We live in a world of celebrity politicians, hogging the television screens daily, telling us how much better they will make things for every one of us. Although we accept this as the cut and thrust of modern day politics, it is worth stopping and wondering whether, in reality, politicians of any persuasion actually make any difference to children’s learning. I’d argue that, at every turn, it is the school and their teaching staff that are the only ones, apart from their parents, who make the difference. Political edicts are rarely fine tuned to the needs of each and every educational situation. We employ thinking teachers to be agile thinkers.
I was surprised, this week, when a post that I wrote last year passed by my Twitter timeline. In this, I looked at the impact of successive education secretaries over my career and how during the past forty years, education has become a central theme in politics. This could be because successive Governments have hived off other direct responsibilities leaving the rump of public service roles.
It is a truism that children are largely born into the world in the same ways as they always have, apart from medical interventions that are now available where they weren’t previously. They grow through whatever experiences their families offer then they enter school. They show variability at that stage, which might be an indicator of learning issues or perhaps of limited pre-school experience and interactions.
From entry, the teacher and other adults, through interacting with the children, begin to make judgements and fine tune their interactions to elicit detailed information. This may require a form of interpretation, unpicking the concept being experienced and tracking back in language forms, supported by manipulable resources or modelling, to a point where the child is able to engage at their personal level of understanding.
Where a child is in EYFS, the detail in records kept during that phase can be used to interrogate the possibility of the child having Special Educational Needs.
Tracking back and tracking forwards is a descriptor of a teacher life, in language and conceptual terms. We are continually told that “learning is not linear”, yet planning for teaching and learning is, with the examined implication of linear accommodation of each new element of learning. The year cohort approach to the National Curriculum assumes that each cohort should move as one, in a linear fashion, apart from the judgements that a child is, or isn’t at Age Related Expectation. If they aren’t, they will take forward a deficit, which has to be bridged, if they are to have any hope of keeping up with peers over time.
Therefore, in any classroom, at any one time, there will be a range of capabilities and understandings, even in a set or stream.
Inclusion was an item on the radio this morning, in the context of SEND. When the word was introduced, I was keen that the term should not just be used in this regard, but in a broader definition, which I framed as; an inclusive school is one that does it’s best, within the school capacity, to offer a quality education to each child, ensuring that any difficulty is identified, addressed and tracked, with clear evaluation underpinning decisions, including the use of external expertise. Where a school has utilised every available course of action, consideration should be given to alternative placement, where additional expertise or resources are available.
Labels and levels regularly flit by, as an addendum. If a child has a need, is that a label, or a descriptor? Levels, in the original National Curriculum, were clearly available as descriptors, and, where they were adopted as such, offered a language for discussion children’s learning. I blame the data bods for usurping the numbers of levels to supposedly predict progress, where, in reality, progress is effected in each classroom, a bit at a time, by a well-informed teacher with the skills and abilities to interact with the learning needs of each child, where this is evident.
Progress is an interaction between the process of learning, including the quality of the teacher input of information into the lesson, and the outcomes from the child assimilating this information and being able to utilise it to fulfil a challenge, at whatever level is appropriate to the child. A post-activity evaluation can determine the next appropriate steps and the focus for the child.
This week, I have been making my last visit to School Direct trainees, and, in a couple of weeks’ time will host an interim meeting for Winchester University Post Grad mentors to review their progress to date. The essence of all the discussions can be refined to a few of the Teacher Standards; 2, 6&5, progress and outcomes, assessment and adaptation.
These, particularly standard 2, are critical to all decisions that affect learning in classrooms. If a teacher doesn’t know what “quality” outcomes look like for their year group, their underlying decisions may be faulty. This has implication for context expectation, so inter-school moderation is a key factor. With a young teaching force, breadth of experience may become a self-limiting factor. We are approaching the latter part of one year and schools are looking to the next, with decisions being made about teacher placement. PG and SD trainees may well be teaching year groups other than those in which they trained, and many will be in different school contexts, with structural differences to accommodate, as well as the different needs of children.
Quality awareness is a precursor to any form of quality control. This has to be a school-level discussion, so that every teacher is made regularly aware of potential expectations. Is it any wonder that many begin to struggle in their first years? It was a problem with sub-levels; what was the difference between a 4b and 4a?
Progress and outcomes are still subjects for debate among experienced teachers. Is it any wonder that trainees find this area fraught with possible issues? But, essentially, it is the single area that has the greatest impact across every decision, as per this diagram.
As the picture at the top of the blog says, we need these young teacher and their colleagues, to be the lead thinkers in their classrooms, to be capable of interpreting the needs of learners and to have the ability to adapt to these needs. They need to be aware; spotting and dealing with need at different levels, recording and tracking their concerns and their discussions with experienced peers, helping to make decisions about where a child’s learning journey will develop.
Interpretation takes time. Many of us, in using another language, make elementary errors, but, with practice, this becomes more refined and appropriate to need. Developing teachers need to be able to speak fluent “child-speak”, modelling and making appropriate links to “adult-speak” for those who struggle
So, if I was a Primary head today, what would I want to be doing?
- Create an inspiring range of challenging topic and project areas that would embed the necessary knowledge to be used in other scenarios. These would have time allocations, not necessarily to fill a half term, so that Science, History, Geography and Technology all had a secure place.
- Ensuring that each element was appropriately resourced so that it could happen and be of quality.
- Link the English and Maths curriculum in such a way that each could make use of the current and recent past topics, so that one fed the other, with opportunities to use and apply earlier skills and knowledge.
- Ensure that art, drama and music were deployed as interpretative subjects of worth and each capable of supporting the English and Maths curriculum.
- MFL, music and aspects of PE can be used to support the PPA needs of the school, by judicious use of specialists.
- Ask for teacher medium term plans, to see the direction of travel. Short term plans are for the teacher in the classroom, so can take any form that suits.
- I’d want children to know the focus for their personal efforts at any particular time.
- Create portfolios of moderated in-house examples that could support decision making in the school, be used to moderate against other school outcomes to validate judgements.
- I would have some kind of measure of capability, to support and focus decision making ability, especially of early career teachers. Every area of life is governed by a measure of capability in some form, from the kick around in the playground to academic and work achievement. “Can do” statements are a guide.
It is a consequence of the fact that there is no one size fits all approach to education that, at the tail end of a forty-plus year career, no-one has created a system that completely “works” for children from 4-18. The variables will always be the children and life itself. The shifts in the world impact on the learners, but the needs are the same; to understand the world we live in and have the skills to interrogate and explore it and communicate effectively.
Learners need interested adults to help them to interpret what they are experiencing, to give them the conceptual vocabulary that enables them to more fully participate in ongoing discussions which can allow further progress.
When Blunkett trumped education. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/when-blunkett-trumped-education
Are you an inclusive school? (pdf download; checklists) http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/pdfs.html
Levelness and yearness. http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/revisiting-if-level-ness-became-year-ness
Quality= a work in progress (and outcomes). http://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/quality-a-work-in-progress