primary-assessment-consultationSound familiar .. SSAT’s Redesigning Schooling themes are at the heart of DfE Consultation? 

Primary teachers as determined as ever to see standards raised and outcomes improved, as DfE launches consultation on Primary Assessment and Accountability under the new Curriculum.

Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Head of Primary Network writes …

On 20 July 2013 the Department for Education launched its consultation on Primary Assessment and Acccountability under the new Curriculum.  Media headlines focused on the national ranking of primary school children through decentile banding, putting all 11 year olds into one of ten bands, according to their results in assessments at the end of key stage two. SSAT’s network of primary schools has misgivings about this element of the Government’s proposals but agrees wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister at the launch of the consultation when he spoke about high aspirations for children. Importantly SSAT’s schools also recognise the importance of research and evidence which demonstrates that it is the combination of high aspirations with support structures that leads to raising standards for all.

This focus on high aspiration combined with professional support lies at the heart of SSAT’s networks of schools – providing high quality professional development for the very people who are making the biggest difference to children’s lives: the teachers.

SSAT agree with the key principles of the consultation; that ongoing assessment should be left to schools, that progress should be given at least as much weight as attainment, that a range of information should be available to parents about their child and school, and that both formative and summative assessment are important.

There are many elements to the consultation, including:

  • changing the Early Years Foundation Stage profile to non-statutory, whilst at the same time introducing formal assessment early in Reception upon which to form an accountability baseline for progression across Early Years and key stage one;
  • removing National Curriculum levels and at the same time encouraging schools to adopt their own approaches to formative assessment and progression tracking;
  • more ambitious expectations and content for the new national curriculum tests – replacing those at the end of key stages 1 and 2;
  • reporting of national curriculum test results using scaled scores; comparing children against the national cohort by decile and by comparison to children who had similar prior attainment;
  • raising of floor standard from 65% to 85%, publishing both attainment and value-added progress measures;
  • aligning the assessment framework with the school curriculum, as designed by the school itself.

Specifically, schools are expected to have a curriculum and assessment framework which;

  • sets out steps for children to reach or exceed expectations in the new national curriculum;
  • measures whether children are on track to meet expectations;
  • enables pinpointing of children who are falling behind or performing exceptionally well;
  • supports teacher planning;
  • enables regular reporting to parents and, where children move schools, identifyies strengths, weaknesses and progress.

The pressure on teachers to ‘deliver’ has never been more intense.  Somehow, for all the leaps that have been made in education in the past twenty years, schools are being asked by all of us – employers, parents, policy makers, students themselves – to dig even deeper.

SSAT has always believed that teachers make students’ lives. Our mission is to help them to carry out this vital job even better, more confidently and more professionally than before.

Thus, SSAT welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the DfE consultation on Primary Assessment and Accountability under the new Curriculum.   Throughout this year our member schools have been engaging in lively debate on these very themes of Curriculum, Assessment and Intelligent Accountability through our Redesigning Schooling campaign, along with leading educational thinkers and academics including Tim Oates, Dylan William, Christine Gilbert, Guy Claxton, Bill Lucas and Andy Hargreaves.

These are issues with which we are familiar and for which we have professional, positive and purposeful recommendations.

Join our Consultation Group ..

SSAT Primary members will be meeting on 25 September in London to collate professional expertise and channel your insights and expertise into our consultation response. If you would like to join this Consultation Group, either through attending the meeting, or by contributing remotely, please contact Fiona Aubrey-Smith – Our response, and the context of our recommendations will be disseminated openly, including at


As we wait for Andy Murray’s semi-final match on Centre Court, Sue Williamson
reflects on the Billie Jean King era and her commitment to her profession …


How will Wimbledon 2013 be remembered, when it’s all over? Will it be for Andy Murray’s continued failure to provide the first British victory in the Men’s Singles for 77 years? I certainly hope not. Whatever the outcome of today’s semi-final and Sunday’s final, whenever Wimbledon comes round, I remember Billie Jean King.

I was lucky enough to see Billie Jean play on Centre Court. Her achievements on court were incredible, but it is her work off court that will probably provide a more important lasting legacy.

Forty years ago, Billie Jean King called a meeting of 64 women’s tennis players to discuss the future of the women’s game. You may remember that at this time, the women’s game was seen as a lot less interesting than the men’s game; the prize money was much lower and there were fewer tournaments for women. Billie Jean held the meeting in a hotel on the Gloucester Road, and refused to allow anyone to leave until they had all agreed the way forward. She was adamant that they had to speak with one voice. It was the responsibility of them all to develop women’s tennis. This includes mentoring and supporting young tennis players and passing on to them the importance of continuing to develop the game. Billie Jean still regularly meets young women to inspire them to play tennis. She will be remembered for her commitment to professionalising her profession.

As SSAT does more work on the Redesigning Schooling agenda, it becomes ever clearer to me that education has to speak with one voice. This is our only chance to take education out of the political cycle. That voice has to include all stakeholders: school leaders, teachers, students, parents, employers, higher and further education.

We need to be clear on what we want young people to achieve at each stage of their education so that they are well prepared as they enter the world of work. We need to enter into meaningful discussion, so schools can then determine their curriculum, and how they will deliver it.

Finally we should look at the assessment model – for too long assessment has been the controlling factor. Qualifications are important, not as pieces of paper or validations of particular policies, but for the doors they open to future success.

I have always believed that the profession should take responsibility for developing the next generation of teachers and school leaders. We should be inspiring them to improve their practice and master the art of teaching. We should be giving them the confidence to become a headteacher. Each year, we lose the wisdom of outstanding school leaders and teachers– they retire or move on to other things. Surely we can find a way to retain that wisdom and experience to mentor the next generation?

I believe that we are at a key moment for the teaching profession. We have to have the confidence and courage to listen to the criticism of the current system by stakeholders; agree what we need to do to change the system so it meets the needs of all students; and then implement in a collaborative way: building a new kind of professionalism.

A series of Redesigning Schooling pamphlets, which will be sent to all SSAT member schools in the autumn term, will ask the big questions that all schools need to be thinking about now. At the SSAT National Conference, 5-6 December 2013, we will give examples of how different schools are answering these questions. Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves and other leading thinkers will help us steer ourselves towards a united voice and the new professionalism.

Not unlike tennis players approaching a major tournament, most of us in the teaching profession have our heads down, tackling our own immediate concerns and challenges. We are not that good at speaking with one voice or acting strategically to create the long-term future of our profession. Yet Billie Jean got her fellow players doing it forty years ago and changed the face of women’s tennis. Let’s take a leaf out of her book. Can we all stay engaged in the discussion until we agree a united way forward?


BBC Profile of Billie Jean King in 2004
Billie Jean King biography

Twitter follows:
Billie Jean King – @BillieJKing
Andy Murray – @andy_murray and #andymurray #murray
BBC Sport – @BBCSport
Wimbledon Tournament – @Wimbledon


Principled Curriculum Design is one in a series of pamphlets to be published
in the Autumn Term 2013 to support the Redesigning Schooling campaign ————————————————————————————————

Cdylan-wiliam-rs-picurriculum development takes place constantly in every school but the lack of attention to this process means that it is rarely given enough time. The aim of this pamphlet is to help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegial process, and one that builds on the expertise of others.

In recent years, discussion of the school curriculum has been largely absent. This neglect has been largely driven by the adoption in 1988 of a national curriculum for schools in England and Wales. Many teachers, leaders and policymakers assumed that because the government had specified what schools were required to teach, then no further discussion of the issue of curriculum was necessary. This belief was mistaken for two reasons:

  • The first is that the legal framework of the national curriculum specified only what schools were legally required to teach—any school was entirely free to teach whatever it wished in addition to the prescribed national curriculum.
  • The second is that the real curriculum—the lived daily experience of young people in classrooms—requires the creative input of teachers. For example, the national curriculum may require that students learn about negative numbers, but the kinds of analogy that a teacher might use to teach this topic (for example, heights above and below sea level, temperatures above and below zero, positive and negative bank balances, and so on) must be chosen with an understanding of the students, their experiences, and a range of other contextual factors. The real curriculum is therefore created by teachers, every day.

Curriculum development therefore takes place constantly in every school, but the lack of attention to this process means that it is rarely given enough time, is generally done by teachers working alone, and tends to be done as an ‘ad hoc’ activity.

Aim of the pamphlet ..

.. is therefore to help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegial process, and one that builds on the expertise of others. Every school’s curriculum has to be, by definition, unique, but by using the ideas in this publication, schools can adapt and build on the work of others to design a curriculum that will meet the needs of their students.

First section: discusses how the idea of “curriculum” has evolved over the years, drawing in particular on the work of Ralph Tyler, Hilda Taba and Lawrence Stenhouse.

Second section: shows why the development of the “real” curriculum requires the involvement of teachers at each stage of the curriculum development process, and presents a number of principles of curriculum design that need to be considered in the process, namely that a curriculum should be balanced, rigorous, coherent, vertically integrated, appropriate, focused, and relevant.

Third section: will present some workshop-style activities that schools can use with their teachers and other stake-holders (for example, students, parents) to develop local curricula. This section will also include principles for how material is to be learned and taught, how learning progressions that are appropriate for the subject or discipline can inform the development of sequences of learning activities, and how to cater for the varying abilities of students in a teaching group.

Since the real curriculum is the lived daily experience of students in classrooms, rather than what might be prescribed in policy documents, curriculum development must also take into account how student achievement will be evaluated. Furthermore, curriculum plans need to take into account that they will be implemented in different contexts, with different students, with variable results. For this reason, the fourth and final section will describe how effective curriculum development incorporates assessment and evaluation at every stage of the process, and how this can be done effectively.


More about Dylan Wiliam here – career history,
papers, publications and presentations


Student Impact in the Redesigned School is one in a series of pamphlets to be
published in the Autumn Term 2013 to support the Redesigning Schooling campaign ——————————————————————————————————————–

synopsis-new-professionalismAt the heart of the campaign is a focus on developing a new professionalism for teaching to have a direct result on student success and achievement. A fundamental facet of the campaign is therefore the way in which students are supported and empowered in schools to have an impact on their own, and their peers’ learning.

This pamphlet will provide schools with both the theory behind this, and examples of best practice in involving students in school transformation and changing attitudes to learning.

First section: will look at the history of student involvement in schools, focusing on the shift from early student voice initiatives, to an understanding of student leadership, to eventually a more meaningful and sophisticated understanding of student impact. Key trends and developments in this area will be analysed, underpinned by critical and academic theory. This will form the basis for the case that students can be involved in every other aspect of the redesigning schooling campaign.

Second section: will look at how the students as researchers scheme can support teacher-led action-research and enquiry. Primarily, this section will argue that students as researchers can be a powerful tool to inform school action plans, whilst also giving students vital research skills at a time when coursework elements are disappearing from GCSE and A-Level examination. Examples of best practice and possible research topics will be discussed.

Third section: will be an analysis of the students as learning partners (SaLP) model as a tool for improving learning in lessons. The SaLP model’s pros and cons over other models of student observations will be considered, before in depth analysis of the effect of SaLP will be made.  SaLP has proven effects on both the effectiveness of learning in the classroom, and on students’ own metacognitive control of their learning. Again, examples of good practice will be highlighted throughout.

Fourth section: will look at how these conversations about learning, can be extended to meaningful and structured consultation on curriculum design. Briefly revisiting the themes of Dylan Wiliam’s pamphlet on principled curriculum design, this section will argue that students should be involved in this process. Practical strategies of involving students in curriculum design will be put forward and critiqued, looking at how different schools engage with this.

Fifth section: will look at the role of the school council within a broader student impact framework, and the changing natures of school councils and student leadership teams over the last thirty years. In particular, the issue of accountability will be raised; both in terms of how school councils can hold other student impact schemes to account, and how school councils can provide accountabilities for schools’ purpose and vision.

Sixth section: the pamphlet will reiterate the case for involving students in every aspect of school life, including research, learning, curriculum design and school accountability measures. It will finish on a vision for student impact in the future, when every student in a school is empowered to contribute to his or her own school experience.


Tom Middlehurst is Programme Co-ordinator
for Student Impact – more here


By Sue Williamson, SSAT Chief Executive

‘I want them to work hard… I want a real scholar… I want a winner.’

These are the words of Michel Roux Snr, one of the founders of the Roux dynasty of chefs, as he introduced the final of the competition for this year’s Roux scholarship. Six chefs, all under age 30, were competing for the scholarship – some were participating for the second or third time.  The challenges they faced throughout the competition tested both knowledge and skills. The judges – some of the best chefs in the world – critiqued the chefs’ preparation and final product. The feedback was often hard, but always constructive. Most importantly, each young chef accepted the criticism and used it to improve the quality of his work.

The chefs worked under time pressure, their every move observed by a judge, and their final product was tasted by eight judges. All the young chefs had aspirations to work in the best restaurants in the world and to go on to own their own Michelin-starred restaurant. Another thing they had in common was that none did well at school when judged on 5 GCSEs A*-C. Staying at school until they were sixteen was a waste of two years of their lives. Their real learning started after they had left school.

Our school system needs to transform, so that it caters for the needs of all students, including the six young chefs who want to be vocational ‘scholars’, in Michel Roux’ terms. This means not providing just the right qualifications, but an educational environment where they can spend long periods of time mastering processes and knowledge. UTCs such as the JCB Academy are partnering with a university and an employer to provide students with real world challenges that help develop the knowledge and skills they need, including those to pass GCSE English and mathematics. It is early days for the UTCs, but indications are that these academies are providing a successful vocational pathway

It is not only students seeking vocational or technical qualifications who might benefit from being set real world problems to solve, in periods of time longer than the standard lesson. I think it is time that schools review how they allocate time in the school year. In System Redesign – 3: Curriculum Redesign (2007), Guy Shearer, Kai Vacher and David Hargreaves provided case studies of schools that were moving to a variety of time structures including short workshop sessions, hour-long lessons, half-day, full day and multi-day blocks. Single-subject teaching was being complemented by competency-based, thematic, and trans-disciplinary approaches, including problem-based and project-based learning. SSAT will be conducting research to see if this approach has continued or has stalled because of concerns about the accountability framework. To be world class schools must innovate. If school leaders are afraid to do so because of concerns about Ofsted, this issue must be addressed.

Watching the Roux scholarship programmes reinforced for me the importance of the profession leading on the development of the next generation of teachers and school leaders.

At our National Conference on 5 & 6 December 2013, Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves will be working with school leaders and teachers to explore the meaning and reality of the new professionalism. How can we ensure that we create a high quality profession with a relentless focus on continuous improvement that brings together the best of practice and research?

Andy and Michael have dedicated their professional lives to the development of the teaching profession and can share with us some of the best practice from around the world. I hope that you will take this opportunity to define what we want to leave as our professional legacy.

If we fail to act now, what might the teaching profession be in five years’ time?

SSAT National Conference 2013: the new professionalism

by Sue Williamson, Chief Executive of SSATSue Williamson, SSAT chief executive

Stephen Twigg, in his speech at the RSA last week, spoke passionately about his belief in education. He quoted a 15-year-old girl who addressed the Labour Party conference in 2012, echoing her view that education is ‘a key that will open a bright future’.

I agree with her comment. But young people need help from the teaching profession on how to use that key.

I am very fortunate that I had loving parents, but they had no real understanding of the education system in 1950s/60s. I failed the 11+ and went to a secondary modern school for girls, whose ambitions were channelled towards working as a secretary, shop assistant or nurse. University was not an aspiration for the girls in my school and there was no introduction to the possibilities. When I asked my teachers how I could get into teaching, I was told not to bother. I was given no guidance in selecting A levels nor the possibilities around vocational qualifications. I went to a polytechnic for my post-16 courses – did the wrong A levels and was forced to take the new Ordinary National Diploma (OND) qualification. Little wonder that I did not consider going through the UCAS process – I hardly knew about it. It is still true today that all students need high quality IAG.

Stephen Twigg’s speech focused on the structure of our school system and giving freedoms to all schools. Without any further changes, all schools have considerable freedoms now – if they choose to use them. It is clear from all the evidence available that academies are not exercising their freedoms.

A compliant profession
I believe this is because the profession has become compliant. We expect direction from the secretary of state on all aspects of school life. For example, since 1988, discussion of the school curriculum has been largely absent – the belief being that the national curriculum is the curriculum. Yet the legal framework of the national curriculum specified only what schools were legally required to teach – any school was entirely free to teach whatever they wished in addition to the prescribed national curriculum. Academies do not have to follow the national curriculum – how many have decided not to do so?

Schools and school leaders must have the confidence to exercise their freedoms. Schools should seize the opportunity to design the school curriculum – in partnership with governors, parents, students, employers and the community.

Stephen Twigg described the teaching profession as ‘the true enablers of promise’, and rightly argues that qualified status is essential. SSAT is working closely with Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves to define the new professionalism that is crucial for the success of our students.  SSAT will be publishing their pamphlet on the subject in the autumn as part of the Redesigning Schooling series, and Michael and Andy will be leading this work at SSAT’s National Conference: the new professionalism, 5-6 December in Manchester.

SSAT is clear that all teachers have to be curriculum designers. Also within the Redesigning Schooling series, Professor Dylan Wiliam’s pamphlet will help schools make curriculum development a planned and collegiate process. Every school’s curriculum has to be unique but, by using the ideas in this pamphlet, schools will be able to adapt and build on the work of others to design a curriculum that will meet the needs of their students.

The real curriculum
Since the real curriculum is the lived daily experience of students in classrooms, rather than what might be prescribed in policy documents, curriculum development must also take into account how student achievement will be evaluated. The final part of Dylan’s pamphlet will describe how effective curriculum development incorporates assessment and evaluation at every stage of the process, and how this can be done effectively. SSAT will be working with schools to train teachers as curriculum designers.

Stephen Twigg also highlights the importance of schools collaborating. This is something that SSAT has been facilitating since 1987. SSAT’s networks have enabled schools to share ideas and practice. At the heart of those networks is innovation. This month we are publishing in SSAT News the results of SSAT’s Innovation Fellows work: a two-year project that enabled 17 teachers to work together and promote innovation in their own school and with partner schools.

Young people taking responsibility
It is heartening to see Stephen Twigg’s focus on every child – whatever the background – getting the best possible start in life. I have no doubt that this is also the aim of Michael Gove. I would have liked to have heard a focus on the young person taking greater responsibility for their learning and the learning of their peers. If we are successful in engaging the majority of students in their learning and utilising students to help other students, we will see an improvement in results and the skills needed to be successful in today’s world.

Students’ collaboration is as important as schools’ collaboration.
The speech is a good contribution to the ongoing debate on improving our education system. SSAT’s Redesigning Schooling work will be a constructive contribution to the debate. Moreover, it will enable teachers and school leaders to shape the future of schooling, in this country and internationally. To achieve this, SSAT is challenging teachers to develop the new professionalism.

Mitch Moore’s think piece for Vision 2040 and TEEP case study …


“Together we are a great team”

In September 2011, 13 days into my Headship, Ofsted placed Foleshill Primary in Special Measures.  The job advert had said ..Take our good school to outstanding.  One look at the data (not shared as part of the interview process) told me that the school was due for a different journey – the school community was devastated but determined to improve – and so, we set off on that journey …

In the first term we focused on systems, structures and processes ..and things started to look up.  HMI visited us and judged that we were making satisfactory progress.  It was a relief not to be inadequate that soon turned to disappointment at not making good progress. HMI noted in their monitoring report that we needed to …

  • Ensure that children are able to make decisions and choices which will help them to improve their own learning, and not be too dependent on adults
  • Teaching assistants to be consistently deployed actively to maximise learning
  • Improve feedback (particularly in mathematics) so that it gives specific pointers for improvement and pupils are given the opportunity to address the points raised
  • Ensure that all pupils are meaningfully engaged when not directly working with an adult

We used a paraphrase of Steven Covey in school that has become our mantra –

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is learning’
Covey also says that ..
Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.’

Along came TEEP …

We had the ladder but needed to find the right wall.  Serendipity took charge and the day after our HMI monitoring visit we had the first two days of our Whole School Level 1 TEEP (Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme).  We were part of the very early phase of the SSAT / Education Endowment Fund project.  I had heard about TEEP from colleagues in various schools so jumped at the chance to be part of the programme.  It gave us a common language and framework to use when talking about teaching and learning but more importantly it is a holistic approach, more than just a set of ‘top tips’ for teachers (although there are plenty of those in the programme).  It also enables teachers to enhance what they are already doing – rather than expecting them to throw out years of practice and experience.  The programme really met our expectations.  What did it achieve?

  • It took the focus onto what children ‘learn’ rather than just what they ‘do’ in classrooms
  • It enhanced how we used assessment for learning
  • It gave us a structure for children’s active learning
  • It excited teachers – the training reminded them that they too are learners and that learning is fun

The impact?  HMI visited again in October 2012 and said of the teaching

‘There have been marked improvements in the quality of teaching since the last monitoring visit. Good-quality training has led to teachers sharing good practice. A common approach to planning means that lessons are most often well matched to the needs and abilities of all pupils. Teachers are acutely aware of any gaps in learning that need to be filled so that pupils do not get left behind.

Teachers make sure pupils are clear about what they are going to learn, and how they will know if they have been successful. They ask searching questions and more regularly check for misconceptions so that plans can be modified swiftly when necessary. Teachers are more effective in helping pupils develop the skills they need to learn successfully on their own. Teaching assistants are making a much better contribution to pupils’ learning. Some excellent examples of marking and feedback were seen.

TEEP continues to be a driving force …

In January 2013 we were inspected again and not only taken out of Special Measures but judged to be good.  The impetus that TEEP created continues to be driving force in school.  Four teachers have done the Level 2 training and as a result have set up a programme of enrichment for all staff and are establishing a whole school approach to coaching.  We have a regular item at the start of all Staff Meetings where a member of staff leads their colleagues in a ‘TEEP’ learning activity.  We’ve set up a new room in school called ‘The Hub’ where our training takes place and where we have the TEEP materials on display (including the resources that we created as part of the training).  TEEP has also had a big impact on how we deliver professional development for our staff.  All of our CPD sessions and Teacher Days are now TEEP-styled and staff know that they will be active and having fun as the pictures below show.

Alongside the improvements in learning that we achieved through engaging with TEEP there were two other major factors in our success.

Firstly, we developed leadership at all levels within the school, including governance.  As a result we were able to implement a strong programme of self-evaluation; we really know our school now.  As a consequence we were able to maintain ownership and direction of our programme of school improvement.  We developed effective partnerships with schools in the local area and beyond where they had the expertise that we needed.  Maintaining a sense of ownership of the improvement process did lead to difficult conversations with the Local Authority who at times seemed determined to impose a ‘one-size fits all’ school improvement model on us.

Improvement doesn’t mean sterility in curriculum … 

While our original inspection identified a pressing need to raise standards in English and mathematics, we were determined that this would not be achieved through a narrow, sterile curriculum.  We have developed a vibrant, thematic curriculum which engages children’s interest and provides rich opportunities to develop literacy and numeracy skills.  We have also expanded the range of sporting and creative arts activities available to our children.  For example, every child in Key Stage 2 learns a musical instrument.

We owe it to our children, communities and colleagues to stand up for what we know to be right and to be the gatekeepers.

—————- Recommended reading ——————————————-

Dave Harris: Brave Heads-How to lead a school without selling your soul


Rosanna Raimato’s think piece for Vision 2040 …

accountability-lensHow do we sustain a culture of positive accountability in our schools? There is no limit to what we can do to give the students in our schools the very best we can.    We have to focus on knowing our schools as well as we possibly can, involve everyone in this process and empower each individual to strive for the very best.

I find myself having to revisit my thoughts on accountability in schools after yet another week of debate, media interest and unrest within our profession, culminating in our Secretary of State for Education being publicly heckled by a conference hall full of Headteachers (NAHT Conference 2013).  He appeared largely disinterested in the concerns expressed about the culture of fear arising around OFSTED inspections.  The same week also saw school leaders launch ‘INSTEAD’, a practitioner-led inspection process upholding school to school support, and DEMOS publishing their report “Detoxifying School Accountability” and proposing a more holistic approach to how schools provide evidence for what they do well and wish to improve.

Blogs, education websites and tweets have been lively with accounts of schools paralysed by the anticipation of an inspection and reports of poor experiences when the visit has taken place.  The stories shared tell us that for schools striving to do better, but not far enough along the journey to satisfy the framework requirements, the spectre of being forced to ‘be academised’ circles around them and makes them feel disempowered to the point of resignation to their fate.

In the face of all of this we can experience a wide range of emotions … distress for a profession feeling downtrodden; anger at being part of a system that makes so many feel ‘done to’; concern for colleagues whose joy in education has been shaken; resignation to a fait accompli.  After all, what can we do?

Thoughts revisited, all things considered, and my conclusions remain the same.  There is no limit to what we can do to give the students in our schools the very best we can.  We just need to do it one school at a time.  We can’t change what is going on around us but we can protect our teachers and students from fearing the worst by knowing what we do best.  We need to create our own culture, our own climate, our own system for accountability within our own schools.  We have to focus on knowing our schools as well as we possibly can, to involve everyone in this process, and to empower each individual to strive for the very best. We need collegiality in defining what needs to improve and how we are going to do it. We need to keep excellence, enthusiasm and energy in teaching and learning.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”
… Stephen Covey

All very easy to say, I know.  However, I speak from the experience of a recent OFSTED inspection and the opportunity it gave us to be circumspect about the journey we made towards it as a leadership team and a school community.  We knew ‘they’ were coming and our main aim was to sustain our own high standards of accountability without having to preface each professional development activity with “we’re not just doing this for OFSTED” (which, of course, we did anyway).  As the year went on, the nod and the smile at the Head’s door at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, signalling another inspection-free week, was less to do with relief lest we should be found wanting, and everything to do with feeling that energy levels were down and it would just be a massive ask for everyone that week.  It wasn’t an easy journey, it wasn’t a particularly difficult journey, but it was a very positive one.


I think it is because we have been able to create a strong culture of trust, together.  Positive accountability is what we do.  The processes of evaluating what happens in our school are part of our everyday lives, regardless of impending inspections.  Our language is about teaching and learning, our moral compass is set on the course that will give our students the most positive experiences and outcomes on a daily basis.  Everything else flows from this because we believe that is how it should be and as leaders, we seek to communicate it in all that we do. We know our school, our staff and our students. We involve them in continuously celebrating what we do well and seeking out what we could do better.  We ask them to find the solutions and to show each other what they have found. We demystify data and ask them to tell us the story behind it.

Working together to effect change …

Lesson observations are on the whole informal, arranged between colleagues pursuing their own areas of interest and development needs.  Learning Walks are regular, a result of the latest ‘issue’ everyone feels is bubbling to the surface, and involve every level of leadership.  Where colleagues appear to need individual support, our best teachers ‘come alongside them’ (as beautifully phrased by one of them) to help them find their way again. When we talk about marking and feedback (and we do this, often, as a team of practitioners), we span the spectrum from the absolute basics to the incredible leaps in learning that can take place if we take on board all the amazing ideas the wider educational community is developing in this area.

We keep everyone fully appraised of the changes to inspection frameworks, we work together to seek out the ways to move from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ or from any other stage to ‘good’.  We have openly debated what ‘rapid and sustained progress’ actually means and why being able to evidence it isn’t about a lesson observation but the exceptional things we can do for our students’ learning.  There has been no other dwelling upon inspections and as a Leadership Team, once we had our self-evaluation documents ready, we drew a line under them less a few reminders to update and tweak them.  A moratorium was set on spending any more time discussing them in our meetings because we had lots of other things to do.

Feeling ready for the Wednesday afternoon phone call ..

The rewards of having created our own culture of positive accountability are immense.  The Wednesday afternoon phone call eventually happened, and when it did, the greatest sense of relief was that come Monday morning, we could stop reminding everyone that it wasn’t all just for OFSTED.  Yes, we did have one inspector we soon lost faith in, but we were confident enough to point out his shortcomings swiftly.  There were absolutely no surprises from our inspection, everyone knew what our areas for improvement were beforehand and those were identified by the process.  The very best thing, and something that continues to make me smile, is that on an almost daily basis a teacher tells me that they wish that OFSTED could come back in a year’s time because we’ll have sorted it all out by then.  I have never been in a position where anyone has wished for an inspection, but I have to admit that I would love them to come back too.

It is hard work keeping the main thing the main thing and clearly incredibly hard in a school where difficulties are deep and many need to be convinced that there is any hope of determining your own fate.  We know our own schools better than anyone else and to use a well-worn phrase, knowledge is power.  Even if you know that the outcomes of external accountability are going to be challenging, a school full of people trying to make things better is an empowered school protected by its own energy and optimism. What can be said, other than that positive accountability is a culture worth creating?  How could it not be?

———— Further reading —————————————————————————

Park, James : “Detoxifying School Accountability
– the case for multi-perspective inspection” (DEMOS, 2013)

Some articles on the current climate:

Guardian 11 May 2013:
Secret Teacher – are you teaching in a climate of fear?

NAHT 14 May 2013:
School leaders announce pilot schools inspection programme

Secretary of State’s statement to Parliament
Curriculum, Exam & Accountability Reform (February 2013)

Presentations [pdf] from the Redesigning Schooling symposium
on Accountability and Intelligent Inspection:

Christine Gilbert’s summary of accountability within and across schools
Chris Husbands’ international perspective of accountability and data
Bill Watkin’s round-up of the recent accountability proposals and consultation



which-wayRachel Hudson writes this as Vision 2040 think piece ..

When I reflect on what drives us forward, I am reminded of our moral purpose – consideration of what is right in our context, for our students and community as we move into a future which is difficult to predict.

School led accountability is linked to moral purpose and professional integrity.  School to school support offers challenge, accountability and the chance to improve standards without the pressure of OFSTED in its current form. After spending the last 8 months waiting for `the call’ (finally received on 14 May) and feeling that relief every Wednesday at 2.00 prior to this, we have been on a journey of improvement, innovation and transformation.

Our moral purpose drives us forward – consideration of how in our context, we meet the needs of students and the community as we move into a future which is difficult to predict. We need to celebrate what the profession does so well and use the expertise to support and challenge each other to develop and improve further.

We need to recognise and celebrate different ways of improving performance, raising standards and improving the life chances of our students whilst demonstrating creativity and flexibility in how we teach and how our students learn.  It is absolutely right to consider what school-led accountability might look like and how schools can lead this agenda.

Professional Development

“We need to ensure that we can nurture and retain the talent in our profession while improving outcomes for pupils.”   David Weston, Teacher Development Trust

In order to improve outcomes and maximize student potential, we need to focus on effective and sustainable professional development.  The Teacher Learning Academy modelled a system in which we were heavily involved from the outset – David Weston’s ideas resonate with me in terms of varying strands of a Royal Teacher’s profession where we enable colleagues to continue being recognised formally for professional development and training similar to systems in law and medicine.

We have focused very much on professional development and training with departments, and colleagues have been encouraged to bid for action research grants to develop aspects of assessment for learning in every day practice.  Developed by our Advanced Skills Teacher with responsibility for learning and teaching, this blog encourages teachers to share good practice as well as providing resources and approaches that can be used by all teachers in our local and international partnerships for helping to raise attainment.

Rural Excellence Partnership [REAP]

Over the last few years, Neston has developed a REAP  with three other Cheshire schools of similar context.  This began with the Headteachers of each school submitting a proposal to the Secretary of State for Education on how to refurbish and update the buildings within the partnership; whilst the initial plan was noted with interest, Neston High School has since been successful on the Priority Schools Building project.

The deputy headteachers with responsibility for professional development and training have been involved in network meetings over the last 18 months to share good practice and encourage collaborative working; this culminated in a joint REAP training day for all staff in the four schools, in October 2012; middle leaders across all four schools are now working together on subject-specific training as we strive to move from good to outstanding.  Impact of the collaboration has also been shared across Cheshire, at headteacher conferences in March 2013.

Neston High School has been accredited with the CPD Quality Mark in February 2013 as a reflection of our innovative approaches to professional development and training.  The University of Chester is currently undertaking research to evaluate the impact of collaborative approaches to professional development and its impact on students’ learning.

The REAP partnership provides the platform for debating the Redesigning Schooling agenda as we plan to develop our strategic approach to curriculum development and innovation, using creative ways of meeting the needs of our learners for the changing world in which we live.  At the heart of our work is the commitment to providing equality for all in terms of access to learning and opportunities; understanding the differences in cultures and contexts locally, nationally and internationally, and developing opportunities for talented learners through creative ways of working.

Just before Easter, I led our leadership team and Governors through a review of our 2015 strategic plan and a 2020 vision for the school which coincides with plans for our new building. Key strategic themes emerged; learning and teaching, professional development, student skills and potential, learning environment, curriculum development, cultural literacy and finally, achieving equality for all through narrowing the gap.  The challenge now is to turn this vision into a reality with measurable outcomes, understood by all those in the community.

We also thank Rachel for her contributions to
the Vision 2040 reading and watching list!

bill-watkinBill Watkin, Operational Director at SSAT, highlights the issues around performance related pay for teachers – what this means for school leaders as they develop procedures for determining staff pay levels and what effect PRP might have on teacher mobility.

School leaders are now – if they have not already completed the exercise – developing their strategies for the introduction of a new pay policy. They are considering how they might gather evidence of a teacher’s performance, which evidence is most useful and how to achieve demonstrable consistency and objectivity. With a teacher’s salary level hanging on the outcome, it is a critical exercise.

The freedom to reward excellence through salary adjustments, whether time-defined or permanent, is one which most leaders will relish. But it is likely that the freedom will also be accompanied by the risk of resistance, at least at the outset. The advice is to be careful to take appropriate legal and HR advice to ensure that the policy is drawn up correctly and that its introduction is effected smoothly. It will also be essential to secure effective training for all involved.

And how will a school find the money to reward all its excellent teachers, particularly if it has large numbers? Might it prioritise, as Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested this week, rewards over class size? There is evidence to suggest that this is certainly achievable.

The freedom to reward the best teachers in this way will reinforce an important signal to teachers: the quality of teaching and the commitment to the wider school experience are essential requirements of a successful professional. But, correspondingly, schools will be looking to enhance the support they give to those teachers who do not make the grade and to show that they accept that not all will be able to make that grade, however much scaffolded support they receive. School leaders know who their good teachers are; and so do the teachers themselves. The association of performance with pay will be welcomed by many.

Whether that enhanced pay takes the form of an annual bonus or a salary change is another dimension that schools will be addressing.

However, the position of more vulnerable, fragile, low performing schools is a concern. The accountability framework is such that a leader is taking a risk, in terms of career progression, in taking on a low attaining school. It is significantly more difficult to be judged to be outstanding in such schools. Lower ability children make slower progress. Barriers to progress and learning, such as behaviour, literacy levels and low aspirations, tend to be more entrenched and difficult to overcome. There is a growing concern that ambitious and aspirational leaders will think twice before taking on that challenge, for fear of the blot of an unsatisfactory judgement on the CV.

Below are questions that are as relevant for the established school leaders of today as they are for aspiring leaders of the future and of new entrants to the profession.

  • If it is the case that it is harder to be judged successful if you work in a low attaining school, whether as a leader or a classroom practitioner (this is certainly a real perception and there is evidence to support the view), is there a risk that some teachers will consider it easier to be judged successful and receive the benefit of PRP if they work in a successful school, at the Outstanding end of the performance spectrum?
  • And if so, is there a danger that the more ambitious and aspirational teachers will gravitate towards the ‘good’ schools, rather than the struggling schools, in order to maximise the chance of a higher salary? And if this happens, what will be the effect, in time, on teacher mobility?
  • Will those used to being awarded PRP in a high-performing school be too expensive or too unwilling to face the risks of working in a school where it is harder to evidence success?
  • Will there be a salary divide to accompany the standards divide that still separates too many schools and too many children?

 Follow Bill Watkin on Twitter @billwatkin