Weaving literacy and numeracy through a Mastery Curriculum

Effective and progressive curriculum planning to ensure mastery is high on the agenda for OFSTED.  At a recent conference, several eminent education experts suggested that the profession, especially those new to it within the last ten years or so do not have the skills to design a highly effective curriculum. We have a national curriculum which provides the building blocks of curriculum planning. It is what we do with it next that is likely to make it meaningful and accessible to all pupils in an individual school context.

The essential idea behind mastery is that all children need a deep understanding of the essential concepts and content they are learning so that future learning is built on solid foundations which do not need to be re-taught, catch up programmes should not be necessary as all pupils work towards the same outcome and pupils are confident enough to embrace challenge. A focus on mastery in mathematics for instance will help to sharpen the thought processes when developing this rich and innovative curriculum plan.

Mastery is policy because it is seen as the best way to raise standards and deepen learning for all pupils whatever their starting point. In a mastery classroom all pupils are capable of understanding and learning the concepts with time and the right teaching. The curriculum is designed as one set of concepts and ideas for all which includes the connections between them and the contexts to which they apply.  The key ideas and building blocks are important for every pupil whether they are deemed a low achiever or a high flyer.

Which pedagogical principles to use in this approach is an essential part of the planning process. Lessons need to be carefully designed to ensure all pupils grasp the concepts through the development of their thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills.  Teachers need to know how to scaffold the learning so that pupils can see the connections, deepen their understanding and know how to put the concepts they are learning into context through topic work and practical examples. The evidence that will be there if pupils have achieved mastery will be their ability to use knowledge appropriately, flexibly and creatively and to apply it in new and unfamiliar situations.

There are a host of issues to consider even in this short explanation of mastery as to how to equip teachers both experienced and inexperienced with the skills and knowledge to deliver this approach, lets quantify this:-

  • The curriculum needs to be planned so that it is seamless from key stage to key stage and from year to year, for example what is taught in year 2 needs to dovetail into what will be taught in year 3 and what has been learnt in year 1.
  • There needs to be a consensus as to how to ensure pupils have mastery of the basic skills and how these are used to deepen and master more complex uses of these skills, therefore, teachers need to have a clear idea as to what constitutes deeper learning within a given concept, theory or idea
  • This approach changes many teachers understanding of how to plan for differentiation and requires them to take risks themselves with allowing pupils to make mistakes or fail to succeed the first time
  • Teachers need to have a sound repertoire of different pedagogical approaches that will encourage reflection, learning conversations and experiential learning

Join us for our training Mastery and deeper learning in literacy and numeracy across the primary curriculum  where we focus on the theory and practical application of embedding a mastery curriculum, planning the curriculum, looking at the pedagogy and focusing on differentiated learning in a mastery context.

Telephone 01746 765076 : Email us by using our Contact us page on our website

The Spotlight Continues to Fall on Key Stage 3

This post has some serious messages for all those involved in planning the KS3 curriculum. A senior representative from OFSTED spoke at a Westminster Forum last week. His message, more than two years after the publication of the report, Key Stage 3: the wasted years?, little has changed. His key concerns were:

  • Key Stage 3 is not seen as a priority so there is still evidence of split classes and non-specialist teachers teaching core subjects
  • Insufficient breadth and balance especially where KS3 is being reduced to two years rather than 3
  • Although there are improvements in literacy provision there is still poor provision to ensure pupils can use numeracy unconsciously as part of learning across the curriculum
  • Careers education is poorly served within KS3
  • There is still insufficient focus on the building of prior learning from primary to secondary school so that secondary teachers understand what has been taught and to what depth

It was emphasised that OFSTED have no preference on the size of KS3 ie. two years or three years.  However, if the decision is a two-year KS3 they are looking for schools to justify with some clarity the impact this will have on learning, knowledge, skills, progression and continuity.  Essentially, he stated, the KS3 curriculum is designed as a 3-year programme and GCSEs are designed to cover a two-year span. I think you can draw your own conclusions on their preference.

There are some questions that curriculum planners and those involved in school improvement need to answer in their quest for a KS3 that will deliver high levels of pupil progress and prepare pupils well for KS4 and beyond.

  • How committed are senior leaders in the school to ensuring KS3 has the priority OFSTED have given it?
  • How do we create evidence that the curriculum builds on prior learning from the primary phase?
  • If we choose a two-year KS3, how do we justify the decision in relation to impact on breadth and balance that ensures pupils have sufficient time to deepen their knowledge and understanding and develop a range of skills ready for KS4 and beyond?
  • What can be done to reduce the number of split classes and the use of non-specialist teachers used to teach in KS3?
  • How do we make sure that there is not a narrowing of the curriculum for lower attaining learners and that higher achieving learners are achieving their full potential?
  • How do we shape the curriculum at KS3 so that pupils develop a range of essential skills, especially literacy and numeracy and have a rich tapestry of learning linked to the content of the KS3 programmes of study so that KS3 is not seen as an extension of simply preparing for GCSE?

Since the publication of the wasted years report we have deeply researched this area of curriculum development and have delivered with stunning feedback our training course, How important is Key Stage 3 to your School?  We have resources, tools, research papers and ideas to support you in answering the questions above.

If your main consideration in planning for this curriculum stage is transition from KS2 to 3 join us for our extremely popular and well received training course,

Crossing the Transition Bridge – seamless learning from KS2 to 3.

Changes to the OFSTED Handbook October 2017

OFSTED have slightly revised their handbook for schools. There are not many changes but they are significant.  We have worked through the October 2017 version and compared it with the last published version in August 2016. A complete list of the changes and a web version of the headlines below can be found on our website.

The headline changes are:-

Part 1 – How schools will be inspected

  • Good schools may trigger a full inspection if provision is deemed to have  deteriorated slightly
  • Ofsted have published a short paper dispelling common myths and misconceptions about their work in schools some of which are included in the handbook and captured here
  • Clarification that judgements will not be made where groups are small and therefore not representative
  • Clarification of arrangements for who should be included in meetings including the governance structure and inclusion of chief executive officers or equivalents of academies and milti academy trusts
  • Emphasis that inspectors must gather evidence from a wide range of sources including pupils’ experiences of learning, behaviour and the prevention of bullyingNew wording for how a school is judged as requires improvement and when a school is causing concern
  • Section 8 of the handbook has also been revised

Part 2 – The evaluation schedule – how schools will be judged

  • An additional entry emphasising that inspectors should look at how leaders and governors use high quality professional development to encourage challenge and support teacher improvement
  • An additional entry that emphasises that inspectors must see that the curriculum provides adequately for the needs of all pupils
  • Further emphasis that using data for small groups of children must be treated with caution
  • New emphasis on the adequacy of core provision, inclusion and additional provision for those deemed disadvantaged
  • Emphasis on stretch and challenge for the most able
  • New emphasis on scrutinising the progress of pupils in English and maths against national figures
  • For early years there is an additional emphasis on the ‘culture of safeguarding’
  • There is a new publication for boarding provision Social Care Common Inspection Framework: Boarding schools and Residential Special schools

You can see a transcript of the changes on our website.

Why coaching is a pedagogy that delivers and cascades outstanding learning and teaching and is the most powerful catalyst for change.

Why coaching is a pedagogy that delivers and cascades outstanding learning and teaching and is the most powerful catalyst for change.

Learning Cultures are a leading provider of coaching training to the education profession.  We know through the successful interventions we have been a part of that coaching has the most significant impact on school improvement.  Where a coaching culture is an integral part of a strategy for continuing professional development (CPD) in an individual school or across a group of schools the opportunity to share and cascade the learning becomes an integral part of the process. Individual recipients of the training can disseminate and consolidate their deeper knowledge to others which strengthens their own learning and cascades it to a wider audience.  In this way the training is sustainable, cost effective and there is far more opportunity to measure impact and quantify how the learning is helping to meet the vision and goals of the individual school or those in a partnership, alliance or trust.

Coaching can help to offset the uncertainty that seems to have befallen the profession over the past few months. Although funding is often seen as one of the issues at the top of most people’s agenda, our observation is that it is the recruitment and retention of good quality teachers, managers and leaders that is the biggest obstacle to ensuring a school can continuously improve.  Where there is little in the funding pot this situation is exacerbated.

CPD is not an option. We are a profession and as such CPD is a right and is essential in ensuring we can continue to have the skills, attributes, knowledge and understanding to aspire to be or to continue to be outstanding.  Those involved in education need to be a part of the learning process, where they are continually learning themselves. If this is not the case they will become stale, disillusioned and demotivated at best or leave to pursue other avenues at worst.

Embracing the principles of coaching is the answer.  It is the only way to ensure that the small CPD budget can be used effectively.  Whether a school is working alone or as part of an alliance or partnership the leaders need to have solutions to some of the issues surrounding consistency, communication and collaboration.  Creating the right conditions for disseminating the school improvement plan so that every member of staff is able to say for themselves with clarity the part they play in moving the school towards successful outcomes requires a coaching approach.

Coaching allows for ownership of one’s own solutions. It is motivational and empowers even the most intransigent to see how they can contribute to a change agenda.  A coaching culture begins to allow individuals to focus on what they are good at, rather than what is not going well and creates a culture of positivity which is infectious and has an impact on everyone from the senior leadership team all the way to the pupils in the classroom.

Give me a call 01746 765076 or send me an email via this link or as in my signature below.  I have linked a copy of a planning tool we have recently used with a number of schools within a Multi-academy trust in the south of England.  This is one way, there are many others. Coaching is the beginning of a journey, once you start this approach is a passport to success.

Creating a Coaching Culture – Celebrating success

Coaching has a profound impact on whole school improvement, teacher motivation and the cascading of learning and achievement. We want to share with all our customers and those yet to start on this marvellous journey some of the success stories from schools in the UK and internationally. We are going to write a weekly journal of what works well.  We will also include links to resources and research papers we have used. This can also be a place to look for any policy changes or OFSTED messages that we may have seen before you do.

At the end of week two of the new school year we have lots to report. Here are just a few of our many successes so far.

We have been to Hayes in Middlesex working with a large secondary school supporting the Head of CPD to introduce coaching to the whole staff.  This is the start of a coaching journey using some of the content of our Coaching Towards Outstanding Teaching and Learning training course.  Putting coaching into the school  has been planned for 18 months and is now ready to take flight across the whole school.

This week a group of senior leaders from across a MAT in Hampshire came together for our Leading a Coaching School training course.  It was exciting and hugely positive. Each school is now sending two or three staff to a Developing the Skills of a Coaching Ambassador training course that we are running especially for this group.  We will then work closely with the CEO, the SLTs and the coaching ambassadors from across the Trust to embed a coaching culture to support CPD and excellence and improvement across all the schools in the MAT.

A primary school in the North West is looking to introduce Lesson Study into their school and wanted to combine a training experience that focused on how coaching can support this innovative approach to lesson observation.  The opportunity for the senior leadership team to work together and really focus on their own skills and strengths and how as a collective force they could empower their teams to work together to share their practice and reflect on their own positive skills was so inspiring.  We are going to follow their journey through the whole of this year.

On 11th September we ran our first Aspiring to Leadership event. We worked with primary school deputy and assistant heads, who were particularly keen to develop coaching as a leadership style for one to one conversations and for observation. Delegates loved the range of practical resources to use in their schools. They were also excited by the opportunity to explore and practice a range of coaching tools and techniques to support the development of a coaching culture with their teams. Paired coaching planning of next steps provided them with practical actions to implement over the next weeks and months.

We also ran a bespoke training of our Developing the  Skills of a Coaching Ambassador course for staff in two linked primary schools in Cardiff.  It was much enjoyed by the delegates. They found the introduction of new coaching techniques they had not tried before very useful and felt that their understanding of coaching had greater depth as a result of the days activities and discussions.

‘The session was flexible and answered many questions that we had. It made it personal to our schools requirements and how to move us forward.’

We are looking forward to working with them in the future to help review progress and to support further staff training.

An excellent start with so much more to talk about so watch this space or be a part of our next diary entry.  OFSTED have published their School Inspection Update with a special edition of main messages for inspectors. We will read it and send out a list of the main points very soon.

Character Education – Part of the tapestry of learning

Character Education is the subject of one of the reports to come out of the DfE this summer. It is a review of some research into Character Education in Schools. The research poses several questions linked to provision, the role of schools in teaching character, the approaches schools use and the challenges schools face.

Rising Stars provide a very good overview of the findings of the report in their document, DFE Publishes Character Education Report. 

Is it necessary to have a separate curriculum pathway called Character Education?

What is education if it is not a part of shaping the individual to be honest, have integrity and a respect for others?  All learning should stimulate curiosity and allow for problem solving that creates resilient and motivated learners. There are so many opportunities within the curriculum for learners to debate, focus on moral dilemma, learn self-respect and deepen their sense of fairness in order that they can contribute to society.

Subject specific learning is stuffed full of opportunities for pupils to develop their individual and unique characters.  English Literature or History allows us to analyse different characters and their influence on people, time and place. Maths and Science give us an awesome look at how the world is shaped and the part we can play in enjoying it, inventing it or using it.  Design, art music or drama provide us with a wealth of opportunities for creativity, expression and individuality. PE and sport develop the bodies and minds of learners and teach them how to win and lose, how to embrace competitiveness and how to be a team player.  Both the primary and secondary curriculum have the breadth and depth to encompass character education.

Most of the curriculum is currently taught in chunks, where the learning is not an interwoven tapestry that develops the whole person.  There are so many opportunities for pupils to develop a whole range of skills that will ensure they become independent and resilient, open to ideas and full of the possibilities that learning can bring.  School, especially upper primary and secondary stages often provides pupils with the facts and information they need to pass tests and examinations.  There is no other stage in their lives where they will learn in such small bite size segments that appear to be unconnected.

We don’t need an addition to the curriculum; we need to look at how we can shape the curriculum so that it builds character that will last a lifetime.




Collaboration is the key to outstanding learning and teaching

I have recently read the NFER research paper Capacity for Collaboration? Analysis of School to School Support Capacity in England Essentially, the research suggests that there is capacity for high performing schools to support those who need some help.

However, schools working in partnership must have answers to these questions  if the potential to create a self-improving system is to be realised,

  • What is the available evidence that examines best practice of where schools collaborate successfully?
  • Who across the respective schools, both those deemed to be high performing and those in need of help, is responsible for ensuring successful collaboration happens?
  • Who determines the needs of all the schools involved including the lead school?
  • What can each school offer in relation to their relative strengths and experience?
  • How is success defined and how is this agreed across the respective schools?
  • What are the measures used to assess impact?

Collaboration, and learning from what works well through the sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice is fundamental to any successful organisation.  Schools and colleges by their very nature find this difficult even within the environs of one organisation. Silos exist between subject specialisms, key stages and year groups. Timetable constraints create a barrier; opportunities for meetings are limited and pupils’ demands take time and energy. With this in mind a strategy for collaboration across a partnership needs to be very clearly orchestrated.

Coaching is one of the most powerful ways of ensuring successful collaboration.

Coaching is solutions focused. A coach will:-

  •  tease out how those who lead determine their goals and evaluate how realistic they are
  • help those involved to identify their own strengths and the qualities of others; not just those in the lead school but of all the schools involved
  • question individuals to identify their needs and their learning agenda in order to ensure that the process leads to a culture of excellence and improvement across all the schools
  • make everyone reflect on their priorities in relation to the part they play in the collaborative process and question how to deflect other issues that stand in the way of a successful outcome

The capacity for collaboration is there.  The opportunity to embrace what is outstanding and cascade it widely is there. Coaching is a proven tool in the box. It is without doubt, the pedagogy that delivers outstanding learning and will provide the framework for positive organisational change.

Plan a sustainable, cost-effective and cohesive CPD strategy for the new academic year

If you are planning your CPD strategy or designing the appraisal system for the new academic year you will achieve phenomenal success if you build coaching into the process.  Learning is just as important for teachers as it is for pupils.  A good teacher never stops learning and relishes any opportunity to be challenged and stretched.  Without on-going opportunities for good quality training, classroom practice becomes hackneyed and dull.

Coaching is a process, it requires individuals to learn a suite of skills in order to support others to set their own goals, be clear as to how they will achieve them; have well-defined steps along the way and evaluate their learning at the end of a given period of time.  Coaching is non-judgemental and can be the conduit for transformational change.

A coach will never project their own views, direct another or suggest they know best.  A coach will facilitate a conversation that requires the other person to soul search, learn from their mistakes, find their own solutions and ultimately make their own decisions about how to create successful outcomes from their stated goals and objectives.

Here at Learning Cultures we have created the most comprehensive coaching programme you could ever wish for.  We have not left anyone out. From leaders, managers and Governors to teachers, Cover Supervisors and support staff we have developed training courses and modules that will ultimately deliver a whole school or college coaching culture.  We have even included the pupils as potential candidates for coaching in our repertoire.

Training is of little or no value if it is delivered as a stand-alone activity where it is not linked to school improvement, learning goals and individual aspirations.  It will have no impact unless the learning is disseminated to others and cascaded successfully.  Coaching provides the mechanism for ensuring that there is on-going reflection and professional dialogue linked to learning and the celebration of good and outstanding practice. Plan your CPD using coaching at its heart and you will create outstanding individuals who are highly motivated, understand their own self-worth and who embrace change and challenge.

Or for the latest resources, activities and best practice examples join us for our fourth annual coaching conferenceThe Power of Coaching at the wonderful Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire on 29th June.  You might also like to attend our Leading a Coaching School event at the same venue on Friday 30th June.  A veritable extravaganza of coaching training.


How do we focus on learning and not on teaching?

The business of a school is learning.  If we put learning at the heart of every goal we set and through professional coaching conversations we focus on how our pupils learn, how we learn and how our colleagues learn we will build a culture that celebrates what works well, identify what needs to change and be able to reflect on the impact our teaching has on how well pupils deepen their knowledge and progress.

Identifying the pedagogies that we use in the classroom is important.  The craft of teaching is a gift. However, if we don’t look carefully to how successfully it links to learning we cannot expect to find ways to continually improve.

Ponder on these questions

  • How does your teaching link with what learners are interested in?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to learn concepts that will support them to deepen their knowledge?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to make connections with what they have learnt elsewhere?
  • How does your teaching promote the use of higher level thinking skills that deepens their learning?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to share their ideas and work well in groups?
  • How meaningful is what you are teaching to your learners’ own experiences and existing knowledge?
  • How can you be sure that your teaching is building on prior learning?
  • How do you create opportunities for pupils to talk about their learning and be able to say how they are learning as well as what they are learning?
  • How do you make sure that pupils understand what is said to them and comprehend what they read?

Make sure that with every plan and every decision made, whatever it is about, there is a link to learning. There is some serious research that suggests it makes an outstanding difference!

A post SATs training offer to primary schools

SATs are over, yippee! Judging by the many twitter posts, schools across the country are celebrating with outdoor activities, parties and cup-cakes.  We want to celebrate as well. With this in mind we have two fabulous summer training events that are designed to support well-being. They provide powerful opportunities for creative learning.

Fairytwists is all about immersive story-telling and provides the teacher with six short stories that actively promote resilience, challenge stereotypes and celebrate diversity. Find out more.

Grow Learning Through Gardening is a practical look at using horticulture as part of delivering the National Curriculum.  Working with plants and flower is known to help with stress and gives anyone who is involved a feeling of wellbeing and satisfaction.  Colour, shape, touch and scent give depth to understanding.  There are many ways to find imaginative ways to bring alive the subject matter of much of the national curriculum using gardening as a theme.  Find out more

The other course that is capturing primary teachers imagination is our Mastery and Deeper Learning across the Primary Curriculum.  Embedding literacy and numeracy skills as an integral part of all learning will help pupils to make connections and put concept into context without too much prompting.  This approach creates the unconsciously competent learner which is exactly what they need to be to pass their SATs. Find out more

Happy Summer!