Monthly Archives: September 2013

Inspirational students and co-educators

Mums and dads will recognise those moments when your child either makes you want to cry with frustration or cry with joy and pride. Our students make us feel exactly the same and I was totally overwhelmed this morning when I was invited into a year 10 class with some year 7 guests and Mrs Jordan, our SENCO. Speaking was one of our year 11 young ladies who told her own story of her experiences with dyslexia and how she has tried to overcome her learning difficulties, displaying an amazing clarity of thought, resilient positive mind-set and tremendous drive and determination to succeed. She spoke without notes and conducted a question and answer session where students openly talked about their own feelings and frustrations and her empathy and care shone through to enable a most moving and honest discussion. I knew that I had to speak to thank her, but I was struggling to compose myself-it was a priceless moment and a salient reminder that a school should always be judged by the quality of the young people that it sends into the world and not just by Ofsted inspections and examination results. I mentioned on the bulletin, this week, the sense of pride that we all felt after our Open Evening and the magnificent way in which our students conducted themselves. Sometimes we forget the core purpose of education and schools and become obsessed with pleasing and satisfying inspection requirements and politicians who will be gone tomorrow. I won’t forget the awe and humility that I felt this morning for a long time.

Staff have many ways of sharing ideas [as you will have seen in previous blogs] one of which is a weekly take on the Chuckle Brothers, “To me, to you” where teachers, TAs and mentors share their best moments of student learning, and much more. They are quite anxious to ensure that their information is meaningful and interesting for everyone else to read and the non-teachers worry that perhaps what they have to say is of less value than a teacher. We have more assistants than any other school in Sefton and they make a really valuable contribution to the learning here-being modest, of course, means that they don’t always realise it! I was interested to hear Vic Goddard speak yesterday at a conference [the Head from ‘Educating Essex’] and he mentioned that he called his teaching assistants, co-educators. I think that this is perhaps a better description of our support staff and do believe that EVERYBODY on our staff has a responsibility for, and should be valued for, their contribution to student learning. Whilst our teachers often comment on class achievement our TAs and mentors can point to individual personalised success that have made a huge difference to the learning and, often life chances, of some of our individual students. Let me share a few of their shared moments sent “to me, to you” [they are all from different colleagues and some are in short hand or bullet points]

How did you make it happen?

The students have over the last three weeks been seated at a table that I have in the classroom. They know it is for encouragement to produce better quality written work than they are currently producing. Each week they have taken it in turns to sit on ‘my table’. Surprisingly they don’t mind! I then have the opportunity to encourage progress in their writing by explaining in more detail and trying to help them expand on their answers. I feel as I did not know the students, with the in class support it has helped them to accept me, they understand I have some knowledge of the subject, which Lisa explains ‘I have a GCSE and I have worked in English a long time!’ I discuss the work with them not at them or to them.

What measureable impact did it have on the learning?

This week they have all produced homework and not just a few lines but a full page! One student in particular who did only attempt the date and title has produced some amazing work in the lesson, producing paragraphs instead of a few sentences. The same applies for the others too.

Your best student learning moment [s]/penny dropping moments of the term so far…Student A

Left last year and achieved good enough G.C.S.E. grades to study A levels this year and be on his way to achieving his aspirational target of being a marine biologist. I met him in year 8 when he was in set 5 for the core subjects and had a diagnosis of dyslexia.

How did you make it happen?

Student A
We sat down and worked backwards from his dream job, working out what was required along the journey. He needed to be in set 1 or 2 to study for the requisite G.C.S.E.s and needed extra English support, which Claire Broomfield provided and he studied G.C.S.E. papers in his own time. Revision timetables and timetable for extra-curricular activities were planned with him.

I met with his mum who was worried that he was taking on too much and reassured her that the creativity and physical extra stuff were the things that motivated him and his learning, as well as the academic work that he was studying hard at.

Which new ideas have you been trying out?

At the moment I am in the process of planning for The Listening Programme, an intervention I have used before, benefitting students especially those with ASD at the start of Yr.7, and others too.

As these students get more tired than others do often because of their sensory issues, I plan to use TLP in the afternoon to allow them to rest and recharge their batteries. Other incidental benefits from the programme are; forming friendship groups, getting to know staff, having a time that is not mentally taxing, but instead having time to do creative activities either with clay or constructing models.

Social Communication sessions have been very useful in teaching the skills needed for life. It is difficult sometimes with time constraints within a mainstream high school, to withdraw students from lessons to do individual sessions to support students. Staff have been very supportive, but do need the students in lessons so they do not miss out on vital information.

I am especially pleased with the debate group for Yr. 9 and Yr.10. This was initiated with students in mind who have very set ideas about certain topics, and as with most ASD students are inflexible in their thinking. It is so good for us to have flexibility to create individual interventions that can also impact positively on other students.

This is how it works; the students think about the topics they want to discuss, and the room is set to emulate the BBC’s “Question Time.” Students can volunteer to chair the debate, a topic is discussed in “for “ and “against” sections, and after a period of time set by the “chair” the students swap over to debate the topic from the opposite angle; this challenges their often concrete opinions of an issue and helps them to see from a different perspective. The students who have been involved have progressed in confidence, learning to listen to others, taking turns and respecting other’s opinions.

How did you make it happen? [ a student in need of support]

• Meeting weekly and sometimes daily with the student
• Speaking to Mum almost daily
• Facilitating meetings between student and teacher to remove anxieties
• Working closely with TA
• Introducing a diary for thoughts and feelings then using this as a starting point for discussion
• Keeping teaching staff informed of how best to support student
• A successful referral to CAMHS (children and adult mental health service)
• Taking advice and guidance from CAMHS
• Meeting with PE staff to discuss calorie intake/exercising

How did you make it happen?

I make time for this student with weekly appointments and an open door to drop in.
I’m in contact with mum when needed.
Enable the student to seek support in the classroom from her teaching staff.
Referral to counselling

Which new ideas have you been trying out?

• For student to manage and understand his own time management when carrying out class work and social situations using my watch or classroom clock to calculate different concepts of time in all situations.
• Giving the student independence by having a watch himself, to time an experiment so that it’s completed within time restraints.
• Giving the student lots of praise and encouragement to build self-esteem.
• Reassuring the student of the great progress he is starting to make in year 11.
• Good communication between the student and myself. Letting me know when he has a problem or isn’t happy with something by giving me a sign e.g. putting his pen down.
• For me to continue observing student and implementing the appropriate strategies when needed.

Our teachers are great BUT behind every great teacher is a network of support that may seem invisible to many outside of school but to our students, teachers and parents it is a vital life-line helping our students to succeed in their learning

Choices and decisions

Having welcomed new year 7 students into their schools, many high schools spend the next few weeks preparing themselves for next year’s [and for years to come] potential new students with Open Evenings, Open Days, organised advertising campaigns and visits to local primary schools. The word ‘competition’ has crept its unwelcome way into education and sadly seems here to stay despite many teachers and educationalists preferring to work with other schools for the mutual benefit of young people. The bottom-line is that if schools are not at the capacity of numbers set by Sefton; they lose money and this has a knock on effect on jobs, resources and of course the quality of teaching and student learning.

It must be a totally confusing situation for parents and primary school pupils wanting to make one of the most important choices of all-which high school to spend the next 5 years at. The amount of information, statistics and claims has become mind boggling. Some schools now have Open Evenings during the summer term, some advertise on buses, some on train stations, some in newspapers, some via the post, some in areas that other schools serve, some are academies, some are free schools, some are faith schools, some faith school invite pupils who aren’t of that faith, some are single sex, some are independent, some used to be independent and are now state, some are over-subscribed, some have lots of places available, some have different Ofsted inspection categories, some aren’t inspected by Ofsted, some tell their percentage of A*-Cs for all students [not necessarily including English and maths], some show 5A*-Cs that include English and maths, some show how much progress their students have made from KS2, some show percentages and progress made in English and maths-I could go on! If you delve behind the raw statistics, further confusion will undoubtedly follow-if you saw scores for one school of 70% A*-Cs [including English and maths] would you choose that school over one with 50%? Or would you be persuaded the other way if the school with 70% is actually targeted to achieve 80% and is thus under-performing, whilst the school with 50% is over achieving its target of 45%? Tricky one!

It’s a minefield of information and when we visit our primaries we never say that; “we are the best school-come to us”-we stress that there are lots of very different schools, all equally good to choose from and that it is important that they visit as many as they can to choose the one that ‘feels’ right for them. Open Evenings are not a reflection usually of what happens in everyday lessons [they may reflect the ethos of the school and how the school interacts with students and parents] and a quiet visit for one child and their parent [s] on a ‘real’ day tells you so much more. We are very proud of our Ofsted inspection-you might have noticed! BUT inspections become out of date quickly and Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector Of Schools said in his ‘High Expectations, no excuses’ speech that, “It is also important that outstanding schools should not luxuriate in their own outstandingness” We are working hard not to ‘luxuriate’ and what visitors see when they visit our classrooms is based on a whole staff collaborative effort. Judith Little wrote that you know you are in an outstanding school when you can see that;
Teachers talk about teaching
Teachers observe each other’s teaching
Teachers plan and organise and evaluate their work together
Teachers teach each other

I think that our blogs to parents, students and friends of the school have shown how we have been developing teacher collaboration but there is another key ingredient that is missing from the list-LEARNING! The most important people here are the LEARNERS! Including them in their own learning by equipping them with a language of learning, engaging them and challenging their learning, giving them responsibility for their own progress and supporting their social needs help to develop an outstanding learner.

We don’t, of course expect the students to roll up at Meols Cop with all the necessary skills to become a great learner! It takes time for us to teach and encourage the right mind set for personal progress and mind development and the process becomes much easier with support and encouragement from home. Our first meeting with year 7 parents has already happened-it is vital to meet early to firstly find out if there are any concerns and worries and secondly to explain some of the key learning characteristics that we want our learners to develop. The English, maths and science subject leaders explained their vision and aspirations for learners in their subject and I was able to share our Meols Cop philosophy and expectations of all of our learners. [Hope some mums, dads and carers are reading this after my advert for it!]
Everybody at last night’s meeting will expect that their children are taught by ‘great’ teachers and will have chosen our school because they hope that their children will be taught well, cared for and be happy at our school. The teachers had a lively debate on inset day about what ‘outstanding’ teachers should contribute to the whole school [see the last blog] and after the inset I found a quote in a book I was reading that I wish that I had written!

“The teacher who adds to their skill in the classroom by contributing fully to the routines, events and wider life of the school is the truly outstanding professional. Outstanding teachers seek to achieve the aims of the school, subscribe to them and live the purpose of their vocation-and they teach excellent lessons as well!” Mick Waters ‘Thinking Allowed’

Who wouldn’t want their sons and daughters to be taught by committed professionals as described by Waters? After 33 years as a teacher, I would love to be able to tell you that I was ‘a truly outstanding professional’ but I’m still learning and I learn something new every day from our students and my colleagues. I know that I can still be better in my role and I know that even after all of this time, reading so many books and blogs, visiting so many other schools and conferences, trying to be the best that I can-teachers are always ‘progress in action’ I also know that Meols Cop is a great supportive environment for students and staff to learn how to put their progress into action.

Transfer deadline and the new season!


Just think what we could do at Meols Cop with a fraction of Gareth Bale’s transfer fee!  We have our own new year 7 transfers joining us this week for our 2013/14 season and we welcome back our old star learners too.  It’s always an exciting time when the new school term starts and the summer lie-ins and cobwebs are swept away.  Result’s Day brought lots of happy faces, some disappointments and a host of new opportunities for our ex year 11 students. Our data showed that when the year group joined us in year 7, their English, maths and science key stage 2 grades were the weakest that we had seen for some years.  When the results appeared in August, the students had achieved our best ever results for 5 A*-Cs including English and maths-way above the targets set for us!  This incredible progress was made possible by the collaborative hard work of students, teachers, support staff and parents-a fantastic well done and thank you to you all.

Welcome to any new students, parents or friends of our school who may be reading our blog for the first time. We try to keep you informed about our latest learning and teaching ideas and try not to use too much jargon!  If you would like to know more-please contact school-we love a good discussion and welcome world –wide views.

The first 2 days of the new term are for teachers only and we share our vision and ideas for the year ahead. Last September saw us still waiting for an overdue Ofsted inspection and our senior leaders issuing the final rallying calls to ‘show Ofsted what Meols Cop is made of’. This September was different-Ofsted have been and gone, many schools have visited us for support and advice, the exam results were generally pleasing and we have began to share a 5 year vision for our school which takes us ‘beyond outstanding’ Last year is history now and we need to sustain outstanding learning for our students and to continue to develop our staff as continal learners over many years to come.


A huge challenge lies ahead and you can see from one of our presentation slides how we are thinking.  If you have spotted some jargon and sound-bites, I will explain some of them and their relevance later in the blog!

The nature of inspections has meant that most schools focus on what is needed to deliver outstanding lessons, dissecting lesson planning and pedagogy to the nth degree, often having lesson observations without notice and generally frightening teachers to death and nullifying any desire to try out new ideas and strategies when observed.  This isn’t our way! Although observations are the least popular of teacher activities and cause much worry, we try to use them to develop great practice and use the opportunities to peer observe and share ideas.  An observed lesson, whilst it engenders a great deal of professional pride, especially when grades are involved, only represents less than 1% of a teaching over a year.  It’s what matters to learning over the 99.99% of the other lessons that really makes an outstanding contribution to the quality of learning and teaching in a school. Colleagues completed a quiz to test their overall contribution to our collaborative development of learning and teaching and considered areas that they as individuals can contribute to ‘outstanding’, rather than considering one off lessons. Like a ‘girlie mag’ they totted their scores up and considered their final outcomes-

If you scored more than 300-You are waiting for me to retire and have already planned the furniture in my office!

250+-You are making a huge contribution to whole school learning and teaching and not just in your own subject and class-room-thank you

Some of the questions raised and scores included;

Helping others to develop their teaching

You have offered advice to another colleague


about their teaching-1 for each time

You have let another colleague observe you teach informally-3 for each time

You have coached or mentored a colleague-2 for each time

You have shared ideas and resources with a colleague-2 for each time

You have observed colleagues informally-3 for each time-3 extra if you then tried out an idea

You sold your ideas at the market place-5

There were many more and our idea will be shared at one of the local teachmeet sessions where teachers share ideas [usually on a Saturday morning!]

Inset time also means sharing of ideas time and sometimes these may be new ideas spotted  in educational books, research or blogs or there may be opportunities for our own staff to feedback on some of the strategies they have been trying in lessons and that have had a positive effect on learning in their classroom.  We internally accredit presenters and in fact anyone who tries out new ideas, shares them, tells colleagues about  the impact of them on learning OR we just say thank you for supporting Team Meols Cop! The slide below tells you the content of ‘market stalls’ and students reading this may spot something they have used in their learning and be guessing which first name fits which teacher!

For those of you who visit us this half-term, you should begin to see the visual results of our final inset collaboration in different subject classrooms-I won’t say more as yet.

Learning at Meols Cop is for both students and staff-the philosophy, aspirations and dedication to self-improvement which drive our teaching to deliver the best possible learning outcomes for our students also permeate our attitude towards staff development-the learning traits which we know characterise great learners-are true for everyone here.  The development of a growth mind-set [Carole Dweck] is crucial to our work with both students and staff.  You can see a diagram below showing the difference between a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set

For students perhaps the key issues that we develop at Meols Cop to support the ‘can-do’ aspects of a growth mind-set are resilience, challenging yourself, accepting and learning from feedback that you might not like and enjoying and supporting the success of others.  These are key life-skills and we believe that they can be taught and developed-our students aren’t just born with them! For our teachers and support staff-anything is possible for our ALL of our students regardless of prior learning, data, circumstances out of their control-they WILL make progress and there will be no excuses, only self-analysis and a change of tactics from us if they don’t. We think-’How can I teach them, not can I teach them.  How will they learn not can they learn’ ANYTHING-is also possible for our team of staff and for our whole school community!

We have borrowed from Matthew Syed [Bounce] the notion that for both students and staff, ‘purposeful practice’ brings learning rewards and success.  Even for the most able people in any discipline, constant practice and effort [provided it is targeted at the areas that you are weakest in and not the safe option of practising what you are good at!] is the key to success.  10,000 hours of purposeful practice is a nice figure to consider for sporting success and perhaps 8 years of teaching [Dylan Wiliam] before you can think about being experienced and a sound practitioner.  Key to purposeful practice in schools is the feedback that we provide to all at Meols Cop-‘if you don’t know what you are doing wrong-you can never know what you are doing right’ From marking in books, to interventions in lessons, to lesson observations-individual performance can be improved by encouraging purposeful practice and providing specific feedback.  Learning from failure is part of the development of any successful learner-‘the paradox of outstanding is that it is built upon the foundation of necessary failure’

Education [and Meols Cop] needs to be open to ideas from other fields of excellence and our final buzz-word at the moment, is David Brailsford’s [GB Olympic cycling coach] ‘marginal gains’  training regime that produced so many gold medals and success at the London Olympics. He said that, “it is important to understand the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’-put simply…how small improvements can have a huge impact on the overall performance of the team”  In education we probably use to talk about ‘tweaking to transform’-encouraging teachers and students to evaluate and analyse the tiniest aspects of their learning and teaching-sounds easy but it isn’t!  For example students have to look at their exam papers and check them against mark schemes to spot where mistakes were made and marks lost-they often hate doing it and yet they also know if they do it well, it may help them achieve crucial marks in their next assessment. Much as Brailsford collected data on every performance, feeding it back to his cyclists, before setting them focused, detailed and challenging targets-we have to do the same to improve the learning and teaching performance of everyone at Meols Cop-I’m exhausted thinking about it!  As term progresses, I’ll let you know how our ‘Full On’ learning and teaching is developing.