One in a million find

Really pleased to be running #ProjectInsect with colleagues from Oxford University Museum of Natural History. So many pupils have become enthusiastic young entomologists and Sarah’s find is the icing on the cake!

In the UK, anyone can submit wildlife finds to the Biological Records Centre database using the iRecord website or app. I’ve written about how to do this here.

If you are near Oxford, we still have a few places for 10-14 year-olds on our Insect Investigators Summer School which takes place 13th – 17th August. Please email for more information or to book a place.

More Than A Dodo

The Museum’s collection of British insects already houses over a million specimens, and now it boasts one more special insect.

Ten-year-old Sarah Thomas of Abbey Woods Academy in Berinsfield, Oxfordshire discovered a rare beetle in her school grounds while taking part in a Museum outreach session. To Sarah’s excitement, the beetle is so important that it has now become part of the collections here at the Museum – and it is the first beetle of its kind to be added to the historically important British insect collections since the 1950s.

Sarah Thomas examines her beetle under the microscope with Darren Mann, entomologist and Head of Life Collections at the Museum

Sarah’s class took part in a Project Insect Discovery Day, where they were visited by a professional entomologist, learnt about insect anatomy and how to identify and classify specimens, and went on the hunt for insects in the school grounds. Project…

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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.


Top of the agenda

A while ago I wrote a post, inspired by one by Stephen Tierney, about focussing daily on the things that really make a difference in school: Down to brass tacks.

That was about the day-to-day interactions that make the most difference. In this post I’m considering strategic priorities for school improvement. One of the features of working at a school which is in Special Measures is how many people come to visit us. Each one has some advice on defining our priorities. The trouble is that each one believes that their area of interest is the most important.

“Safeguarding definitely has to be at the top of your agenda. It’s absolutely imperative that children should be safe and feel safe.” No argument there.

“It’s the basics really. Literacy & numeracy; English & maths. They are the foundation of the whole curriculum. It’s crucially important that they are at the top of your agenda.” Well, quite.

“You’re a Catholic school. It’s obvious that Catholic Life should be at the very top of every agenda. After all, it’s what defines this school as distinctive.” Amen to that.

“You need to ensure that the Pupil Premium is your key priority. Look at your data. You have a high proportion of disadvantaged students: closing the gap is the key to school improvement.” The numbers are irrefutable.

“Attendance has got to be your top priority; if children aren’t in school, they aren’t learning.” Absolutely, that’s a given.

And so on. Each of these, say our visitors, must be at the top of our agenda. The trouble is, they’re not wrong. All of these factors are important to the success of students and to our journey of school improvement, but how can they all be at the top of the list? 

The fact is, we have to keep all those plates spinning at the same time, and support colleagues who are keeping their own plates spinning. The real issue isn’t so much what to put at the top of the agenda but how to coordinate a coherent approach to developing all these interlinked aspects of an effective school. In my opinion, this involves two parallel elements:

  1. refining the most important aspects of each area so that, at any point, our efforts are focussed on a few things that make the most difference.
  2. Planning across the areas of focus so that the thinking and actions of staff members are directed efficiently, so that actions in one area support those in others.

An example of this approach is our school Pupil Premium strategy for 2017-18. In a departure from the previous format, 28 separate strands have been reduced to six areas:

  • language and communication skills in Early Years & KS1; 
  • behaviour for learning; 
  • attendance; 
  • literacy, with a focus on KS3; 
  • numeracy, especially with respect to being prepared for the new KS4 curriculum; and 
  • lack of home access to resources, study support and cultural experiences.

The previous structure was unwieldy, difficult to coordinate and hard to monitor and evaluate effectively. The consolidation into just six strands (with behaviour and attendance as priorities in both primary and secondary phases) allows us to concentrate our work on those areas which we have identified as the greatest inhibitors to the progress of disadvantaged students.

Each of these areas also interlinks with other school improvement priorities, so that initiatives will work more efficiently, complementing each other and maximising the effective use of time an resources. For example, the focus on literacy in the Pupil Premium strategy sits within our values, is based on evidence-based evaluation, builds on previous whole school work, draws on expertise from the primary phase, and utilises resources developed within our inclusion department.

The next step I’m working on is to build in the milestones for each area to create a monitoring, evaluating and reporting map across the school year. This will enable better tracking of our progress, and better reporting SLT, governors, and all our visitors. I hope that this revised approach will help us keep all the plates spinning at once by integrating our different priorities. 

As always, constructive comments and suggestions are always welcome. Click the links to read my other posts about Pupil Premium and Reducing Workload.

Tackling behaviour to improve learning – a rocky road but we’re getting there

Last year I wrote a post called ‘Progress on behaviour – Haven’t I seen this graph somewhere before’ about work I had been leading on improving the behaviour of pupil premium students for whom we had identified poor behaviour as the main inhibitor to learning. That became my most read post by quite a long margin. The main point I made was that any improvements we achieved were not through a straightforward upward path, but through a messy reality including plateaus and setbacks, with any progress emerging only through perseverance. Here, I’ll discuss what impact our work on behaviour has had on the progress in learning of the children involved.

In my original post I identified three different ‘response types’ among the students involved:

  1. Pupils who reacted quickly to interventions and made rapid improvements in behaviour.
  2. Pupils who took longer to react and/or had more frequent setbacks, so made more gradual progress, with improvement taking longer.
  3. Pupils who did not seem to respond to interventions and whose behaviour did not improve, or even deteriorated.

Impact of Behaviour shift on learning

Not surprisingly, any consequent improvement in academic progress followed the same pattern, with the group of pupils who achieved the most rapid turn-around in their behaviour also making the greatest progress. 

The graph shows the correlation between shift in behaviour (measured using our school conduct points system) and GCSE value-added (through a simple comparison of prediction and end of year results, using old money A*=8, A=7, etc) for Key Stage 4 students. For year 11 the end results were actual exam results, for year 10 they were end of year assessments.

There is a statistically significant positive correlation between improved behaviour and value added (Pearson’s r=0.715 exceeding the critical value of 0.400 for p<0.05, N=18). 

Now, I know this isn’t exactly headline news: improving behaviour leads to a better chance of academic success. I do think it’s important. The rocky road of ups and downs that I described in my original post ultimately led to real positive gains for most of the students involved. Remember, they were those with the worst behaviour at the start of the year. This shows us that when the going is tough, and when there are setbacks, it really is worth persevering with these students. 

Broadly, the three student response types resulted in these outcomes:

  1. Rapid improvements in behaviour led to students generally achieving(and sometimes exceeding) their predicted grades.
  2. Students who made more gradual improvement picked up their performance but still had a slightly negative VA. Often other factors had a significant impact, including poor attendance, or the impact of events outside school.
  3. Students who did not improve their behaviour had markedly negative VA. this was often characterised by erratic attendance, lack of cooperation with the basics of the school code of conduct and, sometimes, difficulty in engaging parents.

Certainly for group 2, we have taken the view that earlier identification would have helped secure faster improvements in behaviour and better academic outcomes. We drew up our new student groups last term, so we were ready to proceed right from the start of the new school year in September. For the same reason, we’re also making sure we tackle attendance issues much more quickly. The toughest challenge is those students in group 3. We’re working so that our pastoral and inclusion teams are communicating more closely to respond to behaviours that may result from special educational needs, and use behaviours to identify unmet needs. We are also responding to the fact that the group of pupil premium students generally responded more gradually than their peers by making sure that, as a whole school, we our applying our ‘Pupil Premium First’ policy consistently.

My next job is to analyse the progress of the groups we set up because poor attendance was the main inhibitor to learning. As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have.

Progress on Behaviour – Haven’t I Seen This Graph Somewhere Before?

Last summer I wrote a post about a more focussed approach to meeting the needs of disadvantaged students: Premier Pupil Premium. In this I mentioned groups we were focusing on, including those students receiving the pupil premium whose challenging behaviour seemed the main inhibitor to progress. We also set up a comparator group of students who had similar issues of behaviour but did not receive the pupil premium.

This Easter I have been reviewing the progress of these groups. We chose to monitor progress with behaviour using the conduct points system within SIMS. Like many schools, we use a rewards and consequences system where students gain positive achivement points for prosocial behaviours, effort and achievement, and negative points for breaches of the code of conduct. The sum of these is called their conduct points score within SIMS. On average, a student gets a couple of achievement points each week and won’t have any behaviour points.

The graph for the weekly points balance for the two groups looks like this:

I update it every week. Around 20 weeks in, I thought ‘hang on, I’ve seen this graph before.’ It then dawned on me that my graph looked a lot like an Internet meme about progress/success. The version below was tweeted by @7billcorp earlier this year:


image courtesy of
Now, I never expected our plan – to help pupils improve their behaviour to match the majority of their peers – to be a gentle ride in a straight line, but perhaps you can see that around week 15 it felt a bit like we were dipped in that lake in the middle of the picture!

I think a couple of things helped us to continue to make progress from this point onwards:

  • Perseverance – we weren’t going to give up
  • Making good use of the data. Drilling down showed us that many pupils were making progress, with some spectacular examples. This enabled us to keep doing what worked for some and think anew for others.

It became apparent that there were three groups within each group:

  1. Pupils who reacted quickly to interventions and made rapid improvements.
  2. Pupils who took longer to react and/or had more frequent setbacks, so made more gradual progress, with improvement taking longer.
  3. Pupils who did not seem to respond to interventions and whose behaviour did not improve, or even deteriorated.

This third group is made up of only half a dozen of the thirty or so children involved in total, but they account for a high proportion of the behaviour incidents recorded. Our response has been to increase our interventions, working more closely with parents and carers, other agencies involved, and in some cases adjusting their curriculum.

Effective interventions

Our approach has been to raise the profile of students whose behaviour can inhibit their learning with all staff members (although some of these students are very good at raising their own profile!) The focus is on improving behaviour by:

  • A consistent approach from staff through applying our behaviour policy, including rewards and consequences – in particular to ‘catch them being good’ rather than just identify misbehaviour.
  • Work with the pupils involved to identify what they find difficult and planning where they will try to earn achievement points, usually in a favourite subject.
  • Using existing systems to follow up students. For example a member of SLT is on duty each period and will try to visit some of the target students in their classes.
  • Discussing weekly monitoring data at SLT meetings and sharing with all staff in staff briefing. This includes the focus on students eligible for the Pupil Premium grant.

It is these interventions that seemed to work quickly with the pupils in group 1. They responded to encouragement readily, perhaps realising that they could gain attention from their achievements, rather than from ‘clowning’ in class.

Some pupils, however formed the second group, who responded more slowly. As well as persisting with the approach described above, we found that engaging parents helped, for example by making sure we contacted home about their successes, and by sharing their tracking data with them. In fact, in the long run this has produced some of the dramatic turnarounds. Many students have been clearly proud to receive  personalised graphs showing their successful trajectory.

This leaves the smaller third group of students who did not seem to respond like the others. Following my initial post, several readers asked about group characteristics, but really there aren’t any. We realised that success here would be the result of responding to individual needs and circumstances. This remains a work in progress, but involves more specific interventions such as:

  • Behaviour contacts & support plans, including ‘time out’ cards and named staff students will talk to when things go wrong. 
  • Mentoring or specific work on an area of difficulty such as anger management
  • Increased parental engagement
  • Group changes where appropriate
  • Temporary reduced timetable, or staggered day (e.g. Starting later but staying longer)
  • Alternative provision for part of the week either in school or in partnership with other agencies, directed at addressing a particular need.

We are currently looking at how we can plan for changes which we have identified as having a big impact on behaviour, for example return after a school holiday (or in some cases the run up to one), change in foster care, or family illness, especially for young carers. One aspect of difficulty we have found is that sometimes a special educational need is indicated but parents/carers are reluctant to support the process of identification / diagnosis, perhaps because of a perceived social stigma. Here we need to help them understand the potential benefits to their child.

Next Steps

I will next be looking at progress data to see what impact improvents in behaviour have had on learning. The message I want to share now is – for everyone working hard to improve children’s chances and finding it tough going – hang on on there! Persevere with what you know works and even when the data looks bad, use it to help you learn more.

As always, I’d love to read your comments.

Engaging with parents: making time for what makes a difference

In recent months I’ve been thinking about what really makes a difference at school. Inspired by a post by @leadinglearner, I wrote this post In January on ‘brass tacks’. At the same time I have also been trying to improve my organisation and time management. My recent posts on this include getting to grips with email and achieving a better work-life balance. 

One of my ‘brass tacks’ was about parental engagement. I believe that supportive and engaged parents and carers are key to children being successful and happy. Through tracking the goals that I had completed each day and those which were unresolved (originally as part of a technique to detach from work at the end of the day), I came to realise that the thing most likely to derail my carefully scheduled plans was an interaction with a parent. The meeting about a behaviour issue that overruns, the referral from a Head of Year, or the unexpected phone call or email that reveals an important issue, can all suddenly take precedence. This is, of course quite right, but it got me thinking why I wasn’t building more interaction with parents and carers into my schedule in the first place?

I took a look at my calendar and decided Thursdays would be a good day. We already calendar most parents’ afternoons / evenings on a Thursday. It’s also the day for Governors’ meetings so when there isn’t one the time already feels like a bit of a gift. For me it’s a good day too because I’m not teaching first or last thing and have no regular morning meetings. This means I am likely to be free at the times most parents are too – before and after the school day.

So, I have reserved these times (but clearly not just these times) for parents. Where I can, I am arranging meetings then. So far I’ve scheduled discussions about attendance, a behaviour concern, and a matter referred to be by a colleague. When I’m not doing this, I use the time to contact parents about their children’s achievements, either by phone or email. I use this as an extension to ‘Feelgood Friday’ when each week we encourage each teacher to make at least one positive call home. I contact parents about things I’ve seen that have impressed me. This is also something I can include in our school ‘pupil premium first approach. I edit the newsletter which goes out on a Friday, so I can also alert parents to look out for it when their child gets a mention. For example, this week I called home with news of students who had produced impressive ‘six word stories’ in tutor time for World Book Day. Sometimes these calls lead to wider conversations. It’s good to have a talk with a parent when the initial cause hasn’t been something that has gone wrong.

I have recently read Sir Tim Brighouse’s ‘Five time expenditures’*, the first being ‘sit on the wall, not on the fence’ – heads who make sure they are around at the start and end of the school day to be available to parents. Far fewer parents come into our secondary phase regularly, compared with the primary, but I think I might just try being around in reception at the start of the day when I can.

Comments are always welcome and I’d value any suggestions for working with parents & carers, particularly those who find it more difficult to engage with us.

*In How Successful Head Teachers Survive and Thrive by Professor Tim Brighouse, RM  Education, 2007.

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.

Ofsted Offerings 2 – Preparing for a Section 8 Visit

last March, I wrote about our section 5 Ofsted inspection. You can read that post here. In this post, I share our experiences of preparing for a Section 8 monitoring visit in December 2015.

Getting the Call

If you are judged RI in an inspection, you know there will be a follow-up monitoring visit, so in a sense there are months of notice. As it turned out, ours came much later than we expected. We had the call a Thursday for a monitoring visit the following Monday – the start of the last week of the Autumn term. Probably not the week we would have picked – busy with nativity plays, carol concerts, etc., but then again lots to show a visitor! So the answer to the question ‘Will Ofsted visit in the last week of term?’ Is ‘Yes’. 

Having notice before a weekend is a double-edged sword: there is more time to prepare but there is also more time to worry. All the documentation had to be sent in advance; the SEF had been done and the SIP was being tightened up anyway, so these things were in place. We told staff at a special briefing on Thursday and it became clear that colleagues made good use of the time they had.

Use the Handbook

This was only the second monitoring visit I had experienced, so I was less familiar with the format than that of a full inspection. I found the Ofsted handbook really useful in understanding the purpose and format of the visit, what the inspector would be looking at and what the possible outcomes could be. Our inspector was Chris Wood, interesting because I’d read some of his work on Pupil Premium. I’d led the PP evaluation last year and authored our new plan, so this certainly served to concentrate my mind.

The Day

The day included the following elements. Although Mr Wood specified most of the order of events, exact scheduling was left to us.

  • Meet Head
  • Meet SLT
  • Learning Walk (11 classes were visited)
  • Meet Middle Leaders (He chose which)
  • Meet student group (mix of abilities, we chose individuals)
  • Meet Governors
  • Meet Diocesan representative (we’re a faith school. Due to availability this was a phone call)

Apart from these elements, some further information was asked for with a couple of follow-up conversations. This was to clarify points and/or provide further evidence.

Even better if…

In general we were well-prepared and the day went smoothly, sticking to the schedule. One question I had to deal with was accessibility of pupil premium information on our website. This puzzled me because it should have been easy to access. A hyperlink was broken so the 2013-14 evaluation could be seen but not 2014-15. I should have double-checked that all was OK.

My favourite moment – when in conversation with inspector in the school office, a colleague walked in dressed as a minion (all part of the infant nativity play – don’t ask). What did I do – kept calm and carried on! “I don’t see that in every visit” Commented Mr Wood with a smile.

Hope you find this useful if you have a visit coming up. I welcome any comments you may have.

Supporting Refugee Children

I wrote this post in September 2015 because I was struck by how our school experience of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK had been reported across the UK by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights. I subsequently added an update in July 2016 following publication of the House of Lords European Union Committee report Children in Crisis: Unaccompanied Children in the EU. You can read this report here (the info graphic on p7 usefully summarises key information). Sadly, this report echoed many of the concerns of the earlier report of the Joint Select Committee. 
September 2015

Of all the students starting the new academic year with us, I was perhaps most proud that we were providing an education for some who had recently arrived from Syria. Not having been in school for up to three years because of conflict, they were pleased to be in lessons again. I just hope that they don’t have to go through some of the experiences of many of our previous students seeking refuge from conflict.

Select Committee Report
In March the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights reported some concerns on the way unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were treated by the judicial processes to establish their status. The report can be found here and a Guardian interview with the Chair, Hywel Francis MP here. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Children’s Act, 2004 include a commitment to put the interests of children first, without discrimination. The committee had concerns that in several ways this commitment was not being met. These included:

  • concerns that the numbers of children and young people receiving special welfare legal aid and asylum & immigration legal aid had fallen by nearly two thirds due to cuts in legal aid funding;
  • a tendency for immigration considerations to override the commitment put the rights of the child first; 
  • a ‘culture of disbelief’ surrounding age assessments; and 
  • a tendency to grant lower forms of leave to remain rather than full asylum, meaning young people could be removed at 17


Our School Experience

Our school is a wonderfully diverse community and includes several students who are refugees. In order to support these children to re-engage with education, we have to support them in a number of ways. Unfortunately one of these has to be mitigating the impact of the Home Office judicial processes referred to in the Select Committee report. We have found that (as the committee noted), no move is usually made to remove a young person until they are 17, but judicial processes are carried out beforehand, when they are children, often with little or no English, or family members in the UK. The support we provide includes explaining the process, providing emotional support, and, when necessary, accompanying them to interviews and hearings. This is made harder because these hearings occur at a range of venues. We had one 15 year old student, for example who was required to attend three different meetings and hearings, in Cardiff, Croydon and Birmingham.


The committee called for a better support structure “to help children navigate the asylum and immigration processes” and for the government not to “return children to countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq where there are ongoing conflict or humanitarian concerns.” I have to agree. In my experience it is charities and school staff who currently provide the support, and the judicial processes do not demonstrate a commitment to the interests of the child. Children who gain Higher education places, are simultaneously denied the possibility of funding and face moves to remove them to the very conflict zones and countries mentioned in the report.


The Future

Supporting these vulnerable students is vital but much of the work we do lies out of the remit of the school, and certainly beyond the job descriptions of teachers. I’m concerned that with tight finances it may be unsustainable. It’s therefore my hope that the recommendations of the select committee are acted on by the new government.
July 2016

A recent report by the House of Lords European Union Committee has called for urgent action to improve the EU response to the refugee crisis and the unaccompanied children are treated by the immigration system within the UK. The report concludes that children face a pervasive climate of suspicion and disbelief, especially about their age, may be detained inappropriately, lack legal advice and support, and are put at risk. The report calls for a consistent approach across the EU member states, reiterates the ‘best interests of the child’ principle of the UNCRC (which, together with the Children’s Act, would apply irrespective of Brexit), and calls for all unaccompanied children to have a guardian.

I find it disturbing that over a year after the original select committee report, so little seems to have changed. It is true that the number of children seeking asylum in the UK increased by 56% in 2015, but so has national, and international, interest in the refugee crisis. As schools receive more UASCs, we may find ourselves acting as advocates in the absence of any formal provision.

I would be really interested to hear of the experiences from other schools who support refugee children, or charities who work with schools.

Premier Pupil Premium – Improving our Provision

We’ve been reviewing our use of the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) recently and I’ve drawn on several ideas in an attempt to focus what we do on achieving the greatest impact. You can read my earlier blog with some thoughts on the PPG here and about my developing my school’s PPG plan for 2014-15 here.

I’d like to acknowledge help we received from Josephine Valentine at St Clement Danes School and Nick Daymond of Parmiters School in reviewing our provision. It was also extremely useful to hear some of the ideas about the PPG which are being talked about in Hertfordshire. I have also been inspired by the work at Budmouth College in Weymouth – an outstanding school with a high proportion of pupils receiving free school meals.

This post was modified in October 2015 to include development of some of the strategies described and the 14 points in the guarantee for families.

Tighter Focus

Our new plan will break down areas of major spending in more detail with tightly defined success criteria in terms of pupil outcomes. This will help us understand which strategies are producing an Impact in two ways. Firstly, breaking down larger areas of intervention into several specific goals will allow us to discriminate the impact of each. Secondly, separating out groups of pupils (e.g. KS4 PP) Into e.g. PP students who also have a specific educational need, who are EAL, who have poor attendance, etc., will allow us to see where gaps are closing and where we need to improve, rather than the overall average effect of our work with KS4 PP pupils.

At the start of the 2015-16 school year we identified four such groups:

  • Disadvantaged + Persistent Absentee
  • Disadvantaged + SEND
  • Disadvantaged + Risk of Exclusion
  • Disadvantaged + Vulnerable

These groups of pupils will be the focus for interventions. We have also established comparator groups of non-disadvantaged students. Their progress will be monitored to assess the impact of interventions.

A Guarantee for Families

One of the ideas from Budmouth College that impressed me was a guarantee for disadvantaged students and their families. We have developed a 14-point guarantee. This is an explicit statement to improving the outcomes of disadvantaged students, privides a clear and public quality standard, and makes the advantages of signing up clear to families. This is especially true for those joining our primary phase – it’s not just about free school meals. The guarantee contains these elements:

  1. Branded school uniform free of charge.
  2. Support with attendance and punctuality where necessary.
  3. Subsidised access to curriculum enrichment opportunities such as school trips.
  4. Access to family support where appropriate.
  5. Speech and language support for Early Years and Key Stage 1 pupils where appropriate.
  6. Support during years 6 and 7 to bridge the transition from primary to secondary school where appropriate.
  7. Provision of subject-specific interventions to improve progress, as appropriate.
  8. Provision free of charge of clothing and equipment needed for vocational courses.
  9. Provision free of charge of approved third-party revision materials, parents’ guides & support materials.
  10. Academic and/or personal mentoring where appropriate.
  11. Access to additional revision classes where appropriate.
  12. Access to gifted and talented programmes and initiatives as appropriate.
  13. Students will receive personalised independent careers advice and guidance in years 9 to 11.
  14. Students will have access to free vocal / instrumental tuition and musical instrument loan.

And, of course, that’s in addition to the free school meals.
Governance and Leadership

We now have regular meetings between the PP link governor and myself as SLT lead. We have committed to making the pupil premium a standing item at leadership and governors meetings. Committees will each have a specific remit. The full governing body agrees the PPG Plan and is responsible for its evaluation. The Curriculum & Achievement committee ensures PPG students can access and progress in the full curriculum, and are achieving within it. The Finance & Staffing committee ensure we use the PPG to best effect, securing best value in staffing & resources.

Working in Partnership

We will highlight our work with other schools and agencies both locally and nationally. Principally this is with other secondaries in Oxford City Learning (OCL) and with primaries within our locality partnership. The focus for the OCL autumn conference will be Disadvantaged Students.

Persisting with what we do well

We will of course keep going with wat is working. I have learned that, while there are quick wins we can achieve, to create lasting outcomes for pupils we need to support them in the long term. We will continue to follow pupils through to their destinations post-16 and post-18 and keep our ‘no NEETs’ goal as one of our success criteria.

One of the ideas Josephine and Nick brought from Hertfordshire resonates with my own thinking. Some pupils have fallen behind, or are at risk of doing so, because of income disadvantage. It is absolutely right that we use the PPG to help them make more rapid progress and achieve their potential. However other pupils have complex and very difficult circumstances of which low family income is just a part. It is a nonsense to suggest that these often vulnerable, damaged young people can make accelerated progress. What we need to do is recognise that they need an extended timescale and support them throughout this. The PPG does not currently allow for this. Perhaps some equivalent of an Education & Health Care Plan extending to, say 19 years is the answer. The commons Select Committee on Human Rights commented on the impact on refugee children of the lck of consistency in the age that defines adulthood in their report of March 2015. (I have written more about supporting refugee children here).

Comments welcome. I’m interested to know what you think.