This much I know about…being an agnostic

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about being an agnostic.

When it comes to religion, I am an agnostic, I think. So it was odd to find myself delivering an assembly recently which ended with a prayer. As I get older it becomes harder to sleep and so Prayer for the Day sometimes seeps into my consciousness as dawn breaks. A few weeks ago The Reverend Dr Alison Jack of Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity delivered a prayer which moved me to such an extent that I was prompted to share it with the entire school community, staunch agnostic that I am. Click on the image below to listen:

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This much I know about…how Progress 8 might just be a proxy measure for poverty and EAL

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about how Progress 8 might just be a proxy measure for poverty and EAL.

It is worth pointing out the bleeding obvious. When we were inspected back in October, I failed to point out to the inspection team that our cohort is 95%+ White British, the sixth worst performing ethnic group in England at Key Stage 4 in 2017 in terms of progress (P8 score: -0.14). The five ethnic groups whose P8 score was worse than White British were:  traveller of Irish heritage (-1.13); Gypsy/Roma (-0.80); white and black Caribbean (-0.33); black Caribbean (-0.23); Chinese unclassified (-0.41). With the average P8 score for disadvantaged students being c. -0.4, then it is not hard to see that if your cohort is overwhelmingly White British and disadvantaged, then, according to the data, the challenge to secure a positive P8 score is huge.

Gorton vs York revisited. A few weeks ago I queried why a disadvantaged child in Gorton, Manchester, makes better progress than his or her York counterpart at every stage of his or her education. It prompted the Principal of Manchester Enterprise Academy in Wythenshawe in Manchester, James Eldon, to contact me. He sent me two graphs. The first graph plots the 2017 outcomes of a number of schools whose cohort is 0-5% English as an Additional Language. The Y-axis measures the schools’ Progress 8 scores and the X-axis measures the percentage of “Pupil Premium Ever 6” students:

The second graph plots the 2017 outcomes of a number of schools whose cohort is 35-40% “Pupil Premium Ever 6”. The Y-axis measures the schools’ Progress 8 scores and the X-axis measures the percentage of EAL students:

A school’s Progress 8 scores certainly measures its students’ academic progress; after looking at these two graphs, James Eldon and I wonder whether the Progress 8 score also measures the levels of poverty and EAL within a school’s student body.

 

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This much I know about…how we can make 39,528 individual interventions to help vulnerable students make better progress

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about how we can make 39,528 individual interventions to help vulnerable students make better progress.

Why is the number 4,392 relevant to our vulnerable students? (By vulnerable students we mean those students who are low attainers on entry, have a Special Educational Need or Disability, or are disadvantaged, including those who are in care.) The answer is that in a bog standard comprehensive school like ours, which has five one hour lessons a day, five days a week for 37.6 weeks a year (that is 39 weeks a year minus training days and bank holidays, except for in Year 11 when it is 32.6 weeks because the lessons stop five weeks before the end of the summer term), and where the students attend for an average of 96% of the time, 4,392 is the number of lessons a single vulnerable student attends, on average, from the day s/he begins Year 7 until s/he attends the final lesson in Year 11.

Why our vulnerable students especially? Well, our vulnerable students, especially our low attainers on entry, make the least progress of all our different specific cohorts of students. Changing that situation, so that our vulnerable students, especially our low attainers on entry, make similar progress to all the other students, is proving a struggle. For the last six months we have been thinking as hard as we have ever done, in the near fifteen years I have been a head teacher, about a single school improvement challenge. At one point we asked a range of our vulnerable students what it was that their teachers did which helped them learn most effectively. They said ‘we learn most when teachers:

  1. explain exactly what we have to do for homework;
  2. help us write down our homework in our planners;
  3. help us understand the meaning of difficult words;
  4. seat us where we can see the board easily;
  5. use coloured paper for handouts to help us read the words more easily;
  6. ask us questions to help us understand;
  7. help us when they are walking round the room;
  8. are kind to us when we get answers wrong;
  9. have a little fun sometimes.’

How can we meet our vulnerable students’ progress challenge? Well, there is no easy answer. We have 112 teachers at Huntington. The majority of our teaching is to mixed attainment classes (click here to access Professor Becky Francis’ Best practice in grouping students project and find out why we largely favour mixed attainment teaching). Now, if all 112 of our teachers were so deliberate in their teaching that, in every one of the 4,392 lessons a vulnerable Huntington student experiences in his or her main school career, the teachers consciously practised those nine simple actions that help our vulnerable students learn, what might the impact be upon our vulnerable students’ progress?

Implementation eats intervention for breakfast. To create a system where all 112 teachers practise these nine simple actions in every lesson, every day is a huge challenge. Just think, for instance, of the practical steps we would have to take to ensure that coloured paper is easily available – and I mean no-hassle-whatsoever-for-me-to-do-that available – for a teacher to make individual copies for the two students in his or her class who feel that handouts on orange paper stop the words moving around the page quite so much (even though the evidence regarding the efficacy of coloured paper on alleviating the symptoms of dyslexia is wafer thin). Just think about it for a moment and you’ll begin to understand that implementing such a simple-sounding intervention is actually pretty complex. But, with some doggedness, we have to try because the nine simple actions practised in 4,392 lessons (that’s 39,528 separate interventions) by every one of our 112 teachers just might help our vulnerable students make the same progress as their less vulnerable peers.

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This much I know about…how Manchester’s disadvantaged students beat York’s every time

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about how Manchester’s disadvantaged students beat York’s every time.

How much do we really prioritise provision for our disadvantaged students? This is a question which has been bugging me – and I mean really bugging me – since September, when we began reviewing our 2017 student outcomes. In a Local Authority which is one of the poorest funded in the country – one of the poorest funded because York is one of the richest cities in the country – with some of the lowest percentages of students attracting Pupil Premium funding, it is easy for the disadvantaged students to get lost amongst our secondary schools’ generally decent, well above the national average, KS4 outcomes. The fact is, in 2016 our disadvantaged students in York did less well than similar disadvantaged students in Manchester. Yes, you read that correctly. At every transition stage of their school careers, at the end of Early Years, at the end of KS2 and at the end of KS4, if you were a disadvantaged pupil in deepest Gorton, a particularly deprived neighbourhood in Manchester (where the TV series Shameless was loosely based), you had more chance of academic success than your disadvantaged peers in York. Here are the same figures for the 2017 outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in both Manchester and York:

  • The percentage of disadvantaged pupils who met at least the expected standard in all Early Learning Goals: 45% in York vs. 57% in Manchester;
  • The percentage of disadvantaged pupils who met at least the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Mathematics at the end of KS2: 40% in York vs. 53% in Manchester;
  • The Attainment 8 figure for disadvantaged students: 38 in Manchester vs. 35.9 in York.

The recent EEF report laid down with some clarity the challenge to improve the outcomes of disadvantaged for all of us working in the secondary sector:

The EEF report was equally clear about where we should begin if we are going to improve the academic progress of disadvantaged students:

What happens in the classroom makes the biggest difference: improving teaching quality generally leads to greater improvements at lower cost than structural changes. There is particularly good evidence around the potential impact of teacher professional development.

Over the next month I will be blogging about the work we have been doing at Huntington to improve the outcomes of our disadvantaged students. The first post will reveal what our disadvantaged students told us when we asked them the question: “What do teachers do in the classroom that really helps you learn?”

Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning | 3 Comments

This much I know about…how, as school leaders, we have to solve the recruitment crisis ourselves

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about how, as school leaders, we have to solve the recruitment crisis ourselves.

No more blame game. It would be easy to bewail the fact that the teacher recruitment figures are down by a third on last year, but I don’t see the point. I have already written at length about the teacher recruitment crisis and concluded that help from government to address the problem is unlikely to be forthcoming. What we have to do is help ourselves. And one of the things School leaders have to do is address the teacher workload issue.

Senior Leaders can choose the culture they create in their schools. We have to stop implementing policies which make the life of a full-time classroom teacher unbearable. Before any policy decision is made, ask three simple questions:

  1. Is this new policy primarily concerned with improving students’ progress?
  2. Have we got compelling evidence of the effectiveness of this new policy?
  3. Will this new policy add to the workload of full-time classroom teachers?

If your answers are YES; YES; NO, in that order, you should then consult with colleagues about implementing the policy. If the answer to the final question is YES, then identify what you stop doing as a school if you want to pursue the implementation of the new policy.

Remember the joy of the job. Geoff Barton published a great piece yesterday about reclaiming ‘the career of teaching for what it can be’, of remembering to value ‘the arts, the sport, the modern foreign languages, the extra-curricular experiences that will help our young human beings to become ever more distinctively human’. Geoff’s rallying cry is no flimsy, liberal nonsense; the essence of what Geoff says is at the heart of the solution to the recruitment crisis. If we, as school leaders, cannot make teaching an attractive, deeply satisfying, joyful job then our children will never have in front of them the high quality teachers they deserve.

Posted in General educational issues, Research, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning | 6 Comments

This much I know about…being teased by colleagues

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about being teased by colleagues.

A few weeks back during a full staff briefing I moaned about the younger boys wrestling out on the field at lunchtime. Here is what I received today from Secret Santa…a Huracan (sic) Ramirez wrestling mask:

 

Said mask was accompanied by the following blog post, a veritable work of genius.

I have always thought you should be worried when colleagues stop teasing you…

Posted in Mental Health in Schools, Other stuff, School Leadership | 2 Comments

This much I know about…treating teachers well and helping them manage their workload

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about treating teachers well and helping them manage their workload.

My last post about our Outstanding OFSTED judgement began with this important quotation which encapsulates how we try to run Huntington School:

Too much of sport operates under the tyranny of the result…the core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievably hard. That is it. Everything else – winning or losing matches, winning or losing Cups – are just outcomes. They are not the primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.

– Edward Griffiths, CEO, Saracens RFC

Headteachers need to trust their colleagues more than ever. Seneca said, “The first step towards making people trustworthy is to trust them.” At our school we teach over 3,360 lessons each fortnight; I cannot teach them all, so what I have to do is develop my colleagues in a safe school environment which allows them to thrive professionally and personally.

Workload…Two members of the DfE Delivery Unit visited us in September to explore workload issues. They met with me and I told them what we have been trying to do here for the past decade. For the rest of the day they met numerous colleagues without me and then we spoke at the end of the day whilst their taxi waited patiently outside. They asked how they could bottle-up the culture we have developed at Huntington and spread it across the system? They reflected that, whilst hours worked is an important metric, another is job satisfaction and that teachers here felt intellectually challenged and interested in their job. We train teachers really well whilst insisting they accept the professional obligation to improve their practice. A few weeks ago I shared the summary notes I gave the colleagues from the DfE Delivery Unit with Sean Harford. This afternoon, the following Twitter conversation sparked this post:

So, here are those summary notes:

DfE Delivery Unit Visit to Huntington School

Teacher Workload

Wednesday 20 September 2017

  1. Trust…Respect, Honesty and Kindness.
  2. Culture is hugely important.
  3. Supportive yet challenging governance, which understands that teachers are our most valuable resource.
  4. Marking and Feedback policy designed from the bottom up, based upon a set of principles, different according to department. We base a lot of what we do on the ideas of Daisy Christodolou.
  5. Data capture is measured – we report progress twice a year and attainment at the end of the year.
  6. Minimal written reports.
  7. Lesson Maps are flexible and relatively non-prescriptive; full/daily/class-by-class.
  8. Most policy is designed by the middle-leaders with minimal SLT input, because they know what works best.
  9. E-Comms technician to set up IRIS observation cameras and to run the website etc etc.;
  10. HR, Finance, Premises – expert operational SLT who are liberated to just get on with it.
  11. Minimise admin so meeting time is dedicated to T&L – on alternate Mondays we combine the one hour of meeting time with an hour when the students go home early at 2.30 pm so that teachers can work on T&L in what we call Teaching and Learning Forums (TLFs) from 2.45-4.45 pm. We have 19 TLFs a year. We have less than 25 hours a week contact time with students and we have better results.
  12. When we had all the curriculum change 3 years ago we took two extra training days.
  13. We have c.35 part-time staff. Flexibility keeps good teachers in the school.
  14. Central admin staff are excellent and they drive improvements – changing MIS systems was down to them.
  15. One Family Day a year, fully paid.
  16. Work scrutiny is designed by SLs and departmentally-based and developmental, rather than penal QA.
  17. All funeral requests granted without question.
  18. Meetings finish on time. SLT meeting does not go beyond 5pm. No prizes for looking busy – work in a way that suits you. All staff can go home if they are not teaching last period of the day.
  19. 44/50 Periods of teaching per fortnight maximum.
  20. “No lesson judgements” policy came in three or four years ago. We discuss how to get better.
  21. We develop leadership positions and undertake shadow-staffing/succession planning exercises to see who we need to retain.
  22. Departmental Administration Support across departments.
  23. PM is called Performance Development and everyone completes an Inquiry Question which they have loved, with support from the Research School.
  24. We begin from the assumption that everybody will get a pay rise unless their students’ outcomes are poor and we use our wisdom when making that call, with utter transparency.
  25. Training is planned across the whole year, so people know what is happening.
  26. Class size and funding…we would have £800,000 p.a. more in our budget if we had just kept up with inflation since 2010.

Ultimately, the DfE can do very little to reduce workload – it is up to school leaders to set a culture where staff are cared for, well-trained and valued and policies are based on common sense and the principle that we shouldn’t be doing things unless they clearly help improve student outcomes.

And here is what the OFSTED report said about our CPD:

Click on the image below for more details about our Leading Learning CPD course.

 

Posted in School Leadership, Teaching and Learning | 9 Comments