How do you know if you are doing the right things?
In August 2016, we achieved our best examination results ever(!) in the school’s 130-year history.
We know we are doing something right with our students and know this starts in the classroom. However. we do recognise this data is yet to be validated externally, yet I am confident we are on an upward trajectory.
Two years ago, I wrote about our progress and how far the school had moved on. I explained what this now looked like one year later after we had removed lesson gradings for all teachers. I even shared my perceptions of what it felt like to observe the OfSTED inspectors in week three of being a deputy headteacher with responsibility for teaching and learning.
Over the past twelve months we have published our Learning Policy with a one-page summary, this being the hardest to achieve. The ‘wording’ was a challenge to agree, refine and define. However, it was consulted by staff in training sessions throughout the academic year and feedback was acted upon. It was important to keep the 3 main components of teaching (mark-plan-teach) and keep expectations clear and accessible for every teacher within the school. The more difficult task was to keep (the details of) the policy to less than 15 pages so that it remained a training manual and not an unwieldy document that nobody ever used! (You can download the policy here)
We insisted our teachers refrained from wasting their time producing laborious lesson plans. We asked our teachers to mark smarter and asked that they refrained from marking every page in students’ books. Designing and creating our own set of exercise book templates (July 2016) to communicate expectations and consistencies to all. (see video)
Throughout the past 18 months, we have also been aware that our greatest CPD need collectively as teachers, is differentiation. You see these this from our self-review of the Teacher’s Standards as a group of 100+ teachers.
e.g. “Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.”
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Last summer, I alluded to those who regularly read this blog that we had started to abandon formal observations altogether, or at least the requirement to conduct 3 per year of all teaching staff; and that coaching staff through regular 15-minute coaching sessions would become the default position for all. In June 2016, I also explained in Self-Evaluation how we were moving over to a two-year cycle of monitoring departments and everything that existed within them. This would be less erroneous and more conducive for everyone.
Our work scrutiny has also evolved significantly to consider less box-ticking and more consideration for practical subjects that do not (by default) offer students opportunities for extended pieces of writing. We also know that students in years 7 – 10 in every secondary school represents 80% of student progress within the school, therefore, we are no-longer ‘fishing without the bait‘ when looking more closely at books. We consider every student at every level and use their key stage 2 prior data before looking at anything! Doing it in this way is transformational and informative.
Yesterday, we gathered staff together for a professional development. The topic was differentiation and I am happy to admit (in this case)the session was far from differentiated! However, despite a sound understanding of academic research and what CPD work, plus the impact tailored CPD can have on better teaching, sometimes schools occasionally need to get all staff together for critical updates. At this time of the year, this was our one occasion and we avoid this as much as possible in training sessions.
Moving forward …
Throughout 2016/17 and beyond, our focus is on the progress of all students exceeding ‘attainment measures’.
This year, we will be looking more and more at KS3 progress and KS5 lessons on the whole. It is worth considering, that although we want teaching staff to take more risks and feel confident in doing so, it is important that they are given the right conditions in which to do so. We have tackled behaviour and it is improving. We are addressing apathy in subjects and are starting to correlate progress with student feedback. If there is a lack of progress, then the quality of the teaching does need to change and that will need picking apart over the year ahead …
We recognise that there is still a need for some dialogue about where our teaching goes next, in the context of where our data says that performance needs to improve. Most importantly, this is not ignoring all the performance gains from last summer; senior leaders have at least as much responsibility to focus on ‘what is going well’ rather than the ‘what is not working’ as anyone else.
We are tweaking teaching and the culture is starting to shift. We have much to do and the greater tasks are becoming less significant.
As ever, I will report back any significant changes we make and update you with our coaching progress.