Supporting SEND and lower attaining students in Science

When students start secondary school they come with a buzz and innate enthusiasm for science. They are so keen to participate and emerge themselves within the learning of the subject but by the time they embark on key stage 4 this ‘love’ for science seems to dwindle. This has stimulated many a conversation within our science workroom and what we can do to tackle it. This has inspired me to really think about how my department and I can support SEND students who find science really hard.  So here are our ideas…

Barriers that we are currently facing

  • Content- not only has the volume of content increase the level of demand is risen significantly with many concepts from A level transitioning through to GCSE. The amount of content is a completely different matter. We are fortunate that we teach a 3 year KS4 and if I am completely honest I wouldn’t know how you would fit everything in if you didn’t!
  • Linear aspect- This is a difficult one, especially for students who don’t engage with science or find it truly hard as they may not have the motivation to keep on top of their learning and really develop the memory skills pertinent to a linear exam. Retention is also something that we need to incorporate into our planning as students will need to be able to remember a significant amount of knowledge in order to apply it.
  • Lack of resources- experienced teachers usually have an extensive bank of resources ‘up their sleeve’ whenever a new specification change occurs, but the lack of examples especially surrounding assessment and grading is proving that this journey is not going to be an easy one.
  • Grade boundaries- the lack of grade boundaries is stressful and infuriating, and with little guidance from any of the exam boards, teachers and HoD’s are really struggling to determine these. The conversion to numbers has not been as smooth a transition as I think the government had hoped, but the lack of guidance to what a grade 9 or 8 even look like is scary territory as I assume like I am most HoD’s are reluctant to award a 9 as it’s never been seen before. (However there is a fantastic subject leader who had devised an excel spreadsheet to show the normal distribution of your test scores to help construct your grade boundaries- find him on Twitter @Science_HOD known as Bearded HOD)
  • Pre-existing ideas- When students move into GCSE they have preconceived ideas about how difficult science is. This can sometimes be supported by teachers reiterating the fact that yes it is difficult. In some students this can cause a real reluctance into even trying to learn due to a fear a failure.

 

So what can we do about these main areas to really support our students? It all comes down to what happens in your classroom. So lets start with that.

 

Classroom environment

My classroom is my sanctuary, it is a place that I love to be and I hope students feel the same. Ensuring that the classroom is tidy and as chaotic free as possible can be a powerful tool.  Displays are a great way to inspire and stimulate students thinking, but I always strive to make sure that the displays that are within my classroom are used within and throughout a lesson.  Celebrating students work is a great thing it develops a sense of pride within the student but also  shows that you recognise the high quality work they are producing. However in some cases this can be distracting for some autistic children who prefer a feature/stimulation free environment so it is key that you know your students are their learning abilities before you go all out in the most stimulating room.

Students really need to be made aware on a regular basis of the GCSE content and criteria so why not place the GCSE criteria on display? This doesn’t need to be an all singing and dancing display, but somewhere useful that you can refer to regularly can be a very powerful tool. I think this is the same for the scientific key words. Literacy and language is a significant barrier when it comes to science and students can find it difficult to apply the key terms in the correct context. The more the students familiarise themselves with the key terms and using them in context the more confident they will become. One superb teacher within my department changes the key terms for every GCSE topic she teaches throughout the year.

I think another point when supporting low attaining students, SEND students etc is to really encourage familiarity with environment and location of equipment. This encourages a safe learning environment and will help develop independent learning skills in it’s infant stages. This can then lead on to developing more complicated independent learning outside of the classroom.

Finally within the classroom seating plans can make or break a lesson.  Many SEND children like stability and dislike change and I find this true of lower attaining students also.  Sitting in same place is also a powerful tool to use with EBD children also. Strategic placement of students also comes down to the knowledge of the class or establishing really early on the combinations of students who can be detrimental to each others learning. Teacher discussion and collaboration can be really useful here…as many SEND students may spend a lot of time in the same classes across the other subjects- so get out there, observe them in other lessons, discuss with other teachers who have successful lessons and look at who they are sat with.

Resources

Over the last 3 to 4 years I have really developed an understanding for resources for SEND and lower attaining students. The blank page is a scary thing and they can often put too much pressure on themselves to fill that page with science. Some of the strategies that are working for us at the moment for resources include something as simple as the font. Now I have read numerous journals and books that recommend certain fonts such as comic sans and century gothic as students are able to process these fonts easier, however, we have decided to use the same font that the exam board uses. This is to better prepare the students as to what they will face in the exam. Another font aspect that we consider is using size 14/16 font for our work sheets just to help with the processing of the literacy. Students find this helpful as it makes the words easier to read.

Lengthy documents or texts are not ideal for SEND or lower attaining students. I agree that we need to develop the reading capabilities of our students and where possible we need to encourage and develop this, but when it comes to learning a new scientific concept we need to consider what is the vital information we need to get students to learn and how can we keep the sentences short to maximise uptake. Students need to be able to recall scientific terminology within the right context, so this needs to be within your resources, but keep the surrounding language as simple as you can. Start from the foundations and work up. Word roots are particularly powerful, as it writing the word on the board and saying it out loud to the students rather than it just appearing on a powerpoint. You can also use symbols and pictures to explain concepts as his does really support the learning of most students. Finally I think where possible ensure that the resource you are creating or using is reading age appropriate. Knowing the reading ages of your students is so important as this could be the major barrier that is stopping students from accessing the learning.

Strategies that we apply in the classroom

When discussing strategies with my amazing department these are the ideas that they believe are the most successful with SEND and low attaining students. I believe any of these ideas can be translated into any other subject…

  • Multi sensory activities.  Use sound, text, video, movie clips, pictures, computer simulations, the library, outside etc. Cater for the different learning needs of your students- it doesn’t all have to be about evidence within books.
  • Use of ICT – IWBs, word processing, spreadsheets to analyse/graph results. Modern day students are so ‘tech savvy’ (I know a lot of them could probably out do me in this area), so why not play to their strengths? Students really enjoy making presentations, videos and playing quiz games like Kahoot.
  • Work with words – key words, word walls, definitions, pelmanism cards. All I have found really useful with SEND and lower attaining students. This is a fundamental skill that derrives from their learning in primary school, so why not utilise it?
  • Break instructions down into simple steps. We always try to keep instructions clear and concise. This will make any activity easier to follow and more likely end with a successful outcome for the student.
  • Sequencing activities – writing up experiments, cycles, cut and stick, card sorts. These are always a good way to check whether a student has the correct sequencing. We have found that this works really well with practical activities and for topics such as the menstrual cycle.
  • Writing frames (Scaffolds) – giving a set of headings which students can flesh out with their own writing, or begin each paragraph so the pupil can finish them. Students can get very easily intimidated by a blank page and can be quite reluctant to even start. Sentence starters, connectives, key vocabulary and punctuation are great to have as maybe learning mats, laminated on the desk or even as a display. Including sentence starters within the resource may also alleviate some of the fear of writing down their ideas.
  • Cloze activities and DARTS – fill in the gaps/missing words. This can be so good to develop comprehension skills especially when the task is dedicated to a specific text. Cloze activities provide a real basis of what the students can recall.
  • Paired work – facilitate paired work with a more able pupils. This is where your seating plan can really play to your strengths. Encourage students to discuss and share their ideas with each other. Maybe even starting by sharing a answer to a question with each other, reading their work aloud to their partner. Peer assessment can also be a useful too for both students.

The use of teaching assistants and other adults

Having the luxury of another adult in the room with you is quite rare within our school, but when we do we don’t necessarily have the time in advance to plan and sometimes even discuss with the TA what we will be covering that lesson. But when I have had the opportunity to either sit down with my TA, or even have a 5 minute conversation with them at the beginning of the lesson I make sure that I am clear about what I want them to do. We must remember that TA’s are there to support the learning of others- not do the work for students. Some students have mastered the art of puss in boots eyes and miraculously their work is completed without lifting a finger. Now this is of no criticism of the TA but the teacher must where possible direct the TA to support rather than do. Now please do not confuse this with scribing for students if they need it and actually a TA can do more good if they are noting down a description or explanation a student is giving. This brings me on to possibly one of the most successful strategies I have seen and used which is encouraging students to discuss their ideas before writing them down. This enables students to see any errors or if there is anything they would like to add. It also allows the TA or teacher to address any misconceptions within the learning. I think what I am trying to emphasise is what ever the scientific activity it is important that communication between TA and student is effective. Sentences whether written or spoken, should be straightforward using precise language that avoids vague terms, are active rather than passive and positive rather than negative. The instructions should be well within the pupils’ reading capacity and new scientific language should be introduced in a staged way. We should also encourage students who are struggling to use diagrams initially as this may be a better initial route than words.

Spaced and interleaved learning

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This is a great book that has made me think should we be designing a curriculum and teaching sequence around what we know about memory – so that what they are taught, sticks. We have all probably been in this situation where as the teacher we have asked a question, the students write an answer (that they heard 3 minutes ago), we then pat ourselves on the back, congratulate the class on ‘learning it’ and move on.  The bigger question here is – would the students be able to recall the answer in a week or two or three?  Probably not.  So can we confidently say that they have learned it?  Almost certainly not.  So is it safe to move on from that topic and not return to it for a year or so?  Definitely not! This shows that students can perform well in a lesson- but learning that is the long game.

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This graph is known as ‘the forgetting curve’ which shows when learning is reviewed, retention increases. What’s interesting is that with regular review, the ‘forgetting time’ gets longer – so going back over the key information will make it easier to remember and develop memory.

Make it Stick: Spaced retrieval practice

  • Study information more than once.
  • Regular low-stakes quizzing (retrieval practice), leaving greater gaps as you go. The scores for these tests are not important.  What’s important is the act or retrieval – that’s what seems to have an impact on retention.
  • “Anything you want to remember must be periodically recalled from memory.”
  • Continue to return to important content.
  • Avoid a ‘practice, practice, practice’ regime
  • Retrieval is best when it’s effortful, when some forgetting has set in.
  • Be wary of intuition – it may seem that we are getting better yet we fail to see how quickly these gains fade. (Illusions of fluency)

Every lesson can start with a quick quiz on what students did last lesson, last week and last month.  Similarly, homeworks weren’t just based on what they did that lesson, but again on what they did last week, last month or last term.

This is a fantastic blog that shows the difference between spaced and interleaved practice  Spaced and interleaved class teaching.

Interleaving supports the idea of switching between topics and not spending long amounts of time on said topic. It encourages students to go over ideas again in different orders to strengthen their understanding whilst making links between the topics covered. However while it is good to switch between topics, my advice would be not to switch too often. We need to make sure that they spend enough time to develop the understanding before moving on. Interleaving may actually feel more taxing for the student than studying the same thing for a long time, but I believe it will have a greater impact on the students learning. However, this is a big shift and we must take into account that both learners and teachers often do not feel like it is working. Even after taking part in studies, many say that they prefer massed practice.  (Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367)

 

So what can you do to support your SEND and lower attaining students in Science?

Entry level certificate- these have some lovely resources and ideas for lessons. When I have used these students have really made progress.

Build confidence and resilience first then increase the difficulty.

Get students to discuss their ideas using the key words before writing them down.

If you can, give as much feedback as possible whether this is written or verbal.

Lots of practice surrounding the key words- don’t over complicate the sentences and home in on the key scientific term. Practice using this in context of a question if students seem to be understanding it.

Use practical work or demonstrations to really show what you mean.

Quizzes and flashcards- This helps with retrieval practice, but provide intervals between the quizzes. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and use interleaving- especially when it comes to revision. Don’t be afraid to test the students on things that learned 3 weeks ago to really support the development of memory. Remember the more you review the longer the retention!

Use PLC’s to identify areas that you as a teacher need to work on with the students. Then apply the strategies above to address this.

Diagnosis, therapy and testing is such an essential model  but make it efficient and effective!

Mrs S

Ch ch ch ch changes!

 

“Turn and face the change” a quote from one of my favourite songs of all time and by the legend himself Mr David Bowie.  Change is a factor we face daily as educators, but ask yourself this question when change is looming do you embrace it? Or do you resist it? Does it send shudders down your spine when you hear your colleagues say things like “well they tried that before and it didn’t work” or “what’s the point in changing because they will just change it back!”. Change has to occur- just look at the work of Charles Darwin, adapt or… well you know the rest. Change can bring about many different emotions in a person so as leaders within a school we must explore what is meant by change and change theory as to best prepare our wonderful and stretched so thin colleagues so they feel that change is pertinent!

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West-Burnham, Farrar and Otero (2007) explain that change is the ‘norm’ and it is impossible not to be changing. This quote reflects the unstable nature of educational reform since I embarked upon teaching 13 years ago. Our government strives for greater standardisation which in turn ensures restructure in assessments, exams and curriculum. With greater standardisation comes greater accountability (this does sound like a spider-man quote!), which has led to a culture driven by measurable outcomes. It is this culture in which has led to teachers having increased scepticism and disengagement (Starr 2011) when new ideas are attempted. Starr (2011) further explains that more experienced teacher can resist the implementation of change because ‘they have seen it all before and it didn’t work’ (652). Fixed, standardised external change has a decreased probability of being accepted and implemented than a change that is relevant to the context and to change itself. This is supported by Trowler etal (2002) states ‘change changes change’ (17). Starr (2011) suggests that the macro as well as the socio-political contexts that exist have a real implication for teachers ‘at the chalk face’. These ideas can be reflected in the structuring of the British educational system with a shift towards the structuring of its international counterparts such as China and Finland as to improve their global status and ranking (Morgan 2016), but how successfully and to what extent is still to be seen.  The successes of the changes that have been devised in the macro but will be determined by the teachers within the micro setting so why are current teachers being left out of the equation when shaping the education of children?

West-Burnham (2007) claims that the concept of managing change is an oxymoron because change ‘is’. Gladwell (2000) believes that understanding the local context in which the research is set will enable the research to have the greatest impact. So should we be engaging teachers to work with the Department of Education to drive the change that happens within schools because they are ultimately ‘in the thick of it’.

If we want to bring about change within our own school or even across a number of school  we must be willing to accept multiple ontologies of our colleagues and stakeholders (Greenbank 2003) which is essential for successful and sustained change. We should embrace our influences, both moral and social as this could factor against the change we want as we work with people who have their own ideas and opinions about what we are looking to change and these ideas can often be imposed upon them (Hartas 2010). Earley and Porritt (2009) believe in order to effectively stimulate successful change within an organisation it is fundamental to engage staff. Encouraging staff reflexivity enables staff to feel part of the process, which makes them more likely to embrace the change and drive the evolution of what it is you want to change. Adopting these practices allows you, the leader to develop strategies for change which are logical, relevant and transparent, but as West-Burnham (2007) states this will challenge the complexities of your context and learning community.

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Ainscow, Dyson, Goldrich and West (2012) employ that school improvement has become cultivated within political discourse which supresses discussion and associates achievements to measurable outcomes. This clearly lies within the positivist paradigm where success of an educational organisation is determined by results (Waring 2012) I mean come on we have all spent many a sleepless night worrying about every point on a specification, imagining what the exam paper will look like, the endless hours of revision and marking of relentless mock papers. But with every moment dedicated to working towards the measurable outcomes, one could argue that both the whole school discussion and professional dialogue is the first to be sacrificed but actually can be the most successful factor of change.

Enabling senior, middle leaders, teachers and support staff  to discuss what is relevant to their needs will reinforce the confidence and motivation back into the rightful place, with the staff (Morrison McGill 2015) and thus be less resistant to change. This is echoed by Harris (2011) who states that staff often feel dissatisfied due to frenetically trying to meet demands and targets set by others. Resistance is a common theme in the literature surrounding change theory. Starr (2011) explains that resistance often holds a negative connotation. Harris (2011) claims that resistance is a natural response within a person especially if they have not been part of the creative process. This is common with education and may explain why resistance is so apparent. I have experienced this within my department where numerous changes have been enforced without or with minimal consultation between senior leaders and teachers involved in the change. Resistance to policies within my context seem to occur when staff see it as superficial gain or ‘box ticking’ rather than legitimate educational endeavour.

Harris (2001) states that resistance is not the only contributing factor to the failure of change. Trowler etal (2002) provides a clear outline of the different change models that can be implemented within educational research. Literature surrounding effective change promotes ideas that sit within the Kai Zen model, which resonates with me as it advocates small, incremental changes at the worker level. This is imperative that teachers apply the small changes into their daily practice. Kai Zen also promotes continual reflection and review which will enable the ‘tinkering’ approach as encouraged by West-Burnham (2007) which can initiate a change which could then lead to complete transformation.

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Mawhinney (1999) explains that problems can arise when trying to inspire change when the macro agendas meet the micro actualities. Micro politics is described at the way things really work, rather than how leaders visualise them. Marshall and Scribner (1991) identify how “power relationships and conflict are central to the political dynamics within a school” (pg 349), whereas Hoyle (1982) states that micro politics exist due to the formation of coalitions, influence and knowledge. Teachers and senior leaders often find it difficult to share the same vision or work collaboratively due to the unarticulated hierarchy.  Therefore it is recommended that leaders adopt a distributed leadership style as Spillane and Diamond (2007) explain that this is the most likely leadership style to evade political agendas.

Fine (1986) states that humans are predetermined to resist change, even if it symbolises development. Implementing any change will affect many individuals with multiple ontologies within your school. So ultimately they will have the capability to dismiss or block the change you want to bring about. Individual anxiety can present itself due to fear of the unknown about how the change could affect their role and their relationships with co-workers (Garrett 2005). It was essential to prepare your colleagues for change that they were given time to adjust their thinking and ask questions about the policy (Baker 1989). Both Fullan (2003) and Bush and Glover (2012) support the idea of collaboration and building strength within a team so allow them time and allow them a platform to discuss their concerns.

The final factor of change we can consider is the challenging and time consuming aspect called cultural change. For the transformation to occur, cultural change is imperative. This is crucial if organisations have participants that use culture to obstruct new initiatives. Throughout my teaching career to date, the ever changing reforms and implementation of new policies has taught me that sustainable change is dependent on cultural change. If culture does not change it is unlikely that effective change will occur. When advancing towards cultural change one must deliberate in established factors, values and relationships that need to remain the same as stability can promote trust, effective leadership and informed decision making by the participants (Deal and Kennedy 1984).  As a leader I have been willing to make personal changes in time, decision making and cooperative relationships, if I was not willing to compromise, the participants have perceived this as negative and have been more resistant to change. In order to manage cultural change, I have adopted ideas from Christiensen, Marx and Stevenson (2006) by choosing appropriate leadership tools rather than power and management tools this was evident when obtaining staff perceptions regarding whether there was a need for change and their ideas about what we need to change that would be most beneficial to them. Meaningful change begins with a cultural shift which is reinforced by distributed leadership (Leithwood, Mascall and Strauss 2009).

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A significant factor in embedding successful change is how well it is monitored and evaluated. Saunders (2002 as cited in Trowler etal 2002) supports the RUFDATA model which provides seven fundamental questions that leads to an evaluation that is linked to what is most important- student outcomes (for them not us!). The longevity of change is underpinned by the key attributes of change being addressed which will enable staff to take ownership of the change and implement it in a way that is best suited for their them and their students (Dempster 2009).

Mrs S

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Continual educational reform- so lets value our leaders at all levels!

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Educational reform seems to be a continuous process whether we agree with the reforms or not. At this time of educational unrest a good leader is invaluable!  Many of the articles I have read over the last couple of years suggest education is prone to regular change; Garrett (2005) supports this claim by stating change is now so frequent as to almost be continuous.  Much of the literature discusses both leadership and management but in many cases the author fails to distinguish the difference between them.  Linguard (2003) describes leadership “exercising influence over others, and thus unlike management can take place outside as well as inside of formal organisations. Within organisations, leadership can be exercised at most levels and in most activities”, he then describes management as a contrast to leadership which relates more to “structures and processes”.  It is clear that managers are appointed and are accountable, whereas leaders emerge and this is a culture that I would really like to develop more widely within my department and hopefully across my school.  Within my experience of different schools and working with different professionals with varying responsibilities I have noticed that some are excellent managers with enormous responsibility and accountability linked to their role, but I have also had the pleasure of seeing the emergence of some of the best leaders I have worked with and for. This shows that leadership is not necessarily and not always tied to the position.  Leadership is a skill that can be developed, nurtured and refined within any teacher at any stage of their career.  However I believe that it is crucial within education that the context of the school is correct to promote leaders to emerge and to develop those essential leadership skills that will enable the school to cope with continual educational reform (Fullan 2003).  The encouragement to be a leader is evident within my school where teachers are encouraged to take on new responsibilities and develop their own leadership skills, examples of this include delivering INSET to staff, teaching and learning projects, leadership pathways, leading on coaching, PiXL Edge, NPQH, NPQSL, NPQML and the Master’s course that is part funded by the school and open to every member of staff.

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Standardisation and performativity seem to be ever prominent in present day education. Some of the literature I engaged with compared the workings of the educational system to that of a business and education becoming dehumanised (Bottery 2004).  Throughout my career I have experienced the teachers who ‘perform’ in order to jump through the latest set of government hoops to meet the ever changing criteria, and this causes me great concern. As teachers we should not be concerned with profit, floor targets or quotas, we are dealing with children who rely on teachers to educate them in both academia and social contexts (and if the government had its way mental health, British values, SEAL, SMSC among many more!). This all adds to a serious amount of pressure on the shoulders of teachers at any level within a school, and maybe it is this is a contributing factor as to why so many people are leaving the profession? Excessive hoop jumping surely has a limited shelf life- and each of us have a different level of tolerance for it…and the best teachers always put the children at the heart of it and thats why they carry on. Bottery (2004) does imply a need for standardisation, as does Senge (2006), I would agree that there is a need for monitoring otherwise the education a child receives could start to decline. However, excessive standardisation and scrutiny should not cause fragmentation and distrust between staff at all levels (Bottery 2004).  An idea Bush and Glover (2012) argued that a lack of trust in staff is a detrimental factor, but a school that empowers its staff, allowing some autonomy and more reflective practice can significantly enhance student learning and outcomes, increase staff morale and build capacity for the school. This made me question my own style of leadership and the amount of trust I give the people I try to lead. I then began to question if this excessive standardisation is to continue are we actually raising the aspirations of the pupils we teach or are we just teaching them to pass exams? Come on after all why did we get into teaching? Is it not for a love of our subject? Working with young and inquiring minds? Inspiring young people to go on a be the best person they can possibly be? This then lead me to ponder whether this aspect of teaching has been lost- but then on my learning walks or lesson observations I see that it isn’t.  I see some of the most inspirational and dynamic teachers with carefully planned and scaffolded lessons that are interesting and fun showing the maximum progress with every mini plenary or question that is asked. I see children completely engrossed in the learning that they are fighting to ask and answer questions, that they are debating and arguing about the work, I see some of the most amazing projects being completed because the teachers have allowed the students some autonomy over the work they are producing and this is why I love my job! But unfortunately a harsh reality is that as a school we are measured on the results we achieve and the success of the school depends on this hence why managers exert the sustained pressure. This again made me question what if a more distributed leadership style was embedded and ingrained with a school,  could teachers increase their own capacity as well as raising the attainment for their students.

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Mrs S

The impact of standardisation and control…

2 weeks ago I was 10% braver (thank you Hannah Wilson and WomensEd) and applied for a new position as part of our multi-academy trust. Being the person that I am I was doing some research and came across an article from my Masters in Education about “The Impact of standardisation and control” by Bottery. This article focuses on the ideas surrounding standardisation in business and how that system is mirrored in the education system. These ideas can be now considered out of date and have probably already been tried and tested by a number of schools. The themes in this article are based around standardisation, fragmentation and globalisation. Bottery (2004) evaluates works of other practitioners from business and education. Ritzer (2004 as cited in Bottery) is used through the article and supports the idea that a formal model that can be replicated anywhere in the world. This implies that the education of children can be tackled in an efficient and standardised way which can be predictable, calculated and controlled. This is a bold statement and one could then pose the question- can this business like model be adopted in education when the key component in education is people?  Atkinson (Great education debate as cited in Maguire 2014) states “I am more concerned of what happens inside the schools for children, than whose name is above the door”.  Maguire (2014) in a key notes lecture at St Marys University critiques this idea by stating “are we now customers rather than pupils or teachers? Is there no difference between coffee, groceries and education?

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Another theme apparent through the article is appointment should be based on the needs of the company rather than who the person is.  This is supported by Bush and Glover (2012) who implies a zero based approach- not necessarily a like for like replacement, but appointment of the right candidate with the desirable attributes and skill set for the job. Fullan (2003) implies the right people should be in the right positions of responsibility. Crawford (2012) also supports this point, but from the perspective of distributive leadership. She implies that the heroic leaders are a thing of the past, and we should build a team based on its needs and appoint people with expertise. This really resonates with me as working as part of a really dynamic team I value the expertise of my colleagues to help and guide me as a middle and aspirant senior leader. I think the skill is recognising what skills can be brought to the school, but also we need to consider how we can also develop staff in their weaker areas too. This is when the investment becomes about the teacher! As Richard Branson says “Employees come first, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

 

Bottery (2004) builds on the work of Weber who states the ultimate aim is to make profit therefore there is a need for more efficient structures. Wright (2012 ) supports this idea through his comments regarding the deepening control of education through auditing and accountability. One could contest that teachers feel empowered by this system of centralisation and autonomy- but are these just phantasies of empowerment? Is education becoming too business like?  Bottery (2004) compares the work of Weber and Marx whether globalisation is the way forward or emphasising the rational and cultural aspect being a more important influence- this centers on the context of the schools being an important factor (Dempster 2008).  He summarises that both coexist and both increase the feelings of fragmentation. Bottery (2004) also calls on the work of Hoggett (1996) and Pollitt (1993) which discusses appraisal and performance management systems. He continues to emphasise that these systems that are put in place to develop a standardised system of monitoring and have intensified each year. This is supported by the work of Gleeson and Gunter (2000) and their work in the UK education sector linked to the cold management style that seems to have been adopted around 2000. This is out dated, Crawford (2012) and Leithwood (2017) suggest that in most recent times there has been a shift from this management style towards distributive leadership. The theme of fragmentation is mentioned numerous times and Bottery (2004) discusses different areas fragmentation can develop from business, between staff and managers and even those who come from disrupted homes, one could question is this now reflected within education?

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Bottery’s (2004) message is clear; healthy knowledge economy depends on a learning society. Individuals and groups need to develop new and innovative ways and this is not aided by excessive standardisation which one could then deem counterproductive. Some of the claims that Bottery (2004) makes could be accepted by schools even to date. He implies that standardisation does have a place in the educational system however not at the expense of destructive fragmentation of the teams working within the school.  Other claims that he makes could be challenged, specifically the links to business in particular the dehumanised approach- could this work in the educational system where the “customer” is human? The research he has undertaken suggests that standardisation does have a place but autonomy, trust and individuality are also significant factors to consider. Throughout the article there is a lack of research and evidence to support his ideas. The language within the article is seductive and draws you in by using such terms as McDonaldization and performativity; however educationalists could find this ‘business like’ language difficult to engage with.

This article is a little outdated but I think it holds some interesting points especially for debating with your teams! Looking at different ways of quality assurance that works in an educational setting is powerful and remembering we are dealing with people is also of the highest importance at every level within education from the student to the head teacher.

 

Mrs S.

Change is the only constant thing in life…

Changing the context

I don’t know how you personally feel about change, but for me it is a double-edged sword. I have the fear of change…not knowing what the future may hold and then I have the excitement of change and what new ventures it may bring. Being a teacher in the rapidly evolving world of education the one thing that is certain is change. Change in staffing, pupils, specifications, assessments just to name a few.  This lead me to really reflect on change, what that actually means within the context of a school and how can change successfully be embedded through leadership.

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Starr (2011) conducted a study surrounding the principles which demonstrated the intertwined nature of the macro and micro contexts within educational settings. Global or the macro as well as socio-political context have real implications for teachers ‘on the ground’. The Guardian (2014) discussed the work of PISA and how their work has influenced and impacted upon current educational practices and policies and how international schools are making significant changes to improve their global status and ranking. These ideas can be reflected in the structuring of the educational system as well as the significant changes nationally to the qualifications at KS3, 4 and 5 (Morgan 2016). However, the national changes will be determined by teachers at the micro context. With the evolution of new GCSE’s and A levels comes new challenges for teachers across all subjects with regards to new subject knowledge, data tracking and monitoring and making progress in a linear fashion.

These latest reforms are yet another change in education which has seen numerous changes over the last 13 years of my own teaching career. This echoes the words of West-Burnham (2007) that the concept of managing change is an oxymoron and that change ‘is’. Johnson (2001) supports the idea of change as being emergent and states that responding to the specific needs of an evolving environment is paramount to its success.  Maguire, Ball, Brown, Hoskins and Pennyman (2012) explain that the specificity and context of the educational setting is central to change events. This may mean that the change may not be universally applicable to other contexts, but should have the greatest impact within the context of the school itself. This is echoed by Gladwell (2000) who believes that understanding the context of one’s own school will enable research to have the greatest impact upon change.

The article “Changing the context” by Fullan (2003) discusses ideas linked to leadership and change. The first theme I identified with was selecting and supporting ‘good leaders’. Fullan (2003) states that the job description of the individual is important, however Crawford (2012) clarifies in more depth that the person employed should have the desirable skills rather than suiting the job description to the person that is already employed. Not only getting the right people on the bus, maybe more importantly the right people on  the right bus in the right seats.  Harris (2008) supports this claim by stating that staff in a position of responsibility has the responsibility to get it right.

Another theme that is evident in the reading is the idea surrounding one pivotal leader. Fullan (2003) argues that the principal or headteacher has a vital role and will underpin the importance of the context of change. This connects with the idea of heroic leaders as discussed by Crawford (2102) , however Crawford discusses a shift away from heroic leaders and movement towards distributed leadership and enabling more people responsibility and accountability to manage change. Muller and Bentley (as cited in Dempster 2008) suggest that a time will come where there is no hierarchy, but team based work- which I think has its own advantages and disadvantages. Leithwood and Riehl (as cited in Dempster 2009) also believe collaborative work is the future. A shared vision is essential for this to work, but effective leadership can enable this to be a success.

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Changing the context is another theme that is evident throughout this article. Fullan (2003) bases a lot of his ideas on the work of Gladwell (2000) from a book called The Tipping Point. Gladwell implies the power of the context is the most important factor; and in order for this to be effective a community should be created which is practical, enables expression and is nurturing of its precious staff. Fullan (2003) also discusses this idea and implies that if we improve the context it can be effective, but that this does not always lead to change. Fullan (2003) suggests an importance of acquiring knowledge to inform the context. The work of Hargreaves (1999) also supports the idea that professional knowledge creation and keeping up to date with new professional knowledge is the key to improvement and change. We need to know as much as possible about our context so if we want to push for change we fully understand the potential barriers and how the impact could look.

Fullan (2003) advocates the ‘Two layered perspective’. He discusses how it’s the principals or headteachers role to sustain disciplined inquiry and action on part of the teachers. This suggests that the principal will have a significant role in molding the leaders of the future. This method of empowering staff is also supported by Harris (2008). Fullan (2003) explains the need to examine the number of principals that are actually doing this which suggests a form of monitoring. He implies a ‘business like’ element without explicitly linking it to education. Bottery (2004) also does this and suggests a need for standardisation and structure. The level five leadership scale Fullan (2003) refers to is based on work done by Collins. He seems to center his research around these two main ideas which have strong business links, and even though his ‘evidence’ is based on thirty years of research, it is still based on how these ideas work in business rather than in education so we can really question whether it is actually applicable to education.

Communication and collaboration are also important themes that are discussed in Fullan’s (2003) research.  He implies that collaborative work can waste teacher time and squander resources if not implemented correctly. This statement is disputed by Dempster (2008) who explores the need for an inclusive leadership. Harris (2008) also emphasises the need for planned collaboration within schools. What could be seen as a point of interest is Senge (2006) in an earlier article also supports the ideas of a more collaborative community suggesting whole team involvement being a contributing factor to successful leadership as more people are likely to accept and adopt the change if they feel they have been part of the foundations of it.

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The ‘evidence’ used throughout Fullan (2003) article can also be questioned.  He bases a lot of his claims on secondary sources, most of which are not directly linked to education. Both the research by Gladwell (2000) and Collins (as cited in Fullan 2003) discuss leadership in fortune 500 companies. Fullan (2003) also looks at the work of PISA noting a study with 225,000 pupils over 32 countries. Once could argue that the large sample size is adequate to formulate the claims made, however one could dispute that within this study alone there are too many variables to consider to make the claims valid. Fullan (2003) continually fails to quantify data or statistics and offers no other supporting evidence. The language Fullan (2003) uses is emotionally loaded in order to engage the reader. However the article does lack clarity and thus the impetuous of the message is lost. At times the statements he makes can be contradictory such as ‘fairly accurate generalisations’, which again highlights the lack of specifics and evidence to support his claims. Most of the studies that Fullan (2003) uses occurred in Canada and the United States, one could argue due to the differences in the education systems of those countries and UK how transferable are the findings and claims he makes?

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” William Pollard

Mrs S

CPD- Is there a point? Hell YES!!!!

Throughout my career I have held a number of positions of responsibility within my school. My most recent is as a subject leader for Science with a responsibility linked to teaching and learning. As a distributed leader, practitioner action researcher and teacher, many strands of educational reform affect my daily practice both within the context of my school as well as the ever changing landscape of education from a national perspective. We are currently looking at a future where there is a 22% deficit of teachers with nearly half planning to leave within the next 5 years (The Guardian 2016), so the responsibility now lies with the schools to ensure training, recruitment and retention are held with high importance as this could determine the success of the school and students.  This is one of the reasons I decided to look at how CPD can improve the quality of teaching and learning within Science, from a selfish perspective I want to retain the best staff and ensure their CPD is of the highest quality for our students.

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According to the Sutton Trust (2016) teaching and learning has the greatest impact upon student attainment and progress, so to ensure that the Science department are developing and enhancing their own knowledge creation (Kinchelo 2011) was the most significant reason for perusing this as it coincides very closely with my moral purpose.

Another key motivator was the macro level context. McKinsey and Company (2010) explain that it is important to develop the emergence of effective leaders as this is a critical factor to ensure sustained success and to enable and empower staff to use their initiative and drive standards up within their classroom, across the department and eventually embedding ideas and initiatives across the whole school as part of a cultural shift (Christiensen, Marx and Stevenson 2006). This is supported by Ofsted (2015) who explain that inspections will assess the overall effectiveness of the school by looking at the quality of teaching and learning and leadership among other determining factors.

With the government’s insistence on fixed standards within teaching and learning there is a danger that the school could be constrained to receiving wisdom rather than promoting creativity, flexibility and innovation (Hargreaves 1999). This can lead to resistance to any proposed change due to fear of the unknown (Bottery 2004). In order to prepare people for the unknown we must adopt the idea of being transparent. ‘Tweak and transform’ is a model that is suggested by Hughes (2002) which denotes the ideas of building on existing good practise which is more likely to be accepted and new ideas and developments can be more successfully embedded into practise. Hughes (2002) adopts practises from the Kai Zen model (Trowler, Saunders and Knight 2002) which advocates small, incremental change at the worker level. This reverberates with my research as it is vital that teachers ‘tweak’ their existing practise, but keep what is working through critical reflection and evaluation. This is further supported by the work of West-Burnham (2009) who promotes the ‘tinkering’ approach which could evolve into total transformation. This has a key role within my proposal and the collaborative nature of the model has encouraged ‘change champions’ (Trowler etal 2002) to emerge who have started to successfully disseminate and enthuse others to implement the model across other departments.

 

I believe there was a justification for my research due to the links between the micro context within my school and the macro context of trying to raise standards of teaching and learning across the country. This is a small scale practitioner action research project using one (my!) department within my school.  My project is unique to my school and the needs within the Science department, so there are numerous variables that are original to the context. The result of this could mean that the replication of the CPD model may not be possible, however some of the findings may be transferable to other departments and other schools. The nature, delivery and implementation of this research has involved detailed exploration of multiple aspects in the pursuit of effective change for staff with beneficial consequences for our students.

In order to clarify my conceptual framework, I investigated the literature surrounding CPD and ideas that can improve teaching and learning. I discovered numerous viewpoints in support of my research and findings. Teachers teaching careers require upgrading, improvement and development as educational reform evolves. This means the needs of every teacher differs depending on where they are in their continuum of learning as supported by Senge (2006). Dwiverdi and Alam (2011) defines professional development as the development of a person within their personal role, whereas Horsely (1996) states that CPD sessions are opportunities that should be offered to educators to improve their effectiveness within the classroom.  CPD should be a key priority both on a national scale and should be at the forefront over every school development plan.  It should be underpinned by constructivism in which teachers are treated as active learners. This is also supported by Lichtman (2013) who depicts that knowledge should be constructed by researchers and it is reliant upon the context in which teachers are in. This was of particular relevance to my research as the findings directly link to the context of my school. The disadvantages of this is that the model may not be completely transferable to another context, but it did significantly impact on the professional development and teaching standards within my department. Lockwood (1998) explains that successes in teacher CPD can ultimately enhance the results in student attainment. This indicates that teachers play the most vital role in determining student outcomes.

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Dwiverdi and Alam, (2011) explain that ‘professionals’ who develop and deliver CPD need to have profound knowledge of the teaching career, teacher advancement and the systems surrounding appraisal. They have to understand why the CPD is essential, who it is aimed at and how the CPD links to the needs of the teachers undertaking it as well as the priorities of the school. This is further supported by the Sutton Trust (2014) who suggest that teachers need to develop skills needed for improvement and to sustain good practise.  Sullivan and Glanz (2006) explicate the importance of staff reflection and evaluation of the CPD that has been delivered. If implementation or evaluation is not effective, teachers may view this as a fiasco or a waste of time, which would make them less likely to engage in future sessions and potentially portray the model in a negative manner. Thus this was a significant detail to get right in the implementation and delivery of  the CPD delivered within my department. Staff were given time to reflect and evaluate every session and had the opportunity to offer ideas on how each session could be more affective. I believed that effective CPD delivered by teachers to teachers would increase engagement, enhance their knowledge and skills with a view to improve the quality of teaching and learning in day to day practise. This has been evident from the observations and learning walks I conducted across the Science department. The literature offers many ideas about models of CPD, but the common theme running throughout is that CPD is a vital opportunity for teachers to upgrade their knowledge in a collaborative way. This goes beyond the ‘in house training’ or ‘whole school staff development sessions’, because it includes both the formal and informal means of helping teachers master new skills, widen their knowledge, develop innovative insight into pedagogy and understanding more deeply their own practise and development needs. This is essential to understand because this will build into the school’s context as well as the national picture (Teacher education in Scotland 2012).

Kettle and Sellars (1996) document that CPD has a noticeable and positive impact on teacher perception and practise inside and outside of the classroom.  Both teacher grounding and improvement has a large influence upon goal setting for the teacher and the students. Teaching and learning communities are a model of which many schools are moving towards. This shift is support by Hult, Olofsson and Ronnerman (2003 as cited in Dwiverdi and Alam 2011) who explain that affective CPD is a product of collaboration, discussion and exchanging information which can develop their personal knowledge creation (Hargreaves 1999). My research has contributed to the school development plan by providing a supportive model of CPD to improve the standards of teaching and learning. As a subject leader and lead practitioner, but more importantly as someone who has a love for learning and development of my own practise, a sustained model of CPD could allow future leaders to emerge, share their expertise and harness new skills. The success of such a change could lead to an increase in staff confidence, student attainment and development of staff for successful career progression.

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The second strand that is important is focused upon the importance of quality teaching and learning. The teaching and learning research program (2006) state that affective teaching and learning is underpinned by subject specific content, learning across the curriculum and improvement across the whole school. Miller (2006) describes successful CPD as a process that creates openness where relationships between colleagues can be built whilst having a systematic approach focused upon the goal that is to be achieved. CPD structured in this way will also take into account the multiple ontologies that may exist within the session. Speck and Knipe (2001) explain that successful CPD should always be focused on student attainment and that improving standards of teaching is the clearest gateway to this. They further clarify that “student success is the ultimate aim and outcome of well planned CPD” (Pg 18 line 15). Morrison McGill (2015) explicates that team work is vital as is the need to develop a collaborative mindset and being more open to improvement is imperative for successful CPD in teaching and learning. Collaboration was a key factor that I had made part of the success criteria within my own policy. Staff were given many opportunities within each session to discuss ideas and share their own thoughts and opinions. Leiberman and Miller (2008) state that a crucial aspect of improving teaching and learning is reflexivity and learning from one’s own practise. All the features that have been discussed within the literature have been incorporated into the model of CPD that is being delivered within Science and soon to be delivered within English and Mathematics.  Wallace and Kirkman (2014) advocate the sharing of good ideas as a vital method of improving teaching and learning and inspiring staff across all roles of responsibility and years of experience. However, when offering new ideas, it is imperative that we explore our own practise in a critical way (Soler, Craft and Burgess 2001). Another factor I had to consider when embarking on changing the current model of CPD was that staff may be reluctant to engage. Earley and Porritt (2009) stress the importance of engaging staff in understanding how CPD can improve their own practise in an achievable and manageable way, this should encourage less resistance to the change.

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”  If we all adopt this mindset when it comes to CPD then surely we will be developing ourselves in the best ways for our students.

Mrs S

Leading change- but what do we actually mean?

Leadership and change tend to go hand in hand within the world of education. Usually change is brought about by effective leadership and effective leadership can really sustain change…. but what does this all mean?

Having recently completed my Masters in Education on leading innovation and change I have had the opportunity to really explore the differences between leadership and management. I really enjoyed the readings surrounding the age old debate,  especially Alma Harris and John West-Burnham… they really captured how leadership can lead to transformation. But what is actually mean by leadership? And how does this differ to management? I have prided myself on being a leader… some one who is at the forefront and mucking in. A leader allows others to be part of the change process, they enable them to be involved and have their say- otherwise we will just be up against resistance. A leader does not necessarily mean a member of SLT or subject leaders. A leader is one who provides inspiration to others, that supports and guides, that is honest in their ventures and includes the team ever step of the way. A leader has confidence in their own ability and can communicate their vision clearly to their teams and any other stakeholders involved. I feel all the leaders that have inspired me have 3 characteristics in common which are that they are committed but flexible as they allow others in their team the ability to play to their strengths (which have been already identified by the leader), they have a creative eye and are willing to develop this in others and they always seemed to have a positive attitude or we could now call that a growth mindset.

When leading a team the leader must really rely on their own intuition- especially into unchartered waters. Everything is uncertain and this brings with it added pressure and it is at this point where your own intuition is crucial. Leaders have the confidence to make difficult decisions and reroute their work if needed. Being a reflective practitioner will also stand a leader in good stead. This will enable you to evaluate and see how things could be better next time. A leader is also not afraid to ask for help or support- let’s face it we all need it from time to time! But as you work through tough decisions you will learn to trust your instincts more and more and believing in yourself as a leader is as important as your team believing in you.

This leads me on perfectly to a point I made earlier about a leader inspiring others. This is probably the most enjoyable and important part of being a leader. Inspiring your team to see the vision of what success could occur is vital. You need to make your team feel invested in the vision and how their role is equally important. Make them part of the decision process as this will generate enthusiasm and often increase the effort they give you.  Acknowledge people for their hard work- but not in a patronising way- a thank you card sent to their house really does go a long way! As a leader it is your job to keep morale high as this will enable you to get the best from your team.

So in leadership the right skill set is key if you want change to occur- but is there a place for management? I have read many articles stating that leadership styles are the most important (mainly advocating distributed leadership) and that the days of management are over. We have seen a shift from heads of department being called “subject leaders”, head of year are now “year leaders” and no more senior management team- they are the senior leadership team. So if you change the title does it mean a change in the way we are ‘handled’? Of course not… leaders will naturally emerge within education, but that does not mean there is no place for management. Management is a skill within its self and I feel that a good leader will possess the management skills to deal with difficult situations and conversations they have to have with people and effectively lead change within a school.

So when I talk about change, what do I actually mean? Firstly we could say that change is doing something different from the norm and embedding it within our daily practice. Now the concept of change is an easy one…do something different and stick to it. I wish!! As a leader who wants to implement something new- I must take into account 3 main things:

• Personal anxiety of the people who the change will directly effect. People need to know honestly how the change will affect them in their role. They need to know what factors will change and more importantly what will stay the same. As a leader you need to be open with the people that change will affect. You need to share the vision and reasons for change but also be willing to change your ideas if there is overwhelming resistance. Don’t let your ego be detrimental to your team!

• Micropolitics is another area that you must consider when looking at implementing a change. Though we don’t like to admit it some people in our setting have their own personal agendas and the change that you suggest may not fit with their vision. This is where transparency is key. Speak to your SLT and ask them to highlight any potential barriers to the change you want to embed. Similarly SLT can discuss the ideas with the middle leaders or staff body to engage them. Again sharing your vision is key, but also understanding the potential gains of your change is as important- if your change can generate a measurable impact and provide evidence then you are more likely to ‘win over’ your senior team.

•Culture can be defined as “the way we do things round here” and this can be the most difficult barrier to break however it is the most important to enable change to be effectively embedded. This is where your distributed leadership skills really come to life. Involve as many staff as you can and force them to become “change champions” and spread the word of change through their actions. I have found this to be really successful within my department. An example for me was marking, I had worked with a group of 4 teachers to improve their marking. As a group we discussed how our marking and feedback should look and then we had a go. We trialled it for a few weeks and came back together as group to evaluate. Staff felt confident with the change and I asked them to deliver their findings in a departmental meeting. Their practice was shared and other staff wanted to adopt what we had done. This has now become the norm within our department for marking and feedback.

There is a lot of literature surrounding change and the models that you can use to successfully embed it…but I tend to lean towards my favourite 2 and mix the approaches. The first is Lewin’s change management model who discusses the ideas of unfreezing a concept that you want to change, them implementing the change and refreezing the new change as the norm. This is obviously an oversimplification but by recognising the 3 distinct phases of change you can implement the change required. The second model that really resonates with me as a subject leader is the Kaizen model of change. Kaizen translates from Japanese into “continual improvement” and is based on the premise that good processes bring about good results. This model expects you to speak with data and argue with facts, directly dealing with the roots of the problems whilst working as a team. Kaizen advocates small, incremental changes which can lead to total transformation over time. This  is manageable by any person working in an educational setting from the top to the bottom- however this model promotes a bottom up approach so that all levels of hierarchy have a vested interest in the change trying to be implemented and thus making the change more likely to be adopted and embedded by every practitioner.

So as I draw to an end I will leave you with a question and a quote. My question is are you just about improvement or are you truly trying to move towards transformation of learning and practice?

We cannot restructure a structure that is splintered at its roots. Adding wings to a caterpillar does not create butterflies- it creates awkward caterpillars. Butterflies are created through transformation”

Mrs S 🔬