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

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The Special Schools’ Curriculum Question By Lara Hughes

With the removal of National Curriculum Levels and the impending demise of P Scales many Special Schools are feeling worried about what they are going to replace them with. For some, the anxiety is even greater because these assessment materials have formed the basis of their whole curriculum. This is the unintended consequence of any assessment; teaching to the test.  Assessment criteria can also act as a crutch, so when a teacher thinks, “I don’t know what to do next for this student” they refer to the criteria for the next stage and so become intellectually disengaged with what learning looks like for that student. Whilst the P scales may offer some guidance, they do not and were not intended to show the nuanced progress that a child can make, either vertically or more often laterally and were certainly not formed to be used as the backbone of any curriculum framework.

But that does not answer the question, “What is a school to do?” As with all complex decisions and processes there is no one solution and in a recent conference held jointly by Swiss Cottage School, Camden and Frank Wise School, Banbury, it was clear that many Special Schools are indeed being brave enough to create their own, confident in the knowledge that theirs is the right curriculum for their students. No child is the same as another and so by extrapolation, no school of students will be the same, so it is up to the headteacher, senior leaders, teachers and teaching assistants in collaboration with parents to create a curriculum that promotes the aims and aspirations they have for those children and young adults. Once you have the “Why?” you can begin to formulate the “What?” and the “How?”

So all schools must begin with their vision and this should not just be some polished beautifully sounding epithet. It must be what is truly aspired for in relation to their whole community. What does the school believe? Is it all about individuality and functionality or is this interwoven with being part of many communities and having exposure to a breadth of experience? No answer is right or indeed wrong, but it has to be believed and supported by all stakeholders including the students themselves.

Once the vision is secure, the process of identifying what this will look like in practice can begin. Will the curriculum be broad and balanced or will it be tightly focussed on those skills that are needed for life beyond school; be that college, work or independent living? Will students be given the opportunity to find and develop interests and passions? Will the curriculum be internally driven and outward facing? Will the learning provide students for the lives they can lead in the future whilst also being expansive and aspirational? Will time be given to enable students to be fully immersed in the world that is presented to them through school?

From the broad categories of “What?” comes the intellectual demands of working out ‘How?’ this learning can be delivered. Schemes of work are not called for as this provides another ‘off-the-peg’ model for teachers which assume they cannot work out what their students need and hampers their innate creativity. Guidance documents however, prove very effective and if these are created in working parties in which teachers have an intellectual investment in the process, their understanding of underpinning skills for each area is rigorous.

The curriculum framework and guidance documents must also give thought to the thread that connects learning from a child’s first exposure to school through to post 16, post 19 and beyond. How can we make transition points smooth and ease students through the tangled web of getting older whilst developing cognitively at their own pace?

And beyond the curriculum, schools must consider the learning that happens throughout the day at other points. How do we notice and promote those? How can we capture the interactions between students at lunch times for example? Are the spontaneous decisions students make to solve a problem such as feeling thirsty recorded too?

So, in summary, here are some key questions a school should consider when embarking on this process:

  • What is the vision for our students? How does this relate to our aims and objectives?
  • Within the already segregated environment of a special school (segregated from their mainstream peers), do we want to be truly inclusive?
  • How can we encourage inclusion in the local community?
  • Are we making decisions in the best interests of the students or in the best interests of the staff? For example, is mixed ability just too hard?
  • Are we challenging our formally held beliefs? Do they stand a rigorous critique?
  • The process of preparing for adulthood does not begin in post 16 provision. Are we planning for it early enough?
  • Have we asked our students what their aspirations for the future are?
  • Is what we offer fun and engaging?

And once you have created the ‘perfect’ curriculum for your students, one that is like opening a box of wonder for each student, remember that is just the beginning. It should be ever-evolving; dynamic rather than static and robust rather than rigid. Any curriculum, if grown in this way also bears well under the scrutiny and sway of national policy change; external guidance act as a mirror by which to reflect upon what a school has. It should not rock the foundations but make them all the more secure. Questioning and challenge serve to make stronger the beliefs we all hold.

Lara Hughes is a Deputy Headteacher at Frank Wise School

Thoughts on lesson observations #6 | Subject leader without portfolio

As a Special school we organise our approach to lesson observation on fairly traditional lines. They are generally conducted by the Senior Leadership Team and Subject Leaders, with a focus on staff appraisal and the monitoring of subject based learning, supplemented with peer to peer observations for particular purposes.

Recently I relinquished my role as a subject leader. I no longer have a responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of a particular subject and yet as a Deputy Headteacher I still have responsibility for monitoring and evaluating this aspect of the school’s work. I am also mindful that not observing lessons on a regular basis would leave me at risk of being further removed from the reality of classroom practice.

So as a school we took the decision to reflect on the areas where formal observation is less likely to occur and consider how best to evaluate the quality of what takes place. We created a subject leader without portfolio.

In our 4- 18 context there are a wide range of areas of learning which are not subject specific but are still significant priorities for individual children’s development. These are not necessarily areas such as behaviour or the pupils’ social interaction skills, which form part of more formal observations within the classroom, but rather things such as: how adults support transitions between one location within the school and another during unstructured times; how teachers reduce the amount of adult intervention when encouraging pupils to work with a greater degree of independence outside of the classroom; or how we evaluate variances in approaches to supported social interactions during play, when pupils are supported by a wider range of less familiar staff.

So as we begin exploring this approach, here are a few examples of areas which may need further investigation.

Extension activities

This is part of the week where children are expected to work with a greater degree of independence on tasks which have been successfully completed 1:1 or within carefully structured subject based lessons. The expectation is that they will demonstrate an ability to generalise their learning without necessarily being directly supported by an adult. The importance of this time in the week is that it helps to reduce the risks of dependency upon the adult and introduces a wider range of resources, materials and expectations around the learned concept or skill.

Arrival into school

Our responsibility for learning starts the moment the child steps off the bus, ensuring that they arrive in the classroom ready to work. But beyond that transition from the informal environment to the formal one, there are many skills associated with the process of getting yourself safely and appropriately to the classroom. Can you navigate a busy environment, do you respond to spontaneous social interactions in the same way you do to expected social routines, are you able to avoid unnecessary distractions, and do you make well judged decisions about the order in which things need to be done?

These are all aspects of what we teach in the classroom, but are we evaluating as effectively the nature of these interactions as they take place elsewhere?

Play

For us, ‘play’ is a perennial concern. Not just the notion of learning through play and learning to play as elements of the taught curriculum, but the quality of what happens during break time. Here we generally have a broader range of children interacting with one another and a broader range of adults responsible for this. We are also likely to have a less generous staffing ratio than within the classroom. Yet this is a vital part of the school day in terms of developing our pupils’ capability to interact, communicate and negotiate successfully, and one which we are aware we could be doing better.

Choosing Time

This is an opportunity earned by pupils at the very end of the day to select a particular resource or activity to share with peers or use by themselves. This provides opportunities for a greater degree of self-direction and choice with regards to social interactions and the extent to which attention is sustained. Adults are often focused on supporting pupils with their personal care at this time, reducing the staff ratio and requiring a greater degree of independent participation from the children.

Although the above are areas which may appear to have less tangible impacts upon the attainment within the classroom, they are material to the creation of a culture where learning permeates the environment and where an atmosphere of calm and purposeful activity prevails. It also allows us to make informed, conscious decisions about where we may wish to increase the degree of variability and independence, ensuring that we are equipping our pupils to cope with a wider range of adults and other children responding in unexpected ways.

In taking a structured approach to the reduction of structure, we are aiming to ensure that our pupils are equipped for life beyond the school in its broadest sense.

Continuing the analogy of the surgeon and the scalpel, do we as schools need to be less focused on the major organs, and ensure that we address the patient as a whole?

Simon Knight is Deputy Head of Frank Wise School, Banbury, and a NET Associate Director.

The schools March 2015 Ofsted report is worth reading.

Herd Immunity

The last few years has seen a rise in the number of cases of measles in the United Kingdom. The reduction in the percentage of children being vaccinated, either with MMR or with the single measles vaccine, makes it easier for the virus to spread and this has prompted action from policy makers and health professionals.

Vaccination works on herd immunity, meaning that a certain percentage of the population need to be vaccinated to make it extremely difficult for the virus to spread. This varies from virus to virus, but for measles herd immunity is achieved when 95% of the population are vaccinated. Above this number everyone’s happy. Below it, things start to happen.

In this case 95% can be effectively considered to be ALL.

In the field of education it is obvious that the only figure we can use to define ALL children is 100%. Unfortunately politicians develop policies that exclude a certain percentage of students and leave them exposed to the symptoms of the metaphorical policy virus. In some cases policies have been enacted that politicians are perfectly aware disadvantage a percentage of the population. In other cases the realisation has been retrospective. I shall provide examples of each.

In an article for the Sunday Times on the 1st February 20151, Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan wrote that she would “launch a war on illiteracy and innumeracy.”

We will expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart, to perform long division and complex multiplication and to be able to read a novel. They should be able to write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar,” she said. In this case I suspect that Mrs Morgan simply didn’t realise, despite her position, that some children have profound and multiple learning difficulties and that, aged 11, may well be at the 12 months level of development, for example.

So, in this case, all doesn’t really mean all. By extension, though, she demeans the achievements of a small, but complex, percentage of the population. Their achievements count for nought as the above target becomes the sole definition of success. It also makes it significantly harder for schools to be more inclusive as there will always be some students that will not achieve this at the age of 11.

The scrapping of National Curriculum levels in September 2014 was another example of a complete failure to consider 100% of children when formulating policy. National Curriculum levels no longer exist, but P-Scales do. My suspicion is that policy makers were oblivious to the existence of P-Scales until it was too late. An announcement was made and then someone like me asked the awkward question, “What about P-Scales?” Cue nervous scrabbling around before a swift decision to keep them. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s worse. Maybe they were aware and that suggests a clear lack of understanding of how those children develop and progress.

For three years I was fortunate to have the Secretary of State for Education as my local MP. Michael Gove used to meet with local Headteachers termly and this provided us with an ideal opportunity to bend his ear about policy. I was able to do so when the Year 1 phonics check was launched. Research findings suggest that phonological awareness in children with Down syndrome is only weakly associated with learning to read2. They tend to be more successful with a logographic approach and I brought this to his attention. I explained that this check could artificially label some children as poor readers/failures. His response was to say that he was fully aware of this, but that a measure was required and that this was the best option. In this case the policy was created in the full knowledge that the progress in reading of some students would be excluded, but this was considered acceptable.

In January 2012 Michael Gove cut the value in school league tables of over 3,000 vocational qualifications in an attempt to stop “inflated league table rankings3. There may well have been large-scale gaming in order to influence league table positions (the incentives that drove the behaviour of schools is an article in itself; however the academic good/vocational bad message was a clear one.

I am fortunate to have a very intelligent parent population and they are utterly convinced of the critical role of vocational education for children with learning difficulties. With only 10% of adults with learning difficulties in work4, and the majority of them part-time, only a fool would exclude this from their curriculum. The message from the centre, though, was clear. These are poor, second-class qualifications compared to academic equivalents.

I was very hopeful in the early stages of this parliament. We had a Prime Minister with a son who attended a special school, a Secretary of State for Education whose sister had been to a special school and a former special school Headteacher as Chief Executive of the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We couldn’t have been better placed for all to truly mean all, for education policy to be truly inclusive. And yet, on the eve of a general election with virtually no serious debate on education policy, we still have our most vulnerable children excluded from the herd.

Jarlath O’Brien is Headteacher of Carwarden House Community School, an 11-19 special academy in Surrey, and a NET Leading Thinker.

1 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1513958.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2015_01_31

2 http://www.down-syndrome.org/reviews/2066/

3 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16808902

4 https://www.mencap.org.uk/about-learning-disability/information-professionals/employment

Beyond Special Education

Beyond Special Education

By Simon Knight

As part of a panel at the London Festival of Education I had the opportunity to discuss the nature of transition beyond special schools for young people with special educational needs and disabilities. This addressed not just the pragmatics of a person with complex and highly individualised needs moving from one education setting to another, but also the broader issues around the opportunities available beyond education.

A statistic which I mentioned as part of the discussion was that, according to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (2011), 65% of those with a learning disability would like to be employed and yet only 6.8% (Department of Health 2014) are. It made me think about how much effort and financial support is being given to addressing social mobility for those from challenging economic backgrounds, through organisations such as the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, and yet how little is given to those with a learning disability. Neither group chooses to face the challenges that they do, yet as a society we seem to have only committed to support some. Hardly an example of equality of opportunity.

However there are things which can be done to try and ensure that those with a learning disability have a better chance to realise the potential that they build within themselves through their education. There are things which can be done to challenge the perceptions of a society which sees the potential in the poor more easily than it does in the disabled.

One area in particular which may have a profound effect is the extent to which Special schools feel compelled to reflect a mainstream paradigm when it comes to communicating our young people’s capability to those beyond the school. We continue to focus on the accreditation of skills and knowledge through certification, which may have limited currency within the wider communities in which we exist. I suspect many employers would find it difficult to understand the difference between Entry Level 1, 2 and 3, or potentially to know which order they go in in terms of complexity. How many employers are familiar with the successes contained within a personal progress qualification?

One area in which we can take greater responsibility within education is to critically evaluate the quality of the accreditation we use and the extent to which it is understood by those beyond school. We need to ensure that accreditation accurately captures and articulates what has been learned and achieved, rather than just determining what is to be taught. Our young people are inherently unique and that must be reflected in whatever certification they leave us with. It makes me wonder whether schools might serve their students better by creating bespoke approaches to achieving this, rather than relying on commercially available tools.

We also need to ensure that what we teach within the school setting is transferable to environments beyond the school and the supportive structures which we put in place to scaffold success. The completion of targets may provide a professional feel good factor and lead to the creation of OfSTED friendly data sets, but the acid test of what we teach is the extent to which it can be applied elsewhere. A failure to do this is to create false expectations on paper which cannot be realised beyond school and is an abdication of our professional responsibility to prepare those we work with as best we can for a rich and varied life.

A further area for consideration is the extent to which additional information is communicated to other agencies and organisations. The emergent EHCP provides a potential opportunity for the successful integration of services within the administrative processes which surround the young people we work with, but this has yet to be realised. Until those lines of communication are better constructed we need to ensure that what we know is shared in a way that is unequivocal.

This may go some way towards challenging the culture of low expectations, which can at times exist, amongst those less familiar with the capacity to astound that young people with a learning disability possess. There is a relatively new technological tool which can be used to do this utilising multimedia, demonstrated below in ‘Shane’s Wiki’ https://vimeo.com/80887952, that leaves no doubt as to the unique characteristics and capability of the young person. Making effective use of tools such as this may work to better ensure that the momentum a young person builds through their education is not lost in transition.

Sharing Shane’s Wiki from Rix Research and Media on Vimeo.

We also need to challenge the extent to which special schools and those who attend them are absent from the broader education discourse.

Whilst significant amounts of money and intellectual energy have been expended revising the legislative and administrative systems which govern special education, little has been spent on the provision itself. It seems that the young people we serve are marginalised by consecutive Secretaries of State for Education failing to speak on their behalf, when we have Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools failing to analyse the inspection outcomes of special schools, when we conflate education and social care by having the Minister responsible for special educational needs entitled ‘Children and Families Minister’. We need to ensure that people with a learning disability are politically visible.

Finally we need to challenge the preconceptions of a society which is fearful of difference and ensure that we as schools do everything we can to be active participants within our communities, bringing them into us as much as us going out into them. After all it’s not just schools which have a duty to be inclusive.

Simon Knight is Deputy Head of Frank Wise School, Banbury and a NET Associate Director