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Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: Wren Academy

Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 3

Today was my final day at the Wren Academy and as I left the school, I had more questions than answers. This is a good thing.

After my first lesson, Ruth and I had a discussion around differentiation and checking progress in the lesson. On the first point, I do differentiate the work for my students lower down the school yet I do not do as much at A Level (I currently teach Politics to the Sixth Form). This is something that I will consider carefully over the next few months as I prepare to teach Unit 2 AS Politics. On the issue of checking progress, there are a few things to ponder. Many of the ‘progress checks’ I am aware of in terms of lesson observations seem to be an example of performativity rather than a substantive check on learning (hinge questions aside). I say this because learning is not necessarily reducible to a timetabled lesson.  However, I also believe that you should know where your students are coming from and where they are now so you can point/push/cajole them in the right direction in the lesson and if there was one thing that came out of my visit to the Wren is that to really help the students and my own teaching, I should have visited a number of their lessons first and read some essays. Something to consider for next time.

I also felt a little dissatisfied because if I had taught the sequence of overview lessons the Russian Revolution to the students at Berkhamsted, I would have set them an essay. This was my fault for not really thinking through the learning process before I arrived and if this is to work well next time, I might suggest a definitive task so I can actually see where the students are and start the feedback process (a genuine collaboration).

The conversation on progress also made me reflect upon the differences in inspection regimes and the issues can be seen through the lens of Liverpool College. Earlier this year, Hans van Broekman the Head of the former independent school (now an Academy) stated that ‘joining the state sector has improved our teaching’. You can read his article in the TES here. I’ll leave you to make your own judgements about the purpose of the piece yet what came across strongly for me was that before the move, Liverpool College did not think carefully about teaching and learning. More importantly, the changes they have implemented seem to be driven by the inspection regime rather than any substantive notion of what good teaching and learning looks like. For me, this is a dangerous path because if you survey what Ofsted has stated makes good teaching and learning over the last 10 years, you will find that they are consistently inconsistent (although they seem to be doing some hard thinking of late which is very encouraging). What the Independent Schools Inspectorate has been good at is thinking about the learning they encounter and seeing how it fits within the stated aims of the school (which will help Professors Becky Francis and Merryn Hutchings who, rather worryingly, missed out the Independent Schools Inspectorate when they conducted research into the quality of teaching in the independent sector for a Sutton Trust publication) . That is not to say that the ISI system is perfect because it is not (and expect another blog post on this soon). However, what ISI is good at is recognising the accountability/quality assurance processes within the schools it visits. To my mind, Good schools (in all guises) have robust internal accountability procedures because they are driven by their core purpose.  

So, as I head off this weekend for some more CPD with 200 other History teachers at the Schools History Project Conference in Leeds, I have a few more questions to consider. A great starting point for further reading and thinking.

I want to thank Ruth, the History team and the other staff members at the Wren for their warm welcome. I would also like to thank the students for their time too. As an A Level group left a lesson today, one of them asked if I was teaching at the school next year. When I replied negatively, the student said that I should. They have no idea that they made my day.

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Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 2

As I got in the cab on my way from the Tube (I did not want to be late) this morning, the driver freely offered his opinion on the Wren: it really is an excellent school. He has no children there but he added that some of his clients speak about the school in glowing terms. Priceless marketing. Yet as I left the school this afternoon, I worried what the funding for Sixth Form students could diminish the education it (and other schools like it) offers. The possibility that schools like the Wren may, in the future, have to increase class sizes or shed teaching staff to balance an already squeezed budget seems wrong. Those niche (within a school context)  subjects at A Level will disappear. Regardless of what some research may suggest about optimum class sizes, doing a good job with 30 A Level students in one class is wrongheaded especially when the other demands of teaching can reduce your capacity to maintain the high standards many teachers strive to achieve (and the students need). As I made the journey home and thought about the cab driver’s words, it seemed that whilst there is general praise for the work schools like Wren do from the community and the government, their ability to thrive was being stifled by the cutbacks. It reminded me (for some strange reason) of Geoffrey Howe’s words as he resigned from the Thatcher government:

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

Geoffrey Howe, resignation speech, 1990.

I do not believe that we are there yet but if the people with power are really serious about making state schools the ‘best in the world’, there really is a lot of work to do.

On a happier note, the Y10 lessons (on the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis) went well and I had some fantastic answers to the ‘who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?’ question. I also spoke to some of the students and many of them were keen to do History at A Level, a great endorsement of the work Ruth and the team have done/are doing.

I also had a quick discussion with Michael Whitworth (the Principal of Wren Academy) around lesson observations and CPD and I look forward to continuing those discussions tomorrow after my final Sixth Form lessons on Lenin’s rule.

 

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Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 1

One of the things that interests me intensely are the stereotypes people have of the independent and state sectors. Many of these views stem from the fact that they have not set foot in some of the institutions and ‘did the work’ so they could talk with some conviction. As an aspiring Head (yes, I am considering both sectors) it also made sense for me to avoid the same accusation so I decided last year that I would spend a few days teaching at The Wren Academy which is sponsored by Berkhamsted School. I have visited the Wren before and invited them to participate in #TLAB13 and #TLAB14. Ruth, their Head of History has visited Berkhamsted a few times and we agreed that it would be great for her NQT colleagues to see an experienced A Level teacher take some lessons.

As I arrived this morning, there was a sense of dread. My first lesson (Y9)sort of worked yet I wanted to polish it/check a few things before I taught. It did not really work out that way and to be honest, it fell way beyond my own standards (and would, in my reckoning, been a ‘3’ in Oftsed language). Not a great start and a timely reminder that nothing should be left to chance.

The second and third lessons went well (The Russian Revolutions 1917) and I will be seeing the 6th Form classes again on Thursday. I also helped teach an ‘enrichment’ lesson with a small group of students struggling with the Wall Street Crash with Ruth and I must say, this was my favourite part of the day. Armed with sheets of paper and text books, we discussed the causes and effects of the Depression and I was impressed with the questions and factual information they had retained from previous lessons.

At the end, Ruth and I sat down to discuss the day and lay the groundwork for tomorrow. We both agreed that the first lesson was terrible so we left it there! We then examined the observed 6th Form lesson (no judgement) and it was interesting that my point for development was to consider wider opportunities for AFL. We then discussed the tension between asking individual questions of students and small, paired discussion before asking questions. This was a useful conversation because it gave us both a chance to think about our natural inclinations in the classroom and how we could switch between these two approaches and it will certainly inform my planning for tomorrow when I teach the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis to Y10.

We also touched on the focus of lesson observations (they have been developmental, not judgemental, at Berkhamsted for a long time), CPD and Lesson Study. I hope I can convince Ruth and her team to present at #TLAB15…

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Conference Update #4 – Workshop leaders

A brief update on workshop leaders. I am incredibly pleased that colleagues from the state, independent, HE sectors and outside institutions around the country have given up their time and expertise freely to share at the conference. Without your generosity and desire to improve, it would be a poor event and I want to thank you all.

Confirmed workshop leaders so far (additional info in brackets):

Zoe Ross (ICT, Social Media, entrepreneur )

Neal Watkin (AST, History and TEEP Trainer)

Eric Wareham (Science, SLT, TEEP Trainer

Jen Ellison (Head of Science)

John Mitchell (History)

David Rogers (Geography, Jamie’s Dream Teacher winner)

Laura Knight (Director of eLearning, HoD of MFL)

Dr Tori Herridge (Science, Natural History Museum, London)

Dai Barnes (Head of ICT)

James Michie (Head of Media and KS4 English, ICT)

Dave Stacey (History and ICT)

Chris Gibbard (Maths)

Kristian Still (PE, SLT, ICT and English)

Alex Battinson (HoD PE, Boarding)

Nathan Lowe and Flitch Green Academy (Primary, SLT, whole school use of technology)

Wren Academy (Building Learning Power, Student Voice)

Ashlyns School

Andy Kemp (Maths, SLT)

David Didau (English, SLT, Learning and Teaching)

Tait Coles (SLT, Learning and Teaching)

Sarah Capewell (SLT, Latin/Greek, Classics, mobile learning)

Bill Lord (Primary, SLT, Learning and Teaching)

Ian Yorston (Science, ICT, Computing, being unreasonable)

Adam O’Connor (History, Learning and Teaching)

Dr David James (English, Leadership, IB)

Mark Anderson (ICT)

We still have more workshops to confirm in the coming weeks so please keep checking the blog. With such an impressive array of teaching and learning talent, I am sure that you will walk away from the event with something that will sharpen your work and improve the learning in your classrooms. Combined with presentations from Alistair Smith, Professor Bill Lucas and Dr Bill Rankin, this really is a year’s worth of inset in one day!

All of this does come at a cost and I would like to reiterate that we are not making a profit on the event. Ticket prices will be announced shortly and we are working hard to keep it as affordable as possible which is helped greatly by the fact that workshop leaders are giving their time freely. The price we are aiming for is significantly cheaper to comparable inset sessions and we think it will be pleasing to all (just check how much it would be to book one of our speakers/workshop leaders for an hour). However, we do still need help. If you would like to support an event that spans sectors and key stages with a focus on inspirational teaching and grounded in helping students do their best, please get in contact.

Update: Twitter hashtag is #TLAB13

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