Learning walks – Are we learning?

The landscape has changed and performance management observations are no longer de rigeur. Instead, the world is awash with learning walks. These merry visits are now being used as the de facto method of measuring teacher performance and for schools to determine individual and global next steps. This does, however beg the question, what do leaders look for when they conduct a learning walk? This is particularly important within the current climate as these short classroom visits might be used to make summary judgments of a teachers quality and inform performance management reviews.

This post was inspired after a friend commented that his head teacher had scrapped PM observations. Instead, teachers would be graded through a series of learning walks. The intentions behind this new regime were noble enough; the use of a learning walk was less intense than a full observation and there was recognition that the time and stress that came with preparing a full observation would be reduced. Thankfully, it appears, the days of receiving a ring binder full of photocopying and resources for the sake of one lesson appear to have passed and a far more rational, considered approach has materialised. Additionally, everybody can have a bad day should we draw conclusions from a ‘one-off’ amongst an academic year forged from hundreds of lessons?

Nonetheless, the learning walks approach should be treated with caution as it is fraught with issues. These arise  when you start to consider what it is that you are looking for in a learning walk, my experience is that they rarely last for more than ten minutes, yet important and complex assertions are made. It might then become regarded as a somewhat flippant method of regarding a professionals and colleagues work, leading to: distrust, lack of confidence in a school’s systems and consequently resentment. This is certainly the case when these learning walks are often conducted by non-subject specialists who are unlikely to have the expertise to acknowledge what excellent looks like, and whether this excellence reflects the requirements of a specification or syllabus. Additionally, are those that are conducting the learning walk aware that Ofsted no longer suggest or promote a preferred teaching method?

With this in mind I have a composed a short list of learning walk advisories:

  1. Always feed back what you saw – these are excellent coaching opportunities and the least that one might expect is a little advice, guidance or praise after being ‘walked’
  2. Have a clear agenda – let teachers know what it is that you are looking for. You can not see everything in the time that it take s to learning walk a colleague, however, it is an excellent method for establishing how successful new initiatives have been implemented
  3. Keep the criteria short and sweet – you can’t do everything at once and expect your findings to be robust
  4. Don’t use them as book looks – book looks/ work scrutinies are for this, walking around a classroom and delving into the work of a class is impractical and actually quite annoying for staff and students.
  5. Walk with the subject leader – they can provide advice and guidance as to what should be being taught, questions can be directed to them if it isn’t
  6. Do not make judgments based upon the teaching styles witnessed – data is the clearest indicator of the success of a teacher’s style, after all, Ofsted do not demonstrate a bias to any particular style of teaching, why should you?
  7. Perform them frequently and consistently – a culture where learning walks are normalised will ensure that students and teachers do not play-up for the ‘cameras’
  8. Do not address areas of concerns during the walk – we’d rather correct students in private, this should also be the case for teachers
  9. Leaders: know your specs – the more well-versed a leader is in the specifications, medium term plans and what student work should look like, the more likely that they can make relevant assertions
  10. Share excellence – if you see great, pass it on!




This much I know about…how we are on our own when it comes to the teacher recruitment crisis

Fab article


I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about how we are on our own when it comes to the teacher recruitment crisis.

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.
Theresa May, 13 July 2016

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only great teaching will make our country’s education system great. It’s that simple.

Finding great teachers isn’t so simple, however. Despite what Nick Gibb might say, we are in…

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The Standards Agenda

Much of my work over the last 18 months has been centred on the development of middle leaders. Below are some presentations that have been created to support their work:

Head of Zone Review Presentation 01.06.14 Review process Review Cycle Middle Leaders Role in School Self-Evaluation 2

I’m eager to expand upon this through the effective development of instructional leadership within my school- an aspect of my own practice I am keen to develop. I have heard other leaders wax lyrical on how it can develop people and improve outcomes however I have had limited experience or knowledge of it, prior to my NPQH. The ‘Thinkpiece’ ‘Managing Performance’ provided me with a gateway to learning more. An interesting article by Kappan suggests that the value of instructional leadership increases when it is used to develop systems rather than as a tool solely utilised for developing classroom practice. Interesting to note considering the paradox that exists with the increasing recognition that Head Teachers need to be expert teachers yet have less and less time to commit to developing and practicing there own skill in this area.

School Improvement vs Educational Politics

Thank you for taking the time to articulate and share some of the frustrations that school leadership is faced with. A quick point, “Towards a collective process of problem solving”. Becoming increasingly difficult in the market economy that has been created through league tables and further exaggerated by competing academy chains.


POLITICS_AND_EDUCATION_0-1 Image courtesy SACNAS.org Everyone who works in the school system wants the best for the children – let’s start with that assumption. Politicians do too; it’s just that their instinct to ‘do something’ can be woefully misjudged. Here are some thoughts.

A fundamental paradox in the school improvement process is that deep-rooted change that constitutes bona fide transformation of educational standards takes longer than almost anyone can bear to wait. There are good reasons for the impatience – every day that real children are receiving a poor education is a day too many. There are also bad reasons – ie that the electoral cycle only gives politicians a few years to work with: two to implement change and, at most, three to show the improvement needed to prove how good their ideas were. That’s not really long enough to demonstrate cause and effect for any educational policy; too often minor…

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Ebacc For All

Below is the speech made by Nick Gibb, Minister of State at the Department of Education. The blogosphere has been going crazy as school leaders wrestle with the probability that all students will have to complete an Ebacc curriculum. The following is the link to the speech, should you want to print and share: http://www.government-world.com/speech-nick-gibb-the-social-justice-case-for-an-academic-curriculum/?print=pdf

And here is what all the fuss is about

Speech: Nick Gibb: the social justice case for

an academic curriculum

When introducing the second reading of his great Education Act in January 1944, Rab Butler

addressed a common objection of the time to the expansion of secondary education which he was

about to oversee: ‘Who will do the work if everybody is educated?’

Butler’s response was characteristically uncompromising: that ‘education itself will oil the wheels of

industry and will bring a new efficiency, the fruit of modern knowledge, to aid the ancient skill of

farm and field’.

The view he was standing against – that a rich education for all is unnecessary, and perhaps even

undesirable – is one which has sadly been repeated many times over the past 70 years in different

forms. Today, it is more likely to be heard as a denial of the value of rigorous, academic subjects for

the most disadvantaged students.

This is an idea which those of us committed to social justice should reject. If we are to deliver a

fairer, more socially mobile society, we must secure the highest standards of academic achievement

for all young people, and especially those from the least advantaged backgrounds.

Academic decline

Many of us have always seen this denial of the value of academic disciplines for the dangerous

falsehood that it is. The data shows, however, that this was not sufficient to prevent a precipitous

decline in the study of academic subjects in the years prior to 2010.

By 2010, just 43% of the cohort took a GCSE in a foreign language. In history, the figure had fallen

to 31%, and in geography to 26%.

Instead, schools had been tempted to teach qualifications which attracted the most points in the

performance tables – not the qualifications that would support young people to progress. The

number of so called ‘equivalent’ qualifications taken in schools up to age 16 exploded from 15,000 in

2004 to 575,000 in 2010.

Year after year, disadvantaged young people were encouraged to take less demanding qualifications

so that the ‘powers that be’ in the education world could congratulate themselves on their

performance whilst failing to prepare pupils for success in later life.

In 2011, we asked Professor Alison Wolf to conduct a review into vocational education. Her findings

were stark: that many young people had previously been encouraged to take vocational

qualifications which were of no, or even negative, value in the labour market. What’s more, the

students being let down in this way by our education system were disproportionately from poorer



Since 2010, we have made rapid and significant progress to address this decline in academic


We introduced the new English Baccalaureate performance measure, showing the proportion of

pupils in a school entering and achieving a good GCSE in English, maths, science, history or

geography, and a foreign language. Schools have risen to this challenge. The proportion of pupils

entering the EBacc has risen from 23% in 2012 to 39% today, and the percentage achieving it has

increased from 16% to 24% over the same period. Last year, almost 90,000 more pupils were

entered for the EBacc compared to 2010.

We have also acted swiftly to implement Professor Wolf’s recommendations. To ensure that

vocational qualifications are demanding and high quality, we have removed over 3,000 low-value

qualifications from performance tables and introduced rigorous new standards and qualifications.

Recognising the vital importance of GCSE English and maths, we have introduced a requirement for

young people who fail to secure a C in GCSE English or maths at 16 to continue studying those

subjects as part of their course in further education.

But the scale of the challenge we inherited in 2010, and the importance of these academic subjects

to the future strength of our culture and economy, means that we need to do more.

Overall, disadvantaged pupils remain half as likely to be entered for the EBacc as their nondisadvantaged

peers. 23% of pupils eligible for the pupil premium were entered for the EBacc,

compared with 45% of all other pupils.

This gap persists even among the most able pupils. Just last week, the Sutton Trust published

analysis which looked at the GCSE performance of pupils who had previously scored in the top 10%

nationally at the end of primary school. They found that, even within this group, pupils who had

received free school meals were significantly less likely to be taking history, geography, a language,

or triple science at GCSE than their peers.

These children, who showed such early promise, have been let down by our failure to offer every

pupil the chance to benefit from a core academic curriculum.

This culture of low expectations has afflicted whole local authority areas. Despite our reforms, fewer

than 10% of pupils in Knowsley achieve the EBacc, compared to 30% in Halton in the north-west,

35% in Westminster and 34% in Hackney. These disparities are not simply explained by social

circumstance – in all 4 local authorities, the proportion of pupils identified as disadvantaged is

between 40 and 56%. This is simply unacceptable.

Today, I would like to set out this government’s plan to address this challenge by strengthening

academic standards further.

But first I want to defend our emphasis on academic subjects against 4 criticisms.

Low expectations

Some have argued that we cannot expect disadvantaged pupils to take academic subjects, or to be

motivated by their study. In 2011, an Associate Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research

said that:

The problem [with the EBacc] is that very few students from disadvantaged backgrounds

actually take those subjects, they won’t be motivated to take them. Ministers are now

[effectively] incentivising schools to focus their efforts on middle-class children who do

well in these subjects.

This is a concern which was difficult to sustain in 2011, and has now decisively been proved wrong.

‘Outstanding’ schools across the country are demonstrating that a rigorous academic curriculum is

the way to overcome educational disadvantage, not an inevitable victim of it.

King Solomon Academy, situated in the heart of a disadvantaged community in Paddington, is one of

these schools. 67% of GCSE pupils at King Solomon Academy are eligible for the pupil premium, but

despite this, 93% of pupils entered the EBacc, and 76% of pupils achieved it in 2014.

Rushey Mead School in Leicester is yet another example of an ‘outstanding’ school where they have

high expectations for all their pupils. 33% of the school’s intake is eligible for the pupil premium,

72%, are entered for the EBacc, and 42% achieve it, well above the national average.

These schools show that all pupils, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can find

academic subjects motivating.

We should never lower our expectations because too many young people are failing to reach them.

Rather, we must raise standards by supporting teachers and turning around schools which are

struggling. The government is determined to rise to this challenge.

A broad curriculum

It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects in the national curriculum, and

especially the introduction of the EBacc, ‘crowds out’ the study of other important subjects,

particularly the arts.

We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade-offs: more time on one subject

means less time on others. Over the years, I’ve been asked to add scores of subjects – from

intellectual property, to Esperanto, to den building – to the national curriculum. Many of these are

important and interesting.

The question, though, is always whether they are sufficiently important to justify reducing the time

available for the existing subjects in the curriculum, and I make no apology for protecting space for

the English Baccalaureate subjects wherever possible.

That is not to say, of course, that subjects outside the English Baccalaureate have no place in

schools. The EBacc is a specific, limited measure consisting of only 5 subject areas and up to 8

GCSEs. Whilst this means that there are several valuable subjects which are not included, it also

means that there is time for most pupils to study other subjects in addition to the EBacc, including

vocational and technical disciplines which are also vital to future economic growth. The vast

majority of pupils will rightly continue to take the opportunity to study further academic GCSEs or

high value, approved vocational qualifications at KS4 alongside EBacc subjects.

Indeed, the government has consistently promoted high-quality arts and cultural education. Music

and art are statutory subjects in the national curriculum, and we are spending over £270 million in

music education programmes between 2012 and 2016. And we’re spending in this period over £113

million on the Music and Dance Scheme, and over £19 million on a range of cultural education


The supposed choice between a core academic curriculum on the one hand, and the study of a broad

range of subjects on the other, is a false one. Before they begin to specialise, we have to ensure that

all pupils have the chance to establish a solid academic foundation upon which they can build their

future. Several high-performing countries, including South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands,

ensure that a core curriculum of academic subjects is studied and then examined at the age of 16.

Success in the modern economy

Others have argued that, in today’s economy, when we cannot predict the jobs of tomorrow, a core

academic curriculum is no longer relevant. In his new book, ‘Creative Schools’, the educationalist Sir

Ken Robinson writes:

The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them

by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.

This argument – that the world today is fundamentally different, so high standards in academic

subjects are now less important – is not new. As the American education historian Diane Ravitch has

pointed out, educationalists such as William Heard Kilpatrick were predicting the same decline in

relevance of academic subjects a hundred years ago:

There is nothing new in the proposals of the 21st century skills movement… If there was

one cause that animated the schools of education in the 20th century, it was the search

for the ultimate breakthrough that would finally loosen the shackles of subject matter

and content.

Sir Ken is correct to recognise the value of flexibility and creativity to success in life and the labour

market. But he is wrong to suggest that the best way to foster these attributes is to reduce the

emphasis on core academic subjects. As Tom Bennett, a teacher and founder of the superb

ResearchEd conferences, put it in his excoriating review of Sir Ken’s latest book:

Is there anything more sad than the sight of someone denying children the right to an

academic curriculum and the fruits thereof, than from someone who is the very pinnacle

of such an education?

By contrast, the best preparation for securing a good job is a solid grounding in core academic

subjects: Professor Wolf describes achieving at least a C at GCSE in English and maths as of ‘critical

importance’ to employment. And University College London ‘considers experience of learning a

foreign language a vital element of a broad and balanced education’.

This isn’t a debate between academic subjects on the one hand, and vocational qualifications on the

other. It’s about ensuring that all school children up to the age of 16 are properly educated in those

academic subjects that best equip them for their future; either for high-quality vocational education

after 16, or further academic education until ultimately going on to engage in training for a vocation.


Finally, and perhaps most perniciously, some even suggest that a core academic curriculum

represents a kind of elitism – as if the study of Wordsworth’s poetry or Rutherford’s Standard Model

is for some people, not others.

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educationalist with a commitment to the education of the poor. But his

vision of an effective curriculum differs sharply from my own. He believed that the traditional model

of education, in which a teacher communicates knowledge to his or her pupils, is oppressive because

this deprives them of the opportunity to challenge received wisdom and develop their own contrary


Freire was of course right that society’s culture and body of knowledge is disproportionately the

product of those who have themselves benefited from a rigorous academic education. And in the

past, unequal access to such an education has meant that the leading lights of literature, science and

the arts have often come disproportionately from advantaged backgrounds.

But it is exactly for this reason that we now need to extend the benefits of a rigorous academic

education to all. The body of academic knowledge belongs to everyone, regardless of background,

circumstance or job.

This is not a political issue of left and right, but rather a choice whether to stand behind aspiration

and social justice, or to take the easier route of excuses and low expectations.

It is striking, therefore, that the government’s commitment to academic rigour receives support from

many politicians across the political spectrum. Diane Abbott has proved to be one of the most

eloquent supporters of our approach, and has spoken out powerfully in favour of a core academic


Precisely if someone is the first in their family to stay on past school leaving age,

precisely if someone’s family does not [have] social capital, and precisely if someone

does not have parents who can put in a word for them in a difficult job market, they need

the assurance of rigorous qualifications and, if at all possible, core academic


This view is reflected in parents’ hopes for their children. In 2010, the Millennium Cohort Study

found that 97% of new mothers wanted their child to go to university. A core academic education

remains an aspiration for all, and the government is determined to stand with parents and teachers

to make it a reality.

To those who criticise our focus on academic subjects, or suggest that the EBacc is a Gradgrindian

anachronism, I have a simple question: would you want your child to be denied the opportunity to

study a science, history or geography, and a foreign language?

Next steps

It is for these reasons that the government will take further steps to restore academic subjects to the

heart of the curriculum in all schools.

We are reforming GCSEs and A levels so that they are more rigorous, and provide better preparation

for employment and further study. GCSE students taking modern languages will now have to

translate into the target language accurately, applying grammatical knowledge of language and

structures in context. GCSE students in maths will have to know how to develop clear mathematical

arguments and solve realistic mathematical problems.

A level maths students are now required to study both statistics and mechanics. For both A level

maths and further maths, there is a greater focus on mathematical problem solving and modelling,

and language and proofs to ensure students understand the underlying mathematical concepts.

We are working with teachers and publishers to increase the use and availability of high-quality

textbooks in schools. Good textbooks provide a structured, well-honed progression through a

subject’s content. They also ease workload for teachers, who no longer need to spend whole

evenings and weekends preparing ad-hoc resources. Despite these benefits, textbooks are now a

rare sight in English classrooms: only 10% of primary maths teachers here use a textbook as the

basis for their teaching, compared to 70% in Singapore and 95% in Finland. I have challenged

textbook publishers to do better, and am determined that we will secure high-quality resources to

underpin an academic curriculum.

We are improving standards of mathematics by supporting schools to adopt the proven mastery

approach to teaching maths. The mastery model emphasises whole class teaching, systematic

progression, and – crucially – the expectation that every child can succeed in mathematics. This

approach is informed by teaching methods in Shanghai, where 15-year-olds significantly outperform

their English peers. Shanghai tops the PISA table for performance in maths and students there are

on average 3 years ahead of their counterparts in England.

And just to emphasise its importance for success in later life, Shanghai also came top in the PISA

table in financial literacy, scoring significantly higher than the second-placed Flemish community in


All of these measures will continue to raise academic standards, so that every pupil receives the

education to which they are entitled. In due course, we will also set out details of our expectation

that secondary school pupils should take English Baccalaureate subjects at age 16. In doing so, we

will listen closely to the views of teachers, headteachers, and parents on how best to implement this

commitment. And we will ensure that schools have adequate lead in time to prepare for any major


For some schools already leading the way, such as King Solomon Academy and Rushey Mead School,

this change will pass by unnoticed. But for others, where only a small minority currently achieve the

EBacc, there is no doubt that this will be a significant challenge. We will support these schools to

raise standards, but make no apology for expecting every child to receive a high-quality core

academic education.

Together, these measures will give more pupils the preparation they need to succeed – whether

that’s getting a place at a good university, starting an apprenticeship, or finding their first job. They

will provide the foundations of an education system with social justice at its heart, in which every

young person reaches their potential.

Closing the Gap Research

Below is a number of documents that look at raising the achievement of specific student groups. In particular, White British, Disadvantaged and Black Caribbean (boys at risk of exclusion). There is an overwhelming theme that exists throughout the documents; the importance of effective assessment, particularly formative. It was with this in mind and through the acknowledgment that I have limited experience of leading teaching and learning that I decided to make an application on behalf of my school to become involved in the EFA’s ‘Embedding Formative Assessment Project’. So far, I have successfully completed the first element of the application (telephone interview). I will now need to complete some administration and fingers crossed we will be one of 120 schools that are chosen to take part

Information about the project:

The project

This project will test a two-year professional development programme on formative assessment. This is based around a pack, “Embedding Formative Assessment” (EFA), which includes materials schools need to deliver 18 monthly internal workshops (“Teacher Learning Communities”) involving all teachers from across the school, working together in groups of 8-12.

Formative assessment involves teachers using evidence of pupils’ understanding and learning to make decisions, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, about the next steps in teaching and learning. This evidence could also be used when planning lessons or differentiating activities for individual pupils. When assessing formatively, the feedback given by teachers moves learners forward. Students are developed to be owners of their own learning and support each other to progress.

The idea is that teachers can guide themselves through the materials, to run a carefully structured series of workshops focused on helping teachers change their practice and embed their use formative assessment in the classroom. One staff member in each school will receive additional support to embed the programme. The pack was developed by Dylan Wiliam with SSAT. SSAT will recruit 120 schools, who will be randomly allocated to receive the intervention or be in the control group.” link to site

Finally, the research

AddressingWorkingClassUnderachievementGazeley BarrierstoachievementWhiteBlack blackunderachievementRhaimie deprivation_&_educationDFES2009 Is childrens free school mealHobbs Removing barriers to literacy_Ofsted RethinkingAssessmentandInequalityBradbury SocialClassEthnicityPerformance SocialMobilityNarrowingGapsDFES TacklingLowLevelsofAchievementCasse TacklinngLowEducationalAchievementCassenandKingdon WhiteWorkingClassAchievementExecutiveSummarydemie Who is eligible for free school mealsGorard WhoCaresAboutTheWhiteWorkingClass-2009Runnymede

What’s the easiest way to a secondary Ofsted Outstanding?


Eating Elephants

Secondary school leaders would like to think that they are judged on the difference they make and not on the pure outcomes of their school irrespective of context.  The whole language of the most recent framework is about progress made, taking into account pupils and schools various starting points.  While there has to be regard to national average attainments, there is a general sense that Ofsted inspectors try to take into account starting points when judging a school.

But are they succeeding?  For example, do those schools which have low prior-attainment intakes have that taken into account properly?  Do those with very able intakes get the appropriate challenge from Ofsted?  

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