Teaching Pin-Up

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Well, it has been a very mixed term of many political upheavals in the world of education. From putting the blame on teachers for the riots, Rt. Hon. Michael Gove making more changes and promising more (!), to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s a of the Ofsted criteria, the pension issue and regional pay for teachers. Not all good news in the world of education and a feeling that we as teachers are not being treated as professionals by those at the top.

Now with the Easter holidays fast approaching I thought we have to be positive and be innovative in our approach to teaching and shake the Easter blues away. I thought it would be good timing to watch Sir Ken Robinson explain his future of education. This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned education and creativity expert. I fully appreciate that many of you will be watching this for the hundredth time but it is good…Have a great Easter!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

From Good to Great

‘I believe we need to radically improve our education system and that we need to work together to raise expectations, and close the gaps. The prize is worth having: a good or better education for all our young people, with no excuses accepted.’

Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted

This was a quote from Sir Michael Wilshaw’s first major speech as the new Chief Inspector of Ofsted. Speaking at the London Leadership Strategy ‘Good to great’ conference, he set out his ambition that all children will receive a good or better education and the steps Ofsted proposes to drive faster change. Like Marmite, educators are divided over Ofsted and its proposed changes again.

Sir Michael reiterated plans to replace the satisfactory judgement with ‘requires improvement’ and for all school inspections to be undertaken without notice.  He also announced a raising of expectations for outstanding schools and a tighter focus on the way in which headteachers are driving the quality of teaching in their schools.

These are very bold and decisive words from the new Chief Inspector of Ofsted. There is a sense of change and a throwing down of the gauntlet to many schools to improve. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t fully recognise the good work that teachers do in their every day work. We are all trying to develop, improve and make our teaching the best we can. I do think the government, Ofsted and Sir Michael do need to acknowledge that not all teachers and schools are terrible. As teachers we do seem to get a bad press and not enough support from the people who make the decisions at the top. Like praising a student, praising a teacher can work wonders. Teaching is a great profession but we have to careful we do not put too many pressures on our teachers, as we might find people leaving and causing further issues further down the line. We do not want a situation where young graduates don’t choose teaching as a career or leave after two or three years.

However, Sir Michael is right – we do need to raise standards and continue to develop our education system. Changes do need to be made but the right ones. Change for the sake of change is never any good and I do worry that perhaps some institutions will put action plans in place without thinking through the consequences.

Firstly, Sir Michael stated the structure of the school inspection framework will not change. The focus will still be on the four key areas of achievement, teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership. Ofsted will be doing away with the word ‘satisfactory’. If a school is not yet good, it ‘requires improvement’. So there will now be four judgements – outstanding, good, requires improvement and special measures. This re-grading will focus minds and send a clear and unequivocal message to schools that decisive action is necessary to bring about improvement. Sir Michael’s national ambition should be for all schools to be good or better.

Secondly, Sir Michael stated that a good school should have at least good teaching, and an outstanding school should have outstanding teaching. Good and outstanding leadership of teaching and learning drives improvement and knows that the culture of the school and the progress of pupils depend on it. To me this makes sense as I believe a school should be based on its teaching. According to Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of CIMO in Helsinki and author of Finnish Lessons: what can the world learn about educational change in Finland?, it takes 10 000 hours practice to become a great teacher. This is about 8 to 10 years active service. Consideration must be taking into account for new teachers when inspections are taking place.

Finally, it was mooted that with the National College that ‘outstanding’ headteachers would be part of a Ofsted national service inspecting other schools. Personally, I quite like this idea as I have sometimes felt inspectors can be slightly removed from the classroom if they have not taught for several years. Teaching is a very changeable profession and is very different now to when I started ten years ago for example.

Sir Michael has outlined a very clear plan for the future in teaching. As long as we are all working together and working towards a common goal it could be a success. ‘Radical changes’ and for all schools to be good or better are Sir Michael’s plans – a no excuses culture. Lets hope Sir Michael, Ofsted and the government have thought them all through with teacher input.

Geography Resources for Primary Teachers: the next step

Earlier this year in February, a damning Ofsted report concluded that the teaching of geography was not good enough in more than half of English state schools; how the subject had practically “disappeared” in one-in-10 primaries and how many teachers lacked specialist geographical knowledge. On the surface this is worrying news for geography as a leading subject.

What was not investigated in the Ofsted report was how teaching resources might improve the standards of the subject.

A new report called ‘Geography Resources for Primary Teachers: the next step’ surveyed primary school teachers across the UK, and was conducted by Oddizzi, a new online teaching resource with geography at its core.

The report concludes that the correct type of resources e.g. those that are inspiring, relevant and interactive, are key to help to facilitate the teaching of geography and improve standards in the subject among primary schools. This is great news for geography – as a versatile subject technology can be applied brilliantly.

In support of the Ofsted report, ‘Geography Resources for Primary Teachers: the next step’ concludes that 47% of primary teachers said that their own lack of confidence in teaching geography had a great impact on the subject in schools.

One vital aspect, which was not mentioned in the Ofsted report, was the extent to which teachers feel that the quality and relevance of resources currently available to them are impacting the teaching of geography. 45% of primary school teachers in the ‘Geography Resources for Primary Teachers: the next step’ report said that this had a great impact on their current teaching. When looking at how teaching resources for geography compared with other subjects, 68% said that geography materials are significantly worse or not quite as good as materials available for other subjects.

When it came to the type of teaching resources one area that stood out was the desire for more interactivity; 67% of primary teachers say that they are not or only somewhat satisfied with the level of interactivity of current materials whilst 81% said that child friendly interactive maps would be a very interesting or essential feature of any new teaching resource (28% say it is essential).

Beyond interactive teaching resources 70% say that the inclusion of cross curricular project ideas would be very interesting or essential as a feature of a new teaching resource (27% say it is essential).

These are very interesting comments as geography could very easily be a leading subject where technology is applied in the correct manner. It seems the demand for technology and good resources are what our primary schools need. Oddizzi is one solution and I am sure there are many other resources out there that need to be supplied to our primary schools – otherwise we are going to have a future generation lacking the skills and interest in geography. We only have one planet to live and learn from – let’s make sure we are not doing our students a disservice.

Assessing Your Subject Area

This week myself and the geography department have been looking at how effective we are as teachers, as a department and ways of moving forward. This is not always easy to do but a very important part of our role as teachers. It is vital that as practitioners we are reflective and build upon our strengths and areas for development. Every teacher is different and all add something to a school.

This week we have used Stoll and Fink’s analysis upon our department. It was originally used as a tool to look at whole school development but many practitioners are using it for subject areas.

Using the diagram above and the explanations below you have to try to judge your department/school on where you think you are. We tried to look at individual key stages as well.

Moving

  • Boosts student progress and achievement.
  • People work together and respond to change.
  • People know where they are going and have the will and the skill to get there.

Cruising Subject Area

  • Appear to have many of the qualities of an effective subject area.
  • Pupils achieve despite the teaching.
  • The people are responding well to change.

Strolling Subject Area

  • Neither particularly effective or ineffective.
  • Move at an adequate pace to cope with change.
  • Have ill-defined aims.
  • Conflict sometimes inhibits progress.

Struggling Subject Area

  • Ineffective and know it.
  • Expend energy trying to improve but results in “thrashing about”
  • They are willing to try anything and will ultimately succeed.

Sinking Subject Area

  • Staff are isolated.
  • There is an unwillingness to change either through ignorance or apathy.
  • There is a blame culture.
  • Student achievement is poor and failing.

It is not an easy task and you have to be very honest as a department. It is an ideal tool especially with self-evaluation high on the list of things Ofsted look at. It also gives you and your department to start thinking about what areas you might need to develop over the coming months or year. As a Head of Department it has made me realise where we need to go as a department and what our priorities are for the year ahead.

Personal, Learning & Thinking Skills

I am slowly catching up with my blogs at the moment as it seems to be a very busy term so far. Recently I went on a course run by Dorset County Council. This was my first course in my new county having previously worked in Hampshire and Surrey. The course itself was based on ‘Focusing on Skills in Foundation Subjects’ particularly personal, learning and thinking skills and run by Katie Ashcroft, Foundation Subjects Consultant. Personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS), together with functional English, mathematics, and ICT, cover the areas of competence that are most often demanded by employers. Integrating these skills into the curriculum and qualifications will provide learners with a platform for employability and further learning. PLTS involve:

  • team working
  • independent enquiry
  • self-management
  • reflective learning
  • effective participation
  • creative thinking.

The course itself was split into three sessions;

  • Session 1 – Developing pupils’ independent enquiry skills
  • Session 2 – Developing pupils’ team work skills
  • Session 3 – Developing a cross-curricular approach in foundation subjects

It is was a very informative and enjoyable course. It was great that they re-emphasised the importance of PLTS in lessons. PLTS help prepare pupils for the future, in and out of school. They develop the essential skills and qualities for to be a life long learner, life and future employment. They also provide a common focus for learning across subjects and provides great opportunities for cross curricular collaboration. PLTS use functional, transferable and creative skills which can be applied to real life scenarios.

It was pleasing to be given the opportunity during the course to identify the skills our department might want to develop in geography and reflect. With the new GCSEs and A’Level syallbus’ this course has come at a good time for reviewing the schemes of work we have developed so far and want to develop in the future. As teachers we sometimes forget about the skills the pupils require and focus on the content we need to teach. It has to be a balance of both and is something we feel at Gillingham we are achieving. It is also vitally very important that the pupils are clear about the skills they need to be successful in your subject area.

There was particular emphasis on cross curricular links and their importance within schools. This is a requirement within the new Secondary Curriculum for all subjects to explore connections with other subjects. Cross-curricular links provide a more coherent and relevant experience for the learner. It enables all pupils to understand the importance of different subjects and in helping them make a sense of the world. It provides pupils with the opportunity to apply the knowledge, understanding and skills they have acquired in one subject to a different context. For those of you investigating to develop cross-curricular links I recommend looking at the subject comparison web-page provided by the National Curriculum, which can be accessed here.  

The course linked the theory of skills to what Ofsted are looking for within schools. This is key for any school to have an awareness of what Ofsted expect from us as practitioners. I have quoted below Ofsted’s expectations;

‘The school’s curriculum provides memorable experiences and rich opportunities for high-quality learning…The school may be at the forefront of successful, innovative curriculum design in some areas…A curriculum with overall breath and balance provides pupils with their full entitlement and is customised to meet the changing needs of individuals and groups…Cross-curricular provision…is mainly outstanding and there is nothing less than good. As a result, all groups of pupils benefit from a highly coherent and relevant curriculum which promotes outstanding outcomes.’

These are skills I feel all schools’ are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, they do not happen over night and they do take time to develop and integrate in the school community. By sharing good practice, an understanding of what we want to achieve and hard work these skills will start to appear in all schools.