Tag Archives: Primary school

School to school lesson study 2

I recently blogged about our changing approach to Lesson Study.   Having operated in a number of different ways, we have moved to a school to school model that we hope will be sustainable in the face of cuts to school budgets.   Our existing model requires a lot of release time for staff, and although every cycle of lesson study has proved to be extremely valuable, such as model is operationally challenging as we move forward.  The school to school model requires less release time and has other benefits that we are beginning to see from our early forays into this CPD research field.

As blogged previously, we have tried out different approaches and engaged in some school to school research but are now planning more strategically to build on our previous work.  We recently completed a first round of school to school lesson study with three Y4 classes.   One class acted as host and the research lessons took place in this class over a two week period.  The three teachers involved followed the same approach as we had successfully employed in our own setting with joint planning time and post lesson pupil interviews and review built in to the process.   As is often the case with such things, staff gave their own time over and above the release each school allocated, simply because the research findings and conversations enthused them.

The research in this round focussed on the language used in maths.   The findings suggested that children in the class were put off tougher problems if they didn’t understand the words being used in the problems. Some children didn’t have a clear understanding of the word ‘explain’ and therefore avoided any problems using this word, even though they could solve the actual calculations.   In response to this the teachers decided to create a bank of words often used in maths, and find simple explanations and meanings to display in classes next to them.   From the post lesson pupil interviews it was felt this would help the children access the questions.   The research shows that we may assume children’s understanding of some of the words we regularly use in maths and that it is worth spending time unpicking meanings carefully with children in order to give them the best chance of answering the word problems.

The staff involved in this latest round of research have now planned a presentation to deliver in staff meetings in the schools after the Easter break.   This opportunity to share their findings in more than one school is also a great CPD opportunity and I am sure, it will open up further rich dialogue around this area.   Following this successful trial, we plan to extend the model to other year groups during the summer term.




Kaizen Network and Collaboration

Tomorrow it’s our annual Kaizen Inset Day. Each year we agree one common training day for all our staff. We pool our resources to bring in the best people to lead a day in one of our schools. This work can then be further developed in our own settings with collaborative approaches informed by a shared message.

Kaizen means small steps to continuous improvement. The name of this Japanese business model suits our aims perfectly. We set up this informal network as a group of new (ish) head teachers around ten years ago. Our initial aim was to support each other in our burgeoning leadership roles. We shared a common set of values and beliefs and we were all keen to work closely, to develop a school to school support model that would help our schools grow, and help us grow as school leaders.

Initially our network was a leadership support mechanism but it quickly grew to a body which included pupil teaching and learning groups, digital leaders, debating societies and subject leader clusters.   Recently children from each school visited Houses of Parliament.   This followed a joint pupil teaching and learning day looking at school values.   Before half term the teaching and learning groups shared presentations based on findings amongst pupils in their own schools on ‘what makes the ideal teacher, the ideal learner?’  Debating societies at the same pupil conference debated whether the government should pay for homes for the homeless (this topic was chosen by the pupils from a number of options).   The work the pupils are engaged in is shared back in their own schools via assemblies and school council meetings.   A focus on speaking and listening is developing the confidence and understanding of those involved, and the more we can involve, the better!

Staff work together on key aspects of their roles and this is something we will be developing further this year with our focus on collaborative improvement and lesson study.  Subject leaders find it useful to moderate beyond their school and local clusters (Kaizen involves schools from across the region and internationally) and in this new age without levels, such sessions are more important than ever.  Last year our Kaizen Inset Day was led by Professor Barry Hymer, we looked carefully at the research into Growth Mindset and how such work could impact on our schools’ approaches.  This year the day is being led by Dr Pete Dudley, to build on our approaches to Lesson Study.   Plans are already afoot for inter school research using the Lesson Study model.   The afternoon will be given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange, where staff from Kaizen partner schools share a range of pedagogical approaches that they are having successes with in the classroom.   These practitioner led workshops provide a ‘warts and all’ view that is refreshingly honest and helpful to colleagues in developing their own practices.

The Kaizen network grew organically.  There was no top down initiative, no external funding and no outside agenda.   The strength of the partnership is the shared belief that by working together, supporting each other and collaborating, we can improve the teaching and learning in our schools and provide a better all round education for our children.

A Primary Partnership

About a year ago all Blackpool Primary Schools got together to create the Blackpool Primary Partnership.   It was fast becoming clear to us all that, in the future the local authority was going to struggle to provide the support we had previously enjoyed, and a new direction was needed.   As part of the new partnership we agreed to meet in regional clusters of seven or eight schools each half term.   Over the year, we each agreed to give up six staff meetings to the common cause and the meetings rotate around the schools with year groups getting together to share, collaborate,  support and encourage each other.   The host school for each meeting provides the chair and minute taker and each school contributes around an agreed area of learning.   The first meetings last term helped cement relationships and support between schools.   Where once this had been sporadic and ad hoc, it was now given a strategic footing with all schools, initially at least, buying into this model of mutual support.

Tonight’s meeting was different from those held last term in that all schools in each regional cluster met together.  Rather than just year groups, each school as a whole, was asked to share one or two ideas that were working to improve writing.  As the meeting was only an hour it meant, in reality, one 5 min presentation per school.   With a little flexibility built into the timings we managed to cover a wide range of initiatives from practitioners from Foundation Stage through to Y6.

It would be naive to believe all the teachers from our cluster felt enthusiastic about tonight’s meeting.   Unlike teachmeets where people come along to listen and share of their own volition, many teachers tonight didn’t choose to attend, they were directed.   Some staff would no doubt have preferred their own staff meetings back at base.   Some of those presenting were certainly very nervous about sharing with an audience of over 150 rather than a smaller number of colleagues from their own schools, but the evening was a success nevertheless.   The presentations well received and supported, and definitely took some presenters out of their comfort zone!   We finished a few minutes early to give staff time to share emails and phone numbers, to bounce ideas off each other and plan further collaboration.   What may have seemed to some, an unnecessary gathering, finished as the start of a new way of networking locally.  In lots of instances tonight was about reaffirming the things we are all already doing in isolation, in some cases it was about sharing new ideas and initiatives that have proved successful but most importantly, tonight was about teachers sharing their practice with other teachers beyond their classrooms and schools.  Our meeting was one of four taking place simultaneously across the town. It will be interesting to share how the other three went and it will be interesting to see where the Primary Partnership takes us, for such a collaborative approach offers huge potential for the professional development of staff and their classroom practice.

Primary Curriculum-Models and Design

In my last post I talked about the need for a curriculum that helps prepare children for the future.   There are some key qualities I believe should be at the heart of a new curriculum rather than left to chance outside of it.   These qualities are not easy to measure in any tangible form and this may go some way to explaining their absence from many classrooms.  In his book ‘Building Learning Power‘ Guy Claxton explores some different reform models from around the world that are helping children develop their ‘learning power’.

The Golden Key Schools in Russia operate along the lines of extended families.   They follow Vygotsky‘s philosophy and an understanding of the process of interaction is implemented within the Zone of Proximal Development by placing children from 3 – 10 years in family units of 15 – 25 rather than traditional, age grouped, classes. Staff attend training to develop a ‘community of learning’ and parents are also active in school events with the emphasis placed on learning as a community.   Amongst the other examples Claxton looks at as models for developing collaboration and communication are Ann Brown‘s Communities of Inquiry in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the PEEL project in Victoria, Australia.  Bellaire Primary School in Victoria allows older pupils to take a more active role in planning their learning by running skills workshops which the children attend before taking part in application classes where they put the skills they have learned to practical use.  The children very quickly learn to plan their own timetable and learning, making it relevant to their own interests.  This brave approach develops independence and lifelong learning skills that can only help the children as they move into secondary education and beyond.

Others, such as Ralph Pirozzo and Lane Clarke have explored curriculum design and come up with practical ways of using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Mutiple Intelligences to create active learning experiences.   INSET training with both these educators and  research into other curriculum models such as the International Primary Curriculum and the International Primary Baccalaureate informed our own work on curriculum development.  Our own design has also been influenced by the work of Chris Quigley who has developed a progressive skills based approach that puts key learner qualities centre stage.  Chris takes his lead from the work of Claxton but he breaks down ‘Learning to Learn‘ skills into Bronze, Silver and Gold stages to help plan for progression.   The children easily understand the breakdown of Learning to Learn skills and Chris goes into detail, creating ‘I can’ statements for each of the following key learner qualities:

Reflective – planing, revising, reviewing

Relationships – collaboration, empathy, listening

Resilient – managing distractions, ‘stickability’

Resourceful – questioning, imagining, making links

Risk Taking – have a go, not scared of being wrong

The Skills Based Curriculum developed by Chris Quiqley not only gives pupils more ownership over their own learning but helps with planning for progression.  It would be great to see the work of these and other educators such as Sir Ken Robinson and Mick Waters, being considered by government as they look at the Primary Curriculum.

Kaizen Teacher Forums

The Kaizen Network is a supportive network set up some years ago by a group of likeminded headteachers who were frustrated by the top down model of networking being promoted at the time through government and local authorities.   We shared similar passions and beliefs around education and were keen to work in a collaborative way to bring about the best opportunities for our schools.  The network has enabled us to work on a number of areas including the development of  pupil voice, parental engagement, use of new technologies and the sharing of good practice and ideas.   We have organised shared training days, brought in key note speakers to shared conferences and linked up with partners around the world.   The children meet with their peers in partner schools to share their learning and they video conference with partner school in Australia.   This week we all collapsed our usual staff meetings to enable the Kaizen teacher forums to take place.   These forums enable staff from our different year groups to meet with their peers in our partner schools to share areas of common concern, talk through new ideas and share practice and resources in a collegiate and supportive atmosphere.   The current arrangement sees YR and Y1, Y2 and Y3, Y4 and Y5 and Y6 meet as four separate groups.   This week it was fantastic to have a Y7 teacher from a local high school come along and look at children’s writing with the Y6 teachers and share how APP is rolled out in her school.

The forums rotate around the schools in the network so staff are also able to visit different settings and see  how other schools and classrooms are organised differently to their own.   It’s a powerful model of professional development, non threatening and encouraging with no top down remit.   Staff are asked to find areas of common interest as a starting point and the forums then develop and take their own course.   The next stage in the forums will be visiting each others classrooms during a working day.   Possibly teaching together, maybe observing each other in an informal but helpful way, whatever staff come back and say they want to happen – our role as headteachers is to facilitate that.  In today’s shifting educational landscape the network is more relevant and important to us than ever and we fully embrace and exemplify the school to school support model – but I don’t think any of us would have done things differently anyway.

Illuminating the Curriculum – Blackpool Winter Gardens, November 1st


Blackpool Winter Gardens, from the west

Image via Wikipedia


On November 1st 2010 we held our first Blackpool SSAT Education Conference.   The event saw 1000+ delegates gather at the Winter Gardens to hear some world class presenters speak with passion about various themes linked to curriculum and creativity.

The day came about by virtue of the previous government agreeing an additional inset day for all primary schools to implement their new curriculum based on the now defunct Rose Review.   In Blackpool we all agreed to keep Nov 1st as a collective INSET day where we could get together and do something meaningful for all our staff.   The commitment of all our schools was important as only through such an approach could we make something this special happen.   As all Blackpool schools are affiliated to the SSAT we were able to sit down with our Head of Regional Network and plan the day with them.   The  Local Authority were also very helpful in negotiating a deal with the Winter Gardens and working together with us on presenters and organising with our local FE college for their Events Management Students to come along and work on the day as part of their course.

A local company Central Media Services (CMS), provided AV support for the day ensuring the event met high conference standards in terms of screening, light and sound. By selling exhibitors space we were able to offset the cost of the day and keep delegates rates at an absolute minimum.   With such guaranteed large numbers in attendance we were able to provide a first class CPD event at an unbelievably low rate.

The conference began with an introduction from Richard Hunter, former head of primary for the SSAT and now once more a headteacher at Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham.   Richard shared with delegates the real benefits of affiliation; the opportunities for international partnerships, bespoke training for all stakeholders in school, access to world class thinkers and courses, school visits and much more.   Richard introduced Damian Hughes as the first key note of the day.   Damian spoke about how our attitudes and beliefs can impact on our performance.   He presents in a way that you can’t help but engage with, his messages are clear, strong and leave you thinking about what you do and how you do it – a perfect start to a day about challenging and changing our classroom practice.  Damian has written a number of books that ask us to question our thinking, titles such as ‘The Change Catalyst’ and ‘Liquid Thinking’ give you an indication of his passions and how his messages support us in managing change.   Damian created a real buzz around the place and set a fantastic, energetic and enthusiastic tone to the day which was further built on by our next presenter John Davitt.

For those people unfamiliar with John’s work, he is again a world renowned figure in education.   His approach is innovative, original and exiting.   John speaks from the heart about engaging learners and exploring ways to bring the best out of every learning experience.   He has developed a number of ways we can use  technology in a straightforward and simple fashion to support learning.   The approaches John shared with us don’t require a high level of technological savvy to use and many delegates were jotting down ideas and tools that John showed – ideas that can be quickly put into practice back in school.

Following lunch IT coordinators retired with John to a close by local primary school to take part in a workshop where they could explore in more details some of John’s approaches – these can then in turn be shared back in school through staff meetings that will further the day’s messages.

After an extended break to get everyone through lunch (a potential problem that was very efficiently managed by the staff of the Winter Gardens) we came back to the main hall to hear Richard Machin.  Richard is the headteacher of All Saints Primary School in Warwick and he shared with us all the journey he has taken the school on over the last three years.   From a school in difficulty to one of the top 100 performing primaries in the country.   Richard hasn’t done this through a box ticking culture but by providing the children at All Saints with a rich, exciting and active curriculum that puts their needs first and offers them creative ways of doing things.  It was great for delegates to hear from a practising headteacher about how he has worked with the children, satff and parents to move the school forward without sacrificing his beliefs and principles.

The day’s last speaker was unfortunately unable to attend for health reasons and so it fell upon one of his colleagues to deliver a presentation on his behalf.   Dr Peter Twinings is head of Education at the Open University and he was going to speak to delegates about the future of education and how different approaches to training and development could support us in the future.   Stephen Musgrave who works closely with Peter shared with us how Vital can provide bespoke online support and a range of free resources to support ongoing professional development through a tool called Elluminate.   Unfortunately some of the live feeds during Stephen’s presentation were difficult to hear due to technical problems but the messages were well received by people and again, lots of jottings suggested delegates would be further exploring this online support.

The day was brought to a close by Sue Williamson from SSAT.   Sue echoed the thoughts of many of us when she spoke about how much we could achieve through such active collaboration.   To see so many people from local schools together in one place made you realise that the future of education is in our hands if we want it.    There is freedom to teach, freedom to innovate and freedom to do what we know is best for all our children and by working together we can achieve anything.   Days like today show that our strength lies in such a collaborative approach.