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Collaboration the key to creating a self-sustaining system

The recently published research by NFER Capacity for Collaboration? Analysis of School-to-School Support Capacity in England provides the evidence that there is sufficient room in the system to accommodate high performing schools supporting those who are doing less well. However, having the capacity is only the starting point. The need for strong leadership, a clearly defined vision and a robust strategy for how to implement a self-sustaining model for continuous improvement is paramount.

An individual school is complex in itself.  There is no comparison to how a CEO or managing director leads a large company or group of companies in a business context. Each individual member of staff involved in any aspect of teaching and learning within a school works primarily alone with their pupils. Planning is often solitary and the opportunity or the time to reflect and redesign is not easy to find.  Leaders may work with leaders where their role is predominantly a non-teaching role but line managers have limited opportunity to meet with their teams and do so after the school day has finished or before it has started. This limit to time may lead to meetings being about information and data with little opportunity to talk about teaching and learning, share good practice or focus on continuing professional development.

The outcome of this is that there is a wealth of talent that can go un-seen or not celebrated.  Teachers may dwell on what does not work well rather than what does work well and can feel the sceptre of failure on their shoulders rather than the belief that they are growing as professionals and learning from their experiences.  The strategy, however well it is crafted, loses power as it is communicated through the layers of role management and is of little consequence to the teacher who feels overwhelmed.

Highly effective collaboration has a significant impact on school improvement whether in one school or across a group of schools. The key to success is in recognising the importance of involving everyone, ensuring that the individual feels he or she is an integral part of the process and their own professional status is valued and will be enhanced.  The focus must be on recognising what outstanding pedagogy means, capturing it and cascading it to others. This may require a paradigm shift where groups of teachers take some control, where leaders look to their teams to work more closely with teachers through informal lesson observation, action research or action learning sets.

Wow! just imagine what success can and does look like. Teachers share what works well but also question their approach to pedagogy and share ideas as to how they might work collectively to improve. Managers look for the positive and encourage risk taking, creativity and innovation and look at failure as part of the learning process.  Reflection and learning are an integral part of every meeting. Everyone is a part of the planning process, knows the part they can play and is happy to talk about their strengths and their own learning agenda.

Talk to us, we have some great success stories and the expertise to make this happen.


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The efficacy of Lesson Study - a collaborative approach to lesson observation

The focus in the classroom is often about our teaching and how we manage the pupils and organise the subject matter. We design activities to ensure pupils produce what they are asked to and remain attentive and well-behaved.  There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that we should focus much more on the learning and how we can make sure that learning is taking place and the learner is progressing well. Lesson Study, the Japanese form of lesson observation does just this.  This approach allows three teachers to work together to plan a lesson, the emphasis is on observing a selection of chosen pupils to see the impact that the teaching has on their learning and not on how well the teacher performs in the lesson. 

This approach has some significant benefits for the individual teachers who are part of the observation process, the teacher delivering the lesson and the pupils who are part of the process. These include:-

  • Teachers talk about learning and the outcomes they want from pupils
  • The collaborative process allows for teachers to learn from each other and share their ideas
  • Observation is seen as a learning process and not something that is imposed
  • Reflection is built into the process and all those involved have the opportunity to share their understanding and consider the next steps
  • Pupils are encouraged to be part of the process and can deepen their understanding of how they learn

Lesson Study is a cost-effective and sustainable method of delivering highly interactive CPD.  There is an initial cost of cover and there is a need to organise time for planning and reflection but these can be managed very successfully and the benefits are significant.

Join us for our very successful Lesson Study - Enhancing learning through professional collaboration and enquiry training course.  It is full of resources, activities and ideas as to how best to implement this approach to lesson study and provides those who attend with all they need to take back to use with colleagues to ensure the learning is shared and cascaded to others.

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Coaching is the most powerful pedagogy in the school repertoire

If collaboration is the theme for this newsletter then coaching is the conduit by which we can guarantee success. Leaders who have the confidence in their teams to be innovative, reflective and well-organised see dramatic and dynamic changes to performance in the classroom and within teams or departments.  Leaders who have the ability to delegate efficiently and with clarity and who believe in the capacity of those with the devolved responsibility will see change happen and goals met. Developing a range of coaching skills instils a deeper understanding of one's self, one's strengths and one's ability to make a difference.

There is a logical process in the development of a coaching culture across a school or college.  Senior leadership teams need to understand their own style of leadership and how coaching can help them to recognise how their style impacts on the behaviour of others, how they might use their strengths to learn new approaches in order to lead with integrity and ensure entrusted responsibility leads to the desired and stated outcomes. 

Middle managers benefit from the coaching skills of those who lead. However, they need to learn how to coach in order that they are developing skills that will support them to become good leaders.  They also need to learn how to coach in order that they can build highly effective teams who can solve their own problems, take risks in order to grow their own professional learning and become outstanding practitioners in the classroom. 

Teachers also benefit from learning how to coach. There are serious advantages for teachers to learn how to question, listen actively and encourage others, peers or learners, to find their own solutions. Coaching creates opportunities for teachers to share their successes, celebrate their strengths and create a culture where learning is at the heart of every decision made. Let's not forget support staff who can also benefit from having a range of coaching skills. They are much better equipped to articulate how the teaching they observe leads to successful outcomes. Using deep and rich questioning supports them in nurturing learning. They are less likely to scaffold the learning that can lead to learners becoming too dependent. 

Coaching is solutions focused, builds on the positive and fosters trust.  Staff are encouraged to see mistakes as learning opportunities. Pupils feel confident to try out new approaches, take risks with their learning and find their own solutions.  If you haven't already there is no better time to start than at the beginning of a brand new academic year. 

Alternatively, we can offer to plan INSET either for groups of leaders, managers, teachers and Teaching Assistants or we can plan a whole school programme to run across one or two years.  We are also working with several MATs and TSAs across the country to plan a multi- school strategy.


The skills agenda - recognising and sharing the power of numeracy and literacy as tools for learning

Creating the culture that ensures pupils can put the skills they learn in their English and Maths lessons into their learning in other subjects is the key to learner progression. The skills are the building blocks of all learning and pupils need to be able to transfer the concept into a context in order that it deepens their understanding.  Collaboration is the key here.  It is arguably easier in the primary sector to allow these connections to be made, the same teacher will teach Maths and English to pupils as teach other subjects such as Science, Art and History.  In the secondary phase, there is often little cross-curricular collaboration as subject specialists focus on the content of their subject and the imperative to ensure pupils have sufficient knowledge for exams at the end of Year 11. 

Our experience is that in both the primary and secondary phases the drive to embed the skills as part of a wider learning experience is not always obvious. The evidence needs to be defined in terms of outcomes and not in the recording process on a scheme of work or as a lesson objective.  Teachers who plan schemes of work and lesson plans for subject learning need to have to hand the programmes of study for both English and Maths.  The skills pupils are learning in English and Maths are the ones they are using in their learning elsewhere. If the planning starts with the skills it is easier to see how to ensure pupils can access the knowledge and deepen their subject specific understanding.

For example, reading is an essential skill in every subject. However, in English there is the explicit teaching of comprehension and pupils read material that is pertinent to their reading age. In science, a pupil might read a piece of important text that is written to a much higher reading age and has words that are unfamiliar and difficult to read.  The Science teacher may not have the relevant skills to ensure that the pupil has understood the text and can assimilate the learning within it.  In Art, a teacher might want pupils to understand the proportions and ratio that determine the way to draw the human frame.  The Maths involved in the process of learning how to draw the human frame might not be immediately obvious to the Art specialist, however they are most definitely Maths skills that are being employed in the process. There are so many examples of missed opportunities to draw the pupil's attention to the skills they are using in the learning across all subjects.

Creating opportunities for subject teachers to work together to discuss the skills that are essential to their subject and share how they teach them is illuminating and can be powerful interactive CPD.  Giving pupils a deeper understanding of how their learning in Maths and English give them the tools to access knowledge across the curriculum has a profound impact on how they learn and retain subject knowledge. It also improves their drive and motivation in both Maths and English and has a proven impact on the results of both SATs tests and GCSE examinations.  We run a series of highly interactive and very successful training courses to support subject specialists and Literacy and Numeracy Coordinators. They all provide a wealth of resources and activities that can be used back in school to drive a whole school programme that leads to the successful embedding of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum

  • Mastery and Deeper Learning in Literacy and Numeracy across the Primary Curriculum
  • Embedding Literacy and Numeracy in subject specific contexts across the secondary curriculum- Policy into Practice 
  • The Role of the Literacy Co-ordinator - Putting literacy at the heart of learning across the curriculum
  • The Role of the Numeracy Co-ordinator - Making number count across the curriculum

Each title will take you to the relevant page on our website where you can find out more and book a place.

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Assessment - Creating a consistent whole school collaborative approach to formative assessment that leads to learning

The most successful way to assess learning is with the pupil in the classroom. Formative assessment calls for an open and flexible approach to the process of learning that is essentially a partnership between the pupil and the teacher or teaching assistant. However, the most successful schools take this approach further. Teachers work together in groups of Teaching and Learning Communities (TLCs).  They exist to focus on the strategies that are being used to ensure pupils are assessed as they are learning in the classroom.  The collaborative process in the classroom is replicated in these TLCs so that the principles of experiential and collaborative learning are modelled by the teachers as they create a consistent whole school culture that the pupils and those involved in the teaching process understand.

Where teachers work together to learn together it is clear that they develop a much deeper understanding. Collaborative learning is by far the most useful and cost effective CPD available. Creating the opportunity for collaboration to develop a consensus on the approach to formative assessment will enhance the learning for the teachers involved, create a deeper understanding for the pupils who see patterns emerging across all their learning and reduce the workload of taking whole sets of books or papers home to mark. 

Remember these overarching principles:-

  • Put the learner first. Focus on common barriers to learning that pupils face
  • Everyone needs to be involved and understand the role they play in creating and embedding a successful whole school assessment strategy
  • Create clearly defined mechanisms that allow for sustained professional dialogue between groups of teachers and between the teachers and their pupils
  • Senior and middle leaders need to make a sustained commitment to embed change and maintain a consistent approach throughout
  • Ensure a secure and shared understanding of what effective formative assessment practice looks like
  • Focus on the quality of teaching and learning, the Teaching Standards and how change impacts on learning
  • Reflecting and evaluating the emerging strategy for effective formative assessment needs to involve all those involved in teaching and learning
  • Ensure the pupils at every stage of the process are involved, they can reflect on how the process impacts on their learning
  • Recognise how important this collaborative approach is to developing teachers, it is valuable CPD

The first step of your journey should be to join us at one of our two courses that provide all you with will need to create a TLC to move this forward.

  • Formative Assessment across the Primary Curriculum- Planning, questioning and collaborating for progression
  • Formative Assessment across the Secondary Curriculum – Planning, questioning and collaborating for progression

Each title will take you to the relevant page on our website where you can find out more and book a place.

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Coaching and Performance Management - Rethinking appraisal and continuing professional development

Performance management does not always produce the performance improvements managers want to see. It can be seen as a negative process where the emphasis is on what is wrong rather than what is right.  Creating a culture that uses coaching at its heart can have significant benefits for all those involved in the performance management process.

What is the purpose of performance management? is the fundamental question to ask when planning some changes using coaching.  If the answer is that performance management is about nurturing talent, building confidence and creating a culture that seeks out the positive, celebrates good practice and allows individual staff to focus on their own strengths, needs and learning agenda then you are ready to go.

Creating a whole school coaching culture can have significant impact on leadership practice, the success of senior and middle leaders and on teaching and learning. Coaching has a part to play in self-evaluation prior to an appraisal interview; the development of an ongoing strategy for continuous professional learning and the opportunity to reflect on success factors for each individual member of staff.  It builds confidence, allows for risk taking and takes away many of the anxieties and worries that come with a traditional approach to performance management. 

Developing a coaching model does need careful planning and those involved need to be mindful that linking coaching with performance management can be counter-productive if not managed well.  Coaching is essentially non-directive and non-judgemental, it is therefore important that those involved understand that learning how to coach is about helping someone else to find their own solution, it is not about mentoring someone to do what their manager thinks they should do.  However, those that develop as coaches soon see how beneficial it is, especially in a school setting where learning is the watchword.  Join us for our new course Re-thinking Appraisal - Influencing learning, empowering people and creating a culture of positive change which will equip line managers with the skills they need to use coaching as the most powerful tool in the performance management box and make a significant difference to school and individual improvement.

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Lessons from the recent SATS

 Following a great deal of research both quantitative and qualitative we have listed the main lessons that seem to be emerging in preparation for planning for the SATs in 2018. 

For English

  • Focus on the wider key skills of reasoning, comprehension, the unconscious use of good grammar and the ability to apply key concepts in a variety of unrelated contexts
  • Remember, formative assessment is fundamental.  Pupils need to be involved in the process of learning from their mistakes. They need to be aware of their growing understanding, their ability to use skills as part of the learning process and be able to assess accurately what is the next step to greater understanding
  • Share resources across classes so that everyone has the benefit of useful aids to learning, be aware of new resources as they emerge and share these with others
  • Focus on where across the curriculum away from the core subjects of Maths and English pupils can apply their learning in a variety of contexts.  This will help with mastery of the skills and address some of the unrealistic time constraints that exercise so many in Year 6
  • Focus on putting the learning into meaningful contexts for the pupil. Create opportunities for pupils to solve problems that will require them to use the skills they need to master away from the English and Maths lesson and point out to them how they are using the skills they have learnt.  It will help with understanding and with motivation
  • Involve parents where possible, they are using the skills their children are learning and can help them to relate their learning to real life contexts
  • Writing is seen as one of the most problematic areas this year.  Encourage pupils to write a diary, letters or stories from their own experiences that they can build for themselves and that they own and add to
  • Don't take anything for granted.  Retention is a problem and the SATs questions are looking to test what pupils should have learnt in earlier years of Key Stage 2 as well as their learning in Year 6
  • Make sure that answering questions similar to those in the SATs papers are every day occurrences so that pupils are used to answering questions in this way and are not afraid of the process
  • Practice the mastery model, start all pupils reading the most challenging of texts and support the less able to rise to the challenge rather than allowing them to work with easier text
  • Pupils need to learn how to be clear, accurate, exact and precise in the way they answer the questions.  They need to answer in complete sentences and be very specific.  This needs to be practiced in a variety of contexts, using texts from different genres or different purposes across the curriculum
  • Make good use of the Grammar appendix in the Key Stage 2 programmes of study to make sure pupils have a grounding in the principles

For Maths

  • More than half the questions focused on what pupils should have learnt in years 3 to 5.  Pupils need to revisit their work from previous years and build on their prior learning
  • It is imperative that pupils are confident with their times-tables. Specifically, that they can multiply one, two and three-digit numbers by one digit and then handle multiplying four digits by two digits manually
  • Pupils need to be able to tackle multi-step problems to demonstrate fluency in multiplication and division
  • Pupils need to be able to tackle the calculation of percentages with more than one step to find an accurate answer. They need to be able to see where this applies in contexts across the curriculum such as measuring slopes (contour lines) in Geography
  • The quantity of questions linked to fractions is high. Adding and subtracting fractions, mixed number and proper fractions and multiplying pairs of proper fraction, knowledge of equivalent fractions, recalling and using equivalences between simple fractions, decimals and percentages
  • Mathematical language is important
  • Triangles, polygons and pentagon shapes are there as is applying knowledge of where these shapes occur in the context of other subject learning
  • Simple formula for algebra is there in the context of multi-step problem solving
  • Maths concepts taught in isolation may trip some pupils up when they are confronted with a question that requires them to put more than one concept into a specific context they may not be familiar with
  • Start early with the use of SATs style questions where there is a level of challenge that pupils may not be used to
  • The tests do include some of the new elements included in the curriculum such as Roman Numerals
  • Pupils are expected to think fluently and work with multiple concepts simultaneously
  • Pupils need to know how to order conceptual operations such as subtracting fractions with different denominations
  • Pupils need to be able to divide whole numbers and those involving decimals by 10,100,1,000
  • Pupils also need to be adept at working out challenging questions linked to division such as finding the relative sizes of two quantities using division facts and finding missing values

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Lesson learnt from the recent GCSE papers especially new content and question types

The new approach to writing exam papers only applies to GCSE English and Maths at present. However, the messages will apply to the next group of subjects that will be taught to the new GCSE approach.  Here are some of the generic messages that subject leaders and their teams need to be planning for now:-

  • Much of what is included within the KS4 content is within the KS3 content, it is therefore essential to dovetail the two.
  • It is a good idea to map the content within the new specifications against what is currently being taught. It is far better to identify the gaps than to start from scratch
  • Map the content of the English and Maths curriculum at both KS3 and KS4 against the content of your own programme of study. English teachers could use some of the texts within a subject to widen and deepen a pupil's ability to understand and infer from unfamiliar texts. Where pupils can see the connections between the concepts pupils learn in Maths and how these are put into context in learning elsewhere the greater chance they have of understanding and deepening their knowledge
  • Pupils need to have the skill to explain their ideas with a high degree of accuracy, they need to be concise and clear in their thinking. They need a critical style rather than a creative one
  • There is a shift towards more essay style questions rather that short question answers. This requires pupils to have the skills to arrange their answer in meaningful paragraphs that clearly lead from point to evidence to explain and then conclude or evaluate
  • The content is deeper and more challenging across all the new GCSEs and requires pupils to deduce and infer and compare and contrast with accuracy and depth
  • The emphasis is on quality not quantity, precision in writing and comprehension when reading is critical across all subjects

Specifically for Maths lessons learnt are:-

  • Pupils need to have a sound understanding of the concepts and must be able to build on their learning from KS2 and 3
  • Pupils will need fluency in procedural skills taking their learning across a range of inter-connected principles
  • Pupils will have to demonstrate that they have the competence to apply the skills they are learning in a range of different cross-curricular and other contexts
  • There is an emphasis on how well pupils can use their mathematical problem-solving skills
  • The Foundation tier includes content previously only found in the higher tier
  • The demonstration by pupils of their ability to apply standard techniques has the highest weighting
  • Reasoning, interpretation and the ability to communicate mathematically needs to be well developed over time
  • Pupils need to be able to translate mathematical and other non-mathematical problems into a series of mathematical processes

Specifically, for English lesson learnt are:-

  • There is a need for pupils to read widely both fiction and non-fiction, they need to be comfortable with different genre, fiction and non-fiction, different writing styles and unfamiliar words
  • Pupils need to be able to infer or deduce reasonable meaning when encountering unfamiliar texts
  • Pupils need to be able to recognise the layered effect of figurative language and interpret examples such as metaphor, cliche,idiom or simile and also be able to identify and interpret literary devices such as hyperbole, irony or paradox
  • Pupils need to be fluent in their writing skills demonstrating their higher level thinking skills
  • Pupils need to develop the ability to speculate persuasively about a writer's intention from the texts they are examined against
  • They also need to use evidence from the text to back up their arguments

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Some more books for the coaching bookcase:

  • Leadership Matters by Andy Buck has been recommended by one of my colleagues.  He analyses what leaders at all levels do to make great schools
  • The Little Book of Big Coaching Models by Bob Bates is a fantastic romp around the theorists from all sorts of coaching disciplines
  • Educating Rita - What our Children Really Need to Learn by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas. "It is for everyone who cares about education in an uncertain world and explains how teachers, parents and grandparents can cultivate confidence, curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity, commitment and craftsmanship in children, at the same time as helping them to do well in public examinations".
  • Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace by Jacky Arnold has been recommended. I am taking it over to France with me next week!
  • I have recently found the ADKAR model which describes itself as a structured framework for guiding people through change.  I have spoken to several people who have used the framework and it seems to have a lot in its favour.  We are going to have a look at how it links into some of the other change models we use and how coaching dovetails into the stages it suggests.

I have just finished Arundhati Roy's novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.  Disturbing and brutally honest, not a great holiday read but I am left profoundly affected by it.  I have also recently read The Peculiar Life of Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault.  Small and thoroughly enjoyable. I keep wanting to record my experiences in life as Haikus. Read it, you will know what I mean.

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  • Closing the Gap report from the Education Policy Institute analyses the attainment gap across different regions and suggests that there is a long way to go.
  • Implementing the E-Baccalaureate - Th Government Consultation Report.  The results from the recent consultation on the success of the E-Bacc came out at the end of last term. Justine Grrening in her forward seems to suggest that we will carry on as before
  • OFSTED are preparing new guidance on safeguarding for this September.  I cannot see anything out there as yet. We will put it on our website as soon as it is available
  • DfE have recently published their research into how schools are developing character skills of pupils. The short report is called Developing Character Skills in Schools
  • The new Chief Inspector for OFSTED Amanda Spielman has recently stated her opinion.  Firstly she is not happy with schools that focus on a results driven culture at the expense of a rich and deep learning experience for pupils.

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