Ten Reflections to Inform Future Pupil Premium Use

Below is an extract from Marc Rowlands Pupil Premium action research report: Tackling Educational Disadvantage by Understanding What Works.

Ten Reflections to Inform Future Pupil Premium Use:

  1. There is no thing as a ‘typical’ Pupil Premium child. The funding offers a unique opportunity to focus on the individual.
  2. The answers to cracking the code for disadvantaged learners doesn’t necessarily lie in the HTs office. Get teachers to input into provision. Middle leaders should be championing the cause of disadvantaged learners every day. Parents views on how to effectively use the funding can be invaluable.
  3. Don’t wait. Use the funding to enable more regular Pupil progress meetings. Empower TAs to flag up where interventions are not working for a particular child.
  4. Evidence informed, not evidenced led. The EEF toolkit offers a brilliant opportunity for Pupil Premium activity to be informed by evidence. But it was never intended to be used ‘painting by numbers’ style. Finding out what works for an individual school context should be closer to independent travel with a guidebook than a coach trip where you are told when and where to get off, when to eat etc…
  5. Get assessment right. If assessment is inconsistent or poor it is disadvantaged learners that are more likely to ‘slip through the net’.
  6. Monitor progress regularly, evaluate outcomes robustly – but understand that effective quality improvement is not necessarily judgemental.
  7. Be explicit about what you are trying to achieve and by when. ‘Improve numeracy levels’ is not clear enough. Hold yourself to account for this.
  8. Strong values and moral purpose agreed across a whole school are key. Disadvantaged learners need a great experience at school in both structured and unstructured times during the school day. Ensure that disadvantaged learners play a role in wider school life.
  9. Disadvantaged learners are most successful where teachers in the classroom feel accountable for their outcomes.
  10. Welcome external input. Working together over a period of time – with colleagues in your cluster or group of schools can be most valuable. A culture of trust and shared ideas that has grown over time has been of fundamental importance during this project.

Download full report here.


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?


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.

Thoughts on lesson observations #3 – The clearing fog

The clouds that contour the Brecon Beacons whenever I walk along Offa’s Dyke provide a flip metaphor for the fog of the educational landscape. I spend many weekends walking these wet cold mountains: an escape from the electric hum of London. The high winds on the ridges are a natural antidote to the world of work: of Shadwell, Wapping and Aldgate. This recent Easter, the peaks have seemed more than 200 miles away from lesson observations, marking, and spreadsheets.

In school, we continue to talk post-Ofsted about how we “do” lesson observations and why. Increased team sharing of best practice seems instinctively the next move forward for us. We work with the principle that explaining how to improve delivery and provision within lessons is more important than defining it in a snapshot moment.

Databases of judgments and labels (which we have) perhaps do less to improve the quality of an individual’s teaching than collaborative and democratic planning and review. Our individualised Improving Learning Programme has strong impact in this way. Providing staff with a co-planner and reviewer of their choice and using IRIS Connect software, but giving also time and space to reflect is imperative.

It is also a complex conversation to un-teach judgement, to un-teach our comparative self which marks ourselves against each other. As recipients we want to know where we are and often where we are in relation to others. This impetus to judge and to define comes through fear of the hard hand of external judgement. Of course it is disingenuous to say we can throw away lesson judgements completely. However we do it, when we walk into a room we make a judgement unconsciously. Whether it is on a score of 1-4 or “promising” to “fine”, there is a decision made of the quality we see. From that comes reflection on what is needed for the whole team of staff and what steps to take next.

Mutual coaching and peer-review, allied to better research, form part of the maturing vision that all schools are developing. It mirrors, of course, wider thinking by researchers who have long argued that we should be less interested in ‘accountability’ and more in professional improvement.

We are all discovering that the scoring of teaching quality formerly used by Ofsted and aped by schools only measures what Robert Coe calls “poor proxies for learning”. There persists an unwillingness to accept that observations are limited in scope and worth. A culture of tyranny and rank ordering of teachers doesn’t allow you to go beyond being a satisfactory school. The problem is partly the two competing aims generated by lesson observation appraisal cultures: between what may actually be needed and what needs to be seen to be done. This clash is keenly felt by professionals. Despite a desire to focus on dialogue and mutual commentary, teachers and leaders still find it difficult to step outside the scaffold of judgment.

The long horizon afforded during my Brecon walks reminds me that judgments about lessons and staff are always decisions about people. Judgment labels people. It is unhelpful at best, and at worst can retard development and pupil progress. Observations of others’ performance and the systems we use to do this have to be considered, intelligently-informed and emotionally cogent. In almost all cases, improving teaching is a long-term goal, not a quick fix.

But what about accountability? Coe’s research highlights the inadequacy of lesson observation judgements in this regard. Both the reliability of judgements and the validity of observations are problematic. We have attempted at Bishop Challoner small steps to ameliorate these effects. Our regular cycle of observations is all now paired. We have done this for three years and the ethos should be of shared evaluations. Research by Kane (2013) seems “unambiguous in suggesting the importance of having more than one observer. The gain in reliability from adding another set of eyeballs is more than twice as large as that of adding another observation from the same observer.”

Observing to judge and observing to advise are subtle distinctions, challenging to implement, but we must grow a more sophisticated professional development world.

As the sun brightens during my walks over Brecon I notice again the shape of the valleys here, reminding me how things are rarely mono-causal. Lesson observations have to be done with an awareness of our flawed ability to make judgements. It is hard not to think that more research is needed in UK school contexts about the impact of punitive lesson observation regimes both on the core ethos of the school and on the standards agenda itself.

Nick Soar is Vice-Principal and Head of the Girls’ School
Bishop Challoner Catholic Federation of Schools

Thoughts on lesson observations #2 | Fanning the glowing embers

When a school hits rock bottom, as mine had a year before I joined, there are two key tasks for the leadership and governors. The first is to rebuild the school: to nurture the phoenix as it slowly rises from the flames so that every child gets the world class education that they deserve.

The second is to show the world that we are being successful.

In the early days, when the embers of growth are barely glowing, the pressure to grade lesson observations is immense. Governors and HMI demand evidence for every small scrap of improvement over extraordinarily short periods of time, despite the overwhelming evidence that deep and embedded school improvement is a slow burn not a flash fire. And to be honest there are times when hard messages are best served by hard evidence.

However, where in a teacher there is potential and sometimes deeply hidden talent, the blunt tool of grading simply slows the growth and undermines the trust that school improvement requires. Indeed Ofsted in 2012 clearly stated that what is needed is clear ‘technical guidance’ for teachers. We know that the most effective way of developing teachers is through well-planned coaching programmes, and that the best teachers are able to review their practice against an agreed set of teaching and learning non-negotiables.

Coaching in its purest sense takes time, time that children in struggling schools simply don’t have. But developmental conversations can save time; they gently fan the glowing embers and build the reliable source of oxygen that reflective teachers need. Time spent in classrooms discussing what is going on, and reviewing the options available, means that teachers respond immediately to feedback, and apply changes with immediate effect. The result is success, promptly shared with other staff and repeated in every classroom.

We need as well to clarify the purpose of shared professional time in class by clarifying how we can best make judgements about the quality of learning in our classrooms.

As Ofsted are in retreat on the issue of lesson observations we might look to them for a lead, and judge learning on all the evidence that we have in front of us. In our school we evaluate the quality of learning by drawing together the information we get from:

  • Regular conversations with the children
  • Rigorous data analysis (of the data that really matters) with the evidence that backs teacher judgement
  • Quality of the work in books (especially that of the most vulnerable and the more able)
  • Structured conversations with teachers about teaching and learning
  • all of the time spent in classes.

We call these our Quality of Learning Judgements and take all the evidence into account so we can give teachers high quality, focused feedback and carefully plan the associated support – based on their efforts over time rather than on the single snapshot of an observed lesson. This builds the trust that deep learning needs, which in turn builds faith in the leaders who are held to account for the improvement in the school.

We have the evidence that our external judges require, and for the first time in years it is rigorous and robust. Most importantly, our teachers listen to what we are saying because they hear the pedagogical discussion instead of the grade that previously managed to switch off the ability to learn and reflect in so many teachers.

So let’s get this right. Let’s make the shift from grading to coaching and bring about the change in judgements that our teachers and children deserve. And prove to the world that we are doing a great job.

Jane Ratcliffe is Headteacher of Millbrook Primary School, Oxfordshire.

Thoughts on lesson observations #1 | The surgeon and the scalpel

Recently clocking up 10,000 lesson observations in schools at home and abroad has made me think afresh about the so-called ’10,000 hour rule’, much championed by writers Daniel Levitin and Malcolm Gladwell: Ten thousand hours of practice are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.

In schools we might conclude that those who do lots of purposeful lesson observations are getting better at it all the time. But what if they are doing it with the wrong intent?

Lesson observations are most commonly carried out for the purpose of performance management and inspection. Many teachers I meet say that lesson observations only occur in their school when they are linked to grading of some kind. That is changing slowly, but the teaching profession is haunted by such judgemental behaviour. Micro-managing what happens in the classroom too often dents confidence and narrows opportunities for imaginative teaching.

A few years ago I lay on a surgeon’s table, under local anaesthetic, to have a benign melanoma removed from my wrist. The lead surgeon began cutting precisely then passed over the scalpel to one of his juniors. Within thirty seconds he seized it back, clearly not content with the direction of the incision. He at once offered both the junior and me some reassuring words.

It struck me then – it was in my early days of being an HMI – that my observing a lesson was of little use to the teacher if all I did was to offer some comments once the pupils had left the classroom. I would not have wanted the surgeon to let his junior go on cutting in the wrong direction, saving the feedback to later. My wrist is too precious to me for that.

Ever since that moment under the knife, formal inspection apart, I have rarely observed a lesson without interacting in some way. In all the school reviews/Blinks I lead, I agree with teachers beforehand that I’ll come into their classrooms and be an active assistant. I am not there to make judgements – I am there to share my considerable experience of what works in primary and secondary classrooms across the globe. I indulge myself in what might be called some ‘spot coaching’. Selfishly, I’m there to enjoy myself and learn too.

Let me take a couple of examples.

  • I enter a Year 5 class putting the adjectives compliant, significant, resilient into meaningful sentences. They are enjoying the task in talk partners, but I can see a good number have mastered this pretty quickly. I ask the teacher if I can take them in a slightly different direction, to make them wobble intellectually. I ask them to give me some sentences – projecting their voices and speaking to me with their eyes – where these adjectives are turned into nouns, and appropriate sentences created. The digression is quickly harnessed by the teacher and the lesson moves up a gear. I spend a little more time looking at their books, thank everyone, then move to Year 6.
  • I enter a Year 12 History seminar where the teacher is drawing intriguing parallels between Mandela, Ghandi and Churchill, wrestling with how best to embed an understanding of contrasting leadership styles. I’m fascinated. The previous week I have been at the unveiling of Ghandi’s statue in London’s Parliament Square, and mention that the statues of all three leaders now stand in the Square. Students google, they call up photos of the statues and we find those outrageous lines of Churchill’s about Ghandi: ‘he ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant.’ I share my topical experience, the teacher and students are appreciative, and I settle back to listen to their discussions.

I am clear that a fundamental requirement of the self-improving school system demands a fresh approach to teachers being in one another’s classrooms. We must put behind us this preoccupation with judgement. Instead, seize-the-moment, mutual coaching should be what characterises our daily practice. Teaching with the door open – literally or metaphorically – can be our professional clarion call. Let’s show some trust.

There may still be a place for observations linked to performance management and, in common with the doctor or pilot, observations linked to ensuring teachers meet the requirements of their professional standards. But ‘observations’ as an everyday way of working together must be consigned to the educational dustbin. The surgeon and the scalpel should be a daily reminder.

Roy Blatchford is Director of the National Education Trust

The era of the stand-alone school is over.

The era of the stand-alone school is over.
by Russell Hobby

Via @gapingvoid

Via @gapingvoid

The constant change in schools makes it hard to plan ahead. What new wheeze will come down the line from Whitehall next? How will the inspection framework change? Who will even be in charge in six months’ time?

Policies and politicians come and go, but schools remain and so do their students. There is every possibility that no one will have a clear majority in Westminster in six months’ time. Schools can fill the vacuum and establish the sort of system they want to see, or they can leave it open and face another round of micromanagement. Let’s make some predictions:

There will be no more money. In fact, there are more cuts to come. A fair national funding formula is receding into the distance and few people are talking honestly about the nature of funding for small schools. There is a minimum cost to running a school, regardless of its size. Pretending that the solution is to amalgamate small schools into hundred-strong chains to make them cost-effective is a fantasy.

It will become harder to recruit as the economy picks up. The risk of working in a challenging school is high and will remain so. It deters many people from bringing their talents to the places they are most needed or from stepping up to headship.

The old local authority is never coming back. Some have weathered the storm well and continue to offer valued support to their schools. But they have done this only by reinventing themselves.

Increases in autonomy will not be reversed. We will not see an end to academies and free schools even if we do see a deceleration; we will not see many school powers returned to the state.

We will place even greater demands on governors. Our structures of governance are ill-designed to bear this load. It is increasingly a professional non-executive director role in terms of expectations but not in terms of resources and support.

The three As that underpin major changes in education are austerity, autonomy and accountability. If you assume that there will be more of all three, you probably won’t go far wrong. This is not a full list, but I wanted to highlight these trends because they point to an inevitable conclusion: the era of the stand-alone school is coming to an end. And we should not mourn it.

Collaboration, not conversion

I believe it will be a central task of every school leader in the next five years to create a tight local network of schools, with strong mutual accountability, shared support services and the regular exchange of staff for professional development. Many have already begun this task but all will need to complete it.

I am talking about more than mutual support. This will need to be a federation or trust with enduring structures and, often, shared governance. You’ll note that I have not yet mentioned the word “academy”.

We should start this project now, seeking fellow leaders with shared values and visions, joining together voluntarily rather than being forced into unwilling collaborations developed in pursuit of cost-efficiency.

This is not a counsel of despair. Leading within a trust of like-minded leaders is an inspiring way to work. Headship is a lonely job; this makes it less so. Trusts create job opportunities and, although we may still struggle to get people to take the risk of headship, offering senior roles with support will encourage people towards the top. A wider canvas opens up opportunities for specialisation, too; it is easier to justify a science or sports specialist across half a dozen primary schools, for example.

I think these groups should be small – half a dozen to a dozen schools, ideally. This is not an argument for an authority-wide community trust, which sounds like old wine in new bottles.

So what about academies? I’ve nothing against them but I do not believe that the groups I’ve described above need to begin as academy trusts. That puts the cart before the horse. The academy movement, as it developed, has come to mean three things: accountability, autonomy and collaboration. The government got the last two the wrong way round. It offered (and imposed) autonomy while hoping for collaboration. It should have offered collaboration while hoping for autonomy. The beauty of the trust model is that it also provides a healthy form of accountability, as a mutual professional obligation to your partners rather than to government.

What can be done to ease this vision into reality? Much lies in the hands of individual headteachers: they can do this now without waiting for a national programme. The government could help by switching incentives away from academy conversion and towards building trusts. There are various approaches out there – the cooperative trust model is well-used and liked, for example. Perhaps Ofsted could offer a shared judgement for management and leadership for schools in trusts, at the same time as providing separate judgements for achievement in the individual institutions. It could license or accredit peer reviews to replace some inspection in high-performing trusts.

Whatever the national manoeuvres, this is a decision for the profession. We have paused for breath between waves of intervention. Let’s shape the future rather than react to it.

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the NAHT, and a NET Leading Thinker.

Originally posted on TES – January 30th 2015.