In Part one I gave a broad outline of our proposals on assessment. I hope that they will put assessment in the hands of the subject professionals in our school, enabling them to truly assess pupils’ knowledge so that they can teach as effectively as possible, and ensuring that development of the curriculum and assessment are intertwined.

This is tempered somewhat by competing pressures of ensuring that we regularly report to parents, and that we ensure that we as leaders know whether pupils in the school are making progress in each subject.

The most important developmental work we are doing in our school this year is specifying the knowledge that pupils should gain in each subject, and establishing the best sequence in which they might do so. Assessing that in order to ensure pupils are learning is very important, and ensuring parents are aware is equally important.

This blog is an attempt to represent our Head of History Matt Stanford’s presentation to our staff, which I’ve since repeated to governors, on how we might report to parents and use our reporting system to support our development of world-class provision.

A question for you: is this pupil doing OK?

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Most professionals will correctly say “we don’t have enough information”.

What lies behind the orange C that Miss Underwood has awarded for History? Well there is a simple grade descriptor, that relates to the curriculum:

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That simple grade descriptor is not simplistic though – so here is Matt’s first efforts (that I endorse – I’m not passing on responsibility) at explaining some of the terms used:

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To use these descriptors, teachers are asked to use the mark book (designed with their subject and curriculum in mind), but also, crucially, their professional judgement. We can’t emphasise this last point enough:

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Behind the mark book, according to colleagues subjects’ will lie task specific mark schemes like the one below, and crucially, their professional judgement:

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Behind those task specific mark schemes will lie the nature of the subject, the professional literature in the subject, the teacher’s expertise in the subject, probably the national curriculum and probably the requirements of Key Stage 4 courses and beyond, and crucially, the teacher’s professional judgement.

We will expect teachers to be able to justify the grades awarded to each pupil. The evidence that teachers use to make these justifications depends on what enables them to do so best, but will largely be drawn from what is written above.

So is the pupil in the made up example above doing OK? Well in History, maybe. But what about the orange?

Well the colour code is the pupils’ attitude to learning (we might just make it a separate word or number, but at the moment it’s a colour code). Behind the colour code is the data the school has – for example were they a C last time, and the time before? Is their attendance to History any good? Do they hand in homework? How are they doing compared to their reading age or Key Stage 2 SATs fine score? And crucially, the teacher’s professional judgement. It might look like this:

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And they represent these criteria:

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The bottom two of these should act as a flag or a warning signal.

The flag will signal the start of a professional conversation. It will never be used to grade the teacher. As soon as these become high-stakes, they lack any semblance of reliability and validity.

So is the pupil doing OK?

Yes. But (for example) his HoY had a useful and friendly conversation with his History, English and PE teachers.

Miss Understood is going to move him to the front and Miss Pelt is going to think about how she can plan the next unit in a way that provides more access for that class.

Mr Ball is going to send him to county rugby trials:

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This is our proposal for reporting on our curriculum to our parents. We have been careful to attempt to separate assessment of work from assessment of students, and to not confuse assessment with reporting.

It does depend on very robust quality assurance processes throughout the school, but I do not want to get them mixed up with assessment, thereby engendering some lack of validity or reliability.

There’s plenty more to do to make this better and make it work – please do feedback.

Full presentation here if there’s anything you couldn’t read:

Full Grades Proposal Presentation

Also: if this kind of development – of development of a great curriculum, of valid and reliable assessment for our school rather than for inspection or for SLT – is for you please have a look at the vacancies on our website.

 

 

 

This is our efforts at moving beyond the ‘crutch’ of National Curriculum levels at Cottenham Village College (CVC). It contains a proposal that emerged from an SLT meeting. I emphasise that it is a proposal.

I’m blogging about it hoping to harness some wisdom from colleagues and hence some feedback that might enable us to make it better before we launch it.

A crutch:

In my view parents, staff, SLT, governors and inspectors have been duped for years into believing they know how well pupils are doing by looking at assessed national curriculum levels in each subject and comparing these with expected ‘flight paths’. We have had a similar system, with data gathered every six weeks. Our assessment has been driven by this system. This system has been driven by a perception that it might be judged by inspectors. In my view it’s wrong.

One colleague, Head of History Matt Stanford, had previously done some work proposing a different assessment system that works for History prior to my arrival at CVC in September 2015. Having heard about this, he was also a part of the SLT meeting. He had significant input into this but it’s fair to say it isn’t one person’s work alone.

It is no accident that our most extensive developmental work this year has been in identifying the knowledge we want pupils to gather in each subject area in each year – particularly in Key Stage 3, and in sequencing that knowledge. Basically we have started with the curriculum and challenged ourselves to specify the knowledge that pupils are expected to gain by attending our school. You can read more about one training session that launched that here. You don’t get very far into discussing the curriculum, though, without starting to talk about assessment.

Daniel Koretz:

The principles behind which we base our assessment come from reading Daniel Koretz’s excellent book Measuring Up. We have used Koretz in three different training sessions this year. Daisy Christodoulou has published an excellent three part review that covers lots on the book – and I often return to Daisy’s blog to revisit points meaning I don’t have to search through the book for them – as is the case below. I spoke about Koretz and the principles of assessment to colleagues prior to talking about our expectations from September 2016 on assessment.

I said, using Christodoulou and Koretz liberally:

  • assessments can be and are used badly or misused
  • assessments that are high stakes create perverse incentives – the more high stakes the less reliable
  • some assessments are not helpful to our aims and values, in fact they can work against them
  • the perfect assessment with perfect information doesn’t exist – and certainly nothing like it in a school setting alone

However, assessment gives us valuable information revealing more clearly to us who are the winners and losers.

Assessments should:

  • focus on what they can tell us about what is learnt from the curriculum
  • have clearly defined purposes, including ensuring they are fit for purpose (can measure what we want them to)
  • be standardised
  • usually and as far as possible isolate specific knowledge and skills we want to measure
  • not be the sole measurement we use

In summary, they need to be reliable and valid.

Reliability means consistency, and we should recognise assessments can be reliable but not accurate.

Validity means that it tells us useful information about what has been learnt. Validity requires that we know our curriculum and our subject, and that we accurately sample from the curriculum, and that we don’t test from outside of it. We also need to ensure we don’t teach to our assessments.

Assessment next year (proposal):

  1. In each subject we will assess what pupils know and what they don’t know. Subject areas decide how often, and how they assess the pupil in their subject. They are not expected to assess because data is due to be put into a spreadsheet. The purpose of this assessment is to add to our knowledge of how much pupils know, and what they don’t know so that we can teach them what they don’t. Teachers and departments will decide what their mark books should look like. SLT will not lay this down.
  2. We will report, three times a year, how well the pupils have mastered the curriculum (i.e. the knowledge we are expecting pupils to gain each year) and their attitude to learning. This will not be automatically generated from assessments. Teachers will use their professional judgement. We will award grades (from A through to E). The purpose of this is so that parents, other teachers and leaders, and governors can see how well pupils are doing, and to ‘raise a red flag’ if pupils are falling behind so that the school can support teachers and pupils. This information will never be used for performance management or capability.
  3. We will have an annual standardised examination in each subject (we are open to not having one in subjects where it might be claimed this won’t add to our information). This will be moderated across the department and maybe outside of the school if we can organise it. We will rank the pupils (though I’m not sure we will make these public – I’m open to discussion on this). The purposes of this are to cross-check the professional judgements above and to give pupils experience of terminal examinations.
  4. I’ve edited this to add that we will still gather predicted grades three times a year in Key Stage 4. The purpose behind this is to get some insight into pupils who may need support and because local 6th form colleges require these as standard.

That’s it.

In part two, I will go into more detail about how number (2) above might work. This is available here.

Posted by: mrlock | January 15, 2016

Being a headteacher interviewee

This post touches on my experiences of being an interviewee for headteacher posts. I have had some experience, and I’ve mixed a number of them up here. This follows my previous post on selecting a school to apply for a post.

The job (that I’m currently doing, at CVC) where I got the post and accepted was a brilliant process.  I would say that because I got it and am happy. But I enjoyed it and was exhausted. It ensured I knew the school, accurately, by the end of it, and it put me through my paces. The governing body knew they were getting me – a not fully formed headteacher with some potential to shift the school from its already very good base.

The purpose of this blogpost is because a large number of colleagues have asked me about headteacher interviews, sometimes out of interest, and sometimes because they’ll be applying themselves. I hope this helps some people prepare. It may be useful for governing bodies interviewing candidates as well. I’ve listed some experiences, and briefly where I think an approach I’ve taken is helpful.

I’ve resisted writing about the application in depth because I just don’t think there is a standard application. Most people who are applying for Headships can write an application that hits the person specification and know this gives them a shout at an interview. I think preparation really shows up in the application though. There is no point in applying unless you have the time to really research the post, the school, the history, and you have time to listen to what you’re being told.

I should say at the outset that being honest is vital. I said this in my last blog, but it bears repeating. It is a disaster to get a headship where the governing body didn’t want you, or you didn’t really want the school.

Perspective:

A headteacher application and interview is unlike any other in education. The reason for this is that in any other post, you’re applying to the headteacher (or a teacher the head has delegated responsibility for the appointment to), perhaps with the support and challenge of governors, or to be ratified by governors.

In this case, the application is to governors themselves. Governing bodies are a mixed ability bunch. There are those who prepare well and take it seriously and those that don’t prepare well (though I think all take it seriously). There are those that have experience of education and know what they’re looking for, and those that don’t, and it’s possible some will judge you on trivial details.

Two anecdotes that illustrate this: I heard from a Headteacher colleague that he had been turned down from a previous interview because one of the panel had particularly objected to the colour of his socks. It was a single day process.

On the other hand, I attended a single interview process where I was interviewed by:

  • the head of education at Policy Exchange
  • one of Michael Gove (secretary of state for education at the time)’s Special Advisors
  • the Headteacher of Bedford Free School
  • the Headteacher of Kensington Aldridge Academy
  • the Headteacher of Dr Challoner’s Grammar School (NLE)
  • the Headteacher of Garrick Wood School (NLE)
  • A lawyer at Clifford Chace
  • two exceptional parent governors
  • and various staff and students as with all Headteacher interviews.

This was a rigorous interview process indeed. So the same job in different schools can have very different people interviewing you. It can be a single day or three days.

My attitude to a Headteacher interview is that I really don’t want to be a Head where they don’t want me, so I am very honest. Sometimes, I have to accept it might be a rather trivial reason that they don’t want me. So keep everything in perspective.

 

Professionalism:

I was phoned by a high profile Chair of Governors from a school I wouldn’t have considered and asked to apply for their headship. I was recommended by a previous interviewer – one of the panel in the rigorous process above (where I didn’t get the role). They’d further looked at this blog and got in touch to talk to me about the role. Several of these people in both these processes have become people I regularly use for advice and further networking, and have even become professional friends. It’s important to show your best side, even if you’ve decided to pull out or been told you’re going no further.

Governors will be taking it seriously, and will have put a lot of effort into the process. You’re seeing them at their best. I considered each time whether this was a governing body (or equivalent) I could work with.

 

Preparation:

I ensured I knew what I’d written in the application inside out. This always led to follow up questions in the interview. More particularly, I’d ensure I had my values and vision at the forefront of answers, and could relate back to them whenever I thought it right to, which was with most questions and tasks.

If there was a presentation, often on data, my approach was to either have notes in front of me, briefly, or notes on the data itself (usually RAISE from a similar school or the school), and ensure I’d practised the presentation so that I was fairly fluent. I don’t think I ever used powerpoint. I know that not using powerpoint this ruled me out of one headship. As said above, it depends what they’re looking for.

If the presentation was to staff I usually did it with no notes, practising first.

Apart from that, reading everything on the school (which I do for the application) that is possible and ensuring that I listen carefully to everything in the inevitable tour was all the preparation I did.

 

Choose the school:

I was always prepared to pull out of the process. In my mind, I was choosing the school, even if the interview was them deciding whether to select me.

For example, there was one process, which started at 11.30, had a brief chat with each candidate from the current headteacher and a tour, a lot of waiting, a presentation to all staff, and then onto the next day.

The school was requires improvement in Ofsted terms, with poor results. I began the next day with a ‘gut feeling’ that the process wasn’t rigorous and hence I might not be well suited to working with this governing body. I took part in one interview, involving the local authority and I really thought that they weren’t searching enough. The governing body seemed to defer to the LA and sometimes the current head. I went to and knocked on the current headteacher’s office.

I asked him about the governing body. I expressed that I suspected the governing body didn’t know the school. He was too professional to confirm this, but he confirmed it with his body language, and I just trusted my instincts, went to see the chair of governors, and walked out.

Gut instinct is really important to me. In this situation, I really didn’t want to be waiting for a telephone call either worried about being offered the post, or deciding whether to accept it. That required me to be sure it was the job for me, or I withdrew. Of course, without being sure it is the right job, one doesn’t perform as well anyway.

 

Reflect afterwards:

After any interview process, I would always talk it through with colleagues not invested in it. What I did wrong and what I would do next time dominated, but what I would do similarly is also important. I always took feedback (even when I’d withdrawn), though sometimes I didn’t accept the feedback because I didn’t agree (see the point about mixed ability governing bodies)

 

Tasks I have encountered:

I don’t have the correct approach to any of these. This is what I remember and my broad approach. These are in no particular order. Some panels want to know what you have done. Others want to know what you’re going to do. It’s hard to judge, but I’d go for a combination and read the panel.

Pre-interview visit to current school: Rare. In one interview, the chair of the trust came to visit me in my current school. I didn’t do any admin that day but I did everything else normally for the two hour visit. I did walk the classrooms, so it was clear that presence is something that is not unusual – I was out and about as a Deputy Headteacher. This task is not on the day of an interview, so stands out as slightly different to the rest, which are interview process tasks. I think it’s quite a clever, though time consuming thing to do, because I suspect the chair of the trust could pick up quite a lot about what I’m really like.

Tour: Very common. Usually from a student. Since I’d almost always had a tour prior to application, I usually spent this listening to the students’ perspective on the school, asking them questions about things from curriculum, behaviour, teaching and learning, careers, and what they want from their new headteacher. This is invariable useful in interviews later in the process.

Goldfish bowl: Infrequent. All the candidates sit around a table, and are given discussion points or a task to do collaboratively. My approach was to usually eschew the ‘I agree with what the last person said, and I’d like to add…’ approach, and to find an area of disagreement and to exemplify, professionally where I disagree. I would therefore be able to show how I listen and how I try to gently persuade. It’s a very artificial conversation though, as everyone knows they have to speak at some point, and the points made are for the benefit of observers.

“Speed-dating”: Infrequent. It wasn’t called this, but twice I’ve had short (4-6 minute) interviews with groups of staff (and/or students) with a whistle or equivalent and move on. My approach has been to go back to my vision and values and mention them in as many as appropriate. I also tried to always say something I’d noticed or heard about the school.

Student interview: Common. My approach here is to be honest and not patronise, including where they won’t like the answer (for example, I was asked if I would look at making students wear shoes in my current school rather than trainers [answer:yes]). My experience is that students see through being patronised. They also often like to throw in a curve ball at the end… ‘if you were a biscuit, which…?’/ ‘what’s your party trick?’

Teaching staff interview: Very common. Usually focussed on teaching and learning. Cognitive science was usually good to talk about here. Also: workload and what leadership can do about it, abolishing lesson gradings and the rationale, autonomy and trust, and the value of subjects. They often want to hear about behaviour and my plans for dealing with low-level disruption.

Middle Managers interview: Common. This would cross over into a number of areas, but curriculum, teaching and learning and leadership and management mainly.

SLT interview: Varies. This can be as a group, or separate, or each member of SLT can join a panel. They often have significant sway over the governors. I’d encourage getting to know as much about SLT as possible – after all I’d be inheriting them if appointed. They also know the school and the job well, so listening to them is really important.

Support staff interview: Fairly common. I always found this the hardest, as I was confronted usually with issues that have come up somewhere that I wasn’t aware of. This can include, lack of effective CPD for support staff, wanting teaching staff to work harder so TAs can know what is going on, recent issues with redundancies, issues related to the minutiae of individuals jobs, legal issues. I always went back to values and where possible, referred to how support staff can have real impact on our pupils.

Group task: Infrequent. Solve a problem (usually buildings) split into two groups and present the solution to the governors.

Finance interview: Fairly common, but varies in form. Usually with some fictional or not so fictional numbers. Quite often given 15 minutes to analyse and then present or write about savings or issues. The answer is almost always staffing. My approach would be ‘I can see that we might be overspending here, here or here, but to make substantial savings we have to look at staffing. This means non-teaching staff, or class sizes, or cover, or subjects offered or teaching ratios, and difficult decisions. This is the reality when a school has a difficult budget. I went on teaching staff circa 60% of budget, support staff 20%, and the rest the other 20%. It’s possible a panel put a figure somewhere else to see if you spot it.

Teaching and Learning interview: Common. How do you know what is good teaching? What is good CPD? I think if you can answer these two questions, everything else flows here. I wish there were more curriculum interviews, but these often go back to pedagogy (sadly). In the job I was appointed to, I think I tried to move this towards discussion on curriculum, though I didn’t think I did a very good job in that interview.

Leadership and management interview: Common. Here is the only place I would admit to my weaknesses, and what I was doing to address them. I would also talk a lot about visibility, behaviour (which might be a separate interview was well), and then about rigorous systems of line management. The panel quite often wants to know if your action has led to colleagues leaving the school. It’s really important here to talk extensively about the role of governors, especially if you haven’t managed to elsewhere.

Attendance and behaviour interview: Common in some form. I think this is pretty predictable. I was not backward in saying that we should have high standards and no excuses. I was often challenged about pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds or with particular learning needs. My response is the distinction between ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ behave.

Letter to disgruntled parent or to parents generally: Common. Usually a parent who wants something and has been turned down. I’ve had to write to a governor who wanted their child moved up a set, a letter to encourage use of pupil premium funds, and a letter to a member of staff regarding an appeal on their lack movement up the pay spine.

Data task: Common. Sometimes ‘what does Raise tell you?’ Sometimes ‘what does this internal data tell you. I usually focus on what else I’d need to know to confirm very early hypotheses.

SLT meeting: Rare. All candidates sit around and take it in turns to chair a fictional SLT meeting agenda item. I was a part of this and it was interesting that the third person delegated an aspect of the task to each person. My approach was to listen, agree we didn’t really know, and (fictionally) send someone to find out more and stick it on the agenda next week. Probably didn’t go down well, but I wouldn’t waste time if we didn’t know, so it was honest.

Emergency task: Infrequent. Sometimes left as an envelope on your desk, or some other way of surprising you, I have experienced a number of these. One was where the next interview wanted a response to what I do over a member of staff who has organised a staff social, not followed procedure, and now that the event is cancelled, the school has lost £800.

Teaching and learning data: Rare. Presented with a set of lesson observation grades and monitoring, how is the school going to improve?

Presentation to the local community: Infrequent. I had this to 45 parents, primary school headteachers and so on.

Interview with local primary headteachers: Surprisingly common. This is worth having some thought on. It threw me in two interviews and I’m angry with myself that it did the second time. It’s a really good thing to put into a process, I think. It is a key difference between being a deputy and a head – the networking, the listening, and the local community all come in here.

Teach a lesson: Infrequent. Well, duh. I should be able to do this. I always planned too much. I always get the kids to collect a piece of card from me on the way in to write their names on so that you can question them by their names without too much fuss. I picked this up from a fellow candidate in one interview.

Teach a lesson on something not in the school’s curriculum: Rare. I didn’t do this well in the one interview where it happened, so I’m not sharing what I taught.

Observe a lesson: Common. I think I have usually done this well. I’ve done it from interview, where feedback is to an actor or governor. I’ve done it where it’s live, with feedback to the actual teacher. And I’ve done it live, where feedback is to a member of SLT pretending to be the teacher. I ask questions and make suggestions for improvement. Usually thinking about working memory and long term memory is a good way in. I always start with ‘I’m not going to grade this lesson, because I won’t be if I’m the head, so don’t read anything into that’, unless I thought there was something appalling about it (that hasn’t happened). My worst experience of this was where I knew the teacher, and had a lot of respect for him, and I just found it impossible to believe what I’d seen (he had been told to deliver a lesson that wasn’t all that), and didn’t want to patronise him. I was really embarrassed at my performance in that.

Presentation to staff on me: Common, in different forms. In one interview, I was told to ‘go through this door, you have to talk about what you’ve learnt about the school for ten minutes… you have no preparation time’ and shoved into the staff room.

Interview with the 6th form students: Frequent where there is a 6th form. In my experience they want to know about responsibilities and that you WILL focus on the quality of their experience in the classroom, not abandon them for Key Stage 4.

In tray: Common. Aspects of some of the above plus some emergency emails and telephone messages. A fixed time to prioritise and answer. e.g. Michael Gove wants to visit tomorrow, a fight has broken out in the playground, Teacher x and TA y are getting a divorce and are crying, the Chair of the Academy Trust is angry at pupils misbehaving on the way to school, a parent needs a phone call on z…. my approach here has been to ensure I know who I can delegate to and use them, but with clear instructions on the outcome e.g. “report back to me if unhappy, no need if not” and sometimes on how to deal with it. Child protection is first priority, always.

Final interview: Common. Usually starts with a presentation on where the school will be in a certain amount of time. I really think it’s important to use what I’ve learnt about the school in the previous day, two days or three days to go through this. There are then usually 8-25 people, including most or all of the governing body. It lasts an hour or three, depending on how many candidates remain.

 

General:

I used ‘we’ when referring to the school at every interview. I took this from when I interviewed a headteacher early in my career. He impressed me by talking as if he was in post, and really cared. I still use ‘we’, and found in my interviews if I stopped using it, it was probably time to withdraw.

I almost always stayed in a hotel, but checked wifi. Between days there is always something to do, and it’s much harder to concentrate at home. For example, in one interview, I was asked (at 9pm on the second day) to prepare another lesson to teach on the third day.

A friend of mine, Keven Bartle, sent me a list of over 100 questions that could be asked. I had asked for the list, but I found it unhelpful. It just meant I was practising answers, rather than listening and responding. I was better off without practising questions. However, having someone read my application and point out questions that came to mind was very helpful.

I accepted a post after an interview process that I would call ‘reassuringly rigorous’. I also always gave feedback to governors where I thought it wasn’t so (or it was). I wouldn’t accept a post where the governors hadn’t put us through our paces because I wanted a good governing body. I got one, but I had to be persistent. I would advise governing bodies not to ‘dumb down’ their processes – candidates in their rooms were scathing about ones that weren’t and do chat to each other. I’m delighted in my post. I feel like I was myself in the interview, and I really feel like the job I am doing is exactly the one I suggested I would do during my interview. I’ve been fortunate in inheriting a fantastic governing body and a brilliant SLT, but a part of that was selecting the school.

I’m not convinced interviewing is a great way of appointing a headteacher. However, I’m going to plagiarise Churchill: I think it’s better than all the other ways that have been tried and that I can think of.

Posted by: mrlock | January 14, 2016

A Liberal Education and CVC

This is similar to something I’ve written before. It may also (unintentionally) use phrases I was reading when I wrote it. I hope I’ve referenced them at the end. It is a piece I wrote for my school’s blog in the context of our direction of travel.

CPDL @ Cottenham Village College

Learning is an activity that thrives on a desire to know. The state of deep learning – of love for one’s learning and the activities that lead to learning – is bound up in the essence of being human. The intense satisfaction of learning combined with the desire to know more as an end in itself is liberating. As educated people, we will (I hope) all have experienced undertaking a learning activity because of intrinsic desire or love of the activity itself. Pursuing a question, or reading a book, or finding out more just because we want to is something uniquely human and something we must cultivate in our young people. We want pupils to thrive on learning, if not in the now of the classroom, then in the lives of those we are inducting into a lifetime of fulfilment and freedom: the pupils at Cottenham Village College.

Too many…

View original post 1,356 more words

Posted by: mrlock | January 9, 2016

Choosing the right school – to apply for headship.

I’m aware that people who are aiming for headship will be about to see a larger number of headship posts advertised at this time of year.

A number of people have asked me about the process of a Headship application. The first aspect I considered in my applications is getting the right school for me. I should say at the outset that this is secondary-focussed. I don’t know the extent to which it’s transferable to primary.

Getting the right school:

When I was applying, I was aware that I would be responsible for shaping the vision and direction of a large institution were I to get a post. It would be crazy not to ensure this was a direction I support and indeed am driven to ensure we do the best way possible. So getting the right school was absolutely crucial for me. And there are practical considerations that one might need to consider.

Before being appointed to Cottenham Village College last year, in three years I had looked into over 100 schools, phoned over 50 chairs of trustees or governors or equivalent, downloaded application forms and person specifications from about 30, applied to about 25, been called for interview 17 times, actually went to interview 14 times (one I didn’t go to because OFSTED called on the day before the interview and there were two others I opted out of), withdrew from 5 during the interview, failed to get 7 (6 on the final day), turned one down and accepted the one at CVC.

A headship application would take me approximately six hours to do properly, and was a real investment of time.

Quite often I’d stop half way through the process having found something that revealed it just wasn’t for me. There are principles I wouldn’t compromise on just to get a (wrong) headship.

I didn’t feel that many of the above were particularly failures; just that they weren’t right. Of the ones I didn’t get, there was only one that I really wanted and would have accepted on the spot.

I realise that others just walk into a role after their first application. My approach was not to fit a school, but to find a school that fitted me (and I have). I was happy in my previous role, and not desperate to leave. The school was and is going places, and there was no push factors leading me to need to get away – other than we did want to move out of London with my young family at some point over the next few years.

I offer this, not necessarily as advice for others, but as an indication of the lessons I learnt along the way. It may be useful if you are applying for headships. It may also be useful if you are advertising one.

I do think that in an application process candidates should be honest. I did not want to be appointed to a school that didn’t really want me. I could have been successful by tempering what I am about, but then I would have been in a position where I had to do a job I wasn’t interested in doing, or indeed couldn’t do.

Have a vision:

This is promoted on every leadership course. But I think it’s really important despite this, not because of it.

It’s important for me because it’s the reason I want to do the job. It leads from my values, centred around equality. My vision is that we will have a school where pupils are entitled to the best that has been thought and said. That comprehensive school pupils are entitled to the same provision that others get by paying for it. And that the gap between the achievement of disadvantaged pupils and their peers is a national disgrace.

You can try to prepare answers to every question or task you’re going to get, but if you are trying to remember these, you’ll fail to grasp the intricacies of the questions or tasks. If you come back to values and vision each time, you can knit a coherent framework that actually gives an insight into what a school under your leadership will be like. And it makes your application, interview and tasks coherent with what you do when you start in the role.

During interviews, on curriculum, on teaching and learning, on behaviour, on leadership and management, and on community, I was able to refer to the vision that I had banged on about in my personal statement. If it wasn’t the right vision, so be it.

In interviews where I deviated from this, and tried to play to what I thought the governors wanted, I was far less effective.

Prepare:

As a matter of course, when I saw what I thought was a suitable job, I’d take the following steps.

  1. Write down all details I could about the school in my file, starting a new 2 page spread. This would include:

a. OFSTED rating, strengths and improvement points

b. Results for the last 3 years – progress in maths and English, value added, notes for questions to the governors

c. How long the head has been there

d. Anything notable about the job description or person specification

e. a quick trawl of news for anything that needs clarifying

f. Anything notable from social media, or the school website, particularly over curriculum.

2. Phone for a visit; ask preliminary questions

3. Visit; have a list of things that need to be asked from my notes above. If I couldn’t visit, ask for a phone call on governors. I would always ask about behaviour policy, what the experience of staff is in the school, the roles of SLT, and the finances. I would also ask why the current headteacher is leaving.

4. Spend quite a significant time deciding whether an application is worthwhile. Quite often, if I’d used up a lot of time (some conversations with chairs of governors went on for a couple of hours), I’d let them know if I wasn’t applying, and give them a reason why.

5. Try to find someone who works in the school, lives near the school, or knows something of it. There would be something that will be helpful to me. On one occasion (the school where I didn’t accept the post after a 3 day interview) I went the day before to the town, stayed in a B&B, and went to the local pub the night before visiting. I asked about the reputation of the school with some locals.

6. Listen, carefully, especially in the visit and any phone calls.

I reckon I’d spent 20 hours, including two dinners with people who live or know of the school, talking about Cottenham Village College before I decided to apply. But because I’d done that, I knew I wanted the job.

Be choosy:

I was looking for a school where I could implement my vision. That success is desirable, demanded and achievable is my pithy way of putting it, but actually it is that powerful knowledge is an entitlement to all pupils. I also believe that we should eschew excuses.

I didn’t hold back on this. It’s not the mainstream of educational discourse at the moment – but nonetheless it was important to me and is a part of the school I lead. Being very explicit about this – in application and in interview – has allowed me to be honest in doing the job.

It also led to my not being shortlisted on occasion, I’m sure.

If the governors or the school were not open to this, it either came through that I wasn’t what they were looking for, or I ruled myself out by disagreeing with the predominant view of the governors. Usually, I’d see this coming.

On one occasion, I rang a school to ask if I could speak to the chair of governors. This school was too far away for me to visit, was Outstanding, but had results that suggested if would be Inadequate in the near future. It could be the right job for me, because a school that was in such a difficult position might be open to a change of direction. I wanted to hear if the governors would support a change of direction.

I was referred to the current headteacher. I said I didn’t want to speak, at that time, to the current headteacher, and asked for the chair of governor’s number. I was given it.

When I called the chair of governors, I was informed that they didn’t know the answer to any of my questions, but that they would get the headteacher to call me.

I didn’t apply. I understand it is now in special measures.

My criteria for application was: supportive governors, supportive trust/ executive head, (fairly) stable staffing at least, school that knows its weaknesses and genuinely wants the head to address them – even if it doesn’t know how.

The advantage of being choosy is that at the school I’m at I know I have the backing of the governors, trustees and executive headteacher in the direction I am taking the school. As a result, we’ve made more progress in a term than I ever thought possible.

Be honest:

This is linked with being choosy, but I knew the job I wanted to do, and I knew there were things that I didn’t think were positive in every school I applied to. There were things I’d like to change.

Of course, it was important that I recognise what I was going to inherit – a new head inherits a great deal, including an existing vision. But a part of the application and interview process is establishing if my vision and practice could align with what I was inheriting.

I did develop an honest line about surveying and listening in order that I could understand quickly the good things that happen in the school and ensure that we keep the things we really treasure.

Sometimes I was too honest I suppose. There was one headship interview where I was the only candidate on the second day.

After a presentation that took some time, an Assistant Head asked me a question after a long presentation, with words to the effect of “we know where you think the school needs to improve. Please could you give an outline of the things you think we do well?”

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d seen much they did well, even though I’d been looking for it, and I didn’t even believe my answer (it really was a politicians answer). I knew I wasn’t right for that school at that point. So did they!

I did reflect on whether I should have been looking for significant strengths, but in reality, if I’d got that job, I would have wanted to change almost everything about the school – something that it became clear the governors did not want me to do. I could answer why I wanted the job, but I should have been more discerning about whether the school was ready for the changes I would’ve been interested in introducing.

A second part of being honest was admitting where I need support. For me, this was around the legal aspects of HR and governance, and finance.

A third part of being honest was not holding back on my own qualities. If I think I can lead a school to be world class (I do), I said so. If I thought that my work on curriculum was groundbreaking, I said so. If I thought that I was solely responsible for improvements, I said so. I didn’t temper these in order that I would look humble.

The humility came with admitting when I played only a part in what I’d done, or in listening to those in the school about what they value, and showing that I valued their position or opinion by assimilating it into the direction I would take the school – that’s the case at interview but that’s also the case when doing the job.

Get someone to read it:

I used friends, colleagues, and others I know from social media. Vic Goddard and I have differing perspectives on many aspects of education, but he was very helpful with one application, saying “I don’t see why they’d shortlist you if you write this”. Jill Berry was also helpful, for example, with “as a head you inherit a great deal, including an existing vision” – this made me think differently about how I align my vision with the existing one, and even considering whether this is possible as a first step. I used different people each time because they contributed to my understanding of how varied different people can read an application.

I don’t think getting people to read an application has ever failed to make it better.

Summary

I think the best summary is that applying for a Headship is a bit like a political campaign, only with a lot more honesty.

Next week, I’ll try and remember as many tasks from as many interviews as I can, and how I approached them.

Posted by: mrlock | November 29, 2015

The Cambridge History PGCE

I’m really proud to have started as a Headteacher this term. I’m particularly proud of my new school – Cottenham Village College.

The whole experience has been a whirlwind and I’ve barely had time to return to my blog – though I am hoping to more regularly. Its been 57 days of work so far, and I’ve loved every minute.

I’ve had my eyes opened to many things on top of what I was expecting: I hadn’t anticipated the extent to which local newspapers would take interest; the local television station turned up; dealing with parents less happy with changes to the school; managing a wide variety of staffing issues; public relations; and most recently an OFSTED inspection have contributed to my personal learning.

But I have to blog about some of the recent changes to Initial Teacher Training (ITT).

As I said to the staff on my first day in post, I want my school to be world-class. I want it to deliver a knowledge based, knowledge rich curriculum encompassing the best humanity has passed through the ages to all pupils, regardless of background or ability. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold, our pupils are entitled to the best that has been thought and said. It is in this arena that I agree with Michael Gove. And I feel like I always have to repeat this: I have never voted Tory and never intend to.

I also know that this is a challenge. Teachers often arrive in schools predisposed to promote ‘child-centred’ progressive ideology. This is still, in my experience, the primary perspective of many ITT courses.

However, I have found that many of those colleagues in my new school who understand this and can challenge these orthodoxies have been trained at the Cambridge Faculty of Education’s secondary history PGCE. This course, I have learnt from trainees and ex-trainees, promotes a knowledge led curriculum and is highly subject-specific in absolutely the right way – in a way that assists me as a Headteacher to promote a knowledge rich curriculum. Lee Donaghy writes about this here.

This is the sort of course I want to be training my teachers: one that is challenging; recruits the very best graduates with the best qualifications; one that is unapologetic in expecting exceptional subject knowledge and subject pedagogy; one that, frankly, makes a difference to the schools it works with as well as expecting the school to make a difference with the trainees. Two weeks ago, I cancelled an SLT meeting to attend a seminar on whole-school curriculum leadership run by the same people who run this course – knowledge based, challenging of the orthodoxy, and related closely to school leadership I have already used this seminar to direct our leadership of my school. This sort of opportunity would not exist without this course. One of the Assistant Headteachers at Cottenham Village College works, mentors and delivers seminars on this course. This course is one of the main reasons the History department at Cottenham Village College is so strong.

Last week, I was aghast when I discovered that caps on admissions to university based ITT would mean this course closed. It would mean that the network of Cambridge history mentors in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Suffolk and Hertfordshire schools that I have been lucky enough to find myself in the middle of, would wither and die. It would mean that the task of batting back some of the damaging orthodoxies of generic skills and dubious pedagogies becomes harder. It would mean that my school, and I, would be more isolated in Cambridgeshire and the argument for a knowledge rich curriculum would be harder.

There was widespread disgust in the staffroom on Thursday morning as we met to discuss the OFSTED inspection over the previous two days. Certainly, amongst some, this was more of a topic of conversation than the inspection. There had been similar disgust on twitter the night before. There is similar disgust about Oxford’s History PGCE closing. And this course would be closing because they’d been discerning about who they interview and had taken their time to get the best possible graduates into teaching.

Since then, the course appears to have a stay of execution. The course can now recruit 11 new teachers under a rule that says it can recruit 75% of the candidates it recruited last year. But that’s 11 (last year was already down to 16 due to all HEI institutions having had 33% sliced off). I don’t know, but I speculate that we’re missing out on a great deal of knowledgable graduates – who could walk into other better paid occupations but have chosen to go for one of the most rigorous courses to enter a truly noble profession – who will be going somewhere else. And what does this mean for next year? The way that university based ITT has been attacked and continues to be (and I get the reasoning) means that this course could be collateral damage. It really could just be a stay of execution.

And what if there were (say) 10 great candidates interviewed on the first selection day? The climate this ridiculous rush has caused means that not offering to all 10 would risk losing them to another training route. But what if there are more candidates the next selection day? What if they’re even better?

Finally, what of the history mentors who have helped to shape this very school-based, subject-specific course, and made it their own? In two years’, that team of history mentors will have been halved.

The fact that this course is under threat at all has got me beyond angry.

The fact that recruitment for this course is a mess, through no fault of the brilliant people who run the course, has me fuming.

The fact that this is very likely to make developing a knowledge rich curriculum (that I know ministers would approve of) in my school more difficult makes this a disgrace, and a massive own goal.

The recent shifts to save the course, possibly for one year only, are not enough. I hope that the storm, on twitter and elsewhere, doesn’t die down until proper moves are made to save this course.

 

 

 

Please note: I am not saying there are not other courses that deserve saving, just that the Cambridge Secondary History course aligns with our agenda for our school and is nearby.

Posted by: mrlock | September 6, 2015

What do you say when you’re new to a school as head?

I started work at Cottenham Village College in South Cambridgeshire on Thursday 3rd September as Headteacher. I could not be happier with the school and staff I’ve inherited, and I look forward to meeting the kids tomorrow (Monday). It’s a good school with many strengths that I would be happy for my children to attend, but can still be even better.

My new Leadership Team asked me for a written record of the words I’d said to the staff, partly to hold us to account for them. Then, at a conference I attended on Saturday, lots of people asked me what I’d said and how it had been.

I have no idea what the right thing to say is, so I just said what I thought and broadly what I’d said in my interview to get the post. I didn’t use a powerpoint.

In the interests of holding myself to account, here is what I said, edited to remove anything that is necessary to remove and removing names:

First Day Back

Firstly a welcome back from me and a thank you for the welcome. I hope you all had a great holiday and are fully rested. I have had 18 years of not sleeping on the last night of the summer holidays – there’s always a so and so after a night’s sleep or lack of sleep like last night that says they’ve slept fine isn’t there – anyway this year it was the last 5 nights I couldn’t sleep for, so I must be nervous.

Please accept my apologies if I forget your names. I will do my best to learn them and address you by them. Please correct me if I get them wrong. Just for clarity, please call me Stuart. I expect most of you will anyway, but I know that sometimes people can feel like they have to be overly formal with the head.

There is loads I want to say and won’t have time to, so take this as an incomplete bunch of things to get us started. The first thing to reassure you of is that there are no massive changes to begin today. I don’t know the school well enough to pronounce things. What I am going to do is let you know where my thoughts are, share a bit of my vision, and outline what might be some of our priorities this year. I should take about 20 minutes and then I have something I’d like you to fill in (nb a questionnaire of several pages, in depth).

I want to convey my huge congratulations on the GCSE results this year. There are pupils’ lives that have been changed as a result of your hard work. The results are stunning, and a real platform for us to move forward. They are a really powerful base.

Someone at my last school asked me if I wished the results weren’t so good ‘because then you could look really good if they improve’. I genuinely answered that no, I’m really pleased for three reasons: First, how can you wish for young people not to achieve as highly as possible? Second, I’m pleased that the huge amount of work has been effective and I’m delighted for staff and students. I said that thirdly I was pleased because I’d be joining a school on the up, with a degree of confidence we can tap into  and hopefully improve still further for all pupils. Genuine congratulations.

The Executive Principal talked earlier about being able to do it with all cohorts, and I think that’s right. We need to ensure we are on top of and lack tolerance for underachievement throughout the school. I do think we’ve a way to go before we get there with all students. I want to say this on the disadvantaged pupils as well – we don’t need to do anything special for disadvantaged kids – they are not a different species, but we do need to be intolerant of underachievement and do the things that work, because they affect disadvantaged kids positively and disproportionately. If we address underachievement wherever it raises its head, doing things that work for pupils who are underachieving, we will be dealing with the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers.

I’m really pleased to be here. I was delighted to be appointed as Headteacher of the Village College. I had been looking for the right school to lead for some time. I’ll explain what my experience of CVC has been so far in a few minutes, but suffice to say I think we have the potential to be a world class school. This is an easy thing for me to say, and one you’ll probably expect me to say, but I would genuinely not have applied or taken the job if that lofty aim wasn’t possible, and I’ll try to describe why and how in detail over the next few weeks and months. At the moment I’m going to say that I want this school to be one where success is desirable, demanded and achievable. Success – including academic results, prepared to make a difference in the world (including service), knowledgable. Desirable – that we meet aspirations (students have huge aspirations, we don’t usually have to raise them but if we need to we will) by setting expectations high, Demanded – that we professionally hold each other to account, and Achievable – that we are inclusive and support students who can’t, rather than won’t – we don’t lower the expectations on achievement or behaviour. We won’t dumb down qualifications or play games to rise the league tables.

I think all pupils are entitled to an academic education up to 16 with experiences to rival the most selective of private schools – not that I think private schools have everything right.

I also want to say here that I really value the work of our sixth form and feel like there’s a lot I have to learn there. It’s an area I really want to understand and it serves a really important role in the local area, but I’d be making it up if I said I was immersed in how it works (NB: the sixth form is largely vocational and has a niche cohort).

I am a maths teacher. I love teaching maths, though I have a philosophy degree – and please don’t get me wrong, I think subject knowledge is vitally important – so given my degree I am a walking contradiction. I have asked to teach this year as I think it is important for Heads to teach, and I know the previous head did, but not all headteachers do.

I come from a school in North East London, in one of the most deprived wards in the country. I have always taught maths in London and very much enjoyed it. While we don’t have the same level of challenge in terms of deprivation here, I recognise and have heard of the challenge of getting our most deprived pupils to achieve, and recognise that this is no less challenging here than it is in London – and could be said to be moreso given the funding. I also recognise that the challenges of ensuring pupils make progress, especially from low starting points, to high aspirations is one that is common to all schools.

When I applied for the job at Cottenham, I reflected on why I’d become a teacher. I’m absolutely convinced of the power of education to transform lives, and hence communities and the nation. It is also to allow us to be free both to experience the world and to change it. I like to talk about what Michael Oakeshott called the conversation of mankind.

As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves.

I think the purpose of education is to pass on the conversation of mankind. If you stick me in a chemistry laboratory and tell me I’m free, I’m really not. I can’t do anything. But if you induct me into the conversation that has developed in the discipline of chemistry. If you allow me the knowledge to understand that conversation, then you stick me in a chemistry laboratory, I’m truly free not just to participate, but to undermine or to further that conversation.

This applies to chemistry, but it also applies to democracy, and education is the induction; the route into young people really changing the world and shaping it in their vision.

My impressions of Cottenham during my interview, and my several visits have been that staff work hard. I don’t say this lightly – I’ve seen it. I also want to say that I don’t take it for granted. Workload is the elephant in the room in schools, and while I don’t have a solution, I can say I will be cognisant of it. I can’t promise that if I ask you to do something I’ll always try to ask you to stop doing something else, but I can promise that I will consider this. In fact, we did discuss combining two documents in an SLT meeting in the holidays for this very purpose.

My impressions of Cottenham – We have great kids, who are really proud of Cottenham. They and the staff enjoy working here, and that makes the college really pleasant to be in. The pupils I have spoken to have only had positive words for the staff and most of the school.

My impressions of Cottenham – There is a real focus on teaching here – I’ve read a newsletter, I’ve heard about this teaching and learning conference today that we are going to take part in, we don’t grade lessons. I welcome all of these things.

My impression of Cottenham – I’ve found SLT to be open to ideas and committed to the school. They really want the school to improve significantly and are open to how we do this. I have already met with each member of SLT, and we have outlined some possible accountabilities. We will confirm these as soon as we’ve nailed them and I know some colleagues are worried about their line management arrangements – please embrace whatever happens. However, we are also going to take the view that we all lead on everything – i.e. we will do our best to make sure that none of us says ‘well that’s not my job, please see x’. If we need to discuss it, we will ensure we do and get back to you.

Sometimes, on my visits, I think I saw less focus in lessons than I would like – not across the whole school, but on occasion. For example, I arrived at a classroom door once and a pupil was sitting on a desk at the back of the room and he said ‘Ello’ loudly. Some of the other pupils laughed. The fact that he wasn’t focussed on his work, and that he found another excuse not to, and some others felt they could join in, made me uncomfortable. If it happens on Monday they’ll be hauled out.  I’m not one for tolerating low level disruptive behaviour, and I’ll tell the pupils about this. SLT will be in classrooms and asking ‘is everything to your satisfaction?’ – please tell us if it isn’t and allow us to take pupils out of the room on the very rare occasions it might be necessary. If we take them out, we won’t return them that lesson without your permission – please get on with teaching.

Basically, I want the pupils to work at least as hard as the teachers.

Here I asked whether pupils were expected to put planners on desks for every lesson. It was an inconsistent expectation, so we made it one across the school from that moment.

On my very first visit, I saw the occasional student using mobile phones in lessons inappropriately and a whole class using them appropriately. I understand the issues, but this is a big deal for me. When we came round for interview, I was told by a year 8 student that she let her standards slip until she was reminded and kept her phone in her pocket rather than in her bag as expected. Recent research from the LSE has shown the link between a ban on mobile phones and attainment, and there’s a reason – phones are addictive and a distraction, and kids are social beings. I’m inclined to ban them, completely, but I’m not sure how we’d look after them yet. I do understand the issues regarding mobile technology, and with a mobile tech strategy I could imagine including them (eg quizzing and testing), but I’m not convinced on any research or convinced by Bring Your Own Device. I welcome your feedback.

The kids have almost universally asked for a new uniform, as did parents at the new Year 7 event I attended. Now this might be a case of those who want change bringing it up. I think the smarter the uniform, the smarter it sells us, and it says something more about our purpose. I’d like to see our kids as smart as possible. So this is an issue we will have a look at this year. However, whatever our uniform is, I’d like to see us all enforce it relentlessly and rigorously. Please can we all lead on this. I know Heads of Year will support, and SLT will take a hard line where we need to intervene. This is a part of sweating the small stuff which I would like us all to do day in, day out – and SLT will support where you are enforcing expectations.

I like the supportive and collaborative culture here, though some of you have told me that communication could be improved further. We will look into this. I know the assistant headteacher has done some work on the overload of emails you receive and is trying to come up with a policy to limit this.

I want to tell you that I am not interested in catching people out. I do want people to be accountable, chiefly for the progress of their pupils. I do want to observe all teachers in the first term. I’m going to start with SLT. I’m not grading, and while I am feeding back I know there is a limited amount I can tell within an hour so I will be asking you to fill in the gaps and tell me about your practice. I don’t want bells and whistles lessons – I want what you normally do. If that is bells and whistles, fine. If the kids are writing for an hour, fine. I do not want you to do anything abnormal. If you want to give me a plan, that’s fine. If you just want to give me some context that’s also fine. I do want to know how the school is, and I will share with you all my findings – not of individuals – when I’ve seen everyone.

There is, then, some way to go. We have different cohorts coming through in comparison to last year’s year 11. There are some improvements necessary with internal data, and we must be able to transform the lives of all of our students to give them opportunities. I want us to be focussed on progress. The days of C/D borderline being all that mattered in maths and English are behind us. I welcome Progress 8 – it aligns with my vision and I hope our emerging vision of (a) an academic curriculum for all (b) every child’s progress counting and (c) every subject counting. I’m sure we’ll talk about this more in coming weeks and months.

On that, I’m a fan of subjects and subject knowledge. We know that it’s a key element of ensuring progress and it’s important that we put that at the forefront of our development. Professor Michael Young of the IOE wrote an excellent piece in a recent edition of the controversial magazine Spiked about this.

RS Peters, philosopher of education from the 1950s and 60s, commented on the understandable emphasis on the child meant that new (then) methods of teaching were concerned too much with the manner and insufficiently with the matter of education. In other words, teaching was insufficiently attentive to questions about what was learned.

I’m not saying the manner never matters, but I am saying if you’ve been teaching about the same amount of time as me in the UK that we’ve spent years on generic pedagogy at the expense of subject expertise. I argue that what is being learned is of primary importance. It is OK to tell pupils what they need to know. I feel a little ridiculous saying this, but we as educators with a little experience have been through an era where we were told it was best for pupils to discover things themselves and work things out for themselves. I think that cognitive psychology (Kirschner, Sweller and Clark paper I’ll mention in the teachmeet later and Daniel Willingham’s simplified but brilliant book on what cognitive science can tell us) have debunked this. It’s OK to tell them what they need to know. What’s most important is that we instruct pupils well and get them to think about the knowledge we want them to have.

Associated with this is the curriculum. This can mean many things to many people. It means the subjects we study, and I’ve talked about being unapologetically academic, and it means what students study within those subjects. It appears to me, from my acquaintance with the school, that this could be an important area of development over the next year. We must sequence our curriculum coherently – ensuring that we know what pupils are expected to know in each subject in each year. If we can really say that we have a curriculum where we know what pupils should know (and do) then we can start to look at assessment and engage with the big debate over post-levels assessment in a meaningful way.

I’m also a big one for evidence in education. I don’t think it replaces teacher agency and us deciding what happens in schools, but it does stop us going down ridiculous routes as our profession has in the past. If someone mentions research, it’s worth asking ‘what research’ and I think our profession has a way to go before being truly evidence informed. I am attending @ResearchEd this weekend and I understand some other colleagues are as well. I’m really wary of fads – those initiatives that are either foisted on us from on high or we embrace because we think there are quick wins. I expect us to look out for them and try not to make the mistakes of embracing them. I don’t think there are shortcuts – and I think that goes for school improvement in the same way that it goes for pupils’ achievement.

A couple of small things:

OFSTED – they’re coming as the executive principal said. It’s important that this affects leaders first, and senior leaders the most. All I want teachers and support staff to do is their jobs. For teachers, mark, plan, and teach the best lessons possible, know your accurate data and what you’re doing for the kids, but I want you to know that anyway whether OFSTED are coming or not. We are not driven by OFSTED. I’m sure I’ll mention it at times and I’m not going to ban the word, but colleagues, stop me if I keep going on about it and stop me if I ever say we’re doing something because of OFSTED.

A quick one about the way I work. First, I expect you to be able to approach any member of the Leadership Team about anything. But if you need me, you can just walk in if the door is open. If you need a longer period of time, please just book a meeting in.

If it’s closed, I will be either in a meeting of some description, or not there, or getting changed or something. Please do make an appointment.

Possible priorities for this year, to summarise

Behaviour – tighten up + presence of SLT – kids working as hard as the staff

Curriculum – what do we want pupils to know (and be able to do) – identify this and ensure the curriculum supports academic standards

Disadvantaged pupils achievement – being intolerant of underachievement

Development of middle leadership in order to deliver on the ground

For me to listen!

There are things I have not spoken about – parents/ attendance/ etc – we’ll come to all that – for now we must sweat the small stuff.

One of the things I will say is that I am sure that some of the impressions I’ve gained are wrong in some way. I would like us to all be open to the idea that some of our ideas about the best way to educate might be wrong. It’s a debate, informed by experience and evidence that we need to engage in. I will keep an open mind and listen. I’m asking that we all do the same.

In that spirit, I’m going to meet with Heads of Faculties alongside line managers so we can collectively learn what our current data is showing us.

I’d also like to know from colleagues who were here last year about your impression of the school. We will publish this to all, anonymously, to give us all an idea of where we are and to hear your perspective. Please fill the extensive questionnaire in.

I’m really excited about this year and it’s a pleasure to be starting work with all of you. Let’s have a really great year.

Posted by: mrlock | August 4, 2015

Chinese School – Are Our Children Tough Enough

This blog was written in 55 minutes following the programme. Please forgive any errors.

Prior to the first episode of Are Our Children Tough Enough broadcast on 4th August 2015, very many people (including many teachers) on twitter, and I’ve no doubt many not on twitter had decided to dismiss any possible positive outcomes. The most common response was a varient of

“It is, however, abundantly clear to me that Chinese parents, culture and values are the real reasons that Shanghai Province tops the oft-cited Pisa tables rather than superior teaching practice. No educational approach or policy is going to turn back the British cultural clock to the 1950s. Nor should it seek to.”

That quote is from Headteacher Neil Strowger, the Headteacher of the school who participated in the experiment, so it is worth noting what he has to say. I would respond to Mr Strowger that no-one I know who wants to learn from the Chinese system wants to turn the clock back to the 1950s. The Chinese (or at least Shanghai province) are clearly doing something right in the 21st century, and it’s unprofessional of us to ignore that, and our school system needs a kick. Why not learn from China?

I understand that the programme is devoid of nuance, that it is entertainment, and that we can’t draw conclusions from a whole series, let alone one episode. Indeed the programme appeared to imply the project was a variant of an RCT – neutral assessors would see which group – those taught in the Chinese style or the UK style – had learnt the most after 4 weeks. But of course this says nothing except what can be done in 4 weeks. It’s like last minute intervention, Chinese style, with a few pupils, and the conclusions must therefore have a mountain of salt with them. Actually no salt, just dismissed.

The students taught in the ‘Chinese school’ wore tracksuits. I wasn’t expecting that! There were more predictable things: desks in rows, longer days, two lunch breaks and lots of teaching from the front.

The most worrying aspect of the reactions to the programme are that we as a profession seem entrenched in our view that in the UK we are *good enough*, and there is little that can be learnt from overseas, despite what the international tables suggest. Some commentators hide behind context as an excuse for not challenging what we do. I suspect it’s because those of us working in education are something of a conservative lot.

Besides anything else, it makes me uncomfortable to suggest that the difference between the performance of nations is ‘cultural’. The implications of such conclusions are unpalatable.

Throughout my career in teaching I’ve witnessed the teaching profession react defensively to any challenge of the status quo, or any suggest we’re not all brilliant. There’s a nod to ‘improvement’, but in reality we are a profession that revels in our status as martyrs whenever there is a suggestion we could be doing better. It’s a defensive attitude we see in others, that as a profession we’re capable of identifying in others, but as a profession find it difficult to identify in ourselves.

This defensive attitude does our pupils a disservice. It also does us a disservice.

As a profession we have to accept that, despite the heavy investment in education, standards in the UK are not high enough. We may argue about the cause of this, but to deny that standards have fallen over the last thirty years would be ridiculous. Personally, I blame an over-reliance on progressivism and a lack of effective challenge to the progressive educational establishment – discovery learning, permissiveness and child-centredness have had centre stage for far too long at the expense of direct instruction, authority, and subject disciplines. This has been reinforced by government, including via the national curriculum, and policed by the inspectorate at a very high price in terms of our kids’  achievement. The programme itself identified ‘child-centredness’ and ‘progressive’ as features of UK education and features of Bohunt School (the school in the programme) specifically.

The question arising from the educational exchange with China – a relationship cultivated by my last school with an exchange that included our pupils visiting China – shouldn’t be “would Chinese style education work on British kids?” but “what can we learn to do better from the Chinese?” as well as a host of other questions.

Here are three things I noticed from the first episode and think we should consider.

1) Behaviour – I thought this might have been nailed years ago by Mossbourne, led by Sir Michael Wilshaw in Hackney and proving that the most deprived pupils can behave immaculately, but apparently not. It is fine to expect pupils to listen and behave and make this a pre-requisite of learning. Too many schools still believe that lessons need to interest pupils and this is how we get good behaviour. It’s nonsense. It’s an abdication of leadership: the ethos of a school is set by senior leaders and enforced by everybody and if this ethos is one of strict discipline the school is more likely to be successful. As one of the Chinese teachers said “without discipline you don’t learn well”.

The programme makers clearly focussed on the least well behaved pupils, but the immediate switching off, outright defiance and lack of grit really got to me. I am not even a fan of that word, but both that and ‘growth mindset’ came to mind several times during the programme.

The pupils even knew this. At one point Rosie said “in China aren’t the children like really really well behaved” and Angelina finished her sentence with “and we’re not”. Another pupil talked about it being fun to push the boundaries when teachers are strict, and another complained that it was unfair that her behaviour had been corrected with a (minor) sanction without a warning.

Some others challenged me on twitter suggesting that the behaviour was normal for kids in an unusual situation. This might be true, but they are in their school – and surely they should be behaving according to the school’s ethos.

I do understand that the programme does not represent how the school is on a day-to-day basis, nor how the pupils behave.

2) Instruction – it’s fine to tell pupils what they need to know. This sounds ridiculous to have to say, but in an era of the prominence of discovery learning, what pupils need to know is so often kept from them.

In fact, a British Science teacher said in the programme “for a Scientist it’s all about finding out the methods yourself”.

This is a common view in schools, and not just in science. The Chinese teachers expected pupils to absorb and memorise information delivered at the front of the class – something the pupils were unable to do. Memory can be a dirty word in our schools while I follow Kirschner, Sweller and Clark in defining all learning as a change in long term memory of some kind. It is fine to tell the pupils what they need to know and not wait for them to find it out for themselves. That British students don’t memorise formulae in maths was a key problem brought up midway through this episode.

The Chinese approach illustrated was very different. The teacher explained that “I don’t use the science equipment very often. I deliver the knowledge and use the board in a very traditional fashion. I can deliver it fast in a very structured manner.” Efficiency is key, and something I think we can learn from. I often hear subject leaders bemoan the lack of time they have for subjects – they’re almost always right, but time is the thing we can’t create more of and we must use as efficiently as possible. Discovery learning uses a lot of that most precious resource of time – usually, I would posit, to less effect.

As the narrator then said, the children need to behave for the Chinese style lecturing to be effective, which takes us back to point one.

Despite some of the poor behaviour, and despite the lack of background knowledge of the pupils meaning some parts of lessons were inaccessible, some pupils described the teaching in the Chinese style as positive. One pair talked about understanding equilibrium and Mr Strowger admitted some of the pupils preferred being told what they need to know. Another boy said “I actually learnt something in chemistrieeee”.

This is despite Headteacher Mr Strowger having pedagogical views that are not exactly in favour of explicit instruction – “talking at the front doesn’t sit right on any level… I don’t want it to be the best way to teach students”

3) All can achieve – but not all will – and expectations are everything. One of the Chinese teachers was comparing the approach of teaching different pupils at different ability levels different syllabuses in the UK with the approach in China – “we have the one syllabus and we teach them all that syllabus”. The implication was that setting can be a form of dumbing down for the least able. There was one scene where a teacher was imploring the class to work harder because the work is accessible to all as long as they work hard enough over time. I’m not sure a 4 week series is going to be enough.

I wonder about the role of practice in China – I’m guessing a lot of this is after school hours but it must be prevalent to ensure the transfer of some of the knowledge they learn to long term memory.

At one point a child said of a lesson taught in Chinese style “I get what you do but not why”. I’m sure this will be leapt upon by critics, but it ignores that we all often get the what before the why. Most of us who drive a car know what to do but not why it works, and I would guess everyone including mechanics learn what to do before understanding why it works. This is actually the case with a great many aspects of education and desperately trying to put the ‘why’ before the ‘what’ can be tremendously inefficient as pupils need a great deal more knowledge to understand why.

I was amazed at the central role of PE. If you don’t pass the PE tests in China you can be held back from good high schools or universities. This didn’t go down well with some of the UK students, especially Joe, who is high achieving academically. As the PE teacher said “the students are scared of failing”. He certainly needed a dose of growth mindset at that point. Everything came right for Joe though, as he could do the complex chinese puzzle that was introduced to engage the pupils towards the end of their first week of teaching, and his classmates gave him attention. Joe reported “that’s never really happened before”.Joe did say, reflecting on his experience in PE, that it was OK in Britain to be mediocre at some things, and clearly expectations are higher in China. I thought this was interesting.

Some of the other pupils in PE didn’t really embrace the ‘no excuses’ approach of the Chinese either, one girl saying “well Stephen Hawking wouldn’t be very good at it”.

I was also surprised at the role of student voice in maintaining high standards in the classrooms in China – committees elected to maintain the environment and keep order and discipline. I’d like to know more!

While it was set up to be an experiment, and gives the impression of rigor, as my partner said to me while watching it “They’re just English kids in an English school with Chinese teachers”.

Quite. I took from the programme what I read into it – reaffirming my biases. I’m sure people who disagree with me also reaffirmed theirs. Given the false and artificial construction of the situation with the programme, there’s not much to actually learn from it, is there?

Or is there?

Mr Strowger said “I believe that a longer school day would have value for our pupils and that teachers should not on occasion be afraid of delivering monologues in the classroom”

And for someone who “does not want this style to be successful because it’s wrong on every level” there’s a bit of a shift. I hope it’s shifted some others similarly. Challenging the idea that we all have to be ‘guides on the side’ rather than ‘sages on the stage’ is a positive step.

Finally, I’d like to mention that I expect to learn a lot from the most successful school systems from Lucy Crehan’s book Cleverlands. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend pledging by clicking on the link (and please do so soon because I want to read it sooner rather than later).

Posted by: mrlock | March 13, 2015

No excuses

On Friday afternoons at my school all the Student Progress Leaders (Heads of Year), three senior staff including myself, our learning mentors, our child protection team, seclusion team, SENCO and attendance team sit down for an hour to meet. We’re often joined by a social worker, a police officer and various local youth workers.

We go through last week’s minutes, detailing what’s happened with each student that we’ve offered support to. These can be for crises at home, attendance issues, problems in the local area, issues to do with nutrition, or child protection. Every few of weeks or so we find solutions for a child hard to come by. But we do our very best and we have significant resources allocated to supporting our students to ensure they can meet our expectations.

Two and a half years ago, when local childrens’ services were faced with no home, we gave them one at our school. For us, this meant pupils and parents have easier access to that expert support. It meant we have access to expert advice and guidance on and from outside agencies, and indeed direct access to some of those agencies.

We support the students as much as we possibly can. We have a brilliant record of ‘keeping’ those students who are sent to us for a second chance after all chances at their school have expired (this is two way, we don’t just receive).

A part of that is we are inflexible on rules. You meet our expectations or you face the consequences – no exceptions.

Late to school – 20 minutes after school that day and an hour detention with me later in the week. Don’t complete your homework to a satisfactory standard – your parents know, you have a detention with your teacher, and you have an hour with me later in the week. Late to a lesson by a minute – that will cost you 20 minutes with your teacher and an hour with me as head of school. Late four times in a four week period, Saturday detention. All detentions in silence.

No excuses.

I have written about our behaviour policy before. While I know some people were and are upset that I was so brazen about upholding our standards to the point that pupils have to leave our school (and I think there is an issue system-wide with what happens to excluded children), the above meeting shows the other side of our work on behaviour and discipline, including preparing our pupils for the outside world.

If I could start a school from scratch, ‘no excuses’ would be one of my school’s founding principles. It’s something a number of schools I admire use as a mantra that works. It’s often set alongside hard work, or no shortcuts.

I think we’re getting closer to no excuses at my school. We still have some poorer behaviour, but we don’t make excuses for it. Here’s an email exchange (with names and details changed and explanatory brackets included) from a few weeks ago that I was copied into, and I was heartened by the message that colleagues are giving each other. I’ve obviously asked for permission to reproduce these edited versions.

From:T (English teacher)
To:J (Learning Mentor); G (Student Progress Leader);

Cc: P (tutor); N (head of department); Stuart LOCK

Subject: Max Smith

Dear Colleagues

Max arrived five minutes towards the end of my lesson today. He was absent on Friday so this was the first time I was able to speak with him regarding his behaviour last Thursday, period 5 for which he was sent to seclusion. When I had challenged him on home learning he became defensive and took offense to my implication that he was lying.

His body language became quite erratic and then he shouted at me before storming out of the room. This is not the first time this has happened with Max. I understand there are some serious issues at home and, upon speaking with J (Learning Mentor), that he has not been attending his mentoring meetings.

Today, I told him that we would need to address the issue of his behaviour and I was met with a response of ‘I don’t care. Do what you want.’

Can I please request a meeting (for example restorative justice?) be arranged with Max and another member of staff. The sooner the better please, if possible. I teach him period 4 tomorrow.

T (English teacher)

Some quite serious behaviour. In my old school (ie this school, three years ago), we’d have gone ahead with a restorative justice meeting – a meeting where both the teacher and pupil talk about how they felt and what they need from each other. It would have been one of hundreds of similar incidents and meetings.

In my view, this used to undermine the authority of the teacher.

In this case, this kind of behaviour is now rare because of our systems. And the following email came back:

From: G (Student Progress Leader)
To: T (English teacher); J (Learning mentor);
Cc: P (tutor); N (Head of Department); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith

I will be speaking with Max this afternoon.

I will not be organising a restorative justice meeting as from my understanding nothing needs to be resolved between you and Max. He simply needs to do his job and if he fails or refuses to do that then he suffers the consequences.

I will seclude him for the next lesson and we will have a re-entry meeting with him before he is allowed back in your class. The re-entry meeting will be used to reinforce your expectations.

Max’s issues are the same as a number of our pupils and are actually excuses and excuses don’t get results.

Thanks

G (Student Progress Leader)

I should point out a re-entry meeting means parents are involved and have to come to the school.

Of course Max will be discussed by colleagues and we will support him to achieve good GCSEs. He’s had very serious sanctions that have stopped short of exclusion, but he’s been isolated in our seclusion unit. He’s actually very happy here because of the structure. Not allowing him to use anything outside of school as an excuse for not meeting our expectations means he can focus more on being here and shaking that off. That doesn’t mean outside circumstances don’t affect him – of course they do. But Max doesn’t have expectations that are differentiated downwards for him, either in terms of his conduct, or learning. He does have scaffolding – centred around the meeting above and provided in his lessons, to meet our expectations.

It occurred to me when reading these emails that we are now really clear on authority and expectations of behaviour.

From: T (English teacher)
To: G (SPL); J (Learning Mentor)
Cc: P (tutor); N (HOD); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith

Thank you for your support G. I’ll keep you all posted.

No excuses.

NB: Pupils who are excluded for more than 5 days have to have education provided somewhere – so called ‘day 6’ provision. We provide day 6 provision for the authority. We also provide satellite PRU provision when the PRU is full.

Posted by: mrlock | March 4, 2015

Updated Progress 8 guidance (Feb 2015)

It’s worth reading the background to this in a previous blog I wrote here. This broadly stands, and I won’t be repeating the detail here.

A week ago, the DFE published some new guidance. Not much has changed. From my understanding, the following aspects are additional or changes:

This explicitly says that Progress 8 will be the headline measure from 2017. Previously, there were 4 indicators, and though the indication was that Progress 8 would be important, this is now confirmed as the measure. The other 3 (attainment 8, percentage achieving grade C in both English and maths, and percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate) will continue to be published.

There is another fifth measure to be published. In this guide it’s intended. This is:

the percentage of pupils who went on to sustained education, employment or training during the year after they finished their Key Stage 4 qualifications

“Expected progress” as a measure will not exist from 2016.

It is confirmed that a Progress 8 score of -0.5 or below will indicate a school is below the floor standard.

It is back on the table that a Progress 8 score of 1.0 or more will mean a school is exempt from OFSTED. I was under the impression this would be up to OFSTED, but this is explicitly stated in this document.

Mathematics – If a pupil takes two maths qualifications that count (for example GCSE maths and AQA Cert in further maths), the first achieving qualification counts double. The other one does not count at all in Progress 8. If the two maths qualifications are linked (e.g. Methods in Mathematics and Applications of Mathematics) these both count in the double slot – the results are added together).

This is a bit complicated, because of discount codes (please note this is an example of technical jargon that school leaders have to become familiar with if they are not already) and so on, so if your school does more than one maths qualification, please check. However, if the two qualifications share a discount code (eg they have taken 2 GCSEs in mathematics) then the first entry rule applies as above.  The ‘better result’ rule applies where the two qualifications do not discount as in the example given of maths and further maths.  Even though they do not discount only one of them will be recognised.

My understanding is that GCSE Statistics, for the purposes of the above qualifications, is not a ‘maths qualification’ – ie it wouldn’t count in the top basket as double. It therefore does count in the open basket.

English is as per my previous blog. Briefly, the best of English or English Literature counts double assuming the pupil has taken both English and English Literature. The other one can count in the open slots for Progress 8.

AS qualifications can count in the appropriate slots.

From 2016, GCSE grades will count for the following points:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.33.57

This is as expected.

In 2017, when in English and maths pupils can get up to grade/ number 9 but other GCSEs will still be graded in letters, the transition will be different for these other GCSEs. The value will be as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.41.09

Pupils with no Key Stage 2 scores will not count. This sounds like it’s not a big deal, but in my current school this would be 23% of last year’s Year 11, so schools will have to be hot on their own data if they’re in circumstances like ours (which is, to be fair, true anyway).

In 2016, the estimated grade for pupils will not be known in advance. This is because they will be compared against the same cohort. So we won’t know the average for a pupil who starts with, for example, 5.1, until all the pupils who started on 5.1 have their results.

However, from 2019, this will be known, because these will be set from the 2016 cohort. The intention is that in 2020 the expected performance for a KS2 fine points score will be set from 2017 results and so on. This allows for the possibility of an improving system.

The guide ‘expires’ in March 2016 for the 2018 results so much of the above is intentional. I’m sure the detail will change. Have a read of the DFE document if you need more specifics.

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