The Big Questions.


I am thinking of starting a series of blogs about the key issues, the big questions,  that we wrestle with in our school – and probably in every school.  So far, I have just sketched out what some of the big questions are. This will then become the homepage for this series -when I get a chance to write them:

Assessment: How do we make assessment as authentic as possible, as useful as possible as  means of moving students forward with the details of learning  whilst also communicating a sense of progress to parents, providing tracking data and keeping the system manageable within reasonable workload limits?

Feedback:  What is the optimum form and frequency of feedback that maximises student progress? How does this link to traditional ideas about marking?  What does this look like in different subjects and what how should our minimum expectations of staff be expressed?

Pedagogy:  Have we got the right level of alignment as teaching staff in relation to pedagogy: have we explored the traditional-progressive debate sufficiently and synthesised our ideas into a framework that’s clear enough to ensure we’re driving standards in a  coherent fashion? Is this geared sufficiently toward securing excellent examination outcomes and a positive learning experience?

Behaviour and Ethos:  How do we balance the use of rewards and sanctions; the letter and the spirit of our systems; the ethos of being caring and nurturing with being disciplined and setting high standards for all.  How do we achieve being more disciplined and more nurturing?  Are we tinkering instead of adopting an altogether more radical approach given that behaviourist systems have limits and ‘no excuses’ has limits.

SEND in the mainstream:  Do we have the right structures, the right provision and communication systems to ensure that our SEND students’ needs are being met adequately; how do we deal with those cases where the behaviours of some students impinge on the learning of others?  Are we shoe-horning students into provision instead of matching provision to student needs – or is that unrealistic/undesirable?

Curriculum:  Are we confident that the curriculum we offer is the right one? For every student – particularly those groups of students who are currently underachieving?  This applies to the time allocated to subjects but also the content within each subject and the way it is enacted – the link to pedagogy; the balance of knowledge, exploration and communication, Trivium style. Have we gone far enough in communicating the detailed knowledge components in each subject, for example in the form of knowledge organisers. What more could we do to engage students who currently opt out of what is on offer in terms of enrichment and study support?

Workload, wellbeing, trust and accountability:  Have we got the balance right in making the job as manageable as possible, safeguarding staff well-being and promoting a high-trust culture whilst also ensuring that we’re all taking responsibility for student outcomes to the greatest extent appropriate to each role in the school?  Do we hold each other to account effectively enough within our system whilst promoting the staff ethos we’d like?

Technology:  Are we making the best use of systems (Bluesky, ePraise, Google Classroom, SIMS) and the kit (e.g. visualisers, chromebooks, computer rooms)? Are we doing enough to counter the social exclusion fuelled by the digital divide that is evident in our community as the same time as trying to be school with modern communications?  

Resources: Given our budget and pupil premium funding, are we using it to maximum effect in terms of class size, support staff, staff retention, TLRs, enrichment payments, the range of A levels on offer, the extent of financial support given for trips, supervision, pastoral care and so on?

Autonomy and collegiality: Have we got the balance right in relation to giving staff autonomy to express their individuality, explore ideas and take risks whilst also ensuring high common standards of delivery and reducing the time and energy wasted on reinventing the wheel?  Given staff turnover, should we be more prescriptive and definite in saying how things are done in each department in our school whilst recognising that autonomy is regarded by many as key aspect of respect for their professionalism.

Distributed Leadership:  Have we gone far enough to develop leadership capabilities and mindsets across the school with people driving standards in their areas with the level or rigour and vigour required? Do we give enough time to the development of leaders, do we expect enough of leaders – or too much?  How can we improve the flow of ideas and increase the level of alignment with the overall direction of the school?

CPD and Induction: Are we doing enough to ensure that all members of staff are engaged in CPD that makes a difference to student outcomes?  Are the content and the output of our CPD sufficiently directed or tuned in to the needs of staff and students?

There are more questions… schools are complicated! But that’ll do for now.


  1. It would be good to see the governance dimension included in these blogs. For example, how the assessment process can produce summaries which are at a suitable level for the GB’s strategic point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

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