Why do we rank order adolescents? Why?

What I want to know is this: if a PhD and a Masters degree are pass or fail and if an Honours Degree is assessed with four sub-divisions, why do we sub-divide A levels and GCSEs into 8 sub-divisions? Why do we feel that it is right and appropriate to create very fine rank-ordering for 16, 17, and 18 year olds but not adults?

In many schools, mine included, we shun grades altogether for pupils at KS 3, preferring instead to focus on the learning. We find it un-helpful to apply grades for attainment or effort – they do not promote learning or motivation and the arguments are well described in ‘Inside The Black Box’ – that ground-breaking piece of research from the late 90s. We do use NC levels because they are nationally benchmarked and therefore have some meaning but we use them sparingly in most subjects, usually publishing levels just twice a year.

But when we come to KS4 all that is turned on its head, and everyone becomes only too acutely aware of the criteria to gain a C grade and seeks to gain 5 of them or better. Why?

What would happen if we simply had a pass or fail situation at 16+ education?

Let’s look first at the next level of education. 6th form colleges and beyond them, universities, would have to make their own judgements about the students they are taking on. There would be a burden to those institutions because they need to know whether the student they were taking on is capable of studying a particular subject at the next level. But, to a large extent they already do this. They interview students and at some universities they also test them too. The idea that fine grading at A level and GCSE is there in order to service the selection needs of further and higher education is quite bonkers and yet it is the most often quoted reason.

The same argument goes for employers too. They like to be able to read a list of grades and gain an understanding of the cognitive ability of their candidates. And yet we all know of countless examples of people whose intelligence and ability has been completely mis-represented by the academic grades they achieved at school. Any decent employer will appoint on interview and ‘test’ activities to see who is the best candidate. That doesn’t mean that the present grading system is not of some use, but the distortion it brings to school education is massive and destructive.

Let’s face it, if we were going to start again and produce a brand new matriculation system for 16+ education we would surely not start with the premise that we should have a benchmark that means that just over half the 16 year old population are deemed to have failed! Yet that is what we have at present. And just when many schools have created success through vocational routes and are posting 98% success rates, the government go and move the goal posts so that they haven’t passed after all.

I am struggling to find a reason why we fine grade at GCSE. Is it for motivational purposes? If we took away the cherry of the grading system would the young people stop striving? Well yes, that is a distinct possibility, especially in the short term, because our young people have been brought up to ‘chase the grade’, as indeed have their teachers. Even I found myself addressing my Year 11 cohort the other day with “learn it for one day, get it down on paper in the exam and then you can forget it all for the rest of your life!” But instead of motivating young people with grades should we not be attempting to motivate them with the satisfaction of the learning itself. The top end students who are bent on an academic path need to be encouraged to love learning and research for its own sake and not because it is attached to a grade. For those for whom a vocational path is more appropriate, a solidly built brick wall is satisfaction enough surely, especially when coupled with the praise of a trusted teacher. To give the construction of a brick wall a grade is meaningless; instead it should be judged (yes, I am not arguing all judgements are wrong) by whether it is standing up, whether it is safe, whether a building employer would give you a job on the strength of the skills shown and whether a client would be inclined to pay for it.

Don’t chase the grade, chase the knowledge, the understanding, the know-how.

As far as motivation goes, I find (teaching in a non-selective school) that grades terrify many pupils. The whole ‘sword of Damacles’ thing that hangs over their heads in late August of Year 11 is more than they can cope with. It is a judgement day like no other they will experience in their lives. It falsely creates winners and losers, dividing the population down the middle, sending people off on different paths based on a set of assessment criteria that fails to recognise many of the facets they possess. In the face of this judgement day they simply cave in, preferring instead to be defiantly nonchalant, openly apathetic and wilfully nihilistic. There is no joy in school for them, no sense of satisfaction or achievement dawning on the horizon; just failure, disapprobation, lowering of self-esteem and indignation. At school for 11 years and nothing to show for it.

So I say let’s change it. Let’s get back to the core values of what education is for. “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself”. said John Dewey. Should school be about now and not about preparing for later? Ok, well preparing for later is important but shouldn’t we be able to produce a curriculum that does both; that engages, stimulates, inspires as well as teaching skills and know-how for the future?

We are over-looking one massively simple fact: the whole ‘preparing-for-the-future’ thing is promoted by people who have a past – the adults. We can see where we went wrong and how we would like to see our young people get it right for the benefit of their futures. But that is not how young people see it. They cannot see their futures and have no point of reference from their own pasts to can guide them – so they have to take guidance from the adults. They are prepared to take that guidance as children but it runs counter to their  biological instincts to take too much guidance from adults when they are adolescent. Instead their instinct is often to do the opposite. We know this, this is not new! The way round the problem is to make school life real and about now. Engagement in a community that gives respect and responsibility to the individual with the minimum of authoritarian guidance and the maximum of collaboration and positive modelling. Adolescents crave to be grown up and to rebel and the wise Head is one who creates opportunities for these two needs to be met within a community that can absorb the negatives of the latter. The need to rebel will, for some, always focus on the thing the adults most want the adolescent to do – work hard and learn. So school needs to be a place where you can rebel in creative ways and not self-destructive ways.

I think we need an assessment system that acknowledges that a person has been meaningfully engaged in school education and says nothing more. But each young person should produce an ePortfolio that demonstrates the learning they have undertaken and the skills they have acquired, an ePortfolio they can take to the next stage of their lives and continue to update and improve.

In my next blog I want to explore ways in which our current curriculum can be made more suitable for young people, providing a better range of pathways that allow for both an integration of studies and the chance to specialise.

It is always a question of time

Time - where does it go?

Time - where does it go?

At a conference recently I was sitting next to a colleague and tried to introduce her to the joys of a Twitter back channel. She took a brief look at twitter on the iphone and said, ‘You must have a lot of time on your hands’. This seems to me a stock reply from many people faced with the issue of engagement in social media. They sense they should start to get involved and get with the buzz that is so palpably out there but there are too scared, uncertain or ignorant and so they blame a lack of time.

This makes me feel bad because it is like they are accusing me of spending my time on something less important than what they have to do. In the case in question it turned out the woman was a Head’s PA and, as I am a Head myself, I thought that was a bit back-to-front.

The question of time is the biggest given reason why education professionals don’t engage with social media in a way that would be beneficial to them if they did. Whenever I try to explain my use of time to them, they stop listening!

The way I see it is this: as an education professional I have work time and recuperation time. During recuperation time I have family, relaxation and hobbies. But also, importantly it is a time for nourishment, reading and thought. It is during this time that I find using Twitter, blogging and using social forums to be useful and life-enhancing both personally and professionally.

So, next time someone asks me where I find the time for all this Web 2.0 stuff I shall tell them it is part of my personal and professional nourishment time at home. I am sure I will make a lot more friends that way.

The Rogue Fifth Estate

For a while I have been seeing school as divided into four estates: Pupils, Parents, Staff and Governors. Whilst SLT resides firmly in the Staff Estate, the Head has the job of floating over all four. Understanding schools in this way provides some useful theoretical insights, particularly in managing the expectations of parents.
The rogue meerkat observes from the periphery like a government inspector

The rogue meerkat observes from the periphery like a government inspector

But there is a Fifth Estate and it is a rogue – it hovers around the periphery of the school interjecting constraints and directives which are largely unhelpful. Communication is essentially one way – from them to us.
The Fifth Estate is a two headed monster: Central Government and Inspectors. Inspectors are basically operating to the directives of Government though they, of course, have some interpreting to do and the whole issue of Best Practice and Regulations rears up too.
That we are being over regulated by Government doesn’t really need stating here – suffice it to say I frequently find myself saying: ‘Shall I go and see some teaching now, or shall I complete our response to regulations and the new documentation from Inspectors’. Too often the decision has to be the latter. (It would help if the documentation coming from Inspectors was half decently written and presented – too much time is spent trying to work out what they are on about.)
Yet the Government has for many years accepted the research that shows that there is a direct correlation between good Heads and good schools – the two go hand in hand. All political parties have promoted the idea that Heads should have greater autonomy and be encouraged to run their schools with the minimum of interference. Counter to that thinking, Balls (the name says it all) proceeded to introduce raft after raft of regulation which direct Heads to the tiniest detail of operating their school. E.G: it is not enough simply to say and sign that your school does not permit smoking, the regulations stipulate the precise wording you must use and even the size of the font.
Facing our sector (Independent) now is the debate between regulation and school improvement. The two have become completely intertwined in the regulatory guidance and it has become impossible to sort one from the other. Inspectors are currently taking the overt stance that since school improvement is inherently a good thing then it doesn’t really matter. ‘Does it matter,’ they say, ‘if it is a regulation or not? Surely you should be doing this anyway?’ Well I disagree. Many of the things that are so called ‘best practice’ do not fit with my vision of education.
When I first became an inspector I was trained to be ultimately respectful of the way a school chose to run itself and criticism could only be based on evidence that showed that what the school was doing was not helping the pupils and the school’s aims.Within that context you had to be very careful to understand the school’s aims and how they go about achieving them – something which current inspection protocols pay lip service to but little more than that. The current framework is confused, badly thought-through and full of anomalies. Inspectors and RIs (Lead Inspectors) are bullish in their insistence on what they want to see because the confusion between regulations and best practice gives them a false sense of the licence of their role. For example, the interim inspection is directed at compliance issues only – qualitative judgements are minimised; so why is the 58 page SEF directed at explaining school improvement since the last inspection?
The move to separate regulation inspection from school improvement inspection is one I thoroughly support and I think is long overdue. I am tired of correcting RIs, their tiggerish attitude is tedious and their rush to judge my school on tiny scraps of incidental evidence is counter-productive. (We seem to have completely lost sight of the need for a high quality evidence base – that whole idea is now brushed under the carpet; Tony Hubbard would be appalled.)  This brings the whole inspection process into disrepute.
If you have managed to get to the end of this rant then well done and thank you! My hope is that we will all start pointing at the elephant in the room more and more and challenge our regulators and their inspection regime until we get back some sanity – it sure ain’t working at the moment.

Re-defining ‘work’ for the mid-teens.

I am always on the lookout for ways to engage pupils in education and right now I am working on the problem of motivating 14 – 16 year olds, especially boys.

The most significant reasons for non-engagement I have found recently are:

  • Poor personal philosophy – in particular ‘nihilism’ (I just don’t care) is very destructive and hard to argue down
  • Poor lifestyle choices – massive amounts of ‘going out’ and ‘gaming’ once home again
  • World of Warcraft (yes WOW has it’s own category – just Google “WOW addiction” to get 20,900 results)
  • An inability to connect future ambitions with current reality
  • An ill-formed sense of personal identity leading to paralysis and deep uncertainty
  • Fear of failure

I have disapproved of Effort Grades since reading Working Inside the Black Box and the writings of Carol Dwek, but, whereas I do think you can ask a younger child to ‘work harder’, I think with mid-teens it is counter-productive. That got me to thinking why do we as educators always insist on calling it ‘work’? “To get your GCSEs you will need to work really hard.”

Work is defined as mental or physical effort but for the average 14 – 16 year old boy it has strong connotations of a world that belongs to adults where people ‘go to work’ to earn money and get stressed. They don’t like work and why should they when most adults talk about work as a chore and long for the holidays and weekends.

14 – 16 year olds have choice and they exercise that choice in a way that is fundamentally different from children and most adults. They can choose to do the minimum and what are the consequences? Younger children might be sanctioned and then respond positively to avoid that sanction; adults fail to gain promotion or praise, they might even lose their job. But the mid-teenager doesn’t mind too much about detention and they can’t see the fuss about worrying about the future because it is too far away. As Ian Gilbert says, the ‘What’s In It For Me?’ is missing.

By defining ‘work’ as ‘studying’ for this age group we might shift the nuance from an obligated, mind-numbing activity for which the rewards are at best unclear, to an activity which involves interest, learning and self-generated reward.

The word work is usually accompanied by the word hard. In my view this can also be counter-productive for the mid-teen age group. If you are engaged with your studies – reading, writing, planning, memorising etc. then you can’t actually do any more than that. To work harder is to strain and straining is not good. At GCSE level, the pupil has either engaged and completed the task to their ability or they haven’t. Asking them to work harder is confusing. Do we want them to spend longer? Well, not if the task is done. Do we want them to read round a topic – sure but this not University, and there is only so much they can do before the task is done.

I encourage mid-teens to focus on the task and its completetion and not get hung up about time spent or numbers of words written. 20 minutes focused work is worth any number of hours gazing at a book without engagement.

Reluctant staff

In the #educhat Twitter dialogue there is much talk about how you persuade teachers who are reluctant and/or poorly skilled to engage in eLearning activities in the classroom. As a Headteacher I have heard many reasons given for a reluctance to engage – e.g. the internet is a dangerous place and any involvement with read/write technology will inevitably lead to identity theft and my bank account being emptied.

Another tactic is the request for endless training. I don’t think graduate, professional teachers need to be trained to log on to a VLE and follow on-screen instructions. There may be the odd tip of how to avoid certain pit falls or follow certain protocols to avoid confusion but I would put that level of understanding and knowledge in the ‘show me how to…’ bracket – not worthy of the word ‘training’.

In a recent INSET task, a teacher created a great ePortfolio for herself but commented that if it hadn’t been for her 12 year old daughter’s help she wouldn’t have been able to do it. My response was isn’t that what we ask our pupils to do? If they don’t know ‘how to’ then they need to find out, and one way to find out is to ask someone who knows.

The IT champions in the school, whether they be the ICT teachers or technicians are often not the best people to seek help from. Better to ask someone who has just mounted the learning curve you are attempting yourself – they will have empathy and go at your pace. It has been one of the most exciting sights in our school recently to see several staff huddled round a screen helping each other to navigate the VLE or electronic reporting system.

So when staff say they don’t understand how to post homework on the VLE or put YouTube on their IWB I tend to be fairly robust – hopefully in a kindly way. It’s really not that hard, I say, you just need to engage with it. To put your trousers on you have to stand on one leg and, whilst looking down, negotiate a whole bunch of floppy material, put your foot through at the right angle … you get the picture. It’s a lot harder than clicking the attach button and browsing your folders for the right file.

I am happy to say that all staff in our school are IT literate to the level of posting homework on the VLE, reporting to parents using the reporting database, navigating the ‘staff only’ area on the T drive and using email. Many can do a lot more than that of course. How have we achieved that?

Well one model used by some Heads is to give license to the most IT able teachers to plough ahead as fast as they can and become IT Champions in the school. The idea is that they will be seen as inspirational and exemplary and that other teachers will be intrigued to the point at which they want to the same thing. I don’t think that works – the least able just feel irritated, jealous and resentful.

My management model is to get there in small steps. Flag up that we will be, say, doing all extra curricular planning on a centralised spreadsheet, give clear instructions and a time scale and then take away the opportunity to perform that task in any other way. It is like leading everyone gently into a room but once in there, you shut the door.

The other crucial factor is to give yourself a long enough timescale to achieve your objectives. If you try to achieve an IT project too quickly, the deadline comes and goes without complete success giving rise to cynicism and apathy.  And don’t ‘over manage’ it, fire – aim – fire; set the objective and let staff get on with it, with support and monitoring.

As Head, I  am an eLearning enthusiast and that, of course, makes a difference. I have mounted the learning curve of Web 2.0 myself and so I am in a strong position to encourage others to the same thing. I have high expectations of staff performance in this area and a relentless determination to find ways to use IT to accelerate learning.

Emotional Awareness

And so the sixth and final competency; the ‘E’ of CIRCLE. We are, of course, indebted to the work of Daniel Goleman and his book Emotional Intelligence (http://tinyurl.com/dhae47).
A psychoanalyst once said to me that you can have the highest IQ in the world but if your EQ – emotional quotient – is low then your IQ is useless to you. As educators we try to create schools where children feel secure, safe, nurtured and loved. We create situations and opportunities for children to build their self-esteem and find ways to promote their sense of self-worth on a daily basis.
This is not easy because the examinations and qualifications system embedded in education throughout the world separate achievers of certain types from non-achievers, with the latter group being deemed to have ‘failed’. We all talk about the importance of self-esteem and EQ and yet in the UK we set the benchmark for success at a level where over 40% of 16 year olds fail every year.
The value of the inclusion of Emotional Awareness as one of our six competencies is to establish the need for each child to understand the importance of their own emotional well-being and the affect it has on their ability to learn. It is our equivalent of Anthony Seldon’s Happiness lessons. Teaching Emotional Awareness skills encourages children to think about the mental framework and context to their learning, what motivates them and what makes them feel satisfied.

And so the sixth and final competency; the ‘E’ of CIRCLE. We are, of course, indebted to the work of Daniel Goleman and his book Emotional Intelligence.http://tinyurl.com/dhae47

A psychoanalyst once said to me that you can have the highest IQ in the world but if your EQ – emotional quotient – is low then your IQ is useless to you. As educators we try to create schools where children feel secure, safe, nurtured and loved. We create situations and opportunities for children to build their self-esteem and find ways to promote their sense of self-worth on a daily basis.

This is not easy because the examinations and qualifications system embedded in education throughout the world separate achievers of certain types from non-achievers, with the latter group being deemed to have ‘failed’. We all talk about the importance of self-esteem and EQ and yet in the UK we set the benchmark for success at a level where over 40% of 16 year olds fail every year.

The value of the inclusion of Emotional Awareness as one of our six competencies is to establish the need for each child to understand the importance of their own emotional well-being and the affect it has on their ability to learn. It is our equivalent of Anthony Seldon’s Happiness lessons. Teaching Emotional Awareness skills encourages children to think about the mental framework and context to their learning, what motivates them and what makes them feel satisfied.

Learning Platform

The Learning Platform is the fifth competency in our Competency Based Curriculum and I have to confess to a little artistic licence. ‘Learning Platform’ really stands for personal organisation but we needed something to begin with ‘L’ so that we could spell out the word ‘CIRCLE’ with our six competencies.
So… personal organisation – not startling or innovative or different; but solid, fundamental and focused particularly on the type of learner who naturally finds engagement in education difficult. Pre-adolescent learners in particular find themselves ‘acting out’ their reluctance to engage with school by sub-consciously (though sometimes consciously) forgetting their books and equipment. Not only that but they fail to organise their time or energy so that they are constantly tired or rushed, working behind themselves and constantly trying to play catch up.
By giving personal organisation a place amongst the six competencies and giving it another name with the word ‘learning’ in it, we are acknowledging the real importance this aspect of school life has. So many great and imaginative lesson plans have been recked by the lack of the right equipment in the pupils’ bags; so many teachers have become genuinely disheartened by the lack of reprecocity from pupils in remembering to bring their books. It’s: ‘Let’s have a Desert Island Disks lesson tomorrow’ only to find that fewer than half the pupils bring a CD.
Though the expression Learning Platform needs a modicum of explanation it is a useful expression.

The Learning Platform is the fifth competency in our Competency Based Curriculum and I have to confess to a little artistic licence. ‘Learning Platform’ really stands for personal organisation but we needed something to begin with ‘L’ so that we could spell out the word ‘CIRCLE’ with our six competencies.

So… personal organisation – not startling or innovative or different; but solid, fundamental and focused particularly on the type of learner who naturally finds engagement in education difficult. Pre-adolescent learners in particular find themselves ‘acting out’ their reluctance to engage with school by sub-consciously (though sometimes consciously) forgetting their books and equipment. Not only that but they fail to organise their time or energy so that they are constantly tired or rushed, working behind themselves and constantly trying to play catch up.

By giving personal organisation a place amongst the six competencies and giving it another name with the word ‘learning’ in it, we are acknowledging the real importance this aspect of school life has. So many great and imaginative lesson plans have been recked by the lack of the right equipment in the pupils’ bags; so many teachers have become genuinely disheartened by the lack of reprecocity from pupils in remembering to bring their books. It’s: ‘Let’s have a Desert Island Disks lesson tomorrow’ only to find that fewer than half the pupils bring a CD.

Though the concept of the Learning Platform needs a modicum of explanation it is a useful expression.

Consideration

We have reached the fourth of our six competencies and the first one that branches out from the individual learner and sees education as ‘situated’. This key idea, put forward by Bruner, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Bruner)
prompts us to contextualise learning rather than only focusing on the individual mind and its development.
John Hattie (http://www.education.auckland.ac.nz/staff/j.hattie/) sites behavioural issues as a top ten strategy for improving learning. (http://tinyurl.com/aqbmmy) This competency however is not just another way of re-enforcing ‘school rules’; we are not trying to ‘trick’ the individual learner into behaving well because it suits us as teachers to have an ordered classroom. Instead the presence of Consideration as a competency is an acknowledgement that it benefits the individual as much as the collective.
To be considerate of others – and in particular of their learning needs – is to acquire an understanding of how others learn which in turn prompts the learner to reflect on their own learning. Consideration of others is therefore another meta-cognition tool, promoting empathy and awareness.
Of course it is also true that good behaviour, kindness, generosity, collaboration, sharing, mutual support and respect create outstanding learning teams and that each individual within that team therefore benefits. This competency points to these skills and attributes as well.
But on a more subtle level Consideration of others also acknowledges the need to be a selfish learner on occasion. Sometimes it is vital to stop the teacher and get them to explain again, even though you suspect everyone has got the point. Learning to be considerate in this context allows the learner to draw to themselves the resources they need to be successful without impinging on the rights and needs of others. This is a mature skill which matches the balance we all have to strike as human beings between looking after ‘number one’ and operating cooperatively.
The delivery of this competency is done through modeling, through the creation of a school wide ethos of kindness and cooperation and through the insistence that being considerate of others benefits the individual as much as it benefits the whole community.

We have reached the fourth of our six competencies and the first one that branches out from the individual learner and sees education as ‘situated’. This key idea, put forward by Bruner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome_Bruner prompts us to contextualise learning rather than only focusing on the individual mind and its development.

John Hattie http://www.education.auckland.ac.nz/staff/j.hattie/ sites behavioural issues as a top ten strategy for improving learning. (http://tinyurl.com/aqbmmy) This competency however is not just another way of re-enforcing ‘school rules’; we are not trying to ‘trick’ the individual learner into behaving well because it suits us as teachers to have an ordered classroom. Instead the presence of Consideration as a competency is an acknowledgement that it benefits the individual as much as the collective.

To be considerate of others – and in particular of their learning needs – is to acquire an understanding of how others learn which in turn prompts the learner to reflect on their own learning. Consideration of others is therefore another meta-cognition tool, promoting empathy and awareness.

Of course it is also true that good behaviour, kindness, generosity, collaboration, sharing, mutual support and respect create outstanding learning teams and that each individual within that team therefore benefits. This competency points to these skills and attributes as well.

But on a more subtle level Consideration of others also acknowledges the need to be a selfish learner on occasion. Sometimes it is vital to stop the teacher and get them to explain again, even though you suspect everyone has got the point. Learning to be considerate in this context allows the learner to draw to themselves the resources they need to be successful without impinging on the rights and needs of others. This is a mature skill which matches the balance we all have to strike as human beings between looking after ‘number one’ and operating cooperatively.

The delivery of this competency is done through modeling, through the creation of a school wide ethos of kindness and cooperation and through the insistence that being considerate of others benefits the individual as much as it benefits the whole community.

Reasoning

The third competency of our six is Reasoning. It is a truism that everyone reasons but the question remains ‘how well?’. School children are often reluctant to reason beyond the shallowest trains of thought and will all too often adopt the ‘I don’t know’ approach. In our school, where the Competency Based Curriculum has been going for over a year, there is now a strong teacher-awareness of the unacceptability of the ‘I don’t know’ answer and they are also sensitised to the many alternative ways in which children deploy this strategy. There is the intense look of concentration and scratching of the chin; there is the excited bouncing up and down, saying ‘Ooh what is it? what IS it?’ Then there are those who are fond of just gazing back at the teacher looking vaguely uncomfortable and those who well-up in mock indignation at being asked to think!

Why don’t children attempt to reason and answer the question? Well, nearly always because they are frightened of failure and occasionally because they don’t want to be seen as teacher’s pet in a class with an anti-work ethos.

The staff have been influenced by Black and Wiliam’s Inside the Black Box http://ngfl.northumberland.gov.uk/keystage3ictstrategy/Assessment/blackbox.pdf
and are working to ensure their questions are open-ended and that they allow thinking time before asking for an answer. We have adopted a ‘hands down’ approach in Q & A so that everyone in the room has to think about the question in hand. At the same time I have promoted the idea that nobody learns much if every question is met by the right answer. Learning is wider spread and more profound when the wrong answer is given. ‘Let’s look at you why got that wrong – let’s look at how we might arrive at the right answer.’ This is teaching that promotes learning.

I get frustrated with teachers who resort to the phrase ‘you can lead a horse to water…’ implying that they have tried everything to promote intellectual engagement but without success. Instead we have to ‘go meta’ and start to encourage children to consider the purposes and benefits of persevering with reasoning. By drawing Reasoning out in the Competency Based Curriculum we create a balance in the school’s curriculum between knowledge (fact) based learning and skill (how to) based learning. In addition, we have Philosophy lessons in Year 7 and a Philosophy Club after school. See P4C http://tinyurl.com/b6hpzf.

It is relatively easy to create a ‘thinking school’ where the intake of children is selective. It is a different matter in a school with mixed ability and even harder where the local selective grammar schools have creamed off the top 25% of pupils. Much of what is written here about reasoning is common sense – the same is true of much of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) – but it is through persistent adhering to these simple principles that we make progress. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks of the need to find the single, simple idea that will unite the organisation and lead to coordinated effort. For our school that idea is very simple and blindingly obvious – we focus on teaching and learning! I guess many Heads (Principles) would say they do the same thing but do they do it?

A final thought: if, in a school, you had to cancel all meetings that didn’t talk about teaching and learning how much time would you be left with?

Independent Learning

Independent Learning is surely the holy grail of all educators. In her paper ‘Understanding Learners’ Jane Hart http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/describes how the current generation of learners have a style very different from the people who teach them. Yet the desire to get the pupils to ‘do it for themselves’ remains as strong as ever.

The difference now is that independent learning though technology is infinitely easier and a lot more fun.
The skills needed for independent learning have not remained the same. What I was bad at school and university was research, reading round and taking ownership. The school learners today are faced with the need not find information but to filter it; and not only that, but to focus on the learning in hand when the tool they are using – Web 2.0 – has so many other enticing distractions! By promoting Independent Learning as a specific competency the school invites teachers and pupils to engage in projects, homework and open-ended tasks that provide pupils with the chance to experiment and explore the realms of working for themselves.
The key to success here is to create a school culture where children feel safe to fail; and that is achieved by taking away grading systems, promoting formative assessment and keeping ‘competition’ out of the classroom.
It is in these last few aspects that this school starts to depart from the ethos of most mainstream schools.