Posted in Learning

Its been a while……What Drives Change?

It has been a while!

And a question I have posing myself in my own mind is ‘What drives change in an educational setting?’ Who is responsible in the organisation for ensuring that the change is pupil-focussed? Are change drivers always ideological in their nature or do they need to be realistic in their approach to what a real school setting is like?

I have a ridiculous and somewhat frustrating rose tinted outlook towards change drivers in schools, that aspects like changes in an organisational culture (MAT creation) and systems and external drivers like curriculum evolution and summative indicators can be fielded and pressure diverted away from coal face, the pupils, those that need a stable, strong and forward thinking system, Burke and Litwin (92).

Identifying these areas of development and dealing with the implications for pupils and staff will always impact positively on them, but as the government persist with this ridiculous notion and process of league tabling these external measures will take the focus away from what schools purpose is, to help the pupils no matter what their starting point.

Grading. Why? How does this help? why not actually visit an establishment if you want to know what the learning environment is like? Schools would welcome visitors, a chance to show them the day-to-day lives of the pupils, a chance for their pupils to interact with visitors to show their maturity.

But do we actually need to keep staff informed about everything or should we as leaders cushion them slightly from the drivers that they have no control over? Do they need to know about positions in league tables etc?

I honestly believe that at each strata in complex system like schools there needs to exist an element of ‘pressure protection’. We in SLT need to look after our middle leaders, shielding them from external factors that may impinge their ability to make positive decisions for their pupils. In turn, the teachers/staff need to protect the pupils from these external pressures, creating an intrinsic motivation to learn, rather than pupils having to feel they have to get through the content to pass.

We continue to help our pupils develop an intrinsic motivation in their learning, and the same must be for our establishments. WE must want to change and move forward rather than being told we must change. I really like this blog from ‘Headsmart’ about how Ofsted should not be the driver for change. Think it says it perfectly.





Posted in Learning

I’m that person…I Love INSET Days!!


I’m that senior leader who really enjoys INSET Days, a chance for staff to interact and talk about their practice critically, openly, honestly and ultimately without fear of judgement. The times INSETs go awry are usually when there is no clear dedicated focus that links with the learning and identified targets for the establishment. When someone buys in a speaker but doesn’t get buy-in from staff.

I feel that all INSET time should include a large portion of T&L strategy sharing, development, innovation and time to reflect on practice past, present and future. I have included here (T&L INSET) my own T&L section of our INSET Day at the start of September that addressed;

  • Pupil Views on Learning
  • Destination Data
  • Self Reflective Questions
  • The T&L task for staff
  • Must Read CPD (thank you basically every educator on twitter for these!!)
  • Perceived Barriers to CPD
  • CPD and Self Evaluation -an anonymised tracking sheet being used with staff this year to allow ownership and transparency with their CPD, and so that other staff can see courses attended/school s visited etc and use this in their own CPD.
  • Our 4 Valuable and Usable CPD strategies
  • Our Foci and Challenges to enhance the pupil’s learning at the start of this term
  • Our Quality Assurance Methods

Whilst some of this has the academy at its core it is till adaptable and applicable to other establishments and I have removed any names etc. just to be sure. Do feel free to ask any questions about the ideas in our T&L INSET.

Picture1WGT Shedd (1874)




Posted in Learning

Teaching and Learning: Active not Passive Pupils

We wanted to explore the learning diet on offer to pupils across the academy, allowing them the chance to play an active role in how we developed the learning across subjects and cohorts. We wanted them to investigate;

  • meta-cognitive aspects of learning
  • how we learn as individuals and groups
  • why we learn
  • the discrepancies that exist between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for pupils
  • Closing the Feedback loop
  • Noticing positive patterns in learning
  • What they feel needs developing for the next generation

Chosen randomly from our Y8s, This ‘Pupil Teaching and Learning Group’ looked into;

– Those aspects of learning in the academy that are strong

– The pupils’ understanding of what we mean by Teaching and Learning

– What areas of learning need developing?

– How we could achieve this together?

We felt strongly that developing the pupil’s understanding of how we learn and the actual processes behind it would not only enhance and improve their own abilities; it may also benefit those around them. Pupils were tasked with taking part in short investigations with a number of staff members that were aimed at making a positive impact on the learning of the academy, (I have included an example of one of the sessions we ran for them here).

Session 1 (Using the brilliant Van Oktop Horse Drawing!)

Together with staff they looked into studying the opinion around the depth and detail in learning that the academy offered, using pupil, staff and governor voice to inform their next steps. There is that common hypothesis from Bjork that ‘observing learning is measurably harder to do than noticing performance’ so how can we ask the pupils, the main protagonists in learning to make this call?

Well for us it seemed evident that as they experienced a plethora of styles, tasks, lessons, behavior for learning strategies and assessment methods throughout their 7 hour day harnessing their opinion to help quality assure the learning, (not arbitrary comments on teachers and teaching which really do not develop anything other than egos), and build for the future. They of course could not do this cold, we needed to created an environment and access for pupils and staff that they understood the reasons behind such a project. The first was to clarify what the initial outcome would be……feedback to staff.

As has been shared before here on the #proudtolearn blog, we run chunked MOT sessions every week for all staff themed to a target we as a school have agreed. This was where we felt the pupil group could feedback, a setting where sharing and discussion was paramount. It also modelled to them how important it is to keep learning and that want to keep improving for the sake of their pupils.

They collected the data

They created the learning walk sheet Oakfield Learning Walk pupil developed sheet

They planned their MOT session (using us as sounding boards for ideas and construction)

They delivered the session Teaching The Teachers To Teach Us To Learn Oakfield

The result? We haven’t been litmus testing something we didn’t already know, and the pupils have been able to use their newly acquired skills to recognise the areas of learning that are great, and those that need to be developed, but the outcome really was creating an environment where conversations about learning were not only confined to the staff.

The pupils opinion is valued, not used as spying or checking up on teachers, but as a valued contribution to our academy. Its an evolving program, one we hope to develop and expand as we move forward.






Posted in Learning

Expect the Expectations to be high

If I see some litter I generally (I’m being honest here, 90% of the time!), pick it up and bin it.

I hold the door for people, thank them for those driving pleasantries, say hello with a smile as school starts.

To me this is what we should be doing, modelling a series of high expectations for our pupils in all aspects of life, not just the academic skills and outcomes. ‘But school life is hard for us teachers’ I hear you cry; ‘We have to plan, mark, assess, enter data………’ Well yes, we do, as this is the nature of the altruistic job we are in.  For me what is needed is a consistency in the modelled expectation from all staff; the idea that no barrier should prevent success in some form. Pupils will want to see that their teachers are working hard and more importantly, working smart. We constantly talk about time management to them, how they need to effectively use their time to maximise their opportunities and we should be no different.

A workload survey published in Feb 2017 stated that on average classroom teachers were spending 33hrs a week on non teaching inc. planning and marking; but aren’t these ubiquitous to learning? Well planned learning time, relevant and helpful feedback (Hattie’s postulation that the impact of feedback diminishes the longer we leave it is so true when it comes to formative assessment of pupils learning), all take effort, take time to perfect and nurture to the point where they become habitual and helpful for our pupils. Please don’t think that the expectation is for staff to slog themselves to the point of exhaustion as this is of no benefit to the pupil; what every member of staff focus on, the elements that benefit their pupils. 

We see stories and articles about schools like St Matthias CE Primary and Michaela Academy who have removed planning and marking reducing this perceived workload and stress that teachers may be feeling, but what message is this sending to the pupils? That if someone/small scale study tells you that you are under workload stresses you automatically feel the pressure? Where is the personal professional judgement?  I love the featured image for this blog post (and underneath) because the message is one we should endeavour to consistently apply and exude to our pupils; reality means the journey is tough, but distance is its own reward.

Distance is its own reward!

I fell proud when I have planned an effective set of lessons, assessed and provided some relevant personal feedback for my pupils’ and their work.

A Professional Pride.

So there you go, pressure, workload, to me its subjective. Whats not is the expectation we have for our pupils, we expect them to work hard, so should why shouldn’t we?

Posted in Learning

Happy Thoughts

A happy pupil is not always a pupil who is learning at a deeper level. We as teachers know this, that the element of stretch and challenge administered in high quality classrooms around the world might not be the aspect of schooling pupils rush home to laud to their parents about, but it has meaning and relevance and ultimately, a positive impact. The recent approach in UK schools towards combating the state of pupil mental health and happiness does stem from an important place as the article in the most recent TES depicts; my concern as a school leader is the perception of school and learning being one of pressure and burden rather than opportunity.

For me my role as an educator and then subsequently a leader has been clear; It’s all about relinquishing pressure at every strata of a school system. Schools are unbelievably complex entities and involve a vast array of components, all of which need maintenance  and care to keep them working, maybe not perfectly, but definitely so they are helping one another. We are there to shield the pressure, and through osmosis, allow our pupils to learn the relevant coping mechanisms to become well rounded learners and members of society .

 Chair of Governors shoulders the external pressure of MATs et al

The Head then looks to share the pressure through system leadership with the senior leadership team, emphasising the importance they all bring to the school

The SLT team then shield any undue pressure from the middle leadership team, who we all know are the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the school, driving new ideas and concepts in learning.

The teachers then make sure that no undue pressure is translated to the pupils, that they are challenged, but do not, in a fight or flight situation, crumble and not perform to the levels we know they can.

To me this is obvious, but this is not what is always exhibited to the wider world when we talk about teaching, learning, assessment and outcomes.

The level of Pupil’s anxiety being perpetuated in the media towards external testing can sometimes be there to distract from the actual meaning and value of summative assessment. Exams, tests, assessments, they are there to present pupils and staff with opportunities to celebrate the successes in learning. Nothing worth having is easy, and a test is there to test. If school leaders ensure that they are not over emphasising the issues around exams and testing, (SATS debacles, wrong GCSE questions, lateness of specs etc.), and model that way to cope with change, external accountability and challenge, the pupil’s outcomes and maybe even their happiness will exponentially increase.

Rather that then have to employ a Head of Wellbeing…..

Posted in Learning

A Teacher’s Reply

I recently read an article written by Caitlin Moran titled ‘Why I should be Education Secretary’ which addresses the perceived failings in our education system and her plan to tackle them. As a teacher, educator and life-long learner I wanted to compose a reply that clearly highlights why we as teachers worry about the perception we have outside of our sector if this is what is being delivered to them through their chosen vehicle of news, (The Times has over 5 million readers both in print and online).

The writer postulates that the plan to tackle under-performance and apathy within the education is based around 2 facts;

(1) the 21st-century job market requires basically nothing of what is taught in 21st-century schools, and

(2) everyone has a smartphone.

Now they are correct in stating that the jobs of the future will require ‘flexibility and self-motivation’ but stating that the composition of the education system will prevent this is wholly unfounded and echoes the age old rhetoric that is peddled by those who desperately but blindly seek to mirror our own education system with that of, say Finland or China (top of the PISA tables does not necessarily mean top learners).

There is a clear focus at the moment on The Language of Learning, and the subsequent skills that are born out of them. No matter what the subject, the topic, the lesson, the teacher is always thematically using the skills of say, resourcefulness to enable pupils to close that learning loop so they can become better individuals. They are there to create a love of learning. Does it always work? No. Does everything in adult life go according to your plans? Most definitely No. No teacher is there to just ‘get through the curriculum’ and focus on the empirical outcomes. Learning is experiential which is why most school leaders try to create curriculum timetables that allow each pupil to succeed in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Go to any school and throughout the day a pupil is called upon to evaluate their learning in a multitude of ways, and to then synthesise this into useable and applicable chunks personal to their own abilities. This is why we teach. This is why they want to learn.

I did not become a teacher because I wanted my pupils to get a job.

I think about Simon Sineck’s ‘Start With Why’ structure; Why do we teach? Because our pupils are at the centre of all we strive to do, and because learning is at the root of a successful society. The advent of more cross-curricular learning in KS2 and 3 and the implementation of new assessment structures across all subjects has led to pupils no longer being taught how to pass an exam, they are now becoming reflective and positively interpreting their own learning and how they can use it again.

Yes, if they finish their maths they will receive more maths, but at a more in-depth level so they can test and challenge themselves in a safe but not risk-averse environment. This prepares them for their future and fosters that intrinsic motivation we want them to have. If we focus on that extrinsic reward of a job, then why would they ever want to push themselves further?

Project based learning has many positives, many facets that will develop a learner to understand the importance of skills such as time management, organisation, resourcefulness, but I am unaware of any company who will readily allow employees to, having finished a project early, to then just leave on a holiday, I am almost certain they would be rewarded and then…..given more work?

And finally the smart phone.

Learning is about the journey, it is about building and harnessing the neuroplasticity of your brain and thickening the synaptic density over time. The density increases as we learn more, but plateaus out over time once we reach maturity when the opportunity to learn new things stops. Distance is its own reward, and as Dr R Winston brilliantly states in this video, building up these neural pathways is challenging but rewarding.  If we advocate the use of this ‘instant knowledge’ in our education system we end up with pupils who are not proactive, dare I say it, not very flexible and self-motivated?


Posted in Learning, Teaching

5 Elements of Teaching and Learning We Should All Enjoy

Being immersed in pedagogy and practice, reading journals, blogs, tweets and as many relevant academic texts as I can (and those recommended by @teacherhead and @chrishildrew!), I do sometimes forget to take a reflective step back and just think about the initial positives of my role as a teacher I enjoy. Those generic, all encompassing elements we experience across the multitude of establishments we work in/attend.

These are not new to us;

nothing here is innovative or brand new;

hopefully just a catalyst to make the reader take their own reflective step away from the day to day concepts and misanthropes we can sometimes be bogged down by. Now that sounds negative, it doesn’t mean to be, just an honest interpretation that we generally find ourselves in deficit when it comes to personal good will after a day that may include financial pressures, summative assessment changes and shocking pastoral mishaps from agencies beyond our 4 walls.

Here we go…

  1. We Make a Difference; Whether we/they know it or not!

We make a difference in young lives, sometimes not just those in our classes but those we may meet in the corridors. As an altruistic role, we plan lessons and tasks to make that difference a positive one, but I consistently observe that its the smallest actions, the ‘hello’ in the corridor to the Y8 who you know is having a tough time outside of school, making the effort to watch the KS2 netball team even though you’ve already had 3 meetings that week, or focussing a lesson on certain aspects of the pupils lives they may have mentioned before so they can make positive learning links easily are subconscious demonstrations of making a difference. Great learning comes from building great relationships with your pupils, building a mutual respect can only ever put you and them in credit when momentum is needed.

2. Learning is Just Brilliant

Think of the last thing you actually learnt, that you were able to apply correctly after learning it and have since developed it to a greater depth. How long ago was it? I cite my own learning of the new accountability measures for KS4, I spent time learning about them, discussing them with relevant individuals to gain some peer assessment and appreciation, and ultimately augment my opinion. Not too put too finer point on it, but now I feel so much more confident about the measures, I feel a sense of achievement, of ease and, dare I say it, self-assurance when it comes to my learning. If we get it right, we know our own pupils can feel like this, that we can build and construct situations and environments that allow pupil to safely test themselves and develop into mature adults who will want to contribute to our society.

3. Creating Your Teaching Persona

I recently read the article from the TES by Mark Roberts (@mr_englishteach) about ‘Why a popular teacher is the last thing you want to be’. It looks at how a positive teacher/student relationship, one built on mutual respect and high standards and expectations will lead to a productive outcome for all. This relationship is something that a teacher cultivates over their career, they play the joker, the authoritarian, the counsellor, the all knowing-all seeing oracle (!), but they will always ensure that the personality they develop is one that is honest, accepting, patient and self-assured. Building a persona, creating your own space that allows you to offer high quality learning opportunities to your pupils is exciting, and is a dynamic situation, you know that if you are adaptable, you will offer the best deal for the pupils.

4. Reward can come form the smallest places

Routine can sometimes put pay to recognising success and that epiphanal moment in learning. But when we do spot the breakthrough for any learners, be it pupils or staff, the reward isn’t one that remains a personal one; its not something that when you share its because you want the ‘pat on the back’. You share the reward to share the learning, model that it can be done and exemplars of the methodology behind it. This is why Professor John Hattie clearly states that any lesson feedback for a teacher must be given as soon as possible to harness that positive sense of reward, why we continually try and close that feedback loop for pupils by using former success as incentives to create intrinsic motivation. Who doesn’t love that palpable sound in a class of ‘AHHH, thats what it means….’!

5. Every Lesson is Different

Finally the most obvious of the 5, as even if you are on the first day of your PGCE placement or have 20 years under your belt, each lesson will be different, and isn’t that just the best!!


Posted in Learning

Faith to Overcome the Fear

Buried deep in the medial temporal lobe, just above the brain stem is the neural nugget called the Amygdala _4755829; a collection of neurons that are believed to play an important role in the processing of fear and threat for humans. As we approach the start of a new term, a term which will include KS2 and KS4 external assessments, how many of our pupil’s own amygdalas will be lit up at the thought of these, and how many of our teachers will demonstrate high levels in activity in their own neural pathways due to the accountability measures we experience here in the UK?

Fear can sometimes be the driver and catalyst to creativity and motivation (how many times have we pulled a late night trying to complete the department evaluation form or school improvement plan!), but the production of cortisol is only a short term fix. Better solutions and coping mechanisms must be intrinsically built so we can cope and develop when facing threat and fear in our jobs. Yet more often than not the first 5 articles that I come across related to teaching are usually about the fear teachers have, the threat of results, of Ofsted, of education itself and where it is heading, and not how we can focus on the positive stories that may help us solve these issues.

Within such articles is talk of teacher retention, (‘Nearly half of young teachers planning to quit over high workload’), of how the percentage of teachers quitting full time work in the classroom has risen by almost 19% in the last 10 years due to mounting pressure and fear of;

  • Ofsted
  • Exam results
  • Workload and marking

But rarely do we read that the top fear for a teacher is that they are worried about the pupils not fulfilling their pedagogical potential. But we do, all the time. I like to think, in my hopeful, helpful way, that no one working in any role in education turns up and purposefully ‘doesn’t care’ about the learning. Its innate within our profession that we are altruistic, that we plan so our pupils receive the bets possible learning opportunities. So using that ethos and moral compass, surely teachers should be held to account over the progress of their pupils in all aspects of school life, both academically and pastorally? Is it this natural professionalism that exacerbates the extrinsic fear and pressure, are we just infuriating perfectionists?!

As a senior leader I am lucky enough to visit a wide range of learning environments not just in my own academy but in a wide range of locations. The success stories, the times when you can tangibly feel the learning taking place and realise that the pupils are developing in their cognitive and non-cognitive skills far out-weigh the times when data targets are not met, or when a perf management objective has not yet been achieved. Why not write about these times, these aspects of our profession we treasure and go back for? An amateur golfer doesn’t continually play because of the bad shots and choices they inevitably make (and my word I make a lot of those on the course!), they go back for the positives, the times when it worked and they applied their skills effectively. We want to retain teachers, then lets focus on all the positives they achieve with their pupils in the classroom and beyond. Accountability measures need to be there to ensure that the pupils receive the highest quality learning and relevant opportunities, but are not there to create fear and threat.

Ultimately, fear is a concept, its not a ‘thing’ in the brain, not a place we can quell and administer chemical relief to change our reaction to it. The change and building of faith in our abilities to deal with threat and fear is born out of our ability to learn, (again, just like we do with its pupils!), and apply that learning in the correct contexts. WE should ask ourselves ‘Am I able to use an experience, a technique I had previously observed to positively solve this problem?’.

 and  are just two mediums I have recently encountered where the positives that are ubiquitous to our profession are shared and enjoyed. What a  hopeful and  way to start the term, starting it with an elevated degrees of faith in our sector to banish the fear.



Posted in Learning

Relevant Transition Creating Relevant Learning Opportunities

At the start of the Easter holidays I was invited back by my old PGCE tutor at @UWEBristol to talk to the #uwepgce geography students about transition and the need to focus on having high expectations for all our pupils no matter what year group/key stage/ability. I started with a ‘Thunk’,one of those questions created to stop you in your tracks and make you see the world in which you live differently. The thunk, (below), was there to focus the group onto aspects of teaching and learning that we may over look, logistical elements that, maybe as PGCE students/NQTs, they feel they have no impact or say over. This included the use of the KS2 data they, as a secondary school teacher, would need to be aware of and analyse to understand the strengths of the pupils they are receiving into Y7. Too many times this transitional phase and the qualitative and quantitative data is overlooked, not used or not shared appropriately which can lead to the disengagement of pupils in their learning at an early juncture in KS3, and then a complete resource overload geared towards after school/Saturday booster sessions at KS4 and generally creating an imbalance in their teachers’ workload.


GCSE booster sessions should not be something ubiquitous to the key stage, clarifying it as a revision session that pupils can attend to deepen their understanding and enjoyment of the subject is an achievable goal, the love of learning and intrinsic motivation, not ‘quick, lets get them through the next topic….’.

How much time are new teaching recruits given to experience learning at another Key Stage, to be part of the learning diet that their new cohort have just finished/still part of? I was asked when I trained, (ahem, a number of years ago) to spend just 2 weeks in a primary setting, a minuscule amount of my time to prepare me for what the abilities of my KS3 pupils would be. How, in that amount of time, were we supposed to gleam and understand the capabilities of our new Y7 pupils?

Expectations at KS2 and KS3 are continually changing and pupils are now developing strong abilities in literacy and numeracy that are not being challenged and used when they reach KS3. I asked the PGCE students if they had ever seen a KS2 SATs question before, knowing that the majority, (through absolutely no fault of their own) would not have done. Realisation of what comes before and what will come next is one of the teachers’ greatest allies, if we know what they can do, and what they need for the next step, closing that learning loop becomes more efficient and relevant.

I find it amazing how many teachers have not read the 2015 publication ‘KS3: The Wasted Years’ from the DfE, ( It hypothesises from exemplified, routine inspections that Key Stage 3 is not the priority for many secondary schools and that too many secondary schools focus on the empirical side of transition (the data) to the detriment of the experiential side (prior and post learning. By allowing pupils to take an active role in transition, not a passive one, (surely the days of inviting feeder primaries for a WOW day are long over?), it demonstrates to them that we as educators work together for them, and how important it is to learn those skills of collaboration. But it also doesn’t marginalise and categorise pupils based on only their outcomes, we show how all aspects of a pupil’s academic life are important.

Intervention in KS4 can be an enriching experience then, not a program that only focusses on the mythical C/D or 4/5 boarder line. The new P8 measures will surely go some way in abolishing these measures, although having read this earlier today; about new grammar schools service ‘ordinary families’ it seems like the DfE have created their very own ‘booster’ group or (worst phrase in education) the C/D boarder line group!!!

If intervention happens early, if data is used effectively and not sparingly, if transition is effectively planned, then pupils will develop their love of learning throughout their time with us.

Uni Presentation exert

Posted in Learning

Intrinsic Expectations

I had originally delivered this session on ‘Improving Opportunities for our More Able Pupils’ at one of our MOT sessions, but upon reflection it became apparent that the following vehicles for improving learning were applicable for all pupils and should not really be isolated to those considered ‘More Able’. That’s the key factor here? Expectations; do we expect the same of all pupils regardless of their ability/starting point?

A skilled practitioner can quite straightforwardly differentiate through a variety of formative assessment methods and discussion with their pupils; dynamically adapting to the needs of the relevant class taking part in the learning. Surely with this confidence in meeting the needs of their pupils no one method should be kept back for those More Able or even Lower Ability pupils, the diet can be a rich a full one no matter the ability. It is mentioned time and time again, closing that learning loop for pupils is achievable as long as our expectations develop their intrinsic motivation.

The focus is on 6 key points that can be used in planning and delivery;

  • Guided Learning
  • Debating
  • Questioning
  • Modelling: (Implicit and Explicit)
  • Motivation: (Intrinsic and Extrinsic)
  • The Challenge Zone

The final point is something I have discussed before here, using work from  ‘The Expert Learner’ (Stobart 2015), about our ‘deliberate practice involving risk taking’, and how excellence is achieved from stepping out of the comfort zone, into the learning zone, (Colvin 2008).

The title of this presentation, ‘Improving Opportunities for our pupils and increasing all expectations’ is just woeful, a mouthful, and, well, just not very good! I was in my panic zone when creating that I can assure you!

Improving Opportunities pupils and ioncreasing expectations