The Revolving Door of Headteachers

We are facing a recruitment crisis. We all know it – despite having to constantly hear from the government that teacher numbers are rising and that it is the unions talking down the profession. As a member of the NAHT Executive I take particular exception to this. When you sit in a room with colleagues from around the country and hear how they are all struggling to recruit. Let’s be clear about this. Houston we have a problem!

Yet, this crisis is not just about teachers. We are facing a crisis in recruiting headteachers (not just this side of pond either). The Times recently carried out research that revealed that one in ten schools is losing its headteacher each year. Some schools have been left without a head for up to three years and that some local authorities have seen more headteachers leaving the past five years that the number of schools in the area.

‘Schools are blighted by a revolving door of head teachers as many of them retire or take early retirement, leave the profession, take up opportunities abroad…’



The million dollar question of course is – what is the answer to this crisis? I was at a recent event listening to an Ofsted Inspector talking about leadership and succession planning. Herein lies the challenge. In order to plan for succession you need teachers to stay in education for more than a couple of years and you need experienced leaders stay in education, so as to role model great leadership to them. When asked if Ofsted had a solution – it was neatly batted back to the profession as our problem to solve. Great! Leaders are leaving in droves – we are struggling to recruit teachers – budgets are being slashed. Thanks for that! Fortunately, we are a driven and solution focussed profession!

Yes, Mr Ofsted Inpsector we can identify talent. Yes, we can fast-track this talent. Yes, we can take the altruistic approach and applaud when our teachers and leaders leave schools and join others knowing that they are still in the system. If only this was a true reflection of the educational landscape. In reality, if you are trying to turn a school around and you also happen to be located in an area of deprivation and in a known hard to recruit area – it is a mammoth task trying to get teachers in schools and then get them to stay. Leaders of these schools are taking ‘resilience’ to another level, when constantly faced with having to rely on the revolving door of supply teachers just to get someone in class (at least someone is profiting). I’m not even going to go into the numerous other challenges faced by our increasingly stressed headteachers.

So, and the reason for my blog. Let’s champion our leaders. I would like to invite leaders to share their success stories with the world via the twittersphere using #talkupleaders (here I must thank Paul Garvey of Talk for Teaching who started #talkupteaching you can follow him @PaulGarvey4).

Let’s spread some light and positivity on our epic profession! #talkupleaders


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Don’t let CREATIVITY be the Missing Ingredient in YOUR Classroom

In 2013, Jon Kamen (chairman and CEO of radicalmedia.com, a transmedia company) wrote an article for Wired Magazine entitled ‘Creativity is the missing ingredient in education.‘ He argues that with so much emphasis on STEM subjects, creativity is being squeezed out of education and along with it opportunities for creative thinking. His solution: the acronym STEM should be changed to STEAM to include the arts. Why? Because these subjects still respect the creative process.
Creative thinking leads to innovation, and innovation leads to success. Sure, science, technology, engineering and maths are necessary, but without the initial creative stimulus for solving a problem or imagining the possible, nothing would ever be accomplished.’ [kamen, J:2013]

Kamen’s viewpoint is supported in the brilliant, and freely available book ‘Creativity in the English language classroom’ (2015) written by an international community of educators and published by the British Council. Editors Alan Maley and Nik Peachey state that due to current curriculum and assessment constraints, creativity is something of an endangered species in our classrooms; and that ‘creativity isn’t something which is reserved for a special part of a course or a lesson, but that it is something which can and should be integrated into every aspect of our classroom practice and at every level of our learners’ experience.’


Sylvia Guinan’s review of this book is well worth a read, as is her blog.

In the book ‘Creativity in the Primary Classroom’ (2012) author Julia Desailly has further compelling arguments of the impact of creativity, when she writes that ‘becoming a teacher who is able to teach creatively and to encourage pupils to learn creatively and to develop their own creativity is also to become a highly effective teacher.’

As if we needed any more persuasion about the absolute necessity for the creative classroom. I will leave it to Sir Ken Robson to have the last word…


I’m sure everyone has viewed his TED Talk – but just in case… ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ 

And just because I love this anecdote…

‘A six-year old pupil in a drawing class said she was going to draw a picture of God. The teacher said: ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’. ‘They will, in a minute’, the child replied.’    Sir Ken Robson

[Please let me know if any of the links are broken or not working]


Thinking about Curriculum Design! #edchat #ukedchat #21stedchat

The purpose of this post is NOT to analyse the national  curriculum – it has already been carved up by a whole host of experts who have been/still are divided about the changes. I remember primary maths being a topic of much discussion because when you look at top performing countries like Finland – where children aren’t introduced to fractions until the age of 9 – yet our children start looking at fractions at the ages of 5/6 – you have to question the whole rationale of introducing difficult concepts to even younger children – and wonder if it will actually make a difference? I guess only time will tell. The history curriculum caused a huge Twitter storm – with some experts saying it was great, others just a narrow list… And, what about the Arts? Music reduced to a couple of lines?! I could go on… But I won’t!

  
The bottom line is that in England, state schools have a statutory duty to cover the curriculum – and whilst academies don’t have to – many do – because they still have statutory duties to follow… (see link below)

Do academies have to follow statutory guidance?

I have to say that I’m not ‘anti’ the national curriculum. Every single child, regardless of background is entitled to an ‘excellent’ education and there should be equity of curriculum provision to ensure this – regardless of where you happen to live. Let’s face facts – there were/are too many children who were/are left behind and whose educational experience was/is less than satisfactory. Thus, a national curriculum was introduced in 1988 with the intention of eradicating these inequalities – and to set out the minimum entitlement a child should receive. Have they succeeded? Someone out there will have the finer details I’m sure! However, as always happens when we feel things are forced upon us – there was much controversy and debate that – not only are we being told what to teach – we are also being told how to teach and thus effectively deskilling teachers. And that’s a whole other issue. But, if implementing a standardised curriculum has improved life chances for children – then it has to be worth it. I like to think we have achieved a great deal in our schools – and whilst we might not like some of the accountability measures imposed on us – we have to remember that you are only a child once – we have to get it right for them. And for children born in poverty – a good education may be the only way out.

  
With the introduction of the ‘tough’ new ‘slimmed down’ curriculum in 2014 – the government says that it now ensures depth and now does not tell teachers “how to teach”, but concentrates on “the essential knowledge and skills every child should have” so that teachers “have the freedom to to shape the curriculum to their pupils’ needs”.

So, if we have the freedom to shape the curriculum – but must still ensure that the essential knowledge and skills are covered. Then, what does that look like? Everyone has their own opinions and dare I say ‘passions’ about curriculum design. It got me thinking – how should we design the curriculum to ensure high quality outcomes? What are the key principles and processes? How narrow/broad should the curriculum be? Is one approach more successful than another e.g. Thematic approach or a focus on the basics only. I mean – it’s all about good teaching – isn’t it?

I have read a substantial amount of research/literature about school improvement and the implementation of a new curriculum for schools that have been failing – is cited as being crucial to securing and sustaining improvement. So – with this in mind I thought I’d start looking at the curriculum that outstanding schools offer. Are there common themes? What can we learn?

 Ofsted found the following principles: 

The National College looked at top performing countries and identified the following:
 The national college also asked 10 school leaders of good and outstanding schools to share some of the ways that learning is organised in their schools. This section illustrates some of the many different ways they seek to achieve a balance between teaching basic skills, subjects and thematic learning.

“Our curriculum is carefully planned as a mix of integrated and discrete elements. Where possible we use themes to enhance learning but recognise that this is not always appropriate for all aspects of the curriculum”

“We plan for progression in all subjects to ensure challenge. We also agree on ways to extend and deepen learning through topics and themes in long term planning.”

“Everything is interlinked. Subject specific language, ideas and skills are taught and a cross-curricular approach is used, especially when this makes learning more meaningful.”

“To ensure progression we have essential skills of literacy and numeracy mapped across the curriculum. The skills map is constantly revisited. We have termly curriculum days to monitor. “

“All literacy is linked with thematic work alongside discrete phonics daily and reading workshops. We carefully map literacy and numeracy skills across the whole curriculum. We also have themed weeks, such as climate week. There is a toolkit with advice on how to plan these weeks so that they have real rigour.”

“We really emphasise the basics as a strong foundation. We then build a rich curriculum on top of this. For example, we may have an art day or week where we train teachers to focus on particular skills, such as observational sketching, and this leads to high quality work and displays.”

“We adjust the balance between a focus on basic skills and other subjects to meet the needs of particular children if we feel particular gaps need filling.”

Our medium term plan identifies the skills and knowledge and how they are targeted at different groups. Teachers always know where their children are with regard to what they know, can do and understand. They use this knowledge to plan next steps.

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The national curriculum has been likened to  a set of ingredients – but not the whole dish. Or a coathanger to hang your coat on. What is clear – is that outstanding schools are offering a rich, innovative curriculum that engages pupils in a meaningful way – that has opportunties to extend, and enrich learning in a variety of contexts e.g. Themed, cross-curricular and outdoor. A curriculum that has a context (local and global) and with one eye clearly on the future – but at the heart of it – the basics, the essential skills and knowledge that children need in order to deepen their learning experiences and create their own learning pathways.

Schools need to be innovative and visionary. My next stop will be to research if there is a particular approach that encompasses all the principles and values underpinning curriculum excellence e.g. Project Based Learning, 21st Century Ecuation and to look at different curriculum design models e.g. Subject centered, student centered, problem-solving centered and so on.

What I would really like to know from schools – is how many teachers and children were involved in the curriculum design process? Did you involve all stakeholders when building your curriculum – or was it a top-down approach? Are you confident that all stakeholders could communicate the vision? Also, how often do you revisit your curriculum? Is it still fit for purpose?

So many questions…

Please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors! Beauty of blogging – freedom to let thoughts run… 🙂

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Links to schools who participating in the Grand Curriculum Designs Project – The Institute of Ecuation (UCL)

Grewelthorpe Primary School

Power of collaboration via ipad4schools.org                                       Time is Gold for Teachers

Hey teacher, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more time to do things properly? Teachers around the world are expected to somehow fit professional growth in-between planning, teaching, marking and parent communication, and so I understand why many don’t get round to much professional development or reading. So it was especially exciting for me […]

http://ipad4schools.org/2015/10/24/time-is-gold-for-teachers/

Classroom Design. Can it really improve outcomes for pupils?

If you were to walk into any primary school in the UK and take stock of the environment, common themes emerge. In the corridors, you are very likely to see large display boards showcasing pupils’ work or celebrating success in sport etc. Headshots of staff, that I always think look more like a ‘rogues gallery’ (regardless of how big the smiles are) and large artistic looking photographs of children, looking happy, whether they are immersed in learning or at play. You are sure to see photographs of housecaptains or pupil parliaments and a wide variety of value or mission statements that seek to convey the ethos of the school.

Wander down the corridors and into the classrooms and here we see more similarities. Almost all primary classrooms are bright and welcoming, more so than secondary, that always seem sparse in comparison. (Please note that this is not a criticism).
Back to the primary classroom, where pupils’ work adorn the walls, windows or can be found hung on washing lines stretching from one corner or the room to another. There may be role playing areas (mainly in infant classrooms) and in all, there is almost certainly going to be a plethora of vocabulary and learning prompts for English and Maths (often courtesy of Sparklebox which caused much controversy in 2010 – so much so, that many schools blocked this popular site).

Class rules, health and safety, PSHE and Science posters may also be found on the walls, together with a variety of questions, quotes and popping up over the last five years or so – the Maths and English Working Walls and learning journeys. If we look at the furniture, tables are arranged to promote group work and, I think it’s fair to say, that teacher desks are thing of the past, because in most lessons the teacher can (and should) be found working with the children. I have to honestly say that my desk served no other purpose than to keep stationery in. I may as well have thrown it out!

I know that teachers work immensely hard creating a classroom environment that is not just warm and inviting but that is also a resource for pupils to engage and interact with. In essence, a physical and visual resource to scaffold and extend learning. But how much do the pupils really engage with their learning environment? Ultimately, does all of this hard work actually improve learning outcomes for pupils or is it just pretty wallpaper? Do the aesthetics of the classroom/school really matter?

My motivation for seeking an answer to this last question was prompted by the Headteacher I am currently working with. His vision for the aesthetics of the school and how each individual classroom would contribute towards the realisation of this vision, was fascinating to me, in what appeared to be, its very prescriptiveness. It became clear that this Head had incredibly high standards. As a huge advocate of the work of Ron Berger (if you haven’t read ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ than I suggest you do so) high standards and striving for excellence (in my opinion) are a prerequisite for leaders, teachers and learners alike – in fact – for every stakeholder in our learning communities (but that’s a whole other blog!)
So whilst I was visualising how our school was going to be transformed (will write more about this later) I was also considering the impact. Whilst I knew that the school would end up being more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ I kept wondering… Would it lead to better outcomes for pupils?

The positive impact of an ‘attractive’ classroom has been well documented. In 2009, Michael Hubenthal (IRIS Consortium, Education and Outreach Program) and Thomas O’Brien (University of Binghamton, School of Education) wrote a paper entitled: Revisiting your classroom’s walls: The pedagogical power of posters,

They report (and I quote) that ‘Since the 1950’s, researchers have known that visually unattractive rooms produce feelings of discontent, fatigue and a desire to escape (Maslow & Mintz, 1956). More recently an ever‐growing body of research concludes that soft aspects of a classroom, such as climate, colour palette of walls and wall decorations, adjustable lighting systems, and seating have the ability to positively influence students’ emotions and have important effects on students’ attitudes and behaviours such as attendance, class participation, and rapport with the instructor (Graetz, 2006; Sommer & Olsen, 1980; Wong et al.,1992).’

Many people have written and blogged about classroom walls, concluding that once the displays become familiar to pupils they lose their impact – becoming nothing more than wallpaper. From my own experience, I was often frustrated that the carefully selected prompts I displayed to scaffold learning were rarely looked at by the pupils, even when pointed out to them, before, during and after a task. I have read arguments for and against keeping the walls free of all displays and read countless articles on the use of colour.

However, I was particularly interested to read the many studies that conclude that an effective classroom environment can improve outcomes for pupils. A pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates, concluded that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.

The transformation of our school began. Corridors and classrooms were stripped free of old furniture and display boards. With school accessibility in mind, the garishly painted walls were replaced with one calming colour in non reflective paint. Existing doors removed and replaced in one contrasting colour as was the flooring.
Teachers’ desks were removed (some prised from under the fingernails of teachers) and resources not essential for day-to-day learning centralised. Nothing was to be stacked on top of cupboards – absolutely all clutter was to be eliminated.

All of the corridors and classrooms were now nothing more than a blank canvas. Oh the endless possibilities!

The Headteacher then explained to us all that he would set up a ‘model classroom’ for us to see what his vision of a classroom would look like. However, I believe he had a far deeper purpose in mind when he proposed this. We can all look at photographs and pictures to see what something looks like – but to really change perceptions and make a vision a reality you have to change minds – and where there are fixed mindsets this can be challenging.
We weren’t allowed to see the ‘model classroom’ until the ‘big reveal’ and I’ll never forget that day. Much like the pupils did, when they walked into their classrooms on the first day of term, there was a sense of awe and wonderment amongst the teachers. It was so quiet – you could have heard a pin drop – and then, as teachers are want to do (because we are all big kids at heart) we started to explore. You see, the classes are linked to one topic, there can be nothing displayed on the walls that is not relevant to that topic. The space is one that is ‘designed’ to inspire and engage whoever walks through the door and this methodology extends to all spaces in the school. Our library is now world famous!

But what has been the impact on pupil outcomes? Behaviour is good. When you walk down the corridors you gain a sense of calmness, when you walk into the classrooms there is an air of purpose that was missing before. Attendance is rising, because pupils want to come to school. The pupils are proud of their teachers for working so hard to create such a stimulating learning environment for them. They demonstrate this everyday in the way they look after and respect our school. Above all, there is a sense of pride amongst the whole community that is almost tangible. Bonds are being formed and the buzz of positivity – even when the going gets tough – just seems to get louder.

Will all of this impact ultimately on pupil progress? Well you know – I have no doubt it will – because our high expectations seep into every aspect of school life. We have only really just started out on our journey but when I look around at our happy community and hear teachers and children laughing and learning together – isn’t that the outcome we should all be striving for?

Visit our school website at http://www.cordwalles.org

Follow our school on Twitter @_Cordwalles

Apologies for any spelling or grammatical errors. I have very tired eyes! 😉