Defining the Substance of Education – Creating the right culture for deep learning

The substance of education, says Amanda Spielman, will be at the centre of the draft new education inspection framework which will be published for consultation in the new year.  The substance, is essentially, the curriculum and how it is taught. This is re-inforced in the speech Ms Spielman has given following the announcement of her second Annual Report as Chief Inspector.  The message is clear, whilst the data is important as a measure of outcomes, it is the breadth of curriculum content that is under the spotlight especially poignant at key stage 2 and 3.  She says,

Here as in every country, the home language and maths are the spine of children’s learning.  But they can’t be the limit. They are the gateway subjects to a broad curriculum that includes humanities, science, languages and the creative subjects too.  Children should learn about the events that shaped our nation’s history, the forces that create our natural environment, the key scientific principles that underpin the world and universe around us, the ability to appreciate and participate in art and music, and develop some practical skills in crafts and technology.

The actual Annual Report focuses on four key themes:-

  • Getting the basics right
  • The impact of a lack of capacity and its effects on standards
  • The danger that schools are expected to become a panacea for all of society’s ills
  • The importance of focus on the substance of education

The over-arching message is that the profession is doing ok but there is still room for significant improvement. The report explains what has gone before. We as education professionals must look to the future and take control of what we believe is the right ‘substance of education’.  There is an implied criticism that across the whole sector, “there is a mentality of ‘what is measured is what gets done’ and this trumps the true purpose of education and curriculum thinking – the consideration of what needs to be taught and learned for a full education – has been eroded.”  A Spielman December 2018

If what is being said is to be believed and I can see no reason to doubt it we do have an opportunity to be a part of this evolution in the role OFSTED want to play in shaping the future ‘substance of education’.

Further research about how the curriculum is designed, delivered and assessed is due to be published this week. It will explain some more about how OFSTED  intend to inspect the curriculum and the draft new education framework will be published for consultation by the profession in January.  What has been said so far and what is due to be published give us the opportunity to shape an innovative curriculum offer. It should be pupil focused, rich in content and create opportunities for pupils to develop the skills for learning that will help them access a wide range of knowledge. It will also, incidentally, give pupils the ability to know how to answer SATS questions and respond with depth to the challenges of GCSE and beyond.

In conclusion I will quote from the most recent speech from Amanda Spielman,

What we will be interested in is the coherence, the sequencing and construction, the implementation of the curriculum, how it is being taught and how well children and young people are progressing in it. So, please, don’t leap for quick fixes or superficial solutions just to please OFSTED. That would be the wrong response.  From September, we’ll be interested in where you are going and how you intend to get there, not just whether you’ve arrived there yet.

We echo with such passion the sentiment here. The next two terms need to be a time for conversations, incisive discussions about subject knowledge and how pupils can deepen their understanding; questions about how we create opportunities for pupils to make connections across their learning; time to reflect on how the content relates to pupils’ own experience, interests and prior knowledge and time to share and cascade good practice linked to pedagogy, assessment and planning.

We have the CPD strategies and resources to support you and your teams.  There is no prescription here just a profound opportunity to make a difference.

Use coaching to foster the professional dialogue and challenge needed to create a cohesive, consistent and content rich curriculum that builds on prior learning and prepares pupils for the next stage or phase of their education.

Re-define your Curriculum Emphasis – Focus on learning and deepening understanding

The current emphasis on how the curriculum is planned and delivered should be a welcome opportunity for all senior leaders in schools to focus on ensuring their curriculum is all about learning and deepening understanding across a range of different topics, themes or subjects.  Amanda Spielman OFSTED’s Chief Inspector  started the debate, her concern, that the curriculum is narrowed to accommodate the need to teach to the test in Years 2 and 6 and in year 11 if not 10 as well is, in some cases, well founded.

Alongside this criticism is an acknowledgement that OFSTED may, in the past, have focused too much on the data and not enough on how that data is arrived at.  I have a long-held belief that focusing on passing tests and examinations at the expense of deepening learning over time is counter-productive.  Creating opportunities for pupils to access deep and rich text, apply numeracy skills to help to consolidate understanding of a problem or how to write to explain bias, cause and effect or express an opinion help to deepen their competence, strengthen their understanding and give them the resilience they need to see questions in a test or examination from different perspectives and give them a much better chance of coming up with the right level of response.

John West-Burnham in a research paper suggests that shallow learning is all about memorisation and leads to compliance and dependence and contributes very little in the pursuit of deep learning.  Read the whole paper here.Planning the curriculum should focus on what outcomes we want for pupils in terms of their knowledge and the skills that they need in order to access and apply that knowledge in a range of cross-curricular, thematic and subject contexts. Each school is different and that is why there is an imperative to focus on intent in relation to curriculum design that defines the right approach for individual school contexts.  Implementing that stated curriculum must focus on high quality pedagogy, teaching  that delivers inspirational learning and uses assessment strategies that lead to high levels of progression.  A positive impact is where all pupils have deepened their knowledge, are developing the core skills that will help them continue to make connections across all their learning and are mastering the wider cognitive skills that will ensure successful outcomes when they are tested or examined.

A good starting point is to have a detailed pro-forma scheme of work that everyone uses as part of planning in all departments, across all year groups and where appropriate for topic or sequential learning.  The headings should be built to ensure a consistency of purpose that mirrors the vision for deep knowledge and the development of the skills that will allow that vision to be realised.  These could include:-

  • What is the sequence of learning?
  • What do pupils know already to build on their knowledge and understanding?
  • What are the literacy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that are to be developed/further developed?
  • What are the numeracy skills that are intrinsic to the learning that can be developed/further developed?
  • What other learning skills will support the learning linked to deepening knowledge, fostering progression and demonstrating mastery?
  • What are the expected outcomes from this topic/series of lessons/theme?

The skills must be those that are naturally occurring as a part of learning. They do not need to be shoe-horned into the learning.  Also, pupils need to be a part of the process, continually re-enforcing their role in how they deepen their own learning, articulating what they need to do to make progress and improve their own work.

Whatever you do, don’t start from scratch.  In our last news-post we provided a tool called L.E.A.R.N. It starts with what will you leave in.  Always focus on what you do well before thinking about what needs to be changed.

Join us at one of our highly successful training days looking at how to re-define your curriculum, not for OFSTED but to reflect on how to make sure your curriculum is all about learning, highly effective pedagogy and the best outcomes for all pupils.

Read our news post that focuses on the skills/knowledge agenda

Focus on formative assessment to ensure the curriculum and how it is assessed is seen as a seamless process.

How seamless is your curriculum?

OFSTED are currently reviewing how the curriculum is designed and delivered in all phases of education.

In a recent presentation Sean Harford of OFSTED made a plea that schools should be ‘bold and courageous’ with their curriculum.  There are many clues from different commentators and especially from Amanda Spielman as to what is wanted here.  Essentially the curriculum should have depth and breadth, build on prior learning and challenge pupils to master the essential principles embodied in the learning of the core skills especially, reading, writing, communication and Mathematics as well as digital and scientific literacy.  Pupils should be able to make connections and become unconsciously competent in their use of these skills in the pursuance of deeper knowledge and understanding that expand their horizons.

There are, according to Sean Harford of OFSTED, three parts to a framework that make up the essential planning of a cohesive and successful curriculum, these are:

  • Intent – What will be included in the curriculum framework and what knowledge and understanding will be gained by pupils at each stage?
  • Implementation – How will the curriculum be translated over time into a structure and narrative within the institutional context
  • Impact and achievement – Evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations

‘Depth and breadth’ are words liberally used in much of the documentation and transcripts from speeches.  Sean Harford admits that there is some ambiguity as to how different schools interpret these words.  For me, the essence of this is to create a seamless curriculum where pupils build on prior learning from lesson to lesson, subject to subject and from year to year.  The curriculum design is a tapestry of learning and the planning of the curriculum needs to draw on all those who will deliver it to understand how their input is an integral part of a whole school drive for deep and meaningful progression for all pupils.

There will be a new OFSTED handbook and framework from September 2019 and if the current literature is correct there will be a greater emphasis on how schools plan, implement and evaluate their curriculum.  If this is so, now is the time to start to focus on ensuring there is a dialogue that involves everyone at school involved in teaching and learning to focus on how the curriculum is woven together to ensure pupils are continually developing their knowledge and skills and deepening their understanding over time.

To create the right culture for cohesion and collaboration the curriculum needs to be at the heart of the planning process.  The vision for school success must be linked to the design, delivery and impact of a curriculum that develops pupils to know more and remember more over time.  An assessment policy needs to be seen to support the pupils’ journeys through the curriculum and be pupil centred.  Pedagogy needs to be explored and defined in terms of how it allows pupils to deepen their understanding, refine metacognition and create the unconsciously competent learner who deftly uses skills in a wide variety of contexts within school and beyond.

Following in-depth research our curriculum experts have some ‘bold and brave’ solutions and a wealth of resources to support schools in both the primary and secondary phases of education to focus on their curriculum, what to keep, what to change and how to create the evidence that your curriculum delivers high quality learning over time.

Create a CPD strategy that is individualised, sustained, intensive, focused and cost-effective

The right professional development will ensure that all teachers continuously develop so that they feel able to challenge, innovate and always deliver good and outstanding lessons.  This is the basic premise of an article about coaching in the TES of Friday 20th April.  Written by a Rhode Island US Professor, Matthew Kraft, he says,

“if you want better teachers, schools need to embrace the power of coaching”.

CPD is an essential part of school life.

The phrase professional development has replaced performance management in the current incarnation of the OFSTED handbook. This suggests that OFSTED want to see that there is a clear link between ongoing teacher improvement and the professional development that teachers have access to.   Measuring teacher performance is an output, professional development is an input. Without highly effective training, collaboration and the sharing and disseminating of good practice improvements in performance are unlikely to be sustained.

The article goes on to say that, “teacher coaching models are one of the most promising alternatives to traditional CPD. ”

Why introduce coaching CPD in a school or college context?

Coaching is challenging and focuses on continuous learning.  The reason why coaching is proven to be a highly successful medium for delivering CPD in a school is that coaching starts with what is working well. The school recognises the talent and expertise that already exists and uses whole school CPD to cascade good and outstanding practice widely.  There is an inherent belief that all teachers are able to improve and grow in their role.  There is a culture where there is no such thing as failure, only the opportunity to learn from mistakes through the use of highly effective professional coaching conversations.

What are the first steps towards developing a coaching CPD model in your organisation?

The first step is to be clear about what coaching actually means.  How is it different from mentoring, teaching, instruction or counselling?  Learning how to coach is a powerful leadership skill.  A leader can take control whilst focusing on how others can be the drivers for the vision, where one can delegate and be confident that successful and well-trained and well-informed teams can deliver.

What happens next is critical.  Leaders and managers need to have a profound understanding of where excellent practice exists and how it can be shared and cascaded as part of a sustainable CPD strategy.  Staff across the school, in whatever phase of education, need to be aware of their own strengths, gaps in their learning and how they can fill them through collaboration with their peers and through focused CPD that is carefully planned and linked to the individual, team and organisational goals.

Creating a coaching culture in a school or college

Creating a coaching culture in a school or college takes time to embed.  However, from the very beginning there are benefits and high quality learning opportunities where staff, whether they are leaders, managers, teachers or their support teams begin to develop a range of coaching skills that are without doubt those that link closely to the pedagogy that delivers outstanding learning and teaching.

As part of the journey towards creating a coaching culture all staff will learn and develop a range of skills associated with coaching.  The most important of these are how to use deep and rich questioning techniques and how to listen actively in order to be able to influence change and support others to self-reflect and find their own solutions.   These skills are inhererent in good classroom practice, essential as part of highly effective meetings and in the development of strategies that need to be communicated in order that they become successful outcomes.

Learning Cultures are leading providers of coaching CPD for schools and colleges

The coaching training that Learning Cultures deliver is built on many years of research and practical examples of what works in schools and college across the UK and beyond.  We can offer a suite of courses for individuals or groups of staff to attend on one or more of our off-site courses.  Alternatively, we offer a variety of in-school training, INSET and consultancy.  We are, without doubt, the leading provider of coaching training for the education profession.  Delegates learn new skills, are stretched and challenged and leave full of enthusiasm and real practical ideas of how to take their learning forward. Below is a list of the courses we recommend to start your coaching journey.

 

What do we do with a problem called Year 9? – A focus on the role of Key Stage 3

OFSTED and curriculum breadth and balance in Key Stage 3 that includes Year 9.

OFSTED see Key Stage 3 as a vital and stand-alone stage that should allow pupils access to a wide and varied curriculum that deepens their knowledge and sharpens their skills so that they are fully prepared for the rigour of GCSE.  The message is clear GCSEs are designed as two-year programmes of study and Key Stage 3 should not be truncated without very good reason.

Amanda Spielman in her recent speech to the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership was unequivocal in her condemnation of what she sees as poor practice, she said,

Particular poor practice includes,

“the widespread shortening of key stage 3 to 2 years, when this means that many pupils lose a whole year of study of the humanities, of languages and of the arts.”

She goes on to clarify her point by saying,

“I cannot reiterate it enough: exam performance and league tables should be a reflection of what children have learned. Tests exist in service of the curriculum. Curriculum should be designed to give children the best pathway to the future, not to make the school look good.”

So, the questions are,

  • how should Key Stage 3 be planned in order that pupils build on prior learning, access learning in a variety of subjects and become unconsciously competent in their use of the skills they need for future learning, life and work?
  • how can the Key Stage 3 curriculum embrace some of the content of GCSE subjects so that pupils have a foundation that they can take with them into Key Stage 4 and beyond and that motivates them to want to continue to learn?

OFSTED’s message, clearly articulated by Amanda Spielman in several of her recent speeches and publications is that they are not telling schools how to plan their curriculum of the size of their key stages they are saying that there must be good reasons for the decisions made that can be justified in the interest of the pupil and not just in terms of achieving better Progress 8 scores that reflect how successful the school is in relation to other schools across the country.

The conclusion one can draw is that year 9 does need to be planned as part of Key Stage 3. If this is done well pupils will build on their prior learning from Key Stage 2 in year 7 and 8, have access to a wide curriculum offer and develop the knowledge and skills that will be a springboard for high achievement at Key Stage 4 and beyond.

Year 9 could be seen as a bridging year, the transition year from Key Stage 3 to 4.  A year when pupils begin to develop an understanding of how their learning will be assessed at GCSE and what skills they need to develop in order to achieve their full potential.  It could also be the year when there are planned cross curricular themes that are linked to GCSE content but allow pupils to develop skills in enquiry, creativity, problem solving and analysis as well as debating, presentation and report writing.

This approach could tick all the boxes; GCSE content is seen as difficult to cover in the time so a carefully crafted year 9 scheme of work could take some of the strain.  OFSTED want to see year 9 as part of Key Stage 3 and not an extension of GCSE study. This approach allows pupils to access GCSE themes but learn about them in a different way and develop a range of cross curricular skills that will stand them in good stead across all of their GCSEs both core and options.

Join us for our extremely popular and well received training course

How Important is Key Stage 3 in Your School?

We explore how to plan an effective Key Stage 3 curriculum offer that is rich in knowledge, builds the vital skills pupils need for Key Stage 4 and beyond and ensures that some of the content within GCSE subjects has been taught and absorbed by the end of Key Stage 3 ensure a positive springboard for future study.

Lead your School Towards an Outstanding Coaching Culture

Coaching has the power to transform your school.  If you are using coaching techniques as a leader or manager then you will know what I mean. Coaching is non-judgemental and non-directive. A coach empowers others to find their own solution. Creating a coaching culture means that senior and middle leaders believe that everyone within the organisation can continuously improve their performance.  The sharing and cascading of what works well is fundamental to the learning process.  If things go wrong individuals are encouraged to reflect; criticism is replaced with open discussion that leads to self-belief, self-improvement and peer to peer learning.

Creating a coaching culture takes time and commitment.  The benefits and impact coaching has on individuals, teams and the whole school ensure there is a positive return on the use of resources. The focus is on high quality continuing professional development that allows for innovation, collaboration and positive professional dialogue.  Learning Cultures have developed a suite of coaching training that will deliver a whole school strategy that will impact on school improvement and drive individual and team success.

Increasingly, schools, colleges or partnerships are working with us to plan a coaching programme that encompasses every member of staff from the senior leadership team to support staff.  A focused strategy that allows for a coaching culture to emerge is woven into the school improvement plan. Over time every individual member of staff within the school is able to embrace the coaching philosophy and knows the part he or she plays in achieving the vision for continuous improvement.

Each plan is different and is determined by the priorities identified at the beginning of a cycle.  However, there is a pattern and a rhythm to all successful coaching programmes and they often consist of a combination of the following programmes as a starting point.

Have a look at our wider menu of coaching courses that complement and enhance the ones above. We can also write a bespoke programme for your school, college or partnership.

Formative Assessment – teacher autonomy, pupil involvement, positive collaboration

Formative Assessment is a pedagogy that should be an integral part of classroom practice. Pupil participation and focused teacher interaction should lead to deeper understanding, and an opportunity to correct mistakes and change misconceptions. Formative assessment should foster the confidence to take risks and work things out.  It should form the basis of forward planning, define the curriculum content and ensure pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. Statutory assessments do not and cannot accurately capture pupils’ achievements.

The above is echoed in a recent report launched by Pearsons and the research organisation LKMco,  Testing the Water – ‘How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’. the report is the result of a national consultation on the future of assessment and it explores some of the questions that surround the issue of assessment and its place in the accountability system we currently have in England.

The report says, ‘understanding and using assessment should be a fundamental competency for all educators’, however the findings suggest that there is a lack of training, teachers lack confidence in the process and they do not know where to go for support, help or advice.  There is an implied criticism that far too much of teachers’ time is geared to summative assessment and the tendency to teach to the test.  The pressure to produce data for reporting and accountability weighs heavily on teachers and negates their confidence in using formative assessment to support learning.  The advice from the report suggests that schools should limit the number of summative assessments and make greater use of standardised tests to benchmark how their pupils compare with others nationally.

Teachers need to have the autonomy to establish what pupils have learnt, remembered and understood and plan the unfolding of the curriculum content and skills development accordingly so that all pupils can deepen their knowledge and build the skills to access that knowledge.

The report focuses on the issue of workload associated with assessment and how this can be reduced. There are some interesting case studies and references to some research based ideas that support high quality formative assessment to reduce  workload. However, teachers need to be confident enough to trust that this will be acceptable to inspectors and those who assess their performance in school.  The report also highlights how new technologies can help to reduce the burden.

The report also asks the question ‘How can unnecessary stress about assessment be reduced?’ The advice for schools is to ensure that pupil performance in tests is not linked to the assessment of ongoing teacher performance. There should be a much closer association with ongoing formative assessment in the classroom.

In summary schools need to,

  • Increase the confidence of teachers to use formative assessment as an integral part of their pedagogy and provide the relevant training to support this
  • Mine the considerable bank of support available to the profession
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in both the core and foundation subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment is diagnostic and granular and allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched to fulfil their full potential
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication about assessment, how it is undertaken, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how developing learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum is far more likely to see them succeed in summative statutory tests than ‘teaching to the test’.  Read Alison Peacock’s piece on page 51 of the report, she says at the end, ‘If the input is right the output looks after itself’.
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves, their teachers and their peers to seek and find out more
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from the assessment of teacher performance in the classroom

Learning Cultures have a unique and highly praised reputation in providing training for teachers that will give them the materials, resources and learning to take back to school to share with others.  Formative assessment requires a high level of competence.  There needs to be a mechanism that allows for effective collaboration, moderation and a collective understanding of its efficacy and accuracy.  Join us at one of our training courses,

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.

 

 

 

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!