Friday, 31 January 2014

Weekly update 1/2/2014

Another week dominated by Ofsted controversy. Last Sunday saw an extraordinary Sir Michael Wilshaw interview in which he complained about briefing against him emanating from the DfE. This was strongly denied by Michael Gove. The blow-up was neatly summarised by Tom Bennett and an unimpressed Geoff Barton. Last weekend also saw the circulation of a letter from Sir Michael sent to all inspectors expressing his irritation that some continue to ignore instructions not to inspect on teaching style. Then on Friday night we discovered that Baroness Sally Morgan was not to have her contract renewed as Ofsted chair for reasons that are as yet unclear.

One positive to emerge from all this was a superb blog by Sir David Carter on how he would reform Ofsted.

In other news Demos produced an interesting analysis of last week's GCSE results, noting the widening attainment gap between rich and poor and querying the effectiveness of the pupil premium. The pupil premium would have more of an impact if all school leaders read David Weston's presentation on how to use it.

On Thursday the Sun decided to splash on a blog post by Paul Kirby, a former No 10 adviser and ex-colleague of mine. Paul's blog argued for schools to be open far longer than they are now both to ensure pupils get more schooling and to boost the economy. David Didau was unconvinced. But Loic Menzies thought non-mandatory extended schooling could have positive effects for disadvantaged pupils and Becky Allen made a strong case for school buildings to stay open later to support working parents.

Other Highlights:

Tim Dracup's forensic analysis of high attainers' performance in the GCSE tables.

Laura McInerney on why some kids are scared of their own potential (the Jonah Complex).

Useful advice from Michael Tidd on implementing the new primary curriculum.

The Economist contrasts the success of Tower Hamlets' schools with the struggles of those on the Isle of Wight.

Andy Day asks if feedback is all it's cracked up to be.

David Thomas wonders if homework might actually make it harder for students to memorise.

Very helpful timeline of the ongoing SEN reforms from the Special Needs Jungle.

Annie Murphy Paul on a new study showing taking notes on paper is better than on laptops.

Dan Willingham on what works in early years education.

Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) looks at the complex issue of why some ethnic/religious groups seem to succeed more than others.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Weekly Update 25/1/14

If I had to pick a theme for this week it would be: "teachers are doing it for themselves".

Alex Quigley started the week by arguing that getting teachers talking to each other about teaching is key to school improvement. Harry Fletcher-Wood's analysis of what teachers can learn from Atul Gawande's brilliant book "Better" likewise insisted that change comes "by dedicating ourselves to relentless self-improvement and the refinement of our practice."

We then saw a couple of superb examples of this in practice. Laura McInerney and Becky Allen - the Thelma and Louise of geekery - hosted a seminar on seven tricky problems in education. Laura's reflections are here and Becky's here. As Becky says these kinds of events are the way forward for professional development: "research summaries that instruct teachers what to do in the classroom are a poor substitute for intense engagement in a research question." 

Tom Sherrington wrote a fascinating blog showing how discussions between him and his staff are driving a paradigm shift in their thinking - and particularly in their approach towards lessons observations. Joe Kirby wrote a powerful piece demanding other schools engage in this particular conversation. Mary Myatt offered some further suggestions on how schools can shift away from reliance on graded lesson observation.

It can be easy when reading about all this research driven change to forget that for most in the profession these kinds of debates and discussions aren't happening. But equally they are proof points for what can happen when circumstances allow. As the writer William Gibson famously said: "the future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed".

Other highlights:

Andrew Old continues his pursuit of Ofsted with "10 questions they must answer".

Cazzypot (not, I assume, her real name) asks important questions about the supposed demise of national curriculum levels.

Warwick Mansell on schools who seem to disappear their underperforming pupils in the run-up to GCSEs. 

Geoff Barton gets grumpy about Anthony Seldon's latest ideas.

Tom Bennett being hilarious about episode three of Tough Young Teachers. (Incidentally someone on twitter this week suggested the follow-up series should be about Ofsted and be called Middle Aged Inspectors. I'd watch.)

Harry Webb points out that left-wingers in the US arguing against a core curriculum are making a free market case without realising it.

David Didau wrote a nice beginner's guide to effect sizes. 

Daisy Christodoulou on why teaching to the test is so problematic.

A helpful note from Fiona Millar on Tristram Hunt's meeting with the Labour left.

Annie Murphy Paul on what we can learn about memorisation from actors.

And the IoE published two important reports on Labour's education record and changes in social mobility over the last fifty years (full report here).

Thursday, 23 January 2014

5 interesting things from the 2013 GCSE data

Coverage of GCSE data published today has focused on the national picture. There are have encouraging improvements overall and fewer schools are below the floor target. However, there is a huge amount of data hidden away in the performance information that the DfE publish alongside individual school results. I've picked out five interesting nuggets which lead to a whole raft of further questions for schools, agencies and Government to consider.

1. The gap in performance between young people who are native speakers of English and those who speak it as an additional language has continued to close. 60.9% of native speakers get five good GCSEs including England and Maths (henceforth 5A*-C + EM) compared to 60.1% non-native speakers. In Inner London non-native speakers actually do 3.3 percentage points better than English speakers (in Tower Hamlets it's 11.5%). Nationally 56 local authorities now see their non-native speakers outperform the average.

2. London continues to improve faster than the rest of the country. London saw a 2.7 percentage point increase in pupils achieving 5A*-C + EM compared with 1.7pp nationwide. Improvement in the North was notably lower than the rest of the country - just 0.8pp in the North-East and 1pp in the North-West. There are some success stories in the North though - Hartlepool was the second most improved LA in the country (10.2pp) after Rutland.

3. Nationally the gap between young people on Free School Meals (FSM) and the rest hasn't improved. In fact it's widened slightly by 0.4pp. There are interesting regional variations. In the North the gap narrowed (by 0.8pp in the NE) but largely because the improvements for non-FSM children were fairly weak. In London FSM pupils improved faster but not as fast as non-FSM. The fastest improving region for FSM pupils was the South-East - with Windsor, Slough and West Berkshire showing particularly striking improvements around the 10pp level. This is encouraging as it suggests areas with historically low numbers of FSM pupils are being pushed by Ofsted's focus on the pupil premium into taking their performance seriously.

4. The difference in performance between children on FSM in different regions remains striking. Despite improvements in the South-East it is still, along with the South-West, the lowest performing region for FSM nationally. In the South-East 33% of FSM pupils get 5A*-C + EM compared to 54.1% in Inner London. At LA level the differences are even more stark. In Barnsley 22.8% of FSM pupils met the 5A*-C + EM benchmark. In Westminster it was 62.2% (it was even higher in Kensington and Chelsea - an astonishing 76.7% - but they only had 100 FSM pupils in the cohort).

5. Poor Black students improved faster than poor white students. White boys remain the lowest performing ethnic group (apart from Gypsy/Roma/traveller pupils). Just 28.3% of white boys on FSM achieved 5A*-C + EM compared to, say, 55.8% of Bangladeshi boys on FSM. White boys on FSM improved less than average FSM so fell further behind (1.4pp to 1.6pp). Black boys improved faster - by 2.8pp. Black Caribbean boys improved by a very significant 4.8pp.

All the data used in this blog can be found here.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Weekly update 18/1/2014

This week began with Labour announcing plans to introduce re-validation for teachers. The initial reaction was fairly scathing - illustrated by Andrew Old's blog. Over the following few days a wider range of views emerged from John Blake's strong defence to David Weston and Jonathan Simons' more cautious welcomes. Later in the week David Didau illustrated one of the problems with the setting of criteria for teachers with a superb condemnation of the cult of the outstanding lesson.

The second half of the week saw the North of England education conference incongruously held in Nottingham. Tristram Hunt, Michael Wilshaw and David Laws all made speeches on fairly similar themes - the quality of teachers; training and professional development. I enjoyed Tom Bennett's punchy overview of the Hunt and Wilshaw speeches.

The ongoing saga of Wilshaw's battle within Ofsted to prevent inspectors grading schools down because they don't like the style of teaching took another twist when they removed six newly published inspection reports from their website. According to Ofsted this is because of concerns about "poor wording" in light of the new, stronger, guidance on this issue. It will be very interesting to see how the reports change when republished.

But my favourite thing this week was this fantastic quote tweeted by Loic Menzies (@LKMCO) and taken from Charles Payne's "So Much Reform, So Little Change":

"Give them teaching that is determined, energetic and engaging. Hold them to high standards. Expose them to as much as you can most especially the arts. Root the school in the community and take advantage of the culture the children bring with them. Pay attention to their social and ethical development. Recognise the reality of race, poverty and other social barriers but make children understand that barriers don’t have to limit their lives. Above all, no matter where in the social structure children are coming from, act as if their possibilities are boundless."

Amen to that.

Other Highlights:

Michael Tidd has a useful overview of the new primary curriculum.

Erlend Berg reviews a worrying new study showing summer born children have a significantly greater chance of developing mental health problems.

Andy Jolley continues to make some strong arguments against the introduction of universal free school meals.

Ros McMullan on fiery form re: teaching and leadership

Chris Husbands on the lessons of Tower Hamlet's success.

Laura McInerney blogged on all seven of her "touchpaper problems" due to be discussed at an event today (18/1/14).

Rob Coe on the Government's failure to implement Assessment for Learning.

And the EEF have launched a £1.5m fund to improve links between research and practice.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What makes a school exceptional?

At Teach First we partner with a very wide variety of schools -the only factor that connects them is having a large number of pupils living in poverty. Some are struggling or in the early stages of improvement; others are exceptional.

Last year we commissioned a report comparing some of those exceptional schools with those getting results closer to the national average. We wanted to know what kind of support our participants were getting in the very best schools that might be replicable in others.

However the question has significance well beyond Teach First. So, even though this was commissioned as an internal report, I've decided to make it available more widely. Curee - the research agency that produced the report - kindly agreed to edit the findings slightly to make them less Teach First specific.

Before going on to some of the report's key messages it's important to say that this was a qualitative study with a small sample size (six exceptional schools and six others). There are some really interesting themes to reflect on but nothing in the report "proves" anything. This kind of study is perfect at raising questions for further investigation.

The full report can be found here. (The schools getting average results are described as "strong" because getting average results with a high-poverty demographic can't fairly be called "average").

Some of the bits I found most interesting...

The clearest finding is the value of professional development which won't be a surprise to many:

"In particular, the exceptional schools appear to have invested consistently in mentor training, not just for senior teachers and leaders. Several also provided additional mentors for specific purposes or projects. There was less mention of systematic, cross-school mentor training amongst the strong schools. In the exceptional schools group there was more evidence of a two-pronged approach: on the one hand teachers were required to participate in sustained professional learning around whole-school foci such as literacy or marking and assessment and to embed learning into practice; on the other, teachers were encouraged to identify additional and individual priorities as part of a development plan, usually (but not wholly) linked to the performance appraisal system and focused on student achievement targets." 

A focus on subject knowledge was a feature at most of the exceptional schools:

"In at least four of the exceptional schools, subject knowledge was regarded as very important across the school– and the schools consistently used subject specialists to support subject knowledge development: "[We] are a participant in the Princes Teaching Institute’s schools programme...Not many schools are involved in the programme. It’s the only thing that attempts to build subject knowledge"; "Where there are gaps internally, the school uses an external AST...subject teachers are also partnered with teachers in other schools. We have applied for funding to develop English, maths, science subject knowledge and have a partnership with the Institute of Physics to develop subject knowledge"...In other exceptional schools teachers generally felt subject knowledge to be important: "It’s vital to give depth and breadth, if you don’t know your subject how can you teach it?"; "Subject knowledge excellence is imperative. The teacher needs to break down knowledge for someone else." 

But in the "strong" schools...

"leaders and teachers firmly believed that it is pedagogic expertise rather than specialist (subject) expertise that matters." 

The exceptional schools were more prescriptive:

"Evidence about teaching and learning from the two groups seems to indicate that most of the exceptional schools were more prescriptive when it came to identifying and promoting effective pedagogy. There was also evidence that some of the strong schools were moving closer to this approach. Teaching and learning policies or frameworks in these exceptional schools explicitly articulated evidence-based good practice and usually contained plenty of suggestions for (e.g.) starters and plenaries, questioning, peer and self assessment etc."

Finally the exceptional schools seemed to have a different attitude towards leadership:

"Attitudes towards leadership seemed to the authors to differ between the two groups of schools. In exceptional schools the development and use of talent at whatever age and stage of development was seen as a major driver of quality and an issue to be pursued and nurtured with care and attention. By contrast, in strong schools attitudes to leadership tended to be more traditionally hierarchical and experience based. These more marked distinctions were rather less expected and development of these approaches in strong schools might require a re-evaluation and refinements to current beliefs and modes of operation." 


There's lots more in the report. Definitely worth a read.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Weekly round-up - 11th January 2014

The number of outstanding education blogs has grown exponentially over the last year. It can be pretty hard to keep track of everything. So I've decided to try and collate the best stuff I've seen during the week every Saturday. Obviously this will be subjective - and depend on what I've read - so if your brilliant blog isn't included it's probably just because I've missed it.

This week a major theme has been the validity of lesson observation and the importance of making reliable judgements about teacher performance. Professor Rob Coe wrote a superb piece looking at the statistical reliability of observations and some of the psychological reasons we might have more confidence in our judgement than is justified. He will be speaking about this at an event I'm hosting with the Teacher Development Trust on Monday evening. Tickets have all gone but you can watch via livestream if you sign-up here.

On the same theme Dan Willingham blogged about a fascinating study showing that students perform worse in schools where headteachers do "informal learning walks". However, they perform better when headteachers spend their time coaching teachers.

On Friday evening Labour announced they were looking at re-licensing teachers every five years - if that policy is going to work we will need to find reliable ways to make judgements (Andrew Old isn't keen - I basically agree with David Weston). The same is true of performance related pay. Policy Exchange published a thoughtful report about that at the end of last week. And David Thomas wrote an equally thoughtful blog in response.

This week also saw the launch of Tough Young Teachers. A documentary following six Teach First teachers - five of them in their first year. The programme has been watched by 2 million people - which given BBC3's usual audience is astonishing. As someone tweeted during the programme: teaching is clearly the new rock and roll. My favourite follow-up blogs were Tom Bennett's review and Laura McInerney's five lessons for new teachers.

Other Highlights:

Tom Loveless asking some very difficult questions for the OECD about Shanghai's PISA performance

David Weston's 10 commandments of successful innovation

John Tomsett with a lovely blog about why family comes first.

Tessa Matthews with a super series of blogs about (anonymous) children she's taught. Here's Luke, Emmy and Jay.