Ofsted….The Visit….They came and they went….

So, Ofsted finally came.  This is now my fifth year of headship – the last inspection was in November 2012, the year before I started, so we waited a full five years for their return.

We knew they were imminent, had assumed after the third year they were close to our doorstep, but everyday has been school as usual.  In fact, we haven’t dedicated one staff meeting to the topic of Ofsted, nor had we ever discussed it in any detail as a staff.  We had decided from the outset that we weren’t doing what we did for Ofsted……we do everything for our children. I’ve always been of the mindset and been very explicit about the fact that if we put our children at the heart of every decision that we make, we can never go far wrong – I still maintain this – always will.

However, it was the removal of levels that allowed our school to flourish.  It was at that point that we took hold of the opportunity that came and decided to question the purpose of everything that we did.  It has been from this very point, that we have had to be brave – confident that what we were doing was right for our school. We turned everything inside out, thinking about the impact on pupils and our staff.  A focus on workload and well-being has been vital from the very start – in fact, my very first meeting as headteacher, I told all staff that we were working towards ensuring everyone could walk out of the building at least two times a week by 4:15 with nothing in their hands.

There have been many moments where I’ve questioned everything and doubted our path.  But with a step back whilst reflecting upon our core question, “What is best for our children and our staff?”, realised that we must continue to be courageous even against adversity, questioning, doubting and often having to stand alone.  It has definitely not been an easy journey, we have had more than our fair share of challenge, but we have endured – steadfastly working towards our vision.

So Ofsted came (one inspector and his inspector – he was being quality assured)….we were in our third year of a new assessment system that we are still trying to embed.  We have three new teachers (two NQTs) who were in their fourth week of the Autumn term.  The inspector was fair.  He had some extremely positive things to say (though we always seem to only hear what we need to improve).  He trawled through our books (many more than I expected) – most with hardly (if any) teacher marking in them – he had read our glowing Year 6 writing moderation report and could see the impact of verbal feedback in the books.  He didn’t ask to see my ‘progress’ data (I have no numerical data for progress anyhow-a massive thank you Jamie Pembroke for supporting this aspect of our journey), or any data for that matter.  He was more interested to see progress in pupil books – exactly where I would look myself.

The actual day itself was a blur.  In fact, there was so much that we just didn’t have a chance to show him or discuss with him.  So much more that he just didn’t grasp fully about our school – he barely skimmed the surface, but really, how deep can you go in one day?  He was very focused on his key lines of enquiry and as hard as we tried to bring in other bits of information, he was too good at bringing the conversation quickly back to what he wanted to hone in on.  I did feel, even with the advice regarding writing teacher assessment (of 2017’s assessment) that Jamie Pembroke had been tweeting, that our inspector had absolutely focused on our writing ‘progress’ data from ASP – even in light of our exceptional moderation (so glowing, in fact, that our moderator took time to write a letter to our governing body).

So Ofsted came and went.  However, for us, the main accomplishment has been the fact that everything we have been doing, is absolutely the right thing.  We have focused on well-being and workload from the very beginning, have tried to do as much as possible to give staff ‘time’ for additional responsibilities and to help ensure they love coming into school.  The inspector made it very clear that the staff feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Staff in school feel pressure every day – it comes with the territory.  They do not need the added pressure of Ofsted.  They do not need to be fearful of having to do things to constantly evidence or prove that they are doing their job effectively.  Pupil interviews tell me what happens in the classrooms, pupil books show me the progress, conversations with children highlight how their gaps are closing – the teachers do not need to write reams – planning, marking, evidencing, etc, etc.   Therefore, my hope is that staff have felt calm, purposeful and excited about their roles in our school.  When teachers are passionate about what they do, this passion will be transferred to our pupils-excitement and enthusiasm will exude and seep into the corners of every classroom.  This is how I want our school to be…..this is what I want everyone to feel when they step inside our doors.

So, it can be done.  We can reduce workload, we can focus on the well-being of our pupils, we can ensure that children are at the heart of it all.  We can do this and Ofsted will see the benefits and Ofsted will still come and go…..it’s what you do with the days in between that really matters.

Will we change anything as a result of our visit?  All of the next steps that the inspector suggested, were already in our new development plan – nothing was a surprise – so we will continue to put the children and staff at the centre of our decisions – we will continue on the journey we have been on…..

It’s not about being brave anymore – it’s just about doing what we know is right.

If it’s right for our children…..if it’s right for our staff……then surely it will be right for Ofsted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mrs Barton’s Leaving Words for the Class of 2017

Some say that every cloud has a silver lining.
I like to think that every cloud holds an opportunity.
Will you be the person sitting safe inside, wrapped in a soft cocoon,
Or will you be the one perched on top…
Watching, waiting…
For that chance to make a difference?
Will you be the one who sets their cloud ablaze?
 
When the path divides,
Will you be the one who chooses the path less travelled?
When your beliefs are challenged,
Will you be the one to maintain integrity?
When your time is demanded,
Will you be the one to take a step back to refocus your priorities?
When others don’t have a voice,
Will you encourage them and stand up for them with your words?
When you see injustice,
Will you be a leader and make things right?
 
Will you carve out your own path?
Will you stand firm in your beliefs?
Will you take time to continually reflect on your priorities?
Will you be a voice for those without one?
Will you always be a leader?
 
To balance unwaveringly on top of that cloud,
You need courage.
You only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain,
So courage in equal measure?
Imagine the possibilities…
 
Remember that God never gives you more than you can handle.
So, be that cloud surfer,
Poised and ready for the next challenge that is sure to come your way.
Be you…
But know who YOU are.
Be different…
Ready to stand apart from the crowd.
 
Be a leader…
Unafraid to stand alone.
Go out into this world
And don’t hide your light.
 
Be phenomenal
And Shine On!

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Feedback – Workload and Impact

Feedback continues to be a topic of hot debate.  As I have now been asked by many people to share our feedback policy, I include the text below, not as a PDF, but within the blog, so that you may take it, copy it and use it as you wish.  I hope that you find it useful or that it serves as a platform for further discussions within your school.

The key thing to think about is ‘What is the purpose of what we are doing?’  In fact, we use this question constantly to fully evaluate what we do, why we do it and what impact it truly is having.  It means we often challenge the ‘status quo’ because we want to do what’s best for our pupils and our school.  Key to any policy change is also to think about the impact of what we are doing to support teacher workload.

Those following the debate arising from a comment regarding something I had said on Twitter last night, will hopefully now realise that the reason, “I expect staff to leave two times a week by 4:15”, is because as a school we put in processes and policies specifically to help ease the workload.  I do expect staff to look after their wellbeing, and therefore, even though I know that some weeks we can’t all stick to this, on the whole, I would hope that they are able to leave with nothing in their hands to go and spend time with their families, enjoy the ‘other’ part of their lives, at least two times a week!  Having time to ‘enjoy’ our life outside of school, makes us more effective in our roles.  Therefore, if teachers aren’t able to do this, I would question why.  And yes, I would then have that conversation about what we can do to help support their well being and work life balance.

Feedback within the classroom is just one huge aspect of helping teacher’s workload.  In fact, one of our senior Key Stage 2 teachers is now coming to the full second year of not having taken a book home to mark – what a huge impact on helping decrease this type of workload.  But, the impact on pupil’s progress has been phenomenal.  For a week, I sat and interviewed every pupil in this class, to have them ‘prove’ their learning to me.  They talked through every book, explaining the feedback, their next steps, how they are tracking their targets from piece to piece and how they are applying the feedback given to their learning.  You couldn’t question the progress, the impact or the purpose of what was being done; it was quite impressive, the ‘learning’ that was now being achieved within this one class.  There are now many examples, across the entire school, of this increased level of pupil achievement.

All of this does come with a note of caution – you can’t just jump on the newest craze and expect it to work in your school, unless the conditions are right.  We are coming to our second year of focusing on verbal feedback and I think all teachers are only now just really embedding it in daily practice and still trying to find the rhythm with it.  But, transformational change takes time……don’t forget.  Also, as I said, we question the ‘status quo’, therefore we research everything  before we adopt it across the school.  We test things in one class, talk to the children, establish what works and what doesn’t – lots of trial and error.  This is key – looking for what has greatest impact while questioning the ‘purpose’ of everything we do.

Verbal feedback is just one of the ways teachers are supported with their workload.  As a headteacher, I still love teaching.  I love getting into the class and it gives me a great insight into the children, where they are, what progress they are making and the ins and outs of the class.  As part of this, I give the teachers time.  I cover class so they have ‘time’ as subject leaders to understand their subjects across school, to look at the curriculum, etc.  I cover teachers in year 2 to mark their SATs, I give every teacher a day to write their reports.  I’ve even offered a ‘duvet day’ in the summer term for them to use as they like.  In fact, if any teacher comes to me and says that they require ‘time’ for any reason, I will consider it – in effort to support those people in school that work tirelessly for our children.  Time is crucial if things are to be done effectively.  I know how much time teachers work outside of school, how much extra they give, so supporting them with ‘time’ within the school hours just helps that bit extra to ensure they don’t burn out.

These are just a few ways, among others, that are in place in school to try to support our teachers.  Teachers are what make our schools amazing – we have to do what we can to look after them, so that every day they can come into school with passion, energy and enthusiasm to bring learning to life for every child in their classroom.

If you are a school leader, especially during these fraught times in education, I would seriously consider what processes you have in place to help support your team.  Ask them what would help and see what you could feasibly offer.  Taking care of your staff means that you are taking care of your pupils – it will help transform the culture of your school.

Feedback Policy Below…………..

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 “The major message seems to be that students-regardless of achievement level-prefer teachers to provide more feedback that is forward looking, related to the success of the lesson, and ‘just in time’ and ‘just for me’, ‘about my work’ (and not’about me’) (Hattie, 2012, p. 147).  He further justifies that, “It is not ‘sufficient simply to tell a student where they have gone wrong-misconceptions need to be explained and improvements for future work suggested’ (Hattie, 2012, p. 147).

“The mistake I made was seeing feedback as something teachers provided to students.  I discovered that feedback is most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher.  What they know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can by synchronized and powerful.  Feedback to teachers makes learning visible.” (Hattie, 2012)

Purpose of Feedback:

In constructing this policy, staff have considered the following factors:

  • Why has work been marked?
  • Who is it for?
  • Can the child access the feedback given?
  • How does it promote learning?
  • Has it been effective?
  • Have children responded appropriately?
  • Is this marking necessary?

Key to Feedback:

As Sadler (1989) states, children must be clear about what they are doing well now, where they are aiming to get to and more crucially how they close the gap between the two (Black and Wiliam 1998).

When scrutinising feedback in school it has been apparent that teachers may mark because they feel it is expected by Ofsted, parents or Senior Leaders.  This is not the case.  We know from research and experience, that ‘marking’ can consume most of a teacher’s time outside of lessons; therefore we have heavily considered workload when drafting this policy.  When thinking about feedback and marking, if it is not useful for the pupils themselves, or for the teacher, then there is no reason to do it – we would question what the ‘purpose’ of it is.

Why is assessment so important at our school?

  • It gives meaningful feedback to the child
  • When done correctly maximises learning potential
  • Child is at the centre of learning
  • Helps children learn how to be the best learner they can be
  • Informs learning by highlighting areas for development, enabling the child to establish clear ‘next steps’
  • Is integral to the planning of future lessons and inform progress assessments (see assessment policy)
  • Facilitates and improves communication between job-share teachers, teachers and TAs.

What should feedback look like in the classroom?

  • Dialogue – everyone talking about their learning and next steps
  • Learning continually being evaluated and adapted
  • Ongoing observations of children
  • Children clear about where they are now, where they need to get to (next steps) and most crucially, how to ‘close the gap’ between the two.
  • Children as active learners
  • Questioning between pupils and adults
  • Regular learning conversations within lesson with individuals, groups and whole class
  • Children developing an understanding of what quality learning looks like using the language of purple learning
  • Ongoing modelling of and coaching in self/peer assessment.

Methods of Feedback:

Verbal with Written

Through observations, class discussions and individual pupil interviews, it has been established that verbal feedback is the most effective form of feedback in helping the child to understand where they have succeeded and what they must do to continue to improve. Its impact is maximised when followed by a summary conclusion recorded in an age appropriate manner enabling the student to track and monitor their own progress towards achieving their goal. Where possible, this summary of next steps should be written by the pupil during the feedback session.

The quality of the feedback is crucial; using higher order questioning, modelling and exemplification should not be reserved until the completion of a piece of work. Indeed, such feedback given whilst the work is ongoing enables the child to immediately experiment with, develop and implement the new targets.

“(students find teachers’) feedback confusing, non-reasoned and not understandable.  Worse, students often think that they “have understood the teacher’s feedback when they have not, and even when they do understand, claim to have difficulties in applying it to their learning” (Goldstein, 2006; Nuthall, 2007) (Hattie, pg. 137, 2012).  

Hence, giving weight to the argument that verbal feedback is the most effective feedback given to a pupil as long as it is done correctly.

Verbal

Shares all the benefits of verbal with written but lacks the recorded element. This may be deployed in very informal situations and as immediate response.  We do not require teachers to write ‘VF’ in books where verbal feedback has been given but when followed up with pupils, they should be able to articulate what their next steps were, but more crucially how they can improve that piece of learning or apply it to another piece.

Written Marking Notes

This should be used with caution.  We have discussed the use of praise within this and ensuring we only praise when effort and children’s best has truly been put in related to individual pupils. To praise a piece of learning, house points should be awarded.   Where written feedback is used, it should be recorded in a manner suited to the ability of the child to ensure they have full comprehension of its meaning. Time must always be factored into a lesson for the child to read and respond to the comments – if comments are not read by the child, there is no purpose for them at all, unless they are intended for another adult (i.e. in a class share) Note: if followed by verbal feedback and explanation, its benefit can be enhanced

Child Led Feedback

The following forms of chid-led feedback are vital.  However, in every class, these types of feedback must be explicitly taught, reviewed and become an integral part of the learning process.

Self-Marking

Completed within the lesson, self-marking  provides children with immediate feedback enabling them to correct work, check methodology, seek advice or support and make improvements while the objective and process are most relevant.  We encourage daily maths self-marking to take place, giving the teacher time to use this feedback to plan the following lesson effectively.

Self-Review, Assessment and Evaluation

Marking their own work allows time to reflect upon their own progress towards achieving personal targets helping them to take control of their own learning.  For effective self-review to take place, they should review their work against set success criteria or previous next steps.  This also gives an opportunity to the learners to reflect on their learning, thinking through the learning traits that were necessary and consider how effectively they were used.  More importantly is how they then use this information to improve their learning.

Peer Feedback

Provides opportunities for children to write for a different audience, consider their own targets in more detail, develop the ‘language of learning’ required to progress in their own targets, and to see the work of others, exposing them to exemplification of higher standards of work.  Feedback may be verbal or written.  Dialogue about learning is an important skill that we seek to develop throughout school.  Where a child leaves feedback in another child’s book, it is helpful if the child-reviewer initials any comments.  As with the self-review, peer feedback should be given against a set of success criteria or previous next steps.

Hattie makes reference to Nuthall’s (2007) research which suggests that 80% of verbal feedback comes from peers (Hattie, p. 147, 2012).

“Students and their peers regarded giving and receiving peer feedback to be a potentially enriching experience because it allowed them to identify their learning gaps, collaborate on error detection and correction, develop their ability to self-regulate, including monitoring their own mistakes, and initiate their own corrective measures or strategies.  A major message is that the positive value of peer feedback requires deliberate instructional suppport (such the use of Gan’s model) of the three major feedback levels and associated prompts for each level” (Hattie, p. 150, 2012).

Therefore, in order for peer feedback to be effective, it is essential that teachers model and coach pupils in these skills

Purple Pens

Where ability allows and appropriate to the context, children respond to all types of feedback by improving their work, indicated by the use of ‘Purple Pens’. They are also encouraged to use a purple pen to edit their work.

Ongoing Research:

We are continuing to experiment with different ways of improving the effectiveness of feedback. In particular, methods are being explored, analysed and developed to maximise opportunities for different types of verbal feedback within each lesson and to ensure that it is factored into weekly plans as an integral and effective part of teaching and learning.

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A Little Bit of Kindness Can Change Everything….

This week, our whole school community learnt about kindness.  But, we really learnt..we learnt how we really can impact people’s lives with small acts of kindness, how kindness ripples, and the more we do for people, the more they will do for others.

So, this is the story.

In school we talk a lot about Random Acts of Kindness – or ARKs- Acts of Random Kindness, however you know them by.  At the start of this term, as staff we had Will Hussey, from the Art of Brilliance come in to talk about positive mindsets and the 2% mentality.  On the second day, we had Mark Russell, also from the Art of Brilliance, in to talk to the children.  Before he left, he set them a Random Acts of Kindness challenge to see who could perform one every day.  He would return in three weeks time to hand out prizes to those who shone above and beyond.

During those three weeks, we continued to talk about ARKs and in collective worship, I showed videos highlighting the impact that these little acts of kindness can have.  I talked about them, the children and staff listened, but I didn’t feel the ‘buzz’ that it should bring. You know, that feeling in school, that something new is taking hold and everyone is talking about it?  Well, it just wasn’t there…

Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a parent stop me to ask if I’d seen the YouTube video of the twins who film their experience of randomly handing out presents to people on the street.  She sent me the link and had written….”let’s make this work!” I instantly replied, “Yes, let’s do this!”  And so it began….

We randomly selected two pupils from year 5 and two pupils from year 6.  With bouquets and book tokens in our hands, the pupils, the mum with the initial idea, and teaching assistant (who later created our amazing movie) set out in the minibus to randomly choose the recipients of our presents.  The experience was amazing, for us as adults and for the children.  To see what happened you can go to our school website and watch it under the most recent headteacher’s blog.

We showed this video to the whole school on Friday afternoon.  People were in tears and when it finished everyone gave an enormous round of applause.  You could finally feel the impact…the idea was finally taking root.

But, what I really want to get to is the response from our recipients.  I had tweets of thanks, e-mails and letters from family members of the chosen as well as from them, themselves.

To finish on Friday, I read this handwritten letter…..my voice wavering and my eyes misting over…

Dear Mrs Barton and Children,

I had the most wonderful and totally unexpected experience today when I became the recipient of your experiment, “Random Acts of Kindness.”  I must thank you, the staff and children of your school for this day.  I was helping my daughter and my two grandchildren with a few tasks and we were just returning to the car park when we met.

Since returning home, I have thought about kindness.  I do consider myself a kind person, but his has made me realise that I could do more and I will.  In the hustle and bustle of life, it is perhaps too easy to overlook such acts beyond the immediate family.  I shall remember this act of kindness always as one of those unexpected, yet treasured moments.  I am an avid reader, but I think I shall choose a special book and annotate it to consolidate this memory.

For you, A and E, I hope that you gained something as well.  The pleasure of being kind, seeing another person’s happiness allows us to touch lives.  Your school is obviously wonderful!  I’m sure that academic standards are high and that you all work very hard.  However, there is more to live than tables and spellings and I am sure that happiness is the most important.

Thank you, Mrs Barton and all your staff for facilitating this.  Your girls have set a fine example and, as a family we will double our efforts to achieve your standard!

May I wish you all success in your studies and great happiness in your lives.

With great appreciation,

J.P.

You could hear a pin drop…

This is what it is all about.  We made an impact…our experiment worked and now we are planning our next Random Acts of Kindness.  We have already talked about how we can make this a termly event. So, for the answer to the question that has been thrown around lately…yes, you can teach happiness.

Kindness matters and it does make a difference.

Go spread ripples of happiness and watch the effect it has…

#ShineOn!

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21 Days to form new habits? Starting 2017 the way we mean to go on!

They say that it takes 21 days (based on what Maxwell Maltz suggested) to form new habits, though new research from UCL states that the new magic time period is 66 days, but either way, in the grand scheme of things, forming new habits does not take very long.

So, with this nugget of information, my goal is to form new habits (or continue old habits) but to purposefully stick with them until into the first week of March, to give them the best chance of becoming part of my routine.

Reflecting on 2016

2016 was a year of massive change.  Just look at the world of politics and…but we know all too well about these stories, we’ve all lived them, watched them on our television screens or heard them on the radio during our daily commutes.  Let’s not revisit these…let’s just pray that 2017 becomes a time of hope and peace…

For us in our school, this past year has had more change than any other previous years.  Most of these changes occurred as a result of the opportunity that ‘life without levels’ provided us with.  We are now teaching with ‘purpose’ – teaching for learning – adapting and planning according to daily assessments, teaching for what the pupils need.  Just this in itself has been the most massive shift in thinking for everyone.  Everything we have been moving towards has been questioned and researched to ensure that what we are doing is best for our children.  When things haven’t worked out, we try something new by reflecting, evaluating and adapting.  This is key to everything we do in school and already I know that this is something that needs to remain high priority as we move into 2017.

With all of these changes, I have been overtly aware and conscious of the workload that is added as a result of ‘change’ and while many of the changes in our policies and practice have been specifically designed to reduce workload, just ‘change’ in itself has caused more angst than I could have expected. This has been surprising and concerning as every decision we make, we consciously put the child at the heart while thinking about its impact on the wellbeing of all.

Major Lessons Learnt? That ‘change’, no matter what it is, even when it is to the benefit of all, causes people concern and worry, whether rightly or wrongly, and this must be considered and addressed.

Further, that no matter what,  always do what you know is right.  In education, this means that you will need to have heapings of bravery and courage.  You will be questioned, you will be judged, you will have people against you.  But, as I’ve always said, if children are at the heart of every decision, you cannot go far wrong.  Decisions may be challenged, but in the end they will reap dividends.

Personally, 2016 was a year of growth and progression.  I have been given so many opportunities this year for networking, being involved in research and sharing the journey our school has taken with others.

My family continues to grow closer each day, my daughter is a strong, resilient and wonderful young woman who amazes me with her attitude and spirit.  It is this mindset that I know will allow her to overcome any obstacle that comes her way.  My son, is a young gentleman, who always puts others before him.  His manners and ability to focus with such patience astounds me daily (an example of this was the hours it took him to finally crack the Rubik’s Cube…..months, days, hours….but he did it!).  I truly could not be blessed with more amazing children.  My husband, continues to support me with every new venture I set out on.  He is always the one to keep pushing me and giving me the confidence to continue to set and achieve new goals.  I absolutely could not do what I do without him behind me.

Moving into 2017 

“Enjoy the little things,for one day you many look back and realise they were the big things” ~Robert Brault~ quoted in: 

The Habits I Need to Form (In no particular order): 

  1. Always starting with the right attitude!  So, I just got feedback on this – when asked to describe me, most people would probably say that I was always smiling, enthusiastic and always up for a new challenge.  This is who I am and I truly believe that approaching life in this way always makes everything better.  It’s also being sure to stay focused on the positives when everything isn’t going your way.  As headteacher, it can sometimes be difficult  to offload – there are always situations you need to talk about, often these are situations you don’t want to discuss with other colleagues .  However, it is crucial to have someone else to talk to.  This is where the Twitter community has been amazing.  People like @@ottleyoconnor have coached me or offered advice on difficult issues that have arisen.  Being connected to so many people and different communities has provided  endless support and motivation.  Therefore, leading to:
  2. Connecting with others for support, coaching and laughter!  I have mentioned the reasons for this above, but this also means taking time out to connect with colleagues outside of school just for fun.  Two instances – I don’t dance, or didn’t think I did, until I was ‘forced’ onto the dance floor at the annual conference by another headteacher I work with in our partnership.  We ended up having a competition on who could achieve the most steps by the end of the night.  I then went out to dinner with this same headteacher just the other month and had a wonderful evening out.  She and I laughed and laughed – two hours later, we realised the wait staff were waiting for us to vacate our table!  Usually, I am so tired, that ‘going out’ is often viewed as a chore – but I realise that for my own wellbeing, it is necessary and so much fun!
  3. Switching Off.  As a family we already can be pretty good at this.  But, I want to focus on switching off all electronics in the evenings.  Coming home, putting the phone down and spending evenings with quality conversations, learning, reading, and old-fashioned fun. The same with the weekends – having specified ‘electronic’ time periods and using the rest of the time to spend ‘face to face’ with the family.
  4. Reading More. I don’t want to commit to the 52 book reading challenge, but hope that I will achieve it.  There are so many books that need reading!  Andy Cope @beingbrilliant introduced me to a new word: Tsundoko (Japanese): The constant act of buying books but never having time to read them – this year I hope to make the time.  A challenge I would love to be able to achieve is to read the entire Bible in a year.  I’ll let you know in next year’s blog how I got on with this!
  5.  Exercise and Healthy Eating. I didn’t limit myself to running this time.  Whatever it is, I just want to move.  Whether it be dancing, playing football, basketball, following along with @BettyRockerShow, (or running!) I just want to get my heart pumping on a ‘consistent’ basis.  This alongside a more ‘balanced’ diet – mainly eating at regular intervals during the day – not just when I get home.
  6. Taking time to be still.  I tend to rush around, moving from one thing to another in a whirlwind of activity until the evening when I finally get a moment to sit down.  Of course, what ends up happening, is I am then overwhelmed with exhaustion.  Some days, I go from meeting to meeting, lesson to lesson, and the list goes on, and I just don’t take a moment to breathe.  This is all down to me, I don’t make the time to pause and to just be still.  No one else is causing me to be like this, even in the flurry of activity that primary school brings with it, there should always be moments to reflect.  Therefore, I need to schedule meetings with time between them and at times that suit me.  I just need to slow down.
  7. Reflecting and Evaluating.  This brings me back to my checklist (which stemmed from my husband years ago) – but taking a few minutes every morning to write my checklist for my day.  Not doing this, has a noticeable effect.  At the end of each day, and at intervals throughout the day, then taking that ‘moment to be still’ to reflect and evaluate on priorities and ways forward.  This is essential.
  8. Enjoying Life’s ‘Little Things’ – Like the quote by Brault suggests above, I want to just enjoy the simple pleasures that life gives us every day.  We can’t slow life down, but we can make time to ‘enjoy’ life more.  We become so engrossed in ‘what’ we are doing, that we often don’t take time to look around us to #notice the details.
  9. Lead with Integrity, Honesty and Moral Purpose.  Finally, to always be a leader, both at home for my children and at work, who steadfastly models Christian values, integrity, honesty and a moral purpose.

Roll On, 2017!

#ShineOn!

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What I Know Now…Always Start With The Children…

As with all things in school, after careful evaluation and assessment of where we are now, our Assessment for Learning policy has adapted yet again.  Last year was a year of incredible change.  I think this goes for the majority of schools.  Life after levels, meant for many, rethinking systems, policies and overhauling the whole understanding of teaching for learning.

Some schools jumped into purchasing tracking systems that seemed to offer everything, but really offered levels in disguise.   Without levels, everything changed.  Suddenly progress became even more heightened than it already was and ‘proving’ progress became central to assessment.  Many schools bought into packages of suites of ‘progress’ tests, standardised tests, and the list goes on and on, just to ‘prove’ the progress of their pupils. I wouldn’t be honest, if I didn’t say how tempting all of this was, especially as we had no other assessment system in place.  I completely understand why schools did this, especially with the external pressures that schools face on a continual basis.

Thanks to the #LearningFirst movement led by Dame Alison Peacock, with strong voices like Jamie Pembroke leading arguments regarding assessment, we decided to be brave.  Instead of jumping into anything, we reflected, we thought, we evaluated, we debated, and we questioned everything that we did in school.  This literally has meant turning everything inside out, starting with the children (which is always the way to do it!) and focusing on teaching for learning.

Since I started as headteacher, our focus has been on our ‘Purple Learners’, inspired by Diana Pardoe author of Towards Successful Learning.  Crucial to this is teaching children how to be independent learners.  As much of the research states, teaching children to understand how they can be the most effective learners, how to be independent while giving them the tools and strategies necessary to achieve success, actually raises pupil achievement.  In fact, it is suggested, that pupils who are keenly aware of how to be the most effective learners, actually do better in tests (Claxton et al, 2011, Lucas et al, 2013, Hattie, 2012, Pardoe, 2009, 2005).

So, subject leaders set to work on creating a curriculum based assessment (no different to most) that teachers were asked to plan and assess from.  As part of this, all formal (external) testing was removed, to ensure that teachers were assessing on a day to day basis – assessing what the children knew and where they needed to move next.  Inherent was ensuring that assessment reflected Sadler’s (1989) model , that children know where they are now, where they are aiming to get to, and crucially how to close the gap between the two (cited in Black and Wiliam).

I didn’t realise what a massive shift in teaching and learning this was going to be and I often questioned our approach.  All year, I never had the ‘data’ that I normally would have had in previous years…loads of data, whose validity could be called into question, and most often was based on an end of term summative test.

In place of this, pupil progress meetings were set up every six weeks, with follow ups often happening every three weeks on focus children, those who were not on track, or those who were not making the progress that teachers thought they should be making.

To cut a very long story short, these pupil discussions were crucial in understanding what was going on in the classrooms.   As we were doing them so often, they took a lot of time, and it was clear that teachers were still getting used to a completely new way of planning, assessing and understanding of learning.  We were all on a very steep learning curve.  But everyone persisted.  The governors continued to have faith…the support from everyone was phenomenal – working together as a team is crucial to the success of anything in school.

At the end of the year, considering we did not base any assessments throughout the year on summative testing or standardised scores, every writing and reading book for every year group was moderated in trios.  This was time consuming, but again vital to the process.

Many other processes were involved, but I could go on and on…so, moving onto this year.  Again, we have reflected on the process, evaluated what went well and how things might need to change.  This is what we have learnt.

Everything must start with the pupils.

My aim is to interview every child across the school.  Not my normal pupil discussions that I do regularly anyways, but deep conversations about learning and the progress that they think they are making.  Mirroring what we are doing in our maths lessons, I’m asking the children to ‘prove’ their learning and their progress to me.

Why did we never do this before?  So simple…and I’m sure there are other schools out there doing exactly the same thing.

I have only just completed these conversations in year 6.  But I can tell you, personally, along with all of the children, I have learnt so much.  Talking to the pupils teaches you about everything that takes place in the classroom on a day to day basis.  By talking to every child and asking the same questions, quickly identifies areas of outstanding practice and possible next steps.  I have been able to clearly identify children and the progress they have made.  They have talked me through every book, their maths, science, history, geography, handwriting and even their free writing books.  The children’s excitement is evident in the way they tried to teach me, such as when explaining the way the heart worked, or how diagramming grammar helped them to understand different word types.  The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion…it was evident.  This is what learning is all about.

It has been time consuming, but every minute has been so worth it.  Already I can tell this will have a massive, positive impact.

So now…I will be able to come to our termly pupil progress meetings with such rich and actionable information.  Further, sharing this information with teachers, I can already see, will have so much more impact than the usual one-off observation.  When it comes from the children, we always take things to heart.  We always want to do better for every child in our classrooms.

This is what matters.

I can’t wait to see what new things are gleaned, when every child is asked to ‘prove’ their learning to me.

#LearningFirst

I will keep you updated….

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My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016…

Every year I have begun writing something new for our year 6 Leaver’s Service.  What I write usually has a theme that runs through it which has been prevalent throughout the year during our collective worship sessions.  Key this year has been the idea of being extraordinary.  So here are my final words this year for our class of 2016…..

My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016

Some say to be extraordinary you need to achieve the impossible.

But what is this – this impossible?

For us, there are no limits,

All ceilings can be broken through; success is what you make of it,

Obstacles only slow us down, so what is this impossible you speak of?

To be extraordinary….

You need to be unique,

Standing apart from the crowd

A diamond amongst the unpolished jewels.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be brave,

Unafraid when challenge stirs,

Poised and ready to speak out for those with no voice.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be a leader

Honesty and integrity at the heart

Even marching alone, when you know,

it is the right thing to do.

Always be honest…

Doing the right thing…

Even when it is the most difficult….

Trust that God will show you the way..

This is extraordinary…

This is you…

To be extraordinary

You need to leave your mark on the world….

 

So I ask you,

What will your mark be?

Will you be extraordinary?

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