Tag Archives: schools

Lesson Study – School to school

We embraced lesson study wholeheartedly a couple of years ago.   The developmental approach to teaching and learning sits more comfortably than the judgemental.   It encourages research and innovation and enables staff to improve their practice in a supportive and collaborative environment.

The problem with the Lesson Study model we adopted is that to run it successfully there’s a lot of release time required.   We have worked in triads thus needing three teachers out of class to plan and review with two out of class for each research lesson (we work with a cycle of three research lessons).  To sustain this model of LS is a challenge and we have therefore thought carefully about how we can continue to reap the benefits  but without the financial costs and potential disruption to timetables.

Earlier this year we trialled a school to school Lesson Study with a partner school in Birmingham.   Two Y6 staff worked together on a small research project and this gave us the incentive to take the idea further.  We have decided this time around to work with two partner schools closer to home.   This means each of us releasing just one teacher for each round of Lesson Study rather than three.  In January we will begin a Y4 maths Lesson Study which we are all very excited about.  It will build on the successful approach we have employed in school but with the added benefit of insights and ideas from beyond our own community.  It further develops our school to school work and gives staff a great opportunity to learn and research with other practitioners.   We still aim to continue with the distance LS using technology as much as possible to enable us to successfully work beyond local confines.  Staff will still present their findings to their peers and the opportunity to deliver staff PD meetings with colleagues in other schools provides yet another opportunity to share research and learn from each other.

In this era of austerity with educational funding decreasing, it is important to continue to move forward as a profession and school to school Lesson Study provides a great opportunity for us to work together, share research and learn from each other.


Pre Lesson Learning

One of the early successes of our Lesson Study has been the use of ‘pre learning’ sessions with key pupils. This simple idea came from one of our vice principals @glynnlee who suggested rather than supporting key pupils to catch up with learning after the lesson, they are given a pre lesson session that introduces them to the key concept about to be taught. This short session enables staff to look at resources and strategies that will help them access the learning in class and ultimately give them a greater chance to succeed with their peers.

These sessions have been delivered by teaching assistants who work closely with the class teacher and go through their planning to ensure a common approach is adopted that benefits  key individuals who might normally struggle in the lesson. Interviews with pupils post research lesson have revealed just how powerful this technique can be. One Y4 pupil commented that he had just had his best lesson in school ever! He was able to access the learning and contribute more fully to the lesson due to a sharp, focussed pre lesson session that prepared him for the learning ahead.

Curriculum Design

Models for the Museum


Curriculum Design 2010

– some questions to ask when planning

What does our pedagogy look like? What would you like learning to be like?


At a recent staff meeting we asked these questions and discussed how we had moved forward with the curriculum over the last few years.   The questions below act as prompts when planning and help us to ensure the curriculum we offer is both relevant and exciting.

Immersion Activities

Is the topic exciting? Does it sound exciting? Is it relevant to the children? Does it ask them questions?
What is our entry point stimulus – how do we engage learners?
Are we starting from what pupils already know or what we think they know? How do we find this out?

Audience and effect

Who is the work for? Teachers, parents, peers, others? How does this affect the learning?
How does it connect to other learning? To real life experiences?

In lessons, is the balance right between pupil centred and adult led?
Do the pupils have the opportunity for independent learning? To use the skills they learn for application?

Presentation and review

How will it be presented? Use of technology?
Is an end of unit activity planned where the learning can be shared? What is the big finale?

Is the opportunity to reflect and review the work provided? Is the work assessed against clear objectives and success criteria? How do the children know if they have been successful? Who reviews the work? Self, peers, teachers, others?

How do the 5Rs impact on learning?

(Reflective, resourceful, resilient, risk taking and relationships)

How do we make use of other partners?

(Local, regional, national, global)


Our latest Comenius trip enabled three staff to visit Finland, a country I have read so much about in terms of its approach to education. Finland consistently tops most educational surveys, it leads in children’s achievements and has a system that many of us envy. Schools receive no inspections, no Ofsted, no SATs, no end of key stage assessment or league tables to measure one setting against another.

The staff we met certainly didn’t appear stressed and loved their work. The curriculum showed a leaning towards creative work, but it was far from radical and innovative. Children’s attitudes weren’t markedly different from those you’d find in our schools but they only start their formal schooling at 6 or 7 so they’ve learnt a lot of social skills before they begin. This means more formal learning can happen quicker and the children are more receptive to it. I have spoken to people in the past who think that by starting school later they will remain behind their global peers but the reality is that because they begin school when they are ready to learn, their rate of progress is quicker.

Finnish society also seems to place great importance on schools and learning. In the afternoons after school, many of the children could be found in the library, a well used and inviting environment that children readily access. Indeed the schools showed a relaxed, calm atmosphere that reflects the life in general.

Teaching is a Masters profession and as such held in high esteem. The parents we met fully supported school and life seemed to work in harmony! School dinners are paid for by the state and in the main trips and outings are also provided free of charge. There is a healthy love and respect for the arts and society in general seems to value culture and learning in a way we don’t here.

What did I learn from this trip to Finland? I learnt that education is about society not just school. The classes I watched didn’t show me any great pedagogy, no hidden formula for success, no magical insights into a radically different approach that produced superior results. Finland sees learning and education as everyone’s responsibility, parents and the state don’t simply hand children over to schools and say ‘your job.’ That collective responsibility, respectful partnership and shared investment in their children’s future is where we really need to learn from our European colleagues.

We are not building robots

Primary education is about children’s learning and development. There has been a sense in government that children can all learn the same thing at the same time. That grouping children by age in classes of 30 plus will reap dividends. As anyone in education will tell you smaller classes would allow more understanding of individual needs to develop, better relationships to grow and more children to succeed. All the money the government is pouring into 1:1 tutoring would be better spent on reducing class size. As long as we continue to operate in such large groups the silent majority will remain unheard.

Most teachers would argue that the reduced class sizes in foundation and key stage 1 (to a maximum of 30) could do with being reduced further. Some say the gains made by the current reduction are quickly lost as children move into larger junior classes. Primary education is about so much more than a narrow set of results and statistical data, it is about quality relationships, pastoral support and genuine understanding of children, their social, emotional and physical needs as well as their academic ones. Morally we know that class sizes have a huge impact on all of this but it is a costly undertaking to move to what we know is right.

Peer Observations

Something we’ve tried a couple of times at school is peer observations. The idea is really to build on the sharing of good practice combined with a supportive approach to lesson observations. We wanted to make the process a supportive, rather than a judgmental one, to take the fear and worry out of the equation and make it something staff would value and be able to build on and progress from. The process is refined a little more each time we do it but the feedback is positive and staff see this as something that is about building on existing strengths rather than criticising weaknesses.

When we first had a go at peer observations we left the focus down to staff to agree. This time around we have chosen an area that fits in more closely with our school development plan. The most important aspect is that this way of conducting observations gets staff out of their own class and into colleagues rooms to talk, share ideas, offer advice and agree one or two action points to take forward. The process asks staff to think carefully about a colleagues’ approach to support their professional development – this in turn asks staff to consider their own practice. It makes them think about what is working well for them, why and how it might be shared to benefit others.

We have also seen staff developing projects and collaborative approaches following peer observations which is really exciting. Y5 and Y1 children had a great time working together following last year’s round of peer observations, others too, have chosen to link up to create exciting learning opportunities for their classes following initial peer observations and discussions.

We are now considering how this approach might work across our network, enabling staff to build on this with colleagues in other schools. This is already happening with one or two classes in an informal way and the children are benefiting from the opportunity to work with their peers in other settings as much as the staff.

Does this process need formalising any further? I’m not sure. Would this ‘kill it’ for staff making it too much like regular observations? We ask for minimal paperwork – just enough to monitor and support the process. It will be interesting to see how this next round of peer observation develops, the process has changed each time following review and discussions. Staff see this way of operating as far more beneficial to their professional development and it has certainly supported professional dialogue, both formally and informally – not a bad thing at all.

Skills for the future with tools of the past – More thoughts on schools, learning and that white paper

Teaching strategies balloonsEducation today operates in a complex, uncertain and ever-changing landscape that mirrors the world we live in. Children face social, economic and technical barriers to learning with schools facing the additional challenge of political, legal and environmental issues to name but a few. The picture is made all the more problematic by the central control politicians hold over education. Placing it at the forefront of the political arena has seen professionalism and creativity systematically taken out of the profession, eroding self-esteem and autonomy.

Central dictate has forced education to become a ‘one size fits all’ model dumbing down the profession and creating a shallow learning experience for most of our pupils. To give today’s children the skills they need for the future, we can’t use the tools of the past or rely on governmental advice and strategy that is dictated by the political calendar, thus ultimately short term. The control held centrally over schools has slimmed down the rich and varied diet of learning we should be offering as schools focus their attention on ensuring they secure success in national assessments – the narrow measures on which accountability hinges. The move towards a new report card system, the controversial ‘licence to teach’ and further government initiatives such as national challenge and one to one tuition do nothing to give the profession the confidence and belief that solutions will be provided centrally, nor that the government believes the profession is capable of meeting the challenges from within.

Schools need to realign themselves with what is needed for the future. An uncertain future. The primary review has begun to question how the curriculum is delivered and the Rose and Alexander reports present thoughtful visions for schools but unfortunately the white paper ‘Your Child, Your Schools, Our Future: Building a 21st Century Schools System’ seems intend on continuing the high stakes accountability game which invites schools to deviate at their peril. The white paper was eagerly awaited but its arrival has disappointed many by its lack of vision and reliance on further policy initiatives and measures with which it aims to further judge school by. It predicates a system with more intervention and fails to acknowledge, celebrate or champion the fantastic teaching out there that is addressing personalisation and inculcating a love of learning in pupils.

For education to meet the needs of our children it needs to recognise and take cognisance of the world we live in, the needs of today learners and the skills they will need to function effectively in an ever changing and uncertain future. The acquisition of core social, cognitive and technological skills are crucial. Being able to function socially, developing a love of learning and the ability to use technology are three key areas that the white paper fails to adequately address.