The Power of the Arts – in testing times, the current climate and the future world.

The period of COVID lockdown (Version 1.0 March – Summer 2020 or version 2.0 in this current period!) has seen the highs and lows of the arts and creativities industries of the UK. To the millions of boxsets, dramas and films viewed via Netflix, Amazon and Sky to name a few; to the closure of Arts venues across the world (some for good); and from the live streaming of opera, ballet, theatre and concerts bringing accessibility of performance to so many at the hardest of times; to the condescending and much criticised Government campaign suggesting that a ballerina needed to retrain for a new career. There is much poignancy in that last controversial aspect; should we be suggesting that arts needs further removal from the curriculum and education, or could it in fact be the kind of learning approach that comes from these subjects that helps us to create a future generation of children to run a new, sustainable world?

Personally, I feel I am a product of an education and professional development journey through arts and creativity that has led me to where I am today. From studying theatre and education as the prestigious Dartington College of Arts, after fantastic inspiration from an A Level Drama teacher who helped set out a new found path for me; to working as part of the Creative Partnerships programme inspired by the incredible work of Sir Ken Robinson and his white paper All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (1999) which set out so much about the imbalance of education. His work still inspires me on a daily basis in my current role, and his presence and contribution to the education sector will be so greatly missed. The point of this paper was incredibly pertinent at the time and now. There has never been a more urgent need than “to develop ‘human resources’, and in particular to promote creativity, adaptability and better powers of communication.” Except over 21 years on from the writing of this paper it seems policy makers are not implementing this key message fully.

In return to schools in September 2020, schools have been given permission by Ofsted to use these exceptional circumstances to suspend some subjects for pupils, as a means to identify gaps in essentials and re-establish good progress (DFE, 2020) Although there is no doubting that there are significant gaps in children’s knowledge in core subjects and that in a lot of settings, children are a long way behind where we might expect them to be in their reading, writing or maths, should we not be still encouraging children to connect with creativity, experiments, design, music and expressive arts – especially so when often these are outlets for emotions, expression and a way of connecting our feelings on events?

Arts and Creativity offer so much more than just this to the curriculum (and therefore children). To quote the work of Rittel and Webber in their piece ‘Dilemmas in the Theory of Planning’ “How teachers prepare people for a lifetime of uncertainty and change and enable them to work with the ever-increasing complexity of the modern world is the ‘wicked problem’ shared by…institutions and educators all over the world (Rittel and Webber, 1973). The creativity, collaboration, flexibility, innovation, critical thinking, perseverance, interpretation, confidence, identity, self-belief, empathy, agency and responsibility (to name just a few of the skills) that engagement in arts based subjects teaches children and young people could be one of the solutions to tackling this ‘wicked problem’ that Rittel and Webber talk about. The TALE project (Tracking Arts Engagement and Learning – a three year research project investigating arts education in high schools in England, 2015-2018) cited its key findings to include creativity and innovative thinking as the highest skills looked for by employers, and the same 2 skills ranked most highly developed from participating in the arts (Time to Listen TALE publication, 2018).

Whilst we know the need for education to be reimagine to make it fit for a future world, and for this redesign to consider multiple facets, there is no doubt that the skills and opportunities that arts and creative subjects bring to the curriculum are in direct synergy with those needed in the young people who will soon run this world, and should therefore be given the time and space these subjects deserve. And even in the very short term, the arts needs to remain firmly in place in the curriculum; the power of it shows in the work of Key stage 2 children from some of our Trust schools - allowing them to express and make sense of some of what 2020 has meant for them.

References:

Department for Education, Guidance for full opening: schools - Updated 22 October 2020

National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education: All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education Report to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. May 1999

TATE, University of Nottingham and RSC (2018) ‘Time to Listen – Evidence from the Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (TALE project)’, located at URL: https://researchtale.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/time-to-listen-tale-project-final-report.pdf

Webber, M and Rittel, J (1973) ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’, pp. 155-169, Springer publishing, located at URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4531523 .

Performance poetry written by a group of Year 4 pupils from Victoria Park Academy in Smethwick, in response to BLM 2020.

Reflections on COVID inspired artwork by Year 6 at Birchen Coppice Primary Academy

Autumn 2020 - 'History in the Making' - A challenge pack for returning to school following Lockdown

This blog was originally publish by Hopscotch Education consulting in September 2020

Knowing that our students had spent an unexpected and difficult six months away from the classroom, we felt we had to think outside the box when devising the autumn curriculum. As a team, we agreed that the idea of a catch-up curriculum, with an exclusive focus on core subjects, did not align with our Trust’s vision for students: real, immersive and purposeful learning, driven by challenges. Instead we felt that it was most important for students to share their thoughts and feelings about the last few months with peers and teachers, so that they could process their experiences and begin to reengage with learning in a school setting.

Whilst a traditional focus on PSHE and wellbeing would be an important starting point for enabling these conversations, we were determined to take a holistic approach and use the entire curriculum. This way, we would be able to show children that their experiences over the last few months, be they negative or positive, were important.

To this end, we have designed a framework for our teachers to use in their lesson planning: through subjects such as history, PSHE, geography, art, music and English, we have aimed to enable students to situate their experiences within the wider context of the pandemic. For example, in English, we have designed writing tasks to help students express their own experiences, both helping to improve their written communication skills and allowing them the opportunity to explore their feelings towards the last few months. To emphasise the historical significance of their experiences, we will explain that in years to come students just like them will learn about 2020 through primary sources.

This term, they can help to create these primary sources, including photos, artwork, songs and reports, through their schoolwork. This approach helps students to grasp the concept of history in a way they would not have been able to before: through creating these primary sources, the students will see first-hand that significant, real life events is what forms the history that people study in years to come. And they have been a part of history.

Naturally, some people might question where maths and science fit in to this innovative learning framework. We have, of course, ensured that these subjects are taught alongside this approach, in discrete lessons. We are aware that there will be gaps in students’ knowledge and they might be ‘further behind’ their expected level, but we are confident that with quality teaching, they will make progress. This has been an unprecedented experience that they have had to survive – if we can re-engage them in education, as well as making them feel safe and positive about an extremely turbulent few months, we are willing to spend slightly longer in ensuring that their maths and science skills catch up.

We have designed this approach based on what we believe to be most important: the welfare and wellbeing of our students. For educators across the UK, getting the first few weeks right will hugely impact the behaviour and engagement in learning for a generation of students. We need to allow space for acknowledging the last six months, whilst also building a feeling of momentum to help students move forward again. A crucial part of this task will be understanding our students as individuals, rather than pieces of data on tracking charts that tell us the children, inevitably, have knowledge gaps after so long out of the classroom.

A real, immersive and purposeful curriculum - A Blog for BERA

This blog was originally published by BERA on 6th March 2020

In a primary school context of nine academies in the West Midlands, our curriculum framework is underpinned by theories from John Dewey’s 20th-century approach to project-based learning (PBL). More recent research on PBL (Thomas, 2000) reports positive outcomes related to student learning in the areas of content knowledge, collaborative skills, engagement and motivation, and critical thinking and problem-solving skills, particularly when focusing on learning where:

• challenges are central, not peripheral to the curriculum

• challenges are focussed on questions or problems that ‘drive’ learning

• students are engaged in a constructive investigation

• challenges are real – as in realistic, not school-like, and grounded in the world around us.

While some research on PBL has shown that it has little impact on pupil outcomes (EEF, 2016), both our practice and other research has found it can be effective when used alongside quality teaching of core subjects (see also Stepien, Gallagher, & Workman, 1993) We designed the approach to centre around three key ideas: that learning should make a difference to the real world; that learning should be immersive and experiential; and that it should be purposeful in developing skills and knowledge that can be applied to different challenges ‘where pupils work as active citizens, committed to take action at a local, national and global level’ (Waters, 2013).

Children are set an open-ended and purposeful challenge at the very start of their learning. Each challenge connects to the real world while fulfilling the national curriculum, with examples including the following.

• ‘How can we bring the countryside to our city school?’

• ‘How can we design a product that solves a problem?’

• ‘How can we celebrate our diverse community?

Through these challenges, children are asked to undertake the design of an outcome for a real audience, with a real purpose. The immersive step is about capturing children’s interests and finding the ‘zones of relevance’ in their imagination; the crossover between what teachers need to teach and what children want to learn. A trip at the start of the challenge allows students to gain first-hand experience and knowledge. An experience may also serve as a model for the event, product or service that they create, helping them see an example in the real world. By giving children a sense of the world beyond school, we are expanding their realms of relevance. Immersion is key, particularly for children who may have limited life experiences to draw upon. ‘By giving children a sense of the world beyond school, we are expanding their realms of relevance. Immersion is key, particularly for children who may have limited life experiences to draw upon.’

We keep the learning journey focussed through the use of Belle Wallace’s TASC wheel. By ‘Thinking Actively in a Social Context’ (TASC), children undertake a ‘self-explanatory, collaborative, idea-sharing and developmental approach to their learning’ (Wallace, 2012), with the teacher acting as the facilitator.

To ensure quality and in-depth learning, we add an essential step for the planning, teaching and learning: What declarative and procedural knowledge and understanding will pupils need to achieve their learning challenge?

When visiting one of our schools, Ofsted stated that: ‘…the rich and varied curriculum is key to the effectiveness of the whole school. School leaders have introduced an exciting curriculum designed to meet the needs of the pupils by ensuring activities are purposeful and based on their interests. Pupils understand not only what they are learning but why. Termly cross-curricular “challenges” ensure coverage of the national curriculum but also recognise additional aspects of learning, such as enterprise skills and creativity… The quality of the curriculum has a positive impact on levels of pupil engagement, developing resilience, self-reflection and reasoning skills as well as raising the level of pupils’ outcomes.’ Pupil voice and feedback has resoundingly shown that through this approach to the curriculum, and when pupils are making a difference through their learning challenges, children care more, try harder and have more ownership. Children talk about their learning with passion and purpose, and they understand why they need to learn so that they can achieve the challenge outcome.

 

References:

Education Endowment Foundation [EEF] (2016). Project-based learning: Evaluation report. Retrieved from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Projects/Evaluation_Reports/EEF_Project_Report_Project_Based_Learning.pdf

Stepien, W. J., Gallagher, S. A., & Workman, D. (1993). Problem-based learning for traditional and interdisciplinary classrooms. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16(14), 338–357.

Thomas, J. W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. Retrieved from http://www.bobpearlman.org/BestPractices/PBL_Research.pdf

Wallace, B. (2012). TASC: Thinking actively in a social context. A universal problem-solving process: A powerful tool to promote differentiated learning experiences. Gifted Education International, 28(1), 58–83. doi:10.1177/0261429411427645

Waters, M. (2013). Thinking allowed on schooling. Bancyfelin: Independent Thinking Press.


Overcoming challenges: Remote learning for primary

This blog was originally published by Hopscotch Education in March 2020

 

Victoria Academies Trust is made up of a group of primary academies across the West Midlands, including Birchen Coppice Primary Academy in Kidderminster. Prior to joining the Trust, the school had been in an Ofsted category for several years. With 65% pupil premium children and many children entering nursery with poor language and communication skills, there are generally low levels of reading, writing and maths. Attendance and punctuality are an ongoing issue, and disadvantaged pupils often lack opportunity for wider enrichment experiences.

This year has brought different challenges for everyone. There has been a major focus on the quality of the curriculum, with all the changes and expectations set out by the new Ofsted framework. We have worked very hard on implementing a challenge-based curriculum, underpinned by pedagogy of real, immersive and purposeful learning within a cross curricular teaching of all national curriculum subjects.

The principles of the curriculum are very much about: Immersing children into their learning - a hook, a trip, a visitor. Most of the children come into school with limited life experiences and it’s our job as part of the curriculum to inspire imagination and bring experiences into reality. Setting a real learning challenge that results in a public product where children apply their learning and knowledge into an outcome for an audience and that is difference making. Helping children to access key procedural and declarative knowledge. This is important in a school that has been in challenging circumstances for a long time, as there are major gaps in children’s learning. Children not coming into school means accessing this type of curriculum is very hard. No experience, no learning challenge, no audience and no quality first teaching. You then add the challenges of deprivation that we are dealing with for some families.

As we considered how to help children access the curriculum from home, it became clear some children might only have the exercise book and the pencil that they were sent home with. 

A survey of more than 6,000 teachers by Teacher Tapp last week found the vast majority of teachers in the most disadvantaged communities doubt their pupils have access to the right devices to access the internet. No internet, no computer, tablet or phone access – not even access to colouring pencils or paints. This was going to be a learning challenge that I had never imagined, let alone be in a position with less than a week for us to prepare.

So, what have we done to manage this? I will share with you a few examples… Initially teachers set home reading, writing and maths tasks for pupils to undertake, and then gradually began to filter in some planned foundation subject-based tasks. We spent time in year group and phase teams on Zoom meetings, considering how to make our curriculum and subject objectives work through a remote approach.

Shifting towards project based learning, where children become expert in areas of their choosing within a given theme, has helped teachers plan engaging ideas for learning, and we have seen that there has been an increase in pupil’s undertaking and sharing work back to teachers. To help parents access learning for their children, we have shared activities through a number of platforms – through class pages on the school website, using Class Dojo for interaction and then, for some parents, posting packs of hard copies home so that they don’t have the barrier of technology.

For some subjects such as Art or DT, we made sure that pupils have a choice in terms of the materials or medium that they are using – but in this instance, it has been about making sure that any lack of resources at home do not provide limitation to a pupil who wants to engage. At the very minimum, they can sketch or do design work with the pencil and in the book that they were sent home with.

Although there are a lot of online video teaching and live streams from subject experts, many of which our parents have been signposted to, some of our teachers have been making their own guidance videos or model examples that can be watched. For our youngest children or those who have SEND needs, having a familiar face and approach will help keep them engaged. The feeling of engagement and connection with their teacher is so important, especially for some children where school is very much a safe and happy place for them. Where possible, we have worked to find a range of extracts from books with visuals to photograph, scan in or print, as well as things that can be read online or watched on YouTube. Keeping our children engaged in a range of literary resources and reading has been an ongoing priority in school this year and we are trying to continue these principles remotely.

Autonomy and independence in the curriculum pedagogy are important, and in school we use different ways of doing this – from the 5B’s to Guy Claxton’s BLP tools (we call ours Learning Power tools) and DeBono’s CoRT 1 thinking tools. We have encouraged pupils to continue to use some of these learning tools in specific tasks to help them to work independently.

In some cases, we have been setting small learning challenges for pupils, even though these are being completed remotely. An example of this is with Year 3 and 4, who were due to create a gallery of Stone Age to Iron Age time. Instead we have asked them to sketch and label artefacts and replicas of objects from the time period (with photos from our historical loans box we had borrowed!) so that we can create a Twitter gallery of their drawings. This will help with pupil’s sense of pride and achievement over the coming weeks, and again allow us to keep some sort of normality to our learning approach.

I know that beyond this, we still have a lot of planning and creative problem solving to do. I know I will also be spending time considering which aspects of the curriculum we can still cover, so that we can review where we may end up with gaps as we move towards the end of the year and into the next. This was something that I had a lot of anxiety about originally– what about the children who are behind in their learning, and how will we help them catch up over time? I have recently read something that has given me more of a sense of hope. They are not my words, but I will leave you with it as food for thought…

“What if instead of ‘behind’ this group of kids are advanced because of this? Hear me out. What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing? What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own garden and sitting near a window in the quiet? What if they notice the birds and the dates that different flowers emerge and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower? What if this generation are the ones that learn to cook and organise their space and do their laundry and keep a well-run home? What if they learnt to stretch a pound and learn to live with less? What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home? What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday? What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals and the previously invisible essential heroes that we have: NHS workers, supermarket staff, truck drivers, social workers, rubbish collectors, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now whilst we are in a sheltered place? What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life to truly learn what really matters in life? What if they are ahead?”


5 ways to make Challenge-based learning work in the Primary Curriculum

We need to stretch our pupils – and this is how it can be done.

The aim of many teachers in primary is challenge-based learning, but how well do you think you manage to do it? It can be trickier than we imagine. For the uninitiated, challenge-based learning is all about adding real and purposeful questions to thematic topics or themes to drive learning. It allows pupils to both apply acquired knowledge to a purpose and to connect it to the world around them.

The approach is underpinned by theories from John Dewey’s work on project-based learning.  Effective learning in primary Challenge-based learning is most effective when used to set an open-ended and purposeful challenge at the very start of the learning journey. For each part of the curriculum, subjects are divided into learning challenge packs (a termly unit of cross-curricular learning). Every challenge should have a real purpose for a real audience – both aspects of which should often be decided by the pupils as part of their process. Every challenge should have a real need – about access, opportunity or community for instance.

Five tips for primary learning If you are interested in giving such an approach a go, think about the following ideas for developing practice in your teaching and learning:

1. Ask yourself: why am I asking children to learn about this? You need to come up with a challenge question that will enable pupils to apply their learning – the learning has to come first, not the challenge question.

2. You need to fully understand the purpose of the challenge: do you know who it is for and what it will achieve? Central to challenge-based learning is a real purpose. If you are struggling, go back and rework the challenge question.

3. Consider your role as facilitating teacher. Think about how you can frame the learning as a series of questions or sub-challenges for children to consider. Using a structure can help this, for instance through the use of Belle Wallace’s "Tasc" – thinking actively in a social context – wheel. Through Tasc, children are able to undertake a self-explanatory, collaborative, idea-sharing and developmental approach to their learning. Each section of the Tasc wheel has a specific task for children to undertake.

4. In planning, teachers can use a "so that..." format when setting writing learning outcomes – with the learning as the focus of the objective and the "so that..." statement outlining the application. If we take the example of creating a pop-up museum, examples of these might be: We are learning to place dates in chronological order so that we can create an accurate timeline in our museum. We are learning to create a plan view so that we design the layout of our museum space We are learning to create QR codes so that we can make information interactive for visitors

5. Finally, you need to ensure the knowledge is mapped in a clear sequence, so that children can learn the content in the best order for both the learning objective and the completion of the challenge.

 

This blog was originally published by the TES on the 11th July 2019


The summer of juxtapositions - a discussion of ‘versus’ arguments...

With a few weeks break from the busy life of school curriculum development and improvement over the summer holidays, it’s been interesting to have a little time to step back and read some of the discussions that have been taking place in the knowledge and skills debate, which seem to have once again pushed itself to the surface. The week of the end of the last academic year saw the DfE publish the materials for the Curriculum Development Fund as a means to addressing teacher workload. Intrigued by the premise of this, I dutifully emailed the expression of interest to be able to find out more of what this might mean for a school to partake in.

 

The detailed outline of expectation for sharing a knowledge based curriculum programme went on and on. The expectations for what schools were to have ready prior to even submitting an application was copious. As a Trust of schools that prides itself on curriculum as a key approach to improving learning, engagement and outcomes, there were a number of criteria that we did not meet, nor would want to meet.

 

A few points of reflection came to mind as I read through the materials, each that I would like to discuss in turn:

 

  1. Would providing teachers with all on this content (that they are describing knowledge rich) actually reduce teacher’s workload or stress?
  2. Why do we keep coming back to an argument of knowledge versus skills, when it is impossible to have one without the other?

 

 

I shall start with the second point first, mainly as it has felt quite prevalent from a personal point of view for the last few weeks. My husband recently left his job, before being at the point of finding a new role. He has therefore spent much time over the last few months applying for new jobs. This really had to make us think about our own Versus arguments in our personal life – did we want to stay in our beautiful home where we are currently and settle for him taking a more local job, versus being open to moving house in order to access more interesting roles that might be further afield?

 

One particular job he applied for was in Guernsey – somewhat further than our original discussions might have considered! We obviously had to discuss whether the possibility if even living there was an option, and when we considered it could actually be (through our many pronged ‘versus’ discussions), I thought it might be sensible to investigate what the education and curriculum system was like on this small island; from the point of view that both my kids could end up being educated there, and also if there may be a possibility of work opportunities for me at some point.

 

Their Bailiwick Curriculum had been recently developed through ongoing support from Mick Walters, and was what they called a Skills based curriculum. Unpicking their glossy brochure further, they had identified a number of subject based skills as well as wider developmental skills that they wanted children to develop from KS1-3. Straight away I began to see issues arising (although they are still in Year 1 of piloting):

 

  1. Skills progression - skills were mapped across key stage but when moving into Year 2 and beyond, how were children going to progress thrust their learning of these skills and these just not become ‘repeated’?
  2. Schools and teachers chose their own content / themes for teaching, which you can imagine has created a variety in quality and wide range of learning.

No sooner has I started to unpick this curriculum on paper further, there were some major announcements made by the newly appointed political board in the Government. Ofsted were to be reintroduced, as were Year 6 SATS. And that politicians felt that the curriculum should be a Knowledge based curriculum and so it may be need to be redesigned. This caused some serious uproar - all of the engagement and effort that had gone in to the Curriculum development, obviously, and due to the amount of time, energy and investment that had gone into it. However, what I found more bewildering was that the debate was such a dichotomy of knowledge versus skills. I felt like their curriculum that had been developed by the Bailiwick would benefit from some mapped out coverage in the form of national content so as to ensure consistency for children on the island. But to scrap all the work that had been undertaken to develop their skills would also be unnecessary - they needed both to work in correlation.

 

Teachers, in whichever country we are discussing, need to be able to have knowledge and skills to plan and deliver learning from. They form an adjoining partnership - we are learning to develop skills of learning how to investigate a subject, and exploring key knowledge and content through using these skills. It is not about one or the other.

 

Providing schools with programmes of study, schemes of work, medium and short terms plans and even textbooks mapped with knowledge rich content will only go as so far as to provide learners with content to explore. If unpaired with skills relevant to the subjects and support teachers how to plan (as well as having a clear approach underpinned by values and a clear WHY for learning) we will not be helping children become more than knowledge sponges.

 

More to the point, giving teachers ready made plans to deliver from can actually increase stress and workload. Taking the time to unpick what is meant by the scheme of work, making it relevant to your own school curriculum approach could take as much time as planning from scratch. Until tested, it’s hard to say for definite. But I find that the approach that works for us most effectively is working with teachers to plan and develop their own curriculum units. The content maps are there (pre written) as are the skills ladders. They are mapped to the national curriculum, and so teachers do not need to worry about coverage. The focus to the supported planning is about thinking carefully about the flow of learning, the approach being used, the purpose of the learning and mapping clear and impactful learning.

 

By supporting teachers to undertake planning through a coached approach, they are being up-skilled, supported, their ideas valued, learning relevant to their particular class and cohort of children, and their workload is reduced - by the end of the session where they have been released from class, they leave ready to deliver the unit of work that addressed both knowledge and skills. They leave empowered and engaged, removing the whole any juxtapositions of workload versus quality behind. I am looking forward to returning to this support for our Trust schools this academic year.

 

(P.S. For those who you who felt concerned whilst ready this blog, do not be - we are not moving to Guernsey.)

 

 

 

 


Returning to Work - Parenthood versus Passion and Purpose…May 2018

Many of you reading this will be parents. And will understand the juggling act of driving a career and a family! I didn’t necessarily think that my first blog after returning from maternity leave after adding a second bundle of trouble to our family would be about exactly that content. But then being a mum has been what I have spent the last 7 months of my time focusing on, and so I suppose it was only natural that the lines would be a little blurry for a while…

 

Those of you who know me personally will know that I have held a passion for Curriculum Development for a long time. I have worked in this field for over 10 years, through from Creative Partnerships, to a Curriculum consultant, to working with Victoria Academies Trust for the last 6 years, 3 years as my only role! I was asked, as I returned to work at the start of the term, whether developing Curriculum was a little boring to me now; which made me think long and hard about where my passion and purpose was now sitting as I begin to re-find my identity as a working mother of 2.

 

Everyone likes to add their opinion about how, where and when you should work when you have a family. The generation of my parents have quite strong opinions about the role of a parent, particularly a mother, once a family has been established. But when both parents in a family have an energy and a passion for their career, surely there has to be a way of juggling the practicalities with making maintaining the most of both family and work opportunities?

 

Which made me think about our approach to learning with the children in our schools. We want them to be able to move between these different modus operandi. We want them to be learners who are passionate, who are driven by purpose and engaged in excitement in their learning. But we also want them to think and work practically; to manage their time effectively, to work with others in a collaborative manner; to plan their workings and to have clear processes. And so if we are designing approaches to learning that help our children to be able to develop in all of these areas, I must be able to apply this to my own way of thinking!

 

And so to the point of being no longer driven and passionate about curriculum design; in fact, my time away through this academic year has sharpened much of my thinking about my work. If I was not so passionate about continuing to help our schools to develop learning that is real, difference making, impacting pupil’s engagement and outcomes, I could quite easily allow myself to put my own family wholly first and take an easier role, a closer job, and do something that was about making a living rather than fuelling my fire.

 

But focusing on family to me is both about attending to my own purpose (because one is always the better version of themselves for others when they attend to themselves as well) and the bigger family of our children in our schools. They deserve to have access to continuous innovation and opportunities. And a Curriculum in a school is never a static thing. It ebbs and flows like a river (as someone once said). Its course changes based on many things – new staff; new children; new opportunities; new happenings in the world; new opportunities to make a difference, to be enterprising, creative. And with Ofsted already making clear the refocus on Curriculum as part of the 2019 updates to inspections (more to follow on this in my next blog) it is important that we continue to keep our schools curriculum as a priority for focus and continuous strive for improvement.

 

And so whilst all of these happenings will continue occur, I will be constantly reinvigorated and challenged to keep the innovation happening; to support teachers to get to the best of their game and to create the best curriculum in the world for the children who will lead the future. My children will be part of this future. And so perhaps whilst I am at work not being a parent to them for those few hours and days, I am instead helping shape a learning journey for them which will help engage their passion and purpose when the time for education comes.


If people don't care, they won't try as hard - July 2016

"Where are we going?

How are we going to get there?

And Why are we doing this?

Because if people don't care they won't try as hard"

 

David Breashears, Inspiring Leadership conference 2016

 

The week of the Inspiring Leadership conference was an interesting moment on reflection in both my role and in life more generally. I spent much time thinking about what drives people to make a difference in the world around them and why this is ever more important in the world we live in today.

 

My thoughts started with a particularly interesting meeting with a group of children from one of our Trust schools. I was probing them around what felt important in their learning and how engaged they were in it. The responses that I got from these children was astonishing. They told me about how much difference they felt they had made in their last terms Learning Challenge; they had realised that their their thematic titled Catastrophes wasn't just about massive world disasters. They had realised that families in their own school and community were going though catastrophe every day of their lives. That they didn't have money to feed their families, or means to get clean and washed. And so these children researched and planned how they could help, working alongside the food bank to generate over £500, and using this to purchase a large amount of personal items to help families accessing the food and resource. These children passionately articulated the difference they had made to their community, to how much they had learnt, but actually the pride they had in what they had achieved.

 

Children who care about the world are the future of this world. A world where not everyone is kind hearted and wants to make a difference. A world where children, adults and family go through suffering every day. I continued to reflect on how passionate about helping others whilst listening to Zainab Siad tell her story of growing up in Iraq in a world of oppression and suffering; hoe she used this experience to motivate her.  She knew that she wanted to change the world for women all around who were struggling in difficult circumstances and has spent so much time since planning opportunities for helping them to do this. But much deeper than this, she has  taken the time to understand why this was important for her do this - how her own personal story has helped her go on to clearly help her make a difference.

 

And then, At the exact same time as I sat listening to the inspiring Zainab - the news of the death of Jo Cox, MP, came through over the news feed. A woman who spent her short life being incredibly clear about her 'why', and her actions through speeches in parliaments and campaigns in constituency, and her active charity work demonstrated a very clear Cause- to allow immigration to have a positive effect on communities. 'Jo believed in a better world and fought for it every day'.

 

 

Our children are the future leaders of our world. We can help them be the kind of people who care and want to make a difference. Taking the time to plan for having a clear purpose in learning and helping them know why they are doing something  Can really change the meaning for children in our classrooms. This is about finding an Authentic real rather than pretend real too - allowing children to really plan an event to bring communities together; or to fundraiser to buy that ace of rainforest - whatever it is, the learning should actually make impact and not be falsified to feel real but be created to feel like this rather than actually existing in the world. By creating a curriculum full of these learning experiences, we are helping children make the world a better place; and giving them the learning process that shows that they have the power to change the world - if they care why and try hard...


How do you continue to innovate? February 2016

 

When I first started my post with Victoria Academies Trust, I was given an interesting job title: Director of Curriculum Innovation. In some ways this filled me with excitement and enthusiasm; I would be responsible for working with the 5 schools in the Trust to ensure that their learning is real, immersive, and purposeful. Having spent time with all of these schools so far this academic year, it is clear that all of them are fulfilling many of these aspects in variety of engaging ways, and our plans to continue to build on this are becoming ever clearer.

 

And so then I come to the second part of my job title; Innovation. And this is the bit that continues to raise questions in my thoughts…

 

·       Question 1: When a school is already undertaking a number of innovative practices, is it right to continue to ask them to try new developments?

 

·       Question 2: Is innovation actually about new things, or is it about really deepening practice to solve problems?

 

·       Question 3: How much should innovation be led, or is it about giving space for teachers to lead their own practice and therefore bring about innovation?

 

All of these questions have led to thoughts around how we find opportunities for developed leadership and giving the space for innovation for teachers within our Trust to become expert in their practice. Now it’s a question of how we do this! Luckily, we have found a friend who is an expert in just this…

 

Zoe Elder from Clevedon Learning Trust is passionate about Action Research. She kindly invited me to a group that she was facilitating from Weston Super Mare Excellence cluster. On a chilly January afternoon, I arrived at a quaint, but slightly dated, beachfront hotel to meet a group of teacher’s part way through their journey of innovation. From a number of different schools, the teacher’s in the room were relatively new in their practice, but all had been identified by their schools are future leaders, quality practitioners, and with a thirst for developing their own innovations.

Each teacher had identified their own Action Research question; something that they wanted to really delve into to make a difference in their classroom – whether that be for all children or an identified particular group. Being a very open group, the teachers kindly allowed me to question their ideas, discuss what they were really looking to get to the bottom of, and generally to be a little challenging!

 

What was refreshing and enjoyable that session (alongside the yummy piece of cake!) was that the innovations that these teachers were exploring (whether this be mind-set in the classroom, confidence through child led developments, or changing the status of being ‘learning ready’) were not being led by anyone other than what those teachers felt were important. The likelihood is that they are also identifying aspects that would be important to all teachers in their school; and thereby setting up the pilot for an innovation that has the potential to change whole school practice in time.

 

Bringing me back to what my role in Curriculum Innovation should therefore be…part of this needs to be not only sharing innovative practice or supporting teachers to undertake this (where this time and space can be useful from the day to day of the classroom) but to create opportunities for them to lead innovative practice.

 

 

We have started this in small steps. Across the Trust we now have 6 Social Enterprise leaders, mostly TA’s, who are leading innovations in their school – more about those another time. And we have identified 3 more teachers who are going to start their own Research projects in their own practice that they feel will be interesting innovations for the future. But in discussions with Zoe, we are interested to explore how this model of teacher led innovation, through Action Research could take place for all teachers. Much more on this to be discussed, developed and decided. But through this journey I am intrigued to find out if teacher led innovation can continue to feed our forward moving practice in schools – and hopefully not leave me without a role to play!