Rebuilding Curriculum and Assessment CPTSA Conference 3rd February 2018.

Despite the miserable weather and end of term exhaustion, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the CPTSA Conference on Saturday 3rd February 2018.

I think this was the third instalment and the second time I have attended this little gem of a conference, one which gets better year after year.  This is clearly not by accident, it is carefully curated by Kev, Helene and the CPTSA team but I also feel that there is an emerging consensus around many of these issues, at least amongst the type of people who attend edu-conferences at weekends!  Firstly, deep thinking about the ‘what’ we teach and the ‘why’ and  a welcome return of a knowledge-based curriculum.  Secondly, there is a general acceptance by most of the attendees and presenters on the ‘how’ to teach.  Some teaching methods are more clearly more effective for novice learners. There is a better way of teaching and that using alternative methods is not harmless as they represent an opportunity cost in terms of time and effort but also a potential cognitive overload or distraction.

Keynote 1: Dr Caroline Creaby – Rebuilding curriculum and assessment. 

Caroline made a sound argument for putting curriculum back on the agenda for all stakeholders, this is not just an activity reserved for SLTs but also at department and student level.  In the past we have let pedagogy rule our agenda, it is time we took control of rebuilding our curricula.

We need to devote time to understanding and interpreting the new KS4 and KS5 specifications and ensuring consistency in lessons.  Our schemes of learning are under constant review as we finesse them.  We need to have space to reflect and respond to issues in the learning and change the schemes as we go.  Teachers are remarkable at responding to change – we need to remind ourselves that we can do this and have the confidence with rebuilding our curricula.

How do changes at KS4 and KS5 alter learning?  Is there more time and space to build their knowledge over time?

How can super-curricula help build students knowledge? What can students do independently outside the classroom … books, films, research and days out?  Sandringham have developed a range of activities for all year groups that will support independent learning.

We need to focus on the ‘what’ not the ‘how’ – we now have an evidence-based approach that can tell us the ‘how’, we must return to the ‘what’.

There is an emerging canon on the science of learning, where teacher myths about learning are being debunked (Paul Howard-Jones – Neuroscience and Education).  We know there are better ways of studying and learning.  Can we redesign our curricula with this in mind.

Sandringham have developed the Sandringham Memory Clock which helps students use these ideas in a practical way.  Claremont High have been awarded a research grant to measure what impact knowledge organisers and regular quizzing may have on progression in Year 8 English classes.

Caroline leaves us with a typology of teachers: The extended professional vs The restricted professional.

A restricted professional – for whom teaching is intuitive but whose perspective is restricted to their own classroom.

An extended professional – for whom teaching is a rational activity whose ideas are embedded in research.

Long live the rise of the extended professionals!

Keynote 2. Tom Sherrington: macro to micro – taking assessment in the right direction.

Tom’s position is that for too long we have allowed the data machine to drive the learning in our schools and it is time we re-think and redress the flaws in this approach.

What is the role of assessment?  Feedback to students Vs feedback to teachers – how well are we doing?

But it has got to be the right kind of assessment, we cannot assess everything or measure everything?  Our data assessment drives the teaching and often this information does not tell us much.  We have created a data illusion.  Most data systems are over complicated and over designed. Most teachers know their students well and can tell you … is it wise they spend so much time inputting data into the machine.  For what purpose?  For whom?  There is a serious opportunity cost to designing a data system that requires half-termly input.

A thought experiment … Your entire student progress database is wiped – what difference would it make to what happens in the classroom?

What does the data say? It is notoriously difficult to get teachers to be consistent about many of the data questions – engagement, home learning and even whether we are measuring the grade they have now or the grade they may get if they carry on.  The variable is the teachers interpretation?  (Plus the none sense of asking Year 9 teachers to give a GCSE predicted grade??)

Data and Progress Reports do not tell you about the learning.  Predicted grades are a mugs game as it will always depend on the results Bell Curve, if one group improve another must do worse … everyone cannot be at the top.

If you want to know how a student is doing you need to triangulate the data, books and his test scores. The data report is a often mutual embarrassment at parents’ evenings.

Summative assessment and formative assessment are different things. We use formative data to make summative judgements.

There is a difference between data tracking and authentic assessment which measures real progress?  Could the time spent on data tracking be better spent on feedback?

What can we do?

Lots of low stakes testing? Cumulative summative testing and a Twice Yearly data capture.  Now is the time to rethink how we do this.

Megan Hubbard: the literacy conundrum?

Why is it important?  Why have some existing strategies failed some students.

It is a number one priority for all schools or should be.  Literacy is not just a problem for English teachers – it is an agenda for all teachers.

We have spent years trying to close the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students. What we have done has often been tokenistic or may have actually compounded the problem as we have not managed to close the literacy gap.  We should be mindful of the Matthew Effect, where the word rich get richer whilst the word poor get poorer and think clearly about how we can address this problem.

We need to focus on words and rich vocabularies to help students engage with the curricula.  Reading for pleasure is the thing that can make a difference but it needs to be sustained and not as an add on.  There is a Literacy Club, of which only certain people are members, why do we keep people out of this literacy club that gives us an advantage but if reading is difficult for you why would you want to engage with it.

One of the challenges is that literacy is a difficult term to define clearly as it encompasses a wide range of skills and knowledge which when you start to list is too big a job for one teacher to do.  We will only begin to deal with the literacy conundrum when we all take responsibility for developing the tier 2 vocabulary and explicitly teaching literacy in our classes, it cannot be left for the English teacher to do alone and out of context.

Mark Enser: Cutting the Fat.

We have put too much on teachers and added too much stuff for them to do.  Mark makes a clear argument for stripping back all the extras and focusing on what helps learning.  How would we teach if no one is watching?

Is there a best way to teach? Yes, if you define best as narrowing the gap between what students know and don’t know.  Evidence-based education supports the use of explicit instruction with novice learners.

Mark has devised his own simple plan or recipe for learning.

Recap, input, application, test.

Plan Learning and not lessons.

The lesson may take 5 minutes or 50 minutes.

Do you need starter and plenary in each lesson?

Start with the big idea and move through the learning.


Create a hook,
Make the place in schemes explicit,
The testing effect and forgetting curve.
Low stakes testing
Self assessed
Main reason is to strengthen the learning …
Tests link to next bit of learning.

Explicit instruction
Use images
Target questions

Ignore the Cone of shame.

Decrease undesirable distractions

Help students make schemas


Causes them to think hard
Practice makes permanent
Model your expectations
Teach up and support down.

Believe so you can achieve …


Be clear about what you want people to know.

How do you respond if they do not know?

Review the work
Redraft – is it excellent yet?

Have they learnt it?

Thanks Mark, a useful reminder.

Lunch: The CPTSA has discussion tables and this year I attended the InvolvED table while I ate Vegetarian Lasagne, two young entrepreneurs where telling me about a new app they have developed that will assist with parental engagement.  It pulls together the data, attendance, show my homework and communications all under one roof.  For a school our size, it is about £2 per pupil.  I had a play around on the demo and it was very intuitive and easily enables you to gain access to your son or daughters information (unlike most tech in schools which is clunky and horrid to use).  I wish them luck.

Session 3.  I must admit to guiltily having a coffee and a chat with a colleague where I should have attended Caroline’s memory clock session.

Session 4.  This was my session that I will blog about later.

I guess my only worry is how do we spread these messages amongst our colleagues.  This is not always happening in school INSET and the move towards evidence-based practice has been patchy at best with the persistence of edu-myths.  The rebuilding of the curricula gives us a chance to slay these sacred cows once more and build on better foundations.

I recognise that I sometimes surround myself with a bit of an echo-chamber, but perhaps that is okay and that change will only come if we continue to honk for each other and guide the way?

The challenge remains how we bring others along (although – making it free with catering and coffee was great!).  I think these conferences are some of the best CPD that I attend in a whole year.  I just wish we were able to ‘count’ them as part of our contractual obligation and rights to training in a way that other professions do.

Thanks to all for a very interesting day.  As usual much food for thought as well as an ever-growing reading list.  The day felt very coherent as each session blended into the next reinforcing and developing the conversation further.  It was like an edu-conference relay race with an evidence-based baton being passed between the sessions.  I wish I’d have had stuff like this when I started teaching as I have spent many years getting it unintentionally wrong.