What I’m reading for #DiverseBookWeek

Monday 8 June 2020 is the start of Diverse Book Week.

The aims of this week are to promote the reading of books from authors from diverse backgrounds, to expand the horizons of readers and ultimately to encourage more people to support authors and help to encourage new ones.

If you’d like some suggestions, you can find a reading list on the BAMEed Network website. There is a wide selection of books, so there should be something for everyone.

Last year, I found Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire hugely thought-provoking and it certainly challenged some of my assumptions as an educator. It is written from an individual perspective and made me think about the extent to which, while we both grew up in the UK, his were so different from mine.

For Diverse Book Week this year, I’m going to try to fill in some of the gaps in my understanding by reading David Olusoga’s Black and British a Forgotten History. I’ll let you know how I get on with a brief update each day.

If you’d like to join the conversations during Diverse Book Week on social media, use the hashtags #DiverseBookWeek and #BAMEed.


In Praise of Partnership

I have been privileged to work with many colleagues from other schools who are committed to the benefits of collaborative working. As a result, Both I and the schools I represented have benefitted from several partnerships over the years.

“The most valuable resource that teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” Robert John Meehan

This is one of my favourite educational quotes. I believe that teachers flourish by working collaboratively and that this collaboration is most powerful when not restricted to a single school. Achieving this isn’t always easy to sustain in a changing educational landscape. A few years ago I ran a conference workshop on partnership working. It was well-attended, but there was a wide range of experience within the group. There were leaders from schools in successful partnerships but in areas facing falling rolls and finding themselves competing for pupils with partner schools in the local area. Others were keen to work in partnership, but felt isolated either by geography, or because other local schools had their own priorities. Some were exploring how existing partnerships could work when member schools were now becoming members of different academy groups or sponsors. Perhaps it has always been true that when schools work together it is in a state of ‘coopertition’, but the concerns expressed in the workshop, by colleagues interested in partnership, seemed to underline new challenges.

I have been privileged to work with many colleagues from other schools who are committed to the benefits of collaborative working. As a result, Both I and the schools I represented have benefitted from several partnerships over the years. This post is about some of the benefits from partnerships I have been involved in over the last couple of years.


The Oxford East Partnership (OEP) is made up of eight primary schools (some of which also have nursery provision) an all-through school and a secondary school serving the same area of Oxford City. Since it’s formation, several schools have become academies, a new free primary school has joined, and one secondary has become an all-through school. Sadly a local children’s centre closed last year as the result of cuts to local authority funding. Throughout these changes, the shared rationale for the partnership has remained constant. it is summarised in the OEP Vision statement:

All schools in the Partnership will work together to secure better outcomes for all members of our community in East Oxford and Cowley by:

  • Raising achievement of all children to improve life chances
  • Engaging families
  • Promoting community engagement
  • Celebrating and embracing cultural diversity

OEP aims to serve the children and families in the local area, which contains some of the most economically disadvantaged wards in the county. It originally received funding from the local authority, but then became self-supporting. Administrative support is provided by one of the member schools. The Chair and Vice Chair are elected annually and rotate between schools, the vice chair from the previous academic year usually becoming Chair the next.

There are several areas of focus for the OEP:

Achievement of pupils. This has included several projects over the years, including adoption of the storytelling curriculum across all member schools based on training from Oxford Story Museum. This meant all schools took a similar approach to the development of writing, for a variety of purposes. There was also collaborative work on meeting the needs of more able students in mathematics (hosted at one of the secondary schools) and in English, particularly writing (hosted by the other secondary). The partnership is also a forum for addressing issues, such as school attendance, that affect the achievement of pupils.

Continuing Professional Development. The Partnership has promoted professional development in two main ways: sharing the costs of training at one school by opening CPD to other members, and organising joint CPD as a partnership which addresses common needs of the member schools. Notable successes here have been moderation of writing with the adoption of the new curriculum and assessment, and Partnership conferences, the most recent being last October. The conferences combined plenary sessions featuring keynote speakers with smaller workshops run by colleagues from member schools. In either case costs were much reduced through this collaborative approach, as opposed to sending staff out on CPD courses, and there was more scope for ongoing work between colleagues, building on these events.

Recruitment and retention of staff. This is an issue that is raised at almost every meeting! Oxford is well-served for ITT providers, but is an extremely expensive area to rent or buy in. It is therefore often difficult to recruit and especially retain teaching staff at all levels. OEP has adopted a joint approach to tackling this issue, producing a joint brochure pointing out the benefits of joining not just a new school, but a supportive partnership of schools. This is especially true for school leaders, many of whom say that the most valuable aspect of the partnership is as a forum to discuss issues that they face in school.


Oxford City Learning (OCL) is made up a group of seven schools in and around Oxford. The member schools were originally all secondaries, one has since become an all-through school, one now partners a primary school and another is sponsoring a free school due to open next year. Oxford Hospital School is also a member, as is an Alternative Provision College.

The work of the partnership has been wide ranging, but was founded on the premise that if Oxford had world-class Higher education, it should have world-class secondary education too. In its current form, the OCL structure consisted of three groups:

Strategy group. This is made up of the Headteachers and Principals of the member schools. As well as providing a regular discussion forum for these school leaders, it sets the strategic priorities for OCL and commissions and evaluates the work of the other groups. Principals may also coordinate joint responses to educational issues affecting the local area and emergency planning, such as the response to severe weather.

Curriculum and Standards Group. This group is made up of SLT members responsible for curriculum and assessment in each school. In recent years, the group has worked on the new curriculum, got to grips with the impact of the EBacc, life beyond levels, and new assessments at GCSE and A level.

Professional Leadership Development Group. This group is made up of SLT members responsible for CPD at the member schools, and is the group I have been involved in. This covers each career stage, from initial teacher training through to the growth of school leaders. For several years the PLDG has organised an annual ‘Hot Topics’ event where school leaders meet to address an issue the strategy group has agreed affects all members schools. Recent topics have included ensuring that vulnerable pupils make good progress, the best use of the Pupil Premium Grant, and mental health issues in schools. The group also runs an Annual OCL cohort of the Oxford Teaching Schools Alliance courses for Middle Leadership. It also works with the Oxford Education Deanery on action research projects by teachers and academic research projects run in school.

As well as these groups, the OCL schools also form an IYFAP Strategy Group to improve the work of the City In-Year Fair Access Panel. This meets before the panel meeting and focuses on improving the way that member schools can work together to improve outcomes for pupils and reduce exclusions. This work includes improving transition between schools (including transition of vulnerable pupils from primary school) and evaluating the effectiveness of managed moves between schools.

I hope these examples illustrate just a few of the ways in which schools, teachers, and students benefit from collaborative partnership in the local area. I would enjoy reading about other examples of successful partnership working. I believe that the key to the success of both OEP and OCL has been twofold: A commitment to a shared purpose, coupled with flexibility to see opportunity in a time of challenge. This has enabled both partnerships to continue to be effective in the midst of the break-neck pace of change we have seen in education. Adhering to a clear vision of what the partnership seeks to achieve enables it to weather this change: individuals may come and go, different types of school may emerge, and new policies and procedures may be enacted from on high, but the aims of the partnership do not. In holding on to the most valuable resource we have – each other – we can grow together, becoming more effective in meeting the needs of the families we serve.

Picture: maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Fantastic Four: A fourth year of inspirational education quotes

I collect inspirational education quotes. I use these for ‘quote of the week’ on our staffroom notice board. This is the fourth year of quotes – 38 are listed in each collection, enough for one for each week of the school year. You can read the collections from previous years here:

Quote of the week – inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week 2 – more inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week – a third year of inspiration

As with the previous collections, I have done my best to ensure that each of the quotes below is accurate and attributed correctly. My apologies if I have made any mistakes – please let me know of any errors and I will rectify them. I hope you find these quotes as inspirational as I have.

  1. Your attitude is as important as your aptitude. Tanya Accone
  2. Music is an element that should be part and parcel is of every child’s life via the education system. Victoria Wood
  3. There is no system in the world, or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. Sir Ken Robinson
  4. Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement. Matt Biondi
  5. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammad Ali
  6. If you want the best out of life you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. Heimir Hallgrímsson
  7. Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. John D. Rockefeller
  8. Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Dylan Wiliam
  9. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why. Bernard Baruch
  10. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. Isaac Asimov
  11. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. C.S. Lewis
  12. I wasn’t one of those kids destined to be a champion. It was a slow, steady slog. Sir Chris Hoy
  13. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Beverly Sills
  14. Amateurs call it genius, masters call it practice. Thierry Henry
  15. You’ll never see a video game advertised as being easy. Kids who don’t like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard, it’s because it’s boring. Seymour Papert
  16. You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. Seymour Papert
  17. In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow
  18. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work. Usain Bolt
  19. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Dr. Wayne Dyer
  20. Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust
  21. Success… Is the result of continual preparation, hard work and learning from failure. Geraint Thomas
  22. True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but the refusal to acquire it. Karl Popper
  23. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. Joseph Addison
  24. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. Albert Bandura
  25. Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. Pope Francis
  26. Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Carol Dweck
  27. The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matter every day. Todd Whittaker
  28. A prudent question is one half of wisdom. Sir Francis Bacon
  29. Ask at the end of each & every day: “What Went Right Today?” Angela Maiers
  30. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi
  31. Education is transformational, the force that erases arbitrary divisions of race and class and culture and unlocks every person’s God-given potential. Condoleezza Rice
  32. The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Thomas Kuhn
  33. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Henry David Thoreau (via @AbdulRazaq_DPH)
  34. I find the quietest times of my life speak the loudest. Regina Dugan
  35. If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children. Confucius
  36. By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. Edwin Elliot
  37. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first and the rest will follow. Michael Morpurgo via @Booktrust
  38. A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence. Jim Watkins

I hope you find these useful. Comments are always welcome and I always appreciate hearing about words of wisdom that inspire you.

Why do education books cost so much? 

This post is a bit different, just a question: why do books on education cost so much? I’m not moaning (although I am bemoaning the fact that I just can’t afford to read all the great books out there), I just want to know the answer. I can’t make the figures add up and there doesn’t seem to be any hard information available.

I won’t name publishers, authors or titles, but there are a few recently published books I’d like to read at the moment. If you’re a teacher using social media you’ll have heard of them. They are all under 200 pages – that’s a slim volume – and apart from the cover utilise no colour printing. Each is currently priced from £16.99 to £24.99. For that same money you could get a newly published hardback novel or an all-singing, all-dancing, exam board endorsed, full colour A level textbook complete with a supporting website and possibly an app.

So why so much? I don’t begrudge anyone their fair due – authors, editors, printers, binders, retailers and publishers all deserve their cut, and I appreciate that the physical print publishing industry is having a tough time. I have, however, found it difficult to find break-downs of costs.

Zachary Crockett used his experiences working in the publishing of HE textbooks in the US to produce this breakdown in his 2013 article Why are textbooks so expensive?:

  • 5% Production costs
  • 15% Author Royalties 
  • 32% Editorial costs 
  • 15% Marketing
  • 1% Shipping
  • 22% Profit

Of course taxes will be levied on the profit and there will be other costs such as depreciation. Nevertheless, this gives us an idea of the breakdown of the wholesale price. Retailers have their own costs and profit margin so will add around 25% mark-up on the wholesale price.

I understand that books aimed at teachers are aimed at a specialised small market (although there are nearly half a million of us in the UK),  so overheads can’t be spread across large volume sales, but actual production costs are a small part of the total price, and surely editorial input is proportional to the length off a book. Presumably a slim 160 page volume requires less input than a 450 page novel? Surely the marketing budget will be proportional to the size of the market? Usually I hear about new books because someone tweets about them – often the author.

So, how do the costs work? Where does the money go? Why are education books so expensive? I’d really like to know, because if they were cheaper I’d be buying two or three of those I mentioned, rather than deciding on just one.

Collaborative Learning: Making group work work

The original article was posted on 19 February 2016, with an update on 27th February on my response to feedback from subject teams and our next steps in improving collaborative learning.

Despite good evidence of the effectiveness of collaborative learning, one of the criticisms of group work is that it’s too easy for most of the work (and most of the learning) to be done by some members of the group, while others (and perhaps those who most need to make more progress) are happy to sit back and let them! My school decided to focus on improving the quality of collaborative learning this Spring. 

Appropriately, this is a collaborative post drawing on contributions from colleagues Rebecca Lightfoot, Kate McCabe (@evenbetterif) Manjula Pillay-Sayers, Harriet West, and Paul Wileman (@StGregoryPE) as well as my own at a recent staff CPD session at our school.

The session started by looking at using the Sutton Trust / EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit (found online here) to inform teaching practice by drawing on its accessible summaries of what makes strategies effective. I chose collaborative learning as an example because it is one of our identified school priories and has a strong positive effect size, based on a robust evidence base. That research identifies these key points to consider:

  • Assignment of roles
  • Motivation of pupils
  • Quality of discussion
  • Opportunities to practice
  • Training of staff

My colleagues then demonstrated how they used collaborative learning across a range of subjects, with teachers circulating round a carousel of these examples.

Assigning Roles

Paul showed how assigning roles to each member of a group  in PE lessons ensured that they all contributed to the overall outcome. Roles included:

  • Manager – matches team members and tasks, responsible for tactics.
  • Coach – responsible for training, advises during play 
  • Performance analyst – provides feedback & relates to sport science
  • Pundit – comments on team selection, form and play, offers criticism
  • Fan – provides positive support & encouragement

Aligning roles to learning needs ensured that individuals made progress in the areas they most needed to develop. 

Manjula shared roles she used when groups carry out science experiments of discuss topic-based questions:

  • Leader – coordinated work of the group
  • Observer – provides feedback on how effectively the group is functioning to achieve their goal
  • Collator – responsible for capturing results or summarises discussion
  • Speaker – provides verbal feedback to the rest of the class for the group 

Wearing badges helps identify who is who. Students rotate roles for different practicals and reflect on what they learn in each role, developing an understanding of the attributes and behaviours required for successful teamwork.

In Business Studies, Rebecca showed how she assigned responsibilities within a group based on exam assessment criteria, for example ‘include advantages’, ‘provide relevant examples’ or ‘appropriate counter-points’. Rotating these roles enables each student to gain focus on each of these elements. 

Motivation of Pupils

Kate demonstrated a number of ways to motivate pairs and groups in English lessons. In a started activity, for example, pairs work together to make links between texts, charaters and themes.  Groups work together to make an analysis wall for a poem which other groups then scrutinise and improve. In ‘Race to the top’ pairs work their way up a hierarchy of questions from basic comprehension to analysis. In Business Studies, students within groups are motivated because the tasks they are working on as a group are assigned on the basis of individual student’s own personalised learning checklists (RAG-rating against specification knowledge, skills and understanding). Rebecca also introduces an element of competition between groups  by having them quiz each other using the questions and mark schemes they have designed. In Geography, students know that they will be feeding back to each other in dedicated improvement and reflection time. This also provides Harriet with an insight into their progress.

Quality of Discussion

The quality of discussion that takes place in groups is determined by teacher planning, establishment of ground rules for discussion with students, and opportunities to practice this type of working. In PE, Paul thinks it’s essential to consider socil interactions within th group and trains students in interpersonal skills. Students are assessed on speaking, listening and working collaboratively, focussing first on the process, rather than the product. Practice is first gained in open-ended, low risk tasks (such as ways of passing a ball) before moving onto more high-risk ones. 

Student Feedback

Harriet provided examples of student feedback from a Year 10 collaborative learning exercise on types of tourism in Geography. Students commented on many positive aspects, including motivation and engagement:

“It helps people not just sit there and makes them do something.”

“It gets everyone involved so everyone pays attention and learns.”

Also the effects on individual learning:

“It forces you to try and remember, rather than referring to your book.”

“We get to learn independently and then expand our knowledge through discussions with others, and aspire to reach a higher level of expertise.”

On the other hand, some students saw limitations in relying on others to research and communicate some aspects of the activity:

“Some people speak too fast so I do not get the info clearly.”

“You have to rely on other people, some facts may be missed out when someone else does it.”

This realisation, however, can be utilised by teachers in reinforcing the importance of engagement by all group members in the task.

Developing collaborative learning

Subject teams have rated their current performance in different elements of collaborative learning: task design, pupil motivation, generating discussion, and support & practice. The teams have then decided projects with agreed success criteria to develop identified areas of need. In feedback, colleagues valued having been shown the clear rationale behind our focus on collaborative learning and unanimously welcomed the ideas shared by colleagues. They have asked to see more, including opportunities to see them in action in lessons and through more examples of student work.

 I have used this feedback to pair up subjects which complement each other’s needs. For example our Art team view task design as a strength but want to improve the  quality of discussion between pupils. I’ve paired them with our Humanities team who view their ability to foster discussion within pupil groups as a strength but want to improve their planning  of a greater range collaborative learning activities.

The next step is for these paired teams to plan how they can help each other in developing their chosen areas over the next few weeks.

I’d like to thank my colleagues for their contributions and I’d welcome comments from readers, and examples of successful collaborative learning from other schools. I’ll post an update later in the year on how our development of collaborative learning has progressed.

There’s a word for that – a positive celebration of Language

Through the British Psychological Society Research Digest, I recently came across a paper by psychologist Tim Lomas about positive words and phrases in other languages for which there is no direct equivalent in English – Towards a positive cross cultural lexicography. The paper sets out to address Western bias in positive psychology and Lomas is building a database of such words. This got me thinking about positive language at our school. We like using it, of course, but are we restricting our linguistic palette in our diverse school community, and missing an opportunity to celebrate the richness of language in our community? Could our EAL students be teaching us more?

I decided to share some of the words from the paper with my school colleagues. The list I shared included the following:

  • Sobremesa – Spanish for when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing
  • Nakama – Japanese for friends who one considers like family
  • Gigil – Philippine Tagalog for the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much
  • Suaimhneas croi – Gaelic for the happiness that comes from finishing a task
  • Firgun – Hebrew for saying nice things to someone simply to make them feel good
  • Asabiyyah – Arabic for a sense of community spirit
  • Pihentagyu – Hungarian for quick witted people who come up with sophisticated jokes and solutions (literally “with a relaxed brain”)
  • Kao pu – Chinese for someone who is reliable and responsible and gets things done without causing problems for others.

You can find a fuller list of words in the link to Lomas’s paper. 

Sharing some of these words produced some lively debate in school students had the opportunity to explain the meaning and usage of words to their peers; a pleasant role-reversal for some. 

We did uncover a couple of interesting points. ‘Firgun’ can also mean joy at the success of another. Our Arabic-speaking students, however, all viewed ‘asabiyyah’ as having negative connotations of exclusion, underlining how careful we have to be with our use of language. 

Lomas’ database is continually updated, so we are seeing what words our multilingual student community can come up with. I’d be interested to hear contributions from readers of useful words you have found that have no direct English translation.

Post finished and I’m starting to feel some suaimhneas croi.

Lomas, T. (2016). Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-13 


    Down to Brass Tacks – What Really Makes a Difference?

    Earlier this Month, Steven Tierney (@LeadingLearner) wrote a ‘Saturday Thunk’ post about focussing on priorities in the New Year:  Stop Wasting Time. In it he used the phrase “It’s down to brass tacks on this one.” that got me thinking about the things I think really make a difference. Those aspects of the sharp end of teaching that make a real difference to students and staff, and so turn a vision into a reality.

    Here’s my list. It isn’t about vision, or the ‘big picture’ but rather the things we do that stem from our vision as a school and that I believe are driving improvement day-by-day.


    • Daily late gate with same-day follow up
    • Call home within 1h of unexplained absence
    • Tutors enquiring after absent students


      • Frequent quality verbal feedback to students
      • High Quality written feedback to students
      • Dedicated improvement & reflection time so students can act on feedback
      • Differentiation including both support and challenge
      • Planning and teaching that responds to student need
      • Targeted support to students with specific needs

        Quality of Teaching:

        • Concern for health and wellbeing of colleagues
        • Collaborative working within and between teams, focussed on a desire to improve outcomes for students
        • Numerous regular opportunities to engage in CPD

        Wellbeing & behaviour:

        • Daily contact with tutor
        • Relationship with teachers – starts with welcome at start of lesson
        • Ready access to nurse / counsellor / chaplain
        • Consistent recognition of achievements
        • Modelling of expectations by staff
        • Consistent use of consequences system
        • Immediate follow-up of incidents by Relevant staff

        Doubtless there are other things that could be added to the list – I’d welcome suggestions of other elements readers think make an impact.

        At the moment our focus at school is to persist with these and to develop other areas including more effective use of collaborative learning in lessons; a future addition to the ‘progress’ list, I hope!

            Don’t Call It Appraisal – Building Better Performance Development

            No, we don’t call it appraisal, and we try not to use ‘performance management’ either. One  of my responsibilities at school is to organise the annual performance reviews for teaching staff. We take he view that the primary purpose of this exercise should be developmental – we aren’t just measuring how well teachers do their job but learning what works best and using objectives to develop our practice as teachers in order to secure better outcomes for children. We also use reviews as a great opportunity to say thank you to colleagues for their hard work and commitment over the past year.

            This year I have given a lot of thought to how we can better align school priorities and the requirement to base performance reviews on the Teaching Standards with the objectives for each colleague. We have linked objectives to the standards since 2012 (using a facility within the School Aspect online management package we use), but for 2015-16 we have chosen to link a couple of objectives, which align with school priorities directly to teaching standards. 

            We have three objectives for all teachers and a fourth for those with a TLR post or on the Leadership Team.

            A. Promote good Progress and Outcomes by Pupils. An objective focussed on elements of this teaching standard and linked to the levels of progress of pupils in a group, the size and nature of which depends on the role of the teacher.

            B. Teaching to Meet the Needs of Pupils. An objective focussed on elements of this objective and designed to improve the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils is a school priority. This objective is to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils (i.e. Those who receive the pupil premium) and their non- disadvantaged peers. Again, the size of the group depends on the responsibilities of the teacher.

            C. A personalised CPD objective derived from the teachers self review against the teaching standards and reflection on the past school year. This may derive from the review of objectives from the previous year or from an NQT final assessment. In some cases the development area may be proposed by the reviewer.

            D. A leadership objective centred on an area of responsibility dependent on the teacher’s role. St Gregory’s is a faith school and this objective aligns to one of four areas:

            • Spiritual Capital
            • Mission Integrity
            • Partnership
            • Servant Leadership

            For each of these objectives we record the key actions, intended outcomes and timescale. We also agree the success criteria and evidence that will form the basis of the review. CPD requirements for fulfilling objectives are also recorded. There is an interim meeting part way through the year to check progress.

            That is what we are planning for this year. I’m interested in how this compares with what other schools do and welcome any constructive comments.

            Evaluating CPD? Forget Trip Advisor

            Like many school leaders I have been exploring a better way of monitoring the impact of INSET. I am convinced of the importance of CPD as a crucial investment in staff even in times of financial stricture. Perhaps especially in those times. That belief, however, does not cut the mustard when it comes to proving that the time, money and other resources invested in training has paid dividends in terms of pupil outcomes.

            Long-term investment in CPD

            Over the last few years we have shifted the balance from ‘away day’ courses to long-term training. We support colleagues through academic qualifications such as Masters degrees and professional ones such as the MLDP. This demonstrates commitment to the long-term development of colleagues, provides tangible benefits to the school and sits well within our commitment to being a community of lifelong learners.

            This type of professional development is easy to evaluate. The colleague gains a recognised qualification and the action research element is always key area of the SIP, contributing for clear outcomes for pupils.


            INSET Days

            There is still a place for the INSET day. There is training that we all need to renew, such as safeguarding as well as updates on the national and local agenda which affect teachers and pupils. We also use the time for colleagues to share good practice and teaching tools they have developed. I have found it harder to evaluate the impact of this training. For many years I used staff evaluations, having colleagues rate sessions on an evaluation form. The trouble with this kind of customer satisfaction survey is that everyone may have a jolly good time, but will that have a positive impact on the experience of pupils. It also seems to be that the colleagues who are less satisfied always seem to be ones who don’t tend to fill in the ‘Even better if…’ part.

            Consequently I, and those in charge of training at other schools within Oxford City Learning (a partnership of secondary schools) have become increasingly sceptical of the ‘Trip Advisor’ approach.


            No Correlation

            In my evaluation of our September INSET, I carried out a correlational analysis of ratings for the helpfulness of different sessions by staff members against their key learning points, and helpfulness vs. intended actions. In neither case did I find much in the way of a correlation:

            Helpfulness vs. Learning, r = 0.2576​Helpfulness vs. Intentions, r = -0.1832
            Neither result was statistically significant.

             The commentary from staff on learning is more useful that their ratings of helpfulness because it allows me to identify whether the intended impact of the training was achieved. By and large, this seems to have happened. Most staff commented on strategies with the groups of pupils we were focussing on: disadvantaged students, those with particular disabilities and special needs, and those who need to make rapid progress with their literacy. Learning comments also indicate that some staff made links between the separate elements of the INSET: Our school value of ‘Justice’ working through a consideration of developmental needs from ages 2 – 19 (we’re an all-through school with nursery, primary and secondary phases), to differentiating to meet the needs of particular groups of students. On the other hand some staff did not make this connection and a few questioned the relevance of some aspects of the training. This shows me that, while there is always a balance to be struck, perhaps particularly at the start of term, we need to do more to give a holistic overview prior in the introduction to training


            Evaluation across the year

            It’s the follow-through on the intended actions that will be the key to evaluating the impact on pupil outcomes. Further INSET will pick up on strategies to improve progress by the groups of pupils mentioned above. The session that had the highest combined rating for helpfulness, key learning and intended actions (on extended writing across the curriculum) featured a combination of research evidence, contributions from teachers from different curriculum area, demonstrations of improved pupil work and a resource pack for all teachers. This shows that teacher-led examples of successful practice, backed by resources to support their colleagues, are a winning combination. Further INSET during the year will be based on this model with differentiated choice so training is personalised.

            It is actual, rather than intended, action that makes the difference, of course. We will use our usual evidence-gathering systems (learning walks, marking drops, student voice, etc) to gauge the impact of teaching actions stemming from INSET. CPD is also picked up in Performance Development (we don’t use that vile term ‘Appraisal’ urgh), with all teachers having an objective around the progress of disadvantaged pupils this year, and being able to shape a personalised CPD objective.

            I’ll update this post later in the year when more of our intentions have been implemented as actions.

            Helpful comments are always welcome. I’d also like to hear more about evaluation of CPD in other schools.

            Lesson Observation Feedback

            This was my first post, originally written in November 2014. Following a request, I added an update in April 2016. 

            Lesson observation is a contentious topic. Is it unduly stressful? Should it be graded? Is it even valid? Recently,  I have been trying to give more effective observation feedback. This is in part prompted by Ofsted’s move not to give grades. I have also reflected on training I and colleagues received from Ofsted inspector Mary Myatt.

            Observations are important and one part of the range of evidence informing us about the quality of teaching. I believe it’s most important role is developmental, as a tool to improve teaching rather than just measure it. I therefore tend to the view that giving a grade in feedback can distract from an effective pedagogic discussion. However, I think openness is important: is it right to form a judgement but not communicate it to the teacher? I believe the answer is that single observations are valid but do not in isolation have sufficient reliability to justify a grade. That reliability comes from cross-referencing a range of evidence. A grade can justifiably be attached to this evidence in its entirety.

            However reliable an assessment of the quality of teaching is, it can’t of itself improve teaching. Feedback with the teacher has the power to achieve this. I have found training by Mary Myatt has helped improve feedback I give in the following ways.

            1. Starting with an overview of evidence used to determine quality of teaching, that observation is only one element, although the one where we feel most under the spotlight.

            2. Not using “I” other than in “I noticed…” So as not to give the impression that feedback is based merely on personal opinion.

            3. Greater use of questions and take up time to encourage the teacher to reflect (e.g. What was the intended impact? What could have been done there?).

            4. Providing more opportunities for comment / challenge from the teacher (e.g. Does that seem a reasonable commentary?)

            The extent to which these changes will lead to sustained improvements in teaching remains to be seen,  but there are some positive indications:

            – Feedback conversations so far do seem more focussed around pedagogy.

            – There is a greater openness about observer effects. It is also easier to view these in context when considering a broad range of evidence.

            – Conversations have reinforced the importance of responding to pupil needs within the lesson, including giving sufficient time, in the face of pressures teachers may feel to cover curriculum content at all costs.

            I hope to return to this topic when it has been possible to assess the long-term impact of the changes in the way I and my colleagues give feedback.
            April 2016 Update

            My opening paragraph reads like a piece of history now! No-grade observations are now the norm at my school and, I think, most others. The benefits I listed originally still hold true and I think conversations around teaching really have shifted to being developmental and much more productive. There is now an appreciation among SLT and subject leaders that reliable judgments about the quality of teaching and learning should be drawn from a wide range of evidence. Observations are an important element, along with work scrutiny, learning walks, analysis of progress data and student voice.  We have worked harder to tie our focus for evidence gathering more tightly into our school improvement priorities with a specific focus each term. Recently these have been the quality of feedback to students & opportunities for them to act on it to improve, and meeting the needs of disadvantaged students.  We are now working to improve the quality of feedback that we give colleagues following learning walks.

            I welcome comments and it would also be good to hear about how lesson observation feedback is used in other schools.