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A critical reflection on factors that would enable a school in ‘Special Measures’ to make progress

Schools have always been organisations which have a clear sense of accountability. Dependent on the country where the school exists there may be a variance of the social values that a school purports to meet, but, in being established so as to provide education in one form or another to its students, schools have always been accountable to them.

In the 21st century English education system this accountability to students has been formalized through the development of a range of external accountability measures and comparative judgments. The UK Government’s White Paper Education Excellence Everywhere (DFE 2016) was the latest in a number of policy proclamations, which identified how a schools accountability and effectiveness would be gauged. Using the now established educational lexis comprising of phrases such as rigour, high expectations and standards, this paper also introduced the idea of a School Led System which in “building capacity through supported autonomy’ presented the promise of Head Teachers and Trust CEOs having the opportunity to lead schools in the manner that they see fit, but counterpointing this with the threat that these methods must lead to student progress and attainment against a curriculum and matrix of judgements established through Government.

 

Working as a Deputy Head Teacher in a school that is currently in Special Measures, I have an individual interest in identifying factors which could enable the development of schools to progress, within that context to progress or move forward would thus be measured against the external accountability measures of Progress 8 and Ofsted Judgements with the acceptance that in achieving success against these measures, within the current context a school would also be moving forward and progressing with regards to its accountability to parents, students and its staff. This measure of progress would thus also indicate that a school is becoming increasingly succesful in them giving the students the academic currency that can be used to access a full range of opportunities in society.

 

In this regard my focus has been to look at the impact that leadership can have in achieving progress against such measures. By looking at the identified traits of successful leaders and their organisations its possible to propose a range of areas that must be prioritized and improved in order for a school to progress- and within current context, some situational decisions that should be made to give a school a rational chance to be deemed as such.

 

Harris and Chapman (2017) in presenting research on how to improve schools which find themselves in difficult contexts, note that in order to do this, it is necessary to reject a generalized view of school improvement or effectiveness as there are not only a range of potential definitions for underperformance (inadequate, coasting, not meeting floor standards) but there are also a range of external and internal variances amongst underperforming schools that distinguish their needs from one another. Not only does differentiation occur in this regard, but the organizational structures of schools that would be deemed to be underperforming can differ across federations and trusts and even within federations and trust (Chapman et al 2010). Accepting that this is true would appear to present a further acceptance that to identify a specific process for a school to absorb and utilise would not be possible. However whilst a school improvement process would need to be tailored situationally, research from Collins (2001), Hill et al (2016) and Lundberg (2001) indicates that certain commonalities in approach could be applied in order to show progress against the afore mentioned external accountability measures.

 

Hill et al (2016) in fact stated that within school leadership five types of school leaders could be classified and from these classifications it was possible to posit that only one would be authentically successful in achieving long term school success. This study referred to school leaders as either Surgeons, Soldiers, Accountants, Philosophers and Architects, and whilst on some immediate or superficial levels more than one could be perceived to be successful, in fact it is only those that have the Architect characteristics that can be credibly seen to have moved a school forward as they were the only group that had any real long term sustainable impact. To be successful in this regard, the Architect School leader was one with a strong understanding of social and economical leadership and worked within the educational sector out of a strong moral purpose to impact on society and also on communities. In order to make this impact, the Architect understands that to achieve true progress takes time, and therefore took a long term strategic view towards school improvement focusing on areas such as the school environment, student behaviour, teaching and learning development and community relationships. In approaching these areas this study found that impact did not tend to emerge until three years into the school leaders tenure, but it would then continue due to the Architectural foundations put in place, including leading to continued success even after the school leader had left.

 

This focus on the long term as a measure of success is agreed as being a measure of the most effective leaders by Collins (2001) in his examination of what took place in the most successful businesses. In his study he found that success was equally not reliant upon a ‘miracle moment’ (p3) but instead was the triumph of what he referred to as the ‘Flywheel Effect over the Doom Loop.’ (p3) The Flywheel Effect referring to organizational improvement as taking place through the metaphor of the Flywheel as a heavy metal disk that is difficult to spin, but, once moving is able to generate further pace through the momentum that is gained through continually spinning efforts ‘You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing (p4), citing tangible examples from business he posits that this momentum is generated through the development and collection of quantitative and qualitative evidence that improvement is taking place and therefore that future plans will continue to deliver results on a similar trajectory. The contrast to this in the Doom Loop is a reliance on change programmes but these cause a continued change in direction meaning that momentum is not able to be gained following patterns of new leaders, new programs and ultimately disappointing results. Applying this logic to school improvement, it’s therefore possible to identify how the accuracy of self-evaluation and ensuring that a clarity of long term direction is of paramount importance. Taking into account the external accountability measures this direction would have to be structured in such a way as to meet the need of schools to meet this external criteria. In answering the question of why this Flywheel Approach is successful Collins states bluntly that it is because ‘people in real companies want to be part of a winning team’ (p5) and that when they feel this they build further and further momentum. However despite this assertation he also identifies that truly successful organisations and leaders start with ensuring that they are ‘getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats’ (p5) therefore starting not with an establishment of a direction or vision, but with the recruitment of people that they can use. Collins refers to this as three simple truths. One, starting with the recruitment of the right people means that you will able to adapt to changing contexts. Two, the right people are intrinsically motivated to do a good job and as such mean that they do not hamper the leader with the need to find ways to ensure that they are motivated. And three, that with the wrong people, even if they are headed in a clear direction, it will only lead to mediocrity: ‘Great vision with mediocre people still produce mediocre results.’ (p6) Further to this the clarity of vision of a great leader, who is leading the right people comes from brutal honesty. Within an underperforming school this would mean answering questions such as ‘What is it we are unable to do?’ Are we spending our time and energies on activities that are leading us to our ultimate goal?’ What can we be the best at?’ This honest self-appraisal is an aspect of what Collins found in great organisations, and it was continuous as the flywheel was continually turned. But, like the Architect school leader was not an approach that was focused on immediate success, to achieve true fruition took on average a five year period. However for schools to apply a process such as this and ‘just focus our attention on the right things – and stop doing the senseless things’ incremental improvement can be achieved within that time before the greatness is realized through any externally validated judgement.

 

Harris and Chapman (2001) also present true school improvement as being where the focus for school improvement is on a longer term transition of a school from one which has low capacity to one which has the characteristics of a school with high capacity. What is striking is that in their identification of the attributes of a low capacity school or an immobile school they present an absence of the brutal and honest self-evaluation that Collins identifies within high performing organisations. Instead Harris and Chapman show that a school that is immobile or with low capacity is reliant on external judgements and input to make progress, and their ability to develop their internal confidence and expertise is consequently crucial in order for them to progress to a stage of increased capacity.

 

Luneberg (2001) in looking at schools that underperform also identifies traits similar to Collins and calls for a clarification of purpose, in the manner of getting the right people on the right seats. However, in having a specific lens on education, Luneberg refers to a schools purpose as being one which ‘is a matter of public inspection and subject to direct measurement’ and that school systems have the potential to have ‘changing circumstances and needs.’ (p9) In that regard he is supporting Collins’ assertion that recruitment and retention of suitable people to drive the organisation forward is a priority as these people will be able to respond to the changes that there is such potential for within schooling. Harris et al (2010) refer to these changes explicitly, and also cite that within schools that are underperforming these changes are in fact more likely and therefore schools need to be organized in such a way so that they can best respond to them. ‘High staff turnover, poor facilities, lack of resources, failing pupil numbers’ (p410) but despite this ‘myriad of problems’ or ‘complex set of variables’ it was identified that notable school improvement could be achieved and that where this was the case none of the factors were accepted as excuses, but instead, simply factors that needed to be contended with.   These schools also exhibited the qualities of exceptional organisations that Collins refers to in their narrowing of focus onto four key areas. The improvement of student literacy and numeracy, a clear focus on teaching and learning, the effective use of data, tracking and target setting and finally a focus on developing really effective professional development opportunities.

 

These areas of particular focus are rationalized as they all support and are clearly aligned to the schools overarching goal of improving student attainment. Students’ abilities to communicate verbally and in reading and writing alongside their ability to complete arithmetic were identified as being particular barriers to curriculum access, as a result ensuring greater curriculum coverage of these areas was designed and shown to impact upon student ability to do so. Similarly ‘an academic orientation has long been identified as a vital component of effective schools’ (p416) and focusing on student learning, the development of teaching capacity and the constant focus on these areas was shown to be a means to engender the school staff and students with this academic orientation. The use of data and target setting also enabled the reporting of incremental gains which indicated the emerging successes which create the important momentum required for the Fly Wheel effect to take hold. Alongside this, the accurate development of a data rich environment also contributed to the opportunity for the honest-self appraisal which is required to address or pre-empt potential barriers to momentum as they emerge. These collections of incremental data are referred to by Chapman and Harris (2004) as part of three phases of school improvement, again indicating an acceptance that real success is not immediate. These phases are when a school is catching up, consolidating and then ultimately moving ahead. Whilst against some external measures, catching up would not be perhaps be deemed enough to be presented as enough evidence to change a particular perspective of a school, it could be seen as enough to show that improvements are being made and that there would be the likelihood of an improved school judgement in the future.

 

Returning to the individual positioning from which I am writing, it appears that it is possible to suggest a broad framework to school improvement from the attributes suggested by Collins. Namely, that a school which is underperforming must first ensure that across the organisation, in areas of key importance or agency, has the correct personnel in place. In current organizational structures this would apply to the role of the Head Teacher and Chair of Governors, but also across key roles within senior management teams and middle leadership positions. Getting the right people on the bus with the intrinsic motivation to perform consistently to a high level and to achieve high outcomes. The direction of the organisation also needs to be established, but with a clarity so that gains in this direction can be measured incrementally as a means by which further and continued momentum can be progressively gained. As schools are measured against external accountability means, these should be used, but from a valued perspective, these measures referred to as a means by which schools can achieve a wider moral purpose such as ensuring all students are in employment or Higher education at the leaving age of eighteen. Finally, with the right personnel and aims in place ,the school needs to embark on a continued process of honest and frank self-evaluation so that it can be honest about it’s starting points so that they do not serve to be a block to improvement (Chapman and Harris 2001)

Perhaps where there is greater difficulty is in schools accepting that this direction, once established, will not be one that leads to great outcomes immediately. For a school that has a history of performing well below national floor standards to be expected to achieve at a level above national benchmarks within one year would mean that it is not taking a realistic outlook at its initial capacity or situation or in addition that its leadership approaches were not architectural or based on a premise of the Fly Wheel effect. Instead the incremental progress over a 3 year period under leadership should lead to a continued upward trajectory and improvement, which would ultimately be validated by external measures. True success would be that improvements within schooling are not fleeting, but are sustained. In that regard they would invite improved external judgements, but more importantly, would denote that a school was meeting its core accountability, and providing excellent education and experiences to the students and community that it serves not just now, but for years to come.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Chapman C, Lindsay G, Muijs D, Harris A, Arweck E and Goodall J (2010) Governance, leadership, and management in federations of schools School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Routledge 21:1, 53-74, DOI: 10.1080/09243450903569734

 

Chapman C and Harris A (2004) Improving Schools in Difficult Contexts: Towards a Differentiated Approach British Journal of Educational Studies Vol 52 No 4 pp417-431 17:4, 409-424, DOI: 10.1080/09243450600743483

 

Collins, J (2001) Good to Great Fast Company Oct 2001, Issue 51 p90-104

 

Department for Education (2016) Educational Excellence Everywhere March 2016. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508447/Educational_Excellence_Everywhere.pdf Accessed February 25 2017

 

Harris A, Chapman C, Muijs D, Russ J and Stoll L (2007) Improving schools in challenging contexts: Exploring the possible School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Routledge

 

Hill A, Mellon L, Laker B and Goddard J (2016) One Type of Leader who Can Turn Around a Failing School Harvard Business Review, 21st October 2016 Available from http://0-eds.a.ebscohost.com.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=841a3857-15fd-4051-87a4-e91e16ff755f%40sessionmgr4008&vid=1&hid=4102 Accessed February 25 2017

 

Klar H, Huggins K S, Hammonds H and Buskey F C, Fostering the capacity for distributed leadership: a post-heroic approach to leading school improvement International Journal of Leadership in Education, 19:2 ppp111-137

 

Lam Y.L. Jack, (2005) School organizational structures: effects on teacher and student learning Journal of Educational Administration, Vol 43 Iss 4 pp387-401

 

Luneberg, F C (2001) Improving Student Achievement: Some Structural Incompatibilities [e-book]. 2001. Available from: ERIC, Ipswich, MA. Accessed February 25 2017

 

Rutherford C (2006) Teacher leadership and organizational structure: The implications of restructured leadership in an Edison school J Educ Change (2006) Vol 7 pp59-76

 

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A brief critical evaluation of the impact of educational leadership

Much has been written about leadership over the past 50 years and the theoretical approaches for leadership have now become entrenched in the discourse used about education within this country. Perspectives on leadership, though much discussed appear to form a general consensus in that the quality of leadership of an organization has an impact upon its efficiency in achieving its desired goals and thus that it is still a crucial goal for any organization to ensure that talented, knowledgeable people are in positions of prominence (Harvey, Hill and Landis 2014)

In a field such as Education, which on first glimpse would appear to be one that is obviously values driven, the manner with which the ‘Values’ or moral purpose of a leader have grown in more explicit prominence when identifying leaders to the extent that values could now be seen as being of equal importance to the talent and knowledge that an individual has.

 

Stewart (2006) poses the question of what or who is an educational leader asking whether they are celebrity or altruistic and also whether leadership in education can function in a traditional sense whereby it is earned through demonstrative merit. Stewart posits that leadership in education is rather based around those individuals who are now in a position to answer philosophical questions about the purpose of an individual through group identity, a challenge that is clearly daunting when that identity is left mutable to the whim of government change and policy reform. This challenge deepened further when faced with the fact that in times of economic or political upheaval ‘School systems have become a source of blame’ (p3)

 

In fact Copeland (2014) goes further and states that it is because of political and economic upheaval that an increased emphasis was places on the ethics and morality of leaders as a counterpoint to the charismatic leader. ‘It became clear that in order to restore hope, confidence, integrity and honor to leaders [.] entities needed to look beyond the persuasive lure of a charismatic, ostensibly transformational leader and ensure that leaders also possessed a strong set of values morals and ethics.’ (p106) It is unsurprising that this would transmit to the educational field whereby leaders are placed in a position where they are taking responsibility for ensuring the security of a countries future economy- and of course in doing so playing such a pivotal role in educating people’s children.  In this regard Busch and Wennes (2012) argue that values have always ‘enjoyed’ a central place in the manner with which schools and other public sector organisations are run as values such as ‘accountability to society at large’ (p201) are typical. They also discuss the impact of reform on that particular value. Within the UK Education system the academies program and through it the increased autonomy that schools have with regards the manner with which their finances are spent has meant that this accountability is now further scrutinized. Specific school examples could be seen with schools being given the freedom to spend specific Pupil Premium funding as they see fit, but challenged externally and rigorously that this freedom has been utilized to the betterment of these students achieving improved academic outcomes. In that regard Busch and Wennes present an interesting conception of the notion of values in that whilst they are seen as a ‘mental construct’ and that they can be both ‘explicit and implicit in nature’ values must be ‘available for verbalization – either by the actor subscribing to the value, or by the person observing the actor’s behaviour.’ (p202). Therefore the values of a leader – and through them an organization can be seen as desirable and if found to be absent could be tied to a perception of that leader and organization being ineffective or inadequate. The reference to the spend of Pupil Premium funding is therefore an example of a value that is looked for, namely that schools have a focus on students who are from lower income backgrounds achieving comparably to their more affluent peers, schools not demonstrating this focus through their demonstrable values indicates a lack of alignment with policy and would thus cause serious questions to be asked about the leadership and the organization as a whole.

This is what Busch and Wennes refer to as a value that is ‘rooted in society (p203) and they place such values as these within a hierarchy of importance where societal values through their consensually accepted and ingrained within senses of duty are adhered to as a matter of course and due to that social and external accountability pressure. Below that are values based upon rational reasoning within which they include aspects seen with clear applicability to the educational sector such as professional condut and competence. Below this are the values which are represented through individual preference and choice. An example of these three measures in eduation would therefore be at the highest level, a belief that all young people should be entitled to a free education as a social responsibility, in the mid-level that all students should be entitled to a curriculum that includes specific subjects based on a rational reasoning that they will provide the means by which the student can benefit most from their educational entitlement and then at the lowest level that students should address teachers as Sir or Madam and wear a school uniform as a preference on how that school should function on a day to day basis. Where this perceived hierarchy of values have a misalignment would cause an organization to falter. Specific external measures can increase what would be seen as a middle-tier value, such as curriculum choice, becoming a value that has a greater cultural prominence but that was not aligned to the reasoning of a school leader. An example of this is evident in a the new Progress 8 accountablility measure which measure student performance against particular curriculum choices. If a student were not entered with these curriculum choices then the school would perform badly against this particular measures and thus the labeling of a school as inadequate or failing. Busch and Wennes refer to this as a ‘disconnect from external demands’ as a result of ‘organisational narcicissm’ (p204) and thus present that the values of public organisations such as schools will be impacted upon by changes in organizational culture or identify but can remain rooted in a core moral purpose such as the belief in the entitlement of all children to a high quality free education.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Aslarnargun, E (2012) Principals’ Values in School Administration, Educational Sciences: Theory and Practise, Spring 2012

 

Banks, J and Mhunpiew, N (2012) Authentic Leadership, Social Cognitive Theory and Character Education: The Transforming of Theories Into Practices US-China Education Review B 12 pp1002-1006

 

Beck, V (2014) The effects of the implementation of value-based management International Journal of Economic Sciences and Applied Research 7 (2) pp153-165

 

Busch T and Wenes G (2012) Changing Values in the modern public sector: the need for value-based leadership The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services Vol 8 No 4 2012 pp201-215

 

Copeland, M (2014) The Emerging Significance of Values Based Leadership: A Literature Review International Journal of Leadership Studies 8.2 pp105-135

 

Gabbard, D (2012) Educational Leadership or Followership? Democracy & Education, Vol 21, No. 1

 

Gutmore, D and Kieres, K (2014) A Study of the Value Added by Transformational Leadership Practices to Teachers’ Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment NCPEA Educational Leadership Review of Dotoral Research, Vol 1 No 1- March 2014

 

Harvey, M, Hill, D and Landis E (2014) A Synthesis of Leadership Theories and Styles Journal of Management Policy and Practice vol 15(2) 2014

 

Hilbe, C, Milska, C, Mayer, S (2014) Reconciling Different Views on Responsible Leadership: A Rationality-Based Approach Journal of Business Ethics 2014 125, pp349-360

 

Steward, J (2006) Transformational Leadership: An Evolving Concept Examined through the Works of Burns, Bass, Avolio and Leithwood Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue No. 54 June 2006

 

Warwas, J (2014) Principals’ leadership behaviour: values based, contingent or both? Journal of Educational Administration, Vol 53, No. 3 2015, pp 310-334

Special Measures: Part 1

Having been through a number of OFSTED inspections in a range of different roles, it goes without saying that this was the worst.

I think that it’s only when you go through an experience like this one that you really understand the ill feeling that the inspectorate can create within colleagues. I’d spoken to colleagues from other local schools that have had negative experiences, one that said that they knew a team had it in for them when they cited letting students use a lift as a safeguarding issue, another when they criticised the ‘gap’ in a PE lesson when a PP student couldn’t do as many press ups as a non-PP student. However, I think for me, it was on the first morning when, after two hours, the only positive my school had received was being told that something was ‘not, not effective’. It was then that I knew for sure we were headed towards the dreaded number 4. And then, after the two days of numerous meetings that were driving us to identify what didn’t work- and which seemingly ignored what we were doing to make things work because they hadn’t produced any quantifiable student outcomes-  we were give the opportunity to attend the meeting to get the ‘feedback’ which I had known by 1100 of the first day was coming.

My school had suffered a huge drop in GCSE results in 2015. That cohort were ‘difficult’ and truth be told, the school (myself very much included) didn’t manage them and get the best out of them. Maths was low, English dropped by 20% and that left us very vulnerable, even with positive value added at KS5. We had recognised this and attempted to make strides to improve. A new assessment and feedback policy, heavy investment in Professional Learning, development of a new curriculum model and QA process were a few things that we could present our visitors. Alongside this the head had commissioned a leadership review early in the year, we had received a RSC commissioned DfE visit in November to encourage us to become part of a MAT (We wanted to do this anyway so were actually quite receptive to this) and we also had a Pupil Premium Peer review in January, so, by February when we had the full two day inspection I’d already had my fair share of visits from ‘Inspectors’ and as a school we’d already had buckets of feedback. These visits and their feedback had identified capacity to improve.

The real thing when it came did not.

Being told you’re inadequate in all areas is a really strange experience. You know that you shouldn’t take it personally but do. When they make some valid points and you know that they are in areas that you have responsibility for, you feel huge guilt about the outcome as well- and then you really do take it personally and I would argue that anyone who says otherwise is lying. Added to this I teach in my home town, in the area that I’m from, in a school that the children of my friends have attended and do attend. What follows then is the feeling of guilt that you are letting these people, and of course others in the local community, down. How can you face them when you see them? The education that their children receive is inadequate. Safeguarding the education of their children is a huge responsibility and one I take with the absolute sincerity that I would want a teacher to take with the education of my own children. It means that you do take it personally.

It’s easy then to just be bitter that they didn’t notice or ask about things that exist within the school that work well? How could they not see it? Why not go to subjects like Art and PE when we told you there was some excellent practice there? Why didn’t I make them see it? Would it even have made a difference?

Then you worry about your job. What next? As a Deputy Head you start to think about how it could be perceived that you have had a negative impact through your role, the report certainly doesn’t offer any positives (outside of post-16 which was not, not effective- or good in other words) and again I think anyone with that level of responsibility upwards would be lying if they didn’t have concerns about whether this judgement would impact upon their ability to provide for their families, so you worry that you’ve let them down as well. But- then you get back to Monday and you get back to work and you think about what you need to do first and you get on with that.

First? Behaviour. Has to be.

It was cited in our report as having a hugely detrimental impact on learning so you cannot avoid it. I would argue that you can never ignore it. The omnipresent, underlying thingthatshallnotbenamed within schools.  The need to develop the conditions for teaching and learning to take place is one that is of paramount importance and in a situation like SM you need to work swiftly to make a dent into this, not least because OFSTED are going to come back in 6 weeks and you need to show them that you’ve already had some impact. This won’t be enough- but it is where you have to start, and once you’ve started where you have to maintain an absolute unwavering focus so that the teaching and outcomes that you need to show can have a chance of happening.

At my school this meant in the first instance banning mobile phones.  ‘Bullying is rife’ within my school- though at the same time students feel safe. The ‘rife’ takes place mainly within social media and we need to ensure that this was not taking place at school. We let the students know that we would have a ‘Not Seen, Not Heard’ policy for their mobile devices and the following week we did just that. All the talk of student protests turned out to be just talk and within a single week phones, bar the odd confiscation, were out of circulation during the school day. The other aspect that needed addressing was the zoning of students into supervised areas of the school. To do this meant increasing the duties of the SLT. Everyone pulled together and were deployed within specifically allocated areas of the school that mean that we can monitor the students and help them to feel safe by ensuring that the corners within the school are covered. Within the same week this had settled too. But these are short term, initial fixes , longer term we know we need to address the lessons and the low level behaviour that compromises them.  In this we need to  have a greater focus on pre-emption and the eradicating of the behaviours that lead to low-level disruption. This is a bigger fix and to achieve this there needs to be total whole school recognition of the importance of this pre-emption and a whole school commitment to making it work.

Ultimately it’ll come down to two things: great systems and consistent routines.

Whether we are successful in developing and embedding them and the impact that this has is what I’ll write about next.

Behaviour, not the children- the adults.

Behaviour- not the students, the adults.

On Monday in the professional learning briefing at Bilton the challenge was laid down to look at the behaviours that we see in what we would qualify as the most effective practitioners within each of the professional learning groups. The initial rationale for this was that it would enable a modelling process for new colleagues to support them in their induction to Bilton School. Taking feedback from staff within the session it was interesting within the responses that what effective practitioners do could be fairly easily cited, what was more challenging was when we think about why they behave in those ways- and also when reflecting more deeply on thinking about what those behaviours will reveal about them, and ourselves if we exhibit them to others.

Although the question was one that was about practitioners, this isn’t necessarily limited to solely classroom practice, though I would argue that the values that we hold as practitioners will also govern the behaviours that we exhibit in other areas of school.  It’s possible that we exhibit some behaviour through compliance, and an acceptance that for a school to run efficiently then systems and processes just have to be followed.  However as professionals we need to take more personal responsibilities than to simply comply, we need to be able to justify to ourselves and to others what it is we do and be self-aware of our practices so as to understand its impact.

To exemplify this I want to take something that is an accepted piece of classroom practice- the ‘meet and greet’ on the door of a class room. This is an example of a practice which works across a number of levels throughout a school structure but at all levels can show an alignment of values across the organisation.

Behaviours figure

What the figure shows is that a core value, theoretically shared across the school can manifest itself in behaviours that are similar but that have slightly different but positive effects on the school community. The reflective process and question asked last week therefore shows itself to be flawed, and should be framed as if driven through the value that sits at the top of the structure that is demonstrated above.

Rather than what are the behaviours of an effective teacher and what do they reveal about their values’? focus on ‘what are your values and how do they manifest themselves in your behaviours?’  Upon going through this process it can reveal area of your own practice that you might wish to change. In my personal instance I thought about my own behaviours when I’m on duty in the canteen at dinner time. If a value that I hold is one of fairness and equality of opportunity and I articulate that verbally, I have to ask if I am behaving in a manner contradictory to my values if I push in front of students at dinnertime to get my dinner before they get theirs. To what extent here would I be behaving as though I am not treating students with the similar respect that I demand in my classroom practice. To the students how would they perceive that behaviour? How would they interpret it? What am I modelling in this behaviour? What does it show that I represent?

What is also a point to reflect upon is the extent to which the school’s mission is reflected in the behaviours that we exhibit every day.  Rutter (1979) states that ‘pupils are likely to be influenced both by the norms and values that they are exposed to at school and also by the degrees to which these appear to be consistent throughout the school’, it’s an accepted truth that consistency of process and systems supports school areas such as behaviours, but it is worth reflecting beyond that and thinking what any inconsistency in the presentation of the school’s values can have on the students; particularly as they look to us to embody these.

Across the school, at the bottom of this document and on power points used within assemblies is the school’s statement ‘Proud of Our School, Positive about our Future, Confident in our Potential, Believe in Bilton’. Working at Bilton School means these words resonate with you and your personal beliefs. At this and any point of the year it is always worth reflecting to what extent this is the case and taking time to articulate to yourself within a personal statement what these personal beliefs are – and then, whether your behaviours consistently evidence this.

What I hope I stand for, what I hope people see…

‘I believe that every young person deserves the opportunity to succeed, that none should be limited in their ambition and that all should be treated with respect so that they value themselves and others as people and that they are able to celebrate their potential.

If a test only tests what it tests, what is it that we want the test to test?

In Adam Crawte’s (@MrCrawteBilton) blog: ‘Where do we go with assessment’, he proposes that now is an opportunity to really look at assessment and think about how and why we do it.

It is probably fair to say that a lot of the way in which assessment is done is because it’s the way that it has been done for a series of years, or because it’s the way that external assessments are done and therefore within the teaching practice we just replicate that.

Adam’s assertion is that the loss of levels provides us, as practitioners, with an opportunity to not only reflect on what it is that we want to assess- but also the form in which we want to offer that assessment – and crucially, that we do so from a starting point that is firmly rooted in teaching and learning.

Using English at secondary level as an example, the ‘standard’ external assessment is either an extended written response such as ‘How does the writer…’ or the equivalent of a question and answer task: ‘What reasons does Chas give for his break up with Dave etc.’  Both assess different skills and if you add to this creative writing, analysis of poetry, Shakespeare then there’s an obvious focus within this subject on a students’ ability to write essays in what exam boards have previously described as being a ‘cogent, coherent’ manner.

Across other subjects and Key stages there will be also be an equivalent ‘standard’ exam style question- and in as much as I don’t feel that these are the only means by which we want to assess, neither am I suggesting that we should discard them either. What I think we should be doing is think about our subjects in an ‘ideal’ form and devise assessments that enable our students to move in that direction so that they develop as learners- and so that ultimately they can be assessed effectively in this way, but not conclude that they should only be assessed in this way. We should think carefully and pedagogically about what it is that we want the test to test and have that- not the way students will be externally assessed at the ages of 16 and 18- as our professional focus.

Within English, working along these principles it could be argued that a multiple choice assessment is a valid assessment option. It would allow for the addressing of misconceptions within a text- it could also allow for students to choose from four correct answers with the one they choose indicating the level of response that they can currently comprehend or the level of skill that they have. It therefore has the potential to work as an effectively narrow assessment of progress at that particular time of the teaching and learning prior to it- and I use it as an example as it is in a different form to the ‘standard’ assessment method within that subject. Again I’m not advocating for or against this form as it, like all assessments has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is an example of how important it is to discuss as departmental/subject/whole school in a professional dialogue what the benefits of the assessments being using are, and being receptive to challenges to them.

Assessment is already seen as integral to practice; studies consistently show the huge impact that feedback has on progress so the actual assessment is no end point but a stimulus for us to have further professional dialogue on what we do with the findings.

Thinking carefully about how and what we want to test is a means for us to develop professionally in how we discuss learning with students and colleagues, how we reflect on the effectiveness of the curriculum that we have put in place (every lesson is curriculum design) and how we thing about our planning in terms of where does the teaching and learning need to go next.

We should all be thinking about assessment design and discussing it as what is happening in our individual classrooms needs to be taken into account when developing what the test should test.

Principled Formative Assessment

@BiltonProfLearn: Principled Formative Assessment

Now a term into the school year, there’s plenty of evidence which we can use to reflect on our practice. Within the Bilton School self-evaluation process assessment has been identified as an area in which we are recognising that we need to reflect on our practice. In this instance the particular focus is on formative assessment.

As part of professional learning conversations that took place, colleagues have discussed what they feel are the principles behind this; the non-negotiable areas that must be within formative assessment for it be relevant and worthwhile.  Amongst the feedback effective formative assessment was identified as needing to be:

  • A dialogic, two way process
  • A diagnostic tool to identify gaps in learning and what students should develop in order to progress
  • Targeted
  • A reflective tool for teacher and student
  • A mechanism to develop student ownership of learning
  • On-going

Whilst there may be other aspects that could/should come on this list, these areas are certainly enough to start to develop discussion and prompt reflection.

Principled formative assessment is a dialogic, two/way process

Amongst comments was that ‘feedback was pointless unless we allow students time to act on it’.  It’s also clear that formative assessment is not exclusive to marking in books. When questions are being asked, continually a student is being challenged to act further or think more deeply in order to do more with their learning. Alongside this, the time for students to refine their processes, to understand the relevance of what they have just done and be clear about where they need to go next is an area that we should work at embedding within our continual practice.  In this sense formative assessment should cater for both the student and the teacher as a reciprocal way of us understanding where the teaching and learning should go to next.

Principled formative assessment is Diagnostic, Targeted and Reflective

An assessment should be designed to look at a students learning and the teacher’s teaching over a certain period of time.  The narrower the focus of the assessment the more informative it can be about a specific aspect of a students’ progress and equally specifically what they should then do to continue to progress within that area.  As a result of both the assessment and feedback being targeted it can also work as a diagnostic tool with regards to the approach of the teacher as well as the response of the pupil- and then what both should focus on to develop learning further. In terms of reflection, the idea of what has enabled the learning outcome should also be looked at, where are the student strengths? Is there a gap in process, skill or knowledge that is a limiting or impacting area? Are the teacher and student aware of this?

Principled formative assessment is a mechanism for developing student ownership

If formative assessment is personalised then effectively a student response to it should also be.  In this respect formative assessment can work alongside the premise that a student learning outcome is not fixed and can be self-directed with feedback supporting this.  The role of the teacher is to provide the conditions for a student to learn and progress, the way that we respond to a students’ work is a means for us as the teachers to think about our learners as individuals and work towards what they need that condition to be

Principled formative assessment is on-going

Formative assessment is future focused and as a result is a continual process that takes place across every aspect of every learning opportunity. That means it should exist within every lesson and every part of the curriculum.  Therefore there can’t be a one size methodology to it as learning does not take place in a black and white or linear fashion such as simply moving from 1-10.  It’s possible that formative assessment will identify the need for practice, for revision, for the application of new skills or the deepening of those already emerging. What is certain is that when applied effectively it works, reflecting on how we go about making it work therefore means that we will need to not only use it in an on-going fashion, but continue to discuss it too.

#rEDLead meeting- the role of a research lead within a school

On Saturday I went to the ResearchED Lead practitioner meeting/conference in London.  I was pleased to go personally as I’m very much interested in meeting other colleagues and finding out how research has developed within the schools in which they work.  I was also looking at it as a Deputy Head teacher from @BiltonSchool in Rugby and the member of staff who has responsibility for CPD and @BiltonProfLearn within it.

As a school we’re looking at the development of professional learning within schools and a chance to see what this looked like in other contexts was a fabulous one. What was particularly interesting about this opportunity is that the role is very much one which is in its infancy- and although we were able to hear from some great people (@Super_network, @HuntingEnglish, @C_Hendrick, @DanielHarvey9) what became clear was that there were differences in approach to the role and that was interesting.

But so what?  In education the contexts from classroom to classroom, school to school are hugely variable. As a result I didn’t think that the manner with which a Research Lead leads could be competely uniform. However, there were some non-negotiable elements that appeared to me out of the day and it’s these that I wanted to mention.

The first and most recurring element to me was the importance of professional learning- continuous professional learning. As a result I really hope that a focus on being the Professional within the profession has more prominence within the psyche of parents, teachers, students, governors, politicians… and whoever.  All teachers have been through the academic process, whether it’s at degree, MA, PHD and therefore enter the profession with that as part of their professional identity, however it has and can then be lost within the culture of the profession. I think the meeting on Saturday really shows that there is a momentum to change that and that is one that I am really on board with.

I think the development of the idea of ‘expertise’ is also a really interesting one. A really interesting conversation made me think about just how much the focus has been on judging the competency of a teacher and how little has been put into the development of them. Why is the follow up to a lesson a conversation about what was seen in the lesson and not the principles behind their teaching and how that manifests itself within practice?  I have a particular interest in assessment and curriculum and the more I look into that, the more it appears to me that developing discussion around these areas through professional learning, is the crucial element to deepening them in practice. I really believe that in terms of impact, this would be realised in the way these areas  contibute to continually positive learning outcomes for our learners. An outcome of this meeting, is that I am even more convinced that the development of research within the profession, is a means to effect this development of expertise in practice.

To support that- leadership is key. Head teachers, SLT, Governors- they need to be on board. Being frank I got disappointed when I was hearing comments from some colleagues that SLT can’t be involved as they aren’t credible as they don’t teach enough, or when the priorities in a school improvement plan would have no place within research foci.  What is the point in a school’s improvement plan if it isn’t based on evidence about the professional learning needs within a school? Equally if a teacher doesn’t see how they can contribute to their school’s improvement plan through their practice then there’s an issue there too? Isn’t there?  When research was really working there was no confusion that it being supported by the school leadership played a large part in this. Equally if they don’t it’s going to be very difficult to work to embed it as part of a school’s learning culture.  It was interesting to hear where the role lies within various school structures; one colleague had it as a 2b post (like a 2nd in Maths), others as a member of staff who sits just outside of the SLT. However their role as a ‘broker’ to develop the opportunities for professional learning was agreed upon by everyone that I spoke to. Again, how those conditions are being developed varied- and I think they should based on school contexts- but the fact that the role exists shows that (perhaps) there are members of SMT/SLT across the country who have the same interest in teaching and learning that they did when they weren’t? Just a thought.

We need to be able to access the evidence. Some schools have links with Universities, others don’t. Some schools are part of alliances, others are not. Some schools are teaching schools or have great relationships with teaching schools, others have a teaching school that exists in the locality but the teaching school sees it’s role in selling its services to them. What is clear that there isn’t a uniformity of access to the evidence and the outcomes of research.  The discussion that took place as a result of @ProfCoe sharing his findings on what makes a good teacher shows just how powerful the outcomes of research can be in developing professional discussion. Even the idea of subject knowledge proved contentious (I tried to make the point that I think it’s a matter of curriculum knowledge, seeing as the end assessment that students sit is predicated on the curriculum taught, rather than their mastery of the entirity of a subject- I think I’ll write on that another time). Therefore I feel that there needs to be a push to find a forum for the collation of research so that it can be accessed on a regional/national basis. (College of Teaching anyone?)  What if in a future OFSTED framework findings from professional learning were one of those non-negotiable elements that had to be able to be found on a website? It would certainly help schools to think about the extent to which the professional learning was part of the school’s identity.

A striking comment that really resonated was that the evidence should be the start of the research conversation,  I feel that what has come out of this Saturday really is part of the start of these conversations and therefore colleagues need to have the evidence made available to them. I hope to attend the next meeting in March and bring some interested practitioners from Bilton with me.  I really valued the opporturnity to discuss teaching in such a collegiate environment and look forward to trying to develop similar opportunities for colleagues at Bilton and also within the local area.