Posted in Learning

World Book Day Fun #shelfie

Reading for me is a funny thing; I never engaged with it at school, I struggled to make the words on the page fit with what was in my own brain, or perhaps what I wanted them to say!

Either way, when I was first informed in Year 3 or 4 I needed to read ‘The Rainbow Fish’ by Marcus Pfister I was very excited, it had colour and light and a storyline about a confident fish who wanted friends, but it took me so long to read it with my mum as I was getting frustrated with my constant stumbling!!

‘The little blue fish darted through the water with a glittering scale. Soon the Rainbow Fish was surrounded by others of all different shapes and sizes. All of them wanted the glittering, shimmering scales!’

I do remember reading ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak,  a book of only 368 words, but with an atmosphere of havoc and mystery! It was the images, the illustrations that really engaged me  and encouraged me to read more and more. I still struggled, through the ‘Silver Sword’  by Ian Serrailier, ‘The Machine Gunners’ by Robert Westhall, with about the influence of WW2 on youngsters; and then came Roald Dahl…….

  • The Twits
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Danny Champion of the World
  • Matilda
  • Fantastic Mr Fox

Being able enjoy such stories, imagery, metaphors and other such literary techniques made me feel special, like I was privvy to what was in the authors thoughts as they were writing. ‘The Wasp Factory’  by Iain Banks was one book that shocked me slightly as it was dark and had a dystopian theme to it, exposing me to something extremely different to the usual hero-like endings that Dahl wrote for me.

Time progressed and my schooling clarified how important reading would prove to be in my future endeavours with books and adventures like ‘The Go-Between’ by L.P. Hartley, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ by John Le Carre, and just any Sherlock Holmes story I could lay my hands on, allowing for a degree of escapism and essential day-dreaming. I still struggled, letters moved around and words still confused me, but my lexicon developed and I was able to start applying language into my own contexts, my life, surely one of the major reasons we do encourage reading to such a high and rigorous degree.

I tried the Potters,

Middle Earth,

The Final Frontier,

and the use of magic in the Napoleonic Wars with Mr Strange and Norrell

and vanished within them identifying with those characters who were not always following the correct path, but would always find a way of making a positive impact in the end, (the ‘rebel without a cause/clue streak in my younger self!). But now I find myself encountering a whole new library of knowledge, with my go to books those that will develop my profession, books on pedagogy, practice, how to lead learning and so on. What comforts me, (as well as my infrequent dabbles back into fiction, ‘The Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch and the somewhat trashy crime thriller by Rowling’s nom de plume Robert Galbraith) is that the effort, resilience and barriers overcome with the Rainbow Fish as my guide have enabled me to still enjoy but most importantly learn through my book shelf.

Oh, and I think I will dress as Johnathan Strange on World Book Day as we should never underestimate the power of the written word as even a grumpy 33 year old assistant head will still want to dress up and play along if he’s engaged by the words…..!

Posted in Learning

An Evolving BUT Involving Industry

Gordon Moore’s observed law (1965), the number of transistors in any integrated circuit will double every two years, is sometimes held up as the how mankind can and will progress to a complete automated system and function with almost inorganic ease. If overall processing power of computers will double every two years, it only seems inevitable that this dystopian prediction is on its way to our own education sector, (although revised targets for the end of Moore’s Law is now somewhere between 2030-35). How we proactively react to the rapid change in technology and its offerings will need to follow the valuable ethics and morals we hold as educators at the current moment, to create an element of curiosity in learning and pedagogy.

I’m unsure of the positive significance and influence of article recently published in TES (10 February 2017) entitled ‘How soon until the robots take over your Classroom’ though. It postulates the theory that holograms, humagrams and other such mediums can create as aspect of ‘blended learning’ to create cost efficient models of staffing and school development here in the UK. Whilst companies like The Bridge International Academies have used, somewhat successfully, integrated technology, scripted lessons etc. in LIC’s around the globe, the potential for the natural erosion (quality geography reference there) of individuality in one of the most important sectors in the country, nay, the world’s social system is surely a worry?

Whist it may only be a theoretical ‘Human Vs. Machine’ battle at the moment, I believe an effective, engaging and proactive practitioner is surely what we should aspire to train, coach and develop to deliver a purposeful and brilliant education for all pupils. INSETs can be a fantastic/fanciful (!) method of achieving this. The Somerset Challenge S4S common INSET this year was spread across 14 establishments and encompassed a vast array of subject material and information, and only with human fallibility and resilience will events like this work.

Case and point; Sarah Todd’s (@SarahTodd10) ‘Improving Feedback’ seminar at the Geography event was a fantastic array of ideas, opinions and information all collated and delivered by professionals who model mistakes, successes and next steps for their pupils. Whilst having scripted lessons and identical delivery may improve efficiency and costs it will not provide that professional, live formative feedback that will endeavour to close the gap between what the pupils have learnt and where they need to go next. That idea of High Tariff Vs. Low Tariff feedback, when to use either and when it will be most effective for each individual pupil.

Moving learning to the top of the pupil’s agendas, making them #proudtolearnis something I believe can only be achieved through influential teachers and educators, someone who, in a complex organisation that, by its very nature is extremely messy, is able to bring some sense of order and ‘anti-entropy’! To extrapolate the best performance from their pupils happens through a teacher’s personality and planning, something we strive to embed in our pupils also.

To evolve with the times, but continue to involve ourselves in the learning.



Posted in Learning

Intervening the Bleeding Obvious?

Just so much  rhetoric has been written, said, masticated and repeated about the new funding formula for schools, the deprivation weighting for some demographics of pupils, the locational aspects of the overall pot schools will receive, but having read this article in the TES, (subscription needed, or just grab the magazine from the staffroom!), I feel that one key aspect may have been overlooked. And by the tone of Charlotte Santry’s article, so do others because I was unaware that the EEF had cost £125 million of government coffers in its creation, with one of its primary purposes to investigate the most cost efficient way of breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. And their grand findings seem to lean towards;

  • Funding needs to be weighted towards the primary sector as this is where the greater impact can be had rather than trying to play catch up at the secondary level.

Thats right, no more bullet points, just a large obvious one, with their research showing that ‘intervening earlier on in a child’s life is the best way to close any attainment gaps that may exist’. Now whilst the weighting towards secondaries  is all about ratios etc. I can’t help thinking that this most obvious point made by a £125 million governmental think tank could have been come to a lot quicker and cheaper, thus potentially redirecting a large proportion of cash into those areas that need it, namely the primary  sector mentioned where intervention would narrow that gap (a phrase that makes me shiver!). Early intervention will alleviate the pressures felt by the secondary sector, making a more palatable workload and re-energising those staff floundering under the weight of ‘gap-closing’ expectations. With £384 million being withdrawn from school funding 😦  we need all we can get and all educators realise the importance of early intervention.

We give up lunchtimes, after school, Saturdays and even days in half terms to ensure that our pupils make the progress their hard work deserves, but equally we know that if intervention happens early, we wouldn’t have to. Those times could be used to increase pupils learning into that ‘mastery’ level, creating a greater depth of the love of learning.

How many more studies and Emperor New Clothes-like investigations paid for with money that could be used at the coal face will be commissioned before we can move forward? I remain hopeful that the creation of The Chartered College of Teaching will enable the combination of research from practicing teachers and key educational decisions to be united effectively.

Posted in Learning

The Pupil Planet

The Pupil Planet

Simon Sineck’s Start with Why, so simple, so obvious and something I really believe is vital in maintaining a clear and purposeful direction for a school. Why do we do this? For the pupils, it’s an altruistic calling, (I sound like a broken cracked record continually banging on about this pupil-led focus!), the most important name on a set of data is not the teachers but the 30 names underneath it. They are all individuals with complex needs and a plethora of skills that shouldn’t in theory work alongside each other, but amazingly they do! That is down to the dedicated nature of the teacher and subsequent activities and tasks they differentiate to ensure that the pupil succeeds no matter what their starting point.

I like to think of pupils as planets, distinct in their fragilities and intricate in design, they need to keep turning! We are here to set the atmospheres for them to learn and learn well, and to ensure that we do not pollute these atmospheres with the pressure that exists in 21st century education. Each layer that surrounds the planet is there to absorb the burdens and loads to maintain a healthy vibrant planet. Are we doing enough though? Are we deflecting enough of these dangerous rays? And have we saturated the atmosphere with too many ‘satellite’ learning initiatives? Hmmm, the analogy is staring to deteriorate so I’ll jump ship now!

We obviously want more than just the headline figures for the pupils, (results, data, ofsted etc.), as these are the bare minimums and non-negotiables that all stakeholders should want, but now we need to be reflecting on what needs to come after these headlines. Is it enough to just want all pupils to leave happy and prepared for life after education? As life-long learners? Who better to ask than the pupils themselves.

This ‘Pupil Teaching and Learning Group’ will look 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?

Developing the pupil’s understanding of how we learn and the actual processes behind it will not only enhance and improve their own abilities; it can also benefit those around them. Pupils will be tasked with taking part in short investigations with myself and other members of staff to make a positive impact on the learning of the academy so that future generations will continue to receive the excellent standard of learning that is already part of the academy ethos. It’s a fantastic opportunity to engage the pupils in some meta-cognitive work, to really understand the elements and methodologies of learning that we as teachers use day to day. I have attached the first,(session-1)we will use with the group to develop their understanding of basic pedagogy, which is looking at the power of feedback.

Sustainable learning growth to keep their planets turning!


Posted in Learning

No Mr Gibb, we need to create a learning dialogue!!

I really enjoyed this short article from Jonathon Simons (@PXeducation) about the London-centric nature that educational rhetoric and policy can take on with the extremely apt analogy of ‘The Most Visited School’ by civil servants and ministers, (one that is 100m from Westminster!). This was somewhat ridiculously promoted by the comments coming out of the Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb’s office this week about marking, feedback and workloads;

with one comment standing out like grade on a formative feedback sheet (!) ‘that marking in different-coloured pens, and giving feedback in exercise books, had never been a government or an Ofsted requirement’

No it hasn’t ever been a government or Ofsted mandate, it was something we as educated professionals realised may have an impact on the learning skills of our pupils, with different variations developed for the rich and diverse demographics that exist in our schools. A good, no, a competent school leader realises that workload stresses on their staff and amends polices and projects accordingly and does not expect them to mark every and anything, the impact is completely lost!

Creation of a learning dialogue is one way we can ensure that pupils develop as learners and into the culturally sound and proficient individuals we all crave for them. A grade, a small mark, a meaningless token that we have marked their learning has no meaning or substance without a creation of dialogue. In lessons, we want pupils to reflect, to be resourceful with comments made, and the different coloured pens only highlight these areas that the skills may have been applied.

The post underneath discusses these issues and how to overcome them, without reverting to comments like ‘work should be marked with a simple, simple!!!!, grade.



Posted in Learning

Contextualised Chengdu!

An attack on the senses is the only way to describe Chengdu, China. Its vibrancy of colour, sound, smells and ‘roll a six to start’ weather changes (!) and has given context to the teaching and learning that I have been able to share in over the past week.

Having spent the last 2 days in various forms of the Chinese education system, it may seem to many a linear, outcome/Gaokao (end of year high school tests), driven structure, but the methodology behind the practice is one of pure simplicity; They want Chinese students to do the best they can in all areas, including developing them as multicultural and global learners. They invest in their future, the pupils and  all students who attend their schools, (sometimes until 9:30pm!). There is an obvious caveat to this vision, All are those who’s parents can and do send them to fee paying schools.

The large and vast elephant in the room is the population, China’s currently sits at 1.3 billion, just a ridiculous and incomprehensible number of people across this physically diverse and challenging country. This means the average school size is around 3000,  The Chinese Experimental Foreign Language school (CEFLS)  for example has a population at around 6500 pupils and 439 staff members. I use the CEFLS as our example as it is based in the city of Chengdu, 14 million strong and home of the Panda Breeding Sanctuary. Its students undertake a variety of programs and studies are all aimed at teaching them English to use abroad and return to develop the Chinese economy, culture and society. But we now seem to be hearing voices of opposition to the traditional ways that Chinese teaching and learning is taking place.

They are now looking to focus on the processes, not just the outcomes. They want to enable pupils to become better life-long learners, develop an active role in the learning process, rather than the passive stance that can be observed at the moment. More creative, more dynamic and nebulous thoughts, questioning, formatively assessing each other and asking ‘Why’ and ‘What if’?

Lily and Scarlet are two pupils experiencing the seed change in their learning, lessons that are team taught, planned with the focus on the learning methods rather than the overall outcome. They were honest about the barriers they saw when it came to adapting the current style of education in their country;

‘The class are still so big, 50, sometimes 60 and we can’t always get the work completed if we are asked to talk in groups first’ mused Scarlet, 14 and fascinated by the piano and all things jazz!

‘I like when we are able to show our learning to the class at the board, although I know that not all schools have that money so they may not have my same facilities’

said Lily, a grade 11 student who is desperate to attend Warwick University in the UK to study and then teach maths. That is the contextualised goal for the majority of the pupils, to travel to the top universities in the US or UK to develop their learning skills even further.

The worry here is with our new educational reforms being put into place, an obvious reaction to PISA scores, media articles about comparing our system to those across the world and the fear our pupils will not be able to compete on the global stage, are we moving more towards a system that other countries, China being one of them, is looking to now maybe not move away from, but definitely is looking to change and develop it? Surely if countries and systems are beginning to recognise that they need more of a dichotomy in their educational outlook, developing rich variety through collaboration and sharing of good practice, we should not be so quick to abolish these traits already evident in our own system.

Yes a mixture, but always pupil focussed and led- contextualise for that generation.

The presentation given about T&L sharing strategies can be located here and here Enjoy!




Posted in Learning


So offering a  Mandarin lesson could have been an advisable curriculum move if we had known that this conference was a real possibility!

Key Question to be asked here, What do we have to offer that may have an impact on the learning of these pupils across the globe?

In the UK we are constrained by the perceived ‘Outcome-led’ nature of some areas of academia, progress and attainment 8 scores, SATS at KS1&2, lip-service degrees being offered by establishments with the  ultimate goal to get their students a first class degree rather than the other way round of pupils challenging themselves for that accolade.

Glacial as it may seem, the movement is now towards this idea of a lifelong learner, that your turn on the learning merry go round is one that will never end, and far from it making you feel slightly worse for wear with all of those stomach turning opportunities, we should embrace the dizzying nature of learning new and exciting things.

I once worked with a senior leader who decided that their assembly theme would be centred around the learning and subsequent application of new skills, opening their learning up to ridicule as they attempted in full view of KS3 to learn how to juggle.

Assembly 1: Their first attempt, discovery learning , some pupils offering advice, but overall lots of balls flying all over the place, (Y8’s loved that joke!).

Assembly 2: 3 weeks later, chunked information, videos had been watched, designated practice time undertaken, let ball flying, still no co-ordination!

Assemblies 3-6 followed much of the same pattern until assembly 7 where they walked in with no equipment and asked the following question;

‘Why bother?’

We know of the expected the stock response from pupils, ‘Effort, Determination, Resilience!!!” but here, an environment had been created where the pupils were invested in the learning process, they wanted to see it through to failure and next steps, or success and application. Their answers were ones of dismayed outrage and almost hurt;

‘We need to see you do it sir’

‘If you don’t see it through it’l bug you and us for the rest of our time here’

Aspirations to create this sort of ethos around learning for all pupils is what we want to offer, to create opportunities for our pupils to expand their global understanding and investment in all learning they may be part of.

Posted in Learning

‘To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries’, Aldous Huxley

I have been afforded to chance to visit Chengdu, China this week as part of the Global Youth Ambassador Programme to present on;

‘Teaching and Worldwide Learning Methods: Ensuring that all pupils no matter where they are receive the best possible opportunity to learn’.  

A weighty topic you may say, but as the Huxley quote postulates, travel will dispel myths and preconceptions populations may have about other locations. We in UK educational circles are all too quick to laud and acclaim other countries pedagogical approach to learning, (especially those of Scandinavia and areas of Asia), and in some areas, with good reason. PISA results in Science, Maths and Reading from 2013 clearly put areas like South Korea, Finland, Taiwan and Hong Kong at the for front of educational outcomes, but not necessarily at the cutting edge of learning. Wanting to become a lifelong learner, having the desire to wake up day to day and tackle something tough, different and ultimately be open to failure is not bred through outcomes and summative assessment alone. The UK is sometimes accused of being Stuck in the Middle in terms of the analysis from PISA, but what is our vision as a country, high results or happy children? And should we be made to choose? Isn’t a set of results is relevant to that demographic, that cohort of pupils?

A whole host of former education minsters have waxed lyrical over the abilities and curricula of those oversees, without ever really instilling next steps and action plans with which we can clearly see how to implement those strategies in our own establishments, (exception here can be the new Maths Mastery curriculum, although resources for it seem to be scarce). We can learn from each other, isn’t that something we implore our pupils to do through the multitude of peer assessment tasks? We may not be achieving the outcomes of those previously mentioned countries, but surely what we can offer pupils is meta-cognition, the ability to understand the value of learning, no matter what it is in, (the Government Apprentice Initiative is surely a great example of this?).

‘The Global Youth Ambassador Project is a network of schools with the mutual goal of sharing their learning cultures and experiences with each other. It seems the fascination about education and the delivery of learning goes both ways, with delegates from America, China, Canada, New Zealand and Australia interested in sharing teaching and learning methods and attempting to forge links and creating projects that will widen pupils’ global horizons.

I feel extremely privileged to have been afforded this chance to work with my international peers and share with them the fantastic methods of learning we have here in the UK, and that we are not stuck in the middle rather we are challenging ourselves and pupils to create learners that are resilient, resourceful, reflective and open to reciprocity and team work. It will also provide an opportunity to also instil the ideals that a numeric grading system isn’t the pinnacle, facilitating pupils to become global citizens and aware of the world around them is just as, if not more important in the modern world.

Blog posts to follow as the conference takes place, (Wifi permitting!)

Posted in Learning

‘If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong’ Charles F. Kettering

As the year starts and we all settle in to those firsts for the term,

first lessons,

first h/w set,

first name slip up (!),

first ever time teaching a subject/topic,

we as teachers and educators try to be innovative and creative with our ideas to improve the learning of our pupils, if an idea doesn’t work we look to adapt it, evaluate it and eventually change it. It’s what we encourage our pupils to do, adapt to their surroundings and learning environments, (they encounter just a whole host of variations throughout a school day, let alone a school year!), yet  at this important and frantic time of the academic year, #BackToSchool , how often do we revert to type? How many ‘Expectations’ lessons can pupils sit through before they gently tune us out?! Potential here to ask them what they expect, point 9 of Dylan William’s TES article about ‘9 Things Every Teacher Should Know’, postulates this very aspect; the invariably excellent insight our pupils actually have about their own learning and expectations that we tend to overlook.

4 Questions I am asking all staff to start the term

  • What would you like learning to look like in your subject/Key Stage this season?

Thinking about how you would like the learning to look, its actual visual representation that pupils will experience can enable us to make some decisions about which direction we want to go in. If you accept that learning is not a linear process, that it is non-predictable, mysterious and somewhat hidden, then having some idea of what you potentially want it to look like may give us a much needed head start and insight into learning, (Didau 2015).

  • Over time, how will the pupils learning be brilliant and amazing?

Banned from the educational lexicon: Outstanding, Good, Requires, Improvement, and any other potentially inflammatory phrases. It’s about next steps to take pupils into a deeper part of their learning allowing them to be brilliant and amazing, how we allow for that, feedback, relevant and detailed.

  • What consistencies will facilitate these fantastic levels of learning?

A consistent approach to learning can never be underestimated. If learning is approached with a scattergun, unpredictable fashion it will usually result in groundhog learning, they will forget! Learning is invisible, this as teachers is the hardest thing to take, we can’t always see the impact straight away (potential exceptions to this could be approaches like rote learning). While it remains elusively and annoying invisible, we can plan for this by designing a curriculum that anticipates any hiccpps along the way.

  • How will T&L in your subject area/key stage make a difference for the pupils no matter what their starting point/background/demographic/Mood !!

For this question I call upon the beauty of my own subject, geography. It is everywhere, it impacts us all, and it is fantastically applicable and accessible to all pupils, got to love the BBC News website!

I plan to have these visual at all times for the first term, alongside the 3 challenges I have set for each teacher and TA who lead learning. Roll on the new year, new challenges, new approaches, exciting times.

  1. ‘Meet and Greet- End and Send’

Challenge yourselves to meet the pupils at the start of their lesson, greeting them with a task or challenge, a visible and clear introduction that their opportunity to learn starts as early as the corridor. End the lesson by sending them on their way in a positive manner

  1. learning focus

Demonstrate to pupils that we are all lifelong learners and that the learning process will never end, nor would we want it to. Have the ‘Learning Focus’ sheet somewhere visible, refer to it

  1. Go and be part of someone else’s lesson/group

Experience learning from another angle; share our tools for learning outside of the MOTs and INSETs

Posted in Learning

What if…

We used to, (and some magpie eagle-eye teachers in the academy still do!), run an activity in R&P/RE lessons and days called ‘The What If Scenario’. Quite a simple premise, pupils are provided with several generic What If scenarios and must work through them, flow diagram-like, to their natural conclusion. We then discuss the overall outcomes of this situation, and the impact it would have on a local, national and global scale. The themes usually start at the school-wide level, What if there was no homework? What if all PE lessons were outside? What if all the school’s money was spent on English and Maths?

The scenarios then predictably evolve with the help of the pupils into some far reaching, slightly existential/ridiculous situations; What if all crimes had the same punishment? What if medical care was removed for anyone 70 years and over? What if spiders grew to the size of dogs?

The essential learning and development aspect is discussion that follows. They are not going to happen these situations, (especially not the last bloody one!), they are thought experiments, and it has led to a raft of What if questions relating to the pedagogical practice of teachers. Some have been approached on blogs before, (David Didau looks at a whole host of issues surrounding this topic), but the impact of some of these, no matter how absurd and counterintuitive they may seem, are the sort of questions that may lead to effective change in practice.

Freeing ourselves to think like this and increase our engagement in the process of change can hold us to account for the decisions we can sometimes make as a matter of ease rather than impact. How many times have we photocopied 25 sheets knowing that the pupils would be perfectly capable of achieving the learning through a discussion, which would mean more managing from us? What if we weren’t allowed to photocopy for a week?

Active reflection and introspection are a teachers best friend.

Habitually, we do this looking at our lessons and unpicking aspects that worked and areas that will need changing. But how much of an impact does this eventually have on the learning? Are we reflecting for the pupils and their learning, or to make our workload easier? What if all lessons had to planned around an artefact brought in from home?

I invite anyone who feels inclined to read my small yet perfectly formed ramblings on how we should all be ‘Proud to Learn‘ to comment on any of the What ifs mentioned so far, and the scenarios underneath, you never know, we could create an educational trend that innovates and shifts the focus of curriculums across the system! Or it could just be a fun way of vocalising an educational ideal!

What if meeting could last no longer than 30 minutes?

What if there were no more numeric gradings?

What if all formal assessments had to include an pupil interview element to them?

What if for one week each academic year,  pupils’ English and Maths lessons were not taught by their normal teachers?

What if year 7 designed the year 11 curriculum and vice versa?