‘Why challenging high performers is important and what we can do’ By Deborah Eyre

Providing challenge for top performers in the classroom is one of the most difficult and long standing problems in British education. Whilst some schools do really well, they remain the minority.

When it comes to gifted/more able your school is likely to be in one of the following categories:

  • Don’t believe in it and hence make no special provision as a result
  • Have a cohort of students identified as gifted or more able – or a similar term – and offer them special opportunities
  • Systematically and purposefully make advanced learning opportunities available in class and in enrichment, and offer them regularly to all or most students.

Generally most schools in England are in the first or second categories, whilst most of the top performing countries in the OECD league tables are in the third. Interesting!

We know that it is important to society, to the economy and to the individual that we challenge those who find learning easy rather than allow them to underachieve, and mark time whilst others catch up. Yet – we don’t do it because (a) we don’t think it is a priority or (b) we don’t really know how to. Systematically reviewing the literature in 2009[1] it became clear that these are universal problems and found in many countries.

So if we want to do better we have to change how we approach this.

Traditionally, work on the more able/gifted has involved identifying a cohort and making special provision for it, but the research shows this is increasingly problematic.

  • Definitions of giftedness have fragmented over time and vary widely, so when you try to identify students to create a cohort it’s hard to know what you are identifying and hence no reliable identification methods have emerged.
  • Those who are identified are given access to special opportunities and generally benefit. Those who are not in the identified cohort do equally well if given the same opportunities. So why are they not getting them?
  • Gifted cohorts across the world have been found to be biased in favour of the affluent middle class. No matter how hard people try this remains the case. Just like in England.

So if opportunities are the important factor, then creating them is the priority. What do good advanced learning opportunities look like? How can we make them widely available? Key players in this field alongside my own writings are Jo Renzulli, Bruce Shore, Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Albert Zeigler. Look out for their work.

Many teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy yet this is over 50 years old. Fresh approaches have bettered and superseded it. My new organisation High Performance Learning[2] (www.highperformancelearning.co.uk) makes use of these. It focuses on advanced learning and systematically building intelligence using 30 research derived competencies that all successful people demonstrate. These relate to developing cognition and also developing the values, attitudes and attributes that top performers need.

If your school wants to do better, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we confident about what advanced learning looks like?
  • Do we offer it in our school?
  • How regularly and to whom?
  • Could we improve the frequency with which we offer this or even make it part of our DNA?

Recently Sir Michael Wishaw painted a familiar picture of underachievement for the most able in secondary schools – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is getting bullish in his final months as HMCI – suggesting sanctions be applied to schools that consistently fail their brightest children.

Maybe now is the time to focus more directly on advanced learning in your classroom and your school and stop leaving the creation of advanced performers to chance.

Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder, High Performance Learning, and a NET Leading Thinker

[1] Eyre, D. (Ed.) (2009) Major Themes in Gifted Education (4 Volumes). Routledge: London

[2] Eyre, D. (2016) High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School. Routledge: London

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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

‘A personal reading of Gandhi – and thoughts for school leaders’ by Kavita Anand

Twenty-five years ago in a workshop exercise on prejudice, I matched de-contextualised ‘statements’ to names of famous persons including Martin Luther King, Mandela, Gandhi, Mussolini and Hitler. On hindsight it’s not surprising, that I found that what I ascribed to the ‘father of our nation’ was actually said by Mussolini, and what I was sure must have been said by Hitler was actually said by Gandhi.

Since that epiphany, all historical figures became, to my mind, ordinary people who did extraordinary things. All of them had been ‘good’ for some people and ‘bad’ for others. All of them had acted with seemingly unshakeable conviction that they were right, even when and if racked by doubt or fear. All of them had persuaded others and won followers. They were all leaders. I could learn from each one of them. From some, I could learn how to act in a way that I could be the change; from others, how to be careful that I did not delude myself.

Of them all, Gandhi has seemed to me the most frail in his human-ness – perhaps because he opened himself to scrutiny as he reflected publicly on his own thoughts, actions and influence. Was that a narcissistic or generous act? Is any self-disclosure devoid of being both? His writings provide a window into the mind of a human being in difficult circumstances who discovered he had the power to do extraordinary things simply because he was willing to fail.

Gandhi had the courage to do what others did not do. He did have a sort of moral right to say ‘be the change you want to see’. His approach was strategic, having studied the ‘enemy’ at close quarters. He knew how to fight on an intellectual battlefield and how to show up the colonial mindset in a miserable light in its home-country. He could think of out of the box Dandi marches, fasts and slogans that fired the imagination of the people. He stated his values upfront and lived them equally dramatically. Cleaning toilets, wearing a dhoti, spinning the charkha – all proclaimed his disdain for convention, tradition and his trade. It was remarkably independent thinking. It gave a ring of authenticity to his need for self-rule.

This is the man who then put together his framework for education called Nai Talim or comprehensive basic education. He conceptualised a self-sustaining school in which students learned a craft that contributed to the school’s economic freedom. This in turn became the curriculum through which they would learn accountability to the community, nurturing each other and the environment as socially useful problem solvers. Their learning was to be driven by what they themselves identified as their own needs.

Ironically this seems to be where the schools of the future appear to be going. Today knowledge is free – freer certainly than any country. In the years leading to the 21st century, the world wide web heralded a quantum change in the way knowledge and learning were to be perceived. Children of the 21st century are known as digital natives. 560 years after the printing press made the publication of textbooks possible for school children to suffer, the internet threatens to set them free of both school and teacher.

The question though is: free to learn what? Those of us who live in highly populated zones on this planet are well aware of the communities to which we belong. For some caste is a community, for others it is family and for a few it is an organisation to which they feel the sense of belonging. The school was conceptualised as the heart of a community since it was an incubator of the community’s future. According to Gandhi, a self-realised commune or village would be one that valued self-sufficiency.

If every village were able to look after its basic needs and no one went hungry or unclothed, Gandhi’s vision of ‘ram rajya’ or a just and ideal world, could be realised. Equity was to be available at village level – not just in a school. Work was not caste based in this view of egalitarian India. How could it be? As a victim of ‘brown skin’ discrimination Gandhi was all for a world in which merit, ability and talent were promoted irrespective of colour or background, including for ‘white skins’, many of whom were part of his intimate circle of friends and compatriots.

Fair trade, frugal living, and the simple pleasures of community life sound an impossibility in today’s complex city-centred economies. The difference in Gandhian thought is that it processed current issues and then found solutions in individual and collective action. In schools today across India, we see evidence of Gandhian thinking during a school review, when the hierarchy between the school’s leaders and the lowest paid workers does not interfere with them sitting together at the same table to celebrate strengths and discuss the challenges faced by the school. Given our DNA of hierarchy, it is new for a school leader to do, and most difficult for the worker.

Enabling students to travel across India is another great leveller. Gandhi’s insistence on living in villages to experience first hand the difficulties of the ‘common person’ is a perfect example of people who ‘find out for themselves’. India has legends of leaders who mingled incognito in market places and discovered for themselves the difficulties of the people they wished to lead. School leaders have ample opportunity when faced with thinking that is hierarchical or communal, in the staff and parents, to influence them to think in an egalitarian or humane way.

The expectation from school leadership is immense – to understand the vision of the Indian constitution and then to create the environment in schools that enables this vision to be seen, felt, smelt and touched. I see many people who brave the discouragement of families and friends, take their chances and tread the less familiar path. As in Gandhi’s case, sometimes it is the right thing at the right time and sometimes not. It would be interesting to imagine the history of India without his larger than life personality that looms over all of us and reminds us how anything is possible.

Kavita Anand is Executive Director of Adhyayan, a social enterprise growing an education movement of Indian and international educators, dedicated to improving the quality of leadership and learning in schools to achieve the universal vision of ‘a good school for every student’. Kavita is based in Mumbai and was recently awarded the international Ashoka Fellowship.

‘New Year 2016’ by Geoff Barton

I can’t claim actually to have known former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Yes, I sat in the audience at some conferences he spoke at. I was on the side-lines at a couple of meetings and a dinner where I glimpsed first-hand his well-known mix of the witty and the unctuous. And he once stepped out of a lift in the unglamorous basement of a west London hotel, pointed at me, and said ‘It’s Geoff Barton, isn’t it?’. Then he turned and walked away.

None of this amounts to knowing Michael Gove.

But when his departure from the Department of Education was announced, back in July 2014, I decided to send him one of my custom CD mixes as an understated farewell gift. As visitors to our school know, I occasionally inflict a compilation of uplifting and sad songs, plus cheesy ‘Geoffy B’ jingles, as part of a desperate throw-back to my childhood ambition to be Radio One’s next breakfast DJ.

Whether my small musical gesture of goodwill ever reached the departing Secretary of State, I have no idea. But the CD wasn’t returned in the post and hasn’t surfaced on eBay.

So, no, I didn’t know Michael Gove. But I did know what he stood for. I knew what his ambitions for schools were. We all did. However strenuously we disagreed with many of the approaches and policies he unleashed, we couldn’t avoid being aware of his overarching belief that education liberates, and that the education world needed to intensify its ambition to liberate those whose backgrounds, family finances or postcode would serve as a limiter on a child’s aspirations.

Now, with the aftermath of the Gove project smouldering gently behind us, we stand gazing out at another year: 2016. And it already looks as if we’re in for one of unprecedented of change in education – just as we were last year and the year before.

We brace ourselves for seismic changes to qualifications at pretty much every level. KS2 tests will be different. GCSEs will be different. A/S and A-levels will be different.

Some of the big beasts of the current educational jungle are due to leave the forest – Glenys Stacey leaves her role overseeing the exams regulator, Ofqual. Sir Michael Wilshaw will step down from Ofsted later in the year.

Meanwhile a new national Schools Commissioner, in the shape of the well respected Sir David Carter, takes up post at a time when there’s a government determination to see every school an academy or free school.

That’s just some of the stuff going on beyond the school gates – the ritualistic machinations beloved of policy nerds and the Twitterati. In reality, most of it will hardly impinge on most of us most of the time. We’ve quite enough to be getting on with in our own schools and classrooms – some of it extra work provoked by the relentless thrashing-about by a government that too often confuses change with improvement; and some of it simply the ever-intensifying workload felt by all who work in an education system which is being flogged to its limits.

Which brings us to our current Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, the person who oversees that system.

I have never met Ms Morgan. But, in contrast with Mr Gove, I have no idea what she stands for. Apart from occasional exhortations on building character (a good thing, we gather) or teaching children that our roots are as a Christian nation (pretty unarguable), I’m not sure what we could ascribe to our Education Secretary as a defining philosophy, vision, or non-negotiable point of principle.

Sure – there’s a new Education Act in the offing. This may provide something of a route-map. But so far it’s sounding as if the only actual ambition is to make a reality of the Prime Minister’s determination to see every school in England an academy.

And in my book that’s hardly a vision. Instead it’s a lot of structural tinkering built on a decidedly unproven assumption that academies are by definition better than the kind of schools which in most countries would be seen as the norm – local community schools.

So if academisation really is the big idea, no wonder we feel deflated. It misses the point that what matters most in education is, quite simply, the quality of teaching and learning.

And, as the Scripture tells us, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’.

Which is why I’m determined to keep ignoring all those who think my job is anything to do with academy conversion, takeovers of other schools, business plans and boards of directors. It’s all a huge distraction from the important stuff.

I’m convinced that my role is simply to create a culture where we can recruit more great teachers, help them develop, make sure they can learn from each other, and leave them in peace to do their best to build the skills and knowledge of the next generation of young people.

For that, we owe it to our teachers to enable them to focus on the classroom whilst as school leaders we protect them from the swirling madness of external initiatives and political wacky wheezes.

So a key part of our role in the coming year, I’d suggest, is maintaining the confidence to do what matters most in our schools, for our students, for our communities, and not to let ourselves be distracted by anything that isn’t going to help a teacher in our school to teach better or a student to learn more effectively.

How compellingly simple, principled and unarguable is that?

Let’s make 2016 the year of great teaching.

Geoff Barton is Headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, and a NET Leading Thinker.

The restless globe

Trick(y) Question: Which is the fifth largest ‘country by population’ in the world today, and will be the third largest by 2050?

Answer: After China, India, USA, and Indonesia, the fifth largest today is ‘all the peoples of the world who are living in a country that is not the one they were born in’.

Scientists generally agree that about 70,000 years ago, Sapiens from East Africa spread into the Arabian peninsula, and from there quickly overran the entire Eurasian landmass. The history of humankind is one of restless migration. We happen to be witnessing at present, often in grim TV images, that natural human characteristic, but that restless urge to move has always been with us. We have long been global citizens, divided by our nation states.

Pundits and commentators in all spheres of human endeavour like to compare peoples and nations, and build news stories around international comparisons. Take the recently published Portland index of so-called ‘soft power’: the ability to achieve influence by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world. Well, the UK comes 1st out of 30; Finland is fifteenth; China 30th.

In education, the international comparators come fast and furious. We can quote PISA (reading, maths and science) or TIMSS (maths and science) to cheer us up one year or depress us the next. Last year’s report from the OECD on literacy and numeracy proficiency placed Korea and Spain at the top, the US and UK at the bottom of a list of 21 countries. Yet another report suggested Britain could add trillions to its economy if it only had the education standards of Poland, Vietnam and Estonia.

We routinely position polar opposite ideas in order to determine which is right. Whenever we follow this process the result is people on both sides trying to thrust their views forward. Positions harden rather than consensus being achieved.

Let us take the recent debate promoted by a TV documentary set in a Hampshire secondary school where students experienced the Chinese way of doing. Have no doubt, Asia including China is indeed the ‘Asian Tiger’. It pulsates with optimism and evidence of rapid progress is visible at every turn. Education merely reflects this wider ambition. Each generation is a fresh start and all students have the chance to exceed the achievements of their parents. Their overall expectations are high and they deliver.

The Confucius education tradition has a proud history and dictates that education should encourage the student to think about how he should live his life and interact with others, and the forms of society and government in which he should participate. It’s not just learning facts but it does place the onus on the student to make the most of what they are offered. This is where the idea that the Chinese value hard work comes from. They do, but so do Singapore and Hong Kong. They believe that hard work rather than background – or even innate ability – is the key to success and that anyone who wants it can achieve it.

So why are they seeking advice from Hampshire educationalists? Well the answer is that we have our own proud tradition. At its best our education system develops individuals who can think for themselves. They are encouraged to question and debate ideas and the result, when done well, is that we produce students who can innovate and problem solve as well as having strong subject knowledge and expertise. Note our very successful creative industries and our record for innovation in all fields as opposed to just routine production.

Yet, both we and Shanghai have our problems. In Asia the challenge is to find an educational style that builds on their success but at the same time encourages the problem solving and innovative thinking which prepares people for leadership in a complex world. In the UK our education tradition seems to create a mixture of excellence and mediocrity as it is much more teacher and school dependent. It’s harder to manage students who think for themselves and question the teacher.

Maybe what we should be taking from Asia (and Poland and Estonia) is their belief in the power of hard work and their belief in students’ ability to succeed. And helping students to understand that they need to take some ownership for their own progress, enjoy the fact that difficulty in any kind of learning is pleasurable, and pursue the route to mastery.

We are restless people wanting to improve how we do things, in all walks of life. We can learn much from other countries and adopt some of their ideas. But wholesale transfer never works – education is context related and reflects a country’s society and ambitions. And in the UK, we should remember to champion our ‘soft power’.

References: The Restless School (John Catt) by Roy Blatchford. High Performance Learning: How to create World Class schools (Routledge, January 2016) by Deborah Eyre.