An education worth having

 

 

IMG_2218The chances are you may not have heard of the Whole Education Network. It’s been going strong for several years now and grew out of the RSA in 2010. If you haven’t come across them yet, then you really should have, so read on (3 minutes reading time).

Consisting of over 200 members (and 21,000 Twitter followers), the network is a dynamic partnership of schools all with a shared passion: That all children deserve an engaging and rounded education that supports academic achievement, but also develops the skills, knowledge and qualities needed to thrive.

Anyone can join. So long as you buy-in to the key principles and are committed to collaborating with like-minded schools who embrace innovation and world-class thinking, then you’re in. You also need to sign up to the concept of – as the name suggests  – a ‘whole education’. In other words, you ensure that your pupils take complete ownership of their learning through a relevant, engaging and worthwhile curriculum. Only then can we truly guarantee an ‘education worth having’. (Those of you who have read my book will know what I mean.)

You can find out more about the Whole Education Network on their website, such as leadership impact initiatives, research and focus groups, webinars, conferences and peer review. As a member you can connect with schools at the cutting edge of best-practice up and down the country. For example, there are currently school-led interest groups exploring flipped learning, spirals of enquiry, project-based learning, digital fluency and so on. What’s perhaps most exciting is the ability to influence change on a national and international scale. Chaired by Sir John Dunford, the board and executive are well-placed to open doors and bend ears of ministers, influencers and international movers and shakers.

As the executive headteacher of a Whole Education Network Partner School, and all-round advocate for a whole education, I’m looking to establish a regional primary hub in the Midlands. Hubs are already well-established in some parts of England, such as the one in the North-West led by Sharon Bruton, CEO at The Keys Federation in Wigan. I hope to galvanise enough support to create a Midlands powerhouse where schools are able to create synergies and collaborate and share best-practice. Never before in our schools has this been more relevant, with the growing pressures on the arts, creativity, culture and the importance of a rounded and balanced curriculum, both implicit and explicit.

If you want to find out more then we are holding a Whole Education launch event at Rowley Park Academy (Stafford) on 15th May from 11.00am to 1.00pm. Look out for more details next week. You are all invited, regardless of whether or not you are an existing Whole Ed member. There’ll be an opportunity to learn more about what we do, meet key staff from the Network and agree a way forward as a regional hub. Rowley Park is a classic example of a school that has benefited from a whole education. In 2014 it was in special measures and is now a school bursting with innovation and creativity. Feel free to stay on for a tour of the school and have a look round.

If you can’t make the 15th, but are still interested then do contact me either through LinkedIn or Twitter @AndrewDMorrish. You can always contact Natasa Pantelic at Whole Education (Natasa@wholeeducation.org or on 0207 2585130).

Finally, if you know of any schools or colleagues that might be interested in joining the network, please pass this on.

 

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A rallying cry for the arts

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One of the more pleasurable elements of my job is my role as a strategic board member (and chair) of a regional Arts Council Bridge Organisation. Based at the mac (formerly the Midlands Arts Centre) in Birmingham, Arts Connect is responsible for the delivery of the arts and culture offer across the region. Although it is operated by The University of Wolverhampton, it is entirely reliant on funding from Arts Council England. Without the funds, schools across the region would be unable to participate in Artsmark, Arts Award or enjoy any of the experiences provided by local Cultural Education Partnerships.

But I fear for our future; not so much for Arts Connect as an organisation, but the arts in general. It can’t have escaped your attention that the future of school funding is perilous to say the least. For the first time this millennium, heads are going to have go through their budgets line by line to make savings, and significant ones at that. Across our MAT alone (6 schools) we anticipate a shortfall in the hundreds of thousands, and that’s just for starters. Factor in the increased pension contributions that we all face and the future does not look rosy.

Never before has the need to issue a rallying cry to save the arts been more apparent as it is now. When it comes to making difficult budget issues, because the arts are often seen by many as icing and not cake, there are no prizes as to what’s likely to get the chop.

Figures shared at today’s board meeting show that across the West Midlands (14 local authorities covering 2600 schools), less than one in ten are involved with Artsmark (8%). Across the country the figure is close to 15%, almost double. Compare this with Arts Council England’s target of 50%, and we have a very long way to go. Factor in the new National Funding Formula, and you can see why that target is looking increasingly unlikely.

At the heart of the work of Arts Connect is a fundamental belief that arts and culture can enhance learning and transform lives. I believe in this and I hope you do too. I sincerely hope that as a teacher or leader in your school you will fight tooth and nail to protect the arts as well. Unfortunately, when it comes to the pressures of accountability – Ofsted included – the arts can be the first to be marginalised. I say this gingerly because I don’t actually believe it to be so, although sadly, in reality the pressures of inspection invariably mean that the arts end up taking a back seat. The lead performers will always be English and maths, with art and culture playing very much a supporting role.

The curriculum that we offer our young people must be riddled with art and cultural experiences. Without it, we cannot make sense of the world or ourselves. How can we expect children to embrace cultural diversity for example, if we don’t provide opportunities for them to engage with the world through arts and culture? (I feel at this point that I should take a moment to extol the virtues of the arts, but if I had to do that then the battle is already lost. We may as well all go home.)

School leaders are under ever-increasing pressure to show return on investment (ROI). This can only be demonstrated through impact in terms of outcomes and achievement. It’s the ‘So what?’ question. The problem primary schools face of course is that it’s very difficult to demonstrate how the arts (as opposed to art) have made a difference to young children’s lives because it’s almost impossible to measure in a meaningful way. I’ve always believed that if you stumble across something that is difficult to measure then it’s probably a good thing to do. Take SMSC, character education or social and emotional aspects of learning for example. The arts are the same; the minute we start to test it… well, heaven forbid.

Unfortunately, the very fact that it can’t be tested is often the reason why it gets marginalised and may ultimately be its downfall. Unlike with maths and English, it’s very difficult in a SES or headteacher’s report to governors to produce charts and tables that show how pupils are achieving in the arts. Even if we did (and a number of schools are doing exactly that with increasing aplomb), it would only be a matter of time before we’d then be expected to show how we compare with other schools.

Over the years, schools have learnt to play the game. Heads know only too well that a positive inspection outcome can be achieved without any arts, so long as outcomes are strong. I recall on several occasions as an inspector under previous frameworks, examples of schools that we’d graded as good or outstanding without seeing an ounce of arts, despite the children telling us that they were crying out for it. It was extremely frustrating, but our hands were tied by the inspection criteria, attainment especially. That said, the current framework is much-improved, particularly in regard to how well pupils thrive. The difficulty of course is how you go about proving it on the day in such a short space of time. (This is why I am a fan of peer review as it allows colleagues – in the words of Mary Myatt – to dive deeper and linger longer.)

I urge you to stand up for the arts. I urge you to resist the pressure of ditching the trips and visits and partnerships you may have with existing creatives and arts organisations. Rather than see them as inevitable victims of austerity, instead be wise, be brave and build your curriculum around them. If you haven’t already done so, contact your regional Bridge Organisation and see how they can support you, perhaps through Artsmark. It’s a much-improved beast to what it once was and is now based very much on whole-school self-evaluation and improvement.

You can find more information on how to find your nearest Arts Council Bridge Organisation here. All ten are currently putting in bids to Arts Council England for funding for the next four years and it’s unlikely that it will continue beyond that. There’s £10 million up for grabs each year, divvied up amongst the ten and so I urge you to fill your face and have your cake whilst you still can.

 

My latest book, The Art of Standing Out, is available on Amazon.

 

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

There needs to be another way

During the past few months I’ve been writing a book. It has been the most cathartic, scary and all-consuming experience of my life. I’ve cherished and savoured every minute of it. When I finally submitted the manuscript, I did so with great reluctance, as if I was cutting loose one of my own children. I felt compelled to add a note to the editor: ‘Take good care of her…’

What follows is an extract from the introduction:

I love what I do. I’ve had the privilege of working with so many talented people, whose dedication and zest for teaching always continue to amaze me. I feel incredibly proud to be a headteacher. Even now, when people ask me what I do, I love seeing their reaction when I tell them. It always strikes a chord with people. I sometimes half expect them to give me a hug, as if to thank me for singlehandedly trying to save the world. Do you ever feel like this, or is it just me?

When I was in sixth form, I remember going to a careers event and being told that the key to a successful life was to find something you enjoy doing and then getting someone to pay you to do it. Even better, if it’s something you are good at and it’s something the world needs. This then becomes your purpose in life. I’ve since learnt that it’s what’s known as having a firm persuasion in your work, and is – according to the poet and author David Whyte – one of our greatest and missed opportunities: “To feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exact same time.” It is, he says, “one of the great triumphs of human existence.” It’s what allows us to move mountains.

I sometimes feel that I can move mountains. I’ve also had to climb my fair share as well, as I faced challenge after challenge after challenge. But overall, I have a very firm persuasion. We all know what’s great about being a teacher, and many other books have done a far better job at describing this than I ever could. I always remember asking an experienced teacher at interview, “What is the best thing about being a teacher?” Her reply was immediate: “August”. She got the job.

Here’s what I like best about being a headteacher:

  1. Transforming the life chances of those pupils and their families who put their trust in you;
  1. Helping people to become the best they can be;
  1. Telling everyone and anyone how proud you are of your school, whether they want to listen to you or not;
  1. Quoting Walt Disney to your Year 6 leavers on the final day of term, telling them that, ‘if you can dream it, you can do it. Now go out and change the world.’;
  1. Sleeping soundly at night because you know that they will. The world is in safe hands and in some small way you played a part in it.

But as much as I love my job, there are bits I really don’t enjoy anymore. More than anything, I’ve had enough of being judged on how well I jump to other people’s tunes. The relentless pressure, for example, to become ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, to come top of the league tables, to be in the top 10% of this or the top 1% of that. And all based on somebodies tune. It’s about time I started to jump to my own again.

I’ve now come to the point where I’ve realised I can’t see out the rest of my career continually trying to incrementally improve test scores; to eke out a percentage point here and a percentage there. Marginal gains are all well and good, but not in the context of test scores. I find the thought of this entirely unedifying and certainly not the reason why I became a headteacher. As goals go, it’s not exactly going to rip up trees. Besides, how could I possibly motivate my staff on the basis that this be the sole purpose of our being? Would you want to come and be a part of this magical journey? Of course not.

So there needs to be another way.

If you read this book from cover to cover you will find out how I had the privilege of being a part of some great teams that transformed several schools to outstanding. The highs and the lows. The trials and tribulations. The sleepless nights and nagging self-doubts, especially when inspectors tell you that what you’re trying to do is not good enough. Even though deep-down I always knew my school was great, there was always that fear that others won’t. And unfortunately, it’s their view that counts. Not mine. So if I were to tweet what the #ArtofStandingOut is all about, this is what I’d write: ‘How to transform your school in a way that is meaningful, courteous and worthwhile, without giving two hoots about Ofsted.’

Perhaps then, this is the ‘other way’. To no longer get hung up by others, Ofsted included. It goes much deeper than this though. What if we could still continue to improve our schools, with or without an inspectorate, but do so in a manner that focuses on a holistic education that is both wholesome and worthwhile? Let us not get hung up on the notion of ‘outstanding’, whatever that may be, but instead, look at it in a different way. We need to redefine outstanding to suit our own agenda. We need to be brave enough to drape banners across our gates on our say-so and not on that of others who only step foot in our schools once every leap year.

For too long we’ve been stymied by Ofsted rhetoric and their ever-changing proxies for what they believe the best schools must look like. The Art of Standing Out is about setting us free from the shackles of an inspectorate so that we can examine our schools through a fresh new lens, one that allows us to filter out and see only the things that matter.

BookCover


The Art of Standing Out
will be published by John Catt in July 2016. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon here.

Feel free to let me know what you think on Twitter @AndrewDMorrish. Be gentle.

 

 

 

 

Seizing the Agenda – musings from Whole Education conference 2015

Guest post by @LisaWorgan, Director of Curriculum Innovation

After two days of reflecting on the future of education for our young people, I sat on a packed train waiting to leave London Paddington. As the clock ticked past the departure time, my thoughts were with Sir Tim Brighouse’s call to action: we must find the ‘gaps in the hedges’ in education. We must innovate, to test things out in adverse circumstances.

And as I reflected on how we are doing this at Victoria Academies Trust, the announcement came over the tannoy that the train I was sat on was cancelled and we must all get off. A metaphor, if I do say so myself, for how education policy can be the biggest stifler of the innovative spirit in our schools where we are putting our young people first.

Having recently joined the team at Victoria Academies Trust, I do feel that I now am able to really create opportunities that start as an idea and become an innovation. And the beauty of being part of an academy means that we truly can put our children and their futures first.

Take our work on social enterprise; exactly what I had been asked to share at the Whole Education conference, as part of the workshop on ‘Unleashing the Curriculum Designer in us all’. Our approach to developing social enterprise skills in the curriculum, running our own social enterprise (Ballot Street Spice) and weaving these two aspects together through our new mini challenges in our wider NICER curriculum are very unique aspects in a school – especially a primary school.

Could this be a gap in the hedge? I certainly think so! Perhaps more of our education for children should help develop these skills so as to help prepare our children for their futures and tomorrow’s world, whatever this may hold. Friday of the conference saw a room full of people discussing and believing in exactly this, so there is definitely a body of thinking that has a power in schools to see more of this work happening.

And so although I had to repack all my items, get off the train, change platforms, wait for another train, and arrive home much later than I had planned, I left feeling that any challenge that we come across isn’t going to derail our journey as innovators. Yes, there is adversity and challenge and barriers that feel like they get in the way. But actually overcoming these challenges often produces the kind of results that are right for both us and our learners – for the futures that we all face together. To harp back to Sir Tim once again; we may be moving into a fourth age in education. A time for innovations and partnerships. And that is what I plan for my work within the Trust to hold at the forefront.

Doing good as we go

As I sit on the train on my way to a meeting in London I spot an article in the Metro that claims that ‘Women are the real task masters’. Apparently, according to a well-known skincare company, us men can only manage 19 tasks a day compared with 26 for a woman. Not only do they manage to pack in 7 more tasks, the report confirms that women also get the shopping done and do the cooking. Every day. Meanwhile, the men are down the pub and watching sport, both of which are listed by the way as 2 of the 19 tasks. The report is inconclusive as to what the other 17 involve.

Despite appearing disadvantaged by virtue of being male, it does reassure me somewhat, in that it explains why at times I feel as if I’ve got nothing done. I’m not entirely sure how a ‘task’ is defined, but already today I’ve completed at least 9 and it’s not even lunchtime. Ten if you include the writing of this blog, so I’m on track to exceed the daily 19. I’m very pleased with this, until I remember that the woman sitting opposite me (doing nothing I might add) has done a lot more than me already. This is probably why she is looking rather smug, as she too has read the article and knows she is ahead.

Reflecting on this, I think this might be why, when inspecting a school, it always seems as if my fellow team members are getting a lot more done than me (male or female). By lunchtime on day one, they will invariably have amassed an impressive wodge of completed EFs whilst I clearly haven’t. I calm myself down by reminding myself that it’s quality that counts, despite experiencing levels of stress that at times are unparalleled. You see, as hard as it might seem to believe, being an Ofsted inspector is very, very stressful. Not because it’s unnecessarily difficult, but simply because you want to get it right.

I will never forget my ‘sign-off’ inspection in 2007. As a rookie inspector you enter the arena with confidence and poise. But deep down, I had never felt more nervous – more so than any interview I’d ever had. You’ve been trained, you’ve completed your ‘shadow’ inspection, and so – quite rightly – the HMI leading the team (and who is scrutinising your every move) expects you to get on with it. You collect your blank EFs from the team room, are given the areas you are leading on, a timetable, map of the school and off you go.

I still feel the same way now. The stakes are so considerably high that nothing less than exceptional performance on my part is acceptable. I have to get it right. The team has to get it right. When I did my training with Tribal, the trainer instilled in us a mantra that we must always abide by: Do good as you go. Having recently at the time been on the receiving end of several quite bruising inspections, I found this laughable. Since when have Ofsted done good as they went? It never felt like that for me when on the receiving end.

The reason I am on my way to London is to attend a meeting with the Whole Education Network to refine their existing Peer Review process. I’ve written about the virtues of peer review before (here) and very much see it as the way ahead for inspection, especially for those outstanding schools that are now exempt. As I see it, one of the many advantages of a Whole Education Peer Review is that you feel as a headteacher that good has been very much done unto you. It is system-led and impact driven, focussing entirely on the core purposes of education. If we can avoid the pitfalls of the cosy-fireside-chat syndrome, then in terms of doing good, peer review is here to stay.

‘Do good as you go’ stuck with me and I try to carry it with me at all times, none more so than when inspecting a school. It is now one of the five core values of the trust that I lead and is a key driver in creating the ethos and culture. At a recent Ofsted training event, Sean Harford (Ofsted’s National Director of Schools) alluded to much the same thing. He said that inspectors require not only a ‘fierce intellect but also an impeccable bedside manner’. He is right.

So, as the 2015 inspection window opens a week from today, I hope that amidst all the pressures of a new framework, the 1500-strong inspection team remember this. I’m sure they will because it’s been drilled into us by HMI at recent CIF training events and regional national conferences. The new inspection framework feels very different in approach than previous ones. We all know that the process of inspection is flawed in so many ways. But as we move forward into another new framework with the assumption that good schools are just that, I am confident that if we get it right, a lot more good will be done as we go.

As a serving practitioner I feel very reassured by this and I hope you do too.

Making the pupil premium count

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College. Tinie Tempah was there. So was Al Murray, Piers Morgan and a host of other A-list speakers. When I say they were ‘there’, I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that they were actually there in person sitting at the back of my session. That would be daft. I do like to think that they might have thought for a split second that the pupil premium panel that I was a part of might have been worth a listen. But they didn’t. The nearest I actually got to Mr Tempah was that I retweeted him. And as for Messrs Morgan and Murray, well at least I was on the same page as them in the alphabetical list of speakers in the festival programme. Not many people can say that.

So seeing as they missed it, and most probably you did too, this is broadly what I said.

Chaired magnificently by Anna Trethewey (@annatreth), and joined by @MaryMyatt and @Khawar_Malik, each of us on the panel were afforded 5-10 minutes each to extol to the masses who turned up our thoughts and views on ‘how to spend the pupil premium wisely’. This proved to be very difficult because 5-10 minutes is clearly not enough time. However, I think I made a fair fist of it.

1. Build a shelf. Despite the fact that almost 80 per cent of those listening were not aware of the EEF toolkit, I still made the point that you should choose carefully. There is a danger that schools adopt a ‘supermarket sweep’ approach to filling their trolley with strategies and interventions in the hope that if they pick the ones at the top of the list, the gap will close. It’s really not as simple as plucking them off the shelf if, as a school, you do not have a shelf yourself on which to sit them. By shelf, I mean an organisational culture or set of core values and beliefs that underpin and support all that you do. Spend time building your own solid shelf and getting the climate and ethos right before you start raiding the store.

2. Back to basics. Better still, whilst building the shelf, invest time and effort in going back to basics and being clear about what good quality first wave teaching looks like in your school. Agree on a set of ‘non-negotiables’ around effective learning and ensure that these are applied consistently across the whole school. Once you have these, you can then begin to use strategies that are consistent with your pedagogical approach.

3. Don’t weigh the pig. As a general rule of thumb, if I come across something that works in a school and it’s difficult to measure, it’s probably a good thing to do. Be cautious if the strategy that you are pursuing requires constant and continual measurement. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing pupil premium funded activities as only being of value if they improve test results. Of course this is important, but simply viewing the toolkit as a means of plugging gaps in knowledge is shortsighted. Avoid interventions at all costs. Instead, consider using pupil premium funding to provide opportunities to teach children how to become better learners by allowing them to develop their soft skills such as resilience, independence, collaboration or critical thinking (shelf, notwithstanding). With this in mind, perhaps one of our highest impact projects is our pupil premium funded social enterprise that teaches children how to be social entrepreneurs in a purposeful context. It also prepares them for the world of work. You can read more about this here and here

4. Greatest good for the greatest number. Choose strategies that have the most impact across all subjects and areas of learning. One of the earliest approaches we took was to spend funding on technology, ensuring that it impacted across all areas of learning. Each child now has a device and 24/7 broadband connectivity at home. This allows us to flip the classroom which has shown to have a significant impact on closing the gap. Have a look at @mathsflip, an EEF funded project we took part in for more information. A utilitarian approach will also be well-served by adopting strategies that impact on meta-cognition, feedback and peer-assisted learning (PAL). We use our funding to employ a team of DIRTy teaching assistants to ensure the gap remains closed as part of Directed Improvement Review Time. We also employ staff to run PALs sessions where a more able child teaches a concept they have mastered to a group of pupils that require additional support. It is also entirely appropriate to spend the funding on partnerships with external organisations who develop the whole child. Examples of those that we currently work with include Real Ideas Organisation, Creative Alliance, University of the First Age, and of course the Whole Education Network (we are a partner school).

5. The killer question. Finally, ask yourself this question: If pupil premium funding was stopped tomorrow, which (if any) of your strategies would you continue to fund yourself? If the answer is ‘none of them’ then you are doing the wrong things. The strategies that you use to close the achievement gap need to be sufficiently valued such that you would be doing them anyway because they are fundamentally at the heart of all that you believe to be high quality teaching and learning. If this is so, then you are indeed spending your pupil premium wisely.