Monthly Archives: April 2014

Lesson Study so far…..

Since we decided to become involved with the NTEN [National Teacher Enquiry Network] lessons study/CPD audit project in autumn, many of our blogs have included feedback on the progress our group of volunteers have been making. I’m not going to go over all of the ideas again but here are some of the key blogs, if you haven’t seen them before or want to check them out again.

The beginning and first attempts

The CPD audit

A maths example in Chucklevision 2

Detailed art feedback and my conclusions and thoughts re future lesson study

More science feedback and resources towards the end of Chucklevision 4

A bit more year 7 maths in Magic Moments 2

A quick reminder of the NTEN slide which explains the general idea.


Basically 2 teachers choose an aspect of their teaching and student learning which data or professional judgement shows is an area of concern-they plan together and observe each other before feeding back and discussing how their idea has made a difference [or not] before refining their approach. They are encouraged to seek internal or external ideas/research to help them with their enquiry. A 3RD colleague may assume the role of coach/mentor. 3 target students are chosen to focus on and the pre-planning includes the teacher predicting how the student will react to each stage in the lesson-the observer watches along with the teacher to see what the actual responses of each student is. They can then discuss how the learning progressed after the lesson and after a period of time, will measure in an appropriate way, the impact their tactics have had on student learning.The process is explained in much more detail in the other blogs-this is just in case any readers are new to the idea.

For non-teachers reading the blog, this is a different approach surprisingly to what is normal observation practice in many schools-but not all! There often isn’t as much time as teachers would like to plan together in high schools and peer observations, whilst growing are still not seen everywhere. Lessons are often graded when observations occur and are formal and part of the appraisal process. Many schools follow Ofsted style criteria when preparing for and evaluating lessons and the observations may be more judgmental than developmental-every school is different so these are generalisations.  No grades are involved with lesson study and they are informal and involve volunteers, so far, who have agreed to participate and give up time because they think that it will be a valuable for their professional development. The feedback and discussions concentrate on talking about the learning and teaching rather than focusing on grades.

This wasn’t a totally new and radical change of practice for our teachers-lesson observations here are always peer observations, can be formal for appraisal purposes or informal for colleagues to share ideas and we have moved away from grading lessons over the last couple of years to having a detailed conversation afterwards highlighting areas that went well and providing advice and feed-forward. This isn’t a soft option! If the lessons don’t go well, peer observers are expected as professionals to be supportive and offer guidance and not to avoid any tough issues. We can’t tell the students to develop a mind-set of making the best use of constructive criticism if we can’t follow the same advice! Everybody has a duff lesson sometimes-if it happens the teacher simply has another go and we move on. The quality of our teachers and teaching must never be based on 1 lesson!-[more on how we self-evaluate this after next week’s inset or check out these blogs which track our ideas since September ]

I have been really grateful to our volunteers who have used their own time to work together-I wasn’t able to change directed meetings so easily to give a bit more time for their planning so much was done outside of normal timetabled planning and preparation time. Although staff have been kept informed via internal collaboration of what has been happening and the resources and planning/feedback have been shared-I asked our team to present a short résumé of their lesson study so far this week so that others could see how it worked in practice-just in time for the next colleagues to volunteer! Making the use of the maths suite of rooms, each pair spoke for 8 minutes or so to 6 different groups of their colleagues. Senior staff don’t normally attend developmental meetings e.g. learning hubs so that the teachers aren’t inhibited or feel they are being spied on! It is their time to chat freely and develop their ideas, however knowing how much hard work had gone into lesson study/how interesting it was I did unleash SLT and Alison into the rooms so they could celebrate the CPD opportunity.

Alex and Clair


Our oldest, and soon to retire colleague, Barbara was kept awake by the 2 mathematicians feeding back on their work which focused on trying to improve 7 set 7’s ability to answer functional skills.

 What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

Could we improve how the class answered functional questions by supporting and developing their basic literacy skills as we knew that the students had the maths skills but weren’t sure if they could apply them to big questions. E.g. functional questions with words rather than just sums! Clair and Alex felt that the reading of the question and understanding what was needed was proving to be a learning stumbling block.

 How you planned and where your ideas came from.

Alex and I planned our lessons so that they had a structure of how to answer these questions. This is shown below.

 The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

We chose 3 boys that had shown us already that they had the maths skills but hadn’t performed particularly well in the KS2 examinations. All 3 seemed to have improved at the end. Interestingly after the first session, it was noted that the more able mathematician struggled the most. A quick check showed that he had the lowest reading score.

 Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

All the students said that they weren’t scared of these questions anymore and they were now more confident when faced with these questions. The year 7 assessments are next week so we will have data based evidence to prove before and after impact.

 Benefits of being involved.

Planning with a colleague as you don’t usually have time to do this

03 04

A couple of the sums were obviously proving a tad tricky for 2 of our technology geeks!

Katie and Lisa

Our 2 English ladies both began their lesson study with year 10 in earnest but as 2 colleagues gained promotion before Xmas, Lisa took over the faculty and her other new priorities made the next round of their planning and observations difficult-they explained what they had been able to achieve before the changes and before they had to temporarily abandon LS.

05 06What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

Does writing using persuasive devices enable students to transfer this skill when reading, identifying and explaining them in non-fiction work?- We wanted to show students that there was a significant overlap in writing and reading skills. Many students are able to use persuasive devices when writing a leaflet or advert for instance but then struggled to explain why other writers may have included them in their work and what effect they have.

How you planned and where your ideas came from.

We planned the lesson so that it included short, fast-paced tasks in order to allow the teaching of both reading and writing skills as previously they have been taught separately simply due to time constraints.

The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

We chose three students each with varied abilities as we wanted to observe whether this strategy was something that was accessible for all needs.

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

Students achieved better than expected on the whole and were able to recognise how the reading and writing skills overlapped.

Benefits of being involved.

Planning with another member of department, observing another teacher

How could Katie choose this topic to teach in front of me knowing me to be a great animal lover!


Adele and Katrina

What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

How effectively can we improve high attainers ability to peer /self-critique?

We chose to focus on this as we both identified that in GCSE the weakest area was where the students had to describe what they had done and why they had done it. We found that several points were being overlooked as they were too ‘obvious’ and students were losing vital marks because of this. We decided to use 8.1 as our enquiry class as we wanted to build the vocab in KS3 in preparation for GCSE.

How you planned and where your ideas came from.

We created a new resource for the students to use that broke down areas of the performance into key skills. We then planned the lesson around this. The students were asked to watch videos of their performances and use the vocab mats to create sentences. This then served as feedback. The class was split into groups of 5 with each student focusing on a different key skill

The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

We chose three students each with different strengths, one academic, one musically/drama talented and another who was confident. What we predicted would happen was different from the actual as the more academic student struggled to voice her opinion.

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

The students were much more confident in giving feedback and could relate to specific skills. They have also improved their levels in the subjects as they are now much clearer on what they need to do to improve

 Benefits of being involved.

Having time to try out new ideas and measure the impact, it’s usually quite difficult with only one lesson a week.

08 09 10 11

Rachel and Josie


Rachel took on the groups without Josie, her art partner and managed to condense their very detailed lesson study [explained in full detail on the art sharing blog] into a quick tour of her marginal gains art gallery.

What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

How effectively can we improve the quality of sketchbook work in underachieving boys?

How you planned and where your ideas came from.

The question was based upon our combined experiences of GCSE teaching and  recent Ofsted reports discussing underachieving boys. According to GCSE student performance analysis 64.8% of boys achieve A*-C compared to 82.9% of girls.

Ideas came from the Ofsted report Making a Mark, an article called Art and design is still a gendered school subject and NSEAD resources and teacher forum.

The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

We selected students who in themselves were significantly below target, but that also represented groups within the class in order to have the widest impact possible. We found that our predicted outcomes were not always correct- the students often surprised us, and reacted differently. This gave us a real insight into the students’ needs. I found that students often exceeded my expectations!!

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

All students have gone up at least two sub-grades during the process, making faster than expected progress. Josiah went up a whole grade and is putting far more effort into his work.

Benefits of being involved.

The opportunity to be reflective- in our usual busy day we don’t have time to sit and think about our own practice, and this made me see the strengths and weaknesses in my own teaching, as well as identifying a number of techniques which could be used across key stages.

Rachel’s success criterion for one of her lessons was that;

1.       All students should begin to work with less support, taking responsibility for their own path to ‘mastery’.

2.       Students will take more creative risks, learning from their mistakes.

3.       Students will have more confidence in their own ability.


She explained how her marginal gains wheel could support her aims buy focusing each student on their weakest skills [again in more detail in the other blogs] and explained the written aspect of her planning-the first column being her teaching tactic, the second column showing her predictions for how each student would respond and the final three describing how each of the students actually responded.

3 Students retry drawing, this time spending 20 minutes. Students are given small pieces of coloured paper and each time they notice a mistake, they write it down, take a photo and correct what they’ve done. Link to Marginal Gains. (20 mins) A and B will give the task a really good go. C may be more reluctant and ask for more help. All three boys will likely fill their ‘mistake papers’ quickly. Did not enjoy task. Focussing on mistakes was uncomfortable for him and made him feel self-conscious. He did not really try to improve his work. Work was marginally more skilful, so he did take on board some ideas. He was unable to identify minor mistakes, simply stating that he had done ‘everything’ wrong. B worked as expected. He had a good go at the task, and his work was of average quality. He identified his errors well and fixed them himself with little guidance. C was a real surprise- his drawing improved massively and he was able to verbally identify all small errors (though he did not write these down) and fix them independently and confidently. His work shows a real journey- he was able to engage with the process and found it helpful.



Rachael and Joe

As Joe was poorly, Rachael manned up and took on all-comers as you can see in the photo!


Her own science colleagues led by subject leader Carmel,  gave her a hard time!


Our new assistant head, Leon, pictured on the right, really enjoyed the innovative science approach.


The second part of the science NTEN  built on the previous term’s work on developing extended answers.  This time around the focus was on interpreting the specification and writing the questions.  Groups were given a pack with a command word, a section of the specification and an example of a question.  The students discussed what made a good and bad exam question then set about the task of writing a question. 

When they had completed writing a question, they peer assessed using an overlay. The overlay prompted the students to dissect the question and suggest ways to improve it.  The students then went on to improve their question and develop a structured mark scheme.


Key examination instruction words need to be understood and used when the students set their own questions.

What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

What impact will understanding command words have on answers to 6 mark questions for middle/high achievers currently underperforming in exams?

How you planned and where your ideas came from.

We used ideas from across department such as silver, gold, platinum outcome attached to levels, and the fishbone template for planning answers. We also used results from previous exam papers showing that students were not attempting the extended answer questions and when they did attempt them, not reaching the higher mark levels.

The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

We originally chose students that were two grades below target. They were either high attainers or in triple science, and we particularly focused on students who had shown a weakness in 6 mark questions. We found that the predicted outcomes were quite close to how the students actually responded to the activities in the lessons.

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

The students we focused on improved their six mark answers within the lesson, and their answers within the mock exams have also improved. We have also seen evidence of them planning their answers in the exams, and they are all now able to reach the higher mark band. Feedback from the students suggested that they had enjoyed the lesson, and several of them felt that they now had a better understanding of how to answer the 6 mark questions.

Benefits of being involved.

Having them time to plan with another member of staff, and being able to observe the impact of the activities first-hand.

Hannah and Jen

An English teacher and a maths teacher went FISHing!



What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

To improve peer assessment and written feedback in low attainers. I and Hannah wanted to tackle peer assessment and the feedback students write for each other. We both teach a year 11 class with a lot of the same students and felt that we both had similar issues when it came to peer assessment and feedback. This has also been a target for the Maths department this year and is included in our DIP so we asked, ‘can we plan and prepare a peer assessment/critique structure that will have an impact on low attaining year 77 students.”


How you planned and where your ideas came from.

With the obvious difference in subjects it meant that the lessons had to been completely different topics but with the same/similar structure to build on peer assessment. We met prior to the lesson to come up with ideas for the structure that we would both use in a maths/English lesson. We used ideas for peer assessment already trialled across the school.

The 3 student idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

When planning the lesson it really helped to tackle how I expected each student to react and handle the different processes throughout the lesson. It was scary to see how accurate it could be predicted but at times we were surprised students we predicted would struggle handled the task brilliantly. This produced some interesting discussions afterwards between us. We chose 3 students based on a number of shared students and then decided who we thought would already produce good peer- feedback to who usually responds with limited detail.

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

The students responded really well in the lessons and produced some fantastic feedback on the model answers. They found it difficult in the second maths lesson to peer assess each other’s work but could still find positives and provide valuable feedback for a peer. The impact from the case study has been quantifiable from the students all improving their knowledge of the topic and successfully answering Pythagoras question which previous they had not. Qualitative impact has been the verbal communication from the students when tackling this topic, the case study students are able to provide oral feedback on these questions and worked examples.

Benefits of being involved.

What I really enjoyed was the difference in emphasis in the lesson planning – looking into more detail how to tackle a topic in lesson and the relaxed take on a lesson observation with the emphasis on how the students were responding to different stages.

What your enquiry question was and why you chose it.

Jen Filson and I looked at peer assessment. We were keen to see if this could actually be useful when teaching lower ability Y11 students.   We felt that students were mostly able to grade/level a piece of work, but this process was often limited as students were not clear ‘specifically’ of what needed to happen next.

How you planned and where your ideas came from.

We used the idea of FISH, which would seek to push students to be thorough when giving feedback (FISH= friendly, informative, specific and honest advice). We chose FISH as we felt it covered the areas that we were trying to address. As we were from different subjects, we focused on ensuring that our lessons both had the same structure to aid in measuring the impact of the chosen strategy.

The 3 students idea, how the paper work works! E.g. the predicted outcome and actual.

The predicted outcomes for both Jen and myself were extremely accurate. It is clear that this assessment really emphasised what they needed to do next for progression; it can be very difficult for lower ability students to critique extended writing pieces. Undoubtedly, FISH worked in the observed lessons as a good deal of time was devoted to the assessment of the piece and moving forward.

Any evidence that your tactic has worked-impact of your ideas.

Students are able to use FISH when given a model of how assessment should look- they are not able to do this with full independence yet. I am keen to use FISH with my KS3 classes to see if I can make it a very natural way of working/ assessing. For my lower ability Y11, it was a very time consuming process as reading/ understanding/ writing takes a great deal of time. I will continue to use FISH in DIRT sessions in the future with lower ability students, with the aim that over the course of time their self/ peer assessment will improve. Students are able to verbalise what they need to do to improve and I believe FISH has allowed them to grow in confidence when discussing their learning.

Benefits of being involved.

I enjoyed seeing how my students responded to challenge in Maths- I felt reassured knowing that the selected students face similar struggles in both subjects and exhibit similar behaviour when faced with challenge. It was nice to work with a totally different colleague and to have the time to discuss learning. It has given me plenty to think about. It is nice to take time to consider ‘how’ learning happens without the fear of getting it wrong- as with the process of NTEN it is not expected that the chosen enquiry question will necessarily conclude in success.  


Although the presentations were brief, colleagues responded really well and came to tell me how useful the session had been and having seen lesson study in action, it was easy to gather volunteers for our summer sessions. So far we have;

Lisa and Rachael English

Hannah and Holly Science

Sheila and Zoe Maths

Rosie and Arron PE/dance

Bronagh and Emma Spanish and Geography

Helen and Marion MFL

Tim and Claudio ICT

Two of our directed time meetings that were originally planned for learning hubs will now be used for this group to plan and feedback, the first meeting will be used by our original group to meet each other [they couldn’t see each other’s presentations] My direction for other colleagues is ,

Colleagues not involved can use the meeting time to either continue with their present hub activities with colleagues from their hub or choose their own enquiry question/micro research to plan for.

It might be that you have an issue with a certain class or cohort/individual where you want to consider some different tactics and plan accordingly-you can use the time for this if you wish to. I shouldn’t have to direct certain topics all of the time and want to give you the professional freedom to use this hub time and next years to follow your own line of research [if you want to] Your research will go into your professional portfolio [that I will talk about for the first part of the next inset day] and can link with appraisal/CPD/anything else you fancy providing evidence for. Research doesn’t have to mean reading great tomes of academic stuff-if your data is showing an area where you can develop and focus on to improve your own teaching and then evaluate your tactics-go for it-that’s research to me!’

We will also be able to use our new Iris in-class cameras to enhance our feedback sessions. Those involved are excused the summer formal observations, although these observation follow a similar developmental approach in the feedback session as you can see on the observation sheet here.

Appraisal Observation Feedback     Teacher                                       Class         Observers

Subject chosen pedagogy Observer feedback comments to support development.How did each chosen strategy impact on learning? Anything you spotted for future devpt advice? Teacher view-did your teaching of each priority meet your predicted outcome and impact on student learning? Did you have to change tactics?

For the observer

3 bits of great teaching that inspired and that you are definitely going to use tomorrow! Your favourite piece of student learning-best penny dropping moment-what and with whom! What did you learn most as a teacher from today’s observation?

For the observed!

What would you like to develop next with either subject or general pedagogy? How can we [or others] help? How did today help your appraisal targets? Where next with this particular target?

The whole process of being involved in lesson study as a piece of personal CPD and the contribution made for the planning, delivery and feedback is celebrated and evaluated in our Professional Portfolio [to be completed on our May inset day] and as senior school leaders it provides yet another opportunity to ‘catch’ great practice in action-more Magic Moments!

Collaboration-learning Which lessons have you informally observed? What did you hope to gain from these obs? What were the key learning points you gathered from these? Which target groups did you aim your hub resources/ideas at? Why? Which ideas/resources have you ‘borrowed’ from colleagues and who did you target them at/why?  What did you try out in your lessons as a result of informal lesson obs?What was the impact on learning and how did you measure it?What was the impact on learning in your lessons of any hub/borrowed ideas? What is your evidence? Any specific groups/cohorts of learners?Have you managed to share any of your ideas in any forum? How will you take your lesson study forward to develop your ideas further? Which aspects of our collaborative work do you need support with or need more of?
Collaboration-teaching Have you contributed to any of the FOCALS when we have discussed generic teaching issues? E.g.?Have you contributed to dept meetings when learning and teaching is discussed? E.g.?Have you been in involved with joint planning of lessons? Have you contributed ideas to the dept SEF?If a colleague has been having difficulties/concerns with a class-have you been able to offer advice and support? Have you sought help and advice when it was needed? For each of the examples you chose; how did your intervention make an impact on the teaching of others or yourself? How do you know? How did this then impact on student learning? How would you like to develop your contribution to the discussion and support of ‘teaching’?

From the learning and teaching areas of our individual contributions to great learning and teaching-self-evaluations-this is from the criteria for 2-5 years’ experience colleagues. More on this in a later blog.

The change over of learning study personnel provides a suitable time to reflect not only on our own developing practice but on the wider LS picture. Recent interesting additions to the debate have come from; an NTEN feedback from both secondary and primary schools-article by David Weston  variety of lesson study exemplars collated by Phil Wood some of the key issues for schools and the use of evidence/research-blog by Kev Bartle   blogs by Joe Kirby; raising questions about how schools might engage with research, and feeding back on a variety of opinions concerning the role of research in teaching.

For other schools reading the blog, we chose to join the NTEN group of schools due to the inclusion of their CPD audit as well as the chance to find our more about lesson study. As you can see from the collection of other ideas, lesson study isn’t just the domain of NTEN schools and the different strands of it may offer a relevant aspect to work with depending on individual and school situations-we certainly haven’t ‘cracked’ all of the elements successfully and schools involved are very open to supporting others-this isn’t a closed shop and all situations lead to different interpretations and implementations of lesson study-please don’t be put off trying an approach even if certain barriers seem to be prohibitive.

I had a recent twitter conversation with someone who could see some value in what they had read about lesson study but was concerned that 1] this was one of the favoured ‘pushes’ of a vociferous minority of tweeters and may just be a trendy idea that will be later mocked and rubbished much as brain gym, VAK, thinking hats, SOLO etc. have been-I don’t think that it is or will be but in any case if something works for you, ignore the screams of some of the ‘evidence’ based folk and do what is best for your students and yourself-don’t be bullied into giving up what your professional judgement tells you is the right thing to do! 2] They also didn’t feel that they could prioritise the time to do this given the pressure of all of their other work e.g. exam prep-time is always tricky and without SLT sympathy, even more difficult. They pointed out to me that whilst their ‘door is always open’ this wasn’t supported by school policy and cover. I hope that some of the ideas shared by schools involved show that lesson study can support other key priorities but another conversation showed that strong willed teachers can go it alone.

A friend who really wants to be involved in lesson study ‘borrowed’ the NTEN resources, which are open to all and approached a reluctant senior leader and persuaded them to let themselves and 2 colleagues trial lesson study. This is in a school, similar to the previous situation, where peer observations and informal drop-ins are very new [sometimes schools who work in a different way don’t realise the collaboration or lack of it that happens elsewhere and how difficult it is for fellow teachers to access CPD like lesson study] Good luck to them-I hope that they are successful and able to persuade others, including SLT, of the value of this approach.

Others may be interested in the non grading, non judgemental developmental approach of lesson study and want to trial it as a different form of lesson observation-again perhaps to persuade SLT that  there is life beyond lesson grades! OR perhaps a member of SLT wants to show a grade obsessed staff the same thing-it does happen! There is no reason why lesson study can’t complement and run alongside formal graded observations, if that is your preferred form of observation or, as in our case, be part of a wider evaluation of the quality of teaching linking to appraisal. The coaching element may interest some more than the research and enquiry aspects or for some schools who are already developing pedagogical leaders; the research may be king. My point is that there is something for everybody to consider and develop and that there are schools who will welcome interest and be supportive and non-judgemental. Our own school will welcome a visitor next week who has read about lesson study and at a conference at Failsworth recently, there were a couple of schools who had dipped their toes. St Mary’s at Blackpool [Stephen Tierney @leadinglearner] and we are the only 2 [still I think] involved in the NTEN in the NW and both schools are ordinary [in terms of intake only!] comprehensive schools that would make any visitor most welcome and more important share ideas and open classroom doors to you.

I explained some of the key issues we need to consider at the end of the Magic Moments blog and needless to say our lesson study is ‘learning in progress’, we need to build in more planning and reflection time, create sharp and focused enquiry questions, use data as a helpful tool to support teaching innovation [engage with it before and after the enquiry]  and to try to use practical research more effectively and encourage all staff to try to see the relevance and importance  of research so that they are prepared to find the time to consider researching on a small scale themselves. [I’ll still keep feeding research out!] I obviously believe that this form of CPD is pragmatic enough to join together research and school based learning and teaching so that a difference to student learning can be made BUT my 20 plus years of teaching 5 lessons a day and the planning and marking time that this work-load entails are a distant memory subsumed under years of leadership-great CPD must be owned by my colleagues, be relevant to their current professional learning and teaching needs not ‘done’ to them or at them.

 I love getting the train to Aigburth and walking back to the pier head taking in the sights and sounds of the Mersey and I always pause towards the end of my walk at Billy Fury’s statue and think about his great song and relate it to anything I try to achieve at school. “Halfway to paradise, so near, yet so far away” Upwards and onwards with lesson study and CPD!





Teaching Assistant CPD

I wrote an article for School Leadership Today in the autumn term and haven’t previously shared this on our blog for parents and others to see. Schools and organisations such as NTEN who asked about it received copies after the publication so that ideas could be shared. The article chronicles my ideas to develop CPD in the summer term of 2013 that would actually support the needs of our TAs and thus have an impact on student learning. This wasn’t because I felt that, or had evidence to suggest, that our TAs weren’t doing a good job! I won’t spoil a good story by revealing why I wanted to develop CPD yet-you can read on and find out more. This is part 1, much more has been developed over autumn and winter and again this has been sent to School Leadership Today and I’ll share these in a later blog. The DFE and Unison have both been involved with using our ideas re the deployment of TAs and I would hope that my general concern and response would be summed up by saying, ‘use them well and effectively or lose them!’ Many schools, ourselves included, have specific primary/secondary teachers rather than TAs to support intervention with some students-this doesn’t mean that TAs don’t have a role anymore-it may be changing and they themselves need to take [as do teachers] responsibility for developing more appropriate skills-as CPD person, my role is to provide the opportunities for this to happen here for ALL staff not just teachers and to help colleagues to reflect, evaluate and develop. We may end up losing staff as they develop new/improved skills but we must develop everyone whilst they are here to give our students the maximum benefit of staff skills and attributes. More of this in part 2!


The army of teaching assistant’s that has grown tenfold over the last 10 years are certainly facing an uncertain and worrying future.  Mr Gove, should he return administrative tasks to teachers and should he save a few billion pounds by reducing the TA work-force, will decimate what has been a controversial support mechanism for classroom teachers in both primary and secondary sectors. Recent Ofsted inspections have begun to comment on the deployment of TAs in lessons [sometimes negatively] as though Mr Gove and Ofsted have been in conversation-a conversation which of course excluded schools and TAs! Pleas on their behalf have poured in to educational blogs from teachers and parents who appreciate the specific and focused support they can offer to individual children whilst Mr Gove may look to research which suggests that their support is, at best negligible and at worst counter-productive. The 2003-2008 DISS project with the aim of providing ‘an accurate, systematic and representative description of the deployment of TAs and other support staff in schools’ found that ‘students receiving the most TA support made less progress than similar students who received little or no TA support-even after controlling for factors likely to be related to academic progress and the allocation of TA support’ [e.g. prior attainment and SEN status]


This was a decent sized survey-18000 responses tracked 8,200 students and assessed the impact of TA support on students’ academic progress in English, maths and science. The comparisons between trained teachers and TAs, whilst being used as a honest description of what was found, can be used to damn by those who may oppose the use of TAs. For example; ‘teachers spent more time explaining concepts than TAs, and TAs explanations were sometimes inaccurate or confusing, teachers are more focused on learning and understanding, while TAs are more focused on completing tasks, teachers are proactive, while TAs are in a reactive role, teachers open up the pupils while TAs close down the talk, teachers promoted pupil engagement and encouraged them to develop their own ideas far more often than TAs did’  The teachers observed were doing what good teachers do!  With professional training and experience behind them it should be expected that they would be making the learning interactive, challenging and using AFL strategies we would now consider an integral part of a good or outstanding lesson.  What would we and what should we expect of a TA who normally may lack the same training and experience? That isn’t to say that the professional qualifications open to TAs aren’t useful but the deployment of TAs by schools and individual teachers may mean that they don’t always have the opportunity to use their skills effectively.


We received a successful Ofsted visit in October 2012, just after the criteria for the quality of teaching was raised a notch or two [or 3 or 4!] and to be honest I had been pouring my energies into developing the teaching skills of my colleagues, whilst keeping the TAs in the loop with regards to their role in the classroom and what was emerging as good TA practice in past Ofsted reports. There was little else to guide me and I relied on my own and my colleagues professional instincts on what was best for our students-always the best guide.  Once Ofsted had gone, I began immediately to think of strategies that would sustain our outstanding teaching and realised that, although our TAs had supported their students really well in front of the inspectors, I was guilty of not giving their CPD the same attention as I had given the teachers.  We are a small school with 56 teachers and 30 TAs [2 special units for dyslexia and Asperger’s] so you can see that we have a greater percentage of TAs than many other high schools. [Certainly in our area] An article in the New Year edition of Every Child Up-date explained how one academy had been trying to define the role of TAs in relation to teachers and the good practice described galvanised me into action and I used some of the resources in after school discussions with volunteer TAs to raise questions about their expectations of what they should offer in class and how the teacher should treat and use them. 


Time was an issue. Because of the nature of support there was little opportunity for them all to meet in school time and the expense of bringing them all in for an inset day [30 lots of a day’s wage] is difficult to fund these days and would blow the inset budget in one go! I decided to begin with a three pronged campaign to improve TA CPD and make them feel valued [which they were but may not have always felt it] I actively encouraged them to look at training possibilities-LJMU came in to large groups of volunteers, Unison offered free courses and other reasonably priced providers such as Lancashire LA were also used.  The success of the teaching at Meols Cop is based on collaboration and sharing, so I began to go into 1 TA briefing a week to get them to talk to each other and jot down ideas to share-they already talked informally but this was part of a process to get them to think about that favourite word of inspectors-IMPACT-which they will have to use much more often when supporting IEPs, statements and pupil premium form filling.  This isn’t easy-teachers are used to having to constantly provide evidence-TAs were not quite so sure, so I used some user-friendly booklets to help keep a record, if they wanted to, of important ‘penny dropping’ moments and another one to help share best ideas;

When and where did the learning penny drop? Next steps for you and your learner!

With whom?  
What happened? Note the specific progress


What did I do to help? Did I do something different?
Where next with their learning? How can I help?
New ideas tried: Initial impact: How can I develop the idea?
Great examples of collaboration with teachers:
Note: Progress may be related to IEP targets, target grades, lesson objectives, success criteria, written feedback, 6Cs, group-work, independent learning guidelines, home-learning, target cards, and so on.


Weekly reflections and sharing

The best moment of my week:
What happened?  
Why was it so special?  
What progress did the student make? Can you give a specific measure?
Why did it happen? What did you do to make it happen?
Could this idea be used with other students or in other subjects? How?
Other developments this week:
Any other positive developments?  
Any concerns?  
Ideas to try:  

To continue with the sharing of ideas and internal CPD, a morning conference was organised during our Sport’s Week, when the students were involved in a ‘World Cup.’ Teaching assistants were invited from two other high schools with a similar student profile. ‘Speed dating’ allowed quick introductions and collaboration before we discussed our documents concerning teacher and TA expectations.  It’s unusual for TAs to meet each other, in our area, and be able to ‘talk shop’ and hopefully we can facilitate more such ‘TAmeets’   One document that proved to be of real interest was our ideas as to how students develop their partnership with their TA.


Learning and making outstanding progress with your Teaching Assistant

It’s a great opportunity to have someone to support your learning in the Meols Cop classroom-how can you make the most of your Teaching Assistant?

  • Show and give respect to your TA, as you would with your teachers
  • Do speak to your TA about your learning-they are there to help you become independent learners [but not to spoon-feed and do it for you!]
  • Listen carefully to your teacher’s instructions and be ready to explain to your TA, what you have to do.
  • Always try you very best and take care and pride with your piece of learning before showing it to your TA.
  • Make sure that there is a chair and table ready for your TA to sit and support you at.
  • If the teacher is asking for answers to be said aloud in class and you are unsure if you have it right-whisper it to your TA to confirm and then answer-we want you to shine and get praises!
  • It is always nice for you to say “thank you” to your TA for helping you!
  • Have your planner handy in case your TA needs to help you with it.
  • If you are feeling fed-up or worried-speak nicely to explain to your TA-try not to take out any unhappiness or grumpiness on anyone else!
  • Try to avoid saying “I can’t do it” to your TA-think hard first; Have you listened carefully? Can you remember a similar problem before-how did you solve it?  Can your partner help?
  • If they aren’t there for some reason-don’t panic-your teacher will have planned to support you but you may have to be patient. Sometimes another TA may come to support you-explain to them how they can best help you and what works best for you [this doesn’t mean trying to get them to do all the work for you!!]  Make them feel comfortable in a new situation for them so that they can help you as best as they can.
  • Your TA may have to support other students too-share them out! We are all responsible learners at Meols Cop who must support each other’s learning-if another student needs help-lend them your TA!


The last point may be recognisable to TAs-students don’t like their TA to be shared at times and that can become an issue and certainly Ofsted seem to have a liking for observing TAs whizzing around the room, rather than staying with 1 student.  This does raise issues with statemented students [worth another article]. The table below which we have shared with schools we support breaks down least effective to most effective strategies of using TAs in lessons and I would expect to see the most effective ones used here!

TAs are not involved in the lesson and given little or no direction-you may not have spoken to them of shared tactics, you don’t speak to them in the lesson, they stick rigidly with one student [may be acceptable in certain circumstances] 


TAs are not well deployed in all aspects of the lesson-perhaps you miss opportunities where they could have supported your teaching strategies or specific student learning needsYou have a good relationship with your TA and it is obvious that you discuss their role and support normally TAs are well deployed to support learning.You have a good relationship with your TA and it is obvious that you discuss their role and support-you use them flexibly in the lesson and direct them to where they are needed most today Your TA is obviously involved in the planning and you constantly communicate in the lesson to ensure that the learning needs of, all of your students is supported.

The deployment of the TAs should be planned for and supports the differentiated learning needs of the learners so they are all challenged and make successful learning gains.

TAs are worried about their future and we discussed the DISS findings and then turned to the authors of the same research for a more optimistic view of the future.  During a conversation in school with Dr Susan Graves of Edge Hill University,the author of ‘Chameleon or Chimera? The Role of the Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) in a Remodelled Workforce in English Schools’, Sue guided me towards ‘Maximising The Impact Of Teaching Assistants’ by Russell, Webster and Blatchford and I was able to use some of the key ideas from the book to consider previous poor practice with the deployment of TAs and offer a way forward. The re-evaluation of current practices, which the authors feel is letting the most vulnerable students down, needs to involve school leaders and they need to consider how their school deploys, TAs, the expectations they have of them and how they will lead the change.  The book is full of good ideas to audit current practice, consider the training needs of TAs, the preparedness of TAs and an explanation of what good practice should look like. Within the time restraints we could only look at the audit, questioning skills and some of the recommendations-but it does give TAs and SLT plenty of practical advice.

01 02

My third prong of our initiative was to observe/interview all of our TAs in action-this frightened some of them to death!  I didn’t use any form of grading [I don’t use grades for teacher observations!] and was keen to use the opportunity as a developmental idea, much as I do with the teaching staff.  There is no link to appraisal or competency or any of the issues that they worried about initially!  There is, however, a useful link to evaluating impact for LA funding and pupil premium, although I had thought of the idea before this became an obvious need and crucial requirement to sustain vital funding from the LA.[another inset session supported training needs for showing evidence of statemented student needs being successfully met]  I adapted an example from the original New Year’s Every Child Up-date case study and arranged my dates with destiny! I modelled some possible answers to support their thinking, as you can see here;

Teaching Assistant:  
Teacher and subject:  
Barriers to learning and progress:
Could be physical, medical (Asperger’s, dyslexia etc.) behavioural (settles slowly, has trouble listening to instructions, poor organisation skills or concentration levels, lacks social skills, unable to work independently etc.) or to do with learning in itself (has difficulties with handwriting, group-work, self-esteem, literacy, numeracy, etc.)
Strategies employed to address any barriers:
For example:Went over instructions after teacher had finished talking

Praised and encouraged to reinforce good behaviour

Supported reading and note taking (without doing it for them!), clarified explanations, read back their work to enable checking

Helped student check progress against learning objectives and kept student on task and focused – redirected to task when necessary

Asked open ended questions about their learning and encouraged them to do the same

Supervised group-work/practical activities

Liaised between student and teacher where necessary

Modelled and encouraged appropriate social skills for those with communication and social interaction difficulties

Helped students with emotional/behavioural difficulties refocus on their work and defused potential conflict

How successful were you? Tell me how you know progress was made!
Could be the penny dropping, a target met, feedback achieved, a learning barrier successfully removed, a thank you, a smile, a previous difficult skill conquered and so on.
How would you like to see this student’s learning develop this year? How can you help them achieve their next stages?
You can see the big picture of learning with your student (in this lesson), you know the IEP, you know the end of-year target, you know the specific barriers to learning, you know how much progress has been made so far – where do they need to go to next? It might be easier to think in terms of 1) their specific learning needs and 2) the specific skills needed in this subject. What can you do next to help?  Do you need to talk again to the teacher, especially about the subject skills?  Do you need to talk with other assistants about similar students for some ideas? Have you come up with your own ideas and want to give them a go (but aren’t so sure how to go about it!)?
How can we help you develop your role so that you know you are making the best personal contribution that you can in supporting your students?
Our students are the most important people in our school – but adults matter too! Do you feel happy, valued and able to contribute as well as you want to? Do you seek development or training? Do you have your own barriers to learning and developing? Tell us!

We are aware of gaps in training, mainly skills associated with our primary colleagues, that we lack such as spelling and reading strategies [what is phonics!] and we need to talk again to both teachers and TAs to ensure better communication. The learning conversations are beginning and we are as hopeful as we can be that our TAs will continue to provide invaluable support to the learning needs of our students. Their feedback, 1 to 1 pro-active intervention supported by focused CPD and targeted, discussed deployment is a key component in sustaining great learning and teaching at MCHS.

In part 2, I will share our work with helping the TAs to look in more detail at the impact of their support in terms of using data and although Ofsted have recently commented on this in their reports, as they did last year with the use of TAs, we do what is best for our students and Ofsted must have copied us not the other way round! Mr Wilshaw owes me a pint or two!







Help needed! Are we getting it right?

School to school support-lots of questions, any answers?

School to school support, much favoured by Mr Gove and evidenced by the teaching school alliances, academy chain alliances and continual discussion that ‘great’ schools should support others has been at the forefront of both local and national current discussion. Local schools are being forced into academisation and take-over by other establishments; some schools are going into others to help them move out of Ofsted categories and some just collaborate and share ideas because they think that they should. Perhaps it sounds a brilliant idea to help each other but for me, and I would imagine others, the process has raised so many unanswered questions; some of which aren’t usually aired publicly. I don’t know of too much research into effective school to school support but do know it has become quite a lucrative business for some. I suppose that because our school isn’t a part of any alliances we may be a different case BUT we are involved and we need to be aware of ‘best’ practice.

Before our 2012 Ofsted, it would be fair to say, that like most schools [certainly in our area] we hadn’t been too involved in school to school support or in a great deal of collaborative work with other schools. The business of Meols Cop was Meols Cop and we were keeping our noses to the grindstone of rigorous self-improvement and analysis so that; our school was safe from the very real threats of closure and redundancies, our teaching was improving to provide our students with quality learning, our reputation was growing locally so we could fill our classrooms and we were developing [internally] a Meols Cop mentality of strength in staff collaboration and supported development-bit like Sir Alex achieved but without the tea cup throwing! The LEA during this time had declined in terms of the support it could offer and whilst some schools had joined together for mutual support and training, we hadn’t. This wasn’t borne out of arrogance and a feeling that we didn’t need help; quite simply we believed that we had got the right people in school who could keep up to date with the latest initiatives and innovations, who knew best what our students and staff needed and by saving the money we would have spent on joining groups-we could spend it wisely on external CPD or resources that would make a real impact and difference on learning.

The week after Ofsted had been, we straightaway began to think of how we could sustain what had been achieved and where the school needed to move towards over the next few years. This has been a constant theme on some of the blogs so that parents and friends can share and comment back on our vision as it develops. We were approached immediately by some schools who wanted to work with us or come in and talk to us about how we had prepared for what was then the new Ofsted criterion. Interestingly these tended to be schools in a strong position to begin with. HMI approached us and asked us to support some schools who they felt needed some advice and other approaches came vIa the LA and other schools who found themselves in special measures or perhaps thought that they might end up in an Ofsted category! We openly offered to talk to any schools but surprisingly some still seemed unable or unwilling to come and talk. We wanted to be helpful and supportive but we were unsure as to the protocol, what great support actually should look like and we had some big questions that schools often avoid discussing openly.

I hate using the word ‘competition’ in education but in each local area the schools obviously ‘compete’ for a number of children so there is competition and if you don’t get enough children, jobs are at risk and this school has been there in the past. One big support question is should you give your ideas and help to local schools who may then improve themselves and take a portion of your life-blood of student numbers? Supporting schools further away may help solve your moral dilemma. Or do you support academies or free schools to improve so that you provide evidence of their growing quality for Mr Gove to trumpet and probably sound the death knell for your own non-academy school! Perhaps an independent or selective school might call-should we help them too?  We were also concerned with requests that might reflect another school’s needs and priorities but were not ‘our way!’ For example visiting to evaluate the quality of teaching [using grades] or prepare criteria for grading lesson observations. It isn’t for us, especially when their needs are driven from a disappointing inspection and morale is rock-bottom, to tell others-‘you should do it our way!’

We like to think that we are driven by a morale purpose and when John West-Burnham wrote about the socially just school in School Leadership Today where the leadership is committed to diversity, we would hope that  over the last year we have ‘moved beyond the historical boundaries of the school as an autonomous institution into recognition of a far wider, moral responsibility,’  He quoted Hargreaves and Fink and according to them,’ The hardest part of sustainable leadership is the part that provokes us to think beyond our own schools and ourselves. It is the part that calls us to serve the public good of all people’s children within and beyond our own community and not only the private interest of those who subscribe to our own institution…Sustainable leadership is socially just leadership’ But how do we become socially just, keep our own school driving forward and deliver the best possible effective support to other schools that we can?

Our staff has readily accepted that we should try to offer school to school support and have been really supportive when visitors have appeared. Last June, in an early blog, I tried to explain some of the benefits for our staff and students based on our early experience of support and visitors.

Contact with other schools has confirmed our own practice and given opportunities to our own staff to reflect on their practice and to prioritise the key drivers behind outstanding schools and the transferrable nature of those drivers to others who wish to transform their schools. Potential leaders have emerged after our observation of how colleagues have prepared and have presented their own practice and that of the department and students. This has helped us at a crucial time in the school’s development as we seek to sustain and develop our own leadership capacity and succession planning.

Our students too have benefitted from the chances to speak to visitors-their own language of learning has improved and after making a huge impact on visitors we realised that we should develop student leadership even more. In fact, the visits have helped us to tighten areas that we know will be under scrutiny-the spotlight of other school’s perceptions of our practice has highlighted any issues that are lacking in rigour or not sufficiently supported by evidence of impact.

We have had well over 50 visits in a year, hosted conferences and welcomed NCSL leadership delegates and try to be as welcoming and honest as we can. When schools ring to visit we ask them for as many details about what they actually want from us as possible so we can prepare resources and have the appropriate people ready to see them. We try to involve speaking to our students and visiting classrooms [even without notice] so that guest can see that we don’t just talk the talk! We want any visitor to leave Meols Cop with a good impression and we feed and water folk until they are fit to burst! However-are we getting it right and what is right? Are schools seeking support asking the right questions, making the most use of the opportunities and again what is the most effective way for them to use support? A few points to consider;

  • It takes a lot of time and organisation to make a visit as worthwhile as it needs to be. For example,  when other schools visit our English faculty or come to talk about literacy-the faculty leader/literacy leader will prepare resources, have books ready, arrange for the literacy leaders to be excused from lessons and prepare them for questioning and so on. This is a lot to ask of a volunteer on top of their own planning and preparation. It’s great CPD for them and the students but I have provided cover sometimes so they can prepare thoroughly-our students then may miss out on their teacher-how sustainable is this for a small school like us? If we appoint our own staff as SLEs [15 possible days put of school supporting others]-we might have a bit of supply money but does is it sustainable without impacting on the learning of our students? Supporting others is the right thing to do but at what cost? Some teaching schools have lots their ‘outstanding’ status and believe that supporting others has detracted from their own infernal performance-there has been no special consideration for them from Ofsted or the government.
  • Vikings raided this part of the North West and some visitors are set to pillage what they can! They have obviously been told to ask for schemes of learning, any assessment that moves revision materials and so on. My colleagues are kind –we share every week in our blogs without any hesitation but some of the items requested take hours of work and whilst visitors may be in desperate need- just taking what you can grab rarely supports your development when you get back to your own school. When this is taken to the whole school scenario of a new leader or school taking over-the implementation of one successful ‘system’ into another school –there has been some spectacular nose-dives in the North-West. Systems and teaching that works well in one school doesn’t necessarily transfer immediately.
  • Sadly some visitors arrive who have been sent by SLT and are resentful and angry that they have to come to another school because basically they haven’t [in someone else’s’ opinion!] been doing their job well enough. We try to be helpful and sensitive-but it isn’t easy and this is an area that the school seeking support needs to be sure that it has approached the whole situation carefully and informed us, and the person visiting, if there is a structure and support criterion within which we are offering our support.
  • Human nature means that sometimes visitors may seek faults-‘call themselves an outstanding school!’-well actually we don’t and many of our ideas or lessons that we share on the blogs and with visitors are not necessarily the most wonderful ever. I see great ideas all of the time, many better than mine or ones that I’ve seen at Meols Cop BUT-we are open to sharing, want to discuss ideas and the key to a great school isn’t the fact that a few teachers or leaders have superb ideas-it’s getting everybody-staff and students to deliver the very best learning and teaching that they can! I would also add that it is disappointing to see some teachers in SM/RI schools now worrying that their ideas are not worthy of sharing and supporting other schools and colleague’s just because of an inspection judgement. I shared some excellent marking from a friend in a SM school-twitter, blogs, teachmeets-we are all teachers-look beyond judgements, especially of observations and share away-who cares-but be non-judgemental and take support when offered by volunteers in the sprit it is meant in.
  • Most visitors are great and have long discussions with my colleagues and we follow up our initial meeting. When and how support begins and finishes is another key question. Very practical support of us going out to join in lessons, leadership discussions and visiting classrooms seems to be well received and during this week of Easter revision lessons, I have heard of schools supporting others with controlled assessment marking and revision teaching-brilliant-and I know that some leaders work with other SLTs for periods of time. Joint inset to share ideas or afford big name speakers has existed for some time and other schools, like us and many others, have used blogs, conferences and publications to send ideas across the country. How much use these are in providing effective support and whether they are worth the effort-I simply don’t know! The best of intentions isn’t necessarily the best way!

Financial gain [or a least covering the cost] becoming involved in the school to school support system does give an expectation of ‘good’ support and I’m sure that within the federations and chains of schools there must be policies and affirmations of what effective STS should be like for all involved parties. For the rest of us, expected to or just wanting to support other schools; what should we be doing that will make a difference, whilst sustaining our own development? What should schools expect from us and how should they use support to go way beyond the very short term gains that so many post Ofsted support packages try to provide? Alex Quigley raised concerns over the Outstanding Teacher Programmes some schools/organisations are currently running here and raised the issue of researching into their utility and perhaps it is time for the effect size style of research of Hattie and the SuttonTrust to join forces with CUREE, TDA and others interested in CPD to offer guidelines supported by hard evidence on the most effective methods of school to school support.

Any answers?






We do it OUR Way! Easter Learning and Teaching Up-date for our parents and friends

Welcome to our blog if you are reading it for the first time!  Our parental survey for year 7-9 parents on Thursday’s Review Day [shown in full on the bulletin after the holiday] showed that out of over 150 responses 25 parents read the blog sometimes, some weren’t aware of it and some didn’t read the bulletin where we advertise the blog. Firstly, I’m delighted that some parents have read it and like it but obviously would like it to reach more of our own community to tell you about our learning and teaching.  If you could contact me to tell me the sort of things you would like me to tell you about, in more depth than I can on the bulletin; that would be great.  The blog is just one of many ways of trying to engage with our parents and will always have a much smaller audience than the other methods-you are a very select bunch-congratulations and thank you!

I also began to share our ideas to not only engage with parents but with other schools who we were supporting and working with. We absolutely believe that ‘great’ schools shouldn’t jealously guard their secrets and should share ideas and resources across the whole world of education-we are all responsible for the education of our children and despite obstacles to collaboration, we are trying to be as open and honest as possible. Some blogs have been read by over 500 other people and hopefully our ideas have proved to be useful to these new friends. Of course, not everybody behaves with a moral purpose and competition forces schools and school leaders into an unfortunate lack of consideration for others BUT we feel that there are a growing number of schools who do offer a different vision for the future and we want to be part of that. Why shouldn’t our small community school mix it with the best and great to offer our students the very best learning and teaching!

So how have we been collaborating and sharing? If you have read previous blogs you will have seen that sometimes I report and feedback on student activities and surveys, sometimes I collate ideas that our staff has been sharing with each other and on occasions I comment on national initiatives or new educational ideas. Over the last couple of weeks we have welcomed colleagues from both local and national schools into our lovely new library. On Tuesday, we held a literacy conference and I was amazed to see schools from Penzance, Whitby, London, Norfolk, Birmingham and others I hadn’t even heard of! We shared our literacy across the curriculum ideas and resources, providing each visitor with a memory stick full of goodies before unleashing our students on them! Hannah Jordan and Lisa Cain organised their resources and spoke with great passion [so our guests didn’t have to listen to me all day!]

Often courses and conferences can be death by PowerPoint or a couple of hours of being talked at [or down to!] so we try to involve our students and visits to lessons when we can. The literacy leaders visit each tutor group to explain the importance of literacy and they actively support lessons across the curriculum. The year 9 leaders explained their roles and spent half an hour with each group talking to them and being asked questions. After lunch our year 7 and 8 leaders took our guests around to different lessons where they conducted a student voice survey to see if what we told them happens to support literacy, actually does! I really enjoyed meeting new schools and my colleagues and the students were wonderful and welcoming hosts-thank you.

We were approached by Edge Hill University last summer to become a facilitating school in the delivery of leadership courses for middle leaders, senior leaders and prospective head teachers under the auspices of the National College for School Leadership. Alison Heaton and I received our training and we began the first senior leader training in November. There were no takers for the head teacher course! Since then, I’m delighted to tell you that colleagues from the other Southport high schools have joined our own Annette Peet and Mark Brownett to deliver even more training for prospective leaders. Mark entertained 10 middle leaders 2 weeks ago for a full day whilst I followed the literacy conference with 15 senior leaders visiting us this Wednesday. We are provided with a script and guidelines-which is very helpful-but when training is in our school we naturally want to create a great impression and I certainly prefer to deliver training as near as I can do, to what our own staff would expect to receive. I do like to build in lots of reflection time and opportunities to read some of the latest research-teachers rarely have time amidst planning and marking to do this [and they need to!] I will share our own ideas, if asked but my main aim is to get my guests to talk to each other and share their ideas. These occasions are wonderful opportunities to talk to 14 other people about their schools, each of which is often very different and to feast on our bacon butties and bountiful lunches!

Yesterday was our inset day and many students were in school working on projects or revising, year 11 geographers [when the coach eventually came!] headed for the east coast and an overnight stay and I know that school will be busy over Easter with students and staff working together on revision, Easter school and a trip to Paris. The commitment shown is appreciated-thank you so much to all involved. When Yvonne Winstanley spoke in her retirement speech she mentioned how she had decided to become a teacher after being inspired by one of her primary teachers and she said that she felt ‘blessed by God’ to have been given the opportunity. It still is a marvellous job despite much of the nonsense that descends from government [and I’m sure from SLT at times!!] Good luck to Yvonne and thank you for 29 years of service to Meols Cop.

Our next inset day at the beginning of May will involve all of our teaching staff discussing 2 major development areas. The first one will see individual teachers evaluating and collating evidence for a portfolio of their own professional development and contribution to the quality of teaching across our school. For quite a few years, when Ofsted visited, they asked schools for a list of their observation grades over the previous 3 years for each teacher.  We feel that outstanding teachers should be judged on far more than lesson grades [which can be arguably inaccurate] and include book monitoring, lesson study, peer observations, informal observations, exam residuals, student/parental voice, support for others, research, professional development and so on. These can be different at different stages in the teaching career and so we have different pathways for NQTs, developing teachers, subject leaders, progress managers so that all can evaluate where they currently  are in terms of our key areas and then what they need to develop next and how we can help them and they can help themselves.

From September there will be no requirement to report to parents using national curriculum levels which many have found difficult to comprehend, especially with the use of sub levels [-+a,b,c] There has been no national decision on what should be expected [there’s a surprise!] and the consequence of schools going it alone, transition between primaries/secondary’s/other schools and the rigour and moderation of standards is mind boggling. HOWEVER-we see it as a glorious opportunity to think long and hard about what we should be assessing, how we should assess and how we should measure any assessment. Any discussion and any ensuing framework must be clearly understood by parents and students, must challenge all abilities of student and be accessible to them so that they can be successful and clearly understand how they can be successful.

It isn’t easy to construct individual student pathways so we will tend to look at 3 broad groups, low attainers, middle attainers and high attainers-we can then work on more individual needs within those. In each year group 7-9 the subject teachers will think of all of the subject specific knowledge and skills that each year group and each broad group of students would need to achieve a ‘mastery’ of their subject. They would almost work backwards, if you like, from year 11 G.C.S.E knowledge and skills that will be needed to thinking how can those key skills be introduced into year 7. They will then add in knowledge and skills that they professionally know our students need.

Rather than NC levels 1-9, each band of student would have a target of developing knowledge and skills, developed knowledge and skill sand aspirational knowledge and skills to aim for and this can easily be reported on in progress reports for parents to see and on flight paths for the students to take responsibility for. The need for subject specific CPD to support this development will become crucial, as will time for teachers to plan, develop, evaluate, moderate etc.

Great learners also possess other key skills and there will be a separate Meols Cop developing, developed, aspirational set of overarching skills including our current 6Cs, literacy, behaviour for learning, marginal gains, mind-sets etc. and that will also be reported on. Some of the names and descriptions may change as we discuss and I’ll let you know what has been decided a.s.a.p.

I hope that this up-date has been interesting enough to encourage you to come back and read more! School topics can be dry and it isn’t easy to explain some of our work, trying to miss out the jargon and boring bits without dumbing down too much! Even amongst teachers I forget that not all understand the myriad of acronyms and new ideas-a lady whispered to me on Tuesday to remind me when I had been explaining some of our tactics that, “I don’t think anyone knows what DIRT is”

Has DIRT intrigued you? I won’t be dishing any up but might explain in another blog! Thank you for reading and have a great Easter.


Magic Moments 2

Last ever Chucklevision and Magic Moments 2

Bumper Easter Special

Catch a falling star an’ put it in your pocket Never let it fade away Catch a falling star an’ put it in your pocket Save it for a rainy day


Lots of ‘star’ ideas have been falling my way during observations or just sent to me for early magic moments. Rachael Hardman joined us at Xmas, after we lost two of our English faculty to last minute promotions at another school. She has been doing a great job and sent round this lovely idea for reviewing learning in lessons.


Rachael began her lesson observation with visual clues for her learning objectives


I hate the formulaic start to the lesson of flashing up the learning objectives, have banned writing them down ages ago and enjoy anything that are imaginative ways of sharing them, preferably making the students tell what they are rather than being told! Interesting new short blog post on LOs is here from Tom Sherrington;

And a touch of the recent history of learning intentions from Dan Brinton

The conversation after the lesson probed a few of our current themes-Rachael has missed many of our discussions and so she needed an up-date on our ways and philosophy, pointing towards great practice she can tap into and thanking her for her challenging lesson and for filling an English teaching gap so admirably. She was worried that the students weren’t responding enough to her questioning. [Latest news flash-Rachel is staying permanently! The power of chucking in a good lesson observation!!-Welcome properly to MCHS Rachel from all staff]

“You were concerned that the students like to be told what they need to do and were reluctant to answer questions out aloud-keep pushing the challenge and don’t give in to spoon-feeding-long term gain. Give out differentiated questions or have their names on the ppt with time to think before they answer-check how Hannah does it”

There are so many different ways of using questioning that are more effective than random name generators and their like so that all of the class are involved at some point over a series of lessons. I favour differentiated question cards given at the start of the lesson so that the students have time to think and can be placed into similar ability groups to answer and so on. Hannah Jordan has the student names on her ppt and gives them advance warning-again the questions are aimed at different abilities of student. Some like Socratic questioning, others like Blooms scaffolds-there are lots of ways and from our teaching resource vault are some I’ve gathered this school year and issued via our Learning Thoughts. I may not have put the names of the authors on as I cut and pasted-apologies if anyone spots their work and the authorship isn’t acknowledged!!

Questioning Techniques

Questioning and Blogs

Top Ten Questioning Strategies

Inclusive Questioning

We are still thinking hard across the school and trialling different marking techniques and certainly have nice stickers to encourage re-drafting of work before it is marked. The better the piece is before the teacher marks it, the easier it is for the student to be motivated into tweaking the work to make it really good rather than giving in work that needs a lot of attention and correction. Our reading group looked at a variety of feedback research from John Hattie, David Didau and Andy Philip Day and a couple of the slides based on their ideas here explain some of the debate surrounding feedback.

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FAIL/SAIL-first attempt at learning, second attempt at learning encourages re-drafting and checking so that ‘best’ work is given in and the learning gap closed.

“Have a good think about FAIL/SAIL –if you are going to mark something-let them draft before putting to paper you will mark-much better to have a nearly right piece of work than one with mistakes” Explained here from Belmont school.

David Didau’s flow chart explains how this might work in a practical situation and one that needs to be understood by the students.


Before peer critique-self assess and highlight areas where success criteria is met

Let the peer mate verify and check

You can do this step by step-I criteria at a time.”

There are a range of ideas that have been shared to try to engage the students with their feedback and to get them to highlight key areas of their work BEFORE it is marked. DIRT time –dedicated improvement and reflection time-is increasingly used for this purpose. [We could call it FLIRT!]

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These are ideas that have been shared amongst our staff and discussed in detail at our reading group. A whole range of DIRT stickers and stampers supports the idea and helps to engage the students. The students commented positively on the strategies in our latest survey and appreciated the reflection time.

Another of our favourite authors, Zoe Elder, offers her WD40 route to feedback and questioning encouraging the students, at times to seek out what they don’t understand-error seeking to find the marginal gains needed to improve. Well worth checking out.

Jennie Doherty our very own RE source of mad creativity and always worth a wind-up, called for me to visit her class to see her latest creation and after battling through the fluttering of butterfly wings, I had to admit that it was a good ’un! Take-away home-works are all the rage at the moment-here is Rachel Young’s Matisse example complete with a differentiated set of activities.


Jennie, after an experience in an Indian restaurant [don’t ask] thought of take-away intervention bags-here they are;

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Each bag has inside; revision resources, treats and a DIY cup of tea and you can see that on the outside Jennie has written personally to the students to encourage and motivate them towards year 11 exam success. I thought that this was a brilliant idea and so did many of her colleagues who wanted to borrow it when I shared on our emails. She has now extended her idea into an a-la carte menu for her RE revision restaurant-Michelin stars guaranteed!

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`Clair Benson and Alex Vine, two of our mathematicians have been working together on NTEN lesson study, planning and observing each other with a year 7 class they share. Their key enquiry question aims to improve and support the students when tackling functional maths questions-maths questions which require the students to consider and apply maths in an everyday situation. The literacy element and comprehension of what the question is actually asking is the aspect which some of our students find tricky. Claire and Alex have been encouraging the students to use the approach below when they are tackling such questions;


The support given has been improving the maths attainment but there were other ‘Magic Moments’ I enjoyed when I was the 3rd man in the observation process. All of the maths faculty have been using their 5 a day starter to the lessons with every year group-this is the one for Alex’s lesson.


The red no 6 is based on the current work that the class are studying, the other questions range across topics that the class have covered from September, Students haven’t learned anything until it is ‘stuck’ in their heads and by repeating and recalling knowledge each lesson, the faculty are hopeful that knowledge retention will be improved. It’s an interesting concept.

We have 20 different schools visiting us this week for a literacy conference, when we will share some of the strategies we use to develop literacy across all of the subjects. The maths example reminded me of how crucial literacy is in helping our students to overcome learning barriers. In both the maths and science lesson study lessons, the teachers predicted outcomes for the impact of their tactics on learning, were inaccurate with a couple of students who, whilst being the more able mathematicians\ scientists, didn’t achieve as high a score on the questions as predicted due to their weakness with reading and comprehending the question. Literacy isn’t a ‘bolt-on’ option it is just part of great learning and teaching and an absolutely essential aspect for our students who are coming to us with the lowest prior attainment of all the 21 high schools in Sefton-it is crucial that we get it right.


Subject specific literacy, as in this year 8 fortune teller for maths from Alex’s class –an alternative to 5 a day-is important to develop from the start of year 7 and we were able to share many examples at the conference-many have been shared on previous blogs.

Pleasingly Clair and Alex have been delighted with the impact that Lisa’s intervention has been having on the weakest student who go to her for intervention English and maths. Lisa is a primary/secondary teacher who we employed in September [and have now kept-well done Lisa!] to support our intervention and this will be extended in September with Fran also staying with us to offer more intervention support in maths and science. [congratulations and a warm welcome to Fran who has stepped into cover for science and maths so far this year ] When the students feel confident enough to take on learning challenges they felt that previously they would fail at-these are amongst the best Magic Moments!

There are some folks who are sceptical about using different coloured pens for different aspects of book work and assessment [they don’t always work full time day in day out in a school!]-the purple pens of progress  seems to offend some BUT the mathematicians have, across all year groups, been using highlighters to highlight key words [as on the slide] and purple pens to write their own responses in. They love it! Sometimes we forget that they are children and enjoy something different-perhaps writing in a different colour for different responses and the deliberate action and thought involved in picking up a different coloured pen, actually do help the knowledge and idea to stick. For schools where marking has been an issue, having a uniform approach may be the answer [so my other half tells me!]-I have marked in green for 30 years and I don’t impose marking/feedback colours and don’t mind what happens along as the students are responding in the form of a dialogue and have the time to reflect on what they have been asked to do. If student responses, peer responses and teacher feedback are in different colours, it does make it easier when monitoring books but I’m not sure that can be the basis of a policy!

Clair’s lesson took the same enquiry question as Alex’s, ‘to improve how 7 set 7 answer functional questions’ but the emphasis had changed from data to numbers and Clair wanted them to be able to read and check a solution and decide if it was correct or not. They were given G.C.S.E. questions to try in their pairs and one of my Magic Moments came towards the end of the lesson when Miss asked the year 7’s if they were be going to be frightened by such hard questions when they get to11-they all shouted NO! Building up confidence and discussing and talking about maths a.s.a.p. really help support the retention of knowledge and learning over time.


I hope your maths is good enough to realise that the answer is wrong in the question Clair modelled on the IWB! When I first observed maths lessons there was little discussion and no real maths literacy-the students sat and did sums. I can’t quite get my head around multiplication using grids and the Chinese method but there does seem to be logic to it and the students certainly used the methods well as they worked out whether or not the offered solutions were right or wrong. Miss had filled in the answers to the questions below and the students used their functional skills highlighting skills to help them decide whether or not she was correct or not.


Another Magic Moment came when the use of technology really supported the learning of one of our hard of hearing students in the class. We have purchased a couple of portable microphones after a request by TA’s Helen and Christine, who have developed their own CPD by attending a course aimed at supporting hard of hearing children. The microphone enables the student to hear group conversations and thus she can join in. This would normally be difficult and access to collaborative learning was difficult. Previously the student could hear the teacher because she wears a small microphone that is tuned into a suitable frequency. When I began teaching, mainstream high schools wouldn’t have been able to teach some of the students we have now- there was no wheelchair access and certainly no system for helping those who can’t hear very well. We have enjoyed teaching a child with Down’s syndrome and of course have an Asperger’s and dyslexic unit in school. Our community is richer for welcoming a wide diversity of students-wouldn’t it be lovely if schools were just schools that every one of all genders, faiths, race and economic wealth could attend! I can dream!

Attached below are the final Chucklevision shared thoughts from PSD [Cal and Marion] and Colin’s business studies. Huge thank to all of our teaching staff who have shared so openly this term and allowed their work to go to other schools and teachers. I really do appreciate your support and collaboration. Thank you.


Year 7 set 7 Topic   Drugs

Questions about drugs were written onto sheets. The students were asked to put a yellow sticker onto the sheet if they could answer the question and a red sticker if they didn’t know or were unsure. They were then split into two groups and each student given some information about drugs. They highlighted the information that they could use to answer the original questions and then discussed their findings with the rest of the group. The students then had to put blue stickers on another set of sheets which demonstrated what they now knew. This activity worked well because it was very visual and the students could see how they had progressed by comparing what they knew at the start of the lesson and what they knew at the end of the lesson

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In PSD I always try to plan lessons that will relate to issues in the “Real world”. Therefore as part of Fair trade fortnight I planned to do lessons which were based around a competition called Snack attack.

The focus of the lessons was on developing skills to work in a team and encouraging the students to have an understanding of how they can have an impact on the world in which they live (Citizenship AT – taking informed and responsible action).

In summary, the competition asks each group to:

Come up with a new snack idea that uses Fair trade products

Invent a name/ logo for it

Design the packaging

Design a marketing campaign to promote it


We had done a lesson about Fair trade and how it helped the farmers and discussed the big question of whether we would be prepared to pay more for fair trade products.

In the competition lessons the students were allowed to choose who they wanted to work with. But they had to negotiate to select which would be the team leader and identify the skills within the group to allocate the various tasks.

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Rebecca creating the advert.

Megan writing the description and how they have worked as a team

Jordan making sure everyone was on task.

They had to discuss what they had learnt about Fairtrade and consider ethical decisions before they decided what to make. They needed to apply time management and organisational skills (especially designing and marketing a product) and work as a team.

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The following lesson each team then had to do a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style presentation. After the presentation the work of each group was displayed on tables and all the class had a chance to look at the work. Then they could award the group they thought was the best a gold star.

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Self assessment

The students then had to complete an assessment of their skills when working with others. This was made up of two parts:

A self assessment of how they when made progress when working with others.This involved considering what when well, even better if and how they had helped the group achieved their goal as wll as identifying areas for improvement.

A peer assessment of the specific citizenship skill they had used to complete the task and a STAR review.

Self assessment

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Peer Assessment

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