A new way to look at the National Curriculum or Common Core

In the United Kingdom it is the National Curriculum and in the USA, Common Core. The commonality between the two is the level of control of the leading political party. But, what if there was another way to approach a national curriculum?

On 21st March 2015 the Times Educational Supplement ran an article with the headline “Nicky Morgan: Control of national curriculum content must stay in hands of elected politicians“. In the article Ms. Morgan was reported as saying that it was right for politicians to decide what was taught in the classroom because they were democratically accountable. She was responding to a request from the Association of School and College Leaders who were proposing an independent commission made up of teachers, parents, employers, academics and politicians, to have responsibility for setting the national curriculum which would then stand unaltered for at least five years.

What if we looked at the national curriculum in a different way? What if it returned to being a minimum entitlement on which schools were free to build. The key to this would be well trained teachers able to work together in schools to design a curriculum relevant to the needs of the children in their schools. We wouldn’t have to sacrifice standards nor accept poor quality teaching but we would have to move away from the ‘teaching by numbers’ approach that was the legacy of the previous administration. With a national curriculum regularly supplemented by non-statutory guidelines which for most schools became obligatory teachers were being told in minute detail what to teach, but also, how to teach. We had the three part lesson, the four part lesson, I believe even the five part lesson. Non-statutory guidance and expensive training sessions for all teachers clearly marked out how long should be spent on a whole class teaching input, where the time divide between guided and shared work should fall and how long should be spent on a plenary. It was non-statutory but the ‘teaching by numbers’ mentality affected the inspecting body too and feedback from observations often focussed on too much or too little time being spent on a particular part of a session. Feedback that was not about the session itself but rather about whether or not the session matched the diktats of the non-statutory guidance.

Now, in an effort to thin out the national curriculum politicians have in fact produced a statutory national curriculum document that is considerably longer than the previous statutory documentation. Much of the content that was previously in non-statutory supplements now makes it into the national curriculum. A quick glance also shows that the weight of curriculum is in fact in primary school. When children enter secondary school the national curriculum leaves behind the many pages of specific year group content and instead provides a few short paragraphs of what should be taught in secondary Key Stages. I am guessing that may be because of political meddling in exam boards.

I would propose a return to an end of Key Stage achievement expectation. The route taken to make that achievement could be planned by schools. This in turn might encourage a broader education that would benefit all of our students. It may even help with engagement in primary and with the some of the mental health issues that have now become a focus in our schools.

Who would set this minimum expected standard? I can’t see that politicians is a sensible solution. What we have undergone recently highlights the problems with political parties of power setting a curriculum. With a change of party comes a completely new ideologically driven curriculum. The notion of involving more than just the party of power in setting the curriculum is therefore a sensible approach. Allowing an expert body to set the minimum expectations for the end of Key Stage would answer the “what?” and then schools and teachers would be free to answer the “how?”. Inspections then would also need to consider whether the curriculum a school was employing was fit for purpose.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians think they are the best people to decided the “what?” and also drive the “how?” then the responsibility for standards should lie more firmly with the politicians than with the teachers and schools. In the current system where politicians are deciding every detail of the national curriculum it would certainly be interesting to hear back from an independent inspection body as to whether the curriculum being imposed is in fact fit for purpose.

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Spanish Sundays – An invitation

Spanish Sundays is a popular weekly post looking at aspects of living in Spain and this week the invitation is open to anybody living in Spain to make submissions. In an effort to broaden the article to cover more of the peninsula anybody is invited to contribute.

Spanish Sundays posts are from 400-800 words and can include up to four images. If you want to share your experience of living in Spain send you article to:
If you wish you can also send a short biography and a photo of yourself to be included with the article.

For now then, a look back over some of our recent Spanish Sundays articles.

Spanish Sundays – Fallas
Fallas is the regional fiesta for the Valencian autonomous region of Spain. With events running from the start of March until the 19th March it is allegedly the second biggest fiesta in the world after the Rio carnival.

Spanish Sundays – Fuengirola and Malaga
Fuengirola is on the Costa del Sol and is located in Andalucia. The sunrise over the sea is spectacular and a feature of this area of the Spanish coastline.

Spanish Sundays – A photo tour of Alzira
Alzira is located around 40km to the South of Valencia and 20km from the coast. Enjoying the coastal climate of the Mediterranean it doesn’t have the high and low temperature fluctuations of central Spain.

Spanish Sundays – Denia
Denia is a coastal town in the north of Costa Blanca. About midway between Benidorm and Valencia, Denia has a large marina and regular ferry services to Mallorca and Ibiza.

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Shareday Friday – 5 strategies for effective use of a teaching assistant

Teaching assistants, classroom assistants, learning support assistants, interventionists. What’s in a name? What does research tell us about their effectiveness in raising standards and how best can other adults be used to support teaching and learning?

The Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, a meta-study looking at how to improve attainment of pupils doesn’t find much to celebrate in the use of teaching assistants in classes. However, it does states that there is a difference in effectiveness dependent on how teaching assistants are deployed. The EEF evidence suggests that overall teaching assistants do not have a dramatic impact on attainment but also that this is a result of how they have been deployed by teachers.
So, how can teaching assistants be used most effectively to impact teaching and learning?
Here are my five strategies for effective use of teaching assistants.

1. Plan for their use
Teaching assistants must feature in the planning for your session. It is essential to identify who they are working with, what activity they will be doing and the intended learning outcome. Always keep in mind that the focus is the learning. How is the teaching assistant developing the learning?
In planning for the teaching assistant make sure that there are no ‘dead’ times where their role isn’t specified. If you know you are going to be doing a whole class teach for twenty minutes does the assistant need to watch that or could they be usefully deployed in another activity? One effective strategy for times such as this is to have an assistant book. Any task that doesn’t necessarily need a teacher can be written into the book and if the assistant is going to be free for a few minutes they can check off tasks in the book.

2. Team teaching
One common complaint of teaching assistants is that they feel undervalued and often feel they have more to offer but are being directed to menial tasks. Team teaching is a great way around that and a way to ensure that a teaching assistant has real impact on learning taking place in the classroom. Discuss the lesson beforehand and define the roles. After the lesson provide time for a conversation that reviews the effectiveness of both the teacher and the assistant and note points to improve for future team teaching episodes.
Team teaching is also a great way to go if you have an assistant that lacks confidence or needs some teaching behaviours modelling.

3. Talk
When does your teaching assistant see the planning? The week before, the day before, the start of the lesson, or were they included in the planning session. Even if it is only a short session each week sitting down and running through the planning with the teaching assistant is a key way of improving their effectiveness in the classroom. Make that an open conversation and invite ideas. A second adult discussing planning with a teacher is a great way to challenge whether the planning is going to be most effective for all students.

4. Monitored responsibility
The more your teaching assistant is able to assume the role of teacher when working with pupils the more effective they will be in class. Teachers have a responsibility to develop their assistants and that involves responsibilities. Not devolving responsibilities to the teaching assistant but giving responsibilities and monitoring those responsibilities together. If you have had an assistant working with a target group in mathematics for a week expect that the assistant will be able to provide some feedback as to how effective the learning was and whether children need further intervention or support with those objectives. Evaluate the report together.

5. Value the teaching assistant
How you behave with your teaching assistant will directly affect their impact on learning within the classroom. Treating the assistant as a teacher, giving responsibilities and valuing their feedback will all help to improve their confidence and capabilities. On top of this however it helps in clarifying the status of the assistant with the pupils. The most effective impact is going to be achieved when the assistant is seen by the students as a key person for supporting their learning.

What strategies have you found to be most effective when working with teaching assistants in class?

Why not gift your teaching assistant a little something to show you appreciate the work they do in class?

Great Teacher's Assistant Mug

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My 2015 education manifesto

With the 2015 election looming the news is beginning to fill up with the policies that will form the manifestos of the main parties. I’ve responded here with my own education manifesto for 2015 and invite anybody else to do the same and publish in the comments section below.

First of all a look at the main parties and their big decisions. (Information available at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29642613)

Protect the school budget for under 16s but not increase with inflation. Convert an additional 3,500 schools that currently ‘require improvement’ into academies. Declare “war on illiteracy and innumeracy” by forcing schools that repeatedly miss floor targets for 6 year olds to convert to academy status.

Increase budget in England by at least the rate of inflation but not protect per pupil spending so much of the increase will be swallowed up by per pupil numbers. Compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools. Remove business rate tax relief from independent schools unless they have a “meaningful impact” on state schools by for example, lending their teachers. Double the number of Sure Start childcare places. Tighten up rules on primary class sizes to ensure that children are taught in classes of 30 or less.

Lib Dems
Protect the education budget from cuts. No promise to increase to match pupil number increases. Guarantee qualified teachers and a core curriculum set by independent experts. Compulsory sex education in all state schools including academies and free schools. More money for disadvantaged children and free childcare for all two year olds.

The first aspect of every main party policy on education is a carefully worded statement on budget. The current options are:
Conservatives: Fail as many schools as possible so we can convert them into academies as a name change will bring about higher standards.
Labour: Pour money into a scheme (Sure Start) that independent auditors have demonstrated made no measurable difference. Price parents out of independent schools and into state schools but not increase funding for these thousands of students.
Lib Dems: Change the curriculum, again, but this time with ‘independent’ experts on the case. Provide child care places for all two year olds thereby creating an influx of new organisations needing monitoring and inspecting.

Not much of a choice really and so I offer up my own 5 point manifesto for UK education.

1: Return to a degree only route into teaching
Teaching standards have been diluted by offering too many alternative routes into teaching many of which fail to provide the basic grounding needed in order to do the job well. Teaching should require a degree and a vocational element. This means a BA or BSC plus a PGCE or a BEd. People with a genuine passion for coming into teaching will be prepared to spend four years preparing for the position.

2: Reform OFSTED with a role to support schools in raising standards
Ever since Mr Woodhead headed off to “weed out” the 15,000 incompetent teachers he calculated were working in schools OFSTED has become a destructive force that is controlled entirely by the political party of power. The Office for Standards in Education should have a non-political role and should exist to advise on school development plans and support schools in improvement. A team of industry experts coming to observe how a teacher works should be a positive experience and an opportunity to learn from their experience. I would make OFSTED inspections about identifying priorities for school improvement but then following inspection would have the lead inspector work together with the head teacher to devise the school development plan, the effectiveness of which could be evaluated at the subsequent inspection. This would have the effect of making the teams smaller, the organisation cheaper and therefore it would be possible to have more regular inspections.
This new positive form of evaluating schools and leading improvement would still be able to deal with inadequacies. Where significant inadequacies were observed the inspector would have the authority to step into the school alongside the headteacher and work with the school to bring about sustainable improvement. After all, who better to lead school improvement in our weakest schools than our strongest heads in whom we have trusted the responsibility of evaluating school effectiveness?

3: Simplify and clarify the curriculum requirements
Let’s take a look at some of the current National Curriculum expectations.
“Pupils should be taught to understand both the books that they can already read accurately and fluently and those that they listen to by checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading”.
“Pupils should be taught to maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by recommending books they have read to their peers…”
The problems with these statements is that there is no rigour to what is expected and they are open to interpretation. The first statement is a part of the current National Curriculum orders for Year 1 and Year 2 pupils. The second statement is an expectation of pupils in Year 5 and Year 6. But at what level should the child be reading? This is left without definition and yet is surely the most important aspect of reading level. If a child reads “My first picture book” and recommends it to his friend is he already succeeding against the expectations for 11 year olds?
The curriculum needs to be a core minimum of information that we expect of children and organised by age.
Forget experts designing a new curriculum or politicians flying around the world to analyse the leading cities in the completely corrupt PISA rankings. Let’s just cut to the chase and decide what level of books children of each age should be able to read and what language structures they should be able to use correctly in spoken and written English at each age.

4: Insist on entry exams for all foreign teachers wishing to have their teaching qualification recognised by the United Kingdom
The current system is expensive and broken. All teachers with a teaching qualification from abroad can write to the DfE and have their qualification recognised. QTS is issued almost by return of post. I have interviewed teachers from Eastern Europe who cannot speak English but are fully qualified UK primary teachers with QTS in place and a DfE number as though they had completed their probationary year and met all the objectives expected of teachers in the UK.
I propose two examinations and a compulsory probationary year for any teacher wishing to be awarded QTS on the basis of their qualification from abroad. The first examination would be a high level English examination. The second would be a pedagogical examination similar to those used at the end of Initial Teacher Training. On successfully passing both examinations the teacher would be eligible to complete a probationary year in a UK school and only then earn their QTS status.
All of the above would be financed by the teacher applying in the same way as students from the UK are expected to finance their way through higher education.

5: Demand a broad primary curriculum with specialist teaching where required
Where necessary subject specialists should be used from an early age. Music teachers who teach instruments to pupils, art and PE specialists. The hidden curriculum needs to become a relic of the past. We should provide all students with high quality tuition in every subject and expecting the literacy and numeracy specialist to then deliver a jaw dropping tennis coaching session followed by a lesson in how to play a tuned musical instrument is expecting too much. From the earliest years of education children deserve some subject specialist teaching to improve the experience they receive in subjects that too often are marginalised in favour of ‘core’ subjects.

And so I step down from my soap box and invite discussion or even your own five point manifesto for education to be published in the comments box below.

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Spanish Sundays – Fallas

Spanish Sundays is my regular weekly post that steps out of teaching and provides a window into Spain. This week, Fallas.

Fallas is the regional fiesta for the Valencian autonomous region of Spain. With events running from the start of March until the 19th March it is allegedly the second biggest fiesta in the world after the Rio carnival.

Fallas is about colour, ultimately about fire and consistently about noise. The noise of Fallas is something that cannot be described. From early morning fireworks to wake the city the noise never stops. Perhaps the most spectacular noise of them all is the mascleta. The video below is of the mascleta in Alzira at 2pm on Sunday March 15th, 2015.

No video can possibly do justice to the noise of a mascleta. (If you need to hop straight into the action fast forward to 4.30 and see the ground shaking finale.) An explosion of fireworks set off at 2pm each day the mascleta shakes the ground and the force of the explosions blows back on the crowd as the smoke fills the sky and blocks out the sun.

Smoke from a mascleta in Alzira, 2015

The smoke from a mascleta blocking the sun

But Fallas is more than just noise. In the final week before March 19th towns fill with the most intricate and brightly coloured models.

Fallas model in Alzira 2015

Fallas, Alzira 2015

Standing several stories high these models dominate the streets of every town. They reflect a full year of work in design and construction and sometimes have a satirical message. They exist just for a moment and then on the evening of March 19th, an evening known as the ‘crema’, they are burnt in an elaborate firework spectacle that last through the night with the final models disappearing in flames in the early hours of the morning.

You can see pictures of Fallas and watch videos but nothing on screen will do justice to the largest fiesta in Spain.

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Shareday Friday – What does ‘Growth Mindset’ look like in schools?

‘Mindset’ is the new buzzword in education. I’m not going to explain what mindset is in this blog so if you need a refresher about Mindset then check out these articles:
Why Mindset is important for teachers and schools,

What Russian tennis tells us about talent and
Expert in a year.

But, what does a ‘Growth Mindset’ look like in schools?

When you are thinking about developing mindset in your classroom or your school the first important point is that it is about creating a climate. Developing a growth mindset in students helps in developing resilience and creating independent learners. In a world where we are educating children for jobs that don’t yet exist, educating children to work with technologies that have not yet been created, we have a duty to create adaptable individuals who have a capacity for learning.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

In order to develop climate everybody needs to be on board. The first part of developing a growth mindset then is to include as many people as possible in the project. If you genuinely want to be working on developing a growth mindset culture in school then there is going to be work to do with teachers, assistants, dinner ladies, governors, parent helpers – anybody involved with the school. If everybody is working with the same purpose when they interact with the students then we begin to create the culture in which growth mindset can thrive. Let’s take a look at practical ways adults can support the development of a growth mindset in schools.

Five behaviours of adults working to develop a growth mindset culture in schools

1. Intelligence isn’t fixed.
All of the adults in school need to buy into this idea that intelligence is something that we can develop and learn. The students need to see that we believe that intelligence isn’t fixed because  ultimately, that is what we need the students to understand.
I heard of one headteacher who illustrated this each year by starting his first assembly each September by introducing his own planned learning goal for the year. One year he stood in front of the school and unwrapped a package delivered over the Internet. Inside was a gleaming saxophone which he then proceeded to put together whilst explaining how he had always wanted to learn to play the saxophone. His first attempts produced only a discordant drone. He had cheerfully set himself up to fail in front of the whole school. His final assembly that academic year was his demonstration of what daily practice could produce as he stood before his school and played a selection of pieces on his saxophone. Is there a better way of demonstrating that you as an adult buy into the notion that “intelligence isn’t fixed”.

2. Plan lessons with multiple routes
I’m not talking about differentiation here, or even learning styles, but genuine choice. How can you open up your lessons so that students can explore? The phrase “low threshold, high ceiling” should be the lesson planning mantra. We need everybody engaged from the first minute but there shouldn’t be a cap on the learning. How can you make sure that children can go beyond your expectations with their learning?

3. Students need to be involved in self-assessment and in choosing their own targets
I have recently seen some fantastic examples of this taking place in classrooms. Students peer marking, identifying positive points and suggesting ideas for development. This is then followed by the student that produced the work responding to the marking. Students need their own targets but they need to know what they are trying to achieve.
I was interviewing last week and during an interview the candidate asked “Do you WAGOLL at your school?” I imagined myself walking down the corridor quickly and thought that maybe some days it did look like a waggle as I tried not to be seen breaking the “no running in the corridors” rule. When I asked her to clarify she introduced me to “What A Good One Looks Like” as a whole school initiative. Do the students always know what they are trying to achieve? In her school they did as students even asked cover teachers to “WAGOLL” and students expected to be shown what they were intending to achieve. What a simple but easily applied idea to ensure students are involved in directing their own learning.

4. Praise effort, not outcomes
The culture in education has become very focused on outcomes. I think this is a worldwide toxin that has crept into the education system. I never knew levels when I was at school (which is a reflection of my age rather than the way teachers worked) but I do recall regular commentary on effort and learning. Celebrating the achievement of a level, percentage or target focuses on the fixed mindset. It implies that we have reached a destination and also serves to reinforce the concept of a fixed intelligence. Celebrating the effort has the opposite effect. It lifts pupils to realise that with effort they can improve which is the core purpose of creating a climate of growth mindset in schools. Take a look at this video to understand the effect of praise on developing a growth mindset.

5. Have a growth mindset with regard to your own teaching
Do you consider your own teaching skills to be fixed? Are you the expert in a subject area in the school? How can you step out of your comfort zone and be a reflective teacher constantly searching for ways to improve? One way to encourage a growth mindset in respect to teaching in schools is to use peer observations. As in point three above, teachers need to be involved in setting their own targets for improvement. But, teachers also need to know “what a good one looks like”. Is your climate in school such that teachers can walk in and out of each others classrooms gathering ideas for how to improve? If not, how can you set about creating that type of atmosphere in the school?

There are many other ways in which schools can move towards creating a climate that supports development of growth mindsets in their students but the above ideas are important first steps.

Below is a reading list of books that explore growth mindset. As well as providing a clear explanation of the mindset theory they also provide inspiration as to how mindset can be applied in schools.

Top 5 reads if you want to create a climate for growth mindset in your school

1. Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck
This one really is the “how to” on mindset. It is easy to read and essential for any schools considering a mindset approach.

2. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci
This book takes the work of Carol Dweck and explains practical ideas for using that in the classsroom.

3. Growth Mindset Pocketbook by Barry Hymer
A quick overview of growth mindset in an easy-to-read small format book. Ideal for lending to colleagues who need an overview of mindset in an accessible form.

4. Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed
A look at growth mindset in action.

5. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown by Daniel Coyle
Exploring the idea that with the right amount of practice anybody can excel.

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Do you remember why you went into teaching?

Why do teachers go into teaching. According to www.ukedchat.com most people choose teaching as a profession for quite selfless reasons.

Why teachers went into teaching - a pie chart

Why teachers went into teaching – a pie chart

If we take the teachers that felt they could make a difference (29%), add in the teachers that love working with their students (26%) and top it off with the teachers that felt it was a vocation they wanted to follow (25%) we have accounted for 8/10 teachers.

The message for educational managers, policy makers and politicians is that 8/10 teachers enter the profession with an internal motivation to do the job well. We all, and I include teachers in this, have a collective responsibility to maintain that motivation. A positive teacher is far more likely to be effective in the classroom than the staff room whinger. Hopefully in the minority, the staff room whingers generalise everything to put weight behind their arguments. Common excuses include:
“That will never work with our children.”
“They don’t understand what we have to put up with.”
“The problem these days is that parents…”

Everybody has a responsibility to stop the staff room whinger from polluting the school climate with their negativity. Teaching is a tough enough job without colleagues dragging each other down.

I had the great fortune this weekend to hear the wonderful Sir John Jones speaking at the National Association of British Schools in Spain. Among many treasures he shared was a delightful video that dramatically illustrates the power of a great teacher. Teachers have the power to transform lives, to motivate young people to aspire to greatness. You can’t do that if the world is pressing down on your shoulders and you’ve lost touch with why you entered the profession. I’ll leave you with the video that so delightfully illustrates the power of teachers to touch lives and make a difference. Syd Picton ran a football club for youths in North London and this short video is worth sharing with any teacher at risk of loosing touch with their initial motivation.

YouTube Preview Image

If you know a teacher becoming detached from their initial motivations for teaching show them the video and make a difference.

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Spanish Sundays – Fuengirola and Malaga

A little later than usual here is this week’s Spanish Sundays post, this time providing a view of Fuengirola and Malaga. I was fortunate to be there this weekend for the conference of the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

Fuengirola is on the Costa del Sol and is located in Andalucia. The sunrise over the sea is spectacular and a feature of this area of the Spanish coastline.

Another feature of the area are the fish barbecues that are located along the beach.

Sardines cooking in a boat shaped barbecue on the beach in Fuengirola, Spain

Sardines cooking on the beach in Malaga, Spain

Dotted along the beach in Feuenirola and Malaga are barbecues, often in the shape of a small fishing boat. Restaurants adjust their menus daily to reflect the availability of the day with everything served on the day it is caught. We spent our lunchtime at the restaurant above on the Paseo Malagueta, Malaga. The food was delicious but if I had to provide a recommendation I would say go with the sardines.

This coastline has good communication both with other cities in Europe and with the rest of Spain. Malaga has an international airport and also is a terminus for the Spanish fast rail network, the AVE.

Rosetta Stone Spanish language-learning software

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Shareday Friday – Eleven proven characteristics of outstanding primary pedagogy

Each Friday I gift a little something back to the online educational community. This week it is a list of 11 proven characteristics of outstanding teaching. Although it refers specifically to primary pedagogy it is true of any teaching.

After a week interviewing candidates in London I have come to Fuengirola to join the 37th annual conference of the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS). This week’s gift back to the online educational community comes from one of the presentations I saw this afternoon. Brenda Taggart is the principle investigator/research coordinator for the Effective Education Project. This is a study that began in 1997 and has branched out into sub studies as it has followed 3000 children on their journey through schools.

The full report into effective primary pedagogy has been published by Pearson and can be read here. (Exploring Effective Pedagogy in Primary Schools: Evidence from Research).

Here is an overview of the eleven characteristics of effective pedagogy in primary schools.

1: Organisation
The best teachers organise teaching time effectively. No lesson time is wasted. There is a good pace and the classroom reflects established and effective routines. Children show signs of independence within the classroom.

2: Shared goals
There are clear shared learning objectives. Not just written down as a title but understood by all children in the classroom.

3: Homework
Homework is used purposefully. It is directly linked to the learning taking place in class.

4: Classroom climate
There is a positive classroom climate. The relationship between pupils and teacher and between pupils themselves reflects positivity in learning.

5: Behaviour management
Behaviour is effectively managed through engaging pupils in their learning.

6: Collaborative learning
Children work collaboratively. This is more than just grouping children by ability and sitting them around a table. They talk about their learning, share their learning and provide peer feedback about learning.

7: Personalised learning
Differentiation is appropriate and considered. Teaching resources are rich, purposeful and matched to individuals.

8: Making links explicit
Lessons build effectively on prior knowledge and identify next steps. Cross and extra-curricular links are clear and explicit. Children are provided with opportunities to apply their knowledge and solve problems.

9: Dialogic teaching and learning
Pupils think. Open ended questions are an embedded part of lessons and are used to develop deeper understanding. Children’s talk is encouraged and moderated.

10: Assessment for learning
Ongoing formative assessment is built into every lesson.

11: Plenary
This is definitely a case of “last but not least”, especially in the case of literacy and numeracy lessons. Discussions take place at the end of the lessons to bring together main learning concepts and rehearse key learning objectives.


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Reduce teacher workload – the answer is simple

I’ve already written about reducing teacher workload but having spent ten hours interviewing teachers yesterday I think reducing teacher workload might be even more simple than we think.

Yesterday I had the privilege to speak with ten teachers from all over the UK. It was a fascinating window into a diverse group of classrooms. It included a small school in rural Scotland where the teacher works with a class of children spread over the year groups from Reception to Year 3 right through to a teacher working in a six form entry school in London.

At the end of February Schoolsweek published an article “Reduce teacher workload the answer is simple“. The solution they proposed, I assume with a tongue in cheek, was to cut time in classroom to a third. Having spoken with teachers from across the UK I would say that the answer to teacher workload is actually simple.

Teachers now are far more involved in data management than ever before. I remember a non-teaching deputy headteacher in a school I worked in having responsibility for data management. He crunched numbers for us and spotted trends. His job was in part to analyse numbers and to suggest ways to improve the education we provided based on the outcomes. We submitted sub-divided levels each term and occasionally he might have asked for additional information, for example, the names of children in ability groups. The point is, that responsibility was taken away from teachers in the classroom. Now, it seems every teacher is an expert in data.

In interviews we saw charts, graphs, spread sheet analysis and a whole host of pretty infographics. I’m assuming that when primary teachers are telling us that PPA is around two and a half hours per week (in one case given as an end of the day time from 3-3.30pm) then most of this number crunching must be taking place in teacher’s own time. I also saw planning sometimes in incredible detail. One candidate showed us a page of A4 per lesson taught. Another, a sheet of A4 per week accompanied by five sides of A4 for one lesson if the management team were observing.

The answer to reducing teacher workload is simple. Teacher’s should be paid to teach. They should be in front of children as much as possible and teaching. We shouldn’t be taking teachers away from their classes unnecessarily. Whether a task is necessary is very simple to decide. Does it immediately affect the teaching and learning? Obviously planning is important and there should be advice as to the minimum needed for a plan to be effective. There shouldn’t be a need for a different plan for an observation. Why are we paying a teachers salary for data entry and simple report production? We could get an administrator on less than half of a teacher’s salary to do that for everybody. What about classroom display? I have seen some awesome examples of display that must have taken teachers many hours to prepare. Again, is it really necessary to be paying your UPS 2 teacher with a TLR for phase leadership to pin items to boards for hours? More effective surely to ask teachers to sketch out what they want and use an assistant for this work.

So, the simple answer to reducing teacher workload is this:
Get teachers back in the classroom and teaching.

Ask the following questions:
1 – What is the minimum needed on a teacher’s plan for it to be effective?
2 – What data does each teacher need to do their job effectively and who is going to prepare that data for the teacher?
3 – Who puts up classroom displays?
Do teachers mount the work, laminate it and put up the backing paper? Take this job away from teachers and ask teachers just to submit a quick sketch of what they want to a teaching assistant.
4 – What can be taken out of the staff meetings and passed on an email or an internal message?
What is left in the staff meeting should ideally only be agenda items that will have a direct impact on learning.
5 – Who produces the data that evidences teachers are effective in the classroom.
Management need to take responsibility for providing an agreed minimum amount of data that evidences the fact that teachers in their school are working effectively. Teachers should not have to spend hours producing data that defends their own existence.

Finally, if you are involved in education at any level question everything with reference to impact on learning. Assistants, teachers, managers, head teachers and even local authority representatives need to question more. The question is always the same, “What impact will this have on standards of learning?”. Anything that puts pressure on teachers to justify what they are doing is distracting them from the job they are being paid to do, teach. Anything that requires them to produce evidence for other bodies is distracting them from their core purpose. Everybody working in education has a duty to protect teacher time to be directed at the job they are being paid to do, teach.

The managing workload pocketbook (Teacher’s pocketbooks)
by Will Thomas

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Filed under Leadership in education