Flunk and subsequently thunk

Year thirteen philosophy recently took a day off to attend our second Candle Conference by Dr. Peter Vardy, hoping to take notes and ideas to use in our study. An early start and a long day would seem to most a dreary way to spend their time for twenty five pounds, but not for us philosophers. Fully caffeinated at nine in the morning, all six of us were excited to see our old pal Vardy again.

sam armstrong

One of the most influential philosophers of our time, Vardy is one of the many thinkers whose ideas and criticisms are studied on the philosophy course, so a day of lectures on a variety of topics was incredibly useful in furthering our bank of scholars from which to draw upon in the exam. Covering the nature of God; Sexual ethics and gender; and secularisation, the Doctor solidified key ideas already in our heads alongside providing us with new ways to go about certain theological and philosophical problems. One such idea is the ‘problem’ of homosexuality in religion, particularly Christianity; while many idle folk would see this an incongruence, including some Christians themselves, Vardy explained how this is most definitely not true when we fully understand the teachings of the religion. In short, the Bible does say homosexuality is wrong, but so is wearing mixed fabrics, and nobody adheres to that, religion has evolved since then. Furthermore, what the Christian scripture really does is denounce sexual pleasure in its entirety, as this takes over and precedes God, which is wrong. Therefore, what the Doctor had shown is that when we truly understand Christian teachings, what it is actually saying we should watch out for is sexual pleasure overriding God, thus homosexuality can be as fully (fully!) coherent with religion as Polyester.

Now while this may sound like ancient nonsense, it is problems like this that not only are at the apex of theological debate in the modern day, but that we have to write about in our exam. Sexual ethics was just one example, and Vardy’s comments on gender represented highly modern views consoled with religion; they debased the flippant and uneducated notion that Christianity is intolerant or incongruent with modern ideas of gender and sexuality, and that in fact it is more encompassing than some modern figureheads portray.

Meeting and listening to Peter Vardy (for the second time) was not only curiously odd, since most philosophers we study have been dead for centuries, but an invaluable experience as part of our general lives and study. Accompanied again by Professor David Webster, Vardy gave us a useful and enjoyable day. Bailey’s Biscuit Bunch adore and abhor contemplation and closed-mindedness respectively, and are always ready for a debate; make our day and question the things around you.

Regards from Sam, Mia, Lucy, Sarah, Paige and Bailey.

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Learning Behaviour

A reflection on one year of our Hive Switch, the aim of which is to build constancy and certainty into the heart of our daily practice.

The Hive Switch is a collective energy, which, when everyone works together on core consistencies, creates momentous change. In this case to transform the learning behaviour of our students.

hive switch

These are simple things that mean a lot when staff collude in their execution.

The strength of the Hive Switch is in its simplicity, yet it is deep in its ethics and purpose and in its impact on learning. All adults must be utterly resolved to stand together on these core consistencies for the impact to be sustained. It only takes one teacher to ignore a deviation from the core and this affects everyone, allowing students to play in the gaps between adults.

The effectiveness of the Hive Switch is a consequence of the communication that flows from the mouths of all the adults in school, classroom by classroom, day by day, repeated and strong. Holding tight to these rules through reasoning and tough love – never with anger, always with humanity – ensures that all students can access the best quality teaching that we can deliver.

When things get tough, we squeeze tighter together around our Hive Switch, with firmness and constancy and without aggression or shouting. The majority of students don’t need aggression, they respond to reason, and those who struggle have been punished for years with no positive impact.

Leadership stand alongside colleagues in a visible show of support. Our walkabouts signify that we are around for guidance and support and repeatedly reinforce our culture of hard work and personal accountability. In turn this helps us to infiltrate our aspirations for all students to flourish.

This is not a manual for behaviour management, it is a community culture that requires extensive communication and the training/coaching of teachers to become significant and caring, strong and engaged.

‘We can all be strict without being nasty, maintain boundaries without cruelty and correct children without aggression.’ Paul Dix

The Hive Switch weaves through teaching; teaching that is engaging and relational.

Steve Biddulph’s four Fs provide a good guide to teacher approaches that support our Hive Switch:

Friendliness settles and calms the class. Boys in particular can only learn from a teacher whom they feel likes them.

Fun engages students playfully in an environment of risk-taking and learning from mistakes, without feeling shame.

Firmness creates a relaxed but clear sense of who is in charge.

Focus comes from a well organised lesson with clear direction and a sense of progress and concrete achievement.

The evidence from the first year of our Hive Switch indicates that students are better at revising for exams, the work in books is demonstrably more sophisticated, hard work in class is the norm, we are seeing improved cooperation with previously disengaged students, parents are feeling better informed about their child’s learning, learning is embedded and students are making improved levels of progress.

As simple as the components of the hive switch are, as they become submerged into the daily ritual and routine of school life, they do in fact affect a culture change that enables sustainability.

IMG_1987All in all we are seeing a marked improvement in students’ cognitive and emotional self-regulation. Students are motivated to apply effort and continue when they find things difficult, as well as demonstrating an increased ability to respond to the demands of the experience. This is particularly evident in the excellent way that year 11 have approached the challenges of the new GCSEs, demonstrating great resilience, hard work and focus as they sit through (in some cases) 23 exams. But it is also evident as years 7 to 10 sit their end of year exams with immense personal accountability, recognising that focussed hard work leads to achievement.

 

Election fever hits Turton School!

Signpost, political parties

This General Election has been the most emotive political race that we have seen for many years. As the votes pour in many of us will be waiting impatiently to see how the balance swings. In order to use this event as a learning opportunity to educate our students about the importance of making informed choices and exercising their right to vote, Turton School held its own mock election today and the results are in! Today, Mrs Bali and her committed team of electoral officials set up polling stations around school following a number of form time activities to outline the major political parties’ manifestos.

Whilst we will have to wait until tomorrow to find our the results of the General Election, below you can get a feeling of how we voted in the constituency of Turton School:


As you can see, there was a resounding Labour majority in our election. Early reports from the General Election are that the Labour are gaining ground so perhaps the voice of the students at Turton is an echo chamber of the feelings of the young people of our nation. We shall have to wait and see what tomorrow holds….

Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 12 Teachers Total
Labour 79 82 95 38 93 38 425
Conservative 26 24 53 28 23 5 159
Liberal Democrats 1 7 22 2 0 2 34
Other 36 56 32 16 5 2 147
Turnout 68% 73% 86% 37% 84%

Revision time is here!

As we head back from the Easter holidays, and the sun begins to shine, and the days are so much longer, the summer does not seem far away.  However for a large number of our students we are heading into the busiest time of the year; exam time.  In lessons the last bits of the exam specifications are being taught to students in year 11 and year 13, and the emphasis turns to recall of previous content, linking key concepts together, to help students be able to answer whatever the exams throw at them.  Some students will have begun revising in earnest, while others are still being cajoled by parents and staff to settle into a revision routine.

revise

As I face my last summer of school exams as a parent I am secretly looking forward to a spring and summer not punctuated by revision. I have provided the mental support when the work gets boring, the cups of tea and food to keep my children going through these challenging times for the last six years.  Currently I find myself quietly sneaking out so that I don’t disturb my son who is studying for A levels this summer, and struggling to find a space to work myself, as he has taken over the desk at home.  Each child works differently; my house was covered in post it notes when my daughter was revising for GCSEs and A levels, with key points in the bathroom, the hall, her bedroom; anywhere that she might see each day.  She also made copious notes on cards, using colours to highlight key words, and used Quizlet when creating her own quizzes.  Her younger brother works differently, with some key notes made and lots of exam papers completed.  Both used myself and their dad as quiz masters at various times.  To be honest my heart sank each time one of them appeared with a revision guide or notes, and a wry smile to ask if I could just test them on a subject.  I learnt a lot about History, French, Food Technology, English and Geography that I had long forgotten as well as some things I had never studied.  Crucially, as well as feeling like I have been able to contribute, these times also gave me chance to check on their mental wellbeing, to offer positive thoughts and reaffirm the benefits of revising for exams.  As parents we help them see beyond the brick wall of the revision, especially when their favourite activities have to be put to one side for a while.  The short term hardship is made up for by the long term gains and everyone in the family gives up something when one child is completing exams.

Every child is different and every parent will have developed unique ways to support their child. Sometimes we need to remember to give up some of our favourite things to set an example and to provide time and space for our children to revise. To be honest this starts for most parents while the child is in primary school, as we listen to our children read, and help them to learn spellings and times tables. As our children enter secondary school parents can help by providing time and space to complete homework, and to keep helping the recall of key knowledge. End of year exams in each year allow students to practice revising, getting them ready for the exams at the end of year 11 and 13. This practice is so important as it develops the routines and habits of learning, making the exams at the end of year 11 less daunting. Our current year 11 students have between 20 to 23 exams this summer over 25 possible exam days, with A level students having around 10 exams. This means that revising in the run up to the exam period is essential. (As an aside, some suggested ways to help your child revise can be found here.)

desks

 

So, yes it is stressful for the students in year 11 and year 13, facing greater uncertainty in the exams for new specifications and an increasingly more difficult test for all subjects, and as parents it is our job to help our children use some of this stress to motivate them to revise, while doing everything we can to help absorb the rest of the stress.  In August we will be able to enjoy watching them when they collect their exam results, and see the doors that open as they move onto their future, and quietly congratulate ourselves that we helped them get through. And on a personal note I will be quietly celebrating the fact that next summer will be the first in six years when I don’t have a child at home revising!

 

Cathy Bach

Deputy Head Teacher

A heart-warming prefect application

This half-term year 10 apply to a selection committee to be given the opportunity to become a prefect, taking over from the year 11 prefect team as they begin their GCSE exams.

This process presents an opportunity for them to write one of their first letters of application for a position. It is a time for them to reflect on their years at Turton, their achievements both in school and out and to reflect on how they now contribute to school, society and the world of work as they mature.

Reading the applications is a heart-warming process that focusses our attention onto what wonderful people our students are developing into.

Below is an example of the many thoughtful applications that make us so very proud of our young people.

Prefect Application Form

Dear Turton Prefect application team,

I would love to embark on the journey to becoming a prefect and blossom from the effects of this role. This is because Turton has done so much for me and I would love to give some of that help and understanding back to the younger years. A prefect needs to have the qualities of someone who shows confidence when representing the school that I have come to love. They also need a strong understanding of our wonderful school environment and a desire to contribute to its continuing success. I feel I have these attributes.

As my three years at Turton have played out, I have become aware of the ‘Turton Touchstones’ and how much they represent the face of our caring school. To see the good in others, to be self-aware and witness our development, to be creative via the opportunities we are presented with, to belong to a loving and caring community, to have the relationship of teacher and pupil which Turton delivers to us. These are all things we take for granted. However, I have come to terms with how important they are for us as young people to help us to mature and grow. We are given opportunities others will only dream of, clean drinking water, a free education, and (in our school) a second family. I am unable to stress just how important these things are to us, it is easy for us to go day to day without even thinking about them. Yet there are many less fortunate young people who couldn’t imagine what it would be like to witness these events. I would love to be presented with the privilege of educating the younger years about these events and why they are important

Over the course of the three years I have been at Turton, I have received some amazing help through the challenges I have faced. One of these obstacles is my speech impediment (stammer) which I have suffered with from a young age. When people were mimicking my stammer and making fun of it I turned to my parents who contacted you. Within days the problem was resolved and I was capable to speak freely and confidently. It would be a privilege to help the younger pupils overcome hurdles like my own and strive for their best confidently and freely.

For the past few months I have been volunteering at 78th Bolton Walmsley Scout Cub group on a Monday night. I help out the three leaders organise activities and I have developed a strong bond with some of the cubs. From this experience I believe that I have learnt how to help and support these younger people. I think that I could carry out these skills to help some of the younger pupils and help them through times when they are struggling. As well as volunteering at cubs, I also volunteer after school at the school’s water polo and swimming team. I help the squad to train and set drills for them to complete, I also take one to one sessions while the others do different drills. This has given me a strong understanding on how to help and encourage younger peers. Finally, I also have a paper round. This means I get up at 05:55 Monday to Friday to deliver around fifty papers. I have learnt to work hard, be reliable and I have become a lot more motivated. I wish to pass these skills to my younger peers.

In conclusion, I feel that I would make a good prefect as I am humble, generous and kind. I feel that I’d be an asset to the prefect team and would try my hardest to become a successful figure in representing the school at events and in day to day life. I would be willing to go to events and it would be a privilege to represent the school and help the senior prefect team as well as staff. I will thrive to do my best and I hope you will accept and welcome me into your prefect team.

Yours sincerely,

Developing cross curricular knowledge

The Turton Triads have continued moving onwards this year, with each triad lead having a key theme to develop with their triad groups. My theme is cross curricular – on the face of it an ongoing focus in many schools. However I would say this is actually about knowledge and its retention in the minds of our students.
I would define cross curricular teaching as the sharing of knowledge and understanding to increase the depth and breadth of teaching in all subject areas, by taking all opportunities to enhance dialectic links across the curriculum. Such teaching should lead to deeper learning in lessons.
Our students can only develop cross curricular thinking if they can remember the knowledge learnt in other lessons and in previous years. The idea that students magically develop links between isolated pieces of information is a fallacy. The brain stores new information as a neural pathway and students need to keep revisiting the learning, so continuing to develop the neural pathways and building fluency. Developing routines of recall and revision of knowledge is key.

neural-network

In addition we make links between isolated facts simply by making neural pathways between the stored memories.  Well, I say simply, but this can be one of the hardest things to do without guidance.  As teachers and parents we need to help students make these links, and build strength in the neural pathways via continuous repetition.  Without a good basis in key knowledge students find the work in each year increasingly difficult.  Repetition can be perceived to be hard and boring at first, indeed some students struggle to feel motivated, until they achieve highly in regular tests (and ultimately exams), and realise that hard and continuous effort is rewarded on results day, and later as success in chosen careers. At Turton we consider ourselves lucky to have so many dedicated staff who are working hard with our students right from year seven, and who are supporting students in how to memorise and recall information. This, coupled with explicit sharing of knowledge and links, will help all students have a common, collective knowledge.  Teachers can help by making links across subjects to help ‘cross curricular’ learning.

The triads really help here, providing time for staff to become familiar with different subject learning.  Perhaps we now need to go even further and share ‘the key facts’ between subject staff.

Staff also share methods of revising and revisiting work with students and ensure this is happening outside lesson time.  I popped into a languages lesson this week and listened to the teacher setting a learning homework with explicit expectations of how students would bring evidence of this to the next lesson.  The teacher shared an example of how one student demonstrated their practice in a previous homework, and referred back to methods she had shared with the students, so reaffirming neural pathways in the lesson and during homework time.  A number of my triad groups have been trialling homework methods as a way of increasing memorisation, as well as linking topics, such as the Day of the Dead in Art and Spanish, across subjects. As we work to help our students develop deeper learning we will see them gain greater cross curricular understanding.

As a senior leader it is reassuring to see your ideas move into reality in the class room. Changes in practice do result in the emergence of new challenges and we need to react with thought and integrity. Currently our move to a much more knowledge heavy can bring, and one in helping parents to support their children in doing the hard work needed.  We can help to address the first challenge in school, by raising the learning expectations for all students in the classroom, and by supporting students to fill gaps in literacy and numeracy, so helping them to access the learning for each school year, and by seeing learning as a seven year journey in secondary schools, from year seven to year thirteen. The same high expectations for all students, irrespective of starting points, should mean gaps will close, and we will keep our eye on this, reflecting on and altering our practice as we feel it is needed. Opportunities to see theatre groups perform both inside and outside of school, to visit Art galleries or play in a musical group are among many enrichment activities available at Turton.

The second challenge is at times the easiest, and at others one of the hardest things we meet in school.  Most of our parents are running with the advice we have provided this year, and their sons and daughters are flying.  Parents are providing the time, space and motivation needed to help their children complete the work needed at home.  For some of our students this emphasis on individual hard work is a complete sea change, and it has become very evident that setting the expectations of a journey from year seven is a more fruitful than changing direction in year eleven or thirteen.

work-hard-quote

Thankfully the vast majority of our students are relishing the increased challenge we have set them, and we will continue to work with the minority who are struggling. Hopefully we are creating long term differences, through our forward thinking approach, for all our students.

Cathy Bach

Deputy Headteacher

 

Our Hive Switch

 

 

‘There comes a time in your life when you focus solely on what you believe is right, regardless of what everybody else is doing. ‘

Alexander McQueen

From where we sit, up on a hill heading northwards out of Bolton, it appears as though everything we think and do at Turton is divergent from what everyone else is doing. I am sure though, that in a different town or in a different time we wouldn’t feel so out on a limb

jumbles

School improvement requires that we set challenging targets and meet those targets to demonstrate an improvement in outcomes from one year to the next. I am asked the question: Progress 8 is negative, how will you improve it? I reply: through CPD, improving teaching, developing students’ accountability and work ethic, through recruiting talented and knowledgeable teachers, through a culture and climate of hard work and a strong Trivium curriculum that provides a true education for our students, which means knowing stuff, not just learning how to pass exams.

I couldn’t be more certain that these things will improve outcomes over time – but in the short term this won’t mean that we have no disadvantaged gap this year or that Progress 8 will swiftly jump to a positive score in August 2017. So what can you do to fix this, this year? I get asked, like there is some trick that I’m missing – is there a trick that I’m missing? Am I really expected to enter our kids for a meaningless exam in order to fix this? – As if there is a crack that can be plastered over!!

Then there is the focus on improvement through the identification of groups: pupil premium, disadvantaged children, boys, girls, middle ability, low ability, high ability, middle ability boys, ethnic minorities, children who are looked after, and on and on. And yet, we have high performing students in all these groups. Surely this is not about groups and labelling students for intervention. Closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students, for example, means holding everyone to the same high expectations and aspirations. A knowledge rich curriculum will have the impact of closing achievement gaps if it is taught well.

‘Imparting broad knowledge to all children is the single most effective way to narrow the gap.’        ED Hirsch

Stepping aside from these questions, Progress 8 had me thinking back to our aim – to synthesise a progressive school culture with traditional teaching methods based on a 21st C Trivium. Combining a progressive school culture with traditional teaching methods such that every student can flourish.

Helping children to flourish educationally has no easy formula, there are no tricks or games to be played. Ours is a perpetual journey, navigating knowledge and personal development, common curriculum and individual needs – and most poignantly always aiming for a true education for our students to take with them (as well as exam performance).

Our aim then is to balance getting our curriculum spot on, focussing on embedding knowledge, clarity around what we want children to know and assessing whether or not they have learned it. This is combined with increasing students’ work ethic and raising their aspirations.

The former was the more straight-forward challenge. Teachers have worked hard over the last 18 months to debate and agree a common core curriculum in their subjects, then designed curriculums that create a journey from 7-13, where the end point at each stage is clearly in mind.

Teachers have also worked hard on developing their own practice in the classroom. They frequently collaborate within their CPD triads, observe each other, share ideas, tweak, transform and improve.

Turton has an excellent team of teachers who provide lessons that are educationally rich day in day out. Combining this with evidence from RAISE that we have little within school variation in subjects and so performance is consistent across school, brings me to the same conclusion I came to in the summer and the second element of our aim: our students’ work ethic must improve along with their habits for learning, particularly for middle ability students arriving with SATS scores 4.0-4.99.

In my previous blog reflecting on our summer results, I referred to the performance of faith schools. Before modern education, religion was the mechanism for education and a predominant feature of its pedagogy was repetition. Maybe this is where faith schools gain advantage, whereas modern education simply pours information in and expects it to stick, those closely aligned with faith are more in the practice and routine of repetition and memorisation techniques. The routines of prayer and meditation, reciting religious books, creates rituals for learning that can be applied to all subject areas.

hiveThus, as a secular school, we must create our own rituals, cycles of rehearsed knowledge; religion knows well that nothing stays active in our minds unless we rehearse and repeat every day. We are developing these rituals through our ‘hive switch’, this is a cohesive community wide approach that, when applied by everyone, has momentous power for change. The idea was developed by Jonathan Haidt, in his book ‘The Righteous Mind’. For us, the hive switch is our code, similar to religious codes. It is a guiding set of actions and routines that we all agree improve the work ethic and learning habits of students on a daily basis. These routines, combined with a knowledge curriculum and ritual learning are improving the educational progress of our students before our very eyes.

Our Trivium curriculum has its own socially enabling power and in itself is effective in narrowing achievement gaps. Supported by students working hard on rituals for learning such as repetition and memorisation is what is making what we do aspirational for everyone. Identifying groups is a ruse, a smoke screen. School improvement must have at its heart improvement for all and the long game of deep, lasting improvement that does not get distracted by quick fixes.