There are so many things you might need to do to take a school forward. Based on my reading and engagement with schools around the country this year, here are some areas I’d recommend for consideration.
Before outlining the details, here are two preliminary considerations:
A: Sort behaviour. Don’t do anything else until this feels like it’s working. Literally – give it all your attention because nothing else will work unless you do.
B: After behaviour, choose three priorities. Five as a maximum. The rest is a to-do list, not a list of priorities.
1. Deliver a built-in CPD Programme
You can’t do much unless teachers meet regularly, with a flow to their CPD sessions so that ideas can be shared, trialled in class and then reflected on in a continuous cycle of improvement. If you don’t invest in CPD, you won’t get far – unless you just want to be a sausage-machine high burnout school. Check out this model, for example.
2. Deliver a Principles of Instruction strategy across the school.
Evidence from research seems to point towards a strong emphasis on instructional methods featuring strong modelling, guided and independent practice and effective questioning that checks for understanding from every learner. Let’s break out of the woolly ‘whatever works for you’ approach and generate a strong strand of professional learning around well-evidenced instructional methods. Reference evidence collections here. This does not preclude other teaching modes – but we need it to be the current priority.
3. Deliver Teaching for Recall strategy: Specify knowledge requirements; establish daily, weekly, monthly review.
Eliminated ‘wasted teaching’. Make sure all curriculum areas have got clear guidance to students about what exactly should be learned (i.e. knowledge organisers or their equivalent) and that they are using routine pedagogical practices that systematically check for recall through spaced retrieval practice and routine micro-testing.
4. Define Excellence – every subject; every year group.
Revisit the Austin’s butterfly metaphor: defining the butterfly is key. Ensure that all curriculum areas have a shared understanding, supported by collections of accessible exemplar work and questions, that define real excellence for any age group, referencing national standards and exceptional exemplars from similar schools.
5. Embed Authentic Assessment at KS3
Make sure all curriculum areas have a clear process for assessing student work and progress against the knowledge and skill requirements of their subject, with a process for articulating the improvement steps each student needs to make. Ensure any grades or marks clearly originate from authentic subject specific standards that all teachers understand and can explain and can agree on. Strip back the number of central data collections.
6. Deploy radical shift in emphasis from marking to feedback; trial whole class feedback.
Pursue a feedback policy that gives priority to students improving their work based on feedback given in any form. Use work scrutiny processes to track evidence of improvement via redrafting, consolidation and extension tasks – not evidence of teacher marking. Triangulate book progress with assessment progress. Trial zero-marking whole class feedback to gauge scale of improvement compared to traditional marking.
7. Introduce the National Baccalaureate; develop our Personal Development Programme
Establish an in-house Personal Development Programme, introduce a range of personal project options and promote National Bacc completion as the universal goal for all students. Details here.
8. Introduce Oracy Programme across the curriculum
Ensure that, across the curriculum, there are multiple planned opportunities for all students to engage in structured speech events (aka oracy activities ). Develop a curriculum map that commits each department to their contribution to an overarching oracy programme. You could do well to follow this model.
9. Map Planned Reading across curriculum at KS3; all learners below age-related assigned to phonics-based programme.
The Michaela school model for reading is so powerful; let’s try to emulate it. This requires us to develop curriculum resources where the reading is planned in advance with supporting whole-class reading strategies deployed. Support this with a programme such that any student reading below their chronological reading age has additional focus and attention, re-teaching reading with phonics and/or ensuring 1:1 support for reading is frequent, delivered by Sixth Form reading mentors or other staff.
10. Deliver systematic QA cycle: low stakes; high frequency observations and work scrutiny.
Let’s call time on the annual showcase lesson farce. Lesson observations will be short and high frequency; a minimum of 20 minutes per half-term. Multiple observations with developmental feedback will replace one-off lesson observations with judgements. Work scrutiny should be redesigned taking account of these questions. Let’s make work scrutiny a strongly collaborative professional learning opportunity dovetailed with sensible safeguards against masking – so that any book could be seen at any time.