Tag Archives: education

This week I’ve had two conference experiences, both packed with brilliant sessions and filling my head with new ideas and connections. The first was the Teacher Development Trust annual conference in London where I was chuffed to be asked to speak about my experiences of the TDT Associate in CPD Leadership course and ‘the transformative effect of professional development’ (not actually my finest fifteen minutes but more on that another day perhaps), and the second was the inaugural Derby Research School conference in, surprisingly enough, Derby.

I’m gaining more and more clarity about the way high quality professional development can be increasingly woven into the systems we already have in place at my school. I’ve never seen much benefit in suggesting I come in with a sledgehammer and force new ideas on people, particularly as I’m very aware that I’ve spent the last few months really digging into and exploring the possibilities of effective CPD  and I know that other people aren’t quite as into it as me, but in the process of thinking about everything from a CPD point of view I’m finding lots of interlocking ideas. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that’s making it such an evolving and, perhaps, delicate process is how much I realise it matters to get these first steps right. It doesn’t have to be perfect or something we stick to, but it needs to be something we can embed and build on.

A common thread through the TDT conference was the importance of culture within a school and how that impacts ideas. That includes a culture of relational trust, of challenge, wellbeing, and of course the importance placed on professional development for staff at all levels. It’s certainly something I want to be central to my own plans for CPD and thankfully I’ve got a wealth of back-up as to why this should be the case. I think I came away from this conference with more answers than questions for the first time in this process of CPD CPD. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to feel I’m on the right track.

The Research School conference was a beautiful thing. A bit like one of the early researchEDs actually, and slightly squeezed together to shorten the day so that everyone could watch the football. I saw some interesting sessions but for me, the two keynotes bookending the day have given me the most food for thought. First up was Marc Rowland who spoke about the use of pupil premium funding. Not in a ‘which strategy off of the EEF toolkit works best’ way, but how we can genuinely delve into and identify where pupil need is, exploring all pupil needs in terms of themselves and their families, their communities, and reflect on the barriers we put in place ourselves as schools. At one point he said that the ‘teacher is the most effective intervention’ and if that’s not a case for cracking CPD, I don’t know what is.

The thing that really brought a lot of things together for me though was in Alex Quigley‘s final thoughts for the day. The conference was about building the role and reach of the Research Schools Network and with a local slant to his presentation, Alex started and ended his talk with this slide:

This brought into focus a few things for me and I think this idea is central to everything I’m trying to achieve. When I visited a local primary school as part of the TDT CPD leadership course, one of the comments that stuck was how they were looking at how they deliver reading instruction and realised that they already have a team of experts in-house. This has prompted me to think a lot about the importance of ‘finding and developing our experts’ and it’s central to my yet-to-be-proposed CPD plan. What Alex’s words have done though is cement this concept as a wider ambition for me. If we take out the specific detail, this is something I think should drive our CPD journey as I move from working with my school, to across the Trust and then in a wider context. There will be many ways to support this process, but these are the questions I want to hold at the core of what we build:

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I’m doing a lot of work around CPD at the moment and when I started thinking about the level of importance placed on pedagogical expertise I started to ponder about when might be the best time to introduce these skills if it isn’t happening during ITE. I don’t think it’s a case of people not wanting to know the ‘why’ – the plethora of conference-bingo edu-myths are probably a cliché, but I take their longevity as evidence that teachers like to feel they understand the science of teaching. It’s for schools to harness this and if they harness it early enough and in the right way everyone’s a winner.

The students that sparked my thinking about all this in Part 1 appeared to be talking about how they’re going to have time to study ‘the pedagogical knowledge stuff’ once they’re teaching and in turn, I presume, that they’ll be able to change practices they’ve already imbedded. With the presumption that their situation is not unique, it’s important we provide opportunities and time to address this in our school CPD programmes.

I’m not particularly concerned right now with the ‘what’ teachers need to know in terms of pedagogy – there are lots of excellent suggestions for that all over the place and it would certainly turn this into ‘Part 2 of 12’. I’m mostly thinking about how those with a role in leading CPD can take this information into account when designing and updating their plans.

Whilst research informs us of the importance of subject-specific CPD, we need to think about the varying levels of pedagogical knowledge in our settings and ensure this is addressed too. Going back to Weston and Clay’s (2018) Depth of Practice Framework it is clear that programmes of CPD need to take into account the current knowledge and skills of colleagues and have an idea of the level of expertise expected following CPD. For teachers, the expectation for pedagogical knowledge and skills will probably be that they attain a level of adaptive expertise – an automacy that is adaptable to different situations. For this to be successful and embedded in practice there needs to be a continuation of opportunities throughout their careers.

Leaders of CPD also need to bear in mind the higher the level of adaptive expertise, the more difficult it is to make changes to practice. Therefore, the best time to embed good pedagogical skills would seem to be as close to the start of a career as possible and not, as my sample of two students indicated, once their teaching is ‘outstanding’. If we wait too long then the biases will creep in. Kennedy (2016) shows that as independence increases, so the ways in which CPD transfers to lasting change in practice change. As teachers become more experienced they need to be able to discover things for themselves and place them within experience.

Experiences are necessary to give teachers concrete ideas to hang abstract ones on – this idea carries on throughout a career with common advice to keep a particular pupil or situation in mind when taking part in any CPD. So maybe a solution to this is give teachers information and ‘facts’ whilst training, without worrying about practice too much when they’re concerned with all sorts of other things, but make sure the next step starts as soon as possible – and make sure they are, as Becky Allen and Sam Sims (2018) state, ‘immersed in a community of skilled teachers’ as more experienced teachers model what it looks like further down the line.

Experts can often forget how it feels to be a novice and this make pitching teaching at the right level an art that needs training and refinement – for children and for adults. By creating CPD systems that take into account different levels of experience and ensuring we include opportunities for challenge, questioning and learning from each other I think it’s possible to support teachers effectively throughout their careers and hopefully our visiting ITE students will find some of this ready for them in their next schools.

References:

Allen, R. & Sims, S. (2018) ‘The Teacher Gap’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980

Weston, D & Clay, B, (2018) ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: the secrets to the most effective teacher development’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge


I think I’d always assumed that learning about pedagogical skills came hand-in-hand with learning to teach, but what if it’s something that needs to wait?

Broadly speaking, research says that in terms of teacher CPD, subject specific development has the greatest impact and that CPD with a pedagogical focus should be placed within a subject-specific framework. Aside from complications to this that may arise for teachers of multiple subjects in perhaps primary or special-school settings, it seems more than reasonable for teachers to relate the ‘how’ to their particular ‘what’.

At which stage though in ‘becoming a teacher’ should basics of pedagogy and detail of how children learn be introduced? I’ve not gone through an ITE programme myself and I’ve heard a mixture of comments about this that probably fall into categories of people who qualified a while ago saying they were just thrown in and never really taught how to teach and more recently qualified people having experienced a bit more theory and research – perhaps even an expectation that they carry out some research themselves. It’ll vary hugely, I suspect, between programmes but I had the idea that maybe the ‘how’ was increasing in importance.

I’ve been prompted to think about this following a recent series of visits from ITE students in school when I overheard some interesting comments over lunch. Aside from amusing snippets like ‘He wants to use a textbook and I’m like ‘agghh, that’s such old-school teaching” one of the conversations made me actually listen closer as they discussed how they want to (I wrote it down)

get better at [their] teaching, get that to outstanding first, and leave the pedagogical knowledge stuff for later

They spoke about how they felt like it was ‘Masters or PhD stuff’ to know about how pupils learn and felt like they were likely to get more information about this by asking the pupils themselves. Aside from the fact that many PGCE courses offer Masters credits and so I’d assume a PGCE is Masters level, it really made me think about the value that’s placed on pedagogy.

Firstly there’s the incredibly weighted area of ‘outstanding’ teaching and secondly, they think that this can happen before engaging with pedagogical knowledge. Assuming their subject knowledge is fairly fresh, isn’t pedagogical knowledge (and how that’s relevant to their subject) central to improving their teaching and exactly what they should be learning now? I didn’t get a chance to ask them about it but I have so many questions! They know what pedagogy is and can see a level of importance but don’t see it as relevant to improving the job. Is this because their time is too full of everything else to have time to study in more depth about how pupils learn? Are they just being asked to think about it now, at the end of their course? How much do placement schools influence their opinions on this? If older/more experienced teachers essentially tell them it’s nonsense… I’m wildly speculating here but it fascinated me.

I know there are ITE reforms in the offing and maybe this will all be addressed in that, but whilst we wait for it, if we assume that some ITE students are just paying lip service to their pedagogical knowledge to get through the course, how then can this be addressed through our school CPD programmes? Maybe it’s like the learning to drive cliché that ‘you only really learn to drive once you’ve passed your test and are out there on your own’. Maybe you can only really appreciate how to use pedagogical knowledge once you’ve been teaching for a while?

In their new book ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: The Secrets to the Most Effective Teacher Development‘, David Weston and Bridget Clay demonstrate how the needs of CPD provision change depending on experience and the level of independence of teachers. Their Depth of Practice Framework shows how programmes of professional development should take into account both the level of pre-existing knowledge/skill and the depth of expertise being sought.

Learning all the aspects of teaching whilst juggling the workings of a classroom is hard – and making these processes automatic is even harder, so it’s easy to understand why my example ITE students would want to put all the ‘how they learn’ stuff to one side whilst they deal with the rest. It’s important though to recognise that the more expertise someone gains, the harder it is to learn something new. So whilst some experience might be a good idea on which to build pedagogical knowledge, it probably can’t wait too long.

In my second post I’ll have a little look at how schools can use evidence on effective professional development to address this potential pedagogical knowledge gap.


What if using education to prepare students for the 21st century is actually just giving them more education?

We caught up with Endeavour last night – it was set in a 1960s private school and started me thinking about the whole ’21st Century Skills’ thing (what we should be teaching kids and how we prepare them for this new world we’ve already had nearly 20% of). I was wondering what people would say a 20th Century Skill looked like if you had to pin it down – given the changes that occurred over that 100 years, and I thought about how the pupils on the screen were older and in non-compulsory education for the time – privileged whilst their contemporaries were out at work. But I was mostly watching Endeavour.

This morning there were some tweets about from people at the Global Education & Skills Forum debate on 21st Century Skills including this one from Laura McInerney that included this picture:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I thought I’d take my idea further and have a look. I’ve only used Wikipedia for this and there are many with the knowledge to sweep my nugget of an idea away but my thoughts are that with each ‘industrial revolution’, instead of narrowing a curriculum to prepare children and teach them a new skill-set, the answer is to lengthen their education and broaden their skill sets.

So how do the various revolutions so far fit in with this? Despite the fact there are gradual changes in-between the dates on the image Laura tweeted, I was quite impressed when I had a look.

1784 – 1780’s saw the start of the Sunday school movement. Educating children (boys to start with) on Sunday because they’re at work in factories for the other 6 days a week.

1870 – The Forster Act of 1870, leading to introduction of compulsory education of children ages 5 and 10 in 1880

1969 – Raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 enforced from 1 September 1973 (but Wikipedia says they were preparing for this from 1964 so it all includes 1969 quite nicely)

Now – the Education and Skills Act 2008 said that by 2013, all young people in England have to stay on in education or training at least part-time until they are 17 years old, and that by 2015, all young people will have to stay on in education or training at least part-time, until they are 18 years old.

Not implying correlation or causation or anything like that, it was just interesting to look at. Of course increasing access to education will have added to the likelihood of each new ‘industrial revolution’ and I’m fairly certain that the dates of each ‘revolution’ will happily match up with a wealth of other changes – let’s face it, I’ve just selected some dates off a Wikipedia article and that’s not going to stand up to super scrutiny, but I was pretty happy to see there were things that matched up.

The paper I used for the researchED Haninge Journal Club last week was about enjoyment and aspiration of middle grade students and there was a small bit that caught my attention regarding boys’ aspiration and the assumption that they’ll be able to get a job in an industry without good grades – something that’s increasingly less likely. Their 21st Century is less likely to involve simply falling into an industry and I think education is the answer.

From: Smith M, Mann MJ, Georgieva Z, Curtis R & Schimmel CJ (2016) ‘What Counts When it Comes to School Enjoyment and Aspiration in the Middle Grades’ RMLE Online, 39:8 (p10)

The other thing if course is that even if the answer to education for the 21st Century is ‘more education’, it doesn’t give an answer as to what that education should be about and doing more of the wrong thing for the sake of doing more isn’t particularly useful. I’ll leave it there until next year when there’s a new series of Endeavour and I hope it gives me an idea about the rest.


(Originally posted on Staffrm)

I had a brilliant reading session with a pupil today. Normally, if I have someone for a whole lesson, once we’ve finished our reading-the-book part we use the time that’s left to play some literacy games or work on a particular target. This boy was keen to keep reading today so I gave him a choice of books from the Rapid books that he isn’t using and let him go for it.

Like many similar books Rapid have a series of comprehension questions at the end and they also have a joke. Again, like similar things, the answer to the joke is printed upside down. I was quite surprised that this boy who is at quite a low level and struggles noticeably was very quick to read the upside down answer without a problem. He even questioned why they would just write the answer underneath so anyone could see it. I did a small experiment and made him read some more with the book upside down. Now this wasn’t ‘War and Peace’ but the kid read the whole book without a single mistake. He was ecstatic!

Now. I reasoned as he was doing it that it might be something to do with him being left-handed. I’ve read things about left-handed people finding writing back to front/ upside down easier and guessed that this probably fits in the same bracket. I also suspect that the extra thought process might slow him down and make him think so he’s not rushing as much. I don’t know. I’m just making it up. What I do know is that it was blummin’ impressive and gave the boy one hell of a boost.

Obviously I’m going to try it again. Maybe I should try writing something out back to front and see if he can do that as well. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this sort of thing? I know he’s going to have to learn to cope with reading words the right way up (unless we build him a camera obscura to live in I suppose), but I think it’s worth exploring a bit further too.


(Originally posted on Staffrm)

Bare with me on this. I watched Legally Blonde recently and I’m going to stretch this one as far as I darned well can. Instead of a comparison with medicine, I’m comparing teaching with hairdressing and bending the metaphor til it, um, snaps.

Education, particularly evidence based education, is frequently compared to medicine. The idea that any profession should develop and update, based on research evidence where possible is something I’m all for. Education isn’t just a science though; it’s an art as well.

Teaching, like hairdressing, is a craft that needs to be honed and developed over a career. It is possible to learn the basics from a book or course. You could get by and end up with something crude. The theory, the step-by-step instructions, are great for giving it a go, but to be successful you need more than that.

The best teachers use theory and a core foundation of knowledge to push boundaries and try new things. They test out new products and can fine-tune the result.

The best teachers are aware of the individual needs of their client. They notice where they differ from the ‘norm’ – they spot the frizz, the cowlick, and the best ones know how to work with curl…

They know when someone might need a deep conditioning treatment or when they might benefit from highlights. They know you can only hide grey hairs temporarily.

Experience can be a source of invaluable advice but some are resistant to change and new techniques. They stick firmly to the tight perms and purple rinses that have always got them through. Others embrace fashion, rushing headlong into every new fad that comes along (without regard for anyone’s face shape or questioning the damage it might do). Some create the fashion; sometimes it’s classy and lasts a lifetime, sometimes it’s fixed in a particular era. There are the TV hairdressers, the ones with a voice, pushing their message to improve the hair of the nation. Most are probably in between, letting fashion filter through, adapting training as they need it – hanging on to trends a bit too long? Some insist on using a highlighting cap when foils might be the better option.

Keeping up to date and developing isn’t just about reading. It’s about having a feel for it and doing what is right by the pupils. Picking up the pieces of a bad job and turning things around even if it takes years; giving them something they can maintain between visits and, ultimately, something that will grow out well once they move on.


(originally posted on Staffrm)

This time five years ago, like many schools I suspect, the powers that be were trying very hard to get our school’s BSF project to the point of no return. Like many schools, we found it wasn’t to be. As it turns out, they’re still keen for us to expand.

New designs are about to be discussed for our extra building and the staff team have been given a chance to have some input into the new facilities. Given the headings of ‘Essential Features’ (eg. One storey), ‘Desirable Features’ (eg. Learning recovery spaces) and ‘Wish List Features’ (eg. Swimming pool), I was quick to write down a few things but it’s harder than I thought it would be to turn the vague ideas I’ve got into something more concrete.

My essentials include things like timeout space and a bigger staffroom. (It was ok when there were enough staff for 20 pupils, but now we’re going to go up to 100 that’s a few more staff). Desirable features are a bit more indulgent so I’ve mentioned having a bigger art room and a ‘proper’ library would be nice. My wish list is much more personal. I know our art tutor has requested a foundry and other highly specialist facilities, and I’m sure there will be some extravagant sporting suggestions from the PE staff. I’ve gone down the research route.

My thoughts on the place for research in the development of our school are constantly evolving and I’ve got a fair few things in place with ideas of where I see it heading. I am however a bit jealous of some of the things other schools are doing and what is a wish list for if not the extreme? So my wish list section now includes a Learning and Development space. Centre? Hub? I’m not sure. I’ve not thought about it as a reality before. Somewhere for CPD, collaboration, taking part in enquiry. Space to hold CPD events (for us and host for others). Host guest speakers from HE etc. A library of resources for professional development, to evaluate pupil outcomes and engage in action research/lesson study and reflective practice…

It’s not particularly solid as ideas go, but I think it could be. I wonder if it’s out-there enough for a wish list. I mean, I could’ve gone with pimped out golf buggies or a velodrome. If we get a chance it would be interesting to see what other members of staff have put as their answers.

So that’s what I’ve thought of so far. What would you put down as your ‘Wish List Features’ if you had the chance? You can have anything you like…


This is one of several posts that I’ve started but never quite got round to hitting ‘publish’ on. Prompted by a tweet from Dawn Cox about the values we put onto children (and my recent thoughts about cultural capital) I thought it was a good opportunity. (Quick reminder that all our pupils are boys so when I refer to ‘the boys’ it’s because I naturally interchange ‘boys’ and ‘pupils’ when talking about work rather than me just stereotyping).

I started this post over a year ago in February 2016 after reading this Guardian article about white working class boys and university. I think by the time I came back to it the moment had gone and I never finished it. The article focuses on the aspirations of white working class boys and the role of universities in targeting underrepresented populations. One of the statements that caught my attention was “If these young men embrace academic success, they face entry into an unfamiliar and disconcerting world”. This is a theme I recognise regularly in our pupils.

I think for the majority of our pupils the experience they have of education is that it’s easier to fail than succeed. They know what to do when they fail – they know how to run off, know how to get told off, know how to respond in an aggressive manner, and know the sort of response they will get from adults. Quite often they find it very difficult to cope with praise (certainly open praise). If there’s a problem or issue at school or home, they will often try to get in a situation where they are stopped – physically or otherwise. It’s all about controlling a situation. They can deal with being picked on for not doing something right – can always fall back on kicking off.

As our school gets bigger there are more pupils that know each other, either from previous schools or their neighbourhoods (plus social media etc). I’ve noticed how this makes a difference to ‘showing face’ beyond what happens in school. We’re probably quite lucky in that it’s only fairly recently that the tentacles of social media have worked their way into our school – one of the benefits of having a couple of kids from each area of a whole city.

When it comes to aspirations though, why is university still seen as the be-all and end-all? There’s a massive rise in the number of apprenticeships – not just ‘trades’ now there are opportunities everywhere, but university’s seen as better. With rising fees and scrapping of grants, followed by questions about devaluation of degrees, there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to come out of university and be competing with those with three years experience for similar jobs (although I don’t believe fees and loans are any reason not to go and I do appreciate the earning potential stats). It’s not stereotyping to say that a high proportion of our boys will end up with a trade. We offer them vocational qualifications, and courses involving some sort of construction or motor engineering are pretty common next steps. It’s interesting that many of our pupils are likely to end up earning more in a trade professions than an NQT but are not likely to see themselves as our equals. So perhaps it really isn’t money that matters but education.

Something I’ve thought about is that despite the attitudes of our pupils, do the parents of these children – despite their background – aspire to university? Do these white working class boys that shun university for themselves want their own children to go to university? Anecdotally, I know of several people who I think feel they have to prove themselves to be just as good as someone who has been to university and it possibly gives them more drive, they’ve built up businesses and empires of their own, but they want for their children a ‘better’ life, and that includes university.

The discussion is one that has been played out before and will be again. The question of whether it is right for the educated, middle class to decide which values and experiences to pass on to white working class children is one that can be a minefield. Is it for us to decide what matters? Should we impose our own values on children? By thinking we’re aiding them are we curbing them? Either way, are we judging them and their backgrounds? We want them to study Shakespeare (the content of those final GCSE papers is class-blind) so taking them to see Shakespeare is part of that. Is Shakespeare OK but not opera? Is street-dance OK but not ballet? If we want them to learn languages is it OK if they go on an exchange trip? Not other foreign travel? Can we take them skiing at the Snowdome in Birmingham but maybe avoid the Alps? There’s never going to be an easy answer.

Part of our job is forcing our opinions on our pupils whether that’s the curriculum we teach or the language we use when we speak to them. I’m not going to oversimplify my vocabulary when I’m talking to the boys just because there’s the danger they’ve never come across a word before, I’ll explain it. I’m not going to apologise for wanting to build their ambitions – it’s a better place to start than not. Of course getting them reading and calculating (preferably maths, not crime) is the first step, but can’t we do a bit of both? I want us to open their worlds. I want them to ask questions and if nothing else, I want them to be really good at pub quizzes. I want them to know that whether they want to go into a trade or go to university, they are worthy of it. Some of them have dreams that we don’t think they’ll achieve and I want them to prove us wrong.

I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know what the future is likely to hold for some of them. At the moment I’m hoping that the future for some of them isn’t on the front of the Nottingham Post as they merrily go about their holidays, for others I’m hoping that come results day they get a couple of GCSEs. I suppose it’s not for us to decide where their limit is. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t judge them and do our best to get them to the next bit.


I came to the realisation yesterday that our whole school is a bottom set.

I was very much looking forward to hearing Professor Becky Francis deliver her keynote at rEDYork yesterday. I’ve heard her speaking a few times, both as presenter and as questioning audience member, and I pretty much want to be Becky Francis when I grow up. This time the talk was about ‘The problematic interface between research, policy and practice: the case of attainment grouping’, with an overview of the general picture and an introduction the EEF-funded ‘Best Practice in Grouping Students’ study.

As our school works up to full 7-16 two-form entry we are finding ourselves in a position where we’re starting to allocate children to classes based partly on their attainment. There are other things we consider and sometimes there are still very different levels in the same class, but there’s a general move towards a ‘higher’ group and a ‘lower’ group. I don’t think the pupils are ever explicitly told this is the case – perhaps in KS2 where they switch up the classes for different subjects a bit more, but I’m not sure the pupils are particularly aware. Anyway, as we’re just starting to get on the ‘set’ bandwagon I was particularly interested in the presentation to see what I could take back to school.

What I found was something much more than a few take-away bits of feedback. I tweeted that I felt like I’d had an ‘epiphany’ and I’m still trying to work out what that is exactly, but as I sat scribbling my notes I pretty much worked out that our whole school is essentially a bottom set and there are probably other schools that are similar. I’m not sure how coherent I can be with what I’m thinking but I feel like there’s an answer to something here.

Our general school demographic matches Becky’s description of the make up of bottom sets – disproportionate representation of low socio-economic status, gender imbalance (we’re designated a mixed school but all 75 of our pupils are boys). All our pupils have been taken out of other schools, possibly after a few permanent exclusions and a stint at the PRU, normally for their behaviour (regardless of ‘ability’). With all of this they’re statistically likely to have already experienced being in a bottom set and many already have low self-confidence and feel like they’ve been written off. Add to this that for every one of our pupils they’ve got a bunch of similar friends back in mainstream, it’s probably not something that’s isolated to our school.

I’m still trying to write about my recent thoughts on cultural capital for a separate post and whilst this has thrown a bit of a spanner in things, I still think that as a staff team, and as a general school ethos, we recognise that we need to instill an attitude that they can achieve and be successful – providing them with opportunities and in many cases, a future. What we probably don’t admit, or perhaps recognise, is that the symbolic implications of segregation and the societal associations between setting and ‘high standards’ are probably so ingrained that we are still creating limits for them. Even without putting any of our pupils in sets, they come to us already matching the criteria for a bottom set and I’m wondering if our associations between the demographic and expectations are so deeply entrenched that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. If staff have these societal preconceptions, pupils have them and parents have them, what happens? Do we just accept it?

If we really tried to analyse our practice we could probably identify quite a few of the factors Becky mentioned – both ones we thought we were tackling and ones beyond our control. Lack of fluidity in groups – we’ve got two classes of c.8 pupils in each year; fluidity is tricky. Quality of teaching – we have a few specialist subject teachers but run a mostly primary model through to KS4 with class teacher to class group in all subjects. Teacher expectations and pedagogy – success is brilliant, but if we’re honest, we aren’t surprised if they don’t get straight A*s (or, for some, Ds). I worry that we become complacent and lower expectations are normal. This isn’t just staff as I said before, this is entrenched in staff, pupils, parents, society. It makes the successes we have stand out – even the small ones. And we celebrate them, and we should.

We are highly aware of the limitations that have already been put on our pupils but I realise now that it’s possibly the tip of an iceberg that doesn’t just impact our pupils and maybe the Bottom Set Effect has a wider, self-fulfilling reach. In more than one session yesterday I found myself coming back to the thought that ‘Does everything just work enough not to be seen as an urgent problem?’ Maybe this is one of those things too.

So what do you do when you realise your whole school is a bottom set? How do you go about changing these subconscious preconceptions? Even if they’ve turned into conscious preconceptions, can we change things? Change is hard and it’s risky.

I’ve still not quite formulated what my thoughts are but I have questions about whether as we expand into KS1 it’ll be better – getting them before the Bottom Set Effect hits – or as we get them earlier, does that ingrain the bottom-set-ness earlier? Are we actually just creaming off the bottom set early? Is that self-fulfilling? What happens when you put the bottom set in sets? How does it work with our small classes? I know when I’ve looked at setting in the past there’s been evidence that the impact is less on small groups due to the focussed attention etc. We’ve got 8 pupils and two staff in a class so maybe it’s not too bad?

Regardless of whether we set or not, I’m still struck by how closely we seem to fit the ‘criteria’ for a bottom set and I can’t help thinking that if we can apply some of the advice that comes from either the EEF trials or other investigation in this area, there’s an answer to something somewhere and I’m not even sure what the question should be, but we can make things better. We can always get better.


The role for technology in education, and the impact technology has on children generally, is a thoroughly embedded topic for debate. I’m sure if twitter had been around at its inception, the Casio Databank would’ve been the topic for a whole half-term’s Edutwitter ‘civilised’ discussion but there is an understandable increase in these sorts of conversations as we try to keep up.

Casio DATA BANK watch

The latest story to hit the tech-debate radar is this one in the Toronto Star reporting that grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Senior Public School are to have restricted access to their mobile phones during lessons. Now, I work in a school where the pupils have always handed everything in when they get to school – even before mobile phones were commonplace – so I’ve not really noticed the rise in personal tech use in classroom in perhaps the same way as other schools, but it still seems odd that this sort of ban (and not even for all year groups) would be newsworthy.

Screen-use in the classroom is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, so what concerns should we have with this? Carl Hendrick recently blogged about why the Internet should be kept out of the classroom, citing a 2016 study (Ravizza et al) looking at how university students use laptops in class reported the relationship between classroom performance and internet usage. They found that ‘nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance’.  A recently published Japanese study (Kawahara and Ito, 2017) looked at the ‘Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search’ and found that even without using it, the mere presence of a mobile phone can adversely affect cognitive performance. This offers an opportunity for us to look at the impact of classroom technology and how schools can use classroom technology in a balanced way.

In response to an open letter published in December 2016 over concerns about children’s ‘screen-based’ lifestyles, a second letter quickly responded, calling for ‘quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy discussion’. Whilst worries over increasingly sedentary lifestyles and mental health issues are understandable, the letter argues that there is little evidence to support the concerns in the initial letter and encourages the government and research bodies to invest in well-founded guidelines.

The evidence around the benefits and disadvantages of technology for children is ever-changing. In 2015 the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed their guidelines for early childhood screen time, mostly based on old research into television time, which previously recommended that children under two should stay away from screen media. They have now provided more evidence-based guidance as to how children should use screens, including for unstructured play and the positives of video chatting with distant relatives.

At our school a decision was reached several years ago to provide each pupil with their own laptop to use in school. As we started to expand we found our ICT suite with 6 laptops wasn’t enough for 30 pupils and they were getting damaged etc so we started to roll out laptops and now we have 1:1 from KS2-4. Pupils use these within all lessons – we run KS2/3 on a mostly primary model of class teacher teaching most subjects with some specialist teachers/swapping (KS4 is more specialist). Laptops move with the pupil throughout day/years – it’s easier to track use and damage etc. Obviously (perhaps) laptops aren’t used in every lesson but they are used a lot. They are also used during some reward times and some break times (probably why online games are still accessible).

Certain websites are blocked from use like social media/YouTube/keywords and as websites appear that we want to block (YTPak as a YouTube substitute for instance) we can inform our blocking people (although I did find recently that I wasn’t able to access websites using the word ‘edge’ in the URL. This was an issue as I was trying to look at the knowledge organiser blogs and ‘knowledge’ was banned). We also use software for managing and monitoring what the pupils are using live. Teachers can view (and control) pupil laptops which is useful for both instances of inappropriate pupil activity and in-lesson sharing of work on the IWB. If pupils are using the computers inappropriately then we have reward/sanction systems that are used.

Clearly this is different to other types of screen use in the classroom but I do have concerns that we, staff and pupils, can be over-reliant on the laptops. Whether that means a reduction in the amount of handwriting pupils do, ‘lazy’ internet research (we’ve all heard amusing tales of Wikipedia regurgitation), or a slightly more concerning impact on processing information as described by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) looking at laptop vs written note-taking by university students. Our pupils don’t take a huge amount of notes in lessons, but if we over rely on using the laptops when they do, the chances are we’re denying them the opportunity to process the information in a meaningful way.

Even if we can’t do much about what they do at home, we have a lot of control over how much technology pupils use in the classroom. There are some great resources out there and the deeper debate over this is perhaps for another day, but how much of school-tech is driven by what staff quite fancy having a play around with over the genuine benefits in the classroom? It’s almost becoming a cliché to ask whether the 1:1 iPads are essential or could you do it another way and save thousands of pounds (seems old but I had this conversation a fortnight ago). In a desire for an easy ride, doing something different’, squeezing in some of those illusive ’21st Century Skills’, is it actually more revolutionary to go without?

More robust research will hopefully lead to better guidelines, but we need to use our professional common sense as well. We’ll never be completely on top of it but we do have some control over our classrooms and probably just as well because with last month’s speculation that Apple are set to introduce a ‘cinema mode’ for iPhones, it seems like it soon won’t be single screen-use we’ll be discussing, but perhaps multi-screen use as well.