Author Archives: David Jones

Changing student mind-set towards learning

Changing student mind-set towards learning

As we approach the end of term, our subject reviews, have provided a great forum for discussions and I was fascinated by a trial our scientists have been working on and will continue to measure the impact of next year.

Like many subjects they would like more curriculum time in year 11 and worry that they are falling behind as you can see in their opening slide! Using their professional judgement initially, they have worked out that 50% of their students are working in the way that they need to, to be successful in their science classes and exams.  They would say that this is better than it was but obviously not where it should be.  ‘Working the way they need to’ doesn’t just mean rolling up and keeping your head down for a lesson and you can see our generic gold mind-set standard below.

You show outstanding commitment and concentration in lessons.
You embrace challenge in all aspects of your work.
You have a constant desire to conquer the toughest aspects of your learning and will view any mistakes positively to ensure you get it right next time. You say ‘yet’ a lot.
You are determined to master subject skills and knowledge and are prepared to practice on your weak areas. You seek feedback and use it so that you improve. Supporting other students is also really important to you. You know how to provide them with honest feedback when it is needed.

There has been much discussion nationally, and in our own school, about the requirements for students to take responsibility for their own behaviour and learning. Some would argue that if a child misbehaves or refuses to have the correct learning attitude and stops the learning of themselves and others; that is down to them and not the lack of ‘engaging’ teaching or ‘classroom control’ skills of the teacher.  I’m hardly likely to support poor teaching but I do know that we have a fantastic set of teachers and need the students to have the mind-set to make the most of their teaching. I can accept that as a school we need to have the structures and systems in place to ensure that quality teaching has the optimum chance to impact on student learning.  Great behaviour for learning and learning mind-sets don’t always come easy for every student but if they attend our school, we should be insistent on them rapidly acquiring those traits, supporting them as they develop those traits and rewarding their successes as they grow into the learners we know they need to be.  Inclusive excellence for all!

The scientists have developed a direct instruction model of teaching, supported by each child having their own booklet [knowledge organiser style with deeper questions than the text books] and regular retrieval quizzing and tracking in place. You can see in the extract below that there is a great deal of collaborative planning involved and shared good practice e.g. on misconceptions and planning how to prevent in the future. For those who are trialling direct instruction, modelling is often the stumbling block and informal drop in observations are allowing colleagues to watch each other develop effective strategies.

The green text are some of the priority areas for constant consideration and finding out more about. Working out exactly where to quiz again/recap on the forgetting curve can be different depending on the complexity of the topic, they have found and we didn’t really know if anyone has written/researched about ‘proxies for learning’ in SCIENCE! We know Coe’s generic proxies and tried to skim through Didau’s big book, ‘What if everything……’ but to no avail.  I need to consult twitter to ask if any such evidence exists for different subjects.  It’s really important to us that we have a discussion in this in subject specific terms.

The slide which interested me most and made me share what we were discussing internally and externally was this one.

Each teacher was asked to think about their classes and make a professional judgement about the learning mind-set of each student [They did find a correlation between their own mind-set grades that appear on our reports] There were 5 categories and I’m sure that other colleagues will all recognise students in every category in their class. It isn’t rocket science to immediately realise that having thought about the mind-set of the students, our scientists were now going to try to move all of the students up so that there were increasing numbers of students who fitted the hard-working, committed success criteria that the faculty want to see in their lessons. I’ve mentioned direct instruction, our new folders and have written about our new behavioural policy in an earlier blog.  These have definitely pushed the numbers of ‘ready to learn’ upwards but these tactics are designed to support this preparedness even more.  Down to the minutiae of Cs being placed at the end of rows, Ds being dotted around the room and so on so that Cs have every chance of becoming a B and Ds are prevented from becoming Es. Es are spread around the classes and interestingly they were in the higher sets and not the lower sets or SEND students.

It’s a trial and one that needs to be shared with all of our staff and may interest other schools. As I think about it more and think about possible moves to mixed ability teaching, I can see immediate advantages but as a stand-alone trial, I can’t wait to see what the data will show by Xmas.

You can see the final slide and I’ll leave it here so that others can see their thoughts and can ask questions of it should they wish to.

Thank you to Carmel and Hannah for sharing.

Our Whole School Behaviour System

There is quite a loud demand currently on social media and in educational publications for the implementation of tough whole school behaviour systems. Our profession is worried that we are losing potentially good teachers due to the poor behaviour of students and the lack of support within schools to ensure that teachers can teach and students can learn in an environment where excellent behaviour allows that to happen. There have also been highly publicised discussions between new Free Schools, behaviour Tsars and so on and supporters of ‘zero based tolerance’ and their child centred antagonists. In our own microcosm of MCHS there are the same discussions but they aren’t really channelled into ‘traditionalists v progressives’ and the terms wouldn’t really mean too much!

Whole school behaviour systems may also be interpreted differently as a definition and I would have thought that most schools had some kind of policy that was imposed across the school but perhaps not all have agreed and discussed criteria, centralised detentions and administration, built in systems of rewards/consequences and so on. To be honest, whatever system you have, unless it is fully supported, consistently applied, makes a real difference to learning and teaching and has the weight of leadership behind it; it won’t work and so it doesn’t matter what it is called! It’s also very easy to shout and call for systems to be put in place, but not so easy to do it. I do get really frustrated when I see populist tweets calling for strict all-encompassing systems of any nature e.g. feedback, assessment not just BFL, but no follow up to how their own school has achieved this successfully or at least what their policy is. It may be easier when you are a new school with a small staff and a new students who you can educate to your ways but the ‘turning a tanker’ analogy is a real one for many school leaders. That doesn’t mean of course that it can’t be done and nor am I saying that ours is a good way. I’m just sharing what we have talked about and agreed on because I think that as many schools as possible should be part of the discussion. It’s a warts and all shared experience and it may have a relevance and interest for others. Is it a solution? Time will tell!

As well as the retention issue and natural desire to have good behaviour to enable learning and teaching to happen, each school will have its own individual needs and school systems can never be a ‘1 size fits all’ scenario. Our main concern was that although we have worked very hard on the mind-set of our students over the last few years so that they were far better prepared to learn than they were, the new G.C.S.E. examinations and curriculum demands frightened us [and them] Early discussions amongst ourselves suggested that perhaps only our most able students would be able to achieve well in/access the challenging learning that is now going to be needed. I’m not going to go into great detail on our school profile, you can see it on any of the public data areas, but in terms of progress and Ofsted, we have perhaps punched above our weight for a long time and there is a positivity and almost aggressive approach here to taking on any learning barriers. Our school vision for ALL in our community is ‘Inclusive Excellence for ALL’ and although we mean it, we were still worried! If some of our students weren’t ready to learn straightaway, didn’t have the right equipment, hadn’t completed homework, wasted time being late and not properly attired and we didn’t do something about this; our vision was merely words and not reality.

Both students and staff were involved in the initial surveys to find out exactly what their thinking was on our current behaviour for learning policy. The name itself gives a clue to the age of the system which was introduced 12 years or so ago. I had borrowed some ideas from a SFE course, I think delivered by Ninestyles School, and after a staff discussion and with behaviour LA colleagues, we had a very early BFL system with centralised detention rotas, enforced criteria of rewards and punishments and although it trialled with 1 troublesome year group, the staff quickly asked that it cover the whole school and I am convinced that despite some inconsistency, it was a key factor helping the school to improve massively over the years before our last Ofsted inspection. However time moves on and I was listening to concerns and moved as quickly as possible this year to find evidence for what would be a more effective way of managing behaviour. Students were asked to discuss questions about behaviour and their wellbeing in their tutor group and I shared both the questions and a summary of their views on the school bulletin which goes to all parents and governors.

Student Survey Xmas 2016

All of our tutor groups were invited to discuss some question re our school vision and issues leading from ensuring that all students are able to achieve excellence in all of their lessons. The questions are below.


  • Did you notice the school vision had changed? It would be an interesting start to your discussion if you talked about what you think the words mean and why you think that we chose them. 
  • If we do have a vision of what our school should offer to you; it is important that you tell us if what we are saying actually is 1] what you think we should be offering, 2] is actually happening right now or needs more support put in place.
  • Our vision wants to offers quality teaching to ALL students in all classes and all year groups and support to all students when appropriate-is this happening?  Is the challenge different in some subjects or year groups? Are expectations of your learning always high in every subject and every year group?
  • Do you as an individual have a positive enough mind-set towards your learning? Is your behaviour good enough to allow others to learn well?  What kind of attitudes and behaviour get in the way of excellent learning for all-what do you suggest our action should be if this is the case?
  • There are times when you may not feel ready to learn-you might be worried about something, you might feel poorly, you may need to talk to someone. If you have felt like not being able to learn as you would want to, has support been available and have we supported you so that you have been able to make the most of classroom and extra-curricular learning opportunities?

Our students are always honest and enjoy the opportunity to give their opinions!  Some of the students liked the new vision, others preferred the old one, which they found easier to understand, although, once they had discussed the new one, they could see why it was important.  Some worried that constant excellence was a tough ask [it should be!] and 1 group pointed out that perhaps the vision was more to show others about us-it is important that our own local community has a clear understanding of what we are and what is important to us. The biggest issue raised was probably low level disruption that was annoying and preventing learning as it should be at certain times.  Nobody felt unsafe or that behaviour management was weak but that we should make the current MC system tougher, take away a couple of stages, cut chat/any messing, any delays to learning etc.  They were quite adamant about this and interestingly the staff in their survey, agreed and the MC system will be tweaked and shared again over the coming weeks with suggested changes.  The new examinations and curriculum do expect very high standards of focus and a readiness for learning that isn’t easy for all of our students, and we need to help them develop the resilient mind-set that is needed to be successful. Thank you to all who participated.

Our staff were asked these questions.

I need your ideas and suggestions to make us even better in 2017!

The BFL/MC [Meols Cop] system is 12 years old now and was an innovative and unusual whole school approach when introduced. It was initially designed to deal with a badly behaved year group and then staff, in the following year, asked that it be used for all years with a staff rota of all teachers. In the early days only the MC4/5s were recorded and now, as the focus has moved to deal with low level disruption too, this information is supposed to be monitored by learning tutors and is shared with parents every 6 weeks.

My name appeared most on the rota because it was my idea and I wrote the rota! I would imagine that the use of non-teachers to run the detentions is a popular one but is the whole thing fit for purpose anymore? The weaknesses have always been that the students [and staff] complain that MCs aren’t given for the same things by different teachers, it does take away older teaching skills of dealing with discipline by individuals [although the big plus is that it supports all to be able to get on with teaching], some teachers follow it up by phoning home etc.-some don’t, some subject leaders are far more pro-active than others in supporting their subject colleagues, misdemeanours aren’t always communicated to learning tutors/progress leaders or parents, some teachers don’t use it at all, some jump straight to 3, some use it before the students get through the door, some are frightened to use it because they think they will get told off for having too many 4/5s and so on

I’ve tried to think of questions that will cut to the heart of some of the MC system/whole school behaviour issues. It has been too long since we discussed this and you are the people who teach 20 lessons a week and deal with these issues. I’ll collate responses and feedback-then we can agree as a majority and move forward.

  • It is also time for us to re-visit and agree on the crucial role that learning tutors play in our school. It may be time to have a longer AM reg and straight to lessons in the afternoon. If agreed, the extra time would give important chances for learning tutors to reinforce whole school issues and offer support for both wellbeing and potential mental health concerns. What should be the accountability and role of learning tutors? Have we made it high profile and recognised the importance it really should have? Or shouldn’t be! Your opinions please.
  • What do you feel that the accountability of subject leaders/progress leaders/SLT should be for the behaviour of students in your class? What should they do to follow up behavioural issues and support you with the behaviour of your students? If you are MLT/SLT what do you think your accountability and support should be?
  • If you don’t use the system-why don’t you-what puts you off? How can I reassure you?
  • I’ve talked about the weaknesses in the system but what are the benefits/weaknesses for you?
  • The new vision is to provide inclusive excellence for all-is there anything that I need to try to ensure happens that will get us closer to achieving that? I’m focusing on aspects of school that haven’t changed or been discussed for a while but I’m open to all views that will help us to become a better school. Feel free to add anything!!

We do need to go over the expectations of what an MC1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is again with the whole staff-anything that you feel should be made transparent and agreed upon?

As a subject teacher, what do you feel you should be accountable for in terms of student behaviour? What should you do to follow up behavioural issues yourself?

Is there a breakdown in communications at any time for you in the current system?

How can lines of communication be improved?

An open ended question to finish with-I’ve focused deliberately on behaviour so we can have systems that best support you and that you agree with. We have tried to reduce workload and consider wellbeing and have encouraged collaboration and focused CPD I hope! What more can I do to help you become the best teacher that you can be and help you to make 2017 the best teaching year of your career so far?

Once I had a few responses, I shared those to encourage more discussion and the process went on for a couple of weeks. I tried to originally raise what I had been asked about and it was a fascinating experience and of course there were very diverse and opposing opinions at times. Fortunately our pastoral deputy, Annette, took on the role of trying to make sense of it all and reach staff consensus. Everybody agreed that the criteria should reduce from 5 to 3 but we had to have a good old fashioned hands-up staff vote to decide on a couple of issues! The On Call and Remove facilities, our internal behaviour rooms had been staffed by 2 non-teachers for a long time and the teacher rota for detentions had been replaced this year by the two colleagues who administer the BFL rooms. This was a small workload initiative to free more time but with the anticipated rise in detention numbers, we had to decide that the rota would have to come back.  A couple disagreed but a big majority were happy to be on the rota.  The biggest debating points were about homework and equipment and both probably merit a blog on their own!  After voting it was decided that homework should be dealt with by departments and not the new system and that the students should be given packs of equipment and be expected to look after it, rather than equipment being given out at the start of each lesson. The ‘giving out of the packs’ happened in the assemblies led by Annette which launched the system with the students and emphasised the mind set required to be a successful Meols Cop learner.

A package of information, accompanied by a letter from me went to all parents to explain the system and to seek their support. An early response will be solicited at our Easter Review Day. Posters are displayed in classrooms and around school and these are basic and clear

Behaviour for Learning

Sanction 1 (S1) Low level disruption

  • talking and distracting others e.g. turning round after verbal warning
  • failure to follow instructions after whole class explanation
  • leaving place without permission
  • failure to start work promptly
  • equipment pencil case is missing
  • chewing in class
  • arriving late
  • arriving with an aspect of incorrect uniform that takes teacher and class time e.g. coat on/hoodie on

3 S1’s in a week will result in a half hour school detention

Sanction 2 (S2) 30 minute school detention

  • talking again after S1
  • distracting others again after S1
  • leaving place again after S1
  • refusal to follow instructions
  • throwing items
  • chewing again after S1
  • failure to focus once learning has begun after S1 prompt start
  • inappropriate language/comments to other students or staff

Sanction 3 (S3) sent to On Call, 1 hour detention or a more serious punishment depending on the seriousness of the incident.

  • constant disruption in lesson e.g. continued talking, turning round, failure to focus after S1/2
  • refusal to follow instructions again after S2
  • inappropriate language/comments after S2 Or immediate S3 if deemed serious enough-homophobic, racist, gender specific
  • rude and disrespectful to a member of staff in actions or words
  • unsafe behaviour that endangers self and others
  • swearing at a member of staff
  • assault
  • using a mobile device in lesson
  • having a drink that is not allowed in school e.g. energy drinks, fizzy drinks etc.
  • other inappropriate behaviour in the classroom that the teacher feels should be brought to the immediate attention of SLT and parents.

Failure to attend a school detention will result in a Senior Detention

Amazingly some students forgot equipment very quickly and there were some early 3 S1s in a day especially from year 9, who are always risking their chances in every school, before they settle down to become young adults! Staff reaction was equally swift with a few students isolated for a day and the majority of both staff and students seemingly happy with a tighter ship. Students will be asked for feedback after Easter and staff consulted again before I move on to asking for opinions on our assessment system [again]-have we got that right?

Each teacher will have appeared once on the detention rota before summer and there are always 3 teachers together for the S1 detentions whilst the 2 behaviour colleagues run the S2 and S3 detentions still, which have less numbers. Students who miss any detention automatically have to attend SLT detention on Friday afternoons. The regulations for the detentions are here;

Guidance for staff conducting S1 detentions:

  • All detentions will take place in the …..Staff should separate students as appropriate between the 3 classrooms allocated
  • Students should not be taken to another classroom
  • Students should sit in silence for the duration of the detention
  • Students can complete homework if they have work with them – they must not be allowed out to collect work or see a teacher
  • There is no expectation for staff to provide work
  • All normal school rules apply during the detention
  • Mobile phones are not allowed and students will be given an immediate senior detention for having a mobile phone in an S1, 2 or 3 detention
  • A named member of SLT will be available during each detention and any students who cannot follow the basic rules should be sent to them
  • KD will be at the detention at 3.10 in order to provide a list of names to the staff on duty

Staff should email the leadership group with all non-attendees as they will be placed in senior detention

We have 800 students in our school and the vast majority, of course, don’t get any detentions-ever! There are far more who receive positive feedback and commendations going home or made publicly and I would hope that this was a really good place to work and learn. Our emphasis on a positive Meols Cop Mind Set is a theme which runs through many previous blogs and it still pervades everything that we do.  Mind-set grades are given each lesson and the whole school emphasis, whether it be behaviour or anything else, is there to develop the best learning and teaching possible.

Mature behaviour and ‘can do’ attitude.





Never give up.


Determined to learn from mistakes.


Super smart, punctual and ready to learn.


Effort 100% in both class work and home work.


Take feedback.


I’m not afraid to write about behaviour or admit that not every student behaves perfectly every lesson in Meols Cop. It would be foolish not to listen to what colleagues, students and parents tell me and if they feel that behaviour needs tightening-it does! Equally I have to listen to everyone as an individual in their own right.  Although we are a mainstream school, we do have the highest percentage numbers of SEND students in our LA and an Asperger’s and dyslexic unit. Parents wish to send their child to us to access our expertise and mainstream education and our vision and BFL policy applies equally to all students.  However if a student has behavioural issues due to medical conditions of any nature or perhaps a turbulent home situation, then of course we will appraise situations accordingly but the rules expected are basic ones that we believe all of our students must abide by so that our highest expectations of them all can be met.  We have a wide range of both internal and external mentoring and counselling support available to support and make good behaviour and learning possible.

By 2020, I would hope that I will be able to write another blog to provide persuasive evidence that these adaptations to our behaviour policy have had a measureable impact on learning, teaching, academic success and well-being in our a school. It’s early days and I’m always optimistic-I asked, was told and have acted but I expect to have to ask a couple more times yet before we have anything like the evidence and impact that I would like.

Thank you to everyone who participated in any of our surveys, shared their ideas and thank you to all in our community who are determined to play their part and make this crucial initiative succeed.





Workload and Wellbeing

This is my first blog of the new term and for our own staff, although they know that I keep myself busy, they may be wondering why the once prolific blogging has dried up somewhat. The truth is simple in that I have been trying to model what I preach about workload, wellbeing and the balancing act with life out of school hence spending my spare time on reading, [ok it’s often educational stuff but that’s my choice!] my sporting interests and family and personal issues. I was glad of the break on Friday and felt tired but throughout some of the quite emotionally and intellectually demanding aspects of the first half-term for a school leader-Open Evening, exam results, appraisal, Progress 8, the whole government pressure re MATs/our future etc., I have felt buoyant and on top of my game in the knowledge that I am both fit and healthy and can make myself put my feet up at night to watch TV if I need to and not do school work. After so many years teaching, I don’t find this easy and I do wake up many times thinking about troublesome issues at work. Of course, I can’t bring my anxiety into work with me. I have to protect colleagues from external tribulations and nonsense so that they can work with the students-they have enough pressure of their own! Whilst I have tried my best to look after myself, one of my major priorities does have to be the 2 W,s and looking after, caring for and valuing ALL of our staff and students.

I can’t possibly, as a historian, forget to mention the Hill/Laker study this week that found that heads who are historians make the best head teachers! They were labelled ‘architects’ and interestingly they focused on long term goals, working on relationships with the community, building a new vision, provision for under-performing students, redesigning and building and trying to improve the work/learning climate. If this doesn’t uncannily resemble what we have been working on, I’m not sure what does, and our new vision, ‘Inclusive Excellence for All’ cuts to the chase of much of what exceptional leadership should bring to schools AND workload and wellbeing is a vital ingredient.

The 2 W’s have become buzz words and any tweet or blog mentioning them whether it be the craze for ‘5 a day’ healthy ideas or tales of thank you cakes and the banning of emails after school time is well received whereas any SLT seen to be breaking W rules or not adhering to the DFE guidelines for marking/ CPD etc. is booed and hissed by twitter keyboard warriors! The reality is, that whilst individual acts of W generosity and innovation are to be applauded and will make short term gains and bring immediate benefit to recipients/participants, unless school leaders have a longer term plan to address and keep addressing the constant workload/wellbeing issues such as marking, data collection, behaviour management and appraisal/professional development, nothing will change. This has been said before of course and I’m sure that the weight of evidence is out there to suggest that as yet it isn’t happening everywhere. However, some schools are trying their best [and getting frustrated at the blanket criticism] to try to change and make a lasting difference to the culture and environment within their own school. I shared my early ideas, definitions of workload and wellbeing, and some of my actions and vision last year in these 2 posts.

This year I have shown that I mean absolute business by writing the plans into the school improvement plan and into my own appraisal objectives. The SIP is obviously shared with staff and governors but so is my appraisal! I take accountability seriously and my 3 personal targets are openly shared and asked for feedback on. By doing this, colleagues can see how important that anything on my appraisal is-I’m putting my mouth where my money is-if you see what I mean! I’m not playing to the populist gallery by choosing the W’s-by making myself accountable for them, everybody can see my clear intentions and as an ‘architect’ leader, they know that this is a long-term plan. I have focused on staff W’s as my deputy head will support student W’s in her area of the SIP and in her appraisal.

You will notice in both documents that I use a PICO question-these are explained in this post

and form the second research based objective in everyone’s appraisal.

The SIP question doesn’t have the detail of my appraisal target but this was my original priority. To further support the wellbeing of all students and staff and to always consider the impact of workload on staff effectiveness and wellbeing.

I raised this question-Will our emphasis of reducing workload and considering staff wellbeing [Supporting them to be more accountable for the WWs instead of SLT top down decisions] have a discernible impact on professional performance?

How & when will it be evaluated?

  • Wellbeing group was created in summer and has the opportunity to develop and offer whatever it feels is right.
  • SLT will continue to ask for only data that is important and impacts on learning and teaching-subject leader’s choice. E.g. Zoe’s inset session
  • The new look reviews will continue but will be reviewed in 2017
  • The focus of line-managers across school in 2016/17 is to encourage reflection on becoming more effective and supporting colleagues to prioritise on ‘the main thing’
  • SLT must continue to be open and honest in sharing national trends/DFE guidelines and encouraging colleagues to read/check/comment if we aren’t doing what we should be in terms of workload-current marking/CPD guidelines are examples.
  • Survey again in 2017 by wellbeing group with questions of their choice.

What will success look like?

  • NTEN CPD audit successfully achieved and school awarded gold!
  • Middle leaders develop their own agreed accountability measures-shared openly to drive the school forwards
  • Hopefully positive feedback on the portfolios/appraisal from teachers and on the whole staff survey
  • More colleagues come to see me when issues first arise rather than waiting or not wanting to cause concerns look like?

You can see that school accountability includes external and internal verification/audits/surveys-this has to be the case. I’ve read many blogs and heard head teachers speak about what happens in their school, only to visit or meet people from there and the illusion is sometimes shattered! Anyone can visit our school to check that what I’m saying [or colleagues are saying] is the truth and hopefully that others have followed my lead and that there is a whole school  acceptance and support for the initiative. Of more importance is the fact that  I have written this into my own appraisal, which is more detailed again and can be added to at my own mid termly checkpoints when other issues arise. I may have missed key points and the staff are invited to add corrections! I have taken the targets straight from the SIP  and it compliments my second appraisal target which is to embed our new school vision.

Objective 3 To further support the wellbeing of all students and staff and to always consider the impact of workload on staff effectiveness and wellbeing.

PICO question; Will our emphasis of reducing workload and considering staff wellbeing[Supporting them to be more accountable for the WWs instead of SLT top down decisions] have a discernible impact on professional performance?

Evidence/Success Criteria

  • The Wellbeing group continues to exist and plan activities
  • Concrete evidence is clearly visible of attempts to reduce workload
  • Internal and external surveys/audits show that the initiative is having a quantifiable impact.

Possible action points to be taken to achieve objective:

  • Wellbeing group was created in summer and has the opportunity to develop and offer whatever it feels is right-opportunities for social/fitness events and time provided
  • Constant evaluations of effective systems-this is key. Get rid of anything not effective-don’t replace 1 workload issue with another!
  • SLT will continue to ask for only data that is important and impacts on learning and teaching-subject leader’s choice. E.g. Zoe’s inset session
  • The new look reviews will continue but will be reviewed in 2017
  • The focus of line-managers across school in 2016/17 is to encourage reflection on becoming more effective and supporting colleagues to prioritise on ‘the main thing’
  • SLT must continue to be open and honest in sharing national trends/DFE guidelines/research and encouraging colleagues to read/check/comment if we aren’t doing what we should be in terms of workload-current marking/CPD guidelines are examples
  • Best practice re above continues to be shared and evaluated
  • Survey again in 2017 by wellbeing group with questions of their choice and constant opening of discussions for staff to contribute to
  • New roles/different roles to ease workload for some/provide job opportunities for others e.g. support staff taking MC detentions, more admin jobs, additional TAs, additional cover supervisors
  • Internal wellbeing audit in 2017 and external TDA CPD audit to provide evaluation
  • Various mental health initiatives evaluated and adapted for use if appropriate for both students and staff
  • Continuous offer of support for students/staff who may feel that they are struggling to cope
  • Rigorous following of legal guidelines re workload and wellbeing BUT a constructive dialogue with all trade unions and regard for suggested guidelines
  • As fair approach as possible to considering absence requests e.g. 2 family days
  • Appropriate professional development provided and support offered to both new staff and new in role staff-buddies available for both staff and students
  • Keep asking how can technology help workload e.g. SMH and evaluate
  • Effective and appropriate communication-no work demand after school/weekend etc.
  • Uphold new school vision and consider workload/wellbeing of ALL
  • Continue treats/thank you but nothing that is divisive e.g. Heroes Week, Random Acts Kindness-any celebrations should be for ALL in group/staff
  • Change the times of parent’s evenings to better suit both staff and parents/survey afterwards
  • Ensure BFL is supporting all staff equitably

I’m sure that colleagues from other schools may well have some other ideas and examples from their own establishments that I’d love to hear about and add to our own. If you have read our blogs you will probably know that we have been working hard to reduce our marking workload.

If you don’t know our school, then you won’t, as my own colleagues will verify, [I hope!] have realised that I haven’t included some of the key philosophy and vision that underpins our workload/wellbeing. We do set ourselves the highest professional expectations but within that there is much flexibility based on what is best for individual teachers and their subjects. Whole school policies are not straightjackets and collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources in expected and is the norm. We work really hard to reward and retain staff, within tight budgets, and we want our staff to feel valued and loved! If the staff are happy, safe and supported, small matters like Progress 8 will be fine and in any case, if we have a bad year, we believe in what we are doing and will simply roll up our sleeves, reflect and get on with it. Appraisals are guidelines too and provided that we have all tried our best to fulfil objectives, that’s fine too.

I would say things like this wouldn’t I-which head wouldn’t want their staff to want to stay, be happy and be passionate about working at their school. The impact of a valued staff whose workload and wellbeing matter on the effectiveness of their teaching and care for their students must be unbeatable. Don’t just talk about it though, make it happen and make yourself accountable for its success and measurable impact.

Have a great half-term.

Stop writing feedback comments…..and see what happens!

We are constantly trying out new ideas to ease workload and marking/feedback is always one area that my colleagues are keen to swop and share ideas on. I know that others have the same concerns and that our huge blogs of shared practice are by far the most read, borrowed from and commented upon that we have published externally. I’m not going to put links in this post as they are all on our web-site and we are moving on at a rate of knots anyway.

Over the Whit holiday I decided that it was time to try to suggest that we made a positive move towards trialling non written feedback. We had played at it with some great ideas already running and we had shared blogs from other schools such as Michaela to look at ideas from elsewhere whilst also setting up a well-being group and trying to reduce workload in key areas such as data collection. I won’t prescribe marking and feedback rigid policies and prefer that individuals/faculties create and design what works best for them, however I did issue a challenge, with prizes of course, to all who would trial feedback without written comments from themselves. Blessing given to anarchy! Not really, it was just extending what we were already trialling and my super AHT colleague Lizzy [@lizzy_francis] explained the idea at morning briefing with a much clearer presentation than my initial excited ramblings.

We had already share the DFE marking guidance, contributed to the EEF ‘a marked improvement’ review and Lizzy reminded staff of the latter’s main findings [although far more detailed research is to come]




Could we gather evidence that we could mark better without relying heavily on written feedback from us? Probably not in such a short time and without control groups and so on, but this was a quick taster of what we could possibly work on after September if the brief trial showed potential.




Colleagues, Lizzy or I could seek feedback from the students and ideas were to be shared at our breakfast jams, learning hub celebrations, research conference and in our book looks.


Our subject leader for history, Greg and Beth, 1 of our research leads shared the ideas they had been trialling at this first meeting to offer some basic ideas. Greg had been developing a crib sheet that he would complete when looking through his books so that he could address misconceptions and good learning with the whole class before DIRT. He was still struggling not to give in to adding written comments in the books as well at this point-it is seriously hard for teachers to stop doing what they have become so accustomed to! More of crib sheets and their impact later.


Greg has also trialled and shared some other ideas both internally and on social media where he has worked with many other historians to set up a network of collaboration that is a huge support to the PD of those involved.







As I mentioned, I do tease Greg because he does find it difficult not to add his own comments in conjunction with either peer/self-critique or crib sheets. Greg is in his 2nd year of teaching and even for someone with a couple of years in the classroom, the ingrained desire to write to the students is difficult to move away from. It is equally difficult for the students to accept getting their books back without expected dialogue in them. I’ll never impose 1 way of feedback as a straightjacket but the trials do have me intrigued and I need to see far more evidence from our own and other trials to make some definitive statements about effective methodology [if it ever exists!]


Beth’s idea is explained on her slide and again was the starter for what was to follow.


Beth extended her quick talk with these explanations;

I’ve attached some examples of the exit questions that we have been doing in Maths. This has really saved me time whilst also giving me a better overview of the students’ understanding of topics.

The Exit Questions come at the end of a lesson – or sometimes a series of lessons where we have studied a programme of topics e.g. transformations.

 Students mark and correct their own class work – but the exit question is marked by myself.

The example below is from a lesson with 8-1. We had been learning how to estimate the mean and other averages from a grouped frequency table. The exit question was given to all students in the class. They were asked to complete it on their own and not to panic and leave questions out if they weren’t sure. This helped to ensure that I gained a true insight into their understanding. Most students were confident – however a couple made errors which I then corrected. Students read my corrections at the start of the next lesson and in some cases attempted another question to consolidate the skills. I was also able to get around the class to give some verbal feedback whilst they were completing their 5 a day.


I did have to write a question for a handful of pupils who needed extra practice – I could save time by printing (more later). But on the whole this really saved me a lot of time whilst giving me a much better insight into the students’ understanding.


I have also used exit questions in conjunction with our STAR marking.

Students completed the exit question and used it to decide which area of transformations they would like to practice more. As always they can ask for an extra challenge as part of their STAR.


This time I printed the questions and stuck them into books – again saving time whilst ensuring students get an individual question to target their need.

Students studied the 4 areas of transformations. They pick one to target. So printing – wise I only have to print copies of 4 questions plus a challenge question. But the marking is heavily reduced.


 The yellow box below is used in order to identify a particular mistake/misconception. Students then get a second attempt at the question during DIRT time. Again, I can get round and give students verbal feedback whilst they complete their 5 a day. I’m going to develop this further and make it easier for myself by “nicking” Greg’s idea of a crib sheet to ensure I don’t forget anything/miss anyone out and give praise where needed.


Sarah, our subject leader for English, sent me her comments and ideas.

My trial was to only use self-assessment and peer-assessment with HA students.  No teacher marking took place.  Model answers were used to allow students to peer / self-assess their work in comparison to A* models.

As we don’t award grades the feedback / assessment was to be purely skills based.

Self – assessment is red pen and frequently students has to use our dept. marking codes to annotate their work or highlight where they had used specific skills.

Peer-assessment is purple pen and students had to set WWW and EBIs after reading A* model answers again no grades were used only skills referred to.

I trialled this with a year 10 set 1 class. At first they were horrified that I wouldn’t be marking their books by awarding arrows. However, they are much more competent at peer and self-assessing and understand how to use top band skills effectively now. Many students automatically started to annotate model answers with dept. codes without being asked to do so and they are now able to confidently offer constructive feedback and critique each other’s work in quite a sophisticated way.

This trial meant students were actually having to think about what they really felt they need to work on. As a dept. we will be moving to a lot more peer and self-assessment next year, especially at KS4 and teachers will only be ‘grading’ exam pieces every half term for years 10 and 11.

I hope this makes sense – the photos should make it clear.

Sarah’s work with marking codes was shared in the EEF booklet and if you are interested is here in a presentation she gave at our Research Conference and for the Sefton Heads and researchED at York. Whilst others are interested in the workload issues, they were perhaps more interested in how Sarah had linked her marking codes to a much quicker and very specific, thus more effective, method of tracking, recording and monitoring which aspects of their English learning the students needed more support with-individually and across classes or year groups.

 MCHS Marking Feedback Research Day – Sarah Cun…





Katie, another of our research leads and an English teacher shared her summer idea.

My trial was to only use self-assessment with students. No teacher marking, model answers or peer-assessment were to be used. This self-assessment required them to annotate their work, using the success criteria for WWW and then set themselves an unlimited number of targets that they knew they needed to address. No grades were used.

I trialled this with a year 9 set 1 class who hated the idea of me not marking their books- there was a lot of complaining initially! However, after doing this regularly I found that they engaged with the success criteria more willingly and felt that this method was making them more self-reliant rather than turning to me for an EBI. Students agreed that it was clear to them what they needed to do and how to build on and improve their own targets.

Using their self-assessment and EBI comments, students were asked to identify a section of their work that, after marking it with their annotations, they felt could be improved. Students drew a box around this work and then improved it at the end, aiming to include more of the success criteria within it. I felt that this allowed them to realise it was possible to improve when focusing and self-assessing properly.

This trial meant students were actually having to think about what they really felt they need to work on. The fact they knew I wasn’t marking anything also meant that if they didn’t do this properly that they could jeopardise their progress which was an incentive for them to self-assess to a high standard (although this may not always work for a low ability or less motivated class). An added benefit to this was that students became so accustomed to the success criteria that they began to use marking codes when giving themselves feedback which is helpful in terms of them being able to engage fully with my code marking in the future.

My only reservation with the trial was the limitation in terms of being able to use model answers. I feel that using models would have benefitted the self-assessment process rather than distracting from it.






Hannah trialled something slightly different in English and told me;

My trial was to give a sheet of whole class feedback (what we were doing well as a class and what we needed to do next as a class) . (to clarify- the one sheet was for the entire class and no comments were written on their work!) The students then used the overall class feedback sheet (it was photocopied for everyone) 

 I really liked it because we could have a good discussion together before considering targets. It also really helped me address gaps for planning as they seemed to jump out far clearer to me.  

The kids were not sold on it at all (I was disappointed about this!) – 2 out of 26 found it useful and they all preferred a traditional method of individual comments.

I wonder if I can adapt this now so that the students will feel that it is an effective way of doing this.

Examples of Hannah’s trial can be seen below.





sb87Emma, our subject leader for geography shared her thoughts and idea.

Here is a standard lesson I have done with year 7 – they have used the marking criteria and assessment criteria as a structure and then will self and peer assess their work – from that I can scan their work see how they have got on as they will be doing all the investigation into whether they and their peers deserve different BSG levels for each Skill and must highlight this on the mark scheme giving them a visual representation of how they have achieved their final award. From this I could develop it further if I wanted and use it as a basis to verbal feedback like Eddie pointed out. [Breakfast jam session]

And then;

This is the follow up from the ppt presentation I sent you the other day. You can see how the kids have highlighted and fed back both self and peer reflections and I have used the verbal feedback stamp as well.

Plenty of discussions about oral feedback, of course, and the stamper is used not to stop and record but to acknowledge excellent oral contributions on the hoof or afterwards. Of course we have worked hard to develop self and peer critique for some time and although the students don’t always like it, especially it seems in MFL, we still need to see much more solid evidence from further research on its efficacy. It does reduce our workload, if the students learn from it-if they don’t, we have to go back and re-visit-what do others think?

Interestingly, our BSG assessment which we have been developing as NC levels went, will do away with subject targets next year and use growth mind set ones instead-another blog!







Toni, our other geographer, has trialled a range of ideas throughout the year and in summer. The slides are all self-explanatory.

sb31 sb30








I also chuck in a bit of geography and history and wanted to try out something that looked at some of the growth mind set traits that we report on in our new reports and will focus on even more next year and how we can encourage our lower attaining students to self-assess in a meaningful way. Their oral feedback is usually much stronger than their written responses, so much of our lessons are spent talking to each other about what we know, what we have learned and how we can learn even more!




Showing commitment, resilience and seeking and using feedback are important for all learners even me! Trying to help the students to see how these traits and skills have helped their learning and spending time talking about their experiences can only help them form good learning habits IMO.

Our science subject leader, Carmel always tells me that she really isn’t too fond of extended writing and feels an empathy with some students who don’t find writing easy too. She has been trialling the use of I pads to support literacy and home-learning in science and shared her ideas at the Sefton Headteacher’s conference, our own Research Conference and research ED at York.

 headteachers conference – Carmel Manwaring.ppsx

The oral feedback and dialogue has proved to be very effective over a short period of time with the control group out-performing the others. Carmel, in response to my summer challenge, informed me as with some other colleagues that; I have been marking assessments only as we know this is what gives us a real picture of where pupils are and who is likely to underperform and therefore which pupils to focus on. Not sure there is anything to actually ‘show’ though.

She went on to add; have been having a very interesting discussion with my y9s though, about what we do when we don’t have the iPads next year. Jordan Smith has had a fantastic idea where pupils self-mark but when they feel they need my input on a piece of work they will highlight that bit with a highlighter pen and hand the book to me for teacher feedback. Think it will work a bit like a paper version of the iPad marking. Only drawback is it is paper based so could be quite a delay, whereas with the iPad it tended to be instant. Interesting idea which we would like to give a go in September. 

Tim, subject leader for ICT, has been trialling the use of Office 365, before the whole school begins to move to the system next year. Tim told me;

I have attached some work the students did in Office 365. In One Note I have created a space for each of my classes. They are able to upload work electronically to this area. One of the features allows students to have a collaboration area. In this area they can either all work on the same file. Or in regards to the marking challenge they are able to peer review each other’s work as a class at the same time.  This way 30 students could all post their work in one area and as a group peer review all 30 pieces of work at the same time. The peer review takes the form of a sort of electronic post it note.  I have included a screen shot of this. There are other features that allows you to see how the feedback has changed over time.

It is one of the areas of Office 365 that I am developing. It has a lot of potential but I am still working through all the bugs on the network to make it more efficient for all the staff to use.


In Office 365 it allows you to publish a student’s work in OneNote. The other students in the group can all view the document online. It will accept a variety of file types including sound, video and animations. The students have enjoyed publishing their work online and peer assessing it. By using OneNote they are able to peer assess the entire groups work in one lesson. The assessments all appear on one page so they can have a group discussion. The feedback appears in a sort of electronic post it notes.

Claudio, our other ICT teacher used his year 7 Lego project to trial his idea.

Feedback without written comments in Stop Frame Animation

ICT have been using feedback without written comments in lessons with stop frame animation being at the forefront of my trail. As with all projects in ICT there is a definite starting point and an end goal. I have promoted peer feedback and assessment throughout.

The students start with a big load of Lego. It’s a team project so it suits verbal feedback.


Before I used to get the students to screen shot their work in PowerPoint and mark this with students’ peer assessing it. There are always going to be stars in ICT for certain projects and a good way to use these stars is to get them to float about the room suggesting improvements and different ways to build the Lego projects in the design stage.

From a table full of Lego you get a castle.


 This is the actual software the students use and instead of me looking at their screen shots of their work I could see it as they designed it ultimately I would have to look at it anyway to resolve any issue but because I felt I had more time knowing there was to be no written feedback and the students used me to more effect in the lessons.


We are just finishing the final Stop Frame movies and instead of the final written assessment we are going to watch each group’s movie on the big screen. It will be a more relaxed way of grading their group work but I think if I give each student a tick list of criteria to be met then they can still peer assess it and I can as well.

Overall I felt happier without the written feedback and have already started this kind of feedback with my GCSE class.


Colin, our business studies subject leader, has trialled a whole range of self and peer critique assessments using the technology in his room, including google docs for some time. He led our questioning learning hub and this expanded into a variety of different questioning techniques and trialled ideas which supported feedback, especially the use of help mats in drama, MFL, business studies and maths. A couple of Colin’s slides to show his work are here and are self-explanatory.




Eddie [MFL] led our most recent breakfast jam and shared some of his recent ideas.

  • Students write a comment regarding a target for them at the end of a lesson
  • An exercise in the following lesson attempts to address this target
  • The exercise can be assessed, and if a certain mark is attained, the student can verify that the target has been met


  • Scan books following or during a lesson
  • Following or during lesson, do a verbal dialogue with students on the basis of what you have seen. Much more impact than written dialogue – plus you can ask them loads!


 The whole of MFL have been working on their own crib sheets-this is one Eddie worked on with Helen F.


The slide produced [copies to the students as guides] is based on skimming the books, as Greg’s example showed earlier and picking out good named examples and areas which the students hadn’t grasped. This forms the basis for the lesson biased on the teacher’s assessment of the learning seen in books, but not commented upon in the books.

Eddie also showed the Monsieur sheet Helen H had designed some time ago which can be used for self/peer assessment or teacher crib sheet marking.


Eddie ended with the impact of moving away from written comments on his own workload with some points that others staff quite liked!

  • Well-being
  • Maximise lesson time as not exhausted
  • More time allocated to planning

Eddie found that the class he trialled his crib sheet with tended to prefer dot marking and they were as forthright as usual in their views!




Bronagh, our subject leader for Spanish sent her very creative ideas.

BD Spanish Marking Challenge Feedback

At the start of the year we changed our marking style to use a tick box system in both KS3 and KS4 for written work. Any mistakes were highlighted in orange to be corrected by the students and “golden phrases were highlighted in yellow”, the feedback was then given in the grid below. This not only saved us time but also made the feedback a lot more specific. The tables were created based on the GCSE mark scheme so students can see exactly what is required for a perfect answer and these were then differentiated to make a KS3 BSG version. Students commented on how they preferred this method of marking as it was a lot clearer for them to identify what they had mastered and what they needed to include to improve.




To join the trial I wanted to keep the same format so we tried the following ideas:

In MFL we developed Greg’s marking grid to include the same marking criteria we previously had. When marking I read through the work, filled in the table and stuck one in each book. Students then went back through their own work highlighted the mistakes they had made from the grid and corrected them. Before completing their next task they read the previous feedback to ensure they didn’t make the same highlighted mistakes and that they completed the next step task. Any students highlighted for praise or WOW moments were used as experts during the dirt lesson. Their work was used as an example for other students and students who struggled went to them for support to improve rather than me.



Students initially didn’t enjoy this idea and struggled to believe I had read all their work. After a while they did warm to the idea more and began to love seeing their name mentioned in the praise column. However I did notice there was a few errors which continually kept occurring no matter how many times they were highlighted so I tried a different approach of “The What’s” before marking.


When a task was completed students needed to go through for a final check to make sure they had not fallen for the same mistakes again. Although they always said they have re-read and checked their work they usually simply scanned it then handed it in. This time they had a criteria to look for and a final opportunity to find mistakes before I did.



This is an idea I have just introduced so at the moment I can’t measure the impact just yet but from this first few attempts students were very confident in identifying errors and correcting them themselves without needing any feedback from me.

We have continued to use peer assessment and self-assessment for feedback and I have used a new peer assessment format to get students to focus on the quality of their work not just the quantity.



For reading and listening feedback usually wasn’t very detailed or effective so instead we changed to make it a time for reflection on progress. Students filled in their own marks and keep track of their progress each time. Feedback is usually given orally when work is marked in lessons so no other feedback is required.



I attended the most recent MFL book look and the discussion concerning the effectiveness of the trials and the responses of the students was interesting. Marion felt that; My students seemed to like it because they felt that they had  a better understanding of the common mistakes they had made when I explained them orally (rather than reading them).They could also ask questions about anything they hadn’t understood which benefitted the rest of the class too. From my point of view I felt that the students were more focused and I could question them after explaining a point to check whether or not they now understood it. I think it worked particularly well with students who tended not to read written feedback.

Marion likes the adaptability of this method and shared these examples of the slides she produced for the class after skimming their books.

Marking Crib Sheet Poem


Marking Crib Sheet reading

Obviously great examples that the teachers spots can be shared on the visualizer and awards for good learning can be celebrated and individuals named and asked to elaborate. The suggested next steps based on prior assessment can then be either checked in the next lesson or next appropriate lesson orally as the teacher moves around the classroom or by whatever method of assessment they use.

Josie has been trialling a couple of different ideas in her art lessons.

Year 10 GCSE

To develop and improve progress, I’ve adapted the Assessment Objective display I refer to in lesson as a tracking marking sheet for the students’ sketchbooks.

The three objectives are detailed at the top of the sheet, then translated into questions that are discussed with myself and the student. Notes are then made as to what has been completed and then a plan of action is created for the student to work towards.

Students will generally spend several weeks working on their plan of action and will reassess with me every month.




Key Stage 3 – started with Year 7

Technical terminology needs to be covered in Art, before students can fully explore media. To help retention of the key terms and meanings, I have trialled the use of a question diary which can be attached to the back of the book.

Working on the idea of interleaving, a key term is introduced and referenced throughout two lessons and then the topic progresses. After a few lessons, the students are required to answer specific questions on their question diary to recall the information.




I’ve stopped at this point although others are trialling still and some may choose to begin a longer trial perhaps linked to our new style appraisal or our new learning hubs. At the beginning of the blog I alluded to the fact that teachers have found it difficult to move themselves away from adding written feedback and creating a dialogue this way. Marking less and marking better sounds easier than perhaps it is! Some of the examples have mixed both, some have gone the whole way but what is clear, even after a short practise run is that the students generally haven’t been overwhelmed by some of the ideas, especially the crib sheet. They are often conservative by nature and don’t always respond well to change. If they say ‘it’s rubbish’ or ‘I just don’t like it’ we do have to push them to give substantiated reasons to support their thinking and development. However if we gather the evidence to inform us that certain types of feedback are more effective than others in moving learning forwards, then we have to trial and adapt as well as we can do and prove to students and parents that there is merit in the idea and that our expectation is that students too trust our judgement and teaching ability and get on with it!

Have a great summer and enjoy the break and hopefully better weather.





Research Conference

Last Thursday we held our very first Research Conference and welcomed colleagues from local and NW primary, secondary and special schools plus other interested colleagues from JMU and consultancies. The agenda for the day mixed ‘big name’ guest speakers and the shared contributions of our own staff.

Research in Schools Conference

Thursday 23rd June 2016 – Meols Cop High School

09.00 – 09.15 Welcome address

David Jones, Headteacher, Meols Cop High School.


9:15 – 10.15 How school leaders, middle leaders and classroom teachers can more confidently use research evidence to improve student outcomes.

Alex Quigley, Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York.


10:15 – 11:15 Educational Excellence Everywhere and Evidence-Informed Teaching.

Gary Jones, Associate of Expansive Education Network, University of Winchester


Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 What has research ever done for us?

Rob Coe, School of Education and Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham University.


12:30 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 14:00 Embedding research into 24,000 schools – what is the EEF’s role?

James Richardson, Senior Analyst at The Education Endowment Foundation


14:00 – 15:25 Research in practice at Meols Cop

Sarah Cunliffe – Subject Leader (English)

Jen Filson – Subject Leader (Maths)

Carmel Manwarring – Subject Leader (Science)

Greg Thornton – Subject Leader (History)

Beth Kearns – Research Lead

Rosie Pilling – Research Lead

Katie Fleetwood – Research Lead


15.30 Conference Close



Presentation 1 Presentation 2 Presentation 3
Sarah Cunliffe Jen Filson Carmel Manwaring
Quick & Effective marking                                     (As featured recently in the EEF – A marked improvement?) Shuffling your maths – Our first fully randomised control trial into interleaving maths lessons Blurring the end of the lesson -Using iPads to develop independent learning skills in science lessons


Presentation 4 Presentation 5 Presentation 6
Greg Thornton Beth Kearns Rosie Pilling
Effective feedback strategies in History – Transforming feedback to students through a variety of trialled strategies. Developing number sense including researching strategies for retaining knowledge of multiplication tables. My role as a research lead – What it means for whole school development


Presentation 7
Katie Fleetwood
Researching effective strategies for teaching vocabulary.


I will attach all of the presentations to this blog and also make the offer to further schools to join us all for FREE at future events-more of this later!

The nature of a conference like this which is an introduction to research in schools, is that the presenters can never be quite sure of how much the audience actually knows about the topic! Fortunately Alex Quigley set the tone for the day with a great presentation which both informed and challenged simultaneously.

 Alex introduced the EEF toolkit and the possibilities within that but also raised his own research advice based on his work with the RISE project, which we are also participants in. Key slides included Alex’s plea which often falls on deaf ears and that matches our first question on our recent well-being survey.

  1. Thornton History ‏@MrThorntonTeach Jun 23

Really enjoyed @HuntingEnglish ‘s presentation on research – particularly like ‘stop doing so many good things’ #MCHSresearch

r1Both Alex and Rob referred to the EEF toolkit and its usefulness but only if you dig deep and discuss what exactly the key words e.g. feedback actually mean, find and disseminate the latest research and good practice internally and externally, adapt it to your own school’s needs and priorities and evaluate the impact.


For those who tweet, Alex provides a treasure trove of good practical advice in both his short tweets and longer blogs as @huntingenglish and I borrowed one of his recent titles in my opening welcome- Is Research Evidence a Luxury for Schools-passionately NO! If you haven’t checked his site, please do. He is still first and foremost a teacher and school leader who is willing to share and advise and we were delighted that he came the afternoon before and spoke to research leads and visited our ‘thinking reading’ scheme. Do also purchase his excellent new book for your staff library!

r3Alex’s recommended sites are below.

r4Dr Gary Jones worked in FE for many years on Jersey and was our furthest traveller. I bumped into his work via twitter and his blogs are really useful for those in schools who want to find out which practice surrounding research and evidence is worth pursuing and considering. His handbook can be found on his web-site and provides great information and guidelines for teachers interested in this topic.



I won’t get into the semantics of research v evidence, Gary can explain that more succinctly than I can!

  1. Alex Quigley ‏@HuntingEnglish Jun 23

Evidence-based practice is about “Improving, not proving” – teachers making decisions & not undertaking research. @DrGaryJones #MCHSresearch

I just want to focus on one area of Gary’s presentation that caught my imagination and that of Leon Walker and the visiting Ros McMullen.


Loving @DrGaryJones PICO method for formulating the right question. #MCHSresearch

Gary’s full presentation is here;  Meolscop June 2016 – Gary Jones.ppsx and we could see the potential of PICO for our appraisal process and enquiry questions.

r7Leon and I discussed the potential of PICO quickly amongst a quick natter with Gary and Alex at the break and Leon will discuss how we might use the process with our subject leaders tomorrow-a quick adaptation for our own needs.


Gary mentioned our appraisal idea at TM Rugby and already a few schools have contacted us. Its early days but I’ll share more once we are ready to run with it. Alex also offered to share the Huntington approach, so we may be able to improve the focus of appraisal targets by using PICO style questions. Watch out for more news!

I admit to hurrying home one night to watch our next guest, Rob Coe, on a pod-cast when he destroyed the notion of grading lesson observations and has continued to do so!

  1. Alex Quigley ‏@HuntingEnglish Jun 23

Great to hear @ProfCoe reiterate issues around lesson judgements/grading & the junk data produced #MCHSresearch

Rob’s full presentation is here;

 What has research ever done for us Meols Cop 23…


The link between research, great teaching and professional development demands school leadership that is able to provide time and commitment, openly discuss what great teaching is and provide PD which allows individual teachers to develop their own practice based on current evidence. Rob’s sensible guidelines to ‘improving teaching’ hit the right note for our participants but I do wonder if this view of professional development is the norm or whether many schools still follow a more generic whole school approach.


Rob shared some of his best known work which was familiar to some but surprisingly not all and he encouraged discussion as the talk unfolded.


For those who haven’t seen the ‘great teaching’ slides before, these are the key ones and I certainly recall a heated discussion at MCHS re the final slide and the value of discovery learning! If we don’t give our teachers access to this kind of material and encourage responses that enable thinking hard about their own learning, we do our teachers and ultimately our students, a great disservice-IMHO!





Rob shared a more recent report;


We are members of the TDT and I do recommend their peer CPD audit and will just mention that our AHT Lizzy Francis is speaking at their conference next Friday-another blog I hope!

This different audit may be useful;


A smashing session to complete a great morning from our guests who would all speak again at the Wellington Conference on the following day.

The afternoon began with a presentation from James Richardson who works for the EEF and he explained their work-apologies for the spelling error in his presentation but I can’t change it!

 Meols Cop_Reserach Use – James Richardson.ppsx

We have been involved in their marking research project and James is keen to help schools to bridge the gap between research and practice. I missed the lively debate which occurred at the end of James’s talk and I believe that universities may not necessarily agree with the EEF giving money straight to school projects and thus eroding their own research capability. Of course for the schools involved, the projects provide a great opportunity and we will build a relationship with both the EEF and university research.

The final sessions from our own staff were incredibly well received and I was naturally very proud of them.

Rachel Jackson‏@TeacheResearch Jun 23

@ewenfields @BPSCscience @DrGaryJones Absolutely! The research projects that your staff are involved in are fascinating! #MCHSresearch

(((Ros McMullen))) ‏@RosMcM Jun 23

So impressed with the Research Lead staff at #MeolsCopHighSchool in Southport. Great day. Thanks @lwalkerleon and @ewenfields

Their presentations are here;

 Hub and Research Powerpoint – greg thornton.ppsx

 MCHS Marking Feedback Research Day – Sarah Cun…

 Research Conference MCHS 2016 – Jen Filson.ppsx

 Research Lead Role presentation 23rd June – Ros…

 research project – Beth Kearns.ppsx

 RISE. Meols Cop Presentation- Katie Fleetwood.ppsx

Some of my colleagues are better known by their twitter names!






If you do open the presentations and want to find out more with the people themselves-email me at and I’ll arrange a visit or sharing of ideas.

I did say in my welcome and concluding remarks that I hoped that further collaboration across the NW would result from the day and it was good to see further meetings being arranged. Sarah and Carmel had already spoken at the local head’s conference and received requests to visit/us go out and so 2 sessions have been arranged that anyone can come to [you don’t have to have attended the conference] that are free and are on;

Wednesday 21st Sept  1-3 (Raising attainment through productive home learning and exploiting the use of mobile technology) Carmel has trialled the use of I pads to support literacy, non-written feedback and home-learning in science]

Thursday 22nd Sept 9-11:30 (Quick and effective marking) As a school we are obsessed with reducing workload whilst still providing effective marking/feedback. Sarah has trialled different codes in English but there will be far more to share!

We also offered 3 follow up training opportunities [which again I’m told are free!] and these are open to anyone who wishes to come along.

Research lead flyer

Leon, Carmel, Jen and Sarah will share more of our work at Alex’s Huntington School in York on Saturday the 9th July at the researchEdYork conference-details are here;

I’m sure that this will be an excellent event and in fact I think we still have a couple of spare tickets-first come first served!

Many thanks for reading.





Effective research-transformational practice!

I’m delighted to be able to welcome some great speakers and colleagues from across West Lancashire and Merseyside to our first ever Research Day Conference tomorrow. Although the day partly reflects our role as a Teaching School, the main impetus comes from the growing interest within Meols Cop from colleagues wishing to improve and develop their own teaching and a desire to collaborate both internally and externally. We simply have to know what current evidence and best practice is telling us in terms of great learning and teaching and to be able to discuss, trial, adapt and share in our own school and beyond. Michael Gove may be fed up with ‘experts’ but we need to gather as many different views as possible on how research can help our practice, listen how to use research as effectively as possible and discuss how groups of schools can perhaps work together and support each other in the development of meaningful research. There is so much PD potential here for schools, and yet probably so many pitfalls to consider that we hope our speakers and attendees go away with a clearer picture and some new friends to work with in the future.

The format of the day is this;

Research in Schools Conference

Thursday 23rd June 2016 – Meols Cop High School

09.00 – 09.15 Welcome address

David Jones, Headteacher, Meols Cop High School.


9:15 – 10.15 How school leaders, middle leaders and classroom teachers can more confidently use research evidence to improve student outcomes.

Alex Quigley, Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York.


10:15 – 11:15 Educational Excellence Everywhere and Evidence-Informed Teaching.

Gary Jones, Associate of Expansive Education Network, University of Winchester


Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 What has research ever done for us?

Rob Coe, School of Education and Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham University.


12:30 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 14:00 Embedding research into 24,000 schools – what is the EEF’s role?

James Richardson, Senior Analyst at The Education Endowment Foundation


14:00 – 15:25 Research in practice at Meols Cop

Sarah Cunliffe – Subject Leader (English)

Jen Filson – Subject Leader (Maths)

Carmel Manwarring – Subject Leader (Science)

Greg Thornton – Subject Leader (History)

Beth Kearns – Research Lead

Rosie Pilling – Research Lead

Katie Fleetwood – Research Lead


15.30 Conference Close

Quality guest speakers, who will then head off for the slightly larger and posher Wellington Conference! I can’t wait to hear them, of course, and am equally delighted that my own colleagues have bravely agreed to share ideas in the afternoon session. Their topics will be;

Presentation 1 Presentation 2 Presentation 3
Sarah Cunliffe Jen Filson Carmel Manwaring
Quick & Effective marking                                     (As featured recently in the EEF – A marked improvement?) Shuffling your maths – Our first fully randomised control trial into interleaving maths lessons Blurring the end of the lesson -Using iPads to develop independent learning skills in science lessons


Presentation 4 Presentation 5 Presentation 6
Greg Thornton Beth Kearns Rosie Pilling
Effective feedback strategies in History – Transforming feedback to students through a variety of trialled strategies. Developing number sense including researching strategies for retaining knowledge of multiplication tables. My role as a research lead – What it means for whole school development


Presentation 7
Katie Fleetwood
Researching effective strategies for teaching vocabulary.

We have committed ourselves to a variety of national research trials this year; RISE- which is a collaboration of different schools from across England and has helped us to provide effective training for our research leads, King College London’s setting v mixed ability trial in English and maths, Queen’s Belfast Sapped Learning trial and shared examples of some new English marking in the EEF’s ‘A marked improvement’ review of evidence re marking and feedback. Hopefully we can become involved in further EEF marking trials, are very interested in future research school trials and the early success of our ‘Thinking Reading’ intervention, may lead to further offers of a hub in that area.

As a head, I’m paranoid about workload and wellbeing and have to avoid jumping on bandwagons, asking too much of my colleagues and not giving time, SLT support or proper recompense etc. Alex Quigley in a recent blog asked the question-“is research evidence a luxury for schools?” I obviously don’t believe so and want to do the ‘right thing’ in implementing strategies that I believe will support our teachers and students. Leon Walker, our deputy head, has ‘research and development’ in his job description, I have used TSA money to fund 5 research leads and time has been built in to the timetable to allow the leads and SLEs to research and gather evidence on whatever issues colleagues tell us they need to know more about. The whole process is linked to subject plans and priorities, individual appraisal enquiry questions and where it should be-the classroom!

We will make mistakes along the way and some of what we have called mini research projects-Lesson Study and Learning hubs, was probably more about colleagues working, planning and talking to each other than accurate research! Nowt wrong with this aspect of internal collaboration but we are getting sharper and more focused as we find out more, become involved with Research Ed organisations and academia and constantly consider how effective the evidence actually is and are we looking in the right places for evidence to inform our school context.

Internally you can see from our learning hubs celebration last night, organised by Lizzy Francis, that we have focused our professional development on key issues raised by colleagues. For some of the hubs the research involved was based mainly on the older style of mini-research including lessons study/informal observations and planning/trialling ideas spotted in school or via external resources e.g. literature/social media and so on whilst other hubs have included control groups and newer approaches.

Meols Cop High School – Learning Hubs celebration

  Library LRC PSD (formerly room 35) S6 (formerly Lab 6/CM’s Lab)
3.15 – 3.30 Effective use of IRIS

“The development of the IRIS hub over time and a focus on group work.”


(led by IRIS hub)

Effective teaching of command words

“Modelling the use of command words in lessons to embed learning of key examination command words.”

(led by ED/AW)

An introduction to Thinking Reading

“Introducing the programme Thinking reading; the format, progress and expected impact.”


(led by LC)

Learning through the use of iPads

“Sharing the development of the use of the iPad as a tool for learning.”



(led by CM)

3.35 – 3.50 Developing reading and annotation skills

“Sharing different ways to improve students reading and annotation skills.”




(led by JS)

Effective use of questioning


“Showcasing the development of various strategies to improve student responses to extended answers.”




(led by CL)

Effective feedback & marking strategies


“Transforming feedback to students through a variety of trialled strategies.”





(led by GT)

Strategies to promote the progress of the most able

“Discussing a range of different techniques to stretch and challenge high ability pupils, including ‘extension vs enrichment’, top down planning, hiding the exam question, and feedback without grades.”


(led by BK/HW)

3.55 – 4.10 Approaches to teaching spelling and vocabulary


“Exploring a variety of strategies to consolidate student’ vocabulary knowledge, with a specific focus on direct instruction.”

(led by FL/HJ)

Effective strategies for teaching the least able


“Exploring strategies to support less able pupils, trialling initiatives such as the use of dictaphones.”


(led by MD/MJ)

Effective questioning and the use of question mats


“Breaking down extended questions into smaller chunks to make them more accessible and to ensure the students focus on what they receive marks for.”

(led by KF/SM)

Office 365 Vs. Google classroom



“The benefits of these programmes as tools for learning & teaching.”



(led by TR)

We have shared our work at Show and Share Events, different conferences, in our school to school support work, social media and with whoever wants to listen! This is just a whistle stop tour of our embryonic research work should you be coming along tomorrow or just be interested. If you are reading this on Wednesday and want to come tomorrow; just turn up and we’ll squeeze you in and give you a bacon butty!

I’ll write more about what was exactly said and shared at a later date but do hope that other NW schools will want to work and learn together with us to create a NW Research Ed powerhouse transforming research into great practice!


The MCHS Love Train

On the first inset day of last September, I made it clear that the workload and wellbeing of staff was going to be one of my key priorities for the year.

It would be ridiculous if I didn’t say that! If the staff don’t feel valued and happy, then the school quite simply wouldn’t function at the level of quality that is needed to drive forward student care and learning. I love them all deeply of course but am also aware that the 2 W’s are important buzz words currently and that most schools will have possibly read the latest DFE guidance and be anxious to prove that they have been pro-active in the areas of marking, data and workload. Have I managed to do enough so far, have I gone beyond sound-bites and managed to make significant changes which have impacted on staff and began to filter through to more effective learning for our students? I’m not sure but I will share what I have been trying so that my own colleagues can respond and colleagues from other schools can borrow ideas or come back to make with their own better ones-please!

During the autumn term one of our blogs explained how I had interviewed all of the support staff and how we were trying to better support the teacher appraisal process and link it to our PD cycle.

Which aspects of your role during the last 12 months do you feel you have been most successful with and should be celebrated and valued?-give me some examples

Please provide some examples of how you have supported any colleagues over the last year when they have needed support/advice/perhaps just someone to listen? Are there any times when a colleagues has really helped you when you needed it most?

What are the key skills that you need for your role?

How could we help you to become more effective in your role-this might be to up-skill you, change systems, anything else?

Are you as happy and motivated with your role here as you want to be? Are there any barriers to happiness/health that you want to share/need help removing?

Have you got any secret aspirations or career moves you would like us to support you with or discuss?

What do you think has been your biggest impact on student learning/development over the last year?

Looking at wider issues, perhaps in your own area or across the whole school, what can the leadership team do to improve any areas of weakness/lack of organisation etc. that you perceive-please offer some practical solutions for me to raise at the appropriate forums.

I followed this in January with interviews for all of our Teaching Assistants, so had managed to talk to at least 45 people who haven’t always been asked their opinions about work, their own professional development and wider school issues.

What aspect of your role have you most enjoyed or feel has been the most rewarding over the last year? Can you explain why?

What do you feel has been the biggest impact you have had on one of your student’s learning? What did you do specifically do you think to make this happen?

 You probably work with lots of different teachers-which methods of communication with the teachers actually helps you the most to be most effective in your role? What would you suggest could make communication better-any practical solutions?

Are there any barriers that are preventing you being as effective with your support as you might be? Please have some suggestions and solutions ready!

Are you happy with your role and work here. If you aren’t what can you or we do to change how you feel?

How would you like to see your career develop over the next couple of years? How can we help your professional development?

Are there any aspects of school life/structure that you feel we might consider changing? What would be so positive about your suggestion and what impact on learning would it have do you think?

Anything else you are desperate to tell me and ask about?

I was able to respond to some concerns raised quickly on a personal level-sort out extra hours claims, pay for extra PPA time, re-assure those who were worried about personal issues etc. and tackled some bigger whole school concerns such as bringing back an inset day with time in lieu for our TAs plus early finish PD 3 times in the summer term. Some issues raised will take longer to deal with and some ideas will help me to plan a far more effective administration and office team. I know that some were worried about coming to see me and others wanted to say things that should have been said some time ago. School leaders should give every opportunity possible to be transparent, seek opinions and encourage discussion and to listen and respond. Conversely, colleagues do need to come and raise concerns and not wait until they are difficult to deal with or we have moved on and an opportunity has been missed. I know that I have to model all of the qualities of a saint and create the open and honest environment that makes the conversations that I’m seeking possible. I do hope that this has become possible-if it hasn’t say something!

The teaching staff are used to having meetings where their opinions are sought on big educational issues but they haven’t before been opened up to invite other staff members and governors. When some of these issues may well impact on the whole future of our school that is madness! Three meetings were held with our senior team and governors and the whole staff were invited to attend if they wished to. We looked at Ofsted and governorship, pupil premium, raising our school admission numbers, acadamisation and MATs and our final meeting turned to workload and well-being.

I’ll focus on the last one for this blog which I led in the first instance to get it going. I came up with lots of questions and ideas which other may like to use.





The questions were intended to stimulate conversation and mixed some of my thoughts with what I had been reading. Other colleagues may not have the time to read extensively on wider issues and so I wanted to get the chat moving and also gave time to skim read documents from the 3 main unions in school-NAS, NUT and Unison with some of their suggestions re workload/wellbeing plus the government recommendations that they had gathered from their survey. I was interested to see if they thought that we should discuss workload and wellbeing together-does the former impact on the latter or are there other contributory factors. It was their discussion though and I withdrew after my input to let them decide on where next and to define their own definitions and remit should they wish to.

In my absence, it was decided to plan a series of meetings and form a committee of interested colleagues representative of all areas of our workforce should they wish to attend. Union reps, TAs, mentors, admin staff and teachers turned up to the first meeting and decided to devise a questionnaire to find out staff feeling of wellbeing [workload was the main aspect of their discussions]. The first problem was that they were going to use the ready-made NAS survey but it was very long and didn’t necessarily ask the questions that support staff might want raised. Marking and planning key teacher issues aren’t concerns for all so they came up with a much shorter set of questions which cut to the chase.

What is already working well in school that you feel we should do more of?

Is there anything you feel we should include to help us achieve our goal of a happy school where well-being and workload are important to all of us?

Is there anything that we do that is important but could be changed in order to improve?

Is there anything that we currently do that you feel we could manage without?

Is there anything you feel that could be done to reduce workload in school?

Finally, is there anything that you feel could be done for staff well-being that isn’t currently in place?

111 surveys were given out but only 24 came back which whilst initially disappointing could be attributable to lots of factors-perhaps everyone is happy, perhaps colleagues thought I wouldn’t listen anyway, perhaps everyone was busy, surveys never get a massive response and so on. I felt that it was important that I responded to any of the answers where more than a couple of people had mentioned the same thing and it was important to show how seriously I took both the time and commitment of the group and the answers given. I do hope that staff have appreciated the desire of senior leaders to do more than talk about wellbeing and workload and will explain some of our initiatives later, however the largest responses came in the wellbeing side of the Ws with requests for more social events topping the voting. A quiz night has been organised followed by a barbecue and hopefully these will be successful and allow older and new colleagues to meet in an informal situation with a positive impact on staff wellbeing back in the day job.

I would like the group to develop an agreed charter of wellbeing/workload that encompasses everyone in our school but how they use their time is up to them!

The 60 or so teaching staff form just over half of our work-force and they too have been consulted and given time to focus on the effective use of their time and to consider in terms of data, marking, monitoring etc. making professional decisions on what has the biggest impact for their own teaching and department. I explained in our January blog how we were trying to reduce data inputting and asking teachers/departments to tell us what was important for them in their data and how it should be best used to inform their teaching and student learning [not to give SLT lots of numbers to crunch!]

I explained in another January blog some of our other moves in building our professional development in a way that collaboration will not only respond to individual needs [classroom and leadership] but will support un-necessary workload.

We have moved on since then and I can see logically where we can take our initiatives further based on the success or otherwise of our trials. The subject reviews which allowed subject leaders to present what they felt that I needed to know worked well and the presence of other subject leaders provided a superb professional development opportunity.

Marking/book monitoring

It was nice to see our school mentioned in the EEF report this week when we talked a little bit about our desire to reduce teacher marking loads and I’ve shared our pathway from triple marking style to choosing which methods suit individuals and all aiming to be a fast and effective as possible in lots of blogs. The EEF guidelines are interesting but demand more research and just 1 piece on English doesn’t reflect the trials currently taking place in every department in MCHS. It is important that we share ideas internally but we do have a responsibility, not just as teaching school, but as teachers to share our ideas with others so that they might find something that might just ease their workload too. I’m delighted that we have so many tweeters who both share and gather ideas now but also still worry that teachers are often their own worst enemies when it comes to marking and they can’t let go of the more traditional mark everything/detailed comments format-stop it and be told!

Our inset this week will begin a different style of ‘book looks’ based on visits to other departments and a discussion on what is seen-no writing on forms! The self-reflection and monitoring on the more recent forms presented with a teacher’s choice of books was there to support the development of key marking/feedback initiatives that were school priorities. Without the guidelines and more prescriptive requirements of what I wanted colleagues to focus on I’m not so sure our marking revolution would have occurred and this leads to an important leadership issue.

Getting rid of paper and form filling!

When we have agreed on necessary changes in school and introduced them via inset and then shared good examples of practice, we have tended to use ‘scaffolds’ to encourage and support everyone to remember they key aspects of good agreed MCHS practice. We can then follow up with feedback, coaching and mentoring on agreed principles and adapt as we gather more and more shared examples. Everybody is clear about what ‘great’ looks like albeit the systems have always been flexible enough to allow for individual needs too [I think!] Any lesson plans, book monitoring, professional portfolios etc. have all had easy to follow guidelines BUT once ideas are embedded all of these should become the responsibility of individual teachers-there is no need for an extensive paper trail and colleagues should be able to take their own learning and development where they want to without a straightjacket. New colleagues and those needing extra support at any time, can always go back to our agreed fundamental principles if need be and if filling a form in helps, fine, but for others the development of strategies and reflection with self and others is a far more productive use of precious workload time.

I’ve tried to give as much directed time as I can to the old paper exercises e.g. completion of the professional portfolio but as the necessary reflection goes into the subconscious, much of what has been written down can be said and as we make the links between appraisal and all the forms of PD and monitoring totally explicit, the final processes of discussing individual targets and priorities [linking them to department and school ones] shouldn’t have been preceded by hours of writing!

Don’t be precious with your old ideas!

Some of the ideas that we have used and I have described as changing have been mine. I’m biased and think that they were good ‘uns that were thought of to help something that was needed at a certain time in the school’s past. I can’t be precious about them because they worked well for a time-if they are past their sell by date, if they are creating too much faff for no other reason than we have always done them like that and they have been useful for a time or worse still colleagues only use them to keep me happy! I have told the other senior leaders to look at every aspect of what we do and to honestly consider if we can do it even better and more effectively. Why are we doing it like this and what needs to be chucked in the old ideas bin? I have to be part of the same process and it is important that others see this happen as we move on if all of our middle leaders are to model the same philosophy. We haven’t got the time to waste on ideas that don’t focus entirely on what matters in the classroom at the current time and workload can’t be burdened with precious egotistical nonsense-move on!

A vision of change

Changing old ideas and customs doesn’t mean simply replacing them with similarly time consuming new ones. I’m hopeful that our involvement in research will begin to provide the best ideas for us to trial, rather than wasting time and workload, at an individual and whole school level, on ideas that have been proven to have minimal impact. This isn’t always easy as with marking, evidence so far is quite limited. Managing any change does have to involve everyone and I have openly shared my vision and the decisions that need to be made via blogs like these, meetings and any form of communication that I can use. The decision making process especially when it involves huge issues e.g. the budget, time table and academies [or not] should be open and transparent and aired in public so that all are clear on what is happening and why. Wellbeing takes a huge hit when colleagues are anxious about their future and in these uncertain times the strong relationships we are trying to build, will support the wellbeing and workload of all. By opening up to ask for ideas, I have already been able to implement several changes that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. According to most research, a school like ours shouldn’t have been able to achieve the Ofsted grade we did, our progress measures without any fiddling are pretty damn good and like Leicester City our teamwork and commitment, led by a kindly old uncle, will hopefully help us survive and prosper happily beyond the government’s diktats with their forced ideas which are certainly not representative of good change management practice!

Small changes and goodwill

Nothing is ever too small in the world of wellbeing and workload whether it be thank you’s, staff prizes for attendance and phone calls home, Easter eggs and so on. Only the senior leaders cover lessons if cover is tight, I’m hopeful that BFL detentions [we have a strict BFL policy to support staff with a detention rota-vital to get the discipline right for wellbeing] will be manned by the new cover people so teachers don’t go on the rota, year 7 and 8 reports will have less work time for subject teachers [we already have drop down comments in any case] with senior leaders being asked to provide a more detailed summary of the data, inset days have been given, as requested, to departments and I desperately want to retain the great staff we have and recruit good ones who have heard of our reputation and want to work with us. It is my duty to listen and colleague’s duty to tell me what is needed to enable them to work effectively. Rather than just decorate the staffroom, I should go and ask the TAs who congregate there every lunch time what furniture they would prefer, any changes to the hours of parent’s evenings/review days should be consulted with the staff as should my desire to get rid off holiday revision sessions and their like. To me it seems silly that I shouldn’t behave like this but from talking to many colleagues elsewhere, I’m told that this isn’t necessarily the case and that resentment is caused by a lack of consultation and a build-up of enforced workload.

Sometimes decisions have to be made that aren’t popular but are the right thing, in my opinion. I can’t shirk from big decisions but would hope that because of the climate we are trying to create in MCHS, people can see why the decisions have been made. I will explain and be up front and if something needs to be said to a face rather than hiding behind an email, it will be said as professionally and kindly as possible. If I have made a mistake which has impacted negatively on workload and wellbeing e.g. life after levels, I’ll hold my hands up. If someone comes to me with a persuasive argument for introducing something that they feel will be better and save staff precious time e.g. Show My Homework, I will give in, even though I may not agree, because I can see that they probably have a point!

A colleague teased me the other day about my ‘spreading of love’ and although they were making a joke at my account, perhaps they had actually hit the nail of school leadership on the head. Amongst all of the day to day pressure of running a school and dealing with a myriad of different and taxing issues, maybe a head’s greatest contribution is to protect their staff from workload and external pressure and try to care as much about staff wellbeing as any of the usual data/inspection/government constantly changing accountability measures. If the staff are happy and working to their full potential all of the other things will take care of themselves. It’s a thought and I do like the idea of ‘spreading love.’ Anyone want to join the Meols Cop love train?

Join hands [come on] Start a love train!




To Peer Review or not to Peer Review-MOT or full service required?

To Peer Review or not to Peer Review-MOT or full service required?

1st part of the blog sent internally for discussion

Perhaps over the last year, depending on your view of the inspection process, hopes have been raised that Ofsted might disappear and be replaced at some time in the future by peer reviews in some form or another. It certainly is an idea that has gained popularity and plenty of discussion but as currently the government seem to be looking for a Wilshaw replacement, the demise of Ofsted appears to be some time off.  Peer reviews may continue to develop amongst schools who wish for whatever reason to have external verification/QA or for schools who are be exempt currently from inspection visits due to their previous Ofsted grade. Having just participated in our first such review by one of the national organisations involved, I want to jot down my initial thoughts, before I forget them, to share after half-term with colleagues to seek their reflections as to how it was for them, how could it have been better, how could we support other schools in peer review and the big one-should we bother again!

We received an Ofsted outstanding grade in the autumn of 2012 and since then have opened our doors to plenty of external scrutiny through visits, sharing huge long blogs of our ideas, twitter and of late, firstly as a National Support School and now a Teaching School. We have been keen to share and discuss feeling that our own practice would benefit from the collaborative nature of our philosophy. I think that we have, although reciprocal approaches aren’t always forthcoming and of course, visitors are usually very pleasant rather than genuinely honest and schools we have befriended via social media tend to have similar beliefs to ourselves. It can become a cosy club rather than a harder edged evaluation of the impact of what we are doing. We believe that our self-analysis and monitoring of all aspects of our school is accurate, never arrogant and prioritises exactly what we should be doing. However we could be wrong; sometimes by being so close to something you have developed you miss what others may spot immediately and there should be a professional interest in listening to the views and ideas of those from other schools, especially those who know nothing of you and have never heard of your school before!

We have involved ourselves some time ago in local visits looking at each other’s SEFs etc. but we found it, at that point, to be a waste of our time. Others didn’t share up to date documents or information and ran off with our current documents in their briefcases to obviously use for themselves! We laugh now but it put us off and we gained nothing from the experience that we hoped would be helpful and the use of schools from further afield and the seemingly well organised nature of the process and recommendations that we checked out pulled us back to decide that external opinions should be used to help us with our own evaluations and future planning. The organisation also provided the opportunities for our senior staff to become part of the review process at other schools and we naturally wished to seek out best practice from elsewhere and wanted to support the notion of peer reviews because we believe that it might offer the best way forward for future school improvement systems as an alternative to inspections.

I did have some initial concerns, after we had signed up [it was expensive!] and some of the paper work appeared. The observation feedback sheets do have a continuum line that you have to put a cross on for the 4 areas they want you to think about. [I’ll say more about the areas later] We haven’t graded a lesson for 4 years and this, despite re-assurance, looked like grading in another form or at least some form of judgement. We have developed a very supportive lesson study style of lesson observation and I needed to be convinced that we could run with what would be asked. Secondly, I read a negative article about the process and the word ‘mocksted’ kept appearing and I certainly didn’t want our school involved in such a process or having staff think that was my intention.

The training for 3 senior leaders to learn more about the process was good and some fears re the nature of the use of the observation feedback form dissipated slightly. The school chosen as the venue for training opened many of its classrooms to facilitate very practical observations and there was a positive feel to the day and the attending schools brought along data to share and there was some quality PD for all. Very soon afterwards one of my colleagues went on their first peer review of an incredibly high performing school and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, observing great teaching and her own professional development benefitted enormously.

The preparation for our visits gave our SLT the chance to organise and reflect on what we hoped to show and colleagues spent time looking at their own areas of expertise and accountability and asking questions of their data and evidence that was invaluable PD. Unlike Ofsted, we knew when the review would be and could choose the lessons that were to be observed and plan our own format, to a certain extent, of the 3 days. We were also able to choose 2 areas of excellence that we could highlight and seek opinions on. Volunteers were sought and we deliberately chose lessons that would cover our chosen areas of possible excellence [research/assessment], subjects which were working on raising their exam data, and teachers who wanted to trial ideas from their learning hubs and so on. Our SLEs and research leads would all teach to gain confidence should they be visited by external colleagues and only the SLT escaped this time because they had to be observing! Each of the lessons would have 1 of our own team in with one of theirs and the format was half an hour observing, 15 minutes of joint discussion between the observers and feedback from the school observer. 4 of our SLT would observe joined by 3 SLEs and another colleague who leads one of our learning hubs. This we hoped would be great PD for them all.

Unfortunately as the day approached, 2 reviewers were unavailable and the visiting team arrived with a team leader [experienced Ofsted inspector] and only 2 others, 1 of whom had some experience in peer reviewing and 1 who didn’t. Our staff had planned their lessons and we didn’t want to waste their time so some lessons had to go ahead with only our internal colleagues to observe. The team leader was also inhibited to a certain extent by the lack of other voices-an Ofsted team has at least 4 experienced people to bounce ideas and test views against [some might disagree!] There were initial meetings and throughout the days, school based views and opinions were sought on everything that was discussed and they were tested against what the visiting team had seen from their evidence.

A couple of teachers did get very edgy and I began to think that I was wrong to commit us to the process. The old Ofsted worries began to surface of what were the visitor’s judgements, I heard the word grade mentioned again after so long of banishment, teachers were cross because the best bit of the lesson was missed and so on. Our own observers felt anxious that perhaps the brief visits are too brief to gain much and it certainly re-affirmed my view that should we ever review schools via our TSA role that a full lesson visit is a must. My initial thoughts were these;

  • If observations are to be part of a review [and they have to be used at some point] then a full lesson should be observed. Teachers have planned and they should be able to show what they wanted to happen over the full lesson and then should be part of a 3 way discussion with both external and internal observers where they can discuss context, learning over time, seek advice and so on. Time may be an issue but if we are to make the best use of external visits we need to use time appropriately. The feedback session would also be more useful for the visiting senior leaders so that they can probe much deeper into the day to day learning and teaching that a 1 off lesson visit can’t provide and make professional links if appropriate. The greater time needed may mean that visitors travel from schools within a certain radius. I would imagine that colleagues will tell me that they would always prefer subject specialists to observe as that makes for more valuable feedback/discussion/sharing of ideas and whilst that may not always be possible with this type of general review, it may be beneficial to begin to develop certainly core subject specialist reviews within this type of national organisation with other subjects supported perhaps by more local networks.
  • The feedback form focused on 4 areas on the continuum line-challenge, engagement, questioning and learning. WWWs and EBIs were discussed and offered as feedback advice. I could write for all day on why learning in the half an hour shouldn’t be there and I certainly didn’t discuss it [to be fair the team fed back that our consideration of long term planning and learning over time was apparent and a strength] but I feel that it may have been more useful for us to let us feedback using our own school format and for our visitors to observe, join in and then feedback on what they had seen. A critique of our normal process and discussion with all involved, would have been more useful than using an enforced process. That isn’t to say that here wasn’t some interesting discussion-there was and we were interested to hear their views but I think that the systems schools develop and use every day offer more interesting and useful external scrutiny and would interest us more. If we saw something wonderful, we could borrow and adapt.
  • The focus on 4 areas, although others could be discussed, is limiting in my opinion and I would prefer, as we do in our internal lesson study/observations to allow the teacher to choose their own focus [usually an area that they have researched/trying to improve their practice] so that the opportunity to plan/discuss critical individual PD with visiting colleagues could be even more beneficial for all parties. The choices of the current foci probably comes from the Ofsted criteria and whilst I can understand many wanting some form of judgement or development in readiness for inspection, we don’t and have tried to use observations to plan/coach collaboratively to support the learning and teaching needs of our school and students. Perhaps there could be a more open format based appropriately on individual school priorities.
  • The chance to talk about chosen areas of excellence has great potential for us [I mention the lack of time due to the limited numbers of visitors later] and again this may have benefitted us further from being able to perhaps have a reciprocal visit/discussion from a school working on similar areas of interest. This is certainly something that a ‘review’ in the future should include for us.

At the end of the first day both internal and external reviewers exchanged views and ideas and these were recorded to use in the final report. The contentious issue arose around the differing interpretations surrounding outcomes and data. At times this did fall into the ‘Ofsted would say’ and they would give outstanding for and so on to basically make a comment on whether or not the data was still outstanding [was the school?] I tried to make it clear from the onset [as colleagues at school know I would] that I don’t like to discuss inspection grades, don’t mention them, am trying to move forward from something that was 3 years ago and am only interested in what we are now and what we can be. And yet here we were with an Ofsted style discussion and data being bandied around like missiles to defend points. It would have been more useful for visitors to discuss how we use data, how we are trying to support best and effective use of data to ease workload and how we feel that by teaching well to everyone that individuals and cohorts will take care of themselves. We want to measure what we value and improve the performance of all and know which groups in terms of exam grades did better than others but our different philosophy was lost in an argument re Ofsted and cohorts [boys] and our understanding of the changes in progress measures and our preparation for that wasn’t clearly and worryingly not necessarily agreed with.

However, even though the discussions moved in an Ofsted way that we didn’t want and almost became heated, humour still prevailed for much of the time and our data person admitted the great benefit defending his beliefs and data had brought and as that was what we hoped would happen, good did come out of that aspect of the review! The final day again featured a discussion between the visiting team and our SLT to solicit our views on their findings and intentions for final report writing. The first report draft came very quickly, arriving after initial QA in half-term and we were again invited to feedback our comments and the area of our contention will once again focus on the outcomes and data section. Whether we ultimately agree or disagree the process itself fosters the hard-edged discussions that we should be having, although we will stick to our own rationale for measurability and accountability as we must do. The continual discussion between the visitors and ourselves was a good experience and we are grateful to them for their honesty and time.

Would we do this again or should we offer the review process via our TSA route? The reviewers gained from their discussions with new colleagues, the feedback to those observed hopefully benefitted them and the final report will be shared with all in our community with any hints of Ofsted grading removed! Because of the shortage of numbers within the visiting team, research leads and others didn’t get the chance to discuss their roles with visitors-we have always found this to be a really useful aspect of PD for our own staff when visitors arrive e.g. the TDA CPD audit. It’s also interesting to see if interviewed colleagues subscribe to and genuinely believe in the vision that we say we aspire to in in all of our blogs and communications!

SLT participating in the reviews of others will also benefit but unfortunately the schools require 2 or 3 nights of accommodation and lengthy travel with costs to be borne by us making the whole process expensive for us and we have to consider value for money. Parents will be interested to see how others views us and we need to be part of such reviews to provide us with unbiased analysis of some of our practices. The review focused on school improvement and learning and teaching which leaves big areas of school untouched by this visit. Should we seek other external reviews to look at all areas of school? Should we develop our own to support other schools who can then reciprocate?

This was very much a MOT rather than full service and I envisage the additional use of external reviews such as the TDA CPD audit, checking out of other external reviews such as the new SSAT one and whatever the proposed College of Teaching may offer mixed in with reciprocal visits to NW schools to create a personalised plan of review that will constantly add externally considered perspectives of our own systems and evaluations. We already have robust external financial reviews but possibly need to consider areas for external review such as SEND, governorship and all of the complex aspects of ‘pastoral’ support that facilitate learning. This was predominantly a ‘learning and teaching’ review-we are a lot more than just that! However, I would be reluctant to have these type of lesson observations each year with the ensuing pressure and the main worry that they take us away from how we are developing the use of observations [still trying to think of a different name that summarises their main point-Reflections of Practice, Learning and Teaching Development Sessions-prize for the best name please!] There is the possibility of having too many reviews before we have had the chance to develop different approaches but I can see the point of including the EBIs from the final report for internal initial monitoring. Others may disagree and so their opinions need to be sought.

It is really important that participating colleagues are given their chance to feedback on the review-it is their professional development and they who were under the intense pressure of observations and interviews. I asked these questions to complete the first part of my internal blog.

For those who participated in any way, it would be helpful for after half-term feedback on the review.

Role in process

What were your hopes and expectations of the review?

How did you feel during the process?

What were the benefits 1] to you 2] to school

Any negatives 1] to you 2] to school

What should I feedback with suggestion for improving the process 1] concerning your individual role 2] the whole idea

Should we participate again? What kind of external reviews/feedback would be most helpful for you/subject/school?

If we were to offer a review service [not a mocksted!] what should we include, make it clear that we won’t do, suggest that we think it would be more beneficial if we did and so on

Any other points that my questions haven’t covered that you want to say?

2nd part of the blog-staff views and my final reflections

Apart from our SLT, 12 other colleagues so far have responded and they raised a range of different valuable ideas. Some staff haven’t been involved in an external observation process before and there was a natural mix of fear and excitement for them. Fear and worry over someone they don’t know coming into the lesson, the possibility of being graded [although we wouldn’t allow it-the continuum line worried people] and the concern that our developmental approach towards observation wouldn’t be understood and that the observations may well be judgemental. Excitement because colleagues wanted unbiased opinion, wanted genuinely to hear what others thought, wanted to hear their ideas and to share them with us and wanted to talk to them about the research and other ideas we are trialling.

There was a general concern that the feedback discussions didn’t involve our visitors with the teachers so that a deeper reflective session with them was missed. When the visitor was a subject specialist and talked in the lesson to the teacher about the subject, that was appreciated but others would have liked a subject specialist [or subject specialist review team] Interestingly someone mentioned that other teachers were cross because they weren’t chosen and surprisingly this often happens in Ofsted inspections, although some are glad to escape. The lack of time prohibited as many being watched as may have wanted to be.

One person felt that more visits over a period of time rather than a one-off would be beneficial and that perhaps [although they wouldn’t like it!] it would be helpful for visitors to be in department reviews to be more thorough in looking to see if feedback had been met. A couple of people wondered if the context of our school and what we are trying to achieve was understood and the point was made that perhaps a 2 way partnership with a school[s] would be better so that a clear rationale of our learning and teaching philosophy, ethos and journey [and theirs] was discussed before so that the observations and discussions were put into context. Our visitors could have shared what they are doing at their school and our staff would have really appreciated to hear about it.

One observer was disappointed that visitors left the lesson quickly [we knew that it wasn’t a full lesson] and all preferred a full lesson and feedback-this isn’t Ofsted! It was pointed out that a snapshot of a school isn’t representative of what a school is capable of and paper work doesn’t represent what staff and students are doing on a day to day basis.

None of this blog represents a criticism of either the organisation, reviewers or process-just our honest opinions and I’m sure that other schools may have a totally different set of viewpoints including the desire to receive Ofsted style grades and discussions. There is much that is positive about the process as more detailed independent analysis has shown and we knew the areas that would be reviewed before we participated. Perhaps schools need a few different reviews to cover all areas of their schools and perhaps schools will begin to develop the expertise to do this themselves rather than tending to have the kudos of an ‘Ofsted inspector’ involved to give the review additional status. Perhaps we will also accept that current or ex Ofsted inspectors do have a set of skills and expertise that schools can make great use of in themselves or perhaps we will reject this as Ofsted themselves changes and school leaders develop review skills. I would imagine that this is already the case in large federations of schools. Ironically the most thorough review of schools that I have experienced was the original Ofsted inspections when they lasted for a few days and each subject had its own subject specific inspector who possibly but not necessarily, knew something about teaching the subject. Lay inspectors were involved and all areas of school seemed to be looked at. Not everyone teaching currently will remember them at the beginning of the 90’s but apart from the mountain of paper work produced for them and the stressful time waiting for them to arrive at least they hit the criteria of thorough. They did grade anything that moved and didn’t feedback to individuals and as my memory fades, I’m sure there were plenty of other negative aspects too. I have no doubts that the talented school leaders can come up with a better plan that can take account of stress, workload, meaningful accountability and honest and useful evaluation.

I’ve listened to colleagues and I will certainly approach other NW schools [not too local] to consider a peer review approach where we can agree on areas of our schools that we would like to be reviewed including systems, agree on a much deeper review perhaps spread out over time and find the time to explain what we are actually trying to achieve and the context of our plans. For schools outside of chains/large MATs I’m sure that the time is right for us to talk reviews and come up with a rigorous regional approach that is achievable at little expenditure but provides superb professional development for all concerned. Before we do this, all members of staff, need to be involved in the discussion of what a review may be needed for, what would be its purpose and benefit and an agreement as to the best methods of involvement and who and which areas of school should be involved. Lots to think about!


Building Our School For The Future

Building our school for the future

A PD vision

It seems ages ago now since the promise of our new BSF build disappeared after a disproportionate amount of money was wasted on totally unnecessary professional development aimed to support the projects. We were forcibly made to go to expensive hotels to listen to speakers and ‘facilitators’ gleefully prolonging their careers whilst the money would have been far better spent on giving us a new school and sport’s hall! Inevitably BSF ran out of pennies and Sefton, due to its late bid, got nowt and we remained the only LA in the North West without lovely new schools and we watched our colleagues in Liverpool and Blackpool put up a fight and win their right to new build. It was a chastening experience and the lessons learned involving best value expenditure and PD clearly draw a parallel with the resources and PD needs of a single school such as MCHS. Plan for the future to sustain and improve what we have but listen to the needs of the individuals within the process and remember that ‘1 size fits all’ is rarely appropriate and ensure that the planning involves all colleagues and all areas of our school.

On most of the measures schools usually self-assess themselves on, we are doing quite nicely and my desire to support the ‘excellence in every area’ notion that I enthuse about, probably to myself, may prompt colleagues to occasionally think, but not say too loudly, that a little breathing space may be due! Tempting! The reality, of course, is that the constant changes that face us with the tightening budget mean that we have to keep actively developing coping strategies to ensure our students continue to learn well and are successfully prepared for life after us. My emphasis this year, as we do build for the future, is to try to develop our staff so that as individuals and groups, they have the specific professional development that they need to drive themselves and our school forward through the next few years AND to crucially not create so much pressure of accountability and workload that colleagues, including myself and other leaders, burn out and disintegrate professionally and personally. Helping each of us to become a little more effective at what we do, creating opportunities to talk honestly and openly about our own roles and the future of our school and making it ‘ok’ to seek support when the going is getting tough for us as individuals are, as important as all of the other systems that schools use to monitor and develop. David Weston shared a visual description of where schools have gone wrong in this wonderful post-it could save you a bit of reading but I trust you to read on, follow our story and see how we are trying to avoid the same pitfalls!

Making it work

What does this look like in practice so far? I shared early progress made in autumn here

and mentioned changes to appraisal, interviews with support staff and department priorities. Since then our inset day in January gave staff the opportunity to discuss how we could make our data system more effective and less onerous on our workload.

Leadership building

Building for our future needs the development of leadership skills, the spotting of potential leaders, the retention of our best and the posts for them to develop and flourish in! We have 15 middle or potential leaders on our in-house NAML training, which as well as giving MLs the chance to become involved in research of their choice, affords 3 SLT the opportunity to develop their own leadership reflections in delivering the course. I’m delighted that friends from other primaries and secondary’s have joined us to give a wider perspective for participants. The initial outlay of expenditure is well worth the PD on offer and we will offer this again next year and hope to find a senior leader course, or write our own to fulfil this PD need. Currently we have 2 more colleagues on NPQSL courses, although we have withdrawn our own leaders from running the course whilst we concentrate on our own course. One other colleague has just been accepted on our fellow TSA Weatherhead’s potential SLT course and we have 1 on the SSAT aspiring head’s course and 1 on their aspiring SLT course. Again the courses aren’t cheap but we continuously overspend on PD and so we should, provided that it is equally distributed!

Our new teaching structure has already created 5 new posts for 2-5 year experienced colleagues who will become our research leaders. They will help to drive evidence informed practice across school and will be attached to different year groups to support age specific needs, as well as developing their own research themes to share across the school. I’m hopeful that the posts will support retention, distribute leadership even more and have a big impact on learning and teaching. These posts are classroom based and I’m aware that not everyone wishes to become subject or pastoral leaders and I’m trying to consider how teachers can progress as teachers-work in progress!

We also have 3 new SLEs who will be able to receive professional development training and the chance to hone their own senior leadership skills and potential through their external support. All of the new SLE, research leads and those on SLT courses have been able to use their leadership of our learning hubs as part of the evidence supporting their applications. The hubs offer cross-curricular leadership and hopefully have a qualitative impact on our learning and teaching strategies. They also cover some of the key issues on our SEF, subject priorities and individual appraisal objectives. The new ones beginning next week are these.

Learning Hubs

IRIS – run by Jen and Phil

We are making great progress with IRIS and it seems important that we continue to develop our practice in this area. Some of you are starting to use it with NTEN lesson study and for sharing videos for peer support and developmental dialogue. It is a great reflective tool and it would be great to see each department represented this time round.

Maximising the performance of the most able pupils – run by Holly and Beth

With the performance of high attainers being a focus raise online and internal reviews it is important that we look to address strategies that will maximise the performance of our most able pupils.

Spelling and vocabulary approaches across the curriculum – run by Katie

With the increased emphasis on SPaG both within English and across the curriculum it is important that we look at strategies and share ideas that can be applied in all subject areas and see where skills can be transferred to ensure consistency in approaches to best support the students.

Developing reading and annotation skills across the curriculum – run by Sarah

Focusing on a range of strategies to develop students reading skills from skimming to reading for purpose, as well as effective annotation skills which can help to break down text to make it accessible for students.

Supporting Lower ability students and those with Special Educational Needs – run by Marie and Martin

As we talk about Quality First Teaching and address the changes to SEND it is important that we continue to challenge ourselves to develop ways to ensure that all students can access the curriculum.

Developing responses to extended questioning – run by Colin, Katrina and Sophie

This follows on from Colin’s previous hub on questioning taking from it the theme of developing consistent approaches to addressing more extended questions. You don’t need to have attended the first hub on questioning and this would be great for those subjects with longer extended questions which require explanation, analysis and evaluation.

Developing a consistent approach to the teaching of key command words – run by Emma

This hub will explore any similarities between command words used across the curriculum and similarities in expectations of outcomes, working towards developing a whole school template for delivering certain command words.

Exploring different ways to give feedback using digital technology – led by Tim and Rosie

As we continue to work on trialling new technology this will focus on developing the use of technology for feedback, looking at different ways to give feedback via digital means and evaluating which is the most effective.

Time is given to share and make new resources and this is crucially followed up by informal observations or agreed lesson studies/more formal observations of choice. Colleagues have a choice of which hubs to attend, although we try to spread out faculty attendance. Evaluations follow the end of each hub term and they have proved to be an invaluable source of inspiration and collaboration. Collaboration only works though if it is followed by a time of ‘doing’, evaluation and adaptation.

Colin has already emailed me his agenda for his first meeting and I was delighted to see the names of volunteers and the potential in each presentation and especially important to me were the names of 2 of our TAs, joining the group and having the confidence to present too.

Below is a draft plan for the introduction Hub on Challenging questioning and command words next Tuesday. From the staff Feedback in previous hubs, it was clear that they like the new interactive approach of sharing ideas and completing a lesson!

The proposed plan for the hub is a follows:


  • Colin – 10 mins intro presentation on challenging questioning and command words (linked to current research and practice)



  • Gill  and Tracey 10 mins – How challenging questioning/command words  works for SEN students



  • Helen – 10 mins to share how her questioning ideas have developed since the first hub.



  • Sophie/Katrina (Katrina is likely to be in Drama moderation meeting)   – 10 mins share how questioning ideas have developed and ideas for NTEN project



  • Colin and other staff to act as TA’s!  -20 mins mini lesson on challenging questioning and command words with VLE feedback.

Please let me know what you think. Look forward to our first new hub!!

Lizzy has supplied each leader with reading information for their groups-

“Many thanks for agreeing to run a hub. I have attached details of the participants for your group and an introductory PowerPoint to recall objectives and outcomes as well as key dates. I will, later today, be sending out an email to all of your group with some suggested reading that can form the basis of discussions within your first meeting.”

The opening ppt slides are below.

Learning Hubs Feb 2016 Intro

Learning Hubs Feb 2016 Intro 2

As the hubs progress I should have 2 more TA 3 posts to provide cover, as well as our 3 cover supervisors so that we can increase the number of informal drop-ins and collaborative planning sessions.

Sharing ideas

Hub ideas are shared via our own teachmeets, blogs and ‘breakfast jams’. The latter, organised by Lizzy, have proved to be a popular sharing of magic moments and ideas for the hard-core early risers! The ideas shared form part of the Learning and Teaching bulletins that Lizzy has also introduced as another method of finding the best current practice and sharing this with others.

MCHS Breakfast Jam!

Every other Thursday

8.10am – 8.30am


Breakfast provided

Date Session Title Brief Description Led by Room
14th January Effective use of DIRT A brief look at the way DIRT is used in History and how stickers have been adapted to aid this.


GT Library
28th January IRIS A brief look at the benefits of using IRIS for professional development and reflection. JF/PJ Library
11th February Reading Strategies A look at the use of slow reading steps to enhance the reading of students and the use of dictionaries for clarity. LC Library

Subject Reviews

We have 3 subject/year reviews a year where the middle leader concerned meets with SLT to discuss their data, intervention, priorities etc. Time was given on inset day to begin the subject conversations with colleagues, so that all are involved in self-evaluation and we already streamlined department SEFS, as explained in my November blog. These were very much paper based exercises and I have changed the format to cater for whatever style the leader wishes to use to tell me about learning progress and the schedule now includes another subject leader being present. They can obviously pre-plan/discuss before the meeting if they wish to, can observe good practice from another ML in action and can see SLT modelling questioning and can themselves ask questions of data/raise concerns and so on. I’ll ask for feedback and see how it goes over the next couple of weeks! The change does allow our ML to be in a scenario quite similar to SLT interviews, and although I don’t want to lose them, I should be preparing them for their next steps.

Challenge Partners

The half-term finishes with a peer review from 4 visiting school leaders as part of the Challenge Partner’s scheme. I was slightly worried when ‘School’s Week’ had their front page covered with a negative response to such reviews and the word ‘mocksted’ appeared. External looks at our self-evaluation and some of our teaching is helpful if it can suggest developmental strategies we can engage with to become more effective. I’m hopeful that this will be the case-it is quite expensive but I prefer external evaluation and ideas from people from far away who know nothing of us, than people we know who may feel reluctant to be as honest as they should! The process also allows 3 of our leaders to visit other schools to review them and bring back good ideas from there as well as sharing our ideas with them. Lizzy had a wonderful experience at the Compton School in London where progress and general data puts them in the very highest ranks of state schools [even better than ours!] and we have to have a mind-set of wanting to learn from the best in the land.

PD for teaching assistants

Whist Lizzy was enjoying her London trip, I was able to interview all of our teaching assistants to find out their views and needs. We currently have 26 or so, the number fluctuates with need and the questions asked were these.

As part of your professional development, I will meet you all individually for a conversation about your work at Meols Cop and listen to your ideas and aspirations. This isn’t part of any appraisal process or anything to do with pay; it’s the chance for me to support wellbeing, development and for you to tell me how we can best support you in becoming the most effective professional that you can. I’ll send out a timetable tomorrow for next week and if you wish to think about and prepare answers to discuss beforehand that’s fine or we can just chat and I’ll produce a written account of what you have to say so you can keep it for your own PD file. Thank you as always for your support and for your understanding of what I am trying to achieve.

What aspect of your role have you most enjoyed or feel has been the most rewarding over the last year? Can you explain why?

 What do you feel has been the biggest impact you have had on one of your student’s learning? What did you do specifically do you think to make this happen?

 You probably work with lots of different teachers-which methods of communication with the teachers actually helps you the most to be most effective in your role? What would you suggest could make communication better-any practical solutions?

 Are there any barriers that are preventing you being as effective with your support as you might be? Please have some suggestions and solutions ready!

 Are you happy with your role and work here. If you aren’t what can you or we do to change how you feel?

How would you like to see your career develop over the next couple of years? How can we help your professional development?

 Are there any aspects of school life/structure that you feel we might consider changing? What would be so positive about your suggestion and what impact on learning would it have do you think?

 Anything else you are desperate to tell me and ask about?

I collated the feedback from my conversations and shared the general points with all on the staff.

The latest progress measure results and continual closing of the gap in MCHS between cohorts of students shows today the impact that our TAs can show for individual students in their care as they along with the teachers and mentors much valued and appreciated emotional and learning support. Breaking down any barriers that prevent learning is crucial in avoiding the risk of potentially limiting life-long opportunities for many of our students and it is important that our teaching assistants receive the best development and resources/support available to enable them to play an effective part. I’ve had a smashing chat with all of the TAs and I’ll try to provide a summary of some of the main issues raised and how I can respond. In line with my belief in honest open discussion shared with all-if I’ve missed anything-please shout!

I have to say that I was overwhelmed with the happiness and positive attitude I encountered but although we are doing well as a school, we can always do even better and I need to hear ideas and suggestions from everyone to ensure that every single area of our school is working as effectively as it can be. Comments, responses and further suggestions are welcome!

Issues raised-in no particular order/importance by individuals or more than one TA.

  • CPD-needs-various requests from individuals and advice given but as a whole the hour meeting with each other, originally in PSD, is missed and due to expenditure, inset day attendance has been stopped over the last years thus opportunities for all of our TAs to be involved in CPD [apart from individual courses] isn’t as much as it should be if we are to be effective enough. Martin has provided some training and meeting time this year, which has been well received and I will close school early 3 times in the spring and summer terms to allow for 1 hour of training for the TAs [and 2 hours on 2 days for the teaching staff] The first 2 days will be; Thursday 24th March and Wednesday 11th May.  Training will also be provided for TAs on the whole school inset day-Friday April 1st. Time in lieu will be offered at the most appropriate time e.g. Sport’s Week, Work Experience and so on depending on who is supported to avoid normal teaching days when TA support must happen. Choices will be offered.
  • TAs do appreciate being asked for advice/opinions on the students they support-they are with them all of the time and I was delighted to hear about so many examples of great collaborative work between the teachers and TAs.  Sometimes though feedback is asked for from the TA and then they are left in the dark about what happens next. Please do keep them in the loop and do try to seek their opinions and advice-they are fellow professionals and all opinions do count. I try to model a leadership style of seeking views and treating all colleagues with respect-same rule for everyone please!
    • The TAs are all very different personalities and with a wide range of experience in different areas. Some are quite happy to intervene for example in disciplinary issues, some aren’t. Most felt that in most classrooms that they know exactly what they are expected to do, what the boundaries of their role is and they appreciated when the teachers were able to tell them beforehand or in the lesson exactly what they wanted them to do. I do wonder if a conversation for all staff might be useful at some point to reinforce best practice in the effective deployment of TAs in the classroom-what do others think?
      • This leads on to the difficult issue of finding the time to talk to teachers about the support needed and to finding time to plan differentiated work/research issues and so on. Some TAs do have time built in and some receive extra pay for additional hours and so on. I’m interested in creating an hour a week on the timetable to build planning/prep time in for TAs but as we discussed, it’s not as easy as in primaries and I’m swinging towards the idea of increasing hours for those who want it from 26-27 hours which would include an hour of PPA to be taken when the TA could fit it in. I would expect to see the evidence, of course, of the fruits of this labour but it seems to be a sensible suggestion. Janet is working out the potential cost for me so I can think about the budget/against the value of my suggestion.
        • A couple of TAs mentioned to me that they felt confident of taking their own class should the teacher be absent-I’m looking into the legalities but I’m convinced that the learning experience for our students would be better with the their TA than it would with some visiting teachers! There would be an additional payment made but Mark will check if we can actually do this first.
          • Of course a few conversations concerned pay and progression and I want to have a good look at the overall TA structure, chances of career progression and the kind of work that we currently need doing, will need doing and whether or not we have the right people in the right roles! The historic nature of roles/grades doesn’t always apply to the current situation in all aspects of our school and over a period of time, I’ll try to create a dynamic that will be better suited to our next 5 years-be patient though!
            • If we do change anything or come up with different roles and opportunities; they must be open to all and fairly advertised and paid at a rate commensurate with the role

A fair bit here for all colleagues to consider but a really worthwhile experience for me and hopefully my visitors!

Our TAs make a considerable contribution to our overall learning and teaching support and it’s important that I find out their views, value their support and provide professional development to support them becoming even more effective hence more inset on the way, additional planning time and the offer of changing roles e.g. covering lessons which will also make informal observations, planning and collaboration amongst the teachers much more easy to organise. Previous posts outlining our work with TAs and others concerning the contribution of all of our support staff are here.

Lesson Studies/observations

Ongoing and continuing through the next few weeks are our lesson studies and developmental observations which give colleagues the chance to plan and together and support the development of each other. It seems such a long time ago now that I first tried to get colleagues to observe each other and open classroom doors to all and 4 years or so since I finally banished lesson grading! Not everyone thought that it could be done or should be done but who now would ever turn back the clock? I’m not quite sure why we even call observations ‘observations’ and am always worrying about the purpose of them and how we can use them more effectively, if at all. NTEN Lesson study has proved to be popular and in terms of allowing collaboration/coaching, morale etc. it is successful but whether or not I can prove that it has actually improved learning and teaching, I’m not so certain and will look to our research leaders to find out the answer!

I’ve shared lots of blogs on lesson observations but for external readers you can see the nature of the feedback sessions for non-lesson study obs here;

Discussion between observer and observed in relation to areas trialled

 Which area of your work from the hubs/research have you trialled/showcased? Did it have the expected impact?

Do you still feel this is an area for development?

Are there any other areas you would now like to focus on developing?

How has today helped to meet your appraisal targets and the “developing” focus of your professional portfolio?

Areas for development:
For the observer:

Identify 3 piece of “great teaching” that inspired you that you are going to use in your own learning & teaching:

For the observed:

Identify your 3 favourite piece of students learning from today (what and with whom)

Lesson study examples can be found in some depth here-

A quick glimpse of where we might go with observations and hubs can be seen in one of many email exchanges on the subject-you will have to guess who is saying what!

“Ooh…following on from my hubs email got some good idea re tracking obs and am thinking next round of Hubs for 2016/17 can be based on areas of development from the lesson obs this year (7 most common themes??) then ran by those that had those areas as a particular strength. Will hopefully link into people’s hubs/trials from this year as we are encouraging them to showcase this in their obs.”

“Yes and it can fit in with your tracking of the feedback from this time’s obs so you square the circle-this can be linked to an agreed appraisal objective. I was thinking in summer of hub people watching each other on agreed focus too.”

Making the ‘main thing the main thing’ the focus of professional development based on individual requests and needs is paramount to building our school for the future.

Book looks

Lizzy has also shared our ‘book looks’ to cover English, maths, humanities and MFL so far.

Seeing the visual image of everyone in the school’s best practice has proved to be great PD and we constantly observe practice shared this way in classroom use when colleagues borrow ideas and adapt for their own use.

Bring, Show and Share

I mentioned our Bring, Show and Share idea in a September blog

The first 3, where we invited colleagues from other schools in to share subject specific ideas on English, maths and science, started slowly in numerical terms and began to grow. They have been good professional development opportunities for our staff, who as hosts did all speak and share ideas and hopefully for everyone who attended and shared back. There will be a humanities event towards Easter and a much bigger research event in summer. Most participated in the spirit of the idea by bringing and showing ideas/resources and our last one looking at lesson study, deliberately tried to encourage our local primaries to ‘lesson study’ with us.Unfortunately they were shy to appear and good links were made again with other high schools. The attendance at these events by friends from local schools encouraged me to approach two of them, Birkdale [boys] and Greenbank [girls] to suggest trialling a directed time meeting where our faculties and departments could meet and make links with each other. All 3 schools are keen to develop their staff and share best practice so in March we will all host various subject staff for an hour after school to let them have subject specific conversations. The days are gone for hidden agendas and a lack of collaboration that might have prevented such events in the past. Our 3 SLT teams will meet before this, just after half-term to introduce ourselves and hopefully make some lasting and worthwhile links. We can all learn from each other and if these events prove to be honest, open and all are willing to share and reciprocate; this will prove to be another professional development experience to build on, invite other schools in our TSA and look at joint inset days. They are early days for such developments in our locality and we lag behind other areas. Interestingly Estelle Morris made a point this week that may be pertinent to our local situation

Heads are coming together because they recognise that where their school is situated is important. It isn’t instead of chains and trusts, but in addition to them. So what is it that heads know that politicians have missed? Two things. First, most teachers have a professional commitment beyond their own school; they are ambitious for all the children in their area. This doesn’t override their desire to compete to be the best, but it means they are willing to take some responsibility for pupils other than their own. Second, education is so often a collective endeavour. It works best when teachers and learners are supported by those around them. Being a good school matters – but being a school in a successful local school system matters as well….”


There won’t be too many schools, I wouldn’t have thought that don’t talk about the use of research to provide evidence or at least have a few colleagues who either read ideas on social media or follow up ideas from courses to find out the latest bright ideas to use in our classrooms. It sounds good stuff but the reality is that finding out what is actually proven to be useful and then deciding whether or not it would work here is a different matter and the growing trend to try to use research, does need careful guidance and advice from those use to working in the research field and its application in schools. Our research conference will help our guests and our own staff but in the meantime we are engaged in national research on English and maths best practice, setting v mixed ability and spacing. The validity of some of the research that I read and the methodology involved may be open to question BUT the involvement of our staff in these projects in the early days of a growing movement isn’t open to question and they will benefit from the experience, whether it be a negative or positive one, and be able to better support colleagues in their quest to be excellent in all areas.

Their choice of inset

We have 2 more inset days this year and both are given to departments to use as they wish. I would imagine that planning together for the new curriculum/exams might feature but it is important that choice is given and that subject specific needs are prioritised by the people whom teach the subject and they are left alone to get on with it. External experts are needed to at times to deliver what we may not be able to and over the last 2 days Dianne Murphy has led our Thinking Reading volunteers, we had a wonderful transgender session before Xmas and many colleagues have either visited other schools, attended courses or selected their own PD from social media-their choices, their PD. I just have to find the cash!

Involvement of all

This is a turbulent time in education and whilst some may prefer to ignore outside jabber and just get on with their teaching/support, others do want to talk about what some of the ‘big issues’ that may be coming our way. I have opened up our normal SLT meetings to invite governors and all staff to join us in different conversations. The first meeting examined the changing Ofsted demands on governors, Wilshaw’s views and an explanation of our pupil premium spending which features heavily on the governor agenda. The second meeting looked at all the different types of academies/free schools/UTCs etc. that are springing up as we sail obliviously on in our maintained LA Ocean of Tranquillity. We await our fate in the green paper but needed to have a good discussion re possibilities and also looked at the impact raising our numbers to try to at least take in some of the students who want to join us but can’t at the moment. Quite a few of the attendees stopped me afterwards to comment on how they didn’t realise how much the SLT have to consider in the big scheme of things outside of MCHS! Teachers, mentors and TAs found time to come along and it is important that all have their say and can begin to understand the possible impact on our school possible changes will have. It’s good PD for them and should moves have to happen, then the rest of our community will be involved.

Our governors are encouraged to attend training provided for them by local agencies but we have also changed the sending of information to them by having a secure network and giving them all a schedule of the committee meetings so that they can attend other meetings, if they wish to, as well as their own committee.

Everything that we do should be open to discussion and all should be welcome to express their opinions.

Workload and wellbeing

The final big meeting of late was the most popular! I’m determined to not just talk about reducing workload and caring for wellbeing but to make some lasting principles that will be need to be adhered to. We have changed systems to consider reporting, data, marking etc. and will continue to do so but do other things need to change to? I would like an agreed charter of workload/wellbeing for us all and could have written another blog on the relationship between the 2 Ws and the issues that I raised re them both. I don’t like to talk too much these days but as I have more time to find ideas on the issues than other people, I did talk for a little while! I shared my own views before introducing ideas from the 3 main unions-NUT, NAS, Unison and lots of others. I left the room to let discussion flourish and volunteers then organised another meeting to discuss more ideas. They were going to use the NAS survey to find our opinions but the time spent on completing it would have been a workload issue in itself and they decided on a more succinct approach.

Thank you for taking the time to complete this questionnaire on well-being.

What is already working well in school that you feel we should do more of?

Is there anything you feel we should include to help us achieve our goal of a happy school where well-being and workload are important to all of us?

Is there anything that we do that is important but could be changed in order to improve?

Is there anything that we currently do that you feel we could manage without?

Is there anything you feel that could be done to reduce workload in school?

I’ll feedback on their feedback!

Up-lifting leadership at MCHS?

Over the weekend I read one of Gary Jones’s blogs [Gary will be speaking at our research day with Alex Quigley and Prof Robert Coe] about ‘Up-lifting Leadership’ where he introduced some of the ideas from a recent book of the same name by Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris.

The definition of up-lift is below.

Hargreaves et al define uplift within organisations as …. the force that raises our performance, our spirts, and our communities to attain higher purposes and reach unexpected levels of achievement (p1)As such uplift is about emotional and spiritual engagements, social and moral justice and higher levels of performance, both in work and life

The research is based on a range of private and public organisations and I’ll include it here as the 6 inter-related factors do offer a structure that I hadn’t thought of but perhaps have been talking about and crucially attempting to put into action! There must be a name for this phenomena but it escapes me at the moment! [Extract from Gary’s blog]

What does Uplifting Leadership involve?

Uplifting leadership involves six inter-related factors which come together to bring about transformations within organisations and these include:

  1. Dreaming with Determination – this involves identifying and articulating a clear, challenging destination, and which is informed by a moral imperative.  Furthermore, this dream is firmly connected with the organisation’s past and building upon what the very best of what that organisation has been in the past. 
  2. Creativity and Counter-Flow – this requires creating the new pathways necessary to reach the desired ‘dream’.  However, it also goes against the flow – in that it is not about following the predictable, it involves the counterintuitive – things that don’t seem to make sense or that others may already have rejected.
  3. Collaboration with Competition uplifting leadership is at times a counter-intuitive process and at times this will require working alongside current or future competitors.  Competition and collaborative are not mutually exclusive and it is possible for both to co-exist within the same context. 
  4. Pushing and Pulling – this necessitates using the power of the group to both push and pull things forward.  Colleagues when faced with difficulties are picked up and supported by others, whilst the higher purpose to which team members are committed pushes them onto higher levels of achievement
  5. Measuring with Meaning  – .  this  involves the extensive use of data  allows leaders to identify the direction the organisation is heading and what still needs to be done, yet is done in such a way which is both meaningful and owned by the people who work in the organisation
  6. Sustainable Success  – this involves working at a pace that is sustainable.  It’s not about leading at a pace which people cannot sustain for any substantive period of time.  It’s about recognising the ebb and flow of energy within an organisation and making sure that is managed in such a way as to bring about years and years or continuous improvement and development

I would hope that all of the leaders in our school have a dash of up-lift in them to build our school for the future. There were a lot of aspirational quotes floating around twitter from people who attended Hargreaves’s current UK speaking tour and others who joined in. I’ll include a few and ask colleagues to think about each one and ask 3 questions of it-1] Does this describe our school? 2] Does this sound like your leadership? 3] What more can we/you do to create up-lift?

Protect and support your greatest asset in any school. Your teaching staff. #teacherpower

Pay attention to teachers’ wellbeing says @HargreavesBC – uplift those we serve by uplifting those who serve them. #teacherpower

“You cannot address student wellbeing until you pay attention to teacher wellbeing” @HargreavesBC #teacherpower

Investment in teacher knowledge pays the best dividends @HargreavesBC #teacherpower @theRSAorg

This was a predominantly teacher’s conference hence the word teacher rather than ‘staff’ or ‘colleagues’ as I would constantly emphasise.

Professional development is very important to me, as I hope that you have seen. It will take some time for the newer initiatives to embed and I will use our membership of the Teacher Development Trust to externally evaluate how far we have gone and to suggest further possibilities based on knowledge of the best PD available in the TDT network. We have a lovely silver TDT CPD plaque in our foyer and whilst it would be brilliant to be considered as a GOLD CPD school, there is work still to be done, but we are on our way and hopefully we have up-lift!









Easing the data workload.

An internal feedback post to colleagues at the end of our inset day. Shared for anyone interested to read too!

You tell us! Shedding workload for the New Year.

I outlined in our New Year blog and reminded colleagues of my vision shared in September, the way forward for our school in terms of reducing workload and supporting each department and individual staff member to focus on what will have the greatest impact on their learning, teaching and PD.

It’s easy, of course, for me to share a wonderfully collaborative vision and to sell this to the world of educational social media and for everyone to think that Meols Cop must be a great place to work in! After all they are they are just words and they are my words; I’ve read lots of articles and posts that when I’ve delved a little deeper, I’ve found that the reality of the school situation isn’t quite as the head might have described it! SLT in general take a bit of a bashing at times and especially where workload issues are concerned and I’m sure that some who have read [if anyone has!] my previous post, may be sceptical of how the philosophy may look in practice.

So what does shedding the workload begin to look like, are we asking the right questions, are we focusing on the right day to day issues and how as SLT can we support the process? Paying lip-service to workload issues is not an option!

I’m biased but when I stood up to thank the contributors to our morning inset session, I genuinely meant the excitement that I tried to convey at hearing such good ideas and the whole faculty reflections that produced the shared work we all heard about. We now, as SLT, have to find the time and opportunities to let cross-curricular conversations happen, for ideas and adaptations to be trialled, possibly fail, and to revisit in summer. Collaboration and sharing of ideas is only a start. Time must be provided to let the real work begin and impact made on student learning and teacher workload.

After our literacy audit [blog to follow later in the year] Leon explained his hopes for a shift in the process of data collection and to home in on what colleagues feel will be a far more effective use of data. At previous schools the oft seen tactic of 6 lots of data collection, followed by an evaluation of the collated evidence by MLT and then a visit to tell you which of your students was underperforming 3 weeks after you had worked that out because you had sent the original data! Etc. etc. etc. We don’t actually do this and our system is quite good but it can be much better and so Leon offered these aims and a brief notion of what internal monitoring should provide. There was no disagreement.

January Inset

January Inset 2

As with marking/feedback/book scrutiny etc. there is no ‘1 size fits all’ approach or straightjacket and 3 faculty leaders [our new SLEs!] stepped forward to explain their latest data journey, how it has reduced workload and where it needs to go next.

There are elements of the same approach within English and maths as the mathematicians adapted some English ideas after our last sharing of data ideas. Science did trial a similar approach but found that it just didn’t work for them and have devised something different.

Sarah explained that in English they have been trialling marking codes which has reduced their workload significantly.

January Inset 4

They are able to let the students complete tracking sheets which WWW/EBI answers according to the marking codes and then can pinpoint where intervention is actually needed most and can plan accordingly.

January Inset 10January Inset 6

Similarly in maths, Jen explained that, after each assessment, students completed an evaluation sheet and the WWW/EBIs were used to track where intervention was needed.

January Inset 5

They had decided that their data focus should be;

January Inset 3

Once the faculty have met to discuss what the data told them they can then plan to tackle group or individual weaknesses [they apparently have 97 G.C.S.E. codes!] and use suitable strategies;

E.g. Intervention with SH

5 a day change

Homework’s for the next term

Targeted lesson

Carmel from science shared a different focus based on interleaving and recall which aimed at the agreed weakness of a lack of revision from students which limited their factual knowledge in assessments. The scientists have also been tracking GM/attitude by looking at weekly test scores.

January Inset 8

January Inset 9The results are quite fascinating and students of very different abilities may well get 10/10 on basic recall, if they learn the facts at home. Pupil premium students have shown the most variations of all with 10 achieved 1 week, 3 the next and then followed by 10! The faculty are now using their lesson studies and research projects to try to find out what are the key external factors for these students in determining their responses to revision and recall. How can school support and develop long term memory retention for them?

The scientist’s key concern won’t surprise colleagues because they worry about how they can more effectively monitor the impact of their intervention and Carmel asked other departments for their ideas to share.

Each faculty has a way to go but it is important that they choose their own route. Not everything has to be marked, every piece of data does not need collecting and collating and the focus of impact should be on agreed areas of subject specific weakness. Workload within this is for faculties to decide not SLT. If it is too much, say so. Everyone’s voice matters.

I made the point clearly at the beginning of the day that whilst it was easy for me to hope that everyone is happy here, if anyone does find themselves to be struggling with their workload that they need to see me. I don’t see it as a ‘weakness’ but as a strength! We have to be honest with each other and self-evaluation of workload and priorities is important, especially during the winter months when absences rise and energy levels may sap.

As senior leaders we have to ask questions sometimes that we aren’t sure of the answers to and that some of which may be critical of us! If we don’t do this we can’t move forward as a united team. Leon asked these questions of the faculties/departments and waited with some trepidation for the answers!

Question 1 – How does your department use its day-to-day internal tracking & monitoring?

Question 2 – How does your department use the progress spread sheets produced after data is entered into SIMS?

Question 3a – To what extent does your current monitoring satisfy the following? How could they be adapted to meet the criteria?

  • Identify which skills students are struggling with.
  • Give an indication if the student is currently on target or below.

Question 3d – To what extent does your current monitoring satisfy the following? How could they be adapted to meet the criteria?

  • Highlight any interventions that work and those that don’t.
  • Give an indication of their attitude / GM towards your subject.

Question 4 – As a percentage how much time is spent by the members of your department on: Planning       Marking         Data entry/tracking            Other                                                            

Do you think the current balance is correct? If not how would you like it to look?

Question 5 – If you wanted to free up more time for other initiatives what would you like to change? How could you develop/trial a measure of the impact of stopping some of your current practice?

All of the answers were shared with everyone else [along with each subject’s literacy pledges!] and as an SLT we will sit down and work through the common ground themes that may have emerged and been suggested. Leon’s initial view as the answers came back was that everyone was confident and happy with the use of data when it related directly to their own teaching and classroom planning [no 1] but more sketchy when it came to the progress data that gets sent ‘upwards’ [no 2] This doesn’t help the classroom teacher, doesn’t change classroom practice and takes time out of planning. There are times when we do need to see whole data [for obvious reasons] but we need to work out how we can access staff data and process it in a different way without imposing on their time. This is an admin task and we will put our heads together and feedback a.s.a.p. Leon quite rightly tells me that staff have to see the data as something useful and not just something to fill forms in for. We already knew this but needed confirmation from everyone and to see proposals that we might not have considered. I can’t share all of the full answers in this blog, as it will last for pages but will add a few of the comments from different subjects and different questions so that external readers can get a flavour of what was said.

  • We would like more PPA time to plan using new initiatives and track their impact. One tracking system for all to use to avoid confusion and a uniformed code for students and staff.
  • To compare the impact of intervention strategies such as phone calls home by providing a specimen group and a control.
  • The student led approach to tracking using goggle docs has really helped me to reduce my tracking and intervention work load. Each of the aspect are of equal importance, and are interconnected. However if data entry/tracking can be made more efficiently this will help work load.
  • Tell the government to stop changing things so that we don’t have to keep on redesigning everything!
  • Reduce other such as: subject reports that are repetitive and often for the same student – tracking in SIMS too often. Behaviour log on SIMS is time consuming with email to on call and contacting parents.
  • Reduce workload – no marking of draft books only peer / self-assessment – independent homework – allows students choices at KS4. KS3 homework on VLE is independent learning.
  • We feel that we don’t have enough time for marking. All of us value well planned and interactive lessons above marking. Even given DIRT time we don’t believe student’s value our marking as much as well-planned lessons yet marking is so very time consuming.
  • Time together (PPAs?) so that we can develop new resources/ talk about the new curriculum and develop new assessments.
  • Cut down on whole school initiatives and spend more time working as a subject specific team on resources/ideas that would really help our department.
  • Marking is not totally beneficial for the students. I would like to develop a quicker approach due to the amount of classes that are taught in music, it takes a substantial amount of time. Additional activities take up a lot of time and I feel that this should be reduced with planning taking more time.
  • Save time on tracking things that are not necessary. Find a way to moderate speaking and writing exams more effectively as these take up a lot of time (At least 6 minutes listening per student before discussion). Form time activities, a lot of “other” time spent on this.
  • We want to spend more time writing demanding questions/model answers that make pupils think deeply whilst prompting them to think about their responses rather than just leaving us to mark them. We have had a great deal of success doing this through self-marking against mark schemes. We would like to increase the amount of work carried out this way and use the time saved on teacher marking & feedback to set the questions and track the progress and performance of pupils. If pupils classwork/effort was tracked in the same manner and the edges between work done in class and outside of lesson becomes more blurred, then we could affect mind-set over a period of time.
  • We believe we could have more impact on pupil progress by tracking whether pupils are carrying out their work effectively and completing it to a high standard and at an appropriate pace (as is happening in our independent study trial). Each lesson / piece of work could be graded RAG. Work / lessons / topic graded red, will need to be upgraded to green at some point by the pupil for them to stay on target. If pupils classwork/effort was tracked in the same manner and the edges between work done in class and outside of lesson becomes more blurred, then we could affect mind-set over a period of time.(Not sure this is clear! We know what we mean. )

You can see that I’ve focused on the last question as it shows a variety of requests and also what we need to respond to. Watch this space!

Thank you again to presenters and all colleagues for their sharing of ideas. I can’t do justice to the quality and quantity of what was said and have only been able to share parts of the presentations and questionnaires but I do value the ideas and hope that our next steps in reducing workload can make a difference to you all.