How do you grow an idea into a service that teachers will use and that can also be a commercial success?
Here are the slides I used to share my advice, building on the successes I have had as well as the lessons I have learned from what doesn’t work!
I hope this helps others!
I have just completed half a year teaching a group of 10 Year 6 kids. Lots of people described us as a booster class, but I am grateful for the chance to make it so much more. I think we learned a lot together.
What was the problem?
Having worked with the other upper KS2 staff for a while, I was offered a chance to do more for some of the kids at St Francis. Yes, they needed a boost. They were children who were well below their peers, and who had found little ‘improvement’ since year 3. Their progress had been inconsistent and their learning patchy. But there was more. Whether there were special needs, emotional, social care or behavioural problems, these were kids who had a common set of issues.
- Confidence – They were, in their own minds, (as well as the minds of many adults in their lives) failures. All had given up trying.
- Communication – Whether it was explaining an idea, a problem, or talking to peers, these children found it hard to express themselves.
- Collaboration – These were kids who used a range of strategies to hide the fact that they struggled to work with others.
What did we do?
I developed a three term plan, to focus on each area, and to build on both knowledge and skills.
Term 2 - Speaking and Listening – Victorians using eQuest – developing group roles, through structured activities, using a highly engaging story/game.
Term 3 - Daily science investigations - with a focus on scientific method. Lots of learning through failure and testing theories
Term 4 – Project Based Learning – Island project. “Can you create a convincing exhibition of your own (invented) island?’ – Critique protocols, fixed timeline, skills teaching (cartography, descriptive and persuasive writing )
Did it work? How would we know?
Obviously, the main measure will be the levels as they prepare for SATs… And I am pleased to say that almost everyone made significant progress beyond expectations. I was frustrated that the huge progress I can show in Science will not show for much,…but I know how much of a difference this ‘general knowledge ‘ will make to these kids in Year 7. Still, these are now kids operating at (or at the borders of) level 4.
The head had asked me to boost the learning with these kids but also to help them prepare better for secondary school, to develop more positive learning behaviours.
Using a pupil voice self assessment, taken at the start of the project ad at the end, again there has been very good progress. Of course, all measures have weaknesses, And I would have liked a more rigorous system. Although the one I used indicated progress, it is not evidence on its own.
The strongest evidence I have is on video, of children who could or would not be able to speak with confidence on even the simplest topic , showing off their work.
Meet Ella. She was one of the quietest kids I had ever worked with, who would have shrunk from talking in public in almost any setting, and for whom confidence was (perhaps) her biggest problem!
Overall, I learned a lot working with Swifts Class. I was given scope by the head to craft something that suited the kids I had. I realise that I was very lucky. Although this happened under the pressure of an impending Ofsted, and included an inspection, it is fair to say I had less constraints than my colleagues. My ability to provide a learning environment where open ended questions and challenge was most evident was while doing science (we also covered a ton of maths and literacy). However, without the ground work of teaching the basics of speaking and listening (discussion and group work) we could never have reached the depths of learning that they children found in building their own islands through a project based learning approach.
Thank you Swifts, for teaching me so much.
I have had to learn some very tough lessons in the past 18 months, mostly about myself, and it has not been fun. I have found myself in free fall, having leapt from safety, trusting in tales of survival from others. I believed that I could create my own story, and found that, in real life, happy endings are not guaranteed.
Now, having found a temporary place of safety and, once again, helping others to achieve, I am able to reflect and feel able to share some of my lessons. I hope it is of interest to some and useful to a few of you; but that is not why I am writing. For me, it is about coming out of the shadows, stopping the bullshit and being honest about where I am and how I got here.
Ok, the tough bit first. I have been depressed for about a year, and struggling for much longer. I could say that this was because of the failed free school bid I was involved with, but the truth is that this was only one factor.
I could say it is because, for the first time in my life, finding suitable work has doggedly refused to come my way. On top of that, I have been invited to interviews for great jobs which I have been told I was suitable for, but then not offered. After a certain number of those knockbacks, it can really get you down. It is hard to go from a C level post to … a few scraps of freelance work and some p/t teaching – right (hint: do not take any notice of that last ‘feeling sorry for myself’ nonsense). Someone on Twitter pointed out that returning the the classroom was a huge step down for me - which did little for my falling sense of confidence. But, that isn’t the whole story.
I could say, that it is because; having over invested in the free school project, home improvements, keep a roof over our heads and protecting family life… in other words… being skint, … is the cause of my depression. But lots of people are this position – and I though it is part of the problem – it is not the reason.
The truth is, my pride over-reached my capacity and (rather harder to admit) my ability. I did things that I thought were right, even noble. I make decisions and built plans that were not carefully thought-through enough. I gambled. I am depressed, because I have been a fool.
Lesson 1 – You know, when people you trust and who you know have your interests at heart say “You’re very brave.” what they are really saying is: “You are mad, don’t do it!”
If you know me, you’ll know my views on the National Lottery and gambling generally. I have a subscription to Which, and have to listen to the weather forecast before heading out. Yet, I gambled. Somehow I felt that the normal rules did not apply to me. What was this, if not pride?
Lesson 2 – If you cannot afford to be in the game, don’t play.
Now, I do not think that pride is a bad thing, and of course I realise that to achieve anything worth doing you need to risk… but a smart person risks just enough and has a good sense of the resources available to them.
I also failed to listen to the smart and kind voices of friends in my PLN, and take up the offers of help. Again, some of that was stupidity – but a lot of it was pride. I would like to apologise to all those who made the effort to try to stop me falling or to find me a safe place to land.
One day I realised that I had run out of luck, smarts, money and time – and found that I had no resilience left. At this point, I could not see how to pick myself up. I wanted my old life back; wanted to undo the bad decisions I made, wanted to find out what I had done wrong.
Fortunately, I am blessed to be loved by a very smart woman who nudged me to see that this was an opportunity to rebuild on less shaky foundations. To not build esteem on social media ‘noise’, size of paypacket and status.
So, I find myself starting to build again. I am doing something cool and important every morning in a primary school near to home – teaching Year 6 kids who are struggling – using some innovative approaches; building their resilience and emotional wellbeing. I am also leading the curriculum review for the school, managing the project, and helping introduce alternative and innovative pedagogies to the school community.
I hope I have learned not to believe my own bullshit – and I hope that, next time I have a good thing going (professionally) I will have the sense to value it.
Finally, thank you to my amazing wife and glorious kids, who have kept me sane and from sinking.
So,… it’s out there… I said it. Now I can get on with rebuilding. Wish me luck.
As a parent, and part time teacher in Oxford schools, I have witnessed first hand the failed introduction of a promising, but flawed, model of learning to support the most disadvantaged kids in Oxford City.
Specifically commenting on the KRM mathematics intervention, this post will argue that Oxford City Council has failed to engage with schools and the communities they serve to assess the value of this programme, and let down teachers, TAs, parents and kids.
Having recognised that results were spectacularly bad in a city the size and with the advantages of oxford, the city council spent an unknown, but substantial amount of money, on an unproven, disruptive and poorly delivered model of intervention for literacy and mathematics in schools in the city. Recent trumpeting of success by the council cannot hide the unresolved issues, especially in Maths .
Now, I am often a fan of radical approaches, and even of taking risks in education. However, I have also learned to fail quick and learn fast, and to expect rigorous assessments, on a range of measures.
I have only seen the maths aspect of the KRM approach, so all my comments are based on this alone.
I have attended ‘training’ by the KRM team, used it in class, looked at the results, talked with colleagues, parents, and both mine and others children about KRM. In the absence of any real objective, peer reviewed research in the programme, I have had to draw my own conclusions. While KRM Maths is not without merit, and I would accept that it has done some good, I believe any project which focussed on improving the dire results in the city would have done the same amount of good! Here are my comments on the weaknesses of the KRM programme as I have seen it:
1. The evidence for the effectiveness and quality of KRM was / is almost non-existent.
2. The intellectual underpinnings of the KRM (maths) approach are weak and founded on a collection of theories that are only held together by overvalued Intellectual Property.
3. There is some good in the KRM maths system, but the extremely poor quality of the CPD and ‘support’ materials have considerably reduced the impact of the intervention.
4. Kids are bored of KRM. Most teachers hate it. Most of the headteachers are unconvinced. Parents have found it to be a huge barrier to engaging with their kids work at school.
5. The basis of the delivery model is that the KRM approach to maths must be kept ‘pure’, out of the hands of TAs and parents, and that the model is inflexible.
I could (and would be happy to) go into more detail on any of these points, but the biggest problem with KRM maths, for me, came when the creator of this approach, Jonathan Solity, stated that the success of their intervention could only be assessed by KRM measures. This worried me enormously, and led to this post.
If the education team at Oxford City were to talk to parents,teachers and kids …and look into the poor quality of the training, support and principles of this approach, rather than scrabbling about for a quick fix to up results in the short term… then they would ask for their money back, and invest it into proper teacher CPD.
Oxford County Council -KRM Maths does not add up. Just ask the kids!
Small ‘c’ conservativism, coupled with decreasingly politicisation, and a misty eyed view of the past, means that the profession is falling into the hands of aggressive ideologues like Mr Gove. We need a positive and progressive alternative that is brave and embraces change.
And for those teachers for whom their practice IS political, and believe that it is all the fault of ‘evil Mr Gove’, lets look at Labour. Without an alternative narrative of social justice Labour is failing in developing a progressive education policy: very depressingly stating that their policy is all about reducing ‘Risk’. This is partly because most educational advisers and teachers are too conservative to imagine their way toward a fairer and more progressive profession. Afraid of bravery, afraid to fight for a more just education. Heads in the sand. Not a great strategy for coping with change.
In other words…conservative.
You disagree? Most teachers want less government interference, for things to left as they are, and for there to be less pressure for change. Leave us alone, and let us get on with it, and everything will be fine. When we assess ourselves using our own measures, we are doing really well. Right?
I think the identity of the profession is being locked into a deeply regressive direction or, at best, stasis. Largely as a result of sustained attack by government, but also due to a fundamental misunderstanding of change and how to respond to it.
Change is a constant. A profession that has become so defensive as to be automatically against change, and unable to rethink their role, has lost its way.
I know this post is going to bring me even more grief than the last one, and I am likely to have to follow up with s series of qualifications to the broad brush strokes I am painting here (rhetorically) and to explain my personal position better. But, I am not going to apologise now; though, for the record, am not a Tory, do not like their politics and hate Mr Gove’s vision of education.
Until 3 years ago, I had never been accused of being a Tory. Yet, because I want to see our state schools system develop, embrace and evolve new pedagogies and practice, this name-calling has increasingly clouded the broader debate I am engaging with. I did like the opportunity / challenge Gove laid down to us to do better… And tried (unsuccessfully- perhaps fortunately- though it nearly broke me) to open a new school in Oxford based on the principles, pedagogy and equity our group believed in. The good news is that the XPSchool, school21 and others are out there proving the ground. But they are too few, and struggling to make a bigger impact.
What I think it boils down to is that too many teachers are responding to the call for the education system to change by arguing that the system (as is) works. Well, not only do I disagree, I disagree on a philosophical level. All living systems are flawed, and the pressures to change and evolve (the Red Queen Hypothesis) are what sustains any ecology.
I also believe that, apart from a few notable exceptions, most schools and teachers are struggling to engage their kids, and to do right by them.
Yes, we need more investment, more professional development, a broader assessment regime, a more formative inspection system…This is a list that is not wrong, and we can all add to it.
But, these could just be more ways to reinforce the status quo.
I believe we need an education system that provides a personalised and engaging learning experience for all children, not just the few who live in the right postcode or who have advantages of birth. Our current fudge does not do this. The crisis in headteacher recruitment is indicative of a system no one wants to lead, at the local level.
So, I want change? Hell yeah. Even if it risks jobs, the familiar, and (dare I say it) even the quality of some kids education. Yes! How can I justify this (assuming I have to) to all my angry colleagues who are frowning their way through this rambling post?
Because I think positive change happens with disruption, when smart people embrace the opportunities to make things better.
Because I share the analysis that, despite the bullshit about international measures of assessment, our stats on pupil destination data, increasing SEN, Wellbeing (obesity, depression, etc) show that our kids are not getting a broad and balanced education that prepares them for life
Because unfairness (regional, class, race, gender) in our education system is getting worse
Because too many kids are being failed by our current approach not to make it worth trying to scale up proven models of success that shift the paradigm of school.
Because most of our schools have barely changed in 40 years
Because teachers are being asked to do more and more, better and better, for less and less.
Surely this zero sum game is one we should step out from
Let’s get back to the vision we have for education.
I want a state funded, equitable, appropriate, modern school for my kids and their peers. We all do. We don’t have one.
So, if I side with the disruptions, this does not make me a Tory or libertarian. It makes me a progressive socialist. With enough of us prepared to look up from the trenches and inform/shape a drive for change we might get there in partnership with our communities, rather than in conflict with our politicians.
We just need more people to speak up. Where the hell are the rest of you?
What is a ‘teacher’? Are those with a QTS the only people who can help children learn?
Have all the people you have learned from had QTS? Didn’t think so. Which brings me to my motivation for this blog post. I have been hugely disappointed by the level of debate from teachers, about the place of non-QTS ‘teachers’ in schools. It would be great if this was as simple as the binary policy issue that the politicians want it to be – but it ain’t.
I am in favour of people ‘teaching’ in schools who do not have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). This puts me at odds with many people I’d call my fellow travellers – so let me get a few things clear first.
- I am on the opposite side of the fence to Mr Gove on almost everything
- I believe in a powerful and strong teaching profession.
- I believe that expert pedagogy should inform and shape educational experiences in schools
- I expect and demand that there should be high standards of Teaching and Learning in all classrooms.
- The current administration has taken the attack on teaching and the working conditions of teachers to new levels of antagonism. This is unforgivable, even when it builds on policies started by Labour.
That said, I do not see why teachers have allowed themselves to be pulled into this crazy attack on the paper tigers that are ‘unqualified teachers’. It suits the parties to try to create clear water between their vacuous and too-similar education policies – but do we really need to join in?
Firstly, no one is seriously suggesting unqualified teachers will be in charge of primary classes all day, every day, all term. Most of the suggested uses are in secondary schools, in very specific areas, mostly at KS4. In many ways, this is just organising, encouraging and extending what happens, even in primary schools, where local experts are brought into the learning space we call school: such as piano teachers, or artists/poets in residence.
For example, you might have an engineer working with a physics A’level group in every 3rd session, to build and contextualise understanding of light as a carrier of data in fibre optic cables.
To have a regular and dependable relationship with someone who can enliven learning and engage young people is NOT an attack on the profession! Yes the profession is under attack, and is deeply defensive, but this is the wrong reaction.
Teachers should be confidently welcoming this development, as it strengthens the value of a teacher as a pedagogue – rather than just an instructor or broadcaster of facts. I do NOT agree with Mr Gove about most things, and totally disagree with his views about what constitutes a proper education – and his view about the primacy of (certain) facts. We need teachers who are qualified in schools who are pedagogues – but we should also have room for those who bring other skills.
Yes, there is the issue of what to call a person who teaches, if not a not a teacher with QTS, but I am not going to get into that issue in this post. I have been amazed, however, at how many QTS teachers I know who have become unreasonably vociferous and demeaning about those qualified in other areas who want to help kids learn, just because they ‘dare’ want to ‘teach’ kids – and, therefore, might be referred to as ‘teachers’!
Those arguing in the #QTSdebate use the example of doctors to show how ‘mad’ the use of ‘unqualified teachers’ is. But this shows a simple lack of understanding of the complexity of the health care system we all depend on. A GP is a general practitioner, who depends on a wealth of health care experts to help them shape and deliver the care for a patient. You might need a phlebotomist, occupational therapist, mental health nurse or prosthetist – none of whom are doctors. The doctor shapes and informs the individual care pathway for each patient.
Teachers should be more confident in embracing the professional role as the expert in pedagogy, creating the learning pathway, and assessing the needs / potential of each pupil.
There is the argument, much discussed today in #QTSDebate, led by the fantastic Laura McInerney , that if someone wants to ‘teach’ in schools they should be prepared to train and qualify as a teacher. Firstly, many do and even more will – through programmes like TeachFirst – and I welcome this, of course. However, not everyone wants to become an expert in pedagogy.
I was fortunate to have an immunology research scientist in class recently, via Science Oxford and the STEM Ambassador network. She was brilliant – and willing to come in more regularly. Her employer (a hospital trust) would have been open to this, and part of the value she brought to the Yr6 kids was that she was working on this out of school – it was real and it mattered. She did not want to be a teacher – she wants to study and share her knowledge of immunology to improve public health. We worked together to shape the learning and assessed it together. Science Oxford are one of many organisations I have spoken to who would like to make these sorts of visits built into the timetabled learning in a school year – not just ‘one-off’ special visits.
It seems fair to pay for this, and schools should be able to attract, retain, and manage those experts that they can demonstrate would add value to the learning of their kids.
Laura asked about how we maintain standards with these ‘non-QTS’ people in class – and I think the answer is clear – which is that is what all the quality structures in a school would do, from lesson observations, planning, all the way to Ofsted. These people would have to prove their value – and would be subject to proper assessment, in partnership with the teacher – who would be ultimately responsible.
I know that there is a whole debate about the role of informal learning, and about the wealth of people we can learn from, especially those out in the ‘real world’. I feel that this important debate has been lost in the fight over ‘unqualified teachers’ – and we should more confidently pull the discussion back towards it. Does it really matter to kids and parents who ‘teaches’ their kids?
I think most parents want their kids to be taught by the best possible people, and for them to do it with care, passion, and to enable all children to learn.
Finally, I am not a natural blogger – I do not write well. I prefer face-to-face debate and Twitter – so apologies for this long, poorly structure and rambling post. I do not post it expecting the arguments not to be ripped into – but please allow me to clarify before asserting what you think I am saying if a point seems a bit vague. Thanks for reading this far.
TeachFirst, the education charity, are offering £20,000 , and more, for innovative education projects, to make a difference to those kids who need most help. Be ready to pitch your idea, and prepare for some worthy competition!
Over the past few months I have been very lucky to be part of the Teach First Innovation Weekends, as a dragon, judging the pitches. This was an accelerator programme for the Innovation Award. Thanks to Ayd Instone, who helped make the days full of innovation and positive energy, and for getting me involved!
Anyone can enter, you don’t need to be a TeachFirst grad. And the weekends proved that! I saw the full range, from teachfirsters still training, to experienced publishing professionals, parents, governors, and many teachers.
Though there were clearly highlights and some rock solid projects that I am looking forward to seeing happen, my overall impression was that the calibre and enthusiasm was incredibly high. I had a great time, and hope to be able to support a few of these brilliant people to make the difference, and to ‘Do the Do’ they created. It chimes perfectly with the whole point of creat_ED, the event I helped run at the Barbican this Summer. I am really pleased that so many of the Teach First Innovation weekenders came along! We need more social entrepreneurs!
So, if you have an idea to transform educational outcomes why not pitch for the innovation award. Worst case, you’ll have tried something of importance, and met loads of great people and learned more. Best case, a salary, office and support to make your vision come true. Teach First say:
We are offering up to £20,000, two salaried positions, and a wealth of experience and support to the winning individual or team, to support the development of the best ideas for social enterprises that will make a real difference to the state of education in the UK.
You have till the 19th of August – so get going!!
I know there have been detractors of TF, mainly based on misconceptions, wonderfully cleared up by Laura McInerney here! (BTW If you don’t follow Laura – as @miss_mcinerney on twitter, you should!!) But, given the renewed debate about the politics of this movement in the US, I cannot help but feel it is more important for more of us to get involved, and expand the range of influences on this organisation that has already proved itself to be a powerful catalyst for educational reform, to support the most disadvantaged in our schools.
What are you waiting for??
(Declaration of Interest Note – I was not paid to be a dragon, though they did cover my travel expenses and gave me a bottle of wine to say thanks.)
The Innovation Unit has started a new project to find a way to increase the amount of innovative schools opening in the UK. I am pleased to say that they have asked me to be involved, partly as this project has come about after a series of conversations and some gentle lobbying following a blog post I wrote earlier this year.
Following the rejection by the DfE of the free school proposal I have been involved in for Oxford, ONSchool, to open in 2014, I have found that there are many other groups, like ours, who felt that the process was tougher for those who proposed a school with particular features, such as project based learning. Whether this is true or not, our story was written up in The Guardian as part of a deeper questioning of whether the government really wants innovation at all. Groups like mine needed to share and support each other better, and find the help they needed. I was not the only one who felt that way.
David Jackson, Partner at the Innovation Unit was also enthused about the potential of free schools to help transform the wider system, and he will be leading this project for the Innovation Unit. So, what will we be doing over the next few months:
- Firstly, I will be gathering Innovative Free Schools (IFS), to share experiences, and find out more about what they need. If you are involved in a free school group that seeks to open a school in 2015 that has features such as project based learning, please get in touch.
- I will also be talking to organisations who might want to work with free school groups, school providers and charities, to help connect them together. We will be selecting partners who have a proven, innovative model of education.
- Finally, we are looking for organisations who might want to support The Innovation Unit in this work and, again, I’d welcome any contact on this matter.
Beyond that, David and I will be building a network of groups and schools that have opened, to share experiences and support each other. More on this soon.
Clearly, there is a lot to be done to clear up what we mean by Innovative, but the Innovation Unit are the right people to be leading on this.
We hope that this work will pave the way for more of the change that many of us feel is long overdue to take place in more of our communities and for more children to get the education for their futures that they deserve.
I have been getting to grips with the fantastic insights into the reality of opening a new school offered in a fascinating new report commissioned by the National College for School Leadership : Establishing and leading new types of school: challenges and opportunities for leaders and leadership
The NCSL report can be found on their website (which you need to log in to access).
I was fortunate to meet one of the authors of this review of Free Schools, UTCs and Studio Schools. John Dunford, who is also Chair of Whole Education, was part of a discussion about the lack of support for free school groups seeking to offer a more ‘whole’ and forward thinking model of education. Our meeting timed with the publication of this report which had found this to be a challenge for schools already approved and open.
I’d urge all freeschoolers and those considering being involved in new schools to read this, but I found a one of the key recommendations particularly interesting:
“The Department for Education and its advisers should require from the promoters of free schools a less detailed plan, concentrating on the strategic aspects of plans for the school and not requiring the promoters to specify details that should properly be the role of the principal when appointed. “
As anyone who has been involved in the writing or assessment of a free school application will tell you, this one seems very obvious. The DfE criteria – though vague in of themselves – seem to be interpreted by the DfE officials to be a requirement to detail every aspect of school life and the education plan, specifically, is expected to be much more than strategic or illustrative. The impact of this simple problem are well explored by the report and the findings should be tough reading for the DfE Free Schools team.
There is much, much more in this report worth reading – but one of the findings that is implied throughout this document, and made more explicit by John when I met him, is that despite the potential for innovation, most of these new schools are not doing anything new or innovative and are too isolated. They are struggling to live up to their promise. The isolation forced by the process of opening, the lack of time to coordinate with other local schools and LAs, and the pressures of the timeframes involved all mitigate against effective start up.
It also seems that the lack of a network for new schools (and the confusion caused by the poorly named New Schools Network!) has meant that new schools are finding that they are alone and unsupported.
I recently received an email from a free schooler whose school is due to open this September, consoling me on our free school rejection from the DfE. Tragically, she says:
” It may seem gutting right now, but perhaps you have had a lucky escape.”
This highly skilled group have a Principal Designate – with lots of experience – yet are clearly struggling despite having the ‘support’ of the DfE to open a new – much needed – school. The NCSL report points out that this sort of struggle is all too common, but the truth is often hidden from view – due to the reality of trying to present a capable and effective school to their new ‘community’. Yet, there are communities for schools that could be helping them – not least the NCSL.
Whole Education could be the sort of network that could harness the power of these new schools, and combine it with the experience of their members, to support them and the wider system to make more progress in how we educate and ‘school’ our communities.