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.


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.