Academies by the seaside. 

‘All academies by 2020’ – the debate on structures is already in full swing.  The question is can academies rise to the challenge and do the job education in this country needs?  That is not single academies but academies in groups or hard federations – Multi Academy Trusts (MATs).  The job we need them to do is to raise standards for those children still left behind.  The children in our largely coastal and rural areas and these are predominantly children on Free School Meals (FSM) or the Pupil Premium(PP) children and usually white British.  To a large extent the job is done in London and even in the other major cities but not everywhere. 

This issue was raised by me certainly four years ago and has had prominence since.  As a result there are initiatives attracting the best teachers and leaders to these more remote schools.  Organisations like Teach First and Future Leaders are also changing their focus to the coast.  These moves are all critical in bringing successful outcomes.  However children cannot wait.  We need multiple initiatives that together will impact in a major way to support coastal and rural schools and compete with London.  The problems they suffer from are a mix of disadvantages :  isolation,  lack of easy transport links.  Also lack of job opportunities which give youngsters something to aim for and also bring employees to the area who may have partners who want to teach ( let’s hope).  It is a different set of problems from inner city schools. 

So back to my initial question can MATs do the job better than Local Authorities (LAs)  have fared thus far?   In my view we need MATs that specialise in the schools on the coast or in rural England.   We need to build up such expertise just as we have done with successful academies in cities.  

One such MAT is the Bright Tribe Trust (BTT)head office based in Stockport ( neither rural or coastal) however it has taken up the challenge to transform rural and coastal schools and to do it at scale.  They have academy hubs developing in all four corners of England: from Cornwall in the South West,  to Suffolk in the East,  to Cumbria in the North West and now most recently in the North East.  Their model is school to school,  finding Executive Principals from nearby Outstanding schools to lead improvement. This way the solutions are tailored to the needs of the community and best practice is followed.  Local Governance in area hubs is being developed.  The curriculum model is skills based to ensure progression is inbuilt. Links to University Technical a Colleges (UTCs) and Career Colleges (CCs) bring STEM and career pathways to the fore.  Adventure learning is a specialism in the SW. Breadth through the co-curriculum encouraged.  At the heart is a ground breaking Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme being developed as we speak.  This to value the staff in the Trust who are central to the aspirations and success of the youngsters.  It is relatively early days but the schools are moving forward.

Let’s build on this start,  see more Trusts wholly committed to disadvantaged children in remote areas and so give the youngsters wherever they live an equal chance of a great education and a career of which they can be proud.


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Research led by schools 

At last we are seeing an emphasis on research coming out of the profession for use by the profession.  It is the practising teachers after all who know what works and what is worth trying as well as what needs to go!

The TES this week had a double spread on the excellent Primary Space Camps initiated by Amanda Poole at Shrubland Street Primary School.  Goodness knows we need to inspire young scientists so they go on to further their interest in STEM careers.  Then there is the astonishing success of Hegarty Maths the brain child of Colin Hegarty an advanced skills teacher who has put his lessons on line and flipped his teaching to great success.

The idea of schools being research bodies is not new but has been very slow catching taking hold.  The original 15 City Technology Colleges (CTCs ) were each given a research and development brief as part of their remit in 1990.  We tried and tested a variety of initiatives from no staff rooms to 1 hour lessons.   At Haberdashers’  one initiative was to encourage staff to write up their ideas in brief research papers which we published internally;  among these were ‘all through schools’ (unique in the state sector at that time) and ‘diamond schools’ a structure which served us well but seems more common in the private sector now. We also had termly lunches with teachers in their first 5 years of teaching where they could propose initiatives and be given the authority to try them out, one was to do away with nightly HW as we knew it then and replace with weekly projects. 

The Education Endowment Foundation( EEF) grants programme seeks to encourage research projects for its target audience of Pupil Premium children led by schools perhaps in conjunction with HIgher Education.  The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit comes highly recommended.  There are initiatives there to develop further.  The idea of having a Research Lead in schools is explored in the TES this week. Then there is the notion of a Think Tank in schools coming forward not just with ideas as the Student Council might do but with data to back it up. 

The problem is time I know but busy people do find time.  I believe we need to free up teachers to think and develop their ideas and their enthusiasm will carry them and their projects through.  Children’s success and enthusiasm is a marvellous motivator.  Our profession must be one constantly reviewing and renewing how we teach and how we can do that even better.  My heroes are people like Hegarty and Poole. Let’s encourage more of them.

Posted in Education

What’s in a name? 

‘Pobble’ …  initially it meant nothing to me,  this being partly due to my being a geographer and secondary teacher. Then I remembered of course ‘ he had no toes’  yes,  Edward Lear’s nonsense rhyme came back to me courtesy of being a child myself once and a parent.  The Pobble I refer to here is an online literacy writing resource formerly called LendMeYour Literacy.  Well you can see the latter hardly trips off the tongue or catches your attention while Pobble … You can’t forget it.

As a Executive Principal over a group of schools which included primaries I knew ‘writing’ was the poor relation in skills terms for our young children.  Read they could and indeed add up but write was a challenge both in terms of the physical skill, and let’s not get into when cursive should begin to be taught if ever,  and the content.  Descriptive , creative it was all hard.  Yet children love to tell you about their experiences or stories.  These days I visit schools and every primary classroom without fail is full of storytellers keen to engage you and reluctant to let you go. So why are one in eight 11 year olds leaving primary school unable to write to their expected level and what can we do to teach, inspire, support and motivate.

When I heard about Pobble I confess I was a bit sceptical.  Not another initiative to introduce to our teachers.  However,  I keep coming back to it.  If it works then we have to try.   Pobble is the brain child of a group of teachers and they have developed it from their own practice and  it’s simple as are all the best initiatives.   Basically it’s an on line classroom wall where you up load children’s work.  Suddenly they know that if they do good work carefully presented and with good vocabulary then they can become published authors.  What pride and self esteem that brings and  indeed motivation to reluctant writers.    It’s has a global audience too with users they boast already in 100 countries.   The children give feedback to each other and so learn via the on line wall. Different levels are grouped for comparison. So Pobble becomes a global interactive library of children’s writing.    Success is great for learning and for teaching. 

Surely this is the kind of innovation we all want to see in education.  Teachers,  the classroom professionals,  coming up with ways to help children and colleagues raise standards.  The professionals know best for sure and this it seems to me is a great example of teachers taking the initiative into their own brilliant hands.  Well done.  Let’s see more Pobbles.  Good luck to them.


Posted in Education

‘Technology is Key’

This was stated at an International Women’s Forum (IWF) meeting today and it’s right.  One has only to judge by the rich debate that followed and the number of related issues brought to the table not all of them gender related.  Included in Technology we mean all STEM subjects.  It is these that will bring about the greatest leaps in discovery moving forward.  However it is true girls are massively under represented in STEM subjects. 

So we do have the gender issue.  Girls studying Physics at school are seriously in the minority see an article in the TES last week.  It should not be perceived as a male subject nor as too hard.  Industry and business need women as well as men qualified in the STEM disciplines.  Why are there so few women at the top of FTSE 100 companies – I believe 7 was mentioned – pathetically few!   There are many excellent organisations promoting women in science,  such as WISE and WES, but sadly progress is painfully slow.   Depressing to think things have not moved on significantly in the past 30 years despite our exhortations. 

Then there is the generational issue.  The younger generation understand technology and its capacity to solve problems but their bosses and indeed teachers are much less familiar with its possibilities.  This leads to frustration and also slowing of progress.  Schools need to promote Technology as early as in KS1.  Teachers need training.  There is research showing girls get turned off STEM as early as aged 8years. 

What about ethnicity?   Go to any school prize giving in this country and white British students will be in a tiny minority when STEM winners are announced.  How can we motivate our students better.  Parents are key of course as is respect for education and an understanding that a job is required in the end.  Mentors from business and industry would help. Girls schools are said to do better but not significantly.  In fact my belief is diamond schools where coeducation comes together in the primary and sixth form phases have the greatest potential.  

Then there is public awareness.  How many people are aware that we have a new type of school being established in this country?  Universtity Technical Colleges (UTCs) are the brain child of Lord Baker.  They specialise in STEM subjects ,  have to have significant business and industry input as well as sustained university support.  There are 30 in place and more in the pipeline and they plan to educate 600 students each.  Instead of knocking them because they are different,  start at 14,  are new,  we should embrace the opportunity they afford and ensure their success with our support and promotion.

Careers teachers were mentioned as a way forward but experience has shown no one person,  least of all a teacher,  has the knowledge and experience to know all possible careers available especially in the expanding technology sector.  Schools need visiting speakers and mentors from all sectors to come in and  enlighten students and teachers as to why they should be motivated by the myriad of STEM opportunities beyond school.

Governors too came in for discussion, they have the opportunity to influence schools and bring experience of the world outside.  However there are 24000 schools and each has a board of say 12 governors.  It is a big ask of this large volunteer workforce but it is an important one.  All those of us in employment could offer our services to a local school as a governor.  The richness of the questioning and results would surely rise.

Geography plays a part too of course.  Why are our schools in London and the large urban areas flourishing and increasingly popular,  while those in the remote areas of the country and particularly in and around the coasts struggle.  Proximity to jobs,  infrastructure,  opportunities,  business all stimulate growth.  We need to ensure that just because you live in a rural part of the country that it does not mean your education will provide you with less opportunity and stimulation.

Technology is certainly key today and it is underlain by STEM subjects.  Business,  industry, education need to collaborate meaningfully so we as a country lead the way in STEM and so ensure we do not continue to waste the talent of half the population,  our girls. 


Posted in Education

Turn class size upside down

Dame Julia Goodfellow was in the press this weekend in her role as President of Universities UK (UUK). Her preoccupations included the case for higher fees for science and medical degrees and the need to tackle the laddish culture in universities.  I was also interested however in her response to student complaints about lack of teaching time and personal attention. She said students needed to be more aware of how to learn in larger groups. 

My solution to this has long been to swap current teaching styles between sixth forms and primary classes. Let’s go intensive small group for primaries and lecture style for post 16. 

It is true as the UUK esteemed President says that students coming from sixth forms where they have been taught in small classes (maximum 20 whether state or independent) will find lecturing in classes of 2-300 very impersonal.  These are of course followed up by small group tutorials for more detailed discussion.  The latter is just how universities teach and is unlikely to change.  No spoon feeding.   In schools however we traditionally reserve our smallest classes for post 16. Often there will be three same subject groups being taught the same content by different teachers. How inefficient!  Now that nearly every school has a lecture theatre however why do we not change tack and mirror university style teaching in sixth forms and lecture to large groups, followed by small group tutorials.  What a saving and it would help the students prepare for learning university style.

Having achieved this post 16,  schools would have the resource to provide small classes for our reception and primary children.  Let them be taught in form groups of 12 not 30 and I guarantee the positive difference  in progress both academically and personally.  It is true this will only work in an ‘all through’ school context.   Well it is another advantage of ‘all through’ education of which I have long been an advocate.  However it would also be possible in Academy federations where primary and secondaries collaborate and share resources.  

Raise standards in primary schools and we future proof the secondary phase and indeed the university phase. Reverse our priority for class sizes and everyone is a winner!  Small to large teaching groups as students mature rather than the reverse. 


Posted in Education

How long a day?? 

Watching ‘How Tough are our Kids?’,  the recent TV screening of the experiences of the Chinese School at the outstanding Bohunt School, set me wondering about length of the school day again. I felt rather embarrassed seeing the stampede at 3pm of our students heading home,  while the Chinese School as in China went on into the evening. I might add the later sessions were not chalk and talk but individual mentoring but that’s is another discussion topic. 

Independent Schools have always taught a longer day but with this comes longer holidays. City Technology Colleges (CTCs) way back in 1990 were the first state schools required to teach a longer day. This was to enable technology and breadth to be included.   At Haberdashers we taught 8.30-4pm followed by Enrichment Activities.  These schools are proven success stories.  Then we have University Technology Colleges (UTCs) first opened in 2010 which are also required to teach a longer day this is to include vocational courses and ideally mirrors the working day in industry, 9-5.   However the toll on staff is being felt.  They have marking and preparation too after all.   The holidays are not longer for recuperation either. 

What is the best length of teaching day to maximise progress?  How do we fit in vocational and academic teaching plus enrichment activities.  Should class teachers also have to deliver the co- curriculum?  Never mind the need for Professional Development and training days required for Development Planning. 

Common sense should prevail.   We must critically balance the needs of the students and the staff.  We have to ensure the curriculum is manageable. This must be down to the Head in the end and there must be discretion depending on circumstance. Heads know their students and staff and understand their context.  Let’s leave it to them to have the length of day that brings their students success and opportunity and is manageable for their staff. Somewhere between the current length of day in China and in the UK would be reasonable I suspect. 

Posted in Education

Destinations? Where next? 

If less than 10% of Year 11 expressed an interest in pursuing vocational learning as happened in a school I know recently, does it mean there is no demand for such a pathway for young people.  No surely not.  Rather it illustrates the deeper problem that they are not even aware of the possibility.  In reality how many teachers know much about apprenticeships,  work based opportunities,  what employers really want,  the jobs out there?  Never mind parents.  Education has yet to embrace work related learning as a genuine pathway for some children. 

I have been struck by the hundreds of firms,  both large and small,  signing up to partner emerging University Technical Colleges (UTCs) so that they can influence the teaching and training we give to our youngsters.  Project based learning, solving real problems,  creating new designs,  this is what vocational learning offers.  Students must of course have the basic grounding in the core curriculum to GCSE and preferably to A Level.  

We need employees  with advanced technical skills in a range of industries and not just on engineering and construction.  I wear an UP Band to monitor my steps and sleep.  Health and care workers depend on technical equipment.  So does the related industry of Sport.  Performing arts and broadcast media need highly skilled technicians. 

UTCs bring industry into schools to team teach the skills they need and raise awareness of the jobs on offer.  However we need this in all schools. Technicians and teachers working together to integrate teaching and learning and it’s not easy but it is possible as is being evidenced across the country.  Let’s hope these UTCs lead the way to a much more open school system that embraces technology and employment opportunities and ensures children across the age range are aware of their opportunities.  Genuine choice will mean more youngsters will be attracted to industry wide opportunities and they will benefit as will the country.  It must be higher than 10% per school. 

Posted in Education