April may be the cruelest month, but September has to be pretty close in the teaching calendar. The excitement and fear of the few first few days of term are punctuated by the joy that is the ResearchEd National Conference. A jewel in September’s thorny crown, the glazed cherry on the Autumn term’s Kipling fancy, the olive in the heady cocktail of the first week of term. And what a fancy, an extensive 60 page programme with 4 sides of choices over 7 different sessions. Gadzooks! Reading the programme alone was causing me cognitive overload.
Ashamedly, I missed the opening address as I was tardy in the morning and made bad tube choices (yes, I know the central line is a quicker connect that sitting on the Jubilee, but no point crying once the milk is spilt). This is the second year I have missed the opener, apologies Tom.
The long and winding train to Chobham Academy gave me an opportunity to peruse the programme and make some initial, tentative choices, a personal top 10 if you will, but what a challenge this was. I knew much would depend on the geographical location, the popularity of each speaker and my needs to peruse the bookshop. However, the beauty of this conference is that there are no bad choices; there is a serendipity to the format that allows you to wander from your plan and one often finds oneself in a very different rabbit hole, which is no bad thing.
ResearchEd is a nourishing movement, a revolution of teachers and researchers coming together to make it all a bit better, one session at a time. The National Conference gives us a spirit of renewal which I have never needed more than I do right now.
On a personal digression, I have spent the whole day being anxious as I left home with only 30% phone battery life, what was I thinking, on the biggest edutweeting day of the year. The dread of losing touch with the trends and shout outs was just overwhelming but luckily, my phone lasted.
Session 1. Nobody knows which schools are good. Becky Allen
I always head for Becky at ResearchEd, a voice of reason amongst the nonsense in the system and this session was no different. As an education researcher, she was paralysed when choosing a school for her own child as she was aware of the fallibility school performance metrics. The current system has created perverse effects and distortions to the provision of education that no one really knows which schools are good, we know who are exceptional and who needs support but everyone else is in the middle and it is difficult to know anything meaningful about them.
She details what has gone wrong with school accountability systems and promises we will not like her prescriptions.
Three ways in which school accountability is distorted.
1. What gets tested gets taught.
Test scores are a poor measure of performance. The wash back is that our curriculum gets diverted from intended curriculum to enacted one.
The primary diet: we assess very little of their curriculum and the impact is that the primary curriculum distorted by English and maths ks2 tests. There is less time spent on non-core subjects. By Year 6, there is little room of anything else.
In secondary, we assess most of the KS4 curriculum, but this has had an impact on ks3 curriculum. 70% of schools have a reduced ks3 curriculum. We dance to the tune of what gets put in league tables. Nationally, there are enormous variations in curriculum entitlement.
The gaming of the P8 ‘open slot’. There tends to be similarity in P8 scores in the open slot compared to the other baskets. However, some quals can give you one and a half grades higher scores (BTEC sport, hsc, food). There is nothing wrong with these qualifications but they are being used by some schools not in the spirit they were designed for. If you want to ensure a positive P8 you make kids study the courses which give the school a higher p8 score. This reduces entitlement to an academic curriculum.
The challenge of languages, the evidence suggests they are much harder, so kids do worse and their scores do not appear in the P8 metric.
2. Teachers have discretion over the administration of tests.
Teachers mediate the weather of tests, the preparation, motivations and so on. The problem of teacher-marked KS1 tests, infant schools saw a rise in grades which was not evident in primaries, who tended to mark more harshly.
The problem of KS2 sats. Is cheating a rare event? Is there plausible deniability for us all in the system? Is the use of reader and scribes – a normal practice? It is not normal for all teaching assistants to be withdrawn from all other classes during SATs week. How common is this? 14% of kids have this? What impact does having an adult sit next to the have on the child’s ability to pass the test?
This creates a problem for the secondaries who can not recreate this at secondary, do we use the adult to make them finish the test? Furthermore, this practice is most common in affluent areas. 1 in 10 secondary teachers think sats are rubbish. Teachers have discretion in tests.
3. Schools decide who counts.
The strange case of disappearing pupils. Some schools are moving difficult kids, kids who will negatively impact their progress 8. The phenomena of unmanaged moves – get parents in and say you are nearly going to be excluded and let them decide to withdraw their child.
How many have left since Y7. How many leave in Y10 into alternative provision. Difficult kids score a negative progress 8 and wipe out 60 other kids. The kids are gamed.
Should we change rules? Should schools be accountable for the outcomes of those who started in Y7.
Schools can choose which pupils count, the graph below shows how the progress scores of schools would shift if Y7 starters were counted.
A. On 21st May 2024, we gather around a Lottery machine and randomly choose the accountability measures that will the change from year to year. 49 different measures. The ungameable game. If we do not know the game how could we game it. There will be deliberate ambiguity in the system of school accountability, it would be messy regulation and complex data.
B. Do not take school data and score on a bell curve, do not publish the figures as there are flaws in using the data. Many other factors influence attainment.
Instead, publish how do schools perform similar to other schools (fft). No national ranking from best to worst – moreover a comparison to other similar schools.
C. Stop reinventing the test to teach to.
D. Every new performance target distorts the provision.
We cannot compare schools with different intake demographics, perhaps we should stop doing it.
Session 2. 5 Reasons Why Curriculum Plans Will Fail. Alex Quigley. EEF.
Alex promises that despite the title, this is not a burn it to the ground David Didau session, moreover a personal reflection and use of evidence to support curriculum planning.
Literacy is crucial to success in all curricula.
Curricula is more than knowledge and substantive knowledge, also about how we impart this.
EEF guidance report Improving Literacy. – disciplinary literacy. EEF toolkit being developed.
Alex’s failures – the ghosts of curriculum past. He suggests that we are all poorly trained in curriculum and assessment, and senior leader training in these areas has been woeful and without an evidence base. Alex gives us a tour of his ‘failed’ English curriculum plans, and why they failed.
1. Ghost of APP laden KS3.
Set of red dots on a three year curriculum. This fails as it was built by one person and not in collaboration. Teachers did not want to change what they taught and how they taught. Created a yellow folder of plans and activities with one hour to share it. In trying to save others the workload, bypassed the dept. Others beliefs and habits are so ingrained – this approach fails. No co-construction.
2. Ghost of canonical KS3.
Debates in dept about shape of curriculum. Better sense of how kids learn and schemas. Not a great understanding of assessment. Not well implemented by others. More dept time. Teachers did not like the new choices and felt the text was too hard when there are easier texts.
Good curriculum development requires 3, 5, 7 years of planning.
3. Ghost of life after levels.
Spent time on assessment, but it still looks a bit like levels. New challenge of how to link curriculum and assessment. School spent the next year of CPD on curriculum assessment and brought in Daisy to facilitate.
Problems – initial teacher training is poor on learning, reading and assessment.
Curriculum development – goes through a cycle, not a static process, like painting the Forth Road Bridge. There is not much empirical evidence on curriculum planning, we can borrow ideas from cognitive science.
The same as it ever was?
The problem of the gap between ideas and practice has been widely commented n since 1950s.
Five reasons for failure.
1. Lack of shared language, beliefs, knowledge about learning, curriculum and assessment. This is a process.
What do we mean about knowledge – inflexible, substantive, declarative?
Do we have the same understanding of education terms. We do not have a shared understanding of key concepts …e.g differentiation, assessment? This is a career long activity, honing ones understanding of the craft.
There has been poor training for senior leaders in how to lead teachers. Few school leaders have been trained to lead curriculum change. Are we trained enough to do this complex job?
2. Lack of teacher time.
In the UK we teach more than other countries who have better curriculum plans.
UK Secondary teachers 46.9 hours.
OECD average 38.8 hours.
We need to stop doing other things to focus on the important task of curriculum planning.
There is some guidance on how to manage change, the EEF implementation report.
“It does not matter how good an idea is, what matters is how it manifests itself.”
3. Curriculum nonalignment
Van Der Akker 2003 – analogy of a curriculum as a spider web, intricate and vulnerable, a broader view of curriculum development. Not just substantive knowledge. Ideally KS3 would have given foundations for KS4 but this is difficult to align. The religion you learn in RE in KS3 may not prepare you for a Christmas Carol in KS. True curriculum alignment may be a bit of a myth and give us small wins only?
4. Pupils’ reading ability.
25% of students do not meet expected reading standard in primary school. Fewer than 1 in 5 of these students have not reached the expected level at KS4.
5. Enduring myths and high accountability.
Myths about curriculum and the culture of accountability grows more myths about curriculum. 25,000 schools circulate these myths, which lead to poor curriculum development. We all went to three year KS4, was it the right thing to do?
Hope and redemption?
New ofsted approach, Research Ed, Online networks, are hopes but cannot force change alone. Change in education is easy to suggest but hard to sustain. Curriculum change is painting the 4th bridge 3, 4, 5 year plan.
Planning for better.
Teacher and school leader knowledge and beliefs.
Pupil barriers to learning.
School structures – assessment,
Early career framework.
Career long focus.
Session 3. Seven Myths. Daisy C.
Should have been edtech on the programme but swapped for 7 myths. I have read this book and been to this session before D’oh! It did not hurt for a refresher in Daisy’s forensic dismantling of common edu-myths.
How do students learn?
Cognitive architecture of learning. Importance of working memory and cognitive overload. Tested our working memory …digit span test.
Memory as a residue of thought.
Review each lesson – what will students need to think about?
Make a PowerPoint … what are students thinking about? What was the aim of the lesson?
Practice makes permanent.
Session. 4. Harry FW. Fertile Habits: the secret to changing behaviour for students and teachers. Ambition Institute.
Harry Fletcher-Wood & Sarah Cottingham. @overpractised.
Finally managed to get myself into room M201 for this session on fertile habits, I camped out during break to ensure a front row seat. The Ambition Institute sounds a bit brilliant, one to watch and will need a bigger room next year!
Harry’s opening gambit is that people don’t like change and whatever plans we have for the coming year, they will probably fail. Staff and students will not do it without scaffolding of those changes.
How is he so certain?
When the choice is change or die, only 1 in 10 people who have had heart bypass change their eating habits. Old habits are difficult to break, even when your life depends on it.
If major changes are hard, minor changes are also not going to work, because habits are difficult to break. We are stuck in patterns and habits (what do you have for lunch everyday, what is your route to work?).
Habit – action is repeated in a context, until the context becomes a cue for action. E.g. commute, breakfast. Makes life easier as you do not have to think about it … habitual. Intentions do not always lead to action. Why are students not behaving well? Because they are in the habit of poor behaviour.
If habits are so powerful, let’s use them to be helpful.
Examples from schools.
A. Using hands up rather than cold call. Can be cued by real time coaching in the room.
Teachers are like pilots – too much data to absorb.
B. Kids come in and do the same tasks at the start. If kids are in the habit of doing the homework, they do the homework.
Set homework at the beginning rather than the end.
Switch – how to change things when things are bad. Difficult to change things if the instructions are unclear.
Habits take 66 days … to drink a glass of water with lunch.
Powerful habits are
Rapid / frequent
Premium on politeness in school, radically changed the school.
E.g. powerful habits for students.
- Review last weeks learning each week … but what will they do.
- Online quiz … okay but what do we want to achieve.
- Online quiz to get 80% … might start paying more attention.
- Master your current learning by getting at least 80% if not redo the test.
Powerful habits for teachers.
- Make links between current and past learning.
- Test the links
- Send the best student to weekly draw.
Using fertile habits.
Make it easier to do it.
Changing teachers behaviour, start with the problem and co-construct the solution.
Designing a flexible habit?
Session 5. Substance over style. Jen Barker & Tom Rees.
Ambition Institute – graduate school for teachers. Focus on disadvantage.
- The orthodoxy.
Leadership orthodoxy. 192,000 school leaders in UK. Complex, conflicting expectations of what schools should do.
Workforce challenge – 4 years younger than average. Missing 20,000 leaders …
What is leadership, role, title, work, influence? Is it even a thing?
What is the research? Lots but messy. How can we understand what causes what can you map the inputs to the outputs. We jump to conclusions that may not be true.
Some research says most successful leaders focus on finance but is this because they are in more financially secure schools.
Successful leaders are optimistic … is this a cause or effect.
Transformational leadership theory.
Disruption – research Ed challenges the certainties of leadership. Can you measure progress and grade teachers ? Metrics of school leadership are complex.
Some bad ideas have dominated, the narrative and training has been patchy.
Job adverts for head teachers
Same three adjectives, Dynamic, Inspirational, Motivational
The Hero paradigm.
What does dynamic even mean?
Ofsted reports. Outstanding schools commentary has the same language … dynamic teams. Unsatisfactory schools teams described as focusing on wrong things.
Those in leadership roles have tremendous responsibility to get it right.
We need to give teachers a career worth having. Role of leaders is to serve teachers.
2. Why expertise?
The challenges of schools stops people becoming leaders … teaching is more complex than brain surgery. The most effective teachers generate learning in their students at 4 x the rate of the least effective. Effective leaders make 5-7% impact on pupil outcomes, teacher turnover and teacher satisfaction.
Blue line – weak environment, green line – strong professional environment.
It is in our control to improve the environment.
Sources vs signs of expertise.
Copying initiatives from other schools, be careful, we need to identify the sources of school problems otherwise we do not get same results.
Detentions to corrections is meaningless if it is just a title change.
Expertise is about mental models, experts are made and not born, no superhero leaders,
3. Expert school leaders
Mental models of expertise, it can be learnt.
Develop these models from knowledge and an understanding of persistent problems and be able to react more competently.
Types of knowledge
Impressionistic – feelings.
Self-regulatory – managing yourself.
Persistent problems of school leaders.
7 persistent problems for school leaders.
Identifying why we have the problems.
How does this apply?
Technically competent bosses
Manage well without having to reach for bureaucracy as they understand the core business. Have credibility … walking the talk … have credibility in the curriculum and classroom.
5 enablers of school leadership.
- Understand leaders persistent problems.
- Sequence a learning programme.
- Build expert mental models
- Appreciate context
- Distribute leadership
Session 6. I had a time out and a good natter with an old friend. Always good for the soul.
Session 7. The End of the Meeting. Pete Foster.
I have really enjoyed Pete’s blogs recently and this session communicates the same sharpness of thinking about what we get wrong. We do not need a new approach to meetings, the evidence suggests we should get rid of most of them.
Book suggestion klaxon – Read this before your next meeting, Al Pittampalli.
Alternative to meetings, regular planned CPD with specific foci, where staff seek to apply evidence-informed ideas. Boom, who could disagree.