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Vision 2040: Learners at the Centre II

In the first part of what now looks like it will be a trilogy, Vision 2040: Learners at the Centre I, I put forward the idea that as we move towards 2040 we will see various power shifts in education including from teachers to students, where the learner takes centre stage in decision making about her/his learning both its direction and process.

Take a moment to think about the best learners you have ever taught, not necessarily the most able, articulate or brightest but the learner who impressed you most with her/his approach to your lessons … now imagine a whole class full of these learners sat in front of you!  This would fundamentally change what happens in schools, for the better, but we have a responsibility to explicitly develop these learners.  Tom Sherrington (Chair of the SSAT Vision 2040 Redesigning Schools Group and tweeting as @headguruteacher) effectively pre-empted the first part of this post with his comment on my previous post:

Learners at the Centre II

“The blend of these ideas … rather than pitting them against each other.”

As I think about schools and learners of the future then three aspects of learning have to be put into place.  We need to see these as interrelated, summative and synergistic as we work with all three elements together:

  • A cognitively and vocationally challenging curriculum
  • The habits of mind and procedural skills that enable students to be
  • Explicit development of students as learners – independent then interdependent.

We need students to have a cognitively and vocationally challenging curriculum.  They need to develop sufficient knowledge on which to build a conceptual framework of an area of study, a real deep understanding, and this conceptual framework is then the basis on which further knowledge and concepts can be built.  I’ve blogged before about the SOLO Taxonomy (Redesigning Classrooms: Using SOLO to Increase Challenge which has links to some other posts that might be of interest).  Lots of teachers at St. Mary’s have found the SOLO Taxonomy really useful to build challenge into their class room practice on in a sequentially and organised way.

We also need to build the habits of mind and skills that will allow students to be scientist, historians, linguists, technologists, mathematicians etc rather than simply doing our subject.  An interesting experiment pitted a group of history professors against some American history undergraduates.  The first part of the experiment tested knowledge and understanding focussed on a period of history studied by the undergraduates but not the specialist area of the professors.  The undergraduates outperformed the professors.  However when both groups were given materials about a period of history neither were familiar with the professors way outperformed the undergraduates.  The undergraduates had learnt about a period of history but the professors knew how to be historians – critically analyse sources, make hypothesise, draw out different inferences and come to a conclusion.  We need our students to be not simply to know.

Let me just turn this on its head for a moment as these procedural skills need to be placed in a rich and challenging curriculum not a vacuum.  About twenty five years ago, as a young Science teacher, I was asked to speak at a Science Conference about some work I was doing on Process Science – explicitly teaching scientific procedural skills.  There were a number of presenters and one was talking about a thirty minute observation homework where students had to observe the bubbles for half and hour and write about what happens to bubbles made with washing up liquid in water.  I don’t know about you but this would bore me stupid: process without a challenging context is superficial and a wasted opportunity.

Both these areas, whilst always accepting that we could improve further, are familiar to schools.  The real gap in many schools and in our curriculum thinking and planning is around the explicit development of a learner.

4Cs Interdependent Learner

We need learners who initially becomes independent but whose ultimate aim is for interdependence.  This is part of a natural process akin to the move from childhood dependency, to teenage independence and then an adult interdependency.  As we set our sights on 2040 we need to put the learner at the centre, a decision making highly able learner, who can personalise their curriculum both within any mandated core and beyond it.  Learning in 2040 will be more multi-faceted, distributed and personalised than it currently is or was in the 20th Century and this will be massively accelerated by technology.

The 4Cs Learner

4Cs Learner

The 4Cs Learner was first produced in Summer 2008 in response to a request from a member of staff to put a stream of different ideas and thoughts I was presenting and discussing with teachers, about the type of learner we should be aiming to develop, onto one side of A4.  Staff were interested in the various ideas but were really confused by my usual “box of frogs” thinking and needed a coherent picture to engage them.  However, the root of the 4Cs Learner goes much further back to fundamental beliefs about what education is about.  Part of this is how we build academic success for our students.  In my first presentation to staff at St. Mary’s, on Day 1 as a newly appointed headteacher in September 2000, I said that we would build our students’ academic success on three things: literate, numerate and ICT capable learners; learners with good interpersonal and social skills and learners with a wide range of thinking skills.  This pretty much still sums up what I believe now about developing learners.  My thinking was greatly influenced by Alistair Smith (@alatalite) who I first heard talk about developing learners and learning in the late 1990s in Leeds and the Cognitive Acceleration in Science (CASE) Programme, which is one of the few things I would make compulsory in schools if I was Secretary of State for Education for a day.

The link below takes you to a different view of the 4Cs learner which is a bit more dynamic and has some resources attached – it’s like looking into my mind, so carries a big health warning.

Brain 2


You cannot create the power shift in decision making required to personalise learning, at a micro or student level, without having highly confident, co-operative, connected and creative learners.  I want to focus on the Confident Learner, as this is the first stage of the journey, that takes the learner from dependency on a teacher to independence as a learner.

4Cs Confident Learner

The Confident Learner consists of a number of key elements, ensuring a learner has: the literacy and numeracy skills required to access an increasingly challenging curriculum; the attributes of a successful learner that we have based on Alistair Smith’s 5Rs and combined these with Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) and the development of thinking skills and use of thinking tools.

In some ways I feel that we were doing better in realising the vision of a learner back in 2008.  A huge capital building programme has knocked the school sideways in recent years but we are approaching the end of that and I intend to help staff reconnect the 4Cs Learner with everyday practice.  However, here are a few things already going on to help us realise the Confident Learner:

Literacy & Numeracy

The development of literacy and numeracy has had its profile raised by the most recent Ofsted framework but it has always been there in most teachers’ minds.  Last year our Head of Learning Support, Paul Gillespie, started a pilot with paired reading between Year 11 students and students in Years 7 & 8 who had low reading scores, on standardised tests.  This was a real joy to observe, as you walked down the “street” you would see younger students being mentored in their reading by older ones during morning registration.  He followed this up with spelling tests for Years 7 & 8 also in morning registration.  Paul produced a list of twenty spellings for the week which were handed out to students in Year 7 & 8 forms by Year 11 students who would then administer the test and mark them before reporting scores back to Paul – a highly efficient system.  This year we want to move this on and look at the use of MangaHigh and Khan Academy to help develop students’ numeracy skills and mathematical understanding.

This September we will be implementing the National Mathematics Partnership’s “Passport Maths” programme which aims to move students who enter secondary school at level 3 or a weak level 4 to a secure level 4 in the first term of Year 7.  We have also just appointed a new Literacy Co-ordinator, in an agreement with a number of our associated primary schools, who will work primary co-ordinators to develop a coherent English and literacy curriculum across the later years of primary school and the early ones of the secondary.  In addition she will develop or find a literacy programme, similar to the Maths one mentioned above, to move students with weaker literacy skills to a “good level 4” as soon as possible in Year 7.

These developments all have real promise and collectively could be powerful agents in helping develop our students as Confident learners.  Our challenge is to pull this together into a coherent and consistent programme of literacy and numeracy development for all students in their early secondary years.  We have started but there is a long way to go.

Attributes (Traits) of a Successful Learner

5Rs - Responsible Learner

These are a set of soft skills that I hope we will develop in all learners – we want our learners to be responsible, resourceful, reasoning, reflective and resilient.

To help clarify, there was a great little “twitter dialogue” about resilience as part of #sltchat.  One line of thinking developed from “we need students to be resilient and able to keep learning particularly when they are struggling or find the work difficult” with the other developing from “we need cognitively demanding work first for students to develop the attribute of resilience in their learning”.  Within a few tweets love and fraternity broke out as it is clear these are mutually inclusive perspectives.  Resilience cannot be developed in a vacuum lacking rigour and challenge but if we want to increase the level of rigour and challenge then we need students to be resilient in their learning.

These are expected to be present in teachers’ planning, lesson objectives, success criteria when marking key pieces of work and we report on these to parents.  I say “expected” as we still have someway to go but this is about fundamental beliefs as a teacher and converting this into daily class room reality – do you believe it is part of a teacher’s role to explicitly develop students as learners?  If “yes” then all that needs sorting out is the what and how.  If “no” then who will develop the learning skills of those students who don’t possess them, often some of our most vulnerable young people?

Thinking Skills & Thinking Tools

To help develop young people’s thinking skills we use a range of different courses across Key Stage 3 particularly in Year 7.  Thinking Skills in History and Thinking Skills in Geography plus Cognitive Acceleration in Science and Maths.  A Learning to Learn Programme, co-developed by Alistair Smith at ALITE, is delivered by a number of departments: the RE Department teach “I Learner”, the Science Department “Team Learner” and the ICT & Computing Department “21st Century Learner”.  Most recently we’ve had a dynamic day with different year groups trialling the “I Thinker” challenges.

The thinking tools sound exotic but will be familiar to many teachers as graphic organisers which help students order and organise their thinking and ideas.  There are many really useful examples of tools that can be found on the internet – my current favourite is the “Lotus Diagram”.

Our challenge as a school is to develop the 4Cs Learner and the associated elements consistently and to a very high quality.  This is very much a work in progress, part vision and part reality, but it is an essential element of Vision 2040 if power is going to shift.

An explanation of the Co-operative Connected, Creative Learner can be found in Learner at the Centre III.

My first blog post on Vision 2040 was “Reflections of an Apprentice 2040 Visioner” but there are an increasing number of great blog posts coming in from Kev Bartle Part I and Part II and all the Vision 2040 Group – it would be great if you got involved.

Vision 2040: Learners at the Centre I

Vision 2040 is fundamentally an idea about “Power Shift” in the first half of the 21st Century:

  • From the politicians, in a tug of war with the professionals, to a consensus implemented by highly trusted professionals.  This is possibly the easy bit for us to accept and endorse.
  • From teachers to students, where the learner takes centre stage in decision making about her/his learning both its direction and process.  This is more difficult and challenging as it’s never easy to let go particularly when there are high stake accountability measures circling above you like vultures.

To see this power shift as part of an extended journey I want to build on some ideas shared by the wonderful and engaging Professor David Hargreaves, a number of years ago, who always challenges the orthodoxy of the time and seems to have a “crystal ball capacity” for seeing the future direction of travel.

Henry Ford

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black.”

Henry Ford in many ways epitomises the education journey of the 20th Century in England which has seen high quality education provided for all students.  I think it’s fair for people to question whether it is yet consistently good enough in all schools and for all students but compared to one hundred years ago we are in a totally different place.  This is the factory model of schooling.  Power for decisions sits at a national, local and school level, often in that order, and students’ experiences are very similar.

Dell Options

Dell is an example of mass customisation.  There is a glittering and dazzling array of options for colour of the machine, processor, hard drives and additional elements which allow us an element of control over the final product.  The key to understanding this is realising the ultimate power over what type of customised machine we can build sits with Dell, they are the ones who give us the options from which we can choose.  I’ve termed this, in schools, as macro personalisation and shown a number of ways this is realised in my blog post, Redesigning Schools: Masterchef II – Great Menus, Great Food, changes to the school day, lesson length, curriculum pathways options are all examples of personalisation but the power over which options students have sit with the school, it is not an infinite, unknown or ephemeral set of options.  This is a start and I believe that my generation of leaders will build this into a highly effective educational provision but it is Vision 2020 not Vision 2040.

Apple Website

Apple has taken the next step moving the market from mass customisation to mass personalisation.  On the Developer website there is information about how to prepare an app for review and also how to promote it to your potential market.  Apple has also released part of their programming codes – “the complete developer tools for building … apps. Includes the Xcode IDE, performance analysis tools, iOS Simulator and the latest OS X and iOS SDKs” – which is absolutely fantastic news as we are now able to take the lead in app production, if only I had the slightest clue what this actually meant.

The shift to mass personalisation of apps is only going to happen if enough people have the knowledge, understanding, skills and attributes required of a good programmer that enables them to take and develop an idea and deliver it to the market.  The power only shifts from Apple to the individual when all these things are in place.  The power shift, and possibly mindset shift, required in schools and teachers sits around explicitly developing learners with the knowledge, understanding, skills and attributes required.  We tend to be better at the first part rather than the latter part of the list and I fear current educational policy is doing nothing to redress this.

Mass schooling was the gift given to us by a previous generation of leaders and mass customisation must be our legacy as we ensure Vision 2020 is a reality.  It is also for the current generation of leaders to provide the bridge to mass or what I term micro personalisation which will be the mission of a new generation of leaders some of whom we may have recently appointed to our schools.  They will take us to micro personalisation – the learner as a decision-maker at the centre of a multi-faceted, distributed and personalised education – and this is the essence of Vision 2040.  The ability for the learner to make decisions, be more self-directed and follow interests and passions will be at the heart of education by 2040 because this is what the World will need and demand.  Accountability and assessment systems will need to fit around the new educational reality and qualifications like the Extended Project Qualification will take on greater and more widespread importance:

“The test of successful education is not the amount of knowledge pupils take away from schools, but their appetite to know and capacity to learn.”

Sir Richard Livingstone, Oxford University, 1942

“The skills you can learn when you’re at school will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace – except one: the skill of making the right response to situations for which you have not been specifically prepared.”

Prof Seymour Paper, MIT, 1998

There are two follow up blog posts that develop the themes from this post further, rather aptly named, Learners at the Centre II and Learners at the Centre III.

My initial blog post on Vision 2040 is titled, Reflections of an Apprentice 2040 Visioner.

Upside Down CPD: R and D Communities

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers often tends to stem from whole school priorities around raising attainment and achievement, improving teaching and learning including assessment or responding to various local, national or Ofsted agendas.  These whole school priorities tend to monopolise the resources available including funding, access to external courses and use of INSET Days.

I’ve read blogs and tweets that liken INSET days, with training on these whole school priorities from external consultant, headteachers or members of the senior leadership team, to a little bit like the proverbial being dumped on teachers from on high.  Suggestions about people leading the CPD, particularly when it is about teaching & learning, include things like mirroring the strategies (the two hour talk on actively engaging students is a classic misjudgement) are important but miss a key point.


Part of our human nature leads us to enjoy and engage with issues that we have a particular interest in or ownership of.  If we really want to personalise CPD for staff then we need to shift the power in the decision making process from school leaders and external pressures to classroom teachers.  It is not simply improving the delivery it is moving the decision making by tipping it upside down and distributing the authority to make decisions about their own professional development to teachers.  This is not an either or – too often in education in England we take an extreme position and then seek to defend it – it’s about rebalancing CPD so that teachers’ particular pedagogical and curriculum interests are afforded time and resource alongside whole school priorities.

I’ve blogged before about setting up some new Research & Development Communities in the post “Improving Teaching Not Simply Measuring It” and the proposals are now in.  The basic structure behind the R&D Communities is:

  • A R&D Community can be set up to develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the College.
  • A R&D Community can be used to take forward an idea, innovation or approach by a group of staff that will lead to improved standards of attainment, levels of achievement, student well-being or student personal development.  A R&D Community can be set up by any member of staff.
  • Each R&D Community must have a named leader who will be responsible for the community, its outcomes and leading a group of staff between 3-8 people in size.
  • Funding of £100 per person in the R&D Community will be made available to fund the community’s work, the leader will have their teaching commitment reduced by one period (periods are 100 minutes in length) per fortnight and supply vouchers for use by community members can be bid for.
  • Funding will be released following the R&D Community’s idea and success criteria being accepted.
  • Approximately half termly a voluntary meeting slot will appear in the calendar for R&D Companies that may be used if some/all of the company members wish to.
  • Applications can be submitted in April/May each academic year, but no later than two weeks before the late Spring Bank Holiday and the funds will remain in place for the following academic year.
  • Student research and developers may be useful additions to the R&D Community.

R&D Communities for Next Academic Year

What impact does using SOLO taxonomy in peer assessment have on the quality of formative feedback, and learner responses, over one academic year, on an English writing assessment at KS3 and KS4?
Our R&D community wishes to look at various elements of technology in teaching and map them onto the SOLO taxonomy.  Similar work has been undertaken by various teachers globally with Bloom’s taxonomy which shows which tools are most useful for developing each skill area, and we would like to do the same for SOLO, providing a pedagogically sound platform for implementing the use of various technologies/web 2.0 tools/apps across the College.
How can we embed SOLO success criteria into the classroom in a way that encourages pupils to take ownership for their learning?
How far can student attainment be improved by implementing a ‘flipped classroom’ within their daily teaching and learning environment in order to accelerate their deep learning over a one year period?
The group would aim to carry out action research exploring ways by which students develop their moral awareness and “proclaiming, worshipping, service and civic duty” can be developed within the college.  Initially, the group would look to identify key moral threads from the PSHE / Citizenship curriculum that could be developed and lead into delivery via the peer mentoring ‘plenary team’ introduced this year.  The main vehicle for development would be through peer mentoring across Key Stages 2, 3, 4 and 5. 

Narrowing the Gap for FSM students: Improving achievement through participation in enriching experiences.

I’m not sure what you think about the different proposals and the good news is it doesn’t matter.  They are of interest to the staff groups that devised them.  All of them could potentially “develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the College” and that was the key requirement.  CPD has been flipped and turned upside down in this particular instance.  Teachers have decided what interests them and been given the resources to pursue it.  This is part of an increasing blend of different learning opportunities including INSET days, Thursday afternoon CPD and external and internal courses that staff may choose to go on.  The R&D Communities add a dimension we have never had before and fills a gap in provision.  All proposals were accepted.  The SOLO Taxonomy features heavily and this is something that has been a consistent theme of development for the past three or four and there are a couple more posts on this blog about using the SOLO Taxonomy to increase challenge and how we have sought to spread and embed it.

Produced by Pam Hook (@arti_choke) http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process

Produced by Pam Hook (@arti_choke) http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process

The total funding for the six projects involving thirty four staff – thirty one teachers and three support staff – is £3,400 though I don’t think the actual spend will be anywhere near that.  Teachers aren’t that great at spending money at school.  In addition, one hundred and twenty three cover vouchers have been asked for.  The use of the cover vouchers will need to be monitored as we won’t be able to release a large number of teachers all at once but leaders have been very clear that a number of cover vouchers will simply be used to keep staff “free” and our cover supervisors will support the release time for staff.  I can almost hear people shouting about the missed classes but this cover equates to about one day per member of staff per year.  This is equivalent to a one day course each, which often has no impact back at school, against what may well end up being about one hundred and fifty days equivalence of collaborative planning, lesson observations and peer evaluations with this deliberate practice developing staff’s pedagogical knowledge and skills.

The six R&D Communities are being led by two teachers who are currently Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in their first year of teaching with us, three staff who have other middle leadership responsibilities and a part time main scale teacher.  It’s a wonderful mix and I just think a fantastic opportunity to develop leadership skills.  One of the responsibilities of the R&D Communities is to capture and transfer knowledge so I will be blogging about the successes, failures and lessons learnt by each group during next year.

What would you want to research and develop with a group of colleagues if given a £100 of funding each and a bit of time?

Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing (New Book)

Liminal Leadership


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