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Leadership, Redesigning Classrooms, Redesigning Schools

When Strategic Met Operational

The concept of strategic planning often gets confused with long term planning.  Remember just because someone writes strategic in the heading or says it in a sentence doesn’t mean that their thinking or planning is strategic.  The key difference is whether you take account of what is happening all around you, in the environment, in which you are working.  The National Professional Qualification for Headship had two modules which put together made the compulsory core – SLAM (Strategic Leadership & Accountability Modules).  The Strategic Leadership Module emphasised five factors to consider in strategic leadership and I’ve given an example for each one below:

  • P – Political: increasing zero tolerance of educational failure linked to accountability measures
  • E – Environmental: a new housing estate being built near the school
  • S – Social: changes in family structures, reducing or increasing birth rates
  • T – Technical: increased use of mobile technology by young people
  • E – Economic: impact of increased austerity on school budgets, in particular, capital budgets

I was never sure why education was never included as a factor but maybe it was considered a “given”.

The Boiled Frog

Before I share this bit of wisdom I need to stress you must not try this at home!  The story goes that if you put a frog in a pan of water and then put the pan on the stove the frog will sit there and slowly boil to death – it simply does not detect the gradual change in the environment around it.  Schools, leaders and teachers can all sometimes suffer from a bit of the boiled frog syndrome if they are not continually alert.

Shift Happens

When I first pulled the school’s data on ability profile, for this year, I wasn’t expecting this:

Shift Happens - Increase in Upper AbilityThe percentage of students we have in current Year 7, in the upper ability band, looks like a bit of a trend but also possibly a blip.  I think by next year it may definitely be a trend.  Staff had noticed that our new Year 7 was “different” and the data supports it.  Over twelve months ago we started looking at our Key Stage 3 curriculum, targeted levels of progress and collectively agreed they were just not challenging enough – we were faffing about in Key Stage 3 and then going like the clappers in Key Stage 4.  Please note this is not an approach I am recommending!

Our challenge now is to develop a curriculum, taking into account the new National Curriculum and content of qualifications, at Key Stage 3.  I’ve set the expectation of three differentiated schemes of work.  This will then need further differentiation by teachers within the classroom.  The strategic and the operational are beginning to merge as part of a continuum from assessing external changes and their potential impact to responding to them.

Scheme of Work to Challenge the Most Able

Z Band - Increase the Challenge

Put simply don’t reteach the Year 7 students what they already know, get a move on in Year 7 and take their learning on at pace and in depth.  I think it is with the most able that we waste the greatest time in Key Stage 3.  Our school’s new ability profile data will really challenge our mindset and expectations.  In Year 7 we now have two classes, about sixty students, outside our top ability band, that would have previously been in it.

Scheme of Work for the Middle Ability Students

X Band - Nudge the Middle

Here there is a need to balance consolidation and challenge but to be honest we are better at consolidating than challenging these students.  We need more challenge particularly in Year 9 where students can opt to follow a reduced number of foundation subjects with each occupying ten percent of curriculum time instead of the usual five percent.  At the very least, students need to achieve a 6B (in what is now old money) by the end of Year – my new “Key Stage 4 Ready”.

Scheme of work for Lower Ability

W Band - Passports

What interventions can we put in place to help accelerate the learning of our least able students particularly at the beginning of Year 7?  We need to passport these students towards greater success and not reinforce their educational disadvantage that they already have.  The challenge is to accelerate these students learning so that they too will be “Key Stage 4 ready” by the end of Year 9.  Literacy is often a key issue.

As part of my work for the SSAT (Schools Network) I came across a piece of work by Fiona Hope from Pleckgate in Blackburn.  She produced this work as part of a whole school drive to improve literacy.  The five objectives seemed great to me.

Developing Literacy

There is clearly a massive amount of work for teachers to do here at a very operational level and it is likely to be a task that takes a number of years to fully complete and embed particularly with the new Key Stage 3 National Curriculum and the release of new GCSE specifications with only GCSE English and GCSE Mathematics currently available.

Full Circle Back to the Strategic

In some very interesting conversations with staff we discussed how we might sequence the expected learning for the different schemes of work.  If this makes sense (and I realise levels are old money now) imagine sequencing all the learning expected to take a student from level 3 to level 7/8 in one single continuum.  If you take that continuum of learning you now have a learning sequence that the different ability groups may enter in different places.  For example, the most able students enter at level 5 and move towards level 8.  Whereas, the least able would enter at level 3 and be looking to move towards level 6.  The level 5 work would be the same for both groups of students; it is just that some students would complete it at the start of Year 7 and others at the end of Year 8 or start of Year 9.

Once the continuum of learning has been created, teachers can then start to use it to differentiate work in the classroom as no amount of banding or setting ever produces a homogeneous class of students.  The first role of the teacher will be to assess where students are on the continuum and where they should be taken over a certain timescale.  The scheme of work devised in a school will be more critical than ever in embodying the curriculum and first level of clarity and differentiation, to assist teachers, in matching and meeting the needs of all students.  What schools now believe a curriculum should contain will be of paramount importance to the education it provides.  For nearly twenty five years this has been largely dictated from outside schools.

Increasingly the main curriculum developers will be found in schools not Whitehall as the role of informed prescription has come and possibly gone for some time.  The initial challenge will be to weave the Key Stage 3 National Curriculum & programmes of study at Key Stage 4 into a seamless whole with links into what has gone before and will come after.  In essence Key Stages 3 & 4 will become non-events as there is just a continuum and continuity of learning.  The more strategic challenge will be to work across phase – imagine producing a continuum of learning, for schools, teachers and students to use, with children and young people from 3 to 19 years old.

I’ve read some very good blogs recently on the curriculum and would recommend having a look at Alex Quigley’s (@HuntingEnglish)  A New English Curriculum”  to see how some people are beginning to think about and use the new curriculum flexibilities, which are appearing in school .  The strategic issue is how to link beyond the particular phase of schooling we work in to look across all key stages.  Children experience the phases and key stages across schools in a sequential manner.  However, the learning across, and often within, them is anything but sequential in nature at the moment.

Devising a continuum of learning from Key Stage 1 to 5, across primary schools, secondary schools and Sixth Forms, is possibly another “When Harry Met Sally” (explained in an earlier post) moment.  Different Worlds and philosophies colliding to create something much stronger together than we can apart.  The implications for re-imagining education are immense – the whole examination system and professional structure for teachers would need to be re-thought.  These thoughts are more Vision 2040 than “Harry Met Sally” and so I’ll blog these out as part of the follow up to this year’s SSAT Conference at the beginning of December.

If you’re interested in other “When Harry Met Sally” Moments, why not try:

When #SOLO Met Bloom

When Didactic Met Co-operative

When Feedback Met Bloom

If you are interested in the Flight Path graphic the posts are here:

Targets, Learning Gaps & Flight Paths

Changing Flight Paths & Intervention



10 thoughts on “When Strategic Met Operational

  1. Like this Stephen-will pass on to colleagues. Might ask our asst head Mark, to give you a shout if he thinks it could be a way for us to think and to fit in with our student flight path. Thanks for sharing again.

    Posted by david jones | November 29, 2013, 6:54 pm
  2. With a Business teacher’s perspective – the PEST analysis as referred to in your post has commonly evolved of the last couple of decades into the PESTLE analysis…the L usually referring to the legal landscape, in this case that could happily be exchanged for Learning I would say, echoing your wondering about education not being included as an E!

    Posted by nkh1970 | November 29, 2013, 7:03 pm


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