Our framework for teaching and learning

T%20&%20L%20Visual-2The Highbury Grove School Framework for Teaching and Learning

This document is an attempt to pull together the work we’ve shared as staff during the last year to lay the ground for our agenda for improving teaching and learning at our school over the coming years.  It combines some conceptual thinking, ambitious goals and the gritty details to make it happen.  It is written at a generic whole-school level but, crucially the document is subject to further discussion and interpretation in departments where all the real action is.

This is shared in the spirit of openness.  Please leave comments and suggestions. Download a copy here:  Framework-for-Teaching-and-Learning

The diagram is based on the school logo, linking the philosophical elements in the top half of the leaf with the more practical elements in the bottom half.

Philosophical underpinning

  1. Our School Motto: “per ardua ad astra”. Through hard work to the stars.

‘To the stars’: Our rich curriculum enables all of our students to draw inspiration from the best that has been thought, said and done; to experience awe and wonder at the cultural and physical world that surrounds them; to embrace the intrinsic rewards of achievement and the joy of learning for its own sake.

Our motto informs our commitment to have extremely high aspirations for all of our students. We are conscious of the power of high expectations – the so-called ‘Pygmalion Effect’ and the Ethic of Excellence as exemplified by Ron Berger’s ‘Austin’s Butterfly’. We do not accept mediocrity; we set ambitious goals for all students regardless of their background or prior attainment believing that they are capable of achieving excellence if we show them the steps.

It also informs our insistence on high levels of endeavour, commitment and determination from all students. We expect them to work hard at school and at home; we expect them to find solutions to their difficulties and to take responsibility for their actions and for their learning, whatever their personal circumstance.

  1. ‘Philosopher Kids’ from Martin Robinson, author Trivium 21stC 

Martin’s work provides a source of inspiration. The concept of Philosopher Kids captures the aspirations we have for all young people at Highbury Grove School.

“At Highbury Grove we believe that children need to feel they are on an adventure in the pursuit of wisdom through which they develop as lovers of learning in all its rich variety. We believe in the importance of knowing, exploring and communicating; we believe in building a strong community where every member of the school bears responsibility for the strength of our institution.

Plato talked about the need for Philosopher Kings and Queens; at Highbury Grove we wish to enable our pupils to become ‘Philosopher Kids’.

Philosopher Kids are curious to know, question, and they can lead as well as follow. Philosopher Kids like to feel, to think, and are notable for their eloquence and ability to take part in the ‘great conversation’ through which they make a contribution to our common life.

Philosopher Kids engage thoughtfully in dialogue and argument, they appreciate and make beautiful things, they are confident when grappling with difficult ideas, they love music and also seek out space for quiet reflection and contemplation.

We challenge all our pupils to become cultural polymaths, true ‘renaissance people,’ able to flourish both as individuals as well as realise that they have an important role to play in enabling their family, friends and community to flourish as well.”

Philosopher Kids: know; explore; communicate.

 Trivium 21stC: A framework for constructing our curriculum and pedagogy

 The Trivium of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric, formed the basis of a classical education from ancient Greece up to Shakespeare’s time at school and beyond. In the 21st Century, it remains a powerful framework for formulating ideas about learning, the curriculum and pedagogy. At Highbury Grove, we have embraced these ideas to guide and inspire us in all that we do.

Martin Robinson has written these short sketches of the key concepts for us:

Grammar: Knowledge, Skills, tradition, authority, discipline, hierarchy, the ‘culture’, what makes this art unique? The relationship between the ‘master’ and her apprentice is central with the teacher as expert and the pupil as needing to know. The body of knowledge: the ‘best’ that has been thought, said and done. Connecting ideas, the importance of the whole narrative, and also how the subject connects with others, beyond its own confines…

Dialectic: Exploration, critical thinking, analysis, philosophical enquiry, thought, reasoning, creative, scientific and mathematical thinking, encouraging dialogue, debate, argument, questioning, the individual pupil gradually coming into view and finding themselves flourishing through practice and self-discipline. Humour, wit and playfulness. Authentic experience.

Rhetoric: Communication, turning outwards to the world, persuasion, product, performance, community, relationships, caring, love, responsibility. Writing, speech, challenge to exist and ‘be’ in a public space, giving of yourself to others. Parenting, leading, emotionally controlled and mature, thoughtful, empathetic, – ethos, pathos and logos.

In practice this means that we actively seek to create the conditions in our schemes of learning and lesson planning where the Trivium comes alive with more familiar associations for communication with students and parents:

Grammar = Knowledge

  • The direct transmission of knowledge and explicit teacher instruction.
  • Retention and recall: teaching for memory; learning by heart; low stakes testing; knowledge for its own sake; repetition and practice.
  • Explicit teaching to build cultural capital; explicit teaching of subject-specific terminology and the skill of reading different texts.

Dialectic = Exploration

  • Opportunities to debate, question and challenge
  • Opportunities for hands-on authentic experience and experimentation
  • Opportunities for enquiry, analysis, critical evaluation and problem solving

Rhetoric = Communication

  • A strong emphasis on structured speech events to share and debate ideas with others.
  • Opportunities to perform, to make things and to showcase the products of learning
  • Opportunities to contribute to the discourse about the values shared in the school and the wider community.

From 90 Lessons, A Review of Teaching and Learning at HGS:

At our best, these are the features of excellent lessons at Highbury Grove.

Behaviour and Relationships.

Over and above the Behaviour for Learning system, there is a strongly positive rapport between teacher and students; teachers model kindness, conspicuous warmth and promote a sense of being ‘in it together’. Teachers use the BfL system effectively to secure excellent behaviour, often pre-empting issues and preventing escalation to higher level sanctions by assertive, firm early intervention.

Teachers teaching

In the best lessons, teachers’ expert subject knowledge is used as a key resource. Students’ confidence in their teacher is evident. Effective teachers give clear explanations, going beyond the basics as needed, re-explaining in different ways to secure better understanding, adjusting the questions in response to students’ level of accuracy and confidence.

Creating an environment where hard work is normal.

This is done effectively in many areas with teachers using time cues for tasks – (count-down clocks on the IWB are commonly used) and the expectations for the work completion rate are made clear. The selective use of silence (real silence) and individual working are part of the mix.

Top End Challenge.

In the best lessons, high level challenge is beyond doubt: teachers use probing questioning techniques; base lessons on rigorous material; maintain high expectations of extended verbal answers exploring the depth of understanding or process; students are never left waiting or forced to grind through questions they can do easily; they have options. Set-piece opportunities for student input/ co-teaching/ coaching/ peer support are part of the mix of a lesson sequence; students are trusted to deliver inputs with expectations set high and planning time given.

Selective use of group work.

Any effective group activity is structured so that there are group goals and individual responsibilities within the groups. There is a reason for students to be working together – sharing ideas, creating products or presentations, sharing equipment

Clear Learning Objectives:

The most effective lessons have a clear learning purpose; it is clear what concepts and ideas the tasks are designed to explore. Importantly, Learning Objectives are articulated and explored not merely presented via PowerPoint or copied down.

 Learning for memory as well as for understanding

The process of learning for long-term memory is explored explicitly; simple techniques requiring students to recall facts and explanations from memory are routine. Synoptic and interleaved elements are woven into lessons eg as starters or in tests.

Homework or Guided Study

Homework is a planned part of the flow of lessons, not tacked on and the arrangements and expectations for homework are given due weight and time. Students have the resources for independent study; they could go home and continue their learning.

Marking and feedback

The best practice includes sensible sustainable routines with a clear focus on actionable improvements. Marking frequency is not the key factor; it is selective marking that generates a response that has the greatest impact. Peer and self-assessment opportunities are part of the routine – eg with marking in class, application of mark schemes to essays or samples of writing. In all of these cases a focus on wrong answers and improvements generates effective learning and progress.

Well-presented books and efficient workflow

Where the practice appears most effective, books indicate clear systems that teachers enforce: presentation is excellent, corrections are made, worksheets are stuck in, redrafting is evident and teachers use the assessment records to follow up on missed or sub-standard work.


Reading is given high status. Material presented in the lesson is read aloud and explored for meaning as part of the learning of the subject content.

Talk at whole class level or in pairs is used as a precursor for writing with answers rehearsed and extended verbally. Expectations of the quality of verbal responses are high; low level answers are challenged, speech errors are corrected and mediocrity is not accepted. Various structures to ensure full participation are deployed including the use of randomisation methods so that all students prepare to share contributions – even if not everyone can answer each question.


Teachers know who the students are with particular identified needs and have put the action plans into effect. Teaching Assistants with clear roles and briefs to support individuals support learning effectively – rather than simply being present, scanning and supporting in an ad hoc manner. It is good to see some LSAs given opportunities to teach small groups or the whole class at certain points. Expectations of SEN/Nurture students are very high.

 Teaching and Learning Priorities for 2015/6

1. Behaviour for Learning

Embedding the system, raising standards of behaviour so that lesson disruption is eliminated and students’ raise their level of self-discipline, personal responsibility, capacity to work hard and to listen to others.

2. Speaking: structured speech events and routines

Developing planned opportunities in all areas where students develop their fluency and confidence with spoken English. This combines set-piece activities such as recitations, speeches and debates with organic in-class approaches to questioning and discussion that require extended verbal answers as a matter of routine.

3. Literacy: explicit teaching of reading, writing and subject specific language

Developing opportunities for students to read a range of texts; taking time to teach the vocabulary and syntax relevant to specific subjects explicitly; using talk for writing as a strategy to improve written answers.

 4. Feedback policy and practice; making feedback count, closing the gap

Developing a consistent approach to marking and feedback that builds in the necessity for students to respond to feedback thereby securing improvement – ie ‘closing the gap’. This includes making corrections during directed improvement time in lessons and opportunities for re-drafting key pieces of work.

 5. Explicit knowledge: what should be known; how it should be learned

Developing a stronger understanding amongst teachers and students of the key knowledge associated with each area of learning so that this can be explicitly taught. This links to developing strategies for memory and recall including low-stakes micro-tests and approaches to interleaving, building students’ confidence with recalling and applying knowledge and their capacity to perform well in terminal exams.

6. Assignments:

We will develop assignments to define our expectations of the learning to be completed within a unit of work. These should embed high level challenge for all, indicate the progression path for students and inform teachers’ assessment judgements and subsequent interventions. Assignments should also inform guided study and home learning as we seek to develop students’ capacity for independent study.

The Highbury Grove Learner

A student working group generated the following students’ view of the key characteristics of a successful learner at HGS:

  • Confident to take risks
  • Accepting of others
  • Articulate
  • Patient and kind
  • Possesses a broad range of interests
  • Resilient
  • Open-minded
  • Desires academic success
  • Ambitious and determined
Highbury Grove Students: Philosopher Kids
Highbury Grove Students: Philosopher Kids


  1. This is a great draft, Tom and one that I am sure many of us would happily sign ourselves up to! I was also really struck by Martin’s notion of ‘Philosopher Kids’ and it is great that it is being put into practice at your place.


  2. Beautiful! A very inspirational framework, especially because many aspects are based on Ron Berger’s philosophy. Have you had a chance to look into an amazing work of an American etymology website, Membean? I am passionate about etymology and as I was researching a word last July I came across their work. Developing understanding of a word’s root in language enables students to crack new words as they come across them, Understanding etymology of Tier 2 words gives them a life tool of breaking word codes. It is real meta-cognition.
    Thank you for sharing the framework.


  3. I had hoped to have had your views on my last comment in your “tightrope” blog entry. That comment was with reference to the lack of any robust evidence for schools per se impacting upon results (so long as they actually deliver the curriculum to attending pupils). The evidence is that it is largely the genetic ability of the intake (in year 7 for GCSE) so long as they are retained at year 11, which determines results.

    I assume that have some sound evidence that plans for your school (HG) will effectively drive improvements in the schools’ results, as I see from your CPD document (shown elsewhere on your blog) that you sensibly put great store by Evidence Based/Evidence Driven Practice. I also assume that your school’s intake has remained constant over past years and that it will remain so next year, as well as well into the future, as your programme of change beds in. It would be good if you could confirm this so that if and when there are any changes to your school’s results, we can all rest assured that this alone is not the explanation.

    I have had a brief look at the KS2 Average Point Score and proportions in each of the three KS2 ability bands (i.e. Below Level 4 “Low Attainers”, “Middle Attainers” at Level 4, and “High Attainers” Above Level 4) for your school’s KS4 cohorts (2011-2014), these data being publicly available at the DFE site. Your school had a rather low, and seemingly skewed intake in years before 2011/12.

    I have also looked for the same statistics for your school’s KS2 intakes in 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, and 2014/15 (i.e. cohorts which will sit GCSEs in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 coinciding with Progress-8). This is harder given that KS2-KS3 measures are no longer with us, but from what analyses of these data I have been able to undertake, it *may* be that your school had a change in intake five years ago (i.e between 2010/11 and 2011/12), and if so, by the above reasoning (i.e. that it is the *intake* which largely drives results holding/controlling for other factors with all trivial caveats considered), it may help us observers if you could tell us how are going to be able tell that it was not just a change from a skewed to a balanced quartile (nationally representative) intake in 2011/12 (and later) which will account for any changes in your results (i.e relative to the skewed intake which you had in years 2010/11 and earlier) and not any initiatives you and your staff now implement. That trick has been used when some schools closed in the past and became Academies. It is important in these times of austerity that you will be able to tell us how, and where, your legitimately credited efficacy for driving any change in outcome/results. To be blunt, how will you control for change in intake?

    Whilst there have been many claims for miracles in education (beginning with the 1960s “Head Start” initiative in the USA), since the early 1980s at least, it has generally accepted by hard-nosed researchers that all such claims were smoke and mirrors (and even Mystery in one famous instance)(“in Milwaukee” http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites/sommerb/pubs/Milwaukee.pdf ). That, ultimately, is why Key Performance Indictor (“League Table”) technologies were introduced across the UK in the 1990s (and across the world), i.e. to hold public employees such as school managers, and other public sector service providers elsewhere, to financial account. Education is at the expense of the tax-payer, and as it is a very expensive part of state expenditure (in the UK approximately £100 billion per year any novel claims that one can perform miracles is highly likely to attract considerable attention (if not suspicion) given all the dismal record i.e. all the evidence to the contrary. The evidence is that such initiatives do not work, and we now believe we know why. It is largely genes which drive cognitive development just as they drive growth in general.

    There is no reliable evidence for any initiatives whereby native (genetic) ability (or lack thereof) has significantly been raised through educational intervention, any more than growth in height can be raised/lowered. Good nutrition is already factored in through FSM in Value-Added measures.

    These are of course general points which Jensen made in 1969, and it is position which was taken for granted back to the early C20th when Educational Psychology (if not psychology itself) effectively began in the UK/London (largely as an initiative of one very famous psychologist who did work on twins inspired by Galton and Pearson). His successor today in Behaviour Genetics is Robert Plomin, and the evidence today basically just adds weight to what was said over 100 years ago by his academic ancestors.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s