The presentation for ResearchEd in York was about key priorities; what’s your 9 or 10/10 and Why? Sitting behind this idea about key priorities was the need to fundamentally re-culture our schools and how our priorities, what we spend our time on, had changed.
Let Teachers Be Responsible
Outward signs of our process to shift the culture of the schools can most obviously be seen in our monitoring systems; done by or with as opposed to being done to. As a school leader, you have to explicitly create the space for teachers to take responsibility by reducing the time spent on accountability and monitoring of them. The bottom line doesn’t change – pupils need and deserve a great education – what changes is the means of achieving it.
Over the past few years, we tried a couple of different approaches to lesson observations; attempts to be more formative in nature instead of the one off grading. We observed parts of three lessons over a number of weeks; gave feedback against evidence informed criteria we had developed and followed up with CPD focussed on identified needs.
In the end we just gave up and stopped observing lessons in any formal sense last September. We needed time and space to think more clearly. We knew Ofsted would appear this academic year as all three academies were designated on 1st September 2014. Our decision could be described as brave or foolhardy; two Ofsteds down and one to go (Ofsted you have 9 days to come and visit St. Cuthbert’s) and our view of the high quality of teaching hasn’t been questioned.
I’ve not missed grading lessons. We do have weekly lesson observations for NQTs and RQTs; 20 minutes a week followed by some coaching, modelling and discussions about what was seen. No judgements or grading just reflections and feedback. These have had far more impact than the hundreds of hours of pointlessly grading single or multiple lessons done previously. I’d never go back to grading lessons no matter what category the school was in.
Grading & Levelling
Last year, in the two primary academies we didn’t worry about what level or standard individual pupils were at during the year; no-one actually knew until after the SATS had been done. We simply found out what they should know, because we had taught them it, but didn’t and retaught it individually or collectively. Time had been spent preparing Directors for the changes ahead; they were willing to trust, accept the reality that making up levels/grades/standards was pointless and that our approach to formative assessment was secure.
This year the new GCSE English & Mathematics meant we took the same approach; no attempt at making up what grade a pupil may be at. Rather a systematic focus on what aspect of each subject pupils didn’t know/couldn’t do followed by our teachers striving to address it. We reported raw percentages to Directors, as ranges, but they were pretty meaningless. I doubt next year we’ll even bother with them for the new EBacc subjects specifications.
I think we probably have more data than ever before; none of it is much use to me as CEO or the Trust’s senior leaders. It’s collect at a pupil level in a way that most benefits each subject. Not only does the assessment data reveal gaps in pupils’ knowledge it also shows what aspects of the subject a teacher does and doesn’t teach well. The culture seems to have sufficient trust for teachers to be open and honest about this and seek to do something about it; more often or not supported and helped by a peer.
More Things to Abandon & Going Deep
I’m not sure what we should abandon next; thoughts are always appreciated. As you stop doing too many things you can really start to focus on the few that really matter; this is the essence of the 9 or 10/10 approach. Workload can only be solved by doing fewer things and doing them better. The key leadership decision is, “Which things should we pursue”. It’s sometimes easier to decide to do lots of things; you just end up doing them badly as there are so many. This is detrimental to the pupils and the organisation. Research can help to inform your decisions, as can experience of the context and also the data and feedback on impact.
The interesting thing is now we’ve spent a number of years on our 10/10; collaboratively planning the curriculum and developing our simple “find out what pupils don’t know and teach ‘em it” approach to assessment, we are starting to go much deeper into the implementation of our key objectives. Teachers are leading the conversations on assessment, content, pedagogy; they always should have but our system has been top down for so long. Next year we’ve reduced every teachers’ contact time by an hour a week so s/he can focus on an aspect of professional development that is of importance to them. We’ve started a journey that may well be inexorable.