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An overview of current policy and the constraints of the inspectorate - a focus on what schools need to think about and plan for as the days grow longer and the spring flowers shine their brilliant hellos.

I do feel a fair amount of contradiction creeping into some of the ideas and opinion that has dominated the policy landscape since early January.  Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector at OFSTED has spoken with some conviction about her belief that the curriculum is king. She clearly has a message and is not wavering from it.  She believes that pupils deserve a curriculum that has breadth and depth and is planned to embrace the needs of all pupils.  It is the child who must come first and the curriculum should not be shaped to help the school to simply achieve the results that will ensure that it favourably compares and competes with other schools across the nation.  In other words, if your curriculum is planned to ensure maximum oportunity for pupils to achieve highly in SATS or is designed to provide longer to teach the content that will lead to a better progress 8 score, well think again.  The trouble is with this well- meaning philosophy is that most schools are terrified that if they take their eye away from maximum opportunity to allow pupils to achieve highly at the pinch points of year 6 and year 11 they will be judged as failures.

Question: What is the evidence that your curriculum is designed to serve the needs of all pupils across the school, it has depth and breadth and does not become too narrow in order to accommodate the teaching for SATs or GCSE?

The second contradiction is linked to the sudden announcement of a review of higher education.  Fees are an issue as is the length and value of degree courses.  The issue, however, that interests me and will be of interest to schools and colleges where they are dealing with post 16 learners is vocational education. The Government seem to be saying that vocational learning is important to our nation and learners should be encouraged to follow that route into higher education if that is more suitable.  The new T Levels to be introduced from 2019 are industry specific and will be, so we are told, as rigorous as A Levels.  The current vocational offer will either dovetail into these T Level qualifications or not depending on the awarding bodies design and qualification structure. Schools need to be mindful of the progression routes their KS4 cohorts will have available to them post 16 and where they have a sixth form whether they have the resources, staff expertise and infrastructure to deliver a more technical curriculum. For some students a vocational pathway at KS4 will help them to succeed where a purely academic diet might not.  For those students who are likely to want to follow a technical or vocational pathway it is surely important that the foundations for this start in Year 10 and not in Year 12. Damian Hinds, the new Secretary of State for Education in a recent speech at the Education World Forum totally endorsed current policy to keep the emphasis on the academic curriculum at KS4 suggesting that the vocational offer prior to 2010 was inadequate.  If the vocational/technical route is to be important to the nation we need to ensure that those students who are the future recipients of this planned approach have not fallen out of love with education by the time they reach the age of 16.

Question: How can you plan a KS4 curriculum that offers vocational learning for those students where progression into post 16 education may lead to a more vocational or technical pathway?

Thirdly, the proposed Maths check for primary school children to ensure they have a grasp of their times tables could lead to a total focus on rote learning and memorising for the test rather than learning the patterns and rhythms that allow pupils to apply their understanding of multiplication in a range of contexts that will lead to mastery and deeper learning of these skills. Amanda Spielman has already indicated her unease at the over emphasis of practice for the SATs tests, human nature would surely lead to the same thing happening with this 'check'.  Surely, the way forward is to ensure teachers have the skills to develop pupils deeper understanding of multiplication in many different contexts where they can help pupils to become unconsciously competent in their use of these skills. A 'check' is unlikely to test the numerical agility that the use of numeracy as part of a deep and rich curriculum will allow.

Question: How do you plan a consistent curriculum offer that builds on prior learning and allows pupils to develop a deep understanding of how to use Maths with agility in a variety of contexts so that they master the skills and can use them with unconscious competence?

I have read around the subject of these three policy focuses. I conclude that curriculum is indeed king. As long as you are making sure that you have the evidence that you are putting learners first and your teachers have the skills, expertise and resources to deliver high quality pedagogy that creates the resilient, reflective and motivated learner you will be able to ride above any contradiction or confusion.  The spring flowers make me hopeful!!


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Transition - a key area of concern for policy makers and OFSTED - how do you ensure you build on prior learning from key stage to key stage? How do you make sure pupils continue to develop and thrive across the transition bridge?

Education from early years to post 16 is a process of transition from year to year, key stage to key stage and from school to school.  The evidence that it is a time when up to 40% of pupils dip in performance and fall back in their ability to progress is stark.  OFSTED have a spotlight on the issues that make the transition process difficult for pupils, their research paper Key Stage 3: the wasted years? still resonates.  The need to ensure positive and meaningful transition from early years into year 1 and then into year 2 are also causing concern.  Transition from KS4 to 5 is also a critical time for learners who need to have a clear view of what they want to do next in order to succeed in their lives as adults.

The key to successful transition is effective partnership and collaboration.  The research we have undertaken into this important aspect of school strategy suggests that most schools take great care with pupils' health and safety, pastoral issues and personal circumstances, and quite rightly so.  However, there is little evidence from the many schools that we have worked with that there is any real understanding of the depth of curriculum study that has been taught in a previous stage, the kinds of teaching styles and pedagogies that pupils have been used to or the skills and knowledge they have already acquired. The data a pupil arrives with is a snapshot in time, granular in its detail.  It will not give an indication as to the gaps in pupils learning or the fact that they are under achieving, coasting or potentially need to be stretched further. 

We continue to offer our very popular and highly praised course Crossing the Transition Bridge - Seamless learning from KS2 to KS3 and we have now designed a new course Creating a curriculum and transition strategy that builds a continuum of learning from EYFS into KS1 and beyond that supports those involved in the planning of the curriculum for this vital time in a child's life.  We look at how to create a seamless learning platform using the mastery or deep learning philosophy and how to ensure greater collaboration between the different years and key stages from early years to KS2

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Coaching is the answer, what is the question?

The question, why train teachers how to coach? The answer, developing a deeper understanding of coaching for a teacher will provide them with the skills to nurture pupils' resilience, problem solving skills and the ability to listen well, work independently, collaborate and learn together.  It is arguably the most useful training they can receive and using coaching skills effectively in the classroom displays without doubt many of the components of an outstanding or excellent lesson.

We have some profound evidence that coaching is a powerful pedagogy that fosters a learning culture where teachers, support staff and pupils learn together and nurture learner confidence so that they are more ready to accept challenge, take risks and believe in their ability to continuously improve.

We have written a new course that is designed for teachers to focus on how they can bring coaching into their teaching and how they can help pupils to develop some of the coaching skills that will help them to learn.  We focus on the active listening skills that are so important in coaching and the open questioning techniques that moving learning forward and build confidence in pupils to think for themselves and plan their own journey to achieving their goals and aspirations. Coaching in the Classroom is the latest edition to our suite of coaching courses.

Wherever you begin in developing the coaching skills of staff and pupils in the school you will want more and you will see positive change that has a measurable impact on learning, morale and performance. Have a look at our range of coaching courses here.

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Performance management or professional development? - how do we create a culture that means every member of staff is motivated, continues to learn and is an integral member of a cohesive team and part of a whole school quest for continuous improvement

It is probably not surprising that OFSTED have only made a few changes to their January 2018 handbook, they have already said that they are not envisaging many changes before September 2019.  Two tiny changes, however, do seem quite significant, certainly to me.  Twice the phrase 'performance management' now reads 'professional development'. It goes without saying that it is essential that teachers have the opportunity for continuing professional development throughout their careers.  It is clearly stated in the OFSTED handbook that evidence of this is required.

  • "Leaders and governors use high quality professional development to encourage, challenge and support teachers' improvement
  • "Teaching is highly effective across the school and staff reflect on and debate the way they teach. They feel deeply involved in their own professional development."

It is also expected by both ESTYN and ISI.  The recently published Standards for Teachers' Professional Development formalise the need to create a positive strategy and policy linked to training for practising teachers. Determining the nature of training and development for teachers is usually through the appraisal process linked to the performance management procedures within the school or college. We have introduced a new training course Re-thinking Appraisal - Influencing learning, empowering people and creating a culture of positive change where we focus on the purpose of appraisal and its efficacy in ensuring every member of staff sets and works towards goals and aspirations that are clearly focused on the school vision and improvement plan. We also ask the questions, what is performance judged against? Who sets the goals for individual staff to achieve? and, how well do staff across the school know how they can develop professionally in order to contribute to the school vision?

Appraisal should allow teachers to reflect on their strengths, focus on their achievements and pedagogical skills and how they can build on what they do well.  Appraisal should not be about pupil performance data which cannot provide any detail as to the quality of the input from the teacher over time. The data cannot in itself tell us the reasons why one individual pupil underachieves or several children stall in their development. Pupil data is the result of a whole year's teaching, a whole year of pupil development and a whole year linked to curriculum, policy or school change.  Appraisal needs to involve the individual appraisee and their own performance goals that build on their strengths, identify their gaps and link closely to the stated aims of the individual, the team and the school. This leads to a culture where teachers and other staff are in control of their own professional development and their career future. The appraisal interview is a point of contact that should be an opportunity for reflection and the setting of renewed goals.  Using coaching as the model for a non-judgemental and non-directive approach allows individuals to grow and develop in a safe environment of trust that is motivational, energising and infectious. Join us at Re-thinking Appraisal - Influencing learning, empowering people and creating a culture of positive change  and build a dynamic culture of continuing learning and development that is much more likely to achieve higher pupil progression and achievement.

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The curriculum is a hot topic for OFSTED and a new curriculum is emerging in Wales.  How do individual schools create a curriculum that is fit for purpose, meets the needs of every pupil and satisfies those to whom they are accountable?

As I said in my introduction the curriculum is firmly in the spotlight whichever key stage you are part of.  It is probably a good idea to make sure you don't fall into one these categories,

  • Year 6 focuses on English and Maths nearly exclusively until after the SATs are out of the way
  • Key Stage 3 is shortened to allow GCSE study to take three years instead of 2
  • Pupils are discouraged from taking GCSEs in subjects they enjoy but might not achieve well at
  • Vocational learning is not seen as relevant because of the importance of achieving high Progress 8 scores
  • Content is KS2 is key and delivered at the expense of experimentation and creative learning

We believe that the curriculum should be seamless allowing a continuum of learning from early years to year 11 and beyond.  The curriculum should allow pupils to learn the basic skills and concepts that are essential and then develop the ability to make connections, use and master their skills to deepen their knowledge and give them the confidence to take risks, find solutions, question and deepen their understanding. Access to wider learning opportunities that embrace PSHE, SMSC, technology and morals and values needs to be woven through the core and foundation subjects and allow pupils to question the status quo, have their own ideas and create their own vision for the future.

We have two events that will provide an opportunity to review your curriculum design and content and provide real insight into how to make sure that it meets the needs of all pupils, creates a level of accountability that will provide evidence for the inspectorate, allows for high levels of progression and achievement and ensures pupils can make connections, use their skills confidently in a wider range of contexts and weave the wider learning skills and content into a cohesive whole. 

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Mastery, what does it mean for pupils and teachers working with mixed ability classes across the primary spectrum?

Mastery for a teacher is not having any preconceived notions about whether the pupils in your class can 'do it'.  Mastery arranges the lesson or sequence of lessons to ensure that all pupils have the same starting point and work together to tackle certain problems or learn certain concepts. Differentiation is organised by the teacher when she can assess, formatively how well the pupil has understood and their next steps in the learning process.  The National Centre for the Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) have an excellent paper Mastery approaches to Mathematics and the new Curriculum that describes the concept well. Here is a useful quote,

"Mastery learning is a set of group-based, individualised, teaching and learning strategies based on the premise that students will achieve a high level of understanding in a given domain if they are given enough time."

The only way this can work effectively is if the pupils are an integral part of the process, where they work together to support theirs' and their peers' learning and are encouraged to think carefully about how they can apply their learning and use it in different ways. It is proven to work especially in the Far East.  We have designed a very successful training course that focuses on mastery and how to create a curriculum map that will develop a mastery approach across the curriculum, we focus specifically on literacy and numeracy, English and Maths but the process and the approaches could apply everywhere.  Join us at our innovative and thought provoking training opportunity Mastery and Deeper Learning in Literacy and Numeracy across the Primary Curriculum

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What do we do with a problem called Year 9? - A focus on the role of KS3

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 rigours 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 Education 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?

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 to ensure a positive springboard for future study.

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The case for Vocational Learning in Key Stage 4

In every school there are pupils who do not, for whatever reason, thrive on a purely academic curriculum menu. 

How can schools ensure that a vocational route has profound opportunities to build a deep and rich offer that creates pathways for many pupils' future learning or prepares them for the world of work?

There is a suite of vocational courses available to students and that will count towards Progress 8 in the third basket of choices.  The power of portfolio learning is not to be underestimated. For some students it is highly motivational and allows them to see their qualification grow and gives them a feeling that they can see exactly how they are developing through the subjects they are studying.  There is an exam component to the vocational learning programmes now, this should not be a barrier to choosing to offer them.  The alternative is a diet that is purely exam driven.  Students who study vocational subjects have a profound opportunity to develop a range of core and wider skills such as problem solving and enquiry skills.  Their literacy and numeracy skills are put in the spotlight and there are often really good opportunities to apply their learning from Maths and English lessons in the context of the development of their portfolio of evidence.  The one BTEC course that always has my creative juices going is the I-Media course which has so much choice and so many different media to use it should be compulsory for all students in helping them learn to use digital media as part of all their learning. We have a superb training opportunity for anyone who is currently reviewing their vocational offer or for those schools already delivering a vocational pathway. Join us for this important event, we focus on the available offer, delivery models, how to weave skills learning effectively and how to use the local community and businesses to support you Delivering a Vocational Pathway that Counts that Counts we focus on the available offer, delivery models, how to weave skills learning effectively and how to use the local community and businesses to support you.  We also look at how to help pupils achieve the higher marks of merit and distinction and how to prepare for the tests.

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Is outstanding teaching your best kept secret? - How lesson observation can be an integral part of a sustainable CPD strategy

How do you use lesson observation as part of supporting teacher development? 

The feedback from good and outstanding lesson observation can be a powerful tool for sustainable in-house CPD. Discussing the qualities of a lesson more widely than just with the teacher and the observer is highly beneficial. In this way more teachers are part of inclusive reflection and are able to take part in a shared understanding of the simple ingredients that create effective learning in the classroom.  We have designed a training course that focuses on the purpose of lesson observation and how informal observation of lessons in a variety of contexts can support individual teachers to review different pedagogies, learning styles and approaches to curriculum delivery, skills development and the use of resources. 

We look at how through the use of reflection and the sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice individual staff lesson observation builds confidence, creates opportunities for teachers to try out new approaches and deepens their understanding of the craft of teaching.  We also provide those who attend with the opportunity to develop a range of coaching skills that will support them when they feedback and reflect on what they have seen and heard. The Art of Positive Lesson Observation - How to use powerful feedback that nurtures reflection, learning and outstanding teaching. This event is for those involved in the process of lesson observation as a line manager, head of department or member of the senior leadership team. We also run a very popular course that focuses on the Japanese model of Lesson Study where lesson observation is a collaborative process. Lesson Study - Enhancing learning through professional collaboration and enquiry.

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Formative assessment and coaching - the same skills, same ethos. Every year group, subject specialism and key stage needs to have a clear policy so that learning is accurately assessed across the learning spectrum

I wrote a news post not very long ago called Formative Assessment, teacher autonomy, pupil involvement, positive collaboration where I referred to a piece of research published by Pearson and LKMco looking in detail at formative assessment and its power to enhance learning. The one school, St Matthias primary school have stopped teachers taking books home to mark. All marking is completed in school with the pupils. The pupils also have some responsibility for the assessment process.  The focus on staff retention, workload and well-being suggest to me that this is not a bad idea. Inspectors insist that they are not looking into the marking of pupils' books but to the pupils and their understanding of how they learn.  Whatever your strategy there needs to be a very clear policy so that the assessment of pupils learning and progress is consistent, accurate and informs the pupils so that they know what they need to do next to continuously improve.

The process of formative assessment is best served by developing the coaching skills of those involved in the process. This could include the teacher, support staff and the pupils (see our article above, Coaching in the Classroom) where the use of highly effective coaching questions, precis and summary and highly attuned active listening skills all play their part in developing a positive approach to assessing learning with pupils.  Join us for one of our training days where we look at this in some detail and provide those who attend with a refreshing and innovative approach to the whole business of assessment.

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Keeping up with the plethora of books that support our work can be daunting and we must buy a new bookcase! But here goes with several more books that have proved very useful for my research over the past few weeks,

  • Igniting a Passion for Learning in the Primary School by Martin Richards and Andrea Robson
  • Coaching Students in Secondary Schools by Adam Abdulla
  • Coaching Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom by Steve Bowkett and Simon Percival
  • Sport Pedagogy - An introduction for teaching and coaching by Kathleen Armour - not a generic coaching book but some very useful insights
  • Teaching Children to Listen - A practical approach to developing children's listening skills edited by Liz Spooner and Jacqui Woodcock

A couple of books linked to transition that have come in useful

  • Understanding school transition by Jennifer Symonds
  • Bridging the Transition from Primary to Secondary School Edited by Alan Howe and Val Richards

I have just finished reading Philip Pullman's new book La Belle Sauvage which is the first part of his new trilogy The Book of Dust.  It was a gift from my stepson and not what I would normally read but it was a great adventure story and now I can't wait for the second one to come out.  I did not read his previous trilogy so was not familiar with his use of his use of animals as alter ego 'daemons' for each of his characters, my thoughts were that is could be a device that could possibly be construed as lazy characterisation or something that we can all sometimes see in other people. I might use the idea in some of my coaching sessions, what is really going on inside their heads and what kind of animal does it represent?

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