Sunday, 28 December 2014


Must be time to blog again! It has been some time but then work and life does get in the way. The nurture posts initiated by @ChocoTzar two years ago have inspired a range of touching and often humbling personal and professional reflections, many of which I have read in recent days. I like the new 5 and 5 format, especially with the year numbers growing. This will aid being concise. Last year's reflection can be found here

Driving on: 

To review 2014 first- I will group last years 14 points as succinctly as I can.

1. In January my teaching workload trebled with our Year 6 teacher going part time.  Not what I expected in my first year as DHT but I was left with the responsibility for Maths and English in OFSTED year, so no pressure!  But what a wonderful group of children they were. For the first time in my career a school I had been part of attained 100% level 4+ across the board, got the best score in the authority in level 5 in reading and hit third place in one version of the local league tables. I am no great fan of presenting data like this, but as a small school with 70% Pupil Premium in that year it drew acclaim to the school and to the teachers who had driven those children in the previous 6 years. More importantly, they were genuine results giving those children the best possible start in their secondary school lives. 

OFSTED came in the middle of March. We knew it had to come before July and the timing could not have been any better, with our in-year data analysis well established and more importantly being seen to be used. Tremendous team spirit and a confident grasp of priorities by everyone together with excellent behaviour, great teaching and engagement of the team in conversation and not confrontation enabled us to reach the 'Good' grade we deserved. The best inspection outcome the school had ever had. Everyone is hugely proud.

2. Twitter has continued to be a great source of CPD for me, opening a range of opportunities through blogs, chats, links and interactions that aren't available in my LA. I have met a number of teacher tweeters and also other followers from my non-teaching interests. One aspect of Twitter that continues disappoint though is the slanging matches between professionals. There is bullying on Twitter(despite denials), and what I witnessed particularly in school holidays has been unpleasant. For the only time I unfollowed and blocked teachers, not a form of censorship I like, but I have no desire to see unprofessional behaviour on my timeline. 

I organised a Teach Meet too. The first in my LA. Numbers were small, but it was a start and it began conversations in other quarters. In September I was contacted by @Sazwighead and @RachelSwinburne offering to take on the running of the next event, which I was glad to do with my workload. Teach Meet Bexley 2015 will have over 100 attendees. From small acorns, mighty oaks grow! 

3. Getting the inspection out of the way enabled us to pay serious attention to the new curriculum. In summer we trialled some examples of how we felt we could deliver the new requirements. We have taken on the opportunity to deliver the curriculum in an innovative and creative manner.  We call it the Project Curriculum, as projects have defined beginnings, phases and endings. Each is based on one or more core texts from CLPE's The Power of Reading, placing literacy skills at the very centre of learning. A lateral, rather than linear approach enables colleagues to plan for the other subjects to accompany the project, though not in a contrived fashion. If it fits, then fine, if it doesn't, then it isn't squeezed in, but sits discretely alongside the rest of the learning.  One term in, we are feeling very excited about the engagement the children are showing. Not everyone may agree, but this suits our school and our children.

British Values hit the headlines in the Autumn, but we had already decided to embed Dr Neil Hawkes' Values Based Education as our PSHE curriculum. This is documented here

Again, the impact of this is embedding itself in the very fabric of the school. 

4. My reading. I have managed to read a good few educational texts. Other than Neil's book mentioned above, I won't name them. If you like what you read, you will put it into practice, if you don't then you won't. Enough said.

My personal top five for this year:

Golazo! (Andreas Campomar): A History of Latin American Football: Politics, intrigue and conspiracy abound.

The Sleepwalkers (Christopher Clark): An in depth study of the causes of World War I.

HHhH (Laurent Binet): A narrative based on the plot to assassinate Heydrich.

The Teleportation Accident (Ned Beauman): I read Boxer Beetle last year. One of Britain's best young novelists. 

The Psychopath Test (Jon Ronson): Read this and you will be seeing them everywhere!

5. Work-Life Balance: Must try harder!! Not easy to organise when you have a lot on your plate and often I have had to be reactive rather than proactive because of circumstances. Weekends have been especially busy. Four cinema visits all year; I used to exceed 40!

That is why holidays are so important to recharge, spend time with those you are closest to and to just be me. This year I have been especially lucky. I have stood on top of the Empire State Building, seen puffins in Shetland, and tracked the locations of my favourite Danish crime and political dramas in Copenhagen. I have rediscovered the love of photography I last had as a student. I am going to indulge myself with some examples here.

Arty interpretation of Lady Liberty

One of life's ambitions fulfilled.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Just beautiful. 
Driving forward: 

Hopes for 2015

1. Professional: As I said above I am most excited by the way the new curriculum has offered such opportunities to develop teaching and learning. Next challenge is the replacement of levels. We have taken the approach that we will keep levels for the moment and scaffold a replacement around them. There is a lot of material out there, and hasty decisions may be costly, especially with the rather imprecise performance descriptors looming. I am eternally grateful to @tim_jumpclarke and to @MichaelT1979 for their selfless efforts in working on the key objectives and to Tim for sharing those with me.

I have a few things in mind for time management, which I won't list because I know that by 8th January I will have to reevaluate those again. 

2. Twitter: Although we are in a minority there are an increasing number of primary practitioners sharing on Twitter, and a healthy number of secondary teachers making increasing connections with primary colleagues. February's Teach Meet will I hope lead to further channels of communication opening in my LA. Of course there are still a few who think we let the children run riot with glitter and glue, but you can't please everyone!

3. Reading and Writing:I will set myself a similar target. I always get books at Christmas, and I'm still working through some from the last year. I've just begun  A Song of Ice and Fire, that's the Game of Thrones books for the uninitiated. We have quite a fan club at school and now that everyone has caught up (usually it is a matter of knowing who is dead) we have another line of conversation at lunchtimes. 

I harbour no ambitions to write a professional text, but I do have a whole bank of short stories and plays I have written for the children. My sitcom never made it past a producer's desk but there is a chance it could be performed in a local theatre, with a few edits. 

4. Humour: This is such a powerful weapon. It can engage children and colleagues, and it develops a level of understanding that promotes language use. I don't advocate teachers being stand up comedians, but it does demonstrate a more human side to ones character. Humourless types just need to lighten up.

5. Health, Hope and Happiness: I aim to cook a new recipe each week. Although not a vegetarian, I have several great books (Ottolenghi) with amazing vegetable recipes to discover. 

I hope that whatever happens in May, we will have Government which will deliver and not damage.

I have a round numbered birthday this year, and that's the point where doctors begin conversations with 'At your age...' I've got pain in my right knee, but I watch my weight and exercise appropriately. Next month I will find if I have inherited glaucoma from my mother. However a few eye drops and an tubular bandage is nothing. I read @imagineinquiry's  contribution to this series yesterday, and his frank and honest assessment is most humbling. 

What will 2015 bring? Well I am looking for the positives. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Building A Values Based Education Curriculum

We are all shaped by experiences. Every one of us has experienced joy, grief, excitement and disappointment. We have been let down or supported; embarrassed or praised;  been lied to, or even lied about. Heartbreak, romance, childbirth, promotion, pride. All of these impact on our thought processes and life decisions, and make us the people that we are.

It was with such in mind that we considered in developing our PSHE curriculum. The 'tough new curriculum' as some sources have called it begins from this month. 

The new documentation tells is this:

2.1 Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly 
based and which:
 promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
 prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

2.2 The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school 

plans for its pupils. The national curriculum forms one part of the school curriculum.

'.. all learning..' is the key phrase here. If we view the whole day, from the time before the bell sounds, through break and lunch times, to taking the children round to their parents at the end of the day, then there are a plethora of other learning opportunities. Indeed, if we were to include anytime a child is in school uniform, and representing the school in the community, then the definition of the 'school curriculum' is even broader. 

Which leads to this further paragraph from the new curriculum document.

2.5 All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education.

PSHE. I have seen a 'scheme' for this, and what a behemoth it was, dictating which year groups should be covering a particular aspect in which week. Totally unworkable. Some teachers may be familiar with SEAL, which contained some useful material, but was also unwieldy and inflexible in some hands. Indeed I recall a former colleague delivering one of the prepared assemblies, and still being there 45 minutes later until rescued by a fire drill. 

PSHE needn't be such a 'beast'. It is about life skills and dealing with people. No fixed scheme can possibly support that.

It was with this in mind that I introduced colleague to the work of Dr Neil Hawkes and his superb and deeply personal reflection 'From My Heart'. Neil's work outlines 'Values Based Education', something he built during his headship in Oxfordshire, and has since shared Worldwide.

I won't go into detail. The book is an excellent read, and the website provides a simple rationale of the project.

We chose VbE because we felt the philosophy behind it suited our school and the way we wanted to deliver the new curriculum. We had already made the decision to build a project based approach, driven by CLPE's 'The Power of Reading' programme, to which the creative aspects of the curriculum are linked where possible. 

Quite simply, a programme of values, 22 of them, one for each month over a two year cycle, is chosen to suit the needs of the school and the children. The values are modelled through assemblies, at least one dedicated lesson, displays and rewards, and form part of the fabric and character of the school. Modelling is the modus operandi, as the staff have to live those values, and use the appropriate vocabulary to support them.

Today our start of term INSET was dedicated to deciding our guiding values. We considered what had shaped us as people, by reflecting upon our own perceptions of positive and negative aspects of society in our lifetimes (we range, as most staffs do, from 20s to 50s), and discussing the people who embodied values, and the books that had deeply moved us. This list produced parents and grandparents, Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and perhaps less predictably, but nonetheless deservedly, Clement Attlee. The books included The Bible, 'To Kill A Mockingbird', and at somewhat of a tangent, 'Black Beauty'. 

We also took time to consider the school itself, because the programme of values is determined by the character of the school. Social deprivation, degrees of aspiration, the lack of positive (particularly male) role models; all were considered, together with the fact that we already have strong core values, our views of society and our values 'heroes'. Through discussion, sharing, elimination and no small amount of laughter, we generated this programme, unique to our school.


So that is it! Our values! Our values journey starts with the children's arrival tomorrow and my assembly on the value of 'Positivity' later in the week. There is more work to do in further INSET on reflection, vocabulary and the application of the values to situations around the school. The values have to be lived by all the staff at all times after all.

This was the most powerful aspect of Neil's work for me; living the values. As teachers we are incredibly powerful as role models: in totalitarian regimes we would have been one of the first 'up against the wall' after all! It does disappoint me to see teachers being rude to each other, particularly through Twitter. This summer I have seen a number of unpleasant comments between professionals. Would they speak to colleagues or indeed children like that? Bearing in mind that Twitter is an open forum; anyone could be reading it. Healthy debate and discussion is fine. Rudeness is not. Perhaps these people need to read Neil's work too.

Monday, 30 June 2014

"What is the best place for testing in schools?" Has testing supplanted effective teaching and learning?

I am pleased to offer this further contribution to this month’s #blogsync

Since the announcement of the scrapping of levels and the changes to testing arrangements there has been copious debate and a fair amount of head scratching as to the future of testing and its place in the cycle of assessment.

Who do we assess for?

·         For the children – to inform the next stages of their learning, to inform them of their progress and what they need to do to reach the next step of their learning journey.

·         For the parents- to inform them of their children’s progress and how they can best support their offspring.

·         For ourselves- to plan the next stage of the children’s learning, to set learning targets, to judge relative progress.

We don’t assess for OFSTED, though OFSTED will be interrogating our data, books and the children in regard to their attitude to learning.

What is assessment?

There’s been much dialogue about assessment since the announcement about the scrapping of National Curriculum levels. Much of this debate has been not so much about assessment as about tracking. Whilst both are required, the current system of National Curriculum levels has been that its use as a tracking tool has seemingly replaced its purpose as an assessment tool.

To assess: to evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality something.
To track: to follow the trail or movements of something.

Inevitably, the way that Ofsted works has meant that schools have been forced to use their levelled assessments to prove that they are tracking progress towards the end-of-key-stage expectations. However, in doing so we have all but removed the act of assessment from the processes of teaching and learning.

The problem with the drive towards the tracking of progress is that with each large step towards numerical data we lose the small step detail. Ultimately we lose sight of what makes a good teacher: one that knows the children in their class.

For assessment to be useful and meaningful, it needs to tell children, teachers and sometimes parents, what it is that the child can or cannot do. Levels aren’t especially helpful, since they were designed to be broad. Accordingly, sub-levels were created to try to fill the gap as indicators on a tracking scale. Remember though, sublevels were only intended originally to subdivide level 2 for a more measured ability profile at Year 2. Sublevelling higher up transpired from use of the optional tests; readers will recall that APP deemed children as low, secure or high, not C, B or A.

For assessment to work well, it needs to be directly linked to the taught curriculum. In schools, we need processes which are directly linked to the curriculum that allow teachers to judge how well their children have learned what has been taught. Current national tests (optional and statutory) do not fully serve this purpose. A child in Y5 might not have covered all of the KS2 curriculum content which could come up on a test, but a test level does not discern between that the taught and untaught, the grasped and ungrasped.

For example a child can achieve a Level 4 on National Curriculum tests, or even through APP assessment, without knowing their tables up to 10×10, despite this being a requirement of both the APP criteria and the National Curriculum attainment target. Indeed, some children who manage well in many areas of mathematics can continue to appear to be making progress in tracking records, despite never confidently knowing some key aspects of the curriculum.
In the absence of assessment, it is perfectly possible for a child to never have this key need identified. Despite all that we know about the importance of some key aspects of subjects, progress measurement relates to tracking first and foremost.

A child might well be achieving level 5, or within the expected range for his/her age, or 101 on a scaled score- but none of that information gives away the truth about whether he/she can quickly recall 6 x 7 or to apply this knowledge further.

The issue with testing

QCA optional tests were only ever designed as a summative measure, designed to be delivered at the end of a school Year. There was never any intention to correlate the standards of the 1998, 2003 and 2006 tests to each other, or to correlate the Year 3, 4 and 5 tests to each other- hence a high achieving child in Year 3 would score an indicative level 4, and a high achieving child in Year 4 would also score the same indicative level 4. The key term is ‘indicative’ here. The same issue exists with level 5 in the Year 5 tests. At best the ‘indicative’ level is a 5c (or a 4c in the Year 3 and 4 materials) but it is also worth considering the implications for KS2 tests- until recently a child achieving level 5 in Year 5 tests had nowhere higher to go in Year 6.

One further issue is the sublevelling. In some tests a margin of 5 marks could turn a ‘c’ to an ‘a’, which in terms of APS progress is 4 points, theoretically in excess of a whole Year’s progress. With an element of ‘teaching to the test’ a few ‘tricks’, such as looking for the questions where drawing a line or completing a box is the requirement, can make the apparent difference to the result. This is not representative of good teaching or learning.

One observed issue has been the splitting of the indicative upper level into sublevels which is completely inaccurate in terms of reporting. Overall testing has issues with reliability and validity, and hence there are issues with what testing actually means.

Why teaching to the test is so bad

Tests are about making a measurement: of something enormous and not clearly defined.  The term ‘domain’ describes what is available to be tested. The domain is huge; just consider how much as a primary teacher you cover in an entire academic Year. No test can ever truly measure the domain, as parts of the curriculum cannot be tested in a written form. In short, tests are at best only a sample.

Teachers need to see and use standardised tests which prompt certain responses and which are the same for each child taking them. The QCA tests are standardised, but not in relation to each other, and were only ever designed to be end of Year, summative assessments with results that were only ever intended to be indicative rather than strictly accurate.

Memorisation of things such as times tables and verb endings, is of some value, but memorisation of the wrong things like exam tricks and hints, is clearly not. If the writing test is use, teaching Year 5 a unit on persuasive writing shortly before that test will inevitably result in a skewed result. Matching teaching to the test will inevitably result in fabricated gains.  The syllabus is not the curriculum, and nor should it be the curriculum.

It is so much easier nowadays for teachers (and parents) to download past papers from the internet and work on their children’s areas of weakness. However teaching which fixates on past papers and test preparation is not teaching to the domain. It’s teaching to the sample. The improvements it generates are not likely to be genuine. Teaching to the test doesn’t replace teaching and learning.  A good Year 6 teacher will complete old SATS papers with a class, but not to teach test tricks, they to allow children the experience of working to time and under pressure.

Some schools give the same QCA test at the end of each term. This can produce feelings of familiarity which may result in overconfidence, and subsequent underperformance, or undermined confidence for the fear of repeated mistakes. In contrast a child who performs well at Christmas has nowhere else to go in terms of progress for the rest of the year.

So: What now?

Testing clearly has a place as a measure of progress with a National standard in place. Overtesting results in anxieties, for children and teachers, and potential inaccuracies.

Good teachers know their children: what they can do well, where they need support, how they can develop in the future. Rigorous and regular formative teacher assessment, monitored and moderated, is representative of good practice. Knowing that a child is working at a secure level 3, rather than saying the child is there ‘because the test says so’, is a clearer indication of a teacher with a knowledge of their class, and a firmer basis for planning next steps in learning. With levels going, these teachers are going to be in the best position to adjust to any change.