Resource bases: What do stakeholders want and how can we ensure positive outcomes for pupils? – Beth Barnsley

In recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism and consequently an increase in those educated in mainstream settings. In response to this, local authorities have commissioned specialist provisions within mainstream schools in a bid to meet the needs of those children with autism who struggle to access mainstream classes, yet do not meet the criteria for special school placements. However, there is little research or guidance regarding how these resources bases could best meet the needs of those with autism.

Last year I had the privilege of opening a resource base for pupils with autism within the mainstream primary school in which I work. We already had a number of pupils on the spectrum and were keen to welcome more to our school community. This coincided with my masters research, giving the perfect opportunity to find out what different stakeholders valued in this type of provision. It appears that pupils, parents, professionals and the Local Authority value different things and no single model will meet all desired criteria for all parties. It is also evident that there is not one size fits all and individuals will have differing needs and require differing provision. The important question is how can resource bases combine the priorities of all stakeholders, cater for individual needs and ensure positive outcomes for all pupils?

Research in the area of resource bases is limited. There is much debate as to the benefits of inclusion for pupils with autism with a mixture of negative and positive views. Studies had identified factors believed to equate to effective provision and suggested these were more likely to be found in schools with resource bases. My research was limited in terms of numbers and geographical regions and can only be taken as indication of the views of the individuals and groups involved, however it did serve to raise both questions and recommendations.

Firstly, it was clear that resource bases provided a level of inclusion that everyone valued. Both parents and professionals believed academic and social progress to be central to effective provision. Parents valued individually focused strategies, staff collaboration, home-school collaboration, attempts to identify triggers, awareness raising, visual cues, levels of training and autism specific knowledge. Professionals felt that there were no clear criteria and that there is a need for more clarification as to where bases fit in the continuum of educational provision. There was also a concern that equality of access to expert agencies was not comparable to special schools. Both parents and professionals felt individualisation was key and that pupils should be supported on a needs basis. Professionals highlighted strong leadership driving inclusion as important.

A focus on communication and interaction, individual strengths and interests and a whole school inclusive ethos, flexibility of approach and environment were vital in providing ‘good’ education according to professionals. Communication and dissemination of skills were considered imperative in meeting all children’s needs. It was felt that staff should not only a have high quality of training and experience but attributes such as flexibility, patience, in depth knowledge of individuals, calm responses and a sense of humour were also considered key. This raises the question of how we foster the wellbeing of those professionals supporting the children which is an under researched and even neglected aspect of effective support.

Professionals and pupils raised the issue of accessibility of provisions. Community and inclusion were considered important yet there were concerns that some pupils were travelling outside of their communities. It would be useful to evaluate the consequences of placing pupils outside of their local community and due consideration needs to be given as to how settings ensure families are included within the school community.

Pupils valued peer awareness, small classes, a calm environment and opportunities to develop friendships. They identified environmental aspects and resources such as space, sensory rooms and access to ICT; staff aspects such as training and support with anxiety and frustration; peer relationships and issues relating to unstructured times such as lunchtime. Pupils valued space, fun, happy staff with good knowledge and understanding and enthusiasm. They also wanted staff to be flexible and compromising. Issues such as space, overcrowding and designated areas could make the difference between a highly anxious and unhappy pupil and one who feels comfortable, supported and ready to learn. Pupils also expressed a wish for inclusion both in terms of their peers but also in terms of the school and community as a whole. Pupils mentioned anxiety and support with managing this to be an important need, yet anxiety was not an immediate consideration for the professionals.

The findings of this study, however small scale reveal a number of areas that require further research in addition to some key points for both policy and practice. I would recommend that guidance be produced to support new resource bases in establishing quality provision, including a minimum level of training for specialist resource base staff and continual professional development for whole school staff.

LAs and settings need to consider the distance pupils are travelling and take steps to ensure families of those travelling further are included within the school community. Consideration of the environment and available resources is necessary when identifying settings conducive to resources bases. We need to listen to pupils when they tell us how important the environment is for their wellbeing and ensure the social, emotional and mental wellbeing of those with autism is a priority.

The commissioning or allocation of additional resources so that bases have an equal level of specialist outside agency support as those in special school would help ensure equal opportunities. There is a need for greater collaboration between parents, pupils, local authorities and settings regarding the allocation of placements, clearer criteria and increased fluidity between provisions to ensure pupils are able to access the right provision at the right time. Parents need accessible information regarding the different provisions available, admissions procedures and greater opportunity to visit and express preference before decisions regarding placements are made. Is the purpose of bases to support pupils struggling to access mainstream education with the ultimate aim of moving to mainstream, are they mini special schools, or is each one different? Until a comprehensive piece of research is undertaken on a wide scale we will not know how effective resources bases are, what best practice might be or what the outcomes are for pupils in comparison to mainstream and special schools.

Ref relating to autism education in mainstream

Beth Barnsley is an Assistant Head Teacher and SENCO

Reflections on an Entitlement to the Arts – Mervyn Benford

“Schoolsweek” and NAPE’s “Primary First” recently featured work I did in the 1960s under Nuffield Junior Science- designed to produce what employers have consistently claimed missing when recruiting- people who can think for themselves, make decisions, take responsibility, work in teams and solve problems. Science suffers political ideology. Children’s entitlement is left a lottery. One result sees employers increasingly disown grades and certificates that parents, politicians and, paradoxically, those same employers have so hallowed. Those same intellectual virtues empower the Arts: the same conclusions emerge. In art activities, the brain investigates, adapts, appreciates, solves problems, at times involving teamwork. In the first school in which I taught- a large 420-pupil urban junior Y3-6 in Essex, I had scavenged for Nuffield science work from Marconi’s a heap of mixed scrap from which one pupil actually made a sculpture rather than a science investigation.

Painting was the major form of weekly artwork in most primaries, though in many cases coloured pencils, later felt-tip pens, were more usual. Paint was less used to support topic work then the regular curriculum diet, certainly not in the way a NET advocacy school in Slough treated studies of Chinese art. There is also the Y3/4 teacher in a small Cheshire village school, who had been a former bank employee but in mere minutes brought such as Picasso and Kandinsky to breath-taking life. Art really is exploited in good schools.

My commitment to the arts derived from having seen what teachers could draw out of children using their own talents and interests. It had encouraged me in two classes in my second large urban junior school to ask each to compose a Cantata, words, music and acting.

In the small village school (Lewknor) I led for 15 years I was determined to open the doors. For the first five years, entire Thursdays for the 50-60 pupils were devoted to art, later just the mornings as we reviewed aims rarely inspected or tested. I welcomed offers from artists and enthusiasts in the wider community. Staff, parents and local community all had good levels of skills on which we could draw, not least sewing and knitting. At age 14 my granddaughter has just been told by her art teacher she should take ‘A’ level now and by-pass GCSE. One of her great personal delights is making family birthday cakes of exquisite individualised design and careful construction. Art invades most human practical activities if recognised.

Printing in many forms was regularly undertaken both as a taught activity or a means to illustrate other work. Our adjacent church often appeared left to right reversed before they realised how printing worked!

Children learned that art in its great variety used hands and mind to convey meaning, appreciating certain qualities like line, form, colour, texture, relevant medium and in the 2D work composition. As an Ofsted RGI I was impressed by a 3-class school where older and younger pupil pairs did more than the reading that had become a norm, but also shared computer and art work, producing remarkably effective “master/apprentice” experiences!

In my later work helping develop quality in Swedish schools, derived from my Ofsted years, I observed pre-school children learning from a local expert to make traditional winter mittens from sheep’s’ wool. In another pre-school framed paintings down the wall by the stairs, much as I remember in a superb NET advocacy special school in Banbury, had started as group paintings on long lengths of paper roll before the extension task to select a piece for individual framing, effectively composition! The Arts are now seen as highly effective in lifting overall performance for disadvantaged children.  Does anyone remember Maud?

2017 also sees fresh affirmation of music strengthening language and Maths in all children. This has been observed for decades but is still not recognised enough by those prizing textbooks and computer programs. The sheer satisfaction of personal achievement raises self-esteem, in turn prompting effort and achievement in more difficult tasks.

What is the ‘sense’ in Sensory Education? – Craig Clarke

Frequently in Special education we encounter the word ‘sensory’. We have sensory rooms, sensory diets, sensory stories, sensory circuits, sensory walks, and sensory gardens. Used in these myriad ways, what does the word ‘sensory’ mean?

The dictionary definition of sensory reads: ‘relating to sensation or the physical senses; transmitted or perceived by the senses’. Quite literally everything that we do as human beings is, in some way, a sensory activity. As I type this I can feel the firm plastic of the keyboard on my fingers and hear the thrum of the keys being tapped. I can smell the coffee in my cup that I see sitting on the coaster next to my computer. Yet, despite the sensory feedback I am receiving from this activity, I would never call this activity ‘sensory typing’, ‘sensory ICT’ or ‘sensory blogging’.

Significantly, for some pupils with special educational needs it would likely be confusing to use the term ‘sensory’ to describe contrasting spaces, activities, objects and experiences. What exactly do a sensory room, garden, story, walk or circuit have in common? Clearly the commonalty is the senses, but to take this logic to the extreme, the word ‘sensory’ should prefix every single location or activity within a school. ‘Sensory hall’, ‘sensory reception’, sensory snack’, ‘sensory toilet’, ‘sensory work experience’, ‘sensory swimming’ and so on. However, this naming convention is completely unworkable and obscures the function or nature of the room or activity.

When people talk about a ‘sensory garden’ presumably we are talking about a garden with significant points of visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory and, if we can ‘scrump’ an apple, gustatory interest. Arguably, a garden without a combination of these things fails to be a successful garden at all. As such, is the word ‘sensory’ a meaningful description of this space?

Let’s take a sensory story as another example. Sensory stories are tales enhanced by the same stimulus detailed above. Again, shouldn’t all stories contain a combination of these if we’re to inspire our learners, regardless of their needs? And if we do, surely they simply become ‘stories’ rather than ‘sensory stories’. By arguing the case for interesting sensory experiences to be the norm in our environment, teaching and learning, the word ‘sensory’ becomes completely redundant.

My concern is that the word ‘sensory’ shifts our focus away from the learning we expect to see in the activity at hand. Consider a sensory room where bubble tubes are fully-lit and firing, with music buzzing from a stereo and a TV show humming away on a screen. How can a place so busy, so full of sensory feedback, ever be considered an effective space for thoughtful, targeted teaching and learning? We need to unearth the immense potential these spaces have when used in very particular ways with a specific learning objective in mind. With the word ‘sensory’ preceding a range of locations, strategies and activities in special schools, we run the serious risk of doing things and subjecting our pupils to experiences, rather than teaching them and promoting their participation and independence in their learning.

Of course, we recognise that some of our children require specific resources, methodologies and inputs to illicit responses and to support them in their education. Furthermore, introducing interesting sounds, tastes, images, smells and textures into a lesson are an excellent way of exciting all learners. For example, this might take the form of using musical instruments to support a child in developing their auditory discrimination skills. We could use a range of smells as part of a communication activity where a child is learning to express a preference. A light toy is an excellent resource to teach a child to fix their gaze on and track a moving object as part of their early development skills. Calling these activities ‘sensory’ learning is unhelpful: we need to think much more carefully and intelligently about the terms we are using to describe our pupils’ learning and the specific skills that we are teaching them.

These sensory stimuli are the means by which we teach and should not define the learning that is taking place. Every teacher tailors their resources to the learning at hand in classrooms across the country. In the same way that I would use Base Ten resources to support the teaching of place value, I could use a water spray to teach a child how to anticipate. However, teaching place value doesn’t become ‘Base Ten learning’ in the same way that using a water spray to teach anticipation shouldn’t become ‘sensory learning’. In both cases I’ve identified the objective (understanding of place value; anticipation) and the means by which I want to teach it (Base Ten; water spray). In the latter example, at no point does the word ‘sensory’ need to be factored into my considerations: the objective, anticipation, should define the learning.

Recently, we replaced our sensory room and were eager to give it a new name. ‘Early Development Room’ sounded somewhat clinical, so instead we opted for ‘The Bubble’. The intention was that, by selecting an abstract name, there would be no preconceptions about what the room may be used for: it would be a blank canvas in which to create exciting learning opportunities. So, as our school moves into its own bubble, I wonder if some of us in Special education need to move out of our sensory bubble, leaving said word behind and thinking more critically and carefully about the resources we use, how we use them and, ultimately, what we want to teach our students.

Craig Clarke is Assistant Headteacher at Bardwell School

Learners First – Rob Stokoe OBE

 We live in interesting and challenging times as educators.  Challenging in that we know so much more about how we learn and how positivity, happiness and wellbeing have the ability to enhance learning and transform classrooms. As a consequence we are continually adapting as we embrace new understandings.  We also live with another truth which is pertinent to today and tomorrow, the only constant is change. If you accept that our lives are dominated by challenge and rapid change then pause for a moment, the students in our classrooms today will see the 22nd Century and the best way to manage change is to prepare for it.

New Visions of Learning

Today we are able to give consideration to new visions of learning; better suited to the connectedness and the increasing influence of the knowledge society. Educators have a greater understanding as to how learning takes place and how the brain seeks to make connections as it grows and learns. Within our schools and beyond them we have the potential to rephrase how learning occurs and where; to engage and empower students to pursue knowledge, to connect learning and to inform their interests and unique potential as they actively participate in their own learning.  Connecting student interest and curiosity to academic success, encouraging them to think about their learning, metacognition.  Teachers are adopting much more varied roles as they activate and generate learning. These ‘choreographers of learning’ think about learning as being relational as well  as linear, they shape lives as they support and guide students and  encourage risk taking as students gain greater ownership of their learning. They create opportunity for learning through the creation of safe and secure learning experiences where positivity informs the learning process and individual growth.

Building Capacity

Amongst many other things great learning is born of effective relationships at all levels, and an understanding of the perspectives of others.  The same can be said of great schools. In this paradigm, to be effective, change must focus upon successful, engaging learning which offers purpose and seeks to build capacity.  Unlocking the individual and collective potential within our schools is not the remit of individuals it must be a well-orchestrated, collective effort. As we place learning experiences before our students we need to clarify the purpose of any learning activity and its link to previous experience where applicable. This approach encourages students to become more self-aware, more able to see connections in their learning which promotes intentional learning.  These positive attitudes of mind and this growing self-awareness are capable of enabling students to integrate knowledge, to be confident in their learning potential and to become active and engaged learners.

Happy and Positive Learners

As educators our purpose is to inform successful learning for all of our students, to assist in the development of their capacity to live resilient, happy and fulfilling lives. They in turn want to be involved in the process of learning, they want to understand, and they want to be happy. We strive to develop skills and understanding, positive attitudes and resilience, and (most importantly) to sustain every student as a happy, successful learner, a creative curiosity machine.  Our students want to engage in positive learning experiences, to be involved in the process of learning, and to experience continual growth. As educators our purpose must be to inform successful learning, to make students aware of their success and able to celebrate it, continually growing their skills, their potential. Crucially, we must also maintain their creativity and curiosity as well as their positive attitudes and resilience.

Professional Collaboration

On issues related to learning, to learner growth and development over time there is a clear need for professional collaboration with authentic and purposeful engagement. It is the foundation of our professional context and growth. We need to come together to create better learners. To do this, we need to connect regularly as professionals and develop professional networks where educators are not only encouraged but wish to collaborate.  Teachers need to create a new paradigm for powerful learning, one in which we co-evolve, escaping our own thinking bubbles.  Collaboration through professional thinking teams presents the opportunity for teachers to think together and grow their collaborative abilities. This context will allow teachers to share insights into their strengths and successes; ultimately setting higher goals and expectations. Connecting professionals in such a meaningful and purposeful way is at the heart of improving schools and is a driver for innovation, focused change and ongoing challenge. Professional collaboration has the potential to energise and even transform classrooms in meaningful ways as long as we remain focused upon the notion of continually nurturing great learners and students who are emotional millionaires.  We would always acknowledge that genuine positivity is motivational, actively encouraging engagement, creativity and resilience.

Building Capacity for Change

Leading and managing such collaboration is not without challenge or risk but if we build consensus we will strengthen capacity for change, change that is cohesive and highly engaging. Effective leaders are skilled influencers. They build strong interpersonal relationships, engaging the abilities and often untapped potential of teachers to generate individual growth and great learning to the fullest. The best leaders are talent recognisers. They enhance teacher quality and capability by building people from within. They are great listeners who offer genuine interest and have an aptitude of humility. They think beyond their self-interest.  The most effective leaders actively seek to empower others. They give them opportunities to think, to innovate and to grow as they continually identify, encourage, support and reward our educators to release their true potential creating strong futures for their schools and for the wider profession.  Striving to develop the individual within allows us to build opportunities for an increasingly positive impact upon pupil learning, behaviours and character development.  As educators, continuous improvement is our moral imperative and a focus upon student wellbeing our moral compass. When we grow our individual learning potential we will be happier as will our students and our colleagues. It is my belief that every educator looks to learn continuously, responding to their professional, want to learn.

As educators demonstrate their care in nurturing safe, consistent and supportive learning relationships, their consistency will develop trust – a pre-requisite for effective classrooms and effective learning. Trust will always be built upon authentic emotions such as concern, care and empathy. Maintaining high levels of trust allow us to offer intellectual challenge developing opportunities for the ongoing protection and development of personal attributes such as curiosity, creativity, mental agility and resilience. Demand for innovation and progress determine that we educate beyond core skills, we must build further, think deeper and engender creativity, intellectual curiosity and honest inquiry. These attributes will equip students with the security and confidence to adapt to new learning situations. When partnered with the coherent integration of new technologies and the world beyond the classroom, this will greatly enrich and enliven their curriculum experience. The real test of a broad and balanced curriculum is the ability of students to confront a new problem and to have the confidence and skills to seek a new solution.

Creativity, Curiosity and the Ability to Think

We should not risk our students losing their creativity, curiosity and ability to think. Instead we should create a context where we enhance the potential of our learners through the use of imagination and intuitive creativity in an emotionally secure environment. However intentional learning, creativity and problem solving will always bring challenge and therefore risk. Positive emotional states can inform learning and are conducive to creativity yet we must balance this against the fact that to learn deeply and effectively, to be creative is never easy.  Creativity and learning causes us to think about things in a new way, it can be a breakthrough experience, such as the ‘Eureka’ moment, but this is a rare event. More often creativity and learning is a building process. It needs many, often small incremental changes which in high frequency bring about growth and collectively can inform wider change.  Creativity more often requires that we walk the path of most resistance, the path least often taken, because that is where the most creative solutions lie.

Core Competencies

Effective learning environments need to provide a range of learning experiences and opportunities offering a blend of structured activities that inform the development of key skills and accessible core competencies, critical reflection and the ability to ask focused questions. At the same time our classrooms need to offer potential for collaboration, play, exploration, creativity and mental agility. It will be interesting for us to consider what these core competencies need to be. A starting point may be the following:

  • Social competence, personal and team engagement, the ability to collaborate
  • The ability to ask questions and effective written and oral communication
  • The ability to influence, both on an individual and collective level.
  • To be able to access information and data.
  • To be curious, to analyse, to think and to innovate

I am sure the list will extend well beyond this but the key message is that in order to deliver this we need to integrate, to connect our learning experiences rather than continue with our current approach to curriculum delivery which was founded on the Carnegie principles of 125 years ago. Education had a different purpose then. Learning environment for today and tomorrow must make a deliberate step away from: This is what we do; the one subject area at a time and the one-shoe-fits-all approach. How can we possibly develop a blueprint for what children are to become? We have the adults of the 22nd Century in our classrooms today.  What is certain is that the less compartmentalised and rigid our curriculum is the more we offer potential for curiosity and creativity and the ability to think and solve problems.

Accessing Integrated Knowledge

In activating such powerful learning we must ensure a curriculum experience which is connected and accessible.  Accessing integrated knowledge that makes sense to students and is perceived as useful can provide a strong framework for personal growth, reflection and intellectual thinking. Such a curriculum must focus upon enquiry, critical thinking and increasing student capability as young people experience various ways of learning, new experiences and challenges that respect their unique talents.  These experiences will be offered in a diverse setting accessing written, oral and social means of learning which will include teamwork and collaboration. When this dynamic and positive context is realised, we will have created the best of learning situations, the best of schools.

Today’s educators must demonstrate the courage to risk, to seek meaning, in order to develop strong, robust learners. We need to nurture self-confidence in our learners as we walk the path of realisation that our mistakes are positive learning experiences.  Working in collaborative environments, we need to accept that students construct learning from diverse experience as they draw upon their previous knowledge. We need to choreograph active and engaging learning in environments where inquiry and critical thinking, curiosity and creativity are shared and valued every moment of every day.

I believe that great educators want to collaborate, contribute to and believe in innovative schools. Schools where every classroom is full of compassion, creativity, challenge and Innovation, and where mindful action creates intellectual and social learning environments that foster academic success and emotional security.

We create opportunities for our students to gain confidence in themselves as unique learners, building their individual capacity to learn, and we give them the confidence to use it as they respond to their curiosity, inquire and meet the challenges life will offer.  Our students expect great futures. For our part, we must provide environments that increases every learners’ sense of success and resilience in meeting the trials and challenges of today, preparing them for a better tomorrow.

Rob Stoke OBE is Managing Director at Al Futtaim Education Foundation

Can you replace a teacher with a robot? By Chris Yapp

Here we go again? Twenty years ago, the question being asked was “can you replace a teacher with a computer?” A case of déjà vu? There is a phrase in Hungarian that translated roughly means “there is nothing new in the world, only those things that we have forgotten”.

The standard answer 20 years ago, was “any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be replaced by a computer”. Is it different this time? For a start, developments in “big data”, “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” are impacting on other professional disciplines. In medicine, diagnostic systems can outperform skilled clinicians. The practise of law is being impacted by these technologies. We can find examples in architecture, accounting and many other disciplines. There are many studies suggesting that 40-60% of today’s jobs will be eliminated or seriously transformed in the next 20 years by advances across the technology spectrum.  Can education claim sufficient uniqueness that teaching alone will not be impacted by robotics and AI?

The problem about the above paragraph and many like it, is that it addresses the wrong question. Try this instead: “how can the education system, its institutions and professionals embrace, appropriately, advances in technology to improve access to and the experience of learning for professionals and students alike?”

Do you believe that the education system that we have is the best that there could be? Would an injection of more money, on its own, eliminate all significant challenges? I’d be happy to debate with anybody who believes that both the above questions can be answered yes.

For a start, technology has played a significant part in special needs education in lowering the barriers. We still have serious educational inequalities to address. Teacher stress leading to retention problems, difficulties in finding enough Heads. I could go on, but you know them better than I do.

For as long as I have been engaged with educational technologies, there has been a constant background debate about how to make education a researched-based profession. Too much education research is too small to have a real impact on policy and practise, be it at institutional or classroom level.

I would argue that the current round of technology advances provides the platform for the realisation of the teacher as an action researcher at scale. Links between education researchers and practitioners could at the system level using big data, AI and machine learning and low cost computing help create a culture of education research led by the needs of teachers. In my experience, schools do not suffer from a lack of creativity or innovation. The problem that I have seen is that innovations do not spread across the system. Imagine a health system where each hospital defined its own treatment and drug regimes. Health has its own problems, but there is a culture of spreading practise systemically. I can still use examples from the 1990s about practise in schools that I observed such as virtual reality in a primary school, modern foreign languages between children in classes in different countries and people think I’m talking about the future.

Now let’s look at the school level. Here I would argue is that schools have become masters of adapting to change imposed on them, often framed in the language of earned autonomy, guided localism. You are free to do what we tell you! My own feeling is that people do not resist change, they resist being changed.

I would argue that if schools do not embrace these advances they are not preparing young people for adult life and work in a world where these technologies will be pervasive. However, the obvious push back is that the computer that a 5-year-old uses will be nothing like the ones they will use when they are adults, so how can schools deliver without massive injections of resources?

Consider the diagram below:

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 09.14.20.png

Start by thinking about problems and opportunities you have, at classroom level or at institutional level. Back in the 1990s I evaluated a small project where a number of children with serious health problems were given technology that enabled them to stay involved with their school, their friends when in hospital or at home. When one child was in remission they were able to be reintroduced back to school without having experienced significant disruption to their education while away. Think about how you might enhance the education in your school by external links. In the 1990s I was involved in a school project where we had an “artist in non-residence”. An art teacher working in a school classroom had access to a professional artist who contributed to a school art project from his studio miles away. In a deprived community, another school opened at evenings and weekends to train parents and grandparents in how to use computers, true community schooling.

These examples all started from ideas generated from practitioners having real problems that they wanted to see if computers could help. The lesson 20 years ago, and now is the same. The Learning horse pulls the technology cart, not the other way around.

In stable times, our values and purposes can be implicit. In changing and turbulent times, we will get nowhere if we are not confident in our purpose and values.

So, what are the purposes of education? What are our values, as society, teachers or parents? These are old questions. We have new tools of incredible potential, but it is potential only.

My advice is this. Don’t be afraid of AI, machine learning, robots and big data. On the other hand, do not be complacent about change. The work teachers do will be different. How schools operate will change. The issue is whether we manage change well, or badly.

So, what would be my hopes for the next 10 years?

  1. We think about building a model of change management for education at the system and institutional level that involves and engages the professionals throughout the change process
  2. We build a system for diffusing innovations that work across all schools. Research in education should, at least in part, be driven by practitioners needs and assessed by their outcomes.
  3. We take the ideas of “schools without walls” seriously and look how links to other institutions can enrich the experience for teachers and pupils alike.
  4. We build new models for the development of both curriculum and assessment that consider technology advances and how teacher satisfaction and skills are part of the process not a bolt on or afterthought. I am reminded of Seymour Papert: “don’t teach children about computers, use computers to teach them about the world”. Please remember that computers are in that world.
  5. We need an education system at every level is confident about its purpose and values. We are preparing children for a world which we do not understand. Alec Reed, founder of REED Group put it to me well 20 years ago, He described the culture change in comparison to another rite of passage. He envisaged success as a world where students on leaving school put on their L plates to say “I am a learner” rather than take them off because they passed or failed.

At the end of the day, throwing technology at an ill-defined problem doesn’t help. If the dialogue goes like this “the answer is X, what’s the problem”, you know we are the next in a long line of “modems in cupboards” initiatives.

I used to say that the biggest policy problem was the flawed belief was


Add to that OLD WORLD (Teacher) NEW WORLD (Robot +AI).

The College of Teaching is a welcome development for me. Its aspirations fit my beliefs about what education needs to be, at the forefront of building the adults and workforce of the next generations.

Have a fun and productive 2017.

Chris is an independent Consultant specialising in Innovation and futures thinking. He has a 30 year background in IT and 25 of IT in Education. He is also a Patron of NACE, The National Association of Able Children in Education.

Training Teachers: Obstacles and Opportunities in 2017

As we rush headlong into 2017, with the excesses of Christmas slowly receding into memory, we all enter that period of committing to best-laid plans and hope-fuelled resolutions. Crucially, however, our resolutions are quickly hidden under shouty to-do lists and piles of marking. For most teachers, we want to get better and make improvements on the year before, but the necessary support and school structures can too often prove lacking.

As we admit our obstacles, we can angrily bemoan our workload (hey, it is the God-given right of every teacher) and complain about excess accountability and wrongheaded testing, but we should also recognise that many of the solutions to improving workload and to enhancing the quality of teacher training are within our grasp too.

Schools across the country are creating a regular rhythm of professional training that finds meaningful time and tools for teachers to reflect on their practice. In many schools, there are weekly or fortnightly training slots that allow teachers the time and tools to collaborate and plan together. It may require schools finishing early on a given day (with an inevitable wrangle over school buses), or schools being creative with collapsed timetable days etc., but it is doable and there are examples across the country.

Regular, high-quality CPD and planning time allows teachers time to get their head around the new curriculum and assessment model that has seemingly crashed into our working lives with force. Teacher training should not be an added burden to workload, ticking off boxes for performance management purposes, but instead a meaningful way to share our resources and lower the burden of all recreating our own resources and approaches to the new curriculum.

Many schools are harnessing the greater capacity of local collaboration, be it Multi-Academy Trusts or TSA partnerships, so that they can afford to budget for external expertise and challenge one another with their respective teacher expertise. Though our school system may be more fractured that in other countries, there is an appetite for better training and a fast increasing awareness of evidence in education and the useful science of learning.

With emergent organisations, like Research Schools (run by the ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ and the ‘Institute for Effective Education’), The College of Teaching, The Institute for Teaching and others, supporting established organisations like Teaching Schools, the Teaching School Council, The Teacher Development Trust, the National College, and the National Educational Trust, we have a great deal of deep expertise in our school system to help guide professional development.

What we must do is reject the deficit model of teachers and teaching that sees CPD as a compliance exercise, with teachers punching in yet more data to feed the tracking monster. We need training that allows the requisite time and space for subject specific knowledge and learning (along with any equivalent school phase). This should be supported by robust evidence about how children learn and the most impactful ways to teach.

With the new Chief Inspector for schools, Amanda Spielman, taking over the reins at OFSTED, there is the promise of accountability reform to help us further. As an entirely new curriculum and assessment model has been initiated, we can rightly consider that we have a few years to teach, train and develop upon our expertise. Hey, we can hope – 2016 is over; 2017 promises us better, surely!

With our newly coined resolutions pristine and fragile in our hands, we can, as teachers and school leaders, resolve to initiate the developments to our continuous professional development that best support our teachers who are working to manage their workload and grasp a new curriculum.

The DfE Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development ( is a helpful place to start to evaluate your existing CPD provision so that you can ensure that 2017 is the year that best supports teachers with great training.


Alex Quigley is Director of Huntington Research School – find out more about their work here:

His recent book, “The Confident Teacher”, can be purchased here:

3 ways CPD can support the most vulnerable pupils

This blog gives a flavour of some of the ideas you will hear at the joint TDT/NET event – Developing Teachers to Meet the Needs of Vulnerable Learners – January 17th, London. Book your tickets here.

As teachers improve, the most at-risk children benefit. School is much tougher when you have to deal with ongoing mental, physical and emotional challenges. For these children the impact of the teacher can be much greater. If we improve the way we support and develop teachers then we can make a real difference for our most vulnerable pupils.

Target your CPD

Before you engage in some learning, do some preparation. Spend a short time identifying two or three vulnerable pupils that you teach. Consider what you might need to learn or improve to help them.

During the process – whether one-off training or something more extended – keep a page of notes with columns ruled for each pupil. Jot down:

  • Ideas you’ve heard that could help that pupil;
  • How you might assess whether the idea is really working;
  • How you might uncover more information about the issues; and
  • Who you could contact to get support & challenge.

Collect feedback constantly

Back in the classroom, you will want to try out new ideas. When you plan your lesson, make sure you plan ways to collect feedback. You want to constantly check: “am I making a difference yet?”

You are looking to collect information to help you understand your progress. You also want to uncover as much information as possible about the pupils’ learning. Feedback could include:

  • One-to-one interviews – you could record the audio or video if you have the correct permissions;
  • Asking pupils to write down responses to a carefully-designed question or task;
  • An informal multiple-choice test (there’s good guidance on these here);
  • Whole-class questioning using mini whiteboards; and
  • Mock examinations.

Bring the information that you collect to a discussion with colleagues. Use the different perspectives within the group to explore different ways to view the findings.

Connect with expertise

Identify those who can help you find the best approaches. You need to find digests of research about why different issues appear and summaries of research about the most effective interventions. Ideally, you need assessment tools and approaches that can reveal more about underlying issues as well as track progress as you learn.

Examples of expertise could include:

Find out more

Find out more about effective teacher development:

David Weston is the Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust and Chair of the DfE CPD Expert Group. David will be speaking at the TDT/NET event on 17th January in London. Follow him on Twitter at @informed_edu