This year, I have taken on a new role line managing Inclusion. Previous to this, I was leading on teaching and learning but after doing this for nearly three years, I kept getting this nagging feeling and asked myself:
Are all students getting the same quality learning experience?
And, if I’m being really honest, the answer was ‘No, not really’. We have made great strides with our teaching and learning, and our results and progress measures have all shown significant improvement. However, from walking around school and going into classrooms every day, I knew that some of our most vulnerable students were not having the same experiences as their peers. Teachers were trying their best but there were still too many blank faces or students disengaging because they couldn’t access the content.
As a result, I asked my head to move me across from teaching and learning to Inclusion. What a shock it has been to the system!!! I thought I knew what was going on in school but until I started having daily contact with the Inclusion department, I had no idea about what was really going on. Before I go any further, I have to state that our SENCO who is on maternity, our acting SENCO, our Pupil Premium coordinator and our team of TAs are doing a fantastic job. From 8am till the caretakers kick them out, these wonderful people are spending their whole day trying to make sure our most vulnerable students have a good experience at school. Sometimes it’s disheartening – it’s easy to get bogged down in all the difficulties and lose hope – especially in the face of ever-dwindling budgets and an increase in the amount of students who need extra support. I’ve had more moments in the last four months than the previous three years where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night worrying about certain students; it’s hard to leave it at the door when you know the full story of what is going on in certain students’ lives. Yet it also produces high-fives-in-the-air fist-pumping whooping when you make a small gain with a student who is at risk of not making it. It really is, excuse the cliché, a rollercoaster of emotions over in the world of Inclusion.
The first thing I had to realise is you can’t fix everything overnight. The world of SEND can be a very slow and arduous process, mired in a mountain of paperwork. It can also take a long time to really get to the bottom of what is going on for a student. Teacher might be exclaiming “This student’s behaviour is outrageous!”, “This student doesn’t care about their work” or “This student doesn’t write anything” but it’s our job to try and diagnose the cause of the students’ behaviour. Can they access the learning? Is it frustration or fear causing that reaction? Are they showing off to save face? Did they have a quiet space to do their work at home? Did they misinterpret the instructions but were too shy to let the teacher know? Are they pretending to follow the textbook when they have a reading age of eight years old? Don’t get me wrong: there are times when the student is just being a typical stroppy teenager and their behaviour has nothing to do with their SEN but there are other times when the student needs our help in sharing with teachers how they’re feeling and support them in overcoming their barriers.
This year, my remit is to consider how pedagogy and curriculum can make a difference to students who need extra support. In September, we are going to open an Alternative Resource Provision specialising in speech and language and we are keen to use this as a springboard to focus on how we can become a more communication-friendly school. We have many students who have speech, language and communication needs who will benefit from a whole school approach to developing our teaching to have a stronger focus on communication in all its forms. Moreover, from my work with disadvantaged students, we have also identified that many of these students struggle to articulate their ideas and find it difficult to express themselves coherently, verbally and on paper. So we feel that training staff on specific speech and language strategies will benefit a wide range of students. The borough and NHS have provided us with some really thought-provoking training and given us specific resources and strategies to trial with our classes. Linked to this, we are starting our third year of Lesson Study and have made speech and language our focus. I have been very fortunate to have had the support of our Research and Development lead in finding a wealth of articles, journals and blogs on different aspects of SLCN. Finally, all departments have pledged their Communication Commitment; each department is focusing on three specific strategies to trial in their area, focusing on vocabulary, sequencing/organising material and memory retention. I think we are at a very exciting stage at school and it is great to see teachers talking about learning with this focus on Inclusion.
As well as refining our teaching, I have also been considering how effective our curriculum offer is for students who need something more than the standard curriculum offer. We have a very good curriculum in the main but we have been slow to recognise that too many students who have SEN, are classified as disadvantaged and are low attainers on entry are slipping through the net. We have extra Literacy and Numeracy classes, which we call Learning Plus but this is very much a sticking plaster for a great big gaping wound. We have a menu of interventions to support students with SEN but it’s still a reactive process; their progress report will pick up if they’re at risk of underachievement and then we can identify which intervention might help them close the learning gap. In an attempt to proactive rather than reactive, we are trying to create more developed and differentiated pathways for these learners where they only have a handful of teachers to improve consistency of approach, and they are taught elements of literacy and numeracy in all their subjects, in every lesson. They do not cover the same breadth of the curriculum because the pace of learning is slower but the focus is on mastery and seeing how literacy and numeracy is relevant in all aspects of their learning. The hope is that these students will use key stage three to close the learning gaps and have greater opportunities to succeed in a range of courses at key stage four.
So this is where I’m at after one term in my new role. I’ve never been so tired in January but I’m really excited to be learning about something so important. If we can really get Inclusion right, live and breathe it and not just pay lip service to it, then I think we can move from being a ‘Good’ school to a great one. If anyone working in Inclusion has any thoughts on our SLCN focus or curriculum pathways, please let me know!
This year, I have taken on a new role line managing Inclusion. Previous to this, I was leading on teaching and learning but after doing this for nearly three years, I kept getting this nagging feeling and asked myself:
I shouldn’t really have been there.
After all, how could I justify taking two days off school to attend a jolly at Wellington College? For the record, Wellington College is Hogwarts without the wizards.
Luckily, my head decided I was allowed two days out for good behaviour and as a present for the publication of our first book.
Wellington College is an amazing setting for what turned out to be two days of high-quality speakers that left my head reeling with ideas. It was incredibly difficult to choose the sessions to attend as all of them had something to offer. What I appreciated in particular was there didn’t seem to be an ‘agenda’ for the festival; all too often you can attend educational events and realise that everyone presenting has the same educational outlook, which can get a bit much by the end of the day. Here, difference of opinions were not only tolerated by positively embraced! All pedagogical approaches were given airspace which made the festival a real joy to attend.
My highlights of the festival
Normally when I get back from a conference or course, the inevitable write-up of what I’ve learnt and how I will disseminate it takes place; I have to admit that I have found it a bit tiresome at times… This time, however, I couldn’t wait to get back to school and share with colleagues some of the exciting and innovative ideas I heard over the two days.
Things that have stuck with me over the weekend…
Geoff Barton’s passion for literacy. The man seems to live and breathe all things literacy. I came away from his session inspired and determined to implement a more cohesive approach to reading in my school. He also challenged anyone who starts a sentence with ‘Well, Ofsted says…’ to remove an item of clothing as punishment!
Dylan Wiliam has to be one of the cleverest people working in education. Having done my PGCE at King’s when Inside The Black Box was one of the most exciting pieces of research doing the rounds at the time, I have always viewed him as some sort of educational god. I feel no different over a decade later. He had the crowd eating out of his hands and he makes the most difficult of concepts accessible to those such as myself who may struggle with data and graphs. He is awesome.
David Didau has really put his neck on the line with his latest book. He pulls no punches when it comes to telling us we’re all wrong but he does it with such panache that it’s hard to take offense! He got one of the biggest laughs of the day when he said that ‘Good’ had become the new shit. This certainly rang true for a lot of us listening in the hall. He convinced me of my ‘wrongness’ so much that I shelled out 25 quid for his book before I left the festival.
Going to the Pupil Premium funding session, led by Andrew Morrish, Mary Myatt and Apples and Pears Foundation was a real eye-opener. I have to admit I was doing some metaphorical fist pumping when Andrew said that some of the best work we do with disadvantaged students cannot be measured. The panel were full of useful tips for making effective use of Pupil Premium funding and the audience were asked the question: ‘If Pupil Premium funding ended tomorrow, what interventions would you stop doing? Get rid of those anyway as they’re not worth it.’
Meeting up with Carl Hendrick, head of research at Wellington College, who I haven’t seen since we finished our PGCE. He hasn’t changed a bit and I had several pangs of nostalgia listening him speak to the audience about the role of research in schools. He is such a passionate speaker and is doing great, innovative work with Harvard Graduate School of Education to improve the way schools use and participate in research.
Bumping into Phil Stock on day two of the festival; we ended up having a great geeky chat about all things CPD and he made an excellent lunchtime companion – although he shamed me into buying four new books to read over the summer to keep up with his ferocious reading habits!
And then there was Tom Sherrington. I would work for him in a heartbeat (as would Mel). His values are spot-on. He discussed his efforts in implementing a National Baccalaureate and incorporating the principles in Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21st Century. Listening to Tom speak really does make you believe that the educators of the Heads Roundtable can make a difference to our educational environment. It was touching to see Tom get teary eyed as he ended his presentation with a photo of one of his students enjoying an outdoor adventure experience and learning so much from it that a classroom alone couldn’t give that young man. This moment reminded me of Andrew Morrish’s earlier words about some of our most important work not lending itself to measuring impact in terms of hard data.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have collated all of my notes from the two days and am ready to share with colleagues. If you’re interested in finding out more about the speakers discussed in this post, then you can check out my Prezi here.
Thanks to all those involved in making it such a great two days of learning!
If I did the Myers-Briggs test, I’d come out as an introvert. Perhaps I’m a typical scientist because I’m the type who will sit in a meeting and observe, assess all the evidence and possibly say something towards the end. I remember the interview for my National Strategy consultant job involved a ‘fishbowl discussion’ where we were asked to discuss a topic and a few people stood around the edge observing. I said very little as various people vied for the floor to have their opinion heard. Surprisingly, I made it through, despite saying very little, but I suppose that was quite an important skill for a consultant to have: To listen.
I think one of the reasons that working with Debbie was (and still is) so fantastic is that we go about things very differently. We worked together as ASTs a few years ago and if I picture the two of us in a meeting it would seem as though I wasn’t there half the time! Debbie would be a Myers-Briggs extrovert. She talks a lot but in such a good way – she asks really perceptive and challenging questions, perhaps typical of an English (as well as Media and Film, she’ll kill me if I miss those out) teacher, she is very good with words. Ever the scientist, I’d observe, listen and make a couple of points or ask a question towards the end and leave the meeting still pondering on some of the points raised.
So what led us to write a book together? I’m going to be honest here; I decided quite a few years ago that I was going to have a try. I had a boyfriend at the time who had edited a book and regularly wrote articles for specialist magazines (I know, that sounds intriguing, I just don’t want to give too much away to protect identities but they weren’t that type of publication). The thing was, he asked me to proof-read and check the spelling and grammar ‘because you’re a teacher’ and as I did this I thought: ‘Well if he can do this why can’t I?’
Fast forward a few years and I was working with Debbie on some training sessions focusing on moving from Good to Outstanding. These sessions went down well and I started asking people whether they thought they’d read a book along these lines. I discussed this with Debbie and obviously, she asked all the right questions and there we were. We spent the summer holiday that year writing a chapter each and then emailing it to one another. We were so excited and started the challenging process of giving it a name. I was totally taken, in my naivety, with ‘The O word’ but various people politely informed me that this might mean a different thing to many people and I might want to rethink that one!
One of the things we realised once we’d finished was that we should really get someone to proof-read what we had and this is where my lovely Dad came in. Bless him, he went through every single word of the book and forensically edited it. He didn’t just check the spelling, punctuation and grammar (but I would like to mention here that Debbie, the English teacher, definitely had more grammar errors than me. This was a proud moment for someone who had to work very hard to get an A in GCSE English!), he also cross referenced and checked for continuity errors. It must have taken him days, quite possibly longer than it took us to write in the first place.
The story of publishing is that it took quite a while. We submitted a proposal to a small publisher and although they were interested, it didn’t seem to be the right time and didn’t come to anything. It was during this process that we discovered Twitter. The forms from the publisher all asked about Twitter accounts and blog sites and we didn’t have a clue about any of this. One of our ex-colleagues had moved to a school that was already using Twitter a lot and she had been badgering us to get on board so we decided to have a look. At the time, it seemed like a perfect solution to the fact that Debbie had taken on an Assistant Head job in a different school and we were both panicking that we weren’t going to be able to work together any more.
It isn’t an understatement to say the Twitter changed our lives. OK, so maybe not in a momentous way, but it has had the biggest effect on my career since getting that Nat Strat consultancy job. The people on Twitter are amazing; I could watch debates and discussions (and cusses about football from @JamesTheo and @C_Hendrick) all day and the support network is unbelievable. We started blogging and I could not believe the feedback. As I said, I struggled through GCSE English and here were people reading and enjoying what I had written. As an aside, people have said to me that they really want to blog but don’t know how to start and this is what I tell them: I start pondering about something when my brain is in ‘autopilot mode’, for example, when I’m driving or in the shower, and then I just sit with the laptop and type what is in my head as if I were saying it.
Back to the story. We are so glad we set up the Twitter account and one of the many fantastic outcomes has been making contact with the delightful Holly from Bloomsbury publishing. Holly was brimming with energy and enthusiasm from the outset and it spurred us on to make the many, many (many) edits to our book.
So June 18th 2015 is the release date for ‘Lesson Planning Tweaks for Teachers’ an important date of course but today has been a much more important day for me: The day I got to show my Dad an actual copy of our book. It’s an important day because I didn’t think I’d be able to do this and every time we had more changes to make I became surer it wouldn’t happen.
In September 2014 my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour and for someone so cerebral and proud of his intelligence it was the worst possible news. We (me, my brother and sister) were devastated and made the most of every moment as doctors warned us he was unlikely to make it past Christmas. Dad has been so brave and determined for his children and grandchildren and we have been so blessed to have months longer than expected. I’ve been selfish recently when Dad has said he’s had enough, I’ve said: ”Just hang in there, you can see my book in a few days.” So today I finally got to show him that all his hard work was worth it and his comment?
“When’s the second book out?”
It’s that wonderful time of year again. Exam classes leaving and everyone wants to claim some of your precious gained time. My favourite aspect is that I can take time to reflect on the year and start planning what I’d like to focus on next year and STILL travel to and from work while it’s light!
We tried out a few new things this year and my favourite has been a teaching and learning book group. This has been shared by some fantastic bloggers from @shaun_allison to @dan_brinton but I’m going to share a few points that you might want to consider if you are thinking of setting up a teaching book group.
Is it worth it?
If in doubt about whether it’s a good idea, stop doubting. It is. A book group is amazing for more reasons that you may have thought.
- It makes staff feel valued: They get books of their own, an opportunity to learn something new, to consider different viewpoints and share ideas.
- It will set off a buzz: There may be things people strongly agree or disagree with, techniques people have never thought of before or research that completely changes the way they think and teach. This buzz will spread as teachers start discussing things they have read or sharing ideas they have tried out.
- It is ongoing CPD: Just how ongoing might depend how book group members read it – do they dip in and out regularly or do a last minute readathon the weekend before the meeting! However, is does mean that throughout the year, each teacher will spend a considerable amount of time reading, trying out something new or reflecting. This is like being an NQT again but hopefully without the constant feeling of exhaustion (I don’t think that was just me!) Our book group has been composed of staff from a range of departments and experiences, including a member of SLT, but all have been in that stage of their career when their impact is apparently at risk of levelling off. (There has been a lot of discussion about this idea and the graph below but this post is not the place for it, see @pedagog_machine’s post http://bit.ly/1SR3iRC) I think the injection of thought –provoking reading and discussion is a great way to avoid this and get on the dotted line on the graph below.
- It is great value for money: Yes, there is a cost implication but when it boils down to it, you are investing in your staff and when you compare the cost of buying a few books to the cost of a day’s external training, factoring in the cost of cover, it is actually pretty cheap.
From David Weston’s (@informed_edu) presentation at Research Ed 2014.
Points to consider
So having run a book group for a year, there are a few points that it would be useful to think about:
- Budget: One of the selling points already mentioned is that a book group offers good value for money, but there is still a cost implication. I started by working out the cost per person based on a range of books, including a couple that were more pricey and others that were mid-range. The next question is where the budget will come from – does it come under CPD, or is there a library budget that could cover some of the cost?
- Keep or loan: The ideal scenario is for the book group members to be rewarded for their investment of time by being able to keep the books, but if the budget is really tight, perhaps you could buy a smaller number of each book and have a couple of smaller book groups that run on a rotation basis? That way, when they books are finished with they could end up in the library for other interested staff to refer to. Perhaps if this is the model you decide is best for your school, you could allow each book group member to choose their favourite book to keep at the end of the year. An alternative to keep the cost down might be to team up with a couple of local schools and agree to each buy a couple of sets of books that are shared between the three schools.
- Rules: This has been a tricky one for me. The idea of setting up the group is that the members are agreeing to commit to reading a book per half term but this has not always been possible. Staff may leave, take on a new responsibility or just not stick with it and this can be quite frustrating for whoever is leading the group. It isn’t possible to avoid this completely, but I have found it better to order the books after each meeting rather than buying them all in at the start of the year. I have also made a point of ensuring that the meetings are arranged and books distributed with a holiday available, for those people who don’t read as much during term time. I have also found it helpful to send out a reminder email a couple of weeks before the meeting for those last minute crammers!
- Book selection: This can be the most fun aspect but it is worth doing a bit of research before choosing your book each time. You may want to take into account the particular development priorities in your school, the areas of interest of your group members or the type of book that you read previously. As mentioned above, you may wish to order the books throughout the year and this can give you a chance to ask your book group to vote on the next book they would like to read. Our books for this year are listed below and some were popular with everyone, while others gave polar opinions.
- Sharing: Think about how you can share the findings from the book group. This is a fantastic opportunity to ask book group members to write a short article for a staff bulletin, post resources on a sharing board or even to ask people to run a short CPD session (like the Fifteen Minute Forum discussed by @shaun_allison in his fab book ‘Perfect Teacher-led CPD’ http://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/product.php?product=873). Another really effective strategy is setting up a blog for the book group so that staff can share their thoughts on the books with the rest of the school.
Teach like a champion: Doug Lemov
Full on Learning: Zoё Elder
The Hidden Lives of Learners: Graham Nuthall
Embedded Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam
Mindset: Carol Dweck
Practice Perfect: Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi
The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook: Jim Smith
Trivium 21C: Martin Robinson
Ofsted preparation and workload: can teachers working in an RI school have a manageable workload with a school inspection looming?16 Mar
Since we returned to work after the February half term, I have spent about 50% of my time preparing for an Ofsted visit. It will be nearly two years since we received our ‘requires improvement’ judgement so we know we are due a visit imminently. Coupled with this, a few schools in our borough have been inspected recently so there are the usual predictions about when we’ll be next.
I am absolutely swamped with work in a way that I haven’t ever experienced in the past 10 years. It is relentless. Every day, there is something new I have been asked to do in the name of Ofsted preparation. This is on top of the usual SLT paperwork that I would be doing. I understand that there is going to be a fair bit of paperwork associated with this job but if I printed out every piece of paper I’ve been given or have produced myself into my special ‘Ofsted’ folder, we’d have no trees left in our borough (which is known as ‘Queen of the Suburbs’ because of its abundance of parks and greenery!)
Every week for the past two months of weekly SLT meetings, we have had an agenda item called ‘Ofsted Preparation’. We have produced documents, questioned each other on our areas, gone over the findings of student interviews, carried out huge work scrutinies, examined new guidance from Ofsted, shared our ‘Ofsted’ folders with each other with myriad data and case studies – these are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that all of this is worthless but it is certainly overwhelming. Sometimes I ask myself ‘Is it all worth it? Aren’t we scaring ourselves by going overboard like this?’ Yet when I tentatively (well, perhaps not tentatively) voice this opinion, the response is like something from the most zealous boy scout. I think many of our fears stem from the fact that we were, in hindsight, underprepared to face the previous Ofsted inspection. We had lots of data but we didn’t have enough prepared on our gaps and what we were doing about them. This time round, we have so much evidence coming out of our ears that I don’t know when the inspectors are going to get a chance to leave the room and escape our folders!
This week I’ve been thinking about the rest of our staff. If I’m feeling like this, then how on earth is everyone else feeling? At the start of September, we devoted a fair chunk of time to try and reduce teacher workload before it became the buzz phrase of Nicky Morgan a month later. We pinned up countless bits of paper on the head’s board in his office and tried to work out what we could scrap. The horrible truth was that we scrapped very little because nearly every time we tried to scrap something, different people would say ‘But won’t we need to show this for Ofsted?’ And so the little piece of paper stays on the board accompanied with a plaintive murmur ‘It’ll be ok once Ofsted have gone’.
But we’ve been saying that everything will be alright once Ofsted go for far too long; in fact, we’ve said it every week since the start of September and it’s now nearly bloody Easter. How long can we keep saying this? It will come as no surprise to teachers that our biggest workload issue stems from marking and the collection of marking evidence. We were slammed in our last inspection for patchy and ineffective marking. It was a fair cop. Our actual marking policy isn’t too onerous in my opinion. Teachers are asked to identify in advance which pieces of work will be ‘major assessed pieces’. These pieces are assessed, with a WWW comment, subject-specific action and a literacy action. Any other non-assessment pieces of work are either self or peer critiqued, or acknowledged by the teacher but in far less detail. But it’s all the other bits of the marking policy that adds up. Students need time to act upon feedback (fair enough; otherwise, what’s the point?) so teachers need to build in time for student to do this. Yet it’s a blooming miracle if everyone in the class was present the day the assessment was done – don’t even get me started on how many students forget to bring their book so they are clinging onto some crummy piece of paper. Then, when the students have acted upon feedback, which can take anywhere between 15 minutes to 15 hours (or that’s what it can feel like once I’ve found enough green pens) I need to make sure all the key targets and grades are inputted onto these blue assessment tracker sheets so I can see how much wonderful progress my students have made throughout the year.
And who is to blame for this? Well, I am partially culpable. Two years ago, I thought this sounded like a great way of showing Ofsted how well we mark and how we are all so on-track with how students are progressing. Yet assessing students and giving meaningful feedback doesn’t always fit into nice, neat block of times. Departments need some leeway to set their own agenda. If you think your students aren’t ready to sit that test but feel constrained because you need to enter a mark onto the tracker sheet, then something is going terribly wrong. In all the rush to create a perfect, infallible system, we’ve lost what’s at the heart of it all: students learning well. But learning is really messy and messy doesn’t look good if you’re in an RI school and Ofsted knocking on the door. I really believe we need to move away from this one size fits all marking policy and move towards departmental marking policies, acknowledging what subject professionals are telling us will and will not work for them in their areas. However, if we make another change before Ofsted come along, we are worried we will be seen as endlessly changing our minds and never letting initiatives and policies embed properly…
How many book looks will be enough? You see, with all this extra marking and trackers to fill in, there’s a lot more stuff to monitor. And monitoring things and filling out more bits of paper to monitor the monitoring eats up a lot of time – not just for SLT but all of the heads of department too. My sincere wish is we had the courage to say ‘No! Forget this! How is this helping the students?’ Although this will be my fourth Ofsted, it’s my first with us going into it with a ‘require improvement’ judgement so I feel on shakier ground. I hope that we all learn from this experience and have much more confidence the next time around to say no to paper for paper’s sake.
We have made huge strides with our staff learning culture: teachers are engaging with and participating in research; more and more teachers are taking opportunities to develop their pedagogy; teachers are confirming that the developmental coaching approach is working better than the punitive Ofsted-style lesson observations. Yet the question remains for me: how much more could we achieve if we freed up all of our time to set our own agenda?
Last October at TLT14 in Southampton, Tom Sherrington was the opening speaker and he showed his now well-known tweet.
I’m annoyed at myself for forgetting this message. I need to rectify this asap.
Last week my school underwent a two day review by our local authority with the remit of finding any last minute issues as we await our imminent Ofsted inspection. Part of me felt a tad sceptical about undergoing a review; essentially, my thoughts were ‘Is it worth getting people stressed out to tell us what we already know?’ On the other hand, we have been on a remarkable path since we were inspected at the end of July 2013 and there is so much to celebrate. My head decided the extra stress was worth it but made it clear that SLT were to shoulder most of the stress and to make sure teachers were not affected too badly by our visitors. In reality though, some teachers did begin to stress about their classes, their books, if they were doing the right thing, if they were going to be graded. It’s moments like these where I begin to feel the pressure because I’ve spent so long trying to change the staff culture at my school where staff feel comfortable being observed and recognising that we are all part of a bigger picture when we all want to improve our practice. There has been an exceptional shift in how we do things at school. When Ofsted last visited us, there was no staff Book Club, no coaching, no action research, no Open Classroom fortnight to name but a few of the initiatives we have committed to being part of as a school. Yet all it takes is for a formal, two day visit from external professionals to set the school on edge again. I suppose it’s because we all want to prove so badly that we are better than the ‘requires improvement’ badge we were given last time around. That day hurt us. We were left reeling. Everything we thought we were good at seemed to count for little and everything we thought we had issues with were magnified and exposed left, right and centre. So why put staff through another gruelling test?
The local authority review turned out to be an excellent two days for different reasons. First, the three professionals who arrived for the two days were courteous around site and considered in their questions. Don’t get me wrong: it was a tough two days but at no point did I feel that there was an agenda or the concerns that they raised were unwarranted. They seemed to genuinely be interested in what we’d been doing as a school to improve outcomes for all students and didn’t twist our words. All we can do is hope for a fair shot when the real inspection takes place – fingers crossed!
So what were our takeaways from the review?
Data is important but you need to tell the story.
I found this message really comforting. Although I’ve worked hard over the past year to get better at using data, I still think it is only a snapshot of what’s really going on in a school. Of equal importance is to know what it’s like to be a student at our school – is it a place where teachers want the best for the students and are prepared to put in the hard work to support all of the students to make good progress? In the morning session, our head and deputies went into the Achievement meeting weighed down by enough realms of data to make our large army of photocopiers cry! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my head is a Maths whizz so loves data: in his own words ‘Debbie: data is my life’! This time round, we have a lot more greens to point out on Raise Online and internal data also shows we are closing gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. The school achieved its best results ever last summer, despite the stresses of the English GCSE changes. All of this data had become a comforting blanket which we as an SLT have been wrapping ourselves in: surely we must be better now because the data says so. Yet, it wasn’t enough for these professional reviewing us. They wanted to know the story behind the data and – most importantly – what decisions had leaders made to ensure that our approach was accelerating student outcomes as quickly as possible. And were we confident that this year’s results would be as good or better than what we achieved last summer.
What did we learn from this meeting? You can’t just present the data and keep your fingers crossed. You have to have a story to sell and make sure it’s a convincing one.
It’s not just about SLT; it’s about your middle leaders too.
‘Leadership and management’ isn’t just the bods that sit around the SLT table every Tuesday night; it’s the engine room of the school – the middle leaders. In fact – and I hope my head doesn’t see this! – our middle leaders are more important than us. Why? Because they are the ones who make the change happen. It doesn’t matter how great an idea is, if middle leaders don’t buy into it, then the idea is doomed. In the last inspection, we were heavily criticised for a lack of consistency amongst middle leaders in quality assurance procedures and implementing school policies. Now it would be easy to say ‘bloody middle leaders not doing the right thing’ but that would be missing the point. It’s not that middle leaders don’t want to do a good job – it’s that we as an SLT were not helping them to do so. Too many mixed messages; too many ideas too quickly; too many competing priorities; too many impossible deadlines. Something has to give: and so it did. Consistency. Since the Ofsted inspection, we have worked hard to ensure that our messages are clear so that they can be supported by the middle leaders. We can’t do everything so we have to put our necks out and make a choice about what matters most. In our case, what matters most is how we mark and assess students, how we monitor and intervene with Pupil Premium students (more on this later) and how we challenge all of our students in a mixed ability setting.
What did we learn from the middle leaders meeting? Anything SLT says is happening will be checked in other meetings to see if it is really happening. If what SLT say is mirrored in the middle leaders meeting and then students recognise it is happening in their classes, you’re onto a winner.
Pupil Premium students are not a homogeneous group.
During the two days, I observed lessons with one of the visitors who is an ex-head, had my own A Level lesson observed, and was interviewed on teaching and learning as well as Pupil Premium. In 10 years of teaching, nothing has come close to the pressure I felt in the Pupil Premium interview. It is our worst performing area as a school and there’s no point trying to hide it. We have a history of these students not doing as well as they should. This year, at my request, I have taken over Pupil Premium and nothing has given me more sleepless nights. It is such a huge area and there are no easy answers. Previously, we have been guilty of focusing too much of our attention and funding on pastoral initiatives which have had limited impact on the outcomes of Pupil Premium students. I knew we needed to focus more on curriculum and what we can do in the classroom but where to start?! The first step was to employ a Pupil Premium coordinator to work alongside me in getting into classrooms and see what is going on for these students. Why are they not making the same progress as their peers despite sitting in the same classrooms? Yes, there are environmental and social factors to take into consideration but we can’t do much about that so we can only focus on things we have the capacity to change.
After appointing a Pupil Premium coordinator, both of us spent a long time getting our heads around current research and the EEF toolkit to decide what we should do as a school. Now, everything we do for Pupil Premium students are based upon our four key drivers: improving literacy; increasing resilience; developing metacognition and increasing cultural capital. By the end of the first month back after the summer holidays, we decided on a few important changes. First of all, we needed a system that would enable us to easily track all of the interventions that were taking place for Pupil Premium students. So much was going on but did we have any idea if they were having an impact? Secondly, we needed to create time for Year Leaders to speak to heads of departments about the lack of progress some of our Pupil Premium students were making and work together and use everyone’s expertise to decide the best way forward. So was born our Progress Review Meetings. Thirdly, we needed to look at crossovers with Pupil Premium; who is PP and SEND or PP and an accelerated learner (our version of G&T)? Data shows students who are Pupil Premium and enter our school at a level 4c have the least chance of making good progress – why is that? Well, this is the crossroads point for many students. If they were a level 3, they would have a different pathway to access but at 4c, you might just miss out. You’ve got your level 4 so you’re fine but, in truth, many of these students learnt how to get a 4c in a particular format in a narrow range of core subjects but that doesn’t mean they’re accessing the content of History and Geography lessons without it being a real struggle for them. Finally, we introduced a combination of learning walks and academic mentoring for all PP students who are at risk of underachieving to get to know these students and begin to form a relationship with parents.
What did we learn from the Pupil Premium interview? If you’re in an interview about a weak are of your school, get your key headlines out nice and early into the meeting and always keep referring back to the impact of everything you do. Even if some initiatives haven’t worked, own up to it and discuss why they didn’t work and what you’ve done to put it right.
Your ethos and beliefs about teaching are highlighted by how you run your CPD programme.
One of the best moments of the two days was hearing that our approach to CPD is having an impact on teacher quality. I thought this was the case but it’s good to hear that view echoed by external visitors. Our professional development package of coaching, joining NTEN and carrying out Lesson Study, introducing departmental Lead Learners and running a staff Book Club demonstrated clearly our intentions towards developing every single member of our teaching and non-teaching staff. The visitors were impressed by our commitment to research and using internal expertise to improve teaching standards. In addition to this, we have an ‘Elthorne Way’ of teaching; this is not a strait-jacket or a step by step guide of how to teach –far from it! Plus, we’d never get away with it on a school where nearly 2/3 of our teachers are on the upper pay scale! Rather, it is a series of statements about what Elthorne teachers agree constitutes great teaching and the impact this has on the experience students have in the classroom. This ‘Elthorne Way’, combined with our use of The Teachers’ Standards, are what we use to evaluate teacher quality. There is not an Ofsted framework in sight – a bold step for a school that ‘Requires Improvement’.
What did we learn from the teaching and learning interview? Forget about Ofsted documentation and decide amongst yourselves what you want to see and hear happening in your classrooms. Once you’ve decided on this, spend as much time supporting teachers to collaborate with each other to develop their practice.
So what was the verdict? Our review believes that we are in a strong position to move from Requires Improvement to Good at our next inspection as long as we continue to work towards the goals and milestones we’ve set ourselves. After a year and a half working in the shadow of a brutal inspection, their visit can’t come soon enough.
I cannot believe that a year has gone by since I wrote my #Nurture1314 post. A lot has gone on at work this year and being one member of SLT down means that I haven’t had much time to reflect on the highs and lows so this is a good opportunity to do just that. I’m also going to use Martyn Reah’s #teacher5aday as a focus for my goals for this forthcoming year; the reason for this is because this year I’ve realised that I have very little work-life balance and this has got to change pronto!
So what were last year’s wishes?
1. To become more confident dealing with the more challenging students at school.
This has been a really steep learning curve for me. I am not naturally ‘strict’ and I don’t have a good shouty voice – so I have to play to my strengths, which are (I think) that I grew up in the area, I was a naughty student and it takes a lot to shock me! What I have been working on in the past year is to set aside time to actively seek out those challenging students and find out what makes them tick. Sadly, many of them share a depressing family narrative. I think it would be easy for me to give in and allow these students to play up because of their difficult circumstances. Without doubt, it would make my life easier: but it’s not the right thing to do. Instead, I try to treat them fairly, listen to them and explain that every action – good or bad – has a consequence. We all have choices and for some of our students it takes a concerted effort to make the right choices. There have been a couple of times this year when I’ve had a private little cry when some of them have made some wrong choices with big consequences but I believe it’s our duty as teachers to support them in becoming good human beings as well as academically capable students.
2. To understand more fully the complexities of working with outside agencies.
As I said in last year’s Nurture post, I had very limited experience of pastoral and all these crazy acronyms meant very little to me. CAMHS? EOTAS? Now, I have a much clearer understanding of how much important work external agencies do. I have nothing but complete respect and admiration for two of my colleagues who I work with closely – Aimee our head of year 7 (the year group I line manage) and Katy our SENCO. These two are formidable when it comes to pastoral work! They ensure that our youngest students who have some very tricky set of circumstances to navigate get the best shot at having a successful school experience.
3. To observe every member of staff again during the year to get a sense of how we’re developing as a staff.
I haven’t managed to achieve this one but I’m not too annoyed about this one because our new way of talking about the quality of teaching, with a scope far beyond the snapshot of a lesson observation, means I’m focusing much more on working out better ways of evaluating teaching. This year has been a really exciting step forward as we abandoned lesson gradings and work towards a professional development audit which focuses much more on our strengths as well as identifying our next steps.
4. To work more closely with reluctant members of staff.
Last year’s accusation by a very experienced member of staff that I had only connected with young females still makes me wince but this year I’ve realised two things: everyone is carrying their own private worries about their teaching and you can’t win them all. I thought my stunning personality and abundance of wit and charm would make teachers knock down my office door to get on board. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite happen – unbelievable, I know! – but what did happen was that as every month went by, someone new would open up and be willing to contribute in a small way to changing our school culture. I also think that me going to the pub a couple of times each half term made me a bit more approachable. This month, I went to the staff Christmas party, had one too many sherries, cut some appalling shapes on the dance floor and started some impromptu karaoke. Now I’m not advocating this as a winning leadership style but the the only negative consequence was I looked like a total prat. I’ve certainly had some longer conversations with some staff members than I’d had in the past!
5. To develop the Leverage Leadership coaching model to replace our traditional lesson observations.
This year, I finally convinced the head to give it a go; all I needed to do was get enough teachers to give up an hour a fortnight to coach two teachers. I was blown away that we had 22 coaches by the first week in September. They gave up their time for nothing in return except a belief that there was a better way to develop teaching. I’m really proud of this change and so thankful to these teachers. We’ve got some good coaching relationships set up; coaches are also coached and we’ve got coaches with two years of experience and twenty years of experience. A truly bottom up approach!
6. To write more frequent blog posts.
Hmm… I’m disappointed with myself on this one. I’ve written fewer posts this year than last year. Slap on the wrist for me! The only thing I can say in my defence is that Mel and I have been writing a book on lesson planning for two years and it’s finally going to be published in a few months. We’re soooooooooo excited and keep pinching ourselves to make sure it’s really happening. However, I still love the buzz of posting on our blog so I need to ensure I set aside enough time to post more frequently.
7. To meet fab Twitter peeps @Gwenelope, @TStarkey1212 and @LeadingLearner in the flesh.
We met Gwen at Pedagoo London and Mr Suave Starkey at the launch of Don’t Change The Lightbulbs. They are awesome people. Fact! Unfortunately, Stephen still alludes us but we hope to pin him down at #NRocks15. If not, then we’re going to have to decamp oop North and wait patiently outside his schools!
8. To become more involved in organising a TeachMeet.
Well, I organised a borough TeachMeet for Ealing so that sort of counts but I’d like to do more this year.
So what next for 2015?
This is where Martyn Reah’s #teacher5aday comes in. I’m proud of what has happened at school but this has been an annus horribilis for my personal life this year. Now there’s no need to get the violins out, but to cut a long story short, my first year of married life, with its usual trials and tribulations, has been played out in my parents’ two bed flat as me and my husband found ourselves without a home in June. To say that this living situation has proven difficult is an understatement. It’s taught me a lot about myself and my flaws have been magnified in the last six months. What I have learnt is that I take my loved ones for granted because I get consumed by work. I love my job but there are times this year when it has become my life – and this is not healthy. My husband is a police officer so it’s easy to just work, work, work when he’s doing late shifts. My mum and dad have noticed this and have basically told me to sort myself out because I’m going to burn out. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: Mum always knows best!
Here’s my #teacher5aday to help me become happy at home as well as at work.
#connect My family deserve the best of me just as much as my students do. I tell new teachers that the to-do-list will never be completely ticked off but I do not follow my own advice. This year, I am going to go home at 6 rather than check my emails for the hundredth time, which often means I’m at work for another 45 minutes. They can wait till the morning.
#exercise When I was a student, I was really sporty but since being at my school, I have stopped going to gym class and I don’t play tennis anymore. It’s time to find the time to work up a sweat for a couple of hours a week. No excuses!
#notice I need to notice when I have disconnected from my family because I’m engrossed with whatever is on my iPad screen. Me and my husband are guilty of this but I don’t think we realised how bad we were until we moved in with my parents. I find it rude to play on my phone when my mum might be sitting next to me. My mum loves our chats and it’s reminded me to look up from the screen more often.
#learn I love studying. I am an official learning geek and I don’t care who knows it! This year, I am going to continue reading lots of education books and boring everyone senseless with what I’ve learnt.
#volunteer Fingers crossed, I should be moving into my new place in the next few weeks – I’m so excited if not a little nervous! As a born and bred Ealing girl (I love Ealing so much that my friends joke I could work for the Ealing tourist board if teaching doesn’t work out), I am moving a massive two miles down the road to Brentford. It’s a new area for me and I’m looking forward to us putting down some roots and learning about a new community. I hope to find out what opportunities there are to get involved with some community projects.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2015!