Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Trivium

Have you read it? It is a bloody great book and well worth a read if you haven’t. The benefit of attending conferences like Ed Fest are that you get to meet the people behind the books or the ideas that they present.

I was beyond excited about Martin Robinson’s session for this very reason.

In some respects, what Martin is suggesting ties in with what Tom Sherrington says that

‘Without a deposit of knowledge and settled moral principles, a human being is helpless.’

Ferdinand Mountado.

Martin introduces three schools of thought:

  • Grammarian – fundamental knowledge and skills
  • Dialectic – argument
  • Rhetoric – freedom of speech.

He suggests that grammar was the first on the scene, followed by dialectic which seeks to critique the foundations established by grammar yet this leads to rhetoric and the freedom of speech or the freedom to have an opinion.


So in a unit say on British values

  • Grammar – understanding of what constitutes British values
  • Dialectic – critique of what we believe constitutes British values
  • Rhetoric – an outcome of the debate (freedom of opinion)

So doesn’t that play into the hands of a KS3 curriculum quite nicely in preparing students to be independent, active, critical readers?

In year 7 we follow the grammarian route – we establish / revisit / revise fundamental knowledge and skills.

In year 8 we teach students to critique / question / challenge.

Whilst in year 9 we build in rhetoric through analytical essays (in which they explore the foundation before critiquing it to arrive at a considered viewpoint).


Something I am going to explore over the next few weeks!

Loved, loved, loved the book and also loved, loved, loved the session.


Tom Sherrington and the tree of confirmation and confidence

I have had a pretty shit week this week – a challenging week.   My knowledge /decisions with regard to a particular area of English teaching have been called into question.  That’s cool.  It is bound to happen.  However, there are three schools of thought on how, as HOF, I respond to this 1)I feel a certain amount of pressure to concede or 2) compromise or 3) continue on regardless.  Of course, the process is slightly more long winded in that we should listen, reflect, discuss etc etc before making a decision but fundamentally you either give in, compromise on your cause or fight on behalf of the cause.

I’m a new leader so most of the time I start to give in.  Not necessarily in the ‘you’re right, so we will do it your way’ but in the sense that I find myself exhausted with the challenge that is presented.  It gets to the point where the confidence I had about my decision in the first place is eroded and I begin to doubt myself.  This is as a result of being new to the role – in wanting to make the right decisions, do the best by the students – yet the feeling of the need to stick to my principles slowly starts to disappear when emotively challenged about my decisions.  This is weakness and not the sign of a good leader.  And it happened this week.

I walked into EdFest tired and weary, worn down by the ideology of others which was contrastive with mine, fearing that my entire school of thought was an error. Fearing that I was making poor decisions and that these poor decisions were not only frustrating for my team members but would not be beneficial for my students…

And then I walked into Tom Sherrington’s session.  And I went from this exhausted shrivelled up shadow of myself to someone who literally wanted to punch the air with excitement because he passed on the strength that enabled me to recognise that my school of thinking was right and that, rather than be worn down, I needed to find my confidence and stand by the decisions I believe would have the greatest impact for our students.

You see, Tom has a simple message.  He believes in foundation before progression and structure before possibilities.  In order for students to be independent, they need to learn what it means to work independently; in order for students to write a great analytical essay, they need to know what makes a great analytical essay and…

…before students are able to analyse the finer points of our great English Language, students need to know the components of it.

And, we as teachers, need to provide the opportunities to ensure those foundations are rooted.

It isn’t revolutionary.  It isn’t complex.  But after a tough week – that message was the most powerful message of all because not only did it reinforce my own ideology but it reinforced the need to hear but not react to those who critique you.  It taught me that I need to listen to myself so much more and trust my gut because more and more often I am recognising that my gut is right.  I need to listen to others but stand firmly behind my beliefs and not falter in knowing that what I am doing will have the greatest impact on my students.  I need to have more confidence in myself to lead.

I left that session with the hugest grin on my face, with the hugest cartwheels going on in my head knowing that Tom Sherrington had just helped me become a better leader because he reminded me that I needed to be confident, to trust my instincts because in my heart I know what is right for our students.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Moving forward with research

The word research seemingly appeared in almost all presentations today with one professional stating ‘he was losing the will to live’, although he was criticised for his viewpoint. No-one seemed to define the need for research but rather assumed that its value was a given. The value being that it enriches our understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in our educational environments.

However, there are flaws with research and these come to mind initially when I begin to think about how I might develop the use of research in my faculty. The first is that all too often research is used as a method to serve someone’s own interests. For example, a head of faculty wants to introduce something new to their department. Person A does not agree with the head of faculty’s proposal so finds piece of research to quote that it has been proven not to work. Yet Person A does not look beyond the research that supports their own personal viewpoint – they do not expand their search into a wider remit of research that may indeed oppose their own standpoint. The research serves a purpose and is used in the most unhelpful manner possible, (something Tom Bennett calls Pokeman research – update 21.06.14

Luckily, there seems to be a solution in the form of the Education Endowment Foundation which collates a body of research on any one educational area – say homework for example ( Taking this body of work into account, the foundation is able to identify how much a strategy cam impact on the progress of a child. An objective exploration of a wider body of research means that informed decisions, about strategies to improve performance, can be adopted. Now this toolkit is only aimed at research that has been conducted to help our disadvantaged FSM students so whilst the idea is an inspiring one, the body of research collated is limited. Therefore, seemingly what we need is a body, without prejudice, to collate research on different aspects of educational development so that the teaching profession can tap into this and quickly access research that has already been conducted. A bank of research will surely help us begin to explore areas in a slightly more objective way.

(NB. Schools should be mindful of research that is conducted in a completely different environment to their own.   We must pay attention to contextual factors.)

There is a similar strand of thought in that schools want teachers to become teacher-researchers (as if we don’t already have enough on our plate?) but how does this work? In my school a body of teachers have got together to look at areas of aspects of teaching and learning, we have formulated key questions and chosen an area of ‘research’ to then present to the group. Now I am not saying that this is true of our group but isn’t this process also open to manipulation? In volunteering to research a particular area, is someone not perhaps volunteering because they too have a personal opinion that they are wishing to validate? That they have the possibility to manipulate a school’s system if they can articulate their opinion and then validate that opinion with a piece of research without approaching the body of research that might be out there?

There are strategies that, of course, can be used to ensure that the research conducted is objective. The Education Endowment Foundation spoke at the Festival about an evaluation process, in that once research has been conducted it has to be presented and evaluated by a panel before its acceptance and this has merits. You would assume that a panel would be able to recognise a personal bias in any research conducted

My first steps in introducing research into the faculty

So, where do I see the value of research within my own faculty? I have decided that the only research that counts is the collective research. A body of research on any one educational area. Single studies are no use to me in justifying the validity of a certain practice – instead let’s make informed decisions, exploring a wide range of research on any one given area.

Similarly, I do not want one person to be responsible for research in my faculty. I want everyone to be responsible. This will mean that educational areas can be explored without prejudice as everyone in the faculty will bring their own particular standpoint which will generate a wider collection of research to help us make more informed decisions about our own practice.

I think we will start in September and focus on one different area bi-termly. The three areas I want us to focus on are: 1) feedback 2) questioning 3) independence. As subject leader, I will seek out current research which I will share with the faculty as part of our meeting. We will then discuss, as a team, the strategies suggested and decide whether we think those strategies would be suitable in the context of our school before putting them on trial with our students. After the trial period we will evaluate the work done to see if it has had an impact on the outcomes of our students.

More thought needs to be given to this process but it will be the start of ensuring my team members become great educational researchers and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, reflective practitioners. My rather negative feelings towards research, having seen the somewhat biased use of it recently, have now been softened after a weekend away at Edfest and I am more positive about its usefulness in helping my faculty develop. Let’s see where this takes us!

Learning to Lead

Last night I, along with colleagues of mine from the Academy were invited to Wellington College for a talk on leadership.  The timing for this was super.  Year 11 finished their time with us yesterday which put a really neat end to the hardest year of my professional career during which I have been unable to do anything but manage – manage the situation, manage staff and manage the students.  As this time has been drawing to a close, I have done a lot of quiet reflection about where we are as a faculty and where I want to be as well as the move from managing a faculty to leading the team. Prior to the talk we were asked to reflect upon ourselves as leaders with Dr Seldon explaining that we only become better leaders through thorough reflection and a willingness to learn.  This is something I think I am really good at.  We were asked about our vision – as a new faculty, this was one of the first things I did with my team and we established the following vision for us and the students in our care:

‘We challenge students to be the best that they can be, inspiring a curiosity and passion for our language.  Our students will be equipped with the tools to understand, to question and to communicate effectively for a brighter future.  Working together, we will change lives.’

Listening to Dr Seldon and Katie, the most enthusiastic presenter I have ever come across, I suddenly realised that whilst we had defined our vision (one of the four leadership roles), we haven’t actually communicated our vision as successfully as we should.  I haven’t necessarily been the embodiment of our vision this year.  And whilst we have challenged our students to be the best that they can be and I am confident that we have changed the lives of our year 11 students this year, I am not confident that we have inspired a curiosity and passion for our language and we have not equipped them with the tools to question.  Therefore, for me we are at that second stage of leadership – where in the next academic year, we really have to communicate our vision to other staff, the students and our parents.

A number of reflective activities about our ability to lead / managed reinforced to me that over the past year whilst I have been a good manager – especially in tackling year 11 underachievement – the focus on this has meant that I haven’t led and as a consequence this means that I have been a poor leader.  In addition, I have been high in task but low on people.  I have got lots of jobs done but haven’t been on top of my staff – haven’t developed teaching and learning, haven’t been rigorous in moderation processes and haven’t tackled or challenged underperformance as well as I should have.  In order for me to develop, I now need to take the lead and have the confidence to focus on the development of staff and of the teaching and learning within my faculty to ensure that students get the best possible experience in our subject.

And whilst, I realise that my leadership needs developing, I am also mindful that I do possess many of the attributes that Dr Seldon wants to see in his Middle Leaders:

1) To be organic – need soul and vision – Yes

2) To use their hearts as well as their heads – Definitely

3) To be authentic – Yes

4) To be magical – Developing

5) To be leaders, not just managers – Initiating

6) To make a difference – YES with year 11 (to be transformative in post – some work to be done there)

7) To look the part – hmmmm

8) To present solutions not problems – Yes

9) To be energy givers – Most of the time

10) To make the weather – Mostly, yes.

11) To be actors, not reactors – Developing.

I absolutely loved the moment when Dr Seldon articulated that you are not a true leader unless you have cried, shouted in frustration etc etc at which point my line manager turned round to look at me, having been the one to deal with my tears and tantrums across this year, BUT if Dr Seldon says it needs to happen, then so be it!

Secondly i was reminded that it doesn’t matter how many qualifications you have or what titles you possess as neither will necessarily help you become a great teacher or a great leader.  An ex-colleague of mine once stated that it was not his job to be outstanding in the classroom, it was his job to ensure the rest of his faculty were.  This is a philosophy I totally buy into and a philosophy I know will help me push forward when thinking about my staff next year.

Finally, when I applied for the position at the academy, I stated in my interview that it would take 5 years to ‘transform’ the faculty so I was delighted when Dr Seldon reinforced the notion that people need to stay in their roles for a significant time in order to do well – 5 years for a middle leader and 9 for a senior leader.  I won’t be leaving the academy any time soon. 🙂

So what else did I learn / have reinforced?

1) Decisiveness – I put this down as one of my weaknesses.  There have been moments lately where I have found that members of my team have approached me wanting answers to the questions they have straight away which doesn’t naturally suit the leader I am.  I am a thinker.  I need time to think about the path taking us forward and when they ask me for an answer, I have felt an enormous pressure to give them an answer to a question quickly.  As a result, I have felt that my decision making processes has been a weakness because when asked to make an immediate response, it isn’t the best response to give or the most well-thought out.  BUT, listening to Dr Seldon last night reinforced to me that the best leaders are ‘actors not reactors’ and that they take the time to think.  Therefore I will have the confidence to afford myself the time to think things through carefully to ensure I make the best choice for the students in my care.

2) One of the most common weaknesses leaders exposed in themselves was the lack of confidence in challenging under performance.  It was reassuring to hear that I am not the only one who find this daunting.  However, what lies at the heart of what we do are the students and whilst tackling standards is hard, seeing students underperform as a consequence is not something we can allow to happen.

Thanks to the college for inviting us over.

I look forward to where this takes us next.

Planning a new Key Stage 3 curriculum

Many people have started to blog about their approach to the new Key Stage 3 curriculum.  Mine is still being developed and my thinking does change quite often.  Here is the third draft of my year 7 curriculum.

Instead of starting a new unit every six weeks, I have decided to offer students a deeper learning experience over a longer period of time.  This means students can really engage with texts and respond to them in the depth that will really enhance their learning experience.  It also means that we aren’t constantly rushing to complete an assessment for a data deadline but instead are giving the assessments the time they deserve.

Each year we will have three areas.  In year 7 these are – Language through time, a contemporary novel and Shakespeare.  Within each unit we will complete a reading and writing assessment and a speaking and listening as an additional if appropriate.  We are currently working on a revised version of the APP criteria in which we are reducing 6-7 assessment objectives to 3-4 against which we will assess students.

When thinking about tasks – we have three main reading tasks: a comparative (a skill useful for GCSE), a formal essay and then a series of questions.  The responses to these questions are written down but students are tested orally.  This is such a time saver when you find yourself confronted by a large number of assessments.  The writing tasks fall into three main categories: argue/persuade, describe and inform/explain which is roughly in line with the forms used at IGCSE level.

Writing is, for our students, the hardest skill to master.  Our Assistant Head, Paul Blake has been quoting Didau at me for a while and the idea of re-visiting prior learning to ensure that learning is not lost.  Therefore we will introduce independent learning projects that are focused on the writing skills taught in the previous term to ensure that they put what they have learnt into action once more which means we can really check they have understood key skills.

For each unit, I have also introduced a fertile question which I am also seeking to ensure is addressed during the teaching of the unit but also I would like it to become the main focal point for the independent learning project as well.

Although we teach grammar in context, we also have a separate literacy lesson and I am following a structure presented to many schools by Daisy C.

In addition, whilst I provide the unit overview – Language through time, a novel and Shakespeare, staff can choose their texts, their themes and their assessment questions.  Whilst I have opted for Heroes as a thematic approach to language through time, some of my team have opted for villains, some for survival texts, some for female characters and in doing so I think this allows staff to have a greater ownership of the curriculum they wish to deliver.  We are making baby steps towards Edutronic’s amazing curriculum programme.

Y7 Curriculum Map 2014-2015

Autumn Term Spring Term Summer Term
Language through time – Heroes ( to include: Beowulf, The Knight, Macbeth, Dick Turpin, Batman, Harry Potter)


To what extent is our understanding of what a hero is constructed by the literature we have read?


Reading: A comparative essay exploring the presentation of three literary heroes from different time periods.

Writing: An informative magazine article: What makes a great literary hero?

NovelSet ½ – The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

Set ¾ – Once

To what extent does literature help us explore the lives of others so that we can construct a more empathetic world in the future?

 Reading: Answering assessment focused questions on an extract from within the novel.

Writing: Use a line from the novel as the opening to an additional chapter.


( to include: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

To what extent are soliloquies the only form of communication which expresses truth?

Reading: An essay exploring one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies.

Writing: A soliloquy in which an inner conflict is presented.

Independent learning project: A leaflet explaining how literary heroes have developed over time. Independent learning project: A descriptive piece, from a particular character’s point of view, reflecting on how an event from within the novel helped them to develop their empathy for others.
Stage one: How words workThe parts of speech: verbs, nouns, articles, adjectives, prepositions, subject-verb agreement, tense Stage two: Clear sentencesThe elements of a sentence: simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, Listening and bracketing commas. Stage Three: Coherent textsTopic sentences, paragraphs, introductions and conclusions