.





Tom is perhaps keener on home-learning than I am but the hub isn’t about my views and colleagues were keen to try some different approaches to home-learning in the summer term which focused on developing student memory skills by quizzing, testing and a little more besides. It’s very early days and I will feedback later to see what has happened at the end of the trial. The hub members produced a booklet which they issued to upper sets in year 7. There are mixed reviews but all are keen to keep going and all realise that if it is to work in September on a grander scale, we will have to have a launch with students and parents so that everyone is clear on what is needed. From my perspective, I’m absolutely delighted that the hub has launched a small scale trial based on their own professional instinct, research ideas they have found time to read and the learning needs of their students. Home-learning done well can be a tremendous learning tool with plenty of positive effect size scores. You can see my questions and the responses from different subjects below, followed by a copy of the home-learning tasks.


What was the purpose for you of trying this out? What aspects of learning were you trying to improve and why did you think of this method?

We wanted students to be more independent in their approach to learning and hopefully this would be embedded up the school and help students to organise their time for revision and develop skills that they could apply to revision. We chose YouTube clips as many students see this as fun and not as homework as we are not expecting them to write. We have asked them to watch clips and listen to each one three times so they are hopefully absorbing the information. Some groups have tagged on a quiz to the end of clips.

What was the biggest risk you anticipated?

Students will just pretend to have watched the clips and in effect will not have completed homework.

Impact so far for staff and students-has it worked, have they done more HWK, lost booklets, misunderstood-any basic positives/negatives after a short time?

I can’t comment on other subjects but the year 7 have enjoyed watching the clips and don’t see it as homework as we are not asking them to write. I’ve heard some of them singing the homophone songs in class so the rules seem to be sinking in.

Is it worth launching on a bigger scale, is it worth having comparison groups, what would you do differently?

I haven’t yet had chance to discuss with colleagues the impact in their subject areas. However as a department, English homework next year will consist of a weekly independent learning clip / PP to watch and listen to and one other task. We are currently adding them to the VLE. We are also introducing a half termly SPaG assessment at the end of each half term that will test the skills covered over the homework’s that half term.


MFL have been trying to push grammar this year and I have been asking the Year 7 students to learn the personal pronouns and two important verbs (to be and to have) in French. I have given them sheets to learn from and tested them regularly, however as it is not a formal homework many of the class haven’t taken it earnestly and haven’t scored well. I thought by making a mini booklet with learning and follow up activities, a formal homework, the students may take it more seriously. Also I felt, having a short “task” to complete every week and then a consolidation activity would provide some consistency.

The risk I anticipated was that having a French homework every week is not something the students are used to therefore some of the students would still not take it seriously and either lose the booklet or not complete it regularly.

Impact has been difficult to monitor so far because last week when I should have been checking their first homework and stressing the importance of completing each weekly activity I had an observation so was unable to do it. When I tried to check this week a significant number of students hadn’t brought the booklet with them so there was no point going through the activity with them. Instead, I reiterated the importance of completing and bringing in the booklet and emphasised the importance of taking responsibility of their own learning. Hopefully next lesson will be more fruitful.

I do think it is worth launching because if done properly it will help students get into the habit of completing regular, short but meaningful tasks which can only improve their understanding of the subject and lead to greater achievement. Learning to be self-reliant and work independently are such important skills in life and acquiring them at a young age, I believe, can only be a positive thing.

To do this properly I think the ethos of taking responsibility for yourself via home learning should be embedded across the school by informing Year 7 parents and students of our expectations right from the start, then fostering and promoting this idea as they work their way through to year 11, so it becomes the norm. If it is too premature to initiate this on a whole school basis perhaps certain subjects/teaching groups could trail it properly for 6 months/a year then evaluate the impact.


What was the purpose for you of trying this out?

I wanted to give short home works that were achievable and would make a big difference to the progress of the pupils in the assessments now in y7 as well as in the GCSE they will do in y11. I want them to get into the habit of working this way.

What aspects of learning were you trying to improve and why did you think of this method?

We are trying to develop recall of scientific facts. The techniques we are asking pupils to try are ones investigated or developed from our y10 lesson study 2014/2015.

What was the biggest risk you anticipated?

That pupils would not bother doing it.

Impact so far for staff and students-has it worked, have they done more HWK, lost booklets, misunderstood-any basic positives/negatives after a short time?

We won’t know until we test them in the final week. I suspect quite a few won’t have done much as we are using it as part of a bigger independent learning trial and we only gave the concept a ‘soft launch’ to test the pitfalls before perhaps a bigger commitment in September.

Is it worth launching on a bigger scale, is it worth having comparison groups, what would you do differently?

I believe we have to help our pupils take over responsibility for their own learning and this will only develop over a period of time through expectations and good habits. I am sure that we will not have got the format right straight away! If it was that simple it would have been achieved years ago. It will need months or even a few years of relentless high expectations coupled with tracking, support and frequent follow ups. Culture change is never easy!


With my 7 set 4 in maths I identified four areas that they had struggled with this year.  I then created a short homework which focussed on each of these areas separately for four weeks; (perimeter and area of compound shapes, Addition and Subtraction of fractions and Transformations).

All upper year 7 were blind tested on these four areas before they started.

Then after four weeks we will test them again to see if they have improved.

I photocopied these homework’s for 7 set 4 which I had not done before and I did get a better response because of this.

The risk would be that we focus on these topics and they don’t improve with them after the four weeks or later on cannot recall them.


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Maths French Maths English
Science Geography Science

Please read the instructions carefully and spend 20 minutes on each task per week.




Over the next 4 weeks you will be given homework to complete in the subjects above. On the fifth week you will be given a short assessment in class based on your homework.




Maths Homework – All worksheets are on the VLE

You will be tested on these topics in week 1 of summer term 2 and then again in week 5.

Week 1 – complete worksheet – Perimeter of compound shapes

Week 2 – complete worksheet – Area of compound shapes

Week 3 – complete worksheet – Addition & Subtraction of fractions

Week 4 – complete worksheet – Transformations

You will hand your homework in to your class teacher on your last maths lesson of each week, (Thursday or Friday]

Science Homework –

Instructions: Use your preferred revision style to master the 12 statements (there are two sets of 12 statements). You should alternate these over the four week trial. Some suggested techniques are below – have a go at all three if you like.

  • Copying out the statement repeatedly (up to 5 times)
  • Chanting the statements into your phone/voice recorder then playing it back and chant along (up to 5 times)
  • Watching the YouTube support video called ‘Y7 science homework support week 1’ and ‘Y7 science homework support week 2’ and verbally completing the quiz at the end.
  • Create some flash cards to play with.

The YouTube channel is found if you search ‘Carmel Manwaring’ on www.youtube.com, then search the channel for the appropriate homework. You could get someone to test you on the statements to make sure you are making the correct progress.

Year 7 Science Homework Revision 1

Use your preferred revision style to master the following statements

  1. Chlorophyll is a green chemical found in chloroplasts.
  2. Photosynthesis produces food in the form of glucose.
  3. Leaves are adapted for photosynthesis because they have a large surface are and contain chlorophyll.
  4. The tiny holes on the underside of the leaves are called stomata.
  5. Stomata let gases flow in and out of leaves.
  6. Guard cells open and close stomata.
  7. Plants get minerals from the soil.
  8. Plants absorb minerals through their roots.
  9. Plants absorb water through their roots.
  10. Factors that affect the rate of photosynthesis are temperature, amount of CO2 and the intensity of sunlight.
  11. The photosynthesis word equation is : Water + Carbon dioxide → Glucose + Oxygen
  12. The photosynthesis symbol equation is : 6H20 + 6CO2 → C6H12O6 + 6O2

Year 7 Science Homework Revision 2

Use your preferred revision style to master the following statements.

  1. Stamens are the male part of the flower.
  2. Stamens are made up of the anther and the filament.
  3. The anther contains pollen grains.
  4. Pollen grains are plant male sex cells.
  5. Carpels are the female part of the flower.
  6. Carpels are made up of stigma, style and ovary.
  7. The Ovary contain ovules.
  8. The ovules are plant female sex cells.
  9. Pollination is where the pollen grains get from stamen (on the male part) to stigma (on the female part).
  10. There are two types of pollination: wind pollination and insect pollination.
  11. After pollination, fertilisation happens and seeds are formed.
  12. There are four methods of seed dispersal: ‘Wind dispersal’, ‘Animal dispersal’, ‘Explosions’ and ‘Drop & Roll’

English Homework

Watch the following YouTube clips 3 times. All clips are also on the VLE under English, Year 7 homework week 1 – 4.

Instructions: Use your preferred revision style to master the skills. Try to:

  • Chanting the rules into your phone/voice recorder then playing it back and chant along (up to 5 times)
  • Create some flash cards containing the rules.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOtMa2JyfXk – apostrophes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3qzXNf4noE– semicolons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfhfoNbDgeI -There, there, their

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R7EWH2a7YI -To too two

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD1OaD4FBqM – plural spelling s or es?

Geography Homework

Your homework for the next 4 weeks is revise a little bit of geography every week. Revision is a very important skill and it will come in very useful as you move up the school. Use the instructions below to complete your homework:

Week 1

  • Go on to BBC Bitesize – KS3 – geography – coastal landscapes
  • Go to the revise section and read through the information
  • Go to the test section and test yourself.
  • Record your score here ______________
  • Test yourself again.
  • Record your new score here _____________

Week 2

  • Go on to BBC Bitesize – KS3 – geography – coastal landscapes
  • Go onto the activity section and work through the activity video
  • Go to the test section and test yourself.
  • Record your score here ______________
  • Test yourself again.
  • Record your new score here _____________

Week 3

  • Go on to BBC Bitesize – KS3 – geography – coastal landscapes
  • Go to the revise section and read through the information
  • Go to the test section and test yourself.
  • Record your score here ______________
  • Test yourself again.
  • Record your new score here _____________

Week 4

  • Go on to BBC Bitesize – KS3 – geography – coastal landscapes

Go onto the activity section and work through the activity video

  • Go to the test section and test yourself.
  • Record your score here ______________
  • Test yourself again.
  • Record your new score here _____________

What do others think? Is this a better use of home-learning? Would this approach work in your subject? Is this a learning priority in your area? The feedback of the impact and results may convince you! Be patient and I’ll have them for you.

It might seem silly to share the trial at this stage, rather than waiting until the conclusion of the first attempt at teaching [FATE] of it, but, as with lesson study, I’m keen for colleagues to reflect at every stage of the learning process so that others can see how others have adapted and why they have changed tactics. Then you can get your SKATES on for the second attempt at teaching! A huge thank you to our volunteers for sharing their ideas. Ideas from the other hubs will be shared in the autumn term.






Following an original great idea by @teachertoolkit and a nomination by Stephen Tierney @leadinglearner, here are the rules followed by my choices. I’ve used my home blog rather than my school one, hence the lack of technical wizardry our technicians help me with! Apologies-no pictures just words of appreciation.

In the spirit of social media educator friendships, this summer, it is time to recognise your most supportive colleagues in a simple blog post shout out. Whatever your reason, these five educators should be your five go to people.  This may be for challenge, verification and support or simply because you want to celebrate their contribution to your PLN.


There are only 3 rules.

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge.  I realise this will get more complex over time.
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost, the rules and what to do information into your own blog post.

What To Do?

If you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues, here’s how:

Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely on or go to for support and challenge.  It might be a good idea to check that they are happy to be challenged so that the #TwitterChallenge chain doesn’t break down.

Record a video announcing your acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chosen) drink over a glass of ice.  Then, the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before nominating your five educators to participate in the challenge.  (This is optional for the technically challenged).

Write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post within 7 days nominating your chosen participants who then become part of #TwitteratiChallenge.  If you do not have your own blog, try @Staffrm.

The educator that is now newly nominated has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post and identify who their top 5 go to educators are.

It’s optional to make a donation to your chosen charity but if you do you may want to identify one or two charities that may be of interest to others.  For example, Debra Kidd’s highlighted the World Wide Education Project as a great charity to support or Nepal needs all the help it can get after the devastating earthquake.

Top 5 Twitterati

In no particular order, these 5 educators below are my first port of call for ideas, support and challenge.  There are loads more I could add but rules are rules and five is the maximum.

My first 2 choices are twitter folk who I have never met in real life. Dan Brinton and Damian Benney. @dan_brinton and @Benneypenyrheol. When I first began to blog and share ideas, I was incredibly nervous and worried what people would think or say about the work our school was sharing so publicly. I absolutely believe that schools should offer their ideas and resources in the spirit of collaboration but our staff are very young and having persuaded them that it would be ok to let me send their thoughts around the world, I dreaded criticism being aimed at them. I needn’t have worried-twitter folk are generally kind and appreciative of our philosophy and none more so than Dan and Damian who via their twitter comments and own blogs are both generous and supportive of other schools and honestly and openly share their ideas. I hope that the days of schools keeping their ideas to themselves or just taking and never giving, will fade away and these 2 gentlemen are guaranteed to get a pint, or two, off me should we ever meet! Thank you.

I have simply assumed that Dan and Damian are nice blokes but I know that my next choice is an all round nice guy and passionate learning and teaching man. @deadshelley Jamie Warner-Lynn first bumped into me when I was working as a National Strategy consultant but probably doesn’t remember it. I was talking about Thinking Hats and he wore one of my caps so neither of us should admit it! I heard him speak brilliantly again at a couple of teachmeets and he was kind enough to tweet positive comments about one of my rants re the nonsense of grading lessons and I began tweeting to try to reply to him. Given my technical weaknesses, I’m not sure if my thanks got through but I’ve followed him ever since [and his career] and admire his drive and determination. He was kind enough to meet my partner to offer support when her school were plunged into special measures-we won’t forget his kindness and genuine concern.

And now to my female choices! When I began attempting to tweet and follow blogs, my go to posts and tweets were Debbie and Mel-@TeacherTweaks who seemed to share the most wonderful ideas gleaned from their many followers. I’ve followed them since and wanted to slip Ofsted a fiver to make sure that they said kind things about Debbie’s work and her school. Her posts on being an RI school were heart warming and deserved their happy ending.

I could have chosen so many people who have truly inspired me but will share a choice with Wendy, my partner. Daria Kohl @DaK_74 produces the most wonderful resources and, as with all of my choices, is so generous with her sharing of them. She loves dogs too and as my mum always uses that as a guide to a person’s true character; she has my vote!

Is achieving an exam grade enough or should we want more from our teaching?

Miss J is one of the most committed and enthusiastic teachers in our school-if I had kids at our school I would want them to be taught by teachers like her. She is passionate about her subject, does everything she can to engage the students and motivate them, she will try any idea shared by colleagues or found on social media/educational research and is a dream for any leader to have in their faculty or school. Her exam residuals with predominantly low ability sets are second to none-she can develop a can-do mind-set and make students believe and achieve what didn’t always seem possible.

She came to us as a classroom assistant, stayed for her GTTP course and we kept her as an NQT and now second in faculty. In her first full time year, I supported her lessons with a year 11 class which was predominantly low ability English boys and at least 10 EAL students, a mixture of mainly Polish, Portuguese and Latvians who struggled with spoken English. She had requested the class-normally we would have said an immediate no for an NQT but she had trained with us, we knew her qualities and the deal included me sitting in! Within a short time she had the class enthralled, committed to their learning AND studying Shakespeare. They trusted her teaching skills and the supportive environment she had created and gradually both their written and spoken English began to develop so that they were in a far better position to fit in and make the difficult transition into their new English community.

Miss is a good  ‘un and  I’ve watched her career develop and enjoyed the many observations and discussions we have had about her teaching, She constantly seeks advice from others, leads our learning hubs and shares ideas and not surprisingly was one of the first to volunteer for lesson study. Last year she trialled FISH peer critique with low ability students and this year her enquiry moved to seeking way to motivate and engage achieve high ability boys. She has taken over 10 set 1, with some very able students and is finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that some of them don’t appear to be enthusiastic about her subject or seem to respond to her very lively and loud delivery!

She can accept that not every student will like her delivery manner but desperately wants them to be imbued with a love of English! Their quiet, heads down and get on with their work approach, isn’t quite what some of her other older classes have been like and she is worrying and doubting herself and wondering what the exact nature of her lesson study enquiry should be. The students of course are producing the learning goods [1 lad is under target] and their learning is progressing nicely and they are a popular class to teach-motivated and respectful. This still isn’t good enough for her, although others would be happy with the grades delivered-the question, of course, is should she be so bothered about whether or not the class are enjoying what they are doing when they are obviously achieving decent grades and producing appropriate responses to the challenges set? I’m not sure if others have views, similar experiences, worked on similar enquiry questions-without diving into traditionalist v progressive teaching philosophies!

I would hope that every teacher at our school wants their students to develop a life-long love of their subject but realistically exam grades may come first and be of more immediate short term value! They certainly need their English grades and a gut feeling is usually that if they enjoy the subject that may help-not sure research always supports that but I do understand and am delighted that Miss J has raised questions that I’m not so sure about and said I would raise them on here.

Our discussions so far have covered [I will have forgotten parts of our conversations-but wonder if I should have raised other points?]

  • The students may well be enjoying the lessons-just quietly! Their lack of ‘enthusiastic vocal responses doesn’t mean that their brains and minds aren’t ticking over with lots of reflective thought. As teachers we have to change and adapt our preferred teaching styles, even though we may be bored by them!
  • This is a great developmental opportunity for you to develop a different approach if necessary [although the grades and progress are good] Let them be when they are working together-shut up and listen-don’t feel the need to interject. Listen out for misconceptions/great ideas and address afterwards. Most adults prefer silent work-they obviously do.
  • She has tried ‘boy friendly’ tactics and feels that the exam paper subject favours the boys anyway and as a consequence doesn’t want to lose her girls. I’m not great at the boy/girl separate approach stuff-not sure I really believe in it-so my advice is limited here.
  • She hasn’t actually asked the students what they think-her worry about their lack of enthusiasm is in her own mind because they don’t react as she is used to. I wrote a very quick survey for her, at the end of school yesterday to try with them, should she wish to.

Perhaps they are only concerned with achieving exam grades that will suit their purpose, perhaps they want more than that-we shall wait and see! It would be sad if we have been so obsessed with results and our own personal residuals, appraisal targets and school league tables that we have turned the students into such automatons. Equally, I would worry if teachers weren’t concerned enough, as Miss J is, with their own performance that they didn’t raise questions with other colleagues and look at their own teaching first. Even with all of the current debate about the College of Teaching, calls for time being given to interact with research and the discussions on twitter and blogs-is there actually time given and found in every school to sit down and talk teaching openly and honestly and not as part of some appraisal discussion of results or SLT forced directive?

Year 10 English Survey

Gender                                                                     You can put your name if you like

I’ve been delighted with the way that you have shown a great commitment to your learning in my lessons this year and appreciate the support you have given me. I do want to make sure that I’m teaching in a way that supports you all and has the maximum impact on your final examination grade so that you can use your English grades to open educational/career opportunities. As a teacher, I would also hope that you enjoyed and engaged with all facets of English-I think you all know that I’m pretty passionate about that! Thank you for your help.

I won’t be offended by any of your answers-your honesty will help my teaching and your learning.

Statement Always Sometimes Not really! Please explain and offer a solution
I’m confident that I’m making good progress in English?
I enjoy my English lessons
I’m not bothered about enjoying English, I just want to get the best grade that I can
I prefer to enjoy my English lessons and get good grades too
Choose 5 different topics we have covered so far. What did you like? What did I do that really helped? How can I improve the experience? How can I help you prepare this area for your exam? What is the most important aspect of learning about this for you? Did you make the progress you wanted to? What do you need to make more progress



Are there any aspects of teaching in your other lessons that you think I should go and observe and borrow? What makes it so effective for you?

Help, my technology is malfunctioning!


If you have ever read our school blogs http://www.meolscophighschool.co.uk/dep-blog/ they tend to be what @Benneypenyrheol calls ‘uberblogs’. Lots and lots of shared ideas collated from my colleagues and weaved together with my ramblings. There are photos, charts, tables, slides and pictures to illustrate our current learning and teaching BUT I have to admit that our ICT technicians insert them all into the blogs for me-I’m technically, technologically and to be honest, anything remotely to do with practical things-useless! I did actually manage to insert a couple of slides into the latest blog yesterday http://www.meolscophighschool.co.uk/dep-blog/?p=1443 and they still appear to be there today and I have learnt how to edit from home. Any of my ‘baldyblogs’ lack any images-just verbal squawking because I don’t know how to put nice pictures in! Am I alone in this ineptitude as 2015 approaches? This is no 5 on my wish list for 2015 and I’ll share 9 other ideas before facing up to my worst nightmare again!


1] I was aware that some people at school tweeted and were on twitter but, as you would imagine, didn’t have much of a clue as to what it was all about. I had nobly tried to take part in an internal sharing of tweets, to show my support to the organisers in summer 2013, but had that many go’s at signing up that I was unsure whether I was actually on it or not! However I was forced into action in autumn of 2013 when I did a quick rant at the NW teachmeet at Calderstones in Liverpool. I was slightly taken aback when I was speaking to see on a large screen behind me, nice comments from people there with my name on them-spooky! I sat back down again and mentioned this to my partner who had come along to support me. “Don’t know why I bothered getting up so early on a Saturday morning to come here-they were all on their bloody phones when I was talking and then did you see my name on the screen-what’s going on?” “They’re tweeting-for some reason they seem to like your mad rant!” At that point, excited young organisers started to shout, “We’re trending nationally!” It’s hard enough being a mancunian surrounded by posh scousers but this distinctly unsettled me. What had we walked into? What had I given up my football up for? I wasn’t certain that I wanted to be part of any trending, nationally or not and we howled laughing all the way back to the pub. BUT I was fascinated enough to look at the follow up teachmeet site and spotted lovely comments from Jamie Warner Lynn @deadshelley and decided that it would be impolite of me not to say thank-you-my first tweet [I think-if it actually went!] but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2014 that I worked out a little bit more of how to use them and the great benefit [and fun] that could be gained by tweeting.

2] I had already been producing some blogs from the summer of 2013 in an attempt to share our ideas with schools who we were supporting in a variety of ways and with our parents. I enjoyed reading ideas from elsewhere and decided that the time was right for us to share some of our successes or at least ideas we were currently trialling-I just believed that it was the right thing to do to and hoped others would reciprocate. The ICT technicians at school were brilliant and I sent them my words and images and they posted them on our blog. As we approached 2014, I wondered whether it was worth it or not and mentioned this to the techies. “How many read the blogs” they asked. They quickly recognised the futility of their question before showing me the stats section! I’m not motivated by hits/followers and switch off/un-follow if people boast about them too much but I was interested to see if anyone was reading them. There were just a few and as I began to follow twitter a bit more I realised that when people wrote a blog, they seemed to tweet about it every 20 minutes! Perhaps I needed to send it out more than once [that had been hard enough to fathom out!]-I still find that really hard to decide when or when not to tweet our posts [NEW POSTS!] and never wish to appear too pushy. When I did push a bit more, we began to receive some great feedback and made supportive new friends and I began to share more and more blogs and ideas amongst our own staff. I came upon #pedagoofriday and other sites and tried to encourage my colleagues to join twitter and benefit from the free CPD! I still didn’t always make the most of twitter in early 2014 and remember a lady who was interested in one of the blogs asking me to DM her. I asked my daughter what this meant. “She fancies you Dad-don’t tell Wendy!” OMG Wendy follows me-she might see it! I get it now as I do with ‘notifications’ which I presumed were some sort of advertisements from Twitter and ignored until curiosity got the better of me and I checked them one day-apologies if you thought me rude for not replying!

3] In school 2014 was the year when we introduced over half of our staff to lesson study. I’d paid up and joined NTEN in autumn 2013 after reading about the joint lesson study/CPD audit and thinking that it seemed a possible way to provide a structure for where I wanted to take lesson observations after jettisoning grading the year before. I wasn’t sure about the focus on 3 students but the trial took off far more successfully than I thought it would [in terms of staff engagement] and the collaborative planning and conversations made it far more worthwhile than an obsession with Ofsted style grading. Although we had always encouraged risk-taking [gave the best grades for it!] some colleagues were always fearful anyway and they began to feel more comfortable and able to blossom in front of others AND began to share their ideas across the school.

4] If you don’t grade lessons, how do you evaluate the quality of teaching? I’m not going to launch into my familiar tirade but we had to consider all of the various factors that might constitute contributing to great teaching at MCHS. I had been drip-feeding my ideas of a professional portfolio from January 2014 until we gave our May inset day to completing individual evidence based portfolios. Quite a few of our blogs have shared the theme http://www.meolscophighschool.co.uk/dep-blog/?cat=7

and my colleagues gave tremendous support to what was my first huge leadership challenge of 2014. I was quite nervous about how it would be received but I think that I was right to go for it!

5] My second massive leadership challenge was to cajole and encourage colleagues into changing our assessment system and moving from NC levels. Again I kept drip –feeding ideas before facing up to our subject leader’s meeting with my proposals. This was going to be a big ask of them not just in terms of work-load but because they had never professionally tackled something like this before. They had plenty of concerns but I had the proverbial ace up my sleeve-Leon our new AHT and data expert was able to see my vision and make it work on paper and electronically! There have been teething problems but he has taken our BSG system and allayed fears and it is up, running and is flexible enough to change when it needs to.

Of course I should try to make myself more proficient with technology [and data!] but knowing people who can help and trusting them is a vital aspect of leadership.


1] I haven’t written much about my own beliefs and deliberately don’t do [so much] on our school blogs. This is different! I first used my vote in 1976 in local elections to support the abolition of grammar schools and the 11+ in Tameside and introduction of comprehensive schools [although I was a product of the old system and loved school] and still strongly believe in the system now. When I hear of people demanding more grammar schools, more free schools, make state schools more like independent schools I fume [and not quietly!] Why can’t we have a system of schools for all regardless of affordability, faith, gender that delivers world class education to all of our children and especially the most vulnerable? Stop the political gesturing and tackle the obscene inequalities of poverty that are the root causes of educational inequality. I have absolutely no faith in the modern day Labour party-my values lie in an almost forgotten past of caring socialism and I’d love to see a rise of a new left-wing political force to match the growing right in 2015.

2] Why are we still allowing inspectors to judge and grade schools based on data that everyone can see as soon as results and RAISE are available-why aren’t experienced HMI/school leaders in as soon as the data is available to support the school so that the students don’t suffer. What is actually achieved by waiting until a time-slot is available and then descending to give an inevitable RI/SM plunging the school into the ridiculous scenario of short term jumping through hoops without the opportunity to implement long-term sustainable measures that will provide quality education for some time to come? Change the system in 2015!

3] I played 5 aside on Saturday for the first time in 2/3 years. The impact of the wooden gym floor has knackered my calf muscles so that I can’t head for the mountains this week-sorry Wendy! BUT my knee which I had a cartilage op on in 2013 is fine and I need to add soccer back into my fitness routine in 2015. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2012 [bit of a shock, although explained why I fell asleep in boring meetings!] too late to not have to rely on medication as well as healthy living. Food bores me now but I still love the physical challenges that my condition requires me to keep working on and I’m lighter than I was when I was 18 and throughout many years of playing lots of sport. There are new mountains to climb [literally] in 2015 but I need to find time on a Thursday at 5.00 to forget about school and play footie!

4] I giggle many times when I read blogs and tweets that tell us [in schools] to offer personalised professional development to our colleagues-in fact I usually choke rather than giggle when I see much of the advice that issues forth from those who either don’t teach or lead in schools or who aren’t prepared to share what their school does but want to tell us what we should be doing! Telling is the easy part, actually making it happen in school so that it involves everyone [or as near as damn it] is the tough bit-that little word consistency creeps into most Ofsted reports [before I ban Ofsted!] The truth with professional development is that some colleagues aren’t that interested in it-perhaps some schools aren’t-they are happy with same old, same old-and are fearful of honest self-evaluation. The mirror on the wall may reveal Dorian Gray and cracks are papered over. I’m still on my mission in 2015 to avoid this in our school and to involve everyone [all staff not just teachers] to take as much responsibility and accountability for their own PPD as possible. If I can get the culture right, it will happen!

5] Back to technology! I was going to amaze anyone still reading this with some technical pyrotechnics or even add 1 picture-however time has caught up with me and I need to catch the train into Liverpool for my early New Year’s Eve drinking session. Surely nobody could begrudge me that for the sake of a bit of blog tech! If you do bump into me and the gorgeous blond on my arm at the bar-say hello and she’ll buy you a pint!

Have a wonderful New Year!

Ultimate Growth Mind-Set…School to School Support and …Ofsted!

Our last week’s school post http://www.meolscophighschool.co.uk/dep-blog/?p=1415 ‘Growth Mind Set-Not just for Xmas’ seemed to gather more interest from colleagues at other schools with regards to how staff might develop their mind-set, rather than just the students. From the responses we had, most interest seemed to focus on the effect that removing grading from lesson observations has had on the ‘risk taking’ aspect of planning an observation lesson and the impact of lesson study on the planning and self-analysis of the lesson in all of its stages from thoughts, to planning ‘big’ questions, to delivery and feedback. Both of these factors link to the development in staff of the mind-set of thinking positively that anything is possible for our students [with our teaching and support], that honest critique should be sought and acted upon to support professional development, that we should celebrate the success of others and actively seek to develop and nurture colleagues [even if they achieve better residuals-be happy for them and your role in that achievement!] and that failing sometimes offers so many lesson to learn; that it’s worthwhile.

One of my favourite recent posts that I read last weekend http://t.co/PtxR6sGgK8 was a super critique of how growth mind-set can be interpreted and used in ways that perhaps the research behind it certainly doesn’t suggest it should be. Politicians have eagerly jumped on the ‘grit and resilience’ band-wagon, neatly associated by them with what us poor old state schools and non-academies, can learn from our independent colleagues. There are some aspects of GM that concern me if we were to push onwards without concern for the individuals involved. Failure or very honest criticism isn’t an option that some fragile minds can take nor does persistence and effort always pay off and provide the hoped for results. Aiming for the stars might crash-land badly if the appropriate star isn’t aimed, for with our guidance-our students are not Peter Pan with their own built in star guidance systems and nor are our staff. There is a lot in GM that we can take forward as individuals and as a school-one step at a time not one step beyond!

Ultimately as a school, we should be aiming to develop other schools and celebrate in their success. The education of all of the children in the UK is part of our responsibility if we believe in GM. We certainly have helped lots of schools and individual teachers over the last couple of years but helping schools down the local road is a contentious issue! Competition, competition, competition-horrible word to associate with education but reality? They do ask-we do help. We are working far more closely and the teaching school alliance, if successful, will see us work even more closely and take a responsibility for ultimately keeping other schools open and providing the best they can in learning and teaching. I know that our own school community worries that by becoming more and more involved with other schools; we may take our eye of the business of our school-this cannot happen BUT there are many positive aspects of collaboration that we hope will come to us. Whatever happens our school mind-set will change-old barriers will shift, new aspirations for a wider set of values will invariably develop and our lesson studies, collaborative CPD and radical ideas re many of our practices will find a new audience-they may not like what we do [yet!] and our mind-set will have to be resilient!

What a shame it is that national bodies which promote the sharing of good practice and support systems don‘t always practice the mind-set which they preach. When I sent round the latest Ofsted national annual report and NW report this morning, I commented internally that;

Headline news this morning-out in full now. The documents aren’t too long but I always look for what they are saying schools aren’t doing well to check that we are still on the right track overall, and especially in my own area of learning and teaching. The don’t say anything that you wouldn’t think they’d say but, to repeat my own view again; although schools should always do what is best for them it would be stupid to ignore what Ofsted say they like-a poor inspection shuts schools, loses jobs and puts colleagues in SM and RI schools under immense workload pressure. School leaders-middle and senior have to deliver-The leadership of teaching was more than twice as likely to be the cause of problems as the quality of teachers themselves [in inadequate schools.]

For what it’s worth, I’ll continue to argue via social media, that the focus of inspections is wrong-the horse has bolted when these reports come out. RAISE was out yesterday with all the data included showing HMI exactly which schools are struggling-they could move now with offers of support to those schools rather than waiting until a punitive inspection. It would be interesting to see how much help they could actually offer and how quickly they could turn the school round. By not acting quickly to support, the most important people concerned-the students-continue to miss out!”

Could those who inspect move quickly into a school needing support to develop those GM qualities which we know would have a huge impact on learning? If in a school situation, we spotted via our extensive data trails that colleagues/students were underperforming-we wouldn’t wait to act-we’d be straight in offering intervention and support so that the student learning didn’t suffer. If we didn’t act like this and the inspectors called we’d be given a slating and an RI or SM! Some of what Mr Wilshaw says is probably right but the system is wrong and should take responsibility when the evidence is there NOW! There are good people involved as HMIs, there are more and more school leaders becoming involved in the inspection process-the time is right to shift the focus, as great schools are doing, to developmental intervention based on the best educational research and CPD. We might just begin to create a world class system of education for our children.

Growth mind-set shouldn’t just be for Xmas, students, teachers and schools-it should be for Ofsted too!

Unchain your NQTs!

I observed one of our NQTs yesterday and our feedback discussion focused on the structure of her lesson, which was one I had seen on numerous occasions [usually by geographers!] The subject leader observing with me had also used the same methods when she first came and I wondered if this was something that other teachers had spotted or was it just teachers coming from 1 or 2 NW ITT courses who followed what was obviously a taught structure. This isn’t a criticism-within a year’s course, I guess that basic structures make first attempts at teaching easier and once the students are employed by schools, then the next 8-10 years as they master their chosen profession are driven by school and self choices of CPD. The problem is that perhaps some NQTs don’t necessarily have the support their development needs and struggle to break the structural chains imposed during their formative months at college. If we don’t help them to think freely so that they can be flexible enough to decide for themselves when learning might have taken place and when they need to check misconceptions, misunderstanding or stop and go deeper into questions and interest shown by their class-as experienced leaders-we are failing them, and their students, who miss out on in lessons that become shallow whistle stop progress checking trips.

I shared my initial thoughts on our school blog [extract below] so others could comment and offer ideas. Experienced colleagues are then encouraged to open their classrooms to our NQTs to model their method of teaching whichever strategy the NQT would like to see in action.

There does seem to be a set lesson structure that they learn on their P.G.C.S.E. course and I think that it dates back to the issue of the desire of Ofsted [which they usually deny ever existed!] of having to see progress in 1 lesson. It seems to be that some new knowledge will be gathered-usually interactively by the students gathering bits from different stations around the room-they then check each other’s notes and add whatever they have missed before new knowledge is tested via an exam question/mark-scheme-hence progress is observed and measured!

Miss sensed that the students wanted to delve further into non-renewable energy and felt that a deeper discussion would have been better-at this point we talked about the lesson structure she is use to and I hope that she was relieved that I told her to forget about it-absolutely no need to cram everything into 1 lesson with a test at the end to show me that progress is being made. Lots of great opportunities could be missed for her and other NQTs to develop their teaching so we thought about;

  • This could be a lesson study on its own but over the next term and year, find out which are the best methods for you and your classes to make notes [find out new information] and to retain knowledge-is this method the best?
  • It might be if we refine the gathering of information process or try other methods; [I’m not getting involved in the text book debate!] they may prove to be more effective. If we use the information gathering around the room method we have to stop them simply copying everything they can-it’s good to encourage note-taking but it is a skill we have to teach. When they check their notes afterwards with their partner, the temptation to copy everything that they haven’t got-occurs again!
  • If you are doing this for the sake of showing ‘student interaction’-think what interaction actually means in the learning situation-for me it is the student reacting with the knowledge or skills to cause a ‘learning’ effect. Make the students cut to the chase in activities like this-use a word limit, time limit, 1 sentence, bullet points etc. They will find it tough to begin with but will soon begin to select relevant information and if in the pair follow up they both ‘black-out’ any irrelevant information-they will learn vital examination skills-how many times do they write waffle and waste time?
  • No need to show progress with a test every time-let them have the deeper discussion-they will probably recall more information over time by having memorable current examples and data.
  • Thank you to Miss for letting me share our discussion-if this sounds like it didn’t go well-it did BUT she is eager to develop into the best teacher that she can be and lifting a few P.G.C.S.E. shackles and letting her experiment will support that. I’m delighted with the progress our NQTs are making and will soon have them all tweeting out their ideas and sharing their own ideas both internally and externally!



Ofsted myth buster-clarification or confusion?

I admit that I’m an Ofsted watcher and don’t know many good schools where one of their SLT won’t keep an eye on the latest inspection reports/policy statements to see for themselves, rather than relying on consultants or second hand information at meetings which often scaremongers, how their school might consider reacting to Ofsted directives. This is a long way from saying that everything we do is for Ofsted-everything that we do is for the benefit of our school community but falling into an Ofsted category would do little for the long term prospects of that community-so we maintain a necessary interest. The changing schedule in September and subsequent myth-busting document have shown a shift in Ofsted and consultation opened for all to participate has perhaps allayed distrust built up over many years-Ofsted were obviously keen to tell the TES this week that their recent document has been ‘well received’ We discussed it at our subject leader’s meeting a couple of weeks ago and they were positively underwhelmed! We haven’t graded lessons for a couple of years and our book-marking encourages as many ‘fast feedback’ tactics as possible within a general dialogue framework-it could always be better but I don’t want to see colleagues tiring themselves with excessive marking. I suppose that I welcome the comments that ‘it’s up to schools, not Ofsted, to set their policies and expectations for marking’ but my concern shouldn’t just be for my school-is the message clearly understood by everyone and are Ofsted themselves sticking to what they have said?

Russel Hobby  commented  that the ‘myth-buster’ fails to point out what inspectors do expect to see-it says what they don’t expect to see but doesn’t make it clear what great feedback should look like and I see a constant twitter buzz of complaint re upping the marking pressure from some SLT worried about what Ofsted will say about the ‘progress’ observed in books. I’m also hearing contradictory behaviour from different local inspections yet again suggesting that Ofsted is still showing a lack of consistency, to make the claim of clarification more confusing.

My partner has just received a monitoring visit at the school she is an AHT at to see if they should come out of special measures. The HMI pushed a Blairite alliterative triplet-consistency, consistency, consistency. Consistently good or consistently not-consistency across the school was what he was looking for. He wanted to see quality in marking, not quantity. She observed a lesson with him, they discussed their ideas and he observed her feedback. This was great CPD on the hoof for her and yes he did look to the books for evidence of perhaps more value than the lesson itself. He picked up when the same comment had been given a few times and the students hadn’t began to correct the issue e.g. write in paragraphs, and yet the teacher still commented on it. Interestingly when they dropped in on a supply teacher who mentioned that this was their first week with the class-they said fine, relax, the books will show us what they have been learning previously. They did wish to see if the work set for the supply teacher matched the class profile and was appropriate for the different learners within the class; thus enabling the teacher to teach properly and not ‘baby-sit’. I would doubt that many of us would have an issue with this approach-it seems to fit in with what we have been told and he categorically told the staff not to even bother asking his team for ‘if you were giving a grade what might it have been’ during their feedback. Any language alluding to grades would not be used.

HMI often get a good press and the concern has tended to surround the variable quality of  the additional inspectors. I’m sure that we all know of failed leaders/LA advisors who haven’t led a school in years [or usually never] who re-incarnate in this form-I know of many great and supportive inspectors too! My issue is whether or not the schools who need clarification most are actually receiving the consistent approach that my partner’s HMI was seeking and modelled himself.

A few points to consider;

  • Another AHT at my partner’s school was co-observing and the AI told her that she wouldn’t be grading the lsesson or asking her to but the behaviour and achievement could be graded. Mmm-is this clear?
  • 2 other local schools visited recently-1 inspector in their post lesson feedback-“I’m not grading lessons but in old terms the lesson would have been..” Another talked about “a strong lesson” You know what the staffroom jungle drums would have made of this-“he said she was a strong-that means outstanding then!”
  • An article in this week’s TES gave some advice to teachers who find themselves receiving inspectors after a poor Ofsted rating-written with the best of intentions and perhaps reflecting what had occurred at their school BUT some of the advice was at odds with experience I know of-they said inspectors would only be in your room for 20 minutes and progress needed to be seen. Colleagues I have spoken to said that they were in almost all of the lesson and looked to the books for progress and in any case I thought that 20 minute progress stuff had been debunked -perhaps it still exists to add to confusion. They also mentioned tick ‘n’ flicking books to concentrate on detailed marking of assessment and homework. I can’t spot this approach in the myth busting information and certainly wouldn’t advocate the treadmill of assessment to satisfy inspectors BUT it may have been asked for by their inspection team or simply be their SLT’s chosen approach.

I don’t want an imposed structure from above for marking or lesson observations but do hope that Ofsted inspectors themselves are consistent in their application of their own ‘myth busting’ and that examples of what they feel are good practice are rapidly shared to avoid confusion and unnecessary work-load for teachers and to ensure that our children receive the benefit of the best quality feedback we can give them. How senior leaders interpret the ‘new rules’ is already open to debate and the usual ‘this is what Ofsted wants’ expensive courses are on offer-what do they really want; are leadership teams clear and capable of delivering-because if they aren’t the finger of blame will be pointed at them. Am I right to still feel uneasy about ‘myth busting’ and extend sympathy for those due inspections or monitoring visits in desperate need of clarity and support?