“Your feet will not touch the ground.” By Siobhan Horisk

Hackney New Primary School opened in September 2015 with our first two classes of Reception aged children. I secured the job as headteacher in December 2014, and 18 months later we are coming to the end of our first year.

Prior to the school opening I had a glorious period from April to September of planning what was essentially an imaginary school. We had a big blank canvas and could discuss, design and dream about every aspect with a level of uninterrupted care and focus impossible to achieve in a ‘real’ school. I met prospective parents and staff members and my skills of persuasion developed tremendously.

That time was invaluable, not least for reinforcing my absolute respect for class teachers and how exhausting their job is. Being outside of a school for the first time in my career and yet still working long days, I have never had so much energy or head space for other things as I did between April and September last year. Good teachers are giving thousands of feedback points every day, and multi-tasking beyond belief. The learning and wellbeing of the children they teach occupies their headspace until last thing and night and from the get-go in the morning.

“Good Luck!” said my pre-opening OFSTED inspector, “Your feet will not touch the ground.” I smiled to myself, wondering what on earth there could be to do for just two classes – it’s just one year group, right?

“Ha!” I think to myself now. Getting the considerable machine that is a school moving is much more than just managing teaching and learning for two classes.

Simple things like our dishwasher didn’t work. The bicycle storage didn’t come for several weeks which meant carrying 25 little bikes in and out of the playground at the start and end of every day. Builders lingered for about six weeks, and whilst all schools have experienced the trauma of this, to have several of these things not working for us every day was a lot to handle.

In a new, small school, there are few supernumerary people. I found myself doing everything from mopping up urine puddles, hauling deliveries of paper upstairs, lesson observations and staff training to doing school tours and press interviews. In a half an hour I could go from assembling flat pack furniture to presenting to LA or DfE colleagues.

As a new headteacher, of a new school, with a new team, you are completely unproven. Everyone is watching you and tuning in to your every move. You have no sooner reassured them when external bodies are in to scrutinise what you have achieved.

Although our team has some brilliant people on board, in an entirely new team individuals need time to figure out their place in the team – and the joy and trouble with 50 little children starting school for the first time is that they don’t really allow you that time. We needed the best and the brave to take the plunge and put themselves forward to promote their planning ideas, initiate solutions to logistics, and continue to persuade parents that they had made the right choice.

Thankfully they did. Finding great teachers is increasingly like panning for gold; you need to gently agitate the gravel in the pan to get your gold.

Similarly, new parents don’t have other parents to induct them to school life and as nearly all our children are first born there was a much greater amount of communication required.

Like childbirth, I think the memory of these challenges will fade with time. The life of the school has been and continues to be glittered with wonderful moments and the school is blossoming.

My cherished memories are many and so far include our first assembly when I looked at 50 children, from 50 families, and a team of people who, with me, have jumped on board this crazy train and together we were gathered as a vibrant school family. There the children all were in their new school uniforms, and it hit me once more what a privilege it is to have their education and this school in my care. Our teachers are remarkable; and it is my further privilege to witness their heartfelt pride in the progress and achievements of the children they teach.

At the heart of my personal ambition here is being part of something distinctive and something better. More than excellent provision of the core primary curriculum, children have daily, specialist music input and the first year has been pre-instrumental development of their musicality. You should see our music lessons… really! In September the children begin on string instruments including violins, violas, cellos and mini bass.

We believe passionately that time in the outdoors facilitates a different kind of learning and development and makes a tremendous contribution to children’s wellbeing. Children go to a real forest for a real ‘Forest School’ experience once a week, all year round. The daily anecdotes of their forest school adventures sing about the strong contribution this is making to their development and wellbeing. And they love learning.

A colleague visited recently and described the children as ‘so happy and so spirited’ and this was the ultimate compliment for our curious, excited, wondrous bunch and the best acknowledgement of all that our teaching team have done with them at school over this year. Of course, there are always the ‘even better ifs’ and as a living thing the school has great days, good days and some of ‘those days.’

I have been very fortunate to have met a group of visionary and committed founders. It is this vision and unparalleled commitment that has led Hackney New Primary School to be something distinctive. The school was conceived by them; together we have brought it to life and are nurturing its development closely.

As a wise man advised me when I considered this post: if you have ideas about what makes great teaching and if you are passionate about the contribution education makes then surely this is the ultimate job. He was right. ‘Put your hat in the ring’ he said. I did, and 18 months later I would recommend it to anyone else passionate about the contribution education makes.

Do it. Find a great team of governors or founders and with them, create something great.

Siobhan Horisk is founding headteacher of Hackney New Primary School and a NET Associate.

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THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit http://www.claimyourcollege.org/the-colleges-history/ for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current http://www.claimyourcollege.org/ and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.

 

To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.

It’s the last drop that makes the glass overflow by Rob Stokoe

It’s an interesting fact that in today’s educational world we think we must appear busy. We feel that we must fill the time we have. Are we too busy or are we victims of accidental priorities?

This constantly busy paradigm continually draws us away from those things we care for the most, our passions, our classrooms, even learning itself. This busy culture can leave us feeling exacerbated, tired, often overwhelmed, dealing with the moment rather than the strategic well-being of ourselves and our schools.

We have a problem, and the curious thing is we not only know about it, we are actually celebrating it. But let’s be honest: the act of being busy is simply overvalued. We need to understand what we are busy about, and remind ourselves that life should never be too busy for the things that matter most to us.

What happened to a world in which we had time to sit with the people we work with and for, and have deliberate, fulfilling conversations about the state of learning in our schools, the well-being of staff and that of every student? When was the last time you had a conversation that slowly unfolded, allowing for and embracing, comfortable silences, time to smile and reflect? When do we take the time to speak from our hearts, to access and to develop our emotional intelligence and that of others?

For over half a century a series of technological innovations have promised to make our lives easier, freeing up greater amounts of leisure time, yet the outcome we face is one where we have more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…. be? We have filled in the gaps. The lines between work and home have become blurred.

We’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy, we are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others to learn and grow. Our reasons for being are different, but I have a feeling that none of us considers that we are here simply to be busy.

These are potentially destructive habits and they can start early. Do we have to drive our students so much that we over-schedule them? Do we offer too many options, measuring progress lesson by lesson, sometimes within lessons, after school activities, too much homework, causing them to stress and to be busy, just as we are? This is not what a creative and meaningful childhood is about. Each of us is a human being, not just a human doing.

So….

  • Take a couple of hours to identify the things you really want to accomplish over the next half term. Reflect on your action plans, acknowledge your progress and plan the next step – and add in dates to reflect upon these new activities.
  • Rather than answer emails first thing, take a walk around your school. Discover the great things that are happening there, take time to think, to engage with your staff and students.
  • Take a risk: turn away from technology, turn it off for set periods during the day. Instead of running back-to-back meetings, put space in your calendar to get important work done, writing things up or even time to take lunch.
  • Create boundaries of time which allow your brain to come up for air.

If we’re going to create a more sustainable work environment, let’s start by talking about how to work smarter, to live in a way that leaves us refreshed, less stressed, strong and able to maintain a strong focus upon what really matters. Don’t let the glass overflow; the contents are too valuable.

Rob Stokoe OBE works internationally as a Headteacher and is a NET Leading Thinker

The Case for Arts in Children’s Lives by Kevin Jones

‘Art is a break for my mind. In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.’

So says one of my twelve-year-olds. But the case for Art is not often made on her terms.

Instead, to persuade policy makers of the value of Art, we talk about money. The creative industries contribute £77bn, 5% of our economy, we cry. Or we paint a picture of children’s productivity. Learning arts subjects improves academic attainment. Children who study an arts subject get better grades. Or we argue for social mobility – students from low income families who take part in the arts are three times more likely to get a degree. Or we talk of democracy – arts students are 20% more likely to vote – or of community – arts students are twice as likely to volunteer.

All these arguments are strong and true.

But they have little to do with children.

We debate whether STEM (Science, Technology and Maths) is the key to our country’s future and we argue that STEM should include the Arts and become STEAM, that the future of our nation’s wealth depends on integrating creativity and technology.

Meanwhile, outside my office a small child twirls around while circling a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ I call to him. ‘I am orbiting,’ he calls back, as if it comes as natural as the leaves to the tree. And why should it not?

In the world of the child, science may well be a dance.

There is a wisdom in the dancing child who does not know that art and science are different – who uses them equally to express his creativity.

We can learn much from him and from all children.

I ask my nine-year-olds why Art is important and the word that comes back often is ‘freedom’: freedom to explore ideas and feelings, freedom to make their own marks.

It is important to have the chance to be creative as it gives you freedom of thought. In Art you can go in any direction you like.

When I’m drawing or painting I feel I can escape to the place that I am drawing.

And they cry ‘freedom’ now because the landscape of childhood has changed.

We are told that one third of children have never climbed a tree, a quarter have never rolled down a hill, a third have no idea how to build a den and almost half have never made a daisy chain. The NSPCC, in 1999, reported that 80% of parents wouldn’t let their child play unsupervised in the park. I guess that figure is even greater now. The distance children are allowed to stray from home is, apparently, 1/9th what it was in 1970. In 1971, the average seven-year-old was making trips to friends or to the shops on her own. By 1990 that freedom was being withheld until the age of ten; in just 19 years children lost three years of freedom. They will have lost more since.

More than ever, we need to create a space for our children to explore themselves and their world, a safe space to take risks and face challenges, a space for their imagination.

I love making sculpture as anything is possible and as you work it opens up ideas in your head

You can express yourself creatively and there is no one who can tell you that you are right or wrong because it’s just the way you see the world

Our children relish their power to make and shape and re-imagine their world. It is, after all, what children are for. But we have shrunk the horizons of childhood and made the most shut in generation of children ever. And shut into their homes and their bedrooms, they are often left free to roam through killing fields in video games or amble into brothels on the internet.

We are told that every two days the internet fills with as much new information as was created between the dawn of time and 2003. Children are bombarded with knowledge.

A nine year old tells me of his heartfelt worries about war, deforestation and global warming. I had no such fears as a child.

More than ever children need time to digest themselves and their world, to question and to challenge – to see things as they are and dream of how they should be.

One tenth of all the photos ever taken were taken last year and the internet bulges with them. Images flow at our children like never before.

Our children need more than ever to learn to read and interrogate the visual world in which they increasingly live, to find space to see feelingly, to see with wonder, to connect and reflect.

Almost half of all 14- and 15-year-olds say they are addicted to the internet. The epidemic rise of ADHD tells us of a world too full of sensory noise. In this noisy, busy, overloaded world, children need time to find rest, to find silence.

As my twelve-year-old says of Art:

In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.

Look at my children at work on their ‘Monet: Inspiration from Nature’ project and you will see emotion recollected in tranquility, a tranquility our children need to find.

National Education Trust

‘Feelings’ is another word that comes back again and again when my nine-year-olds talk about Art.

I can let out my feelings in Art, particularly if I am feeling angry.

If I’m angry I go and find my sketch book and I draw or paint, often with dark colours and it calms me down. My mind focuses on what I am doing and I can block out any worries and then everything feels a bit better.

Mostly, they speak of big feelings, of feelings that threaten to get out of control, when the world of childhood threatens to become too much.

And the world of childhood does indeed threaten to become too much.

We are facing a rise of up to 30% a year in the numbers of children and young people seeking treatment for mental health problems. One in ten 5- to 16-year-olds now has a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. In just the last year, the number of 10- to 14-year-olds treated by the NHS for self-harm rose by 30%. It as though a tsunami of anxiety is flooding the shores of childhood.

In an education that defines who we are by what grades we get, children now feel under more pressure to perform than ever before. They are more anxious about anticipated or perceived failures. They develop very critical inner voices. Assaulted by images of perfection, false wants and fashions, snapchatting their way through virtual relationships with friends known and not so known, or glued to their game boys, it is easy for children to lose touch with themselves, to become unsure of who they are and what they are meant to be, to be overwhelmed.

When the world of childhood threatens to overwhelm, the arts help children to discover and organise their feelings safely, to express them and have some mastery over them. When they paint their seascapes, they give shape and form to their big feelings rather than being inundated by them.

National Education Trust

In their own words, my children talk of Art as a form of containment, of connection, of healing.

Our children still arrive at school as they always did, trailing clouds of glorious creativity, curiosity and wonder and affection.

There will be time enough to talk of their contribution to the economy and productivity and progress. First let us learn from our children. Of the many voices calling for creativity to be at the heart of education, none is as powerful as the voice that comes full of thought and feeling from the beating heart of childhood, telling us what the Arts mean to our children’s lives. Let us listen to that voice and be led by the child orbiting the tree, turning his learning into a dance.

Kevin Jones is Head of St John’s College School, Cambridge and a NET Leading Thinker

Remembering what education is for.

We all know August is the silly season for the media but, my goodness, there were some wild education stories flying around last month!

Of course, at results time policymakers and the press indulged in the usual sport of knocking the very qualifications our young people have worked so hard to achieve. Thus Lord (Ken) Baker, and others who should similarly know better, decided to air their view that GCSE has had its day and should wither on the vine. Nothing’s for ever, of course, and the exam is now more than a quarter of a century old. But, at a time when schools will just be starting to teach the new style of GCSEs, it seems unfortunate and insulting to candidates to rubbish it.

Of course, there’s an underlying truth in this debate, one that overlaps with the usual and inevitable concerns about the variable quality of marking. That truth is that we are doing too much examining. Policymakers have distrusted the teaching profession for so long, and government has put so much pressure on schools to hit particular benchmarks and targets, that the feeling has grown that teachers can’t be trusted with any more in the way of internal assessment than merely marking a bit of coursework.

What’s the result? Young people deprived in the summer of several weeks of consistent and coherent teaching while the exams behemoth lumbers into action. And then we can’t find enough people to mark them. It’s not that there’s a chronic shortage of markers: what we’re suffering from is a chronic overload of examining!

But it wasn’t only the exam system that was called into question. Some of the same voices decided to have a go at the whole idea of university education: “What’s the point of going to uni? Just get an apprenticeship and move on into paid work. Obv”!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think apprenticeships are great: my only fear about the current expansion stems from the fact that I don’t trust government to keep supporting the scheme as it needs to be supported. It needs to lean on industry, too, so that the CBI stops moaning about the education of the young and the development of a workforce and puts its money where its mouth is.

Nonetheless, although we’re right to be pushing and expanding apprenticeships, I can’t see any reason for the recent media fashion for knocking university. What a waste of time a university degree is, it was suggested. And then there was a lot of research (much of it pretty spurious) purporting to suggest that hardly one university graduate in five gets either a decent job or one with any connection to the degree subject studied.

That is where the whole vocational/academic argument falls down. Some of the hardest courses to get on to are the most vocational. A medical degree, that long haul leading to becoming a doctor; veterinary science; dentistry; even the slightly less prestigious but very vital pharmacy and analogous health-related courses: all are intensely vocational. They lead directly to a profession: curiously, although it’s so hard to get into medical school, we still aren’t producing as many doctors as the country needs, a shocking dereliction by government over many years.

The country is short of engineers, too: we should be pushing and encouraging young people to study engineering at the highest level, not denying the value of three years at university.

That, for me, is the nub of the matter. Three years at university. While there are many university courses that are entirely vocational, linked to a specific profession as I’ve described, lots of university degrees (the majority?), while not linked to a particular career, allow young people to spend three more years in education, perhaps following it with a master’s in order to pursue and area of special interest, while growing up and sharpening their intellects. Thereafter they can go into any profession: but they’ve had the benefit of a university education.

That’s the point. It’s education. The university-deniers ignore the value of university as Higher Education. For me it was a depressing summer, in media terms, to see such a narrow-minded, entirely utilitarian view of education apparently prevail. Finally, I received some comfort. Writing in theFinancial Times, John Kay took issue with the arguments that appear to be gaining such traction. The belief that study should be focussed more on job-specific knowledge is misconceived, he said, observing that the benefits of a liberal education do not go out of date. Hurrah!

What does this mean for us in schools? First, we shouldn’t push anyone anywhere! We need to make sure that there are different pathways (to use a jargon term) and that we help young people leaving school to find the one that suits them: “horses for courses” was always best.

Second, we should encourage young people to take up apprenticeships where they are suited to them (and vice versa), and between us we shouldn’t let either government or employers off the hook: they’ve got to make them work, and better than they have done so far.

Finally, let’s not permit those Gradgrindian voices to deny the value of education for education’s sake: that involves ensuring that university courses are available to young people and, where circumstances make it difficult for them to qualify through a standard A level route, other access routes are created and employed effectively.

Well, there are three purposes for the coming term and year, and not bad ones in my view. I’ll try to keep them in mind, at any rate.

Dr Bernard Trafford is Head of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and a NET Leading Thinker

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.

Open letter to the new Secretary of State for Education 9th May 2015

Dear Secretary of State,

I have had the privilege of working with many of your predecessors and their Ministers over the past 25 years. Distinguished politicians have their framed photographs on the wall in the foyer of the Department of Education, dating back to the early post‐war years. Your photo will one day join them. Your influence over hundreds of thousands of everyday lives will be significant during your term in office, and perhaps beyond.

Education has featured rarely in the national election campaign. At local level on the doorstep, voters spoke only of having a good local school – that was their proper message. The British public has also rejected the idea of politicians ‘weaponising’ the National Health Service. Might you be a pioneer and establish a parallel National Education Service, with a view to taking the detail of education practice out of the political arena? What a legacy that would be.

The distinguished brain surgeon Henry Marsh titled his recent autobiography Do no harm, a singular message he wishes to pass on to all doctors. As the new Secretary of State, please make sure the first question you ask your DfE and political advisers is: ‘Do we need a new policy in education?’ (It seems likely doesn’t it that the government will have bigger fish to fry in the coming parliament.)

There are two key areas of education policy and practice where we need your legitimate democratic leadership:

  1. Establishing a fair funding system for primary, special and secondary schools across the country
  1. Securing a sustainable stream of good entrants into the teaching profession.

Concentrate on these two pivotal issues and you will win plaudits from 25,000 headteachers, voters, and fellow politicians. If you subscribe to the self‐improving school system, you might do little else, besides being a careful and thoughtful guardian. Don’t be tempted to put your indelible stamp on the Office with further initiatives. Rather, leave in five years’ time (Theresa May is a model to follow) proud to have done no harm.

If you stray beyond the two areas above, please opt for sustaining and embedding what has been legislated for in recent times: all schools good schools; raised levels of accountability and pupils’ achievements; the new curriculum and examination arrangements; pupil premium funding.

Finally, daring you to be different in just one direction: suspend Ofsted inspections of good and outstanding schools for one year; afford headteachers the space to shape that self‐improving, self‐ regulating school system. Then go visit a hundred schools and ask their views.

I’m sure the profession, governors, pupils and parents wish you well in your new Office of State. With a little more time, I would have written you a shorter letter. Less is always more.

Yours sincerely,

Roy Blatchford, Director, National Education Trust