Growing in Justice

We have four school values – wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion. At our September INSET day, we spent some time considering what justice at school means for children as they move from the nursery, through the primary & secondary phases and into our sixth form. We wanted to capture what justice looks, sounds and feels like in the classroom.

This was also a fantastic opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to get together to consider one of our core values that underpins everything we do. After a brief introduction, colleagues shared what justice meant to them in cross phase groups. We captured and shared some of the main ideas that emerged. Colleagues then worked on practical examples of justice at work, posting them on a timeline from ages 2 to 18.

Emerging themes

Content analysis of these responses revealed Three main themes:

1. Individual Needs. Justice means meeting individual needs, rather than doing the same with every child. However, visible consistency and fairness are crucial in establishing the concept of justice for children. Clear expectations and consistent routines are important from the outset and justice in its most basic sense is about maintaining a safe & secure learning environment. An understanding of the different needs of others can then develop within this context.

2. Expanding Concept. The concept of justice expands as the child’s understanding of the world increases. For the youngest children, it is mainly about individual interactions with family, friends and members of staff. This extends to groups, their class, the school, local then wider community. With pupils in KS4 & Sixth Form, social justice encompasses society as a whole, as well as how we treat the people we are with day-to-day. With this increasing understanding comes questioning of the status quo. For some students it is hard to find the balance between the exercise of their increasing independence while still extending justice and fairness to those around them. Several colleagues commented that a cry of “It’s not fair!” is most likely to be heard in EYFS and Year 9! This transition requires the move from mere compliance with rules to an internalization of the values behind them.

3. Increasing Contribution. In parallel with their expanding concept of justice, the extent to which children contribute to justice in classroom / school / society increases. Early on justice is evident in taking turns, sharing and using ‘kind hands’. These prosicial behaviours are encouraged between individuals through increasingly cooperative play. Later on negotiation, cooperation, and empathy for the needs of others are developed through group and class work. Older children take on responsibility for justice, working together to contribute to, for example, Year group assemblies, House competitions, or whole school fundraising for good causes. Our oldest students will engage in formal volunteering, mentoring of younger students, or in organising charity events – often requesting that the school responds to current social issues.

The main strength of this session was the opportunity for colleagues who teach in different phases to work together on something so fundamental. We will now be giving further consideration to the language we use with children of different ages, developing a planned progression of age-appropriate terms that fosters the development of justice in our all-through school community. One key element is the extent to which what we say and do merely requires compliance with rules or encourages the development of understanding and internalisation of the values behind them.

As always, I welcome any constructive comments and would love to hear about work going on in other schools.


Beating the Bounds: A call for transparency over grade boundaries

I wrote this post in August 2015. A year later, anticipating the next batch of GCSE results, I still have the same concerns. As Geoff Barton has said (In this Guardian  article), “I used to know what a C grade in English looked like and a grade A. Now it feels as if someone somewhere, in an obscure back office, makes the decision.”

Beating the bounds’ was an ancient practice that still survives in several English parishes. Members of the parish would travel the boundary beating the marker stones with greenery. Before the advent of accurate maps this ritual had the very practical purpose of ensuring that everyone knew the agreed position of the parish boundaries should any dispute arise in the future.

In recent years, controversy over exam grade boundaries has become a depressingly regular feature of results days. For some reason the need to ‘maintain standards’ now seems to require annual moving of the goalposts. I am not referring to adjustments exam board panels make to raw marks to take account of annual variations in the difficulty of papers (which has always occurred and is explained by examiners each year) but the wholesale statistical manipulation of results to maintain the proportion of students gaining a particular grade. Evidence of this often has to be inferred from strange grade distributions, the suspicious  clumping of candidates scores just below the C grade boundary, or the realisation that teachers were spot on with there predictions, except for the C/D boundary.

I believe that for students to succeed, it is essential that they know what they will be assessed on and how they will be assessed. That includes the criteria for each particular grade. In recent years Ofqual has become muscular in flexing its power to adjust grade boundaries – somehow maintaining standards by changing them. This has led to the peculiar situation where teachers and students strive for improvement and Ofqual seems to do its best to stamp it out!

At this point you may be thinking ‘but what about grade inflation?’ I appreciate that a function of external exams is to identify the differing abilities of candidates and an exam fails in this function if everyone gains the top grades. So, how can we maintain the credibility of exams when schools are continually improving the learning and exam technique of students through better teaching?

I think the answer is transparency. In the annual ritual of beating the bounds it wasn’t just the priests who marked the boundaries but the whole parish community. The whole point was that everyone knew where the boundary lines lay. In a similar way, it is surely important that all involved in education understand the requirements for achieving a particular grade. If, over time, the spread of results for a particular subject becomes too slanted towards top grades, such that the existing assessment criteria are in danger of becoming unfit for purpose, they should be adjusted. This should be announced in advance of students commencing the course. In this way, teachers, students, and their parents will all know what will be required to secure a particular grade and the public will be aware that that year cohort faces a tougher exam, understanding that a year-on-year comparison cannot be made.

Of course, this already happens. A couple of years ago, GCSE science students in England knew it would be harder to get a higher grade than the year before. This only made it more extraordinary that those same students had to suffer retrospective tinkering with their English Language results after they had sat the exam.

If we have an exam regulator that is adept at monitoring and committed to transparency – if we all participate in an annual beating of the bounds – we should be able to achieve a robust, credible exam system that ensures that students can sit exams in the assurance that what is expected of them will never be changed after the event.

Clearing: a place where the sun can shine through

Like colleagues all over the country, I’ve been with students receiving their A Level and BTEC results today. For all there is the relief that the wait is finally over, for many jubilation that they got the grades they need for their dream course at university, and for some disappointment that they didn’t quite make it.

Well done to all those who found what they wanted in those envelopes, but this post is for those who are entering UCAS clearing, their families and the teachers who are helping them.

It may seem that a door has closed in your face, but really clearing opens up a wealth of opportunities. I gained my university place through clearing and, looking back, it was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up going to a University I had originally applied for, just on a different course. I got to spend my time studying a subject I still love, I had a fantastic three years at what’s now called a ‘Russell Group’ university, made great friends, met a wonderful woman who later became my wife. The fact that I’d gained a place through clearing made no difference once I got to University and after gaining my first degree it was no barrier to further study: I went on to gain a PhD.  I then went on to a career in a fabulously rewarding profession.

I didn’t know any of that when I opened my A level results envelope in 1985, but what seemed like a bit of a disappointment at the time in fact led to a world of opportunity. Right now colleges are clamouring for you to be a student a their campus next month. My advice to you is to see clearing as the opportunity it is – a place where the sun can shine through, enabling you to see a new path to your future.

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.

Quote of the Week 2 – More Inspiration for Monday Mornings

Each Monday I put an educational ‘Quote of the Week’ up in the staff room. We refer to it in morning briefing and it stays up for the week. Colleagues seem to find it helpful and I posted the first selection of quotes here.

A quote for each week
Here is the second set, the quotes we’ve used over the 38 weeks of the last school year. I hope you find them helpful. I think they are all accurate and correctly attributed but please let me know if you spot any errors and I’ll correct them. Some were suggested by readers after the first post – thank you and please keep the suggestions coming!

1. Education is inspiring someone’s mind, not just filling their head. Katie Lusk (via @adnanedtech)

2. Take all reasonable advantage of that which the present may offer you. It is the only time which is ours. Yesterday is buried forever, and tomorrow we may never see. Victor Hugo

3. The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you. BB King  (via @urban_teacher)

4. For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head. Benjamin Franklin

5. When someone takes away your pens you realise quite how important education is. Malala Yousafzai.

6. Knowledge is proud that it knows so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows no more. William Cowper

7. Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. William James

8. A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instil a love of learning. Brad Henry

9.  I am always doing what I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. Pablo Picasso 

10. The problem human beings face is not that we aim too high and fail, but that we aim too low and succeed.  Michelangelo

11. The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. Linus Pauling

12. Show me a family of readers and I will show you the people who move the world. Napoleon Heilbuth (via @Libroantiguo)

13. The most successful people in life are the ones who ask questions. They’re always learning… growing… pushing.  Robert Kiyosaki (via @GregBCurran)

14. If you want to know the best the world has to offer, offer the world your best.  Neale Donald Walsch

15. Open your arms to change but don’t let go of your values.  Dalai Lama

16. Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance. Samuel Johnson

17. Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.  Albert Einstein

18. Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play. Henri Matisse

19. Wonder is the desire for knowledge.      St. Thomas Aquinas

20. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

21. The limits of my language are the limits of my world.  Ludwig Wittgenstein

22. They know enough who know how to learn. Henry Adams

23. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.  Alvin Toffler

24. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou

25. A child miseducated is a child lost. John F. Kennedy 

26. Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.  Henry Ford

27. Learning never exhausts the mind. Leonardo Da Vinci

28. Develop a passion for learning. If you do you will never cease to grow. Anthony J. D’Angelo

29. Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. Sir Ke Robinson

30. He who opens a school door closes a prison. Victor Hugo

31. When schools flourish, all flourishes. Martin Luther King

32. So much universe, so little time. Sir Terry Pratchett

33. What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give. P.D. James

34. Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks.  Charlotte Bronte

35. Teaching has been for me an education (Lord knows what it has been for my students).  Howard Nemerov

36. Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.  Henry Ford

37. Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it. Winston Churchill

38. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start. Pope Francis

I hope you find them useful.

Values in Education – Eulogy or Resumé?

I wrote recently about what key stage three students had taught me through their written applications for a teaching job. One of the points was how highly they rated kindness as a quality in teachers. 

I then came across David Brooks’ work on eulogy virtues versus resumé virtues. Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times and has written a lot about the precedence of qualities that are needed for employment in education and society – ‘resumé virtues’, things you might want on your CV – over ‘eulogy’ virtues, the things you would want to be remembered for at your funeral. Resumé virtues might include being well-organised or having good communicational skills. Eulogy virtues might include being kind, courageous, honest or loving. Brooks argues that, despite the fact that most people regard eulogy virtues as more important, our culture and education systems spend more time on the skills and strategies for employment than on building inner character.

It occurred to me that in many ways Brooks’ thinking mirrors the debate on character education. Whatever your view on this, I’d like to suggest that the response of pupils to writing an application for a teaching job shows that most include a mix of eulogy values and resume values, but typically place more importance on eulogy values. Here are the most frequent qualities listed:

Eulogy virtues






Resumé virtues


Communication skills

Differentiates for student’s needs

Behaviour management

Advises / Guides

I would be interested to know how these compare with the responses of students in other schools. If you have done something similar, please get in touch.

What interests me is that the resumé virtues thatthe pupils listed can all be found in a typical person specification for a teaching job, but how often do we include the eulogy values? Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that any school would actively seek to recruit unkind, uncaring, inconsiderate, unfair, cold-hearted staff, nor that such qualities are generally found in applicants! But why don’t we include these? Is it because we take them as a given and assume that they will be present in all teachers, or because we tend not to focus on them as important?

Brooks takes the view that character is made, not born; that we all have the potential to develop eulogy values, but too often a focus on career leads to ‘moral mediocrity’. He takes the view that character development comes from, among other things,  an honesty about our own weaknesses and a willingness to grapple with them, a realisation of the importance of relationships and our connectedness with others, and energising love – the ‘L’ word that students are not afraid to use. If he is right, perhaps we as teachers should take care to spend time on the eulogy values as well as the employability skills.

You can read more about David Brooks ideas at

What my students taught me during May 2015

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of posts about what I learn from the students I teach.

Most of these insights come from work KS3 students completed as part of a ‘takeaway’ homework set by SLT, and through talking with some of our leavers about their school experience.

1. Don’t let my preconceptions limit opportunities for Students. Despite over twenty years of teaching experience, I still sometimes underestimate young people.  One of the homework options was to enter a competition, run by the charity the Father Hudson’s Society, to raise awareness of the impact prison can have on women and their families. I included it because it’s a charity the school supports and we were invited to. I thought however that it wouldn’t appeal much to KS3 pupils, that they wouldn’t relate to it. How wrong I was. We received a wide range of poems, artwork and creative writing. The problem we now have is selecting only three items to enter from our school.*

2. Students make continual, largely accurate, assessments of teaching, regardless of whether or not we have organised student voice initiatives. A takeaway homework option was to write an application for a teaching post. They used this to write about the qualities a teacher should (and in some cases shouldn’t) have. Many were at least as good, if not better, than some actual applications we receive. Some year 13 leavers have been telling us about what helped – or hindered – them in their time at school. They gave unnervingly accurate vignettes of some members of staff! One quality all students value is kindness. We don’t currently put this on person specs, maybe we take it for granted but perhaps we should include it up front. I’ve seen that some primary schools include what pupils are looking for in job ads.

3. Family members are the major source of inspiration for young people. Another homework option was to write a biography of someone you admire. As you might expect, we got responses about all the great leaders of our time. Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Khloe Kardashian, they were all cited. As has happened before, however, a large number of students wrote about family members (most often mothers) and why they admire and feel inspired by them. When we ask leavers who inspired them most in their studies they most frequently cite family members.

4. We could ask students to write our self evaluation and improvement plan. Another homework option was to write to the principal with a suggestion for improving the school. Of course, several told us to ditch the uniform or serve chips every day, but overall we got a pretty good basis for a SIP! The student group who saw inspectors in our recent Ofsted also gave an assessment which matched our own evaluation.

Overall, I think these points emphasise the need for me to keep my expectations high because our students are pretty canny as a group and will rise to a challenge.

*June Update: It wasn’t only me who was impressed. Clinton was runner up for the art prize and Shahnoor’s poem won the writing prize!