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Accountability, Assessment, Leadership

Using Clever Lands to Help Create Clever Schools

Certain books capture the imagination and open up a world of possibilities.  Lucy Crehan’s (@lucy_crehan) gap year globe-trotting narrative of visiting five high performing PISA countries/states/cities, Clever Lands, is one that has got my mind racing.  That’s a good thing unless you have the misfortune of working with me.


Following visits to Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, Lucy provides an analysis; highlighting five principles for high performing, equitable education systems.  The principles offer an insight of what could be; recognising that cultural context matters but is not everything and can be deliberately changed over time.  The five principles operate together; mutually supporting one another, resisting politicians’ or school leaders’ attempts to cherry pick that which idiosyncratically suits.

The context of this blog post is the Trust’s Start of Term INSET Day focused on delivering our Teaching, Assessment & Learning Policy.  Time for groups of teachers to collaboratively: plan learning progressions towards key concepts or complex skills; prepare or analyse assessments including assembling exemplars of excellence, if appropriate, or deliver bespoke targeted professional development to each other on an aspect of pedagogy, identified from an analysis of what has not been taught well from assessments.  In short, the day aims to enhance teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (see Coe et al (2014) What Makes Great Teaching?  A Review of the Underpinning Research, CEM/Sutton Trust).

The INSET day is the first of a series of four, planned for this academic year and likely to be repeated in future years.  It is in response to teachers asking for more and more time to build schemes of learning.  This is critical at any time but especially during times of substantial national changes.  It’s an opportunity.  Over one hundred teachers, from early years to post-16, working with peers for five hours to get the teaching, assessment & learning right.  That’s five hundred hours plus of planning, preparation, assessment and professional development time delivered in just one day.  Apart from my twenty to thirty minutes input at the beginning the day is in the hands of subject leaders and classroom professionals.

(The six slides above will be the ones I use to highlight my key messages to staff.  They will be familiar with five out of the six already.)

The lack of time for teachers to work on developing their pedagogical knowledge and the time wasted on the peripheral or low impact on INSET days are part of the reason our school system is stuck at good but variable and increasingly fragile.  As a group of three schools we can’t change the whole system but we can do something to make a real difference to our pupils.

Incremental Change Rather than a Game Changer

“Having a defined sequence of knowledge and skills children <that> ought to be taught” (Crehan, 2016) is a start but on its own it may only lead to incremental change.  The game changer potentially comes when all pupils, except those with specific special needs that would prevent them, are expected to master the concepts and complex skills underpinned by these defined sequences of knowledge and skills.  For all the talk of growth mindset the English school system is based on a belief that many pupils can’t; we set and stream (select) in our comprehensive secondary schools to reinforce our fixed view of intelligence and expect least of those already furthest behind.

In her rallying cry of “all together now” Lucy explains how the principles work together and are mutually reinforcing.  The setting and streaming in secondary schools is one response to the vastly different knowledge that pupils arrive with from primary schools.  Primary children’s differing progress and attainment are hugely influenced by their heterogeneous backgrounds.  We need to go back further and rethink early years; if only the Early Years’ pursuit of GLODs, Key Stage 1 and phonics measures with the associated high stakes cliff edged external accountability weren’t in the way of “getting children ready for formal education”.

In twenty to thirty minutes I’m unlikely to have much impact but I hope to have some.  With approximately one hundred and fifty staff listening, to varying extents, the message needs to be clear and memorable.  Collaboratively plan from simple knowledge to higher order, collaboratively refine and hone your practice and expect much, much more of our children and young people.  It won’t be perfect but we can make a difference this year to these pupils; let’s go.

I’m delighted that Lucy Crehan will be keynoting at the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit on the 2nd February 2017.  More details are available here.



3 thoughts on “Using Clever Lands to Help Create Clever Schools

  1. Hope it went well, Stephen! I delivered some INSET training to 30+ Middle Leaders at a school in Lincoln on Tuesday, and this made me thoughtful. I really hope it made some difference to their leading of pedagogy!

    I’ve connected with Lucy on Twitter (and met her parents) but haven’t met her yet, so was pleased to learn this week that she’s at the York headteachers’ conference on the same day I’m speaking there in Leeds on 16 March. Looking forward to meeting her.

    Posted by jillberry102 | January 5, 2017, 4:51 pm
  2. Glad to see early years (reception in particular) and rethink in the same sentence! What, in your opinion, should it look like? Very interested in ideas that don’t continue to prop up the status quo. Links to thinking around this are very thin on the ground.

    Posted by Mabel | February 14, 2017, 8:36 pm

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