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Inside the infinite loop

I am writing this in an Apple conference room in Cupertino, California as I await a transfer to San Jose airport. The past four days have been exhilarating to say the least. I’d even be so bold as to say it’s been the best PLD experience I’ve ever had. I am very grateful to be invited by Apple and SSAT to be a part it. It’s not every day you get invited to spend a week behind the curtain with Apple at their HQ.

As I await the long flight home, I’m trying to use this time to reflect and make sense of all that I’ve seen. My head is spinning.

Further, more in-depth posts will follow. Such as how impressive an organisation Apple are when you get to the core. It’s been such a privilege to be allowed behind the curtain and go places very few have been. To have walked the same corridors as Steve Jobs and to maybe have sat in a room where his team of ultimate disruptors changed our perceptions of everything, is very humbling.

For now though, three things that have really hit home for me:

1. Apple are not a company that sells tech. Instead they exist to make us think differently about what we perceive education to be. Technology is merely a means to that end. One particular comment from one of the Austin store retail managers stands out for me: ‘What we do as employees of Apple we do first for ourselves and then for the world. Our soul is our people … people who shine a spotlight on you to stand outside it.’

2. Education in England is exceptional. What we are currently doing in our schools in terms of student collaboration, innovation and creativity is top drawer. When you have the privilege to visit other high-performing schools in other countries, it reaffirms your faith in all that you believe in and that as a profession we are well ahead of the game.

3. Culture is king. And at the heart of any successful culture is simplicity. We are all guilty of over-complicating things. If we want to tell our story in a way that is compelling, engaging and authentic, then we need to strip it right back. Always begin with the ‘why’. Everything else then falls into place.

It’s been an absolute honour and privilege to learn with so many inspiring colleagues who themselves are all facing the same challenges back in their schools. But the schools and communities they serve are in safe hands because I’ve seen first hand – up close and personal – how passion stokes the fire in their bellies.

I’m looking forward to spreading a bit of that warmth around my own colleagues on my return. For now though, I’ll spend the flight home mulling over even more how I intend to change the world.

Care why, try hard

Guest post by Lisa Worgan, Director of Curriculum Innovation @VicAcademies

“Where are we going? How are we going to get there? And why are we doing this? Because if people don’t care, they won’t try as hard…”

@DavidBreashears, film-maker and climber, Inspiring Leadership conference, Birmingham ICC, 2016

The week of the Inspiring Leadership conference was an interesting moment on reflection in both my role and in life more generally. I spent much time thinking about what drives people to make a difference in the world around them and why this is ever more important in the world we live in today.

My thoughts started with a particularly interesting meeting with a group of children from one of our Trust primary schools. I was probing them around what felt important in their learning and how engaged they were in it. The responses that I got from these children were astonishing. They told me about how much difference they felt they had made in their last term’s Learning Challenge (called ‘Catastrophes) and that they had realised that ‘catastrophe’ wasn’t just about massive world disasters.

They had realised that families in their own school and community were going though catastrophe every day of their lives. That they didn’t have money to feed their families, or means to get clean and washed. And so these children researched and planned how they could help, working alongside the food bank to generate over £500, and using this to purchase a large amount of personal items to help families accessing the food and resource.

These children passionately articulated the difference they had made to their community, to how much they had learnt, but actually the pride they had in what they had achieved.

Children who care about the world are the future of this world. A world where not everyone is kind hearted and wants to make a difference. A world where children, adults and family go through suffering every day.

I continued to reflect on this during the conference whilst listening to author and humanitarian, Zainab Salbi tell her story of growing up in Iraq in a world of oppression and suffering and how she used this experience to motivate her. She knew that she wanted to change the world for women all around who were struggling in difficult circumstances and has spent so much time since planning opportunities for helping them to do this.

But much deeper than this, she has  taken the time to understand why this was important for her do this – how her own personal story has helped her go on to clearly help her make a difference.

And then, at the exact same time as I sat listening to the inspiring Zainab, the news of the death of Jo Cox, MP came through over the news feed. A woman who spent her short life being incredibly clear about her ‘why’. Her actions through speeches in Parliament and campaigns in constituencies and her active charity work demonstrated a very clear cause – to allow immigration to have a positive effect on communities. Jo believed in a better world and fought for it every day.

Our children are the future leaders of our world. We can help them be the kind of people who care and want to make a difference. Taking the time to plan for having a clear purpose in learning and helping them know why they are doing something can really change the meaning for children in our classrooms. This is about finding an ‘authentic’ real rather than ‘pretend’ real too – allowing children to really plan an event to bring communities together or to fundraise to buy that piece of rainforest.

Whatever it is, the learning should actually make an impact and not be falsified to feel real but be created to feel like this rather than actually existing in the world.

By creating a curriculum full of these learning experiences, we are helping children make the world a better place and giving them the learning process that shows that they have the power to change the world, but only if they care why and try hard…

@LisaWorgan

How do you continue to innovate?

A guest post by @LisaWorgan

When I first started my post with Victoria Academies Trust, I was given an interesting job title: Director of Curriculum Innovation. In some ways this filled me with excitement and enthusiasm; I would be responsible for working with the 5 schools in the Trust to ensure that their learning is real, immersive, and purposeful. Having spent time with all of these schools so far this academic year, it is clear that all of them are fulfilling many of these aspects in variety of engaging ways, and our plans to continue to build on this are becoming ever clearer.

And so then I come to the second part of my job title; Innovation. And this is the bit that continues to raise questions in my thoughts…

  • Question 1: When a school is already undertaking a number of innovative practices, is it right to continue to ask them to try new developments?
  • Question 2: Is innovation actually about new things, or is it about really deepening practice to solve problems?
  • Question 3: How much should innovation be led, or is it about giving space for teachers to lead their own practice and therefore bring about innovation?

All of these questions have led to thoughts around how we find opportunities for developed leadership and giving the space for innovation for teachers within our Trust to become expert in their practice. Now it’s a question of how we do this! Luckily, we have found a friend who is an expert in just this…

Zoe Elder from Clevedon Learning Trust is passionate about Action Research. She kindly invited me to a group that she was facilitating from Weston Super Mare Excellence cluster. On a chilly January afternoon, I arrived at a quaint, but slightly dated, beachfront hotel to meet a group of teacher’s part way through their journey of innovation. From a number of different schools, the teacher’s in the room were relatively new in their practice, but all had been identified by their schools are future leaders, quality practitioners, and with a thirst for developing their own innovations.

Each teacher had identified their own Action Research question; something that they wanted to really delve into to make a difference in their classroom – whether that be for all children or an identified particular group. Being a very open group, the teachers kindly allowed me to question their ideas, discuss what they were really looking to get to the bottom of, and generally to be a little challenging!

What was refreshing and enjoyable that session (alongside the yummy piece of cake!) was that the innovations that these teachers were exploring (whether this be mind-set in the classroom, confidence through child led developments, or changing the status of being ‘learning ready’) were not being led by anyone other than what those teachers felt were important. The likelihood is that they are also identifying aspects that would be important to all teachers in their school; and thereby setting up the pilot for an innovation that has the potential to change whole school practice in time.

Bringing me back to what my role in Curriculum Innovation should therefore be…part of this needs to be not only sharing innovative practice or supporting teachers to undertake this (where this time and space can be useful from the day to day of the classroom) but to create opportunities for them to lead innovative practice.

We have started this in small steps. Across the Trust we now have 6 Social Enterprise leaders, mostly TA’s, who are leading innovations in their school – more about those another time. And we have identified 3 more teachers who are going to start their own Research projects in their own practice that they feel will be interesting innovations for the future. But in discussions with Zoe, we are interested to explore how this model of teacher led innovation, through Action Research could take place for all teachers. Much more on this to be discussed, developed and decided. But through this journey I am intrigued to find out if teacher led innovation can continue to feed our forward moving practice in schools – and hopefully not leave me without a role to play!

The Art of Standing Out is available for pre-order on Amazon and is due for publication in July 2016 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Standing-Out-Transforming-school-outstanding-beyond/dp/1909717835/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461066639&sr=8-1&keywords=andrew+morrish+standing+out

The Power of Love

Have you ever experienced what it feels like when you get several hundred like-minded people together and lock them in a room for the day to see where the magic can take you? And that during that day you get to dream about ‘what if…?’ and get to ask really powerful questions like ‘why can’t our schools be like Disneyland?’

We did. On the last Friday of the half term, we closed all the schools within the trust and got them together at a lovely venue and held our inaugural ‘Standing Out’ conference. Everybody was there, including support staff, governors, trustees, directors and teachers. We didn’t literally lock them all in, but we certainly closed the doors, battened down the hatches and spent the day re-calibrating our moral compasses.

As it was the start of the Valentine’s weekend we wanted to launch the conference by inviting each and every one of us to fall in love. Or more to the point, to fall back in love with what called us to the profession in the first place.

Having enjoyed an uplifting opening choral performance from one of our schools, I had the pleasure of kicking off the event by exploring the concept of ‘The Art of Standing Out’. We reaffirmed our core purpose, which is ‘to make people become the best they can be’. We then explored three key themes of what makes for a standout school: Great culture, great teaching and great experiences.

Great culture: We explored our beliefs, in particular dispelling any fears we may have around our limiting beliefs. With our empowering beliefs established, we then looked at our values and launched ‘Trust Us: Making Our Values Happen’. This document was written by our cross-party changemaker team that unpacked each of our five values, providing examples of what these might look like in practice. We then celebrated and affirmed FIDES (Latin for ‘to trust’) so that we can Focus on family, Insist on excellence, Do good as we go, Embrace innovation, and Seize success. As our core values, these ensure that our organisational culture is always conducive to wholesome growth.


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Great teaching: We asked ourselves the Disneyland question and how we can ensure that we let RIP in our lessons so that learning is Real, Immersive and Purposeful. We explored what 21st century learning looks like and how we can ensure that children are taught to be confident independent learners, with a strong focus on meta-learning. Moreover, we want our children to always have JOBS and to experience the Joy Of Being Stuck in their lessons. Most importantly, we acknowledged that as teachers, quite often what we want to say is different to what the children are interested in, and so we must find a way to merge the two so that learning is relevant.

Great experiences: We want our children to experience a challenge-based curriculum that is inspiring and engaging, so that pupils run to school each day buzzing with excitement at the thought of another day of mouthwatering thrills-based learning. We re-affirmed our commitment to the pursuit of the creation of a curriculum that guarantees a continual stream of learning opportunities that will tantalise and inspire in pupils a desire to dream, imagine and thrive.

To bring all this to life, we ran a series of workshops throughout the day to awaken the creativity within, be it through the arts, social enterprise, technology or good old-fashioned maths mastery. We then wrapped the whole thing up with a thought-provoking keynote from Andy Buck, from Leadership Matters. We are eternally grateful to @RobArtsConnect (Arts Connect and MAT trustee), @JonathanClith79 (Real Ideas Organisation) and the team from Apple (@krcs_education) for giving up their time to host the workshops, in addition to our very own @matt_wynne1.

We even managed to get all of the heads up on stage to do a bit of pecha kutcha. Meaning chit-chat in Japanese, each head had four minutes to present four slides on ‘what makes my school standout’. Slides weren’t allowed to contain text and were timed so that after one minute they automatically moved on. Ranging from car engines, to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, space ships to Anton du Becke, the heads took the challenge by the scruff of the neck, showing why they themselves in particular stand out. We all know how much heads love talking about their schools, so this was no mean feat to restrict them to only two hundred and forty seconds.

At the end of the day, we asked each delegate to make a pledge. They wrote these down and we intend to send them to them at the end of the summer term. I am confident that they will make the change they want to see. Examples of pledges include:

  • I will always consider the real meaning behind the lesson – the ‘so what?’
  • Always try and praise the children’s efforts and not intelligence (a growth mindset).
  • To be the teacher that the children want to be with.
  • Stop limiting my beliefs and empower them!

We didn’t quite manage to get #StandingOut16 trending, but we certainly made a lot of noise on Twitter. At one point, @Andy__Buck tweeted, ‘One could be forgiven for thinking that every member of staff at @VicParkAcademy is on Twitter #eagertolearn’.

You don’t need to be in a trust to experience the power of synergy. Any group of like-minded schools can get together and make it happen, be it a local cluster, federation, collaboration, teaching school alliance or whatever. What’s essential though is that you invite absolutely everyone, provide a lovely venue (such as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens) and feed them well. The rest looks after itself.

The evaluations are now in and we are delighted with how positive they are. The words ‘inspiring’ and ‘inspirational’ crop up a number of times, as does ‘you ran out of chips’. As a multi-academy trust we can offer many things, such as sticky toffee pudding to die for, but when it comes to fried potatoes of the chipped variety, I’m afraid even we’ll have to pass.

 

Andrew’s book, ‘The Art of Standing Out’ will be available soon. Published by John Catt as #thestandoutbook.

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You are the most creative person you know

Before you begin reading this post, I want you to pause, close your eyes and think of the one single strategy that you think has the biggest impact on transforming a school. When you’ve done that, read on.

I can probably guess what crossed your mind: More resources, smaller class sizes, better technology, perhaps even stronger leadership. All of these are worthy and will no doubt make a difference. But how many of you thought of the arts? Or more specifically, creativity? Suppose you were applying for the headship of a school and the interview panel asked you to name your number one priority for school improvement. How many of you would honestly say ‘the arts’ or ‘to be more creative’? I suspect very few of you.

Like me, you’d probably have played it safe and said something like marking and feedback. I dare say you would have got the job as well because it’s unusual for people to associate school improvement with the arts. The two simply do not go together, especially with today’s high-pressure stakes.

For some reason, when it comes to school improvement – and I’m talking real, hard core school improvement here – we have this misguided perception that the arts simply don’t cut it. For one thing, it’s almost impossible to test and measure, and also, why bother when it’s not tested at the end of key stage two?

Instead, we stick with what we know best: We lock down the curriculum and go back to basics with literacy and numeracy. Besides, how many of us have read a special measures Ofsted report that says the school needs to improve further by being more creative?

One of the biggest myths that surrounds creativity is the fear of the arts. Too many schools view creativity as unachievable because they ‘don’t do the arts.’  This of course is unhelpful because creativity and the arts are not the same thing. Some of the most creative schools in the country become so without an Artsmark in sight.

For many years, I always believed that I wasn’t a creative person because I didn’t like Shakespeare. I don’t play a musical instrument, I can’t draw or paint and I don’t particularly enjoy traipsing round museums and art galleries. But I’ve come to learn that this was all wrong and that I am in fact – and always have been one – of the most creative people I’ve ever met.

You are as well. As a teacher, you are one of the most creative individuals walking this planet. You spend your entire day being creative and coming up with dozens of original ideas that add value. Even when you are not teaching, you are dreaming up thrilling ways to motivate and excite your class. In particular, your ability to use your imagination is second to none. It comes so naturally to you that you don’t even know you are doing it. Above all, you are able to inspire and capture the hearts and minds of a classroom of young people for hours on end, day in, day out, and they cannot get enough of it.

For most of us as parents, the thought of keeping a handful of other people’s kids entertained at a children’s party is the stuff of nightmares, but for you to do it with so many, in such challenging circumstances, without a magician or Wacky Warehouse in sight is little short of a miracle. So whilst you might not know your crotchets from your quavers, or a trochaic from caesura, fear not. You are still a talented and uniquely creative person.

To help you appreciate exactly how creative you have been today, here are 10 things that you probably did at some point with your class that were highly creative, and not a paint brush in sight.

  1. Your lessons were based on an assessment of what the children could and could not do, and you thought carefully about what it was that you wanted them to learn that was relevant and purposeful.
  2. The children experienced the joy of being stuck and celebrated that moment. You didn’t tell them how to come unstuck though, instead letting them help each other and find out how to do it themselves.
  3. You allowed the children to make lots of choices, such as when it was the right time to use traditional pencil and paper methods or technology.
  4. You provided the children with some feedback that got them to think about how they could use their new learning in the real world.
  5. The children worked hard and had to concentrate. At the same time they also used their imagination and got a bit lost in their thoughts.
  6. Your classroom was a bit of a mess with examples of children’s work pinned, blutacked, or strewn all over the place, especially on the learning walls.
  7. You didn’t get hung up on insisting that the children had to write down the date, title and learning objective. Instead, they just got on with it.
  8. Your children chose when it was the right time to look at each other’s books during the lesson. They asked each other questions and gave constructive feedback on how they could improve their learning by the end of the lesson.
  9. You gave the children time at the start of the lesson to read and respond in a meaningful way to your marking from the previous day (but you only did this for a few pupils and not the whole class because that would be silly).
  10. You had fun with your class and they really enjoyed being with you and can’t wait to do it all over again tomorrow.

Anything over 7/10 and you are a seriously creative person. Don’t despair though if you only managed one or two. It still puts you in top 1% or so of the population.

And if you still don’t see yourself as being creative, then don’t lose hope, there is still time. It is never too late to unleash the creative within you. As Stephen Fry once said: ‘We are all opsimaths[i]. Let us all go forward together now… Nothing can hold us back.’

 

 

[i] Opsimath, noun: one who learns late in life. This appears in Fry’s charming little book ‘The Ode Less Travelled. Unlocking the Poet Within’, that taught me everything I need to know about Iambic Pentameter and all other matters poetic. (It won’t surprise you that I ditched poetry as soon as I could at Secondary.)

It’s called teaching

I don’t blame ministers for wanting to test children more. I’d probably do the same thing if I was Education Secretary. It’s an easy one to introduce as it’s essentially a bureaucratic exercise. I think I’d do the same if I was Health Secretary. I don’t know enough about how to raise standards of healthcare, so I’d start by measuring something, like mortality rates or waiting times. It would be the same if I was Home Secretary – I’d probably look at crime statistics or arrest rates in each authority. I’m not entirely sure how it would improve services on the ground, but it would certainly make me feel as if I was making a difference. The premise must be, that the more I collect data, crunch it, rank it, publish it, then surely something will improve.

So I genuinely understand the reasoning behind the desire to want to test more. The problem I have with this, is that there are better and more sophisticated ways of achieving the end goal and it’s something that we are already doing. It’s called teaching. Since the removal of assessment without levels, never before have schools had the freedom to develop truly innovative and worthwhile ways of measuring how well our nation’s youth are performing, not just once a year, but day-in day-out. So why can’t we use this? We have a perfectly good system of teacher assessment in place at the end of key stage one. Sir Michael Wilshaw is telling us all – quite rightly – that never before have primary schools been so good. So why all the fuss?

A more cynical person might think that it’s down to a lack of trust – that teachers over-inflate their assessments and that we don’t have a true national picture. My experience suggests that this is not the case, as we are very good at moderating our judgements. Others may claim that introducing tests reduces teachers’ workload because we will no longer have to mark the tests. This again misses the point, because the current system of KS1 teacher assessment does not rely on a set ‘test’ but is formative with a bit of summative mastery (call it what you might) at the end. And what is the point of spending millions of pounds testing and externally marking scripts so that we can be told where each and every child is at nationally, only to not have a clue for the next three years, as nobody knows what expected progress looks like anymore? Maybe I missed the memo.

Assessment and testing must not be confused. They are two very distinct beasts. Assessment literally means ‘to sit next to’ (as in the French verb s’asseoir). This is what teachers spend a lot of their time doing – sitting next to children, either individually or in groups, to find out what they can or can’t do. Throughout the day, the best teachers flood the children’s senses with engaging stimuli in rich and dynamic immersive learning environments. They encourage them to ‘envoy’, ‘swagbag’, ‘splat’, ‘snap-in’ and ‘magpie’, always looking for opportunities to steal ideas and learn from their classmates. They teach children to collaborate and think actively in social contexts. Teachers quite literally, get down on their hands and knees and practically beg the children to fail, time and time again, so that they can develop reciprocity, resilience and bouncebackability.

And then we take all that away from them by putting them into a no-fail-zone, high-pressure, working-on-your-own-without-any-help-whatsoever situation, by giving them a test. For us as adults, it would be a bit like learning to drive in a Clio in England, but then having to take the test in France, driving on the other side of the road, in a Bedford van. Pretty pointless really.

At least with a driving test, you can take it when you are ready. (Isn’t it great, how as adults we change the rules of testing and have as many goes as we like? Not so for our children.) Testing would therefore be far more meaningful if it could be taken when ready; stage-related as opposed to age. I can’t remember ever a time – when teaching a class of 8 year olds to swim – that it would have been a good idea to throw them all in the deep end on a set date to see if they could swim 50 metres, regardless of whether they were ready or not. So why do we do it to young children in school?

No matter how well we try and dress it up, tests for some young children can be brutal. I had to go through some timed Ofsted assessments recently and I was hyperventilating after about five minutes. I hated it as a parent to see all three of my own children go through SATs at age 11, especially when the results that came back were exactly as predicted by the teachers.

We know that children do not learn in a linear fashion and that it is perfectly acceptable and normal not to learn as quickly at some points than others. It’s no different when growing or putting on weight – children don’t get taller at a precise rate each week, but instead have spurts. Learning is the same. To test every child in the country on a given day – some of whom may just have had a spurt (or not) – and to then say they’ve not met the national standard is unfair and unhelpful.

Regardless of how it is spun, a parent will need to be told that a 7 year old has ‘failed’. Of course, we won’t tell it that way, but they will know. How can this be helpful? It’s great for all those parents with clever children, but what of the others? What about those children who do not speak English, or who are refugees, or are starving hungry, abused, scared, unloved? Do we need to put them through a test or can the teacher not sit next to them and skilfully find out what the child can, or can’t yet do and then plan some activities that helps them move forward?

Classrooms are wonderfully complex places. I imagine a live operating theatre being much the same. I bet it’s awash with equipment and experts at the top of their game, all using a myriad of tools that measure progress. There will be continual collaboration, feedback and teamwork amongst all those in the room. Everyone will be in a heightened state of flow, resourceful, resilient and responding continuously to the needs of the patient, changing direction as they go. No different to Class 4M yesterday really. And yet, we’d never dream of taking a snapshot part-way through a medical procedure to see how well things are going. Instead, we’d try and rely on a range of sophisticated data and contextual information provided throughout the course of the year.

Testing does have its place in school. It should be administered by the teacher, as and when he or she chooses, with the single purpose of informing the next stage of learning, especially with young children. At a push, I can live with national tests at age 11, because by then children have been taught to be resilient and resourceful learners. Key Stage 3 and beyond? Bring it on.

But please leave our 7 year olds alone.

Why we need to slow things down

Not far from where I live lies the Shropshire town of Ludlow. It’s known for many things – food, medieval architecture, a castle to name but three. But what many people don’t know is that it is the UK’s first Cittaslow town. Cittaslow is a movement that originated in Italy as a rally cry against all things fast-produced. It has since evolved into a cultural trend known as the ‘slow movement’.

This trend has now crossed over into education. Last weekend, the Sunday Times ran an article in which it claims that more and more schools are turning to ‘slow education’ in the belief that deep understanding cannot be achieved by rushing. To quote from the article:

“The movement is a new approach to learning inspired by a book called In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist. Slow education’s academic guru is the British-born Maurice Holt, emeritus professor of education at the University of Colorado Denver. In Britain it is promoted by Mike Grenier, an English teacher and housemaster at Eton College. Its backers believe that how children learn is as important as tests and targets.”

The notion of teaching children how best to learn is a controversial one and there are many protagonists out there who take the view that it’s a wasteful fancy. As a headteacher I have grappled with this very conundrum for many years. Getting the balance right between traditional instructional teaching methods and a more progressive child-led approach is incredibly difficult. Not surprisingly, ex-HMCI Sir Chris Woodhead wades in expressing his concern in the article that the slow education movement’s approach (quite often it seems with an over-reliance on project-based learning) is a throwback to the 1970s and is an attack on the government’s agenda to raise standards. As a result, concludes Mr. Woodhead, we have created a generation of children (of which I am one) with gaping holes in their factual knowledge.

The challenge for the slow education movement is to get the balance right between the need to raise standards and being held accountable whilst at the same time removing the stress and pressures of hot-housing and testing. Can we create a system that has both? Can high stakes and league tables sit alongside creativity and nurture? We need to find a way that promotes the values of a slow education but at the same time provide opportunities that – according to Mr. Woodhead – allow students to submit to a body of external knowledge.

The Slow Education movement’s website acknowledges this but feels that we’ve already crossed the divide:

“Are you a teacher or head of a school who feels testing has gone too far? Do you wonder about life after levels? We within the Slow Education movement believe we are at a critical moment. There is a need to reclaim the importance of quality, creative teaching which enables students to think independently and cope with the challenges of life today.”

It’s certainly a worthwhile call to arms. However, as much as I subscribe to their underlying principles, I can’t help but think that in order to enable students to ‘cope with the challenges of life today’ then they need to be able to operate effectively within a frenetic and fast-paced environment. It’s a double-edge sword.

Three ways then to slow things down in your school:

1. Project-based learning. Often much-maligned but when used effectively and is purposeful and based on a child’s interests it allows pupils to engage in deep learning. I’ve written about PBL in a previous blog in which I emphasised the fact that PBL needs to promote critical thinking. Most importantly, it’s essential that learners acquire and apply relevant new knowledge. Where it goes wrong is when children have not been taught to think independently and so PBL simply serves as an activity to keep pupils busy. So yes, if delivered incorrectly, it serves no purpose and I can see why Woodhead raises concerns. However, providing PBL sits within a whole-school framework and is planned for meticulously ensuring that it promotes a broad and balanced curriculum, then as a tool for sustained school improvement, it’s highly recommended.

2. Learning in Depth. As a concept it’s very simple: To ensure that over the course of a child’s time in a school, no other pupil in the world is more expert about a specific body of knowledge than that child. Children in Reception are assigned a specific topic, such as ‘Pirates’, ‘Submarine World’, ‘Insects’ to name but a few. They then spend the next seven years mastering all that there is to know about the concept. The pupils lead the learning and have total control about their lines of enquiry. Once per term we run LiD days where children spend the day in mixed age classes (all the ‘Amphibians’ learn together from age 5 to 11). Facilitated by a teacher or teaching assistant, the pupils apply all their research, enquiry and thinking skills to master their learning and to take on the mantle of the expert. The fact that pupils have seven years to remain interested, inspired and enthused requires a slow pace with ample resilience, perseverance and determination on the learner’s part. It also requires excellent teachers who are able to take on the role of coach. Most importantly, pupils’ work is not assessed by a teacher and the only feedback they receive is from their peers through critique. Finally, for it to work well, pupils must be taught how to think, assess their work and that of their peers and to think actively in a social context. All of this needs to operate within an experiential and immersive curriculum that is sufficiently tight to ensure breadth, balance and rigour whilst at the same time being loose enough to allow for creativity and adaptability. You can learn more about Learning in Depth by watching its creator Professor Kieran Egan explain it here.

3. Ditch timetables. We seem to have a national obsession in primary schools with blocking learning into manageable bite-sized chunks so that we can create timetables to keep management and Ofsted happy. Remember those ridiculous calculations that we had to do for Ofsted back in the 1990s to show how many minutes of history or geography we were teaching per week? Woe betide any school that was a minute short. Numeracy and literacy hours didn’t help matters either. I understand that we have to stop learning at certain points during the day to eat and to go home. But other than that, leave them be. If your class are on task, in a state of flow and fully immersed in their learning then let them get on with it. It’s only managers that love timetables. Leaders don’t. So be bold and do away with them and go for a flexible timetable approach instead.