Mr Searle’s end of year message

At the end of this very challenging academic year, Turton staff received an email from our Head of geography, Mr Searle. As we approach the summer break, tired and emotional, the email cuts through to the heart of why we do what we do. It has been uplifting to see students performing in the school show again, this year, to listen to the many talented students performing in the music concert and to see so many students enjoying and benefiting from educational visits off site. On the year 12 trip to Arran, year 12 students commented that this was their first school trip since they were in year 8!

Mr Searle is exceptional in his drive to ensure that students experience incredible outdoor educational opportunities, and this runs alongside the commitment of all Turton staff to provide the multitude of micro-educational opportunities that occur on a day by day basis for all our students.

Alain De Botton says: ‘There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.’ Every year I see teachers at Turton giving themselves wholeheartedly to the job, but never more so than in this year following two years of Covid disruptions. They make sacrifices in their own lives for a job that is worth doing and a purpose that is worth ‘fighting’ for: which is to give our students the best possible education for their futures and for the betterment of future society. And in the absence of a functioning government, with any morality, this ambition is more poignant than ever!

As we approach a well-earned summer break, I’d like to thank all the staff at Turton for their courage, their passion for the job and their humanity in all that they do. It is through these values that we build our community.

Mr Searle’s email:

Words cannot express . . . but they are going to have to make a valiant attempt. 

This has probably been the most exhausting but most rewarding summer term in my twenty plus years at Turton. What a remarkable and brilliant set of staff and students we have at our school. In the last three months we have been able to catch up some of the time lost to Covid. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award team have helped our students complete two Bronze and four Silver expeditions. In the last week of April over 60 Year 11s completed their Bronze expedition followed by nearly 70 Year 10s in May. This week saw 40 plus Year 12s and 13s complete their three-day Silver expeditions in the lake District (surviving the soaring temperatures on Tuesday). They followed on from the 58 students from 10P and 11P who completed their Silver expeditions the previous week walking over 40 kilometres from Coniston to Keswick.  

In the past year or so these students have volunteered over 2,000 hours in their local communities: too often unsung heroes helping friends, family and strangers through the tail end of the pandemic.  

None of this would be possible without the energy and commitment of the staff that have helped in so many ways. My special thanks must go to the members of the Geography Department (plus our new, and not so new, honorary members) who also took 141 GCSE students to Snowdonia and 42 A-Level students to Arran. For everyone who had to cover a lesson, thank you so much (and sorry, I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but it was definitely for a good cause).  

A massive thank you to those dedicated staff for whom working a 6.00am to midnight school day has made it all possible. In no particular order (except one dictated by an exhausted memory): David Hier, Jeanette Bimpson, Jon Riley, Tom Gilroy, Rik Hindle, Fran Crawford, Clare Smith, Megan Bithell, Joe Lomax, Mark Sykes, Ray Foy, Mark Barrow and, last but by no means least, Jeff Davies (who finally had a job where he didn’t risk losing any fingers.) 

My final thanks, and eternal gratitude, to Catherine Feehan, whose calm control and phenomenal organisation at Ground Control, has made everything possible. And to Jenna and Claire in Finance who have had to sort through the hundreds of receipts and ‘reconcile’ (whatever that means) the ParentPay accounts. 

And to everyone else, in whatever role, a massive “Thank you.”  

I’ll leave the final words to an elderly stranger, who spoke to me in the tiny Lake District village of Grange in Borrowdale on Thursday, having spent a few minutes with us, while the students had a well-earned ice cream break: “What an amazing group of wonderful young people: you must be so proud.” 

I am. We all are. It’s why we teach.  

Enjoy the holidays. 

Clive 

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The Story of Turton

In an earlier blog, I wrote my thoughts about some of the benefits of faith on a school culture and how these aligned with the ethos of a secular school, such as Turton.
After spending a day with Stephen Tierney, exploring the three ways of being, knowing and doing from his latest book, it got me reflecting on ethos and culture again. Stephen talks from his own experience of leading a faith school, the fundamentals of which correspond to my experience of creating a values-led ethos for Turton.
Yet again, I was left pondering the impact of faith (not a belief in god, but the values of living a good life) on school culture, at a time where we are experiencing great instability in schools everywhere, following two years of disruption caused by the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, I felt strongly that staff and students had a deep-rooted understanding of our ethos, the values that guide us and our purpose. However, in this first year post lockdowns and hefty COVID restrictions, people’s grip on the connectivity of our collective endeavour, seems to have weakened.
This likeness to the juxtaposition with faith schools re-appeared through my desire to re-unite everyone around our collective ideals, ways of working and community effervescence. The constancy of working for something greater than ourselves, no matter the distraction, holds fast when it is centred around an ancient belief system. Stephen talked about the story of his school being clearly rooted in faith, a story that is already set out, since time immemorial, through the books of the bible.
The story of Turton, however, is told only by its current Head Teacher. Which got me thinking that perhaps it needs writing down; to be made explicit and incontrovertible; to be able to stand the test of time. In this way it becomes grounded and existent, acting as a reference point for all of us.
When new staff join Turton, they are inducted into our ethos and culture and ways of working, but this can seem disjointed initially, until they come to realise the connectivity of all things. The story supports a deeper understanding from the start, providing a way of sharing our common purpose with those concerned, allowing each individual to realise their role in working for the good of everyone.
The story reminds us who we are, how we do things and where we are heading on this journey together:

The Story of Turton: who we are, how we do things, where we’re heading

Building on the knowledge of the past to help the children of today meet the challenges of tomorrow

Turton School is, and always has been, a community school; that exists to serve the families of the local area. It has a northern town demographic and sits on the climb northwards out of Bolton. The school is over-subscribed and its popularity resides in its reputation for having a calm, respectful and purposeful climate and for providing high quality teaching in a broad range of subjects.

As an 11-18 school, we have a thriving and high performing 6th form, offering students small class sizes in a broad range of A level and BTEC subjects. We are also a training school; we run a reputable and substantial School Direct programme for teacher training, with the purpose of attracting high quality graduates and training them to become excellent teachers for local schools. In addition, we operate a bespoke, in-house, four year ECT programme to support all teachers to aspire to excellence.

The school’s most prominent feature, making it the place where people want to study and work, is its ethos. Our values for education, school and life are clearly defined and guide us in all aspects of our work. These values imbue our ethos, and the ethos of a school matters: it is paramount because it is ubiquitous. The ethos is what gives our school its uniqueness, it’s what binds us as a community and it is what guides our behaviour and practice. It makes Turton a place where people belong and can thrive.

Values

Humanity puts compassion at the centre of every thought and action. We are the caretakers of one another and our environment. We are a positive force for good in our community, empowering others to lead a good life. An appreciation that through learning the best that has been thought, said and done, we can become better people ourselves.

Wisdom requires that we apply insight, experience, common sense and value to our knowledge.  Its essence is discernment: right from wrong, helpful from harmful, truth from delusion.  The qualities of wisdom allow us to see reality and its complexities, but remain steadfast and determined.  Building on the knowledge and experience of the past, using the experiences and connectivity of the present, we make decisions and move forward into the challenges of the future.

Courage is about having the inner strength and resolve to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.  It is required as a means of overcoming our natural fears and anxieties in order that we operate from a place of strength and determination to make progress.

Justice preserves human dignity, no matter the circumstance.  It finds a collective, societal agreement on the moral line in the sand; creating circumstances that allow us to function freely within our social constructs.

Temperance is the value that helps us keep our equilibrium.  It is the quality within ourselves, and our organisation, that allows us to step back, take a minute, and consider our response.  It keeps us true to ourselves so that we neither become reactionary, when things don’t go as well as we’d like, nor too elated when things go well: it grounds us.  Temperance ensures we balance pride with humility, courage with restraint and transcendence with action.

Transcendence allows us the ability to see the bigger picture, to see the whole rather than the sum of the parts.  It is the invisible threads that link to the past, the present and the future. Transcendence recognises the power of knowledge in search of truth. We believe in a liberal arts education as oppose to a utilitarian view.  Education in its own right is the end goal, going beyond any prescribed syllabi.

Purpose

As leaders, we believe in the power of education to transform lives, to improve social justice and social mobility, and that through education we work together for a better society for all.

From the mountain-top perspective, we, as senior leaders, take a principled approach to school leadership, creating a culture that is values led: we are knowledge driven rather than data and process driven. Working constantly for the long game, we are never bound by the status quo nor swayed by the prevailing opinion. Instead we are focussed acutely on our own high standards and strong beliefs in what makes an exceptional education for all who come through our doors.

We are fluid and relaxed in style, which belies our rigid aspirations of all and a strong view of where we are headed. We have a ‘river crossing’ (Reeves et al., 2018) approach to our work together: with future ambitions that are clearly defined but open to experimentation and adaptability in terms of how we get there.

Our culture requires that who you are is on the table. We rely strongly on who people are underpinning what they do, such that everyone can realise our collective responsibility to be the best we can be. Culture activates pride, loyalty and enthusiasm amongst staff, thus removing the need for excessive monitoring.

This high-trust, values-led environment hosts an affiliative community with an academic outlook that builds personal empowerment, agency and satisfaction. It is with perfect equipoise that we tread two parallel paths, one foot in a path that is calm, purposeful, thoughtful and inclusive, the other in a white-hot path of academic rigour and high ambition.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

Fundamental to the educational offer at Turton is our curriculum, which is academic in nature and hosts a broad range of subjects. Our curriculum provides a balance of subjects within the broader domains of science, humanities and arts. It is carefully designed to capture the essence of all disciplines, with a coherence that embodies the three ways of the Trivium. Students begin their seven year journey by learning knowledge (the best that has been thought and said in each discipline). As knowledge builds and becomes embedded, through dialectical teaching, students begin to understand more deeply and learn to discuss and debate key concepts and ideas, thus learning to formulate connections and opinions, leading to a greater understanding of the world. The curriculum has relevance in our locality and in current times: this relevance is made explicit through the dialectical aspects of learning. It is also through dialectical teaching in subject areas that students engage in current affairs and personal development (CAPD). These aspects of curriculum rely on the knowledge of the past to help students make sense of the world today, including an understanding of the human condition. This enables them to develop good character through a deeper awareness of themselves and others and leads to personal empowerment and the capacity to go on to lead a good life.

As students develop over time, the rhetorical aspects of learning guide students towards coherent expressions of their learning. This includes the mediums of essay writing, performances, extended writing, finished products, completed artwork, complex problem solving and exams. The measure of all learning is made evident through rhetoric.

Good teaching requires a deep understanding and high level of skill in all aspects of pedagogy. We have a collegiate and collaborative approach to professional development that operates through our Triad structure. The purpose of this is to enable all teachers to review, reflect and constantly develop their pedagogical practice, with the over-arching ambition that if everyone improves their practice and performance year on year, this will lead to effective school improvement.

Turton has a set of routines and classroom practices known as the Hive Switch, adhered to by all, that support curriculum delivery and pedagogy. It requires us to apply our collective energy to a set of key practices, in all classrooms. Through this unison of drilling routines, the Hive Switch benefits each of us as individuals, but also has a community effect, where collective interests predominate. In this way, students learn personal accountability and social responsibility. Our collective endeavour, around the Hive Switch, improves engagement, well-being, safety and performance.

Vision

‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’ John Muir

By a recognition of the connectivity of everything and everyone, we work to synchronise all aspects of our figuring and reconfiguring into a vision that reflects our ‘inescapable network of mutuality’ (MLK jr.). With bold ambition our vision has its sights set on the building blocks of character, a life well lived and long-lasting achievement.

Our vision is realised through the following current, strategic approaches:

  • We share living, breathing values that are present in all of our work together. These guide us to high standards of personal integrity, such that we all behave in a way that is for the good of everyone.
  • Staff: Our Triad structure has a sharp focus on pedagogy and achieving excellence in classroom practice. No matter what additional responsibilities a teacher may have, their primary responsibility is always their classroom practice. Our Triad structure combines performance review with perpetual professional development. In this way, we realise our ambition for school improvement, which is brought about by everyone improving their teaching year on year. This reflects our culture of high trust and professionalism, guided by rigid aspirations. In this way, teachers gain a sense of their agency in affecting change and bringing about improvements that are both personal and collective. All support staff are critical to achieving the school’s vision, integrally working in-service to the core business of teaching. We are unique in offering an onsite mental health provision, as well as a strong team of pastoral mentors who work directly with students and families. This works seamlessly with our SEND provision, ensuring that students have access to appropriate support.
  • Our ethos, climate and practices support our vision for all staff to achieve a sense of personal fulfilment in their work, to have a sense of purpose and the knowledge that they are working for something greater than themselves.
  • Students: In essence, we aim to broaden the minds and horizons of our students. We do this through a broad and deep curriculum; high-quality teaching, and through the routines of our Hive Switch, which develop a sense of personal accountability, a strong work ethic and excellent learning habits. Students must leave Turton with good qualifications and good character as their passport to their future.
  • We recognise that our effect, as teachers, is far greater for those students who are disenfranchised, than it is for those who are privileged. Our work in classrooms to include and engage students who are disenfranchised, is less about identified groups and intervention and more about ensuring that our planning, pedagogy, delivery and routines are continually adjusted and reformed to include those students who are on the periphery of learning in our classrooms. Teachers are aware of their own agency in creating a group relationship within the classroom. This group relationship has a more powerful effect on well-being and inclusion than one-to-one relationships. Teachers use their agency to identify which children are on the outside of this group relationship, then work to include them.
  • We create financial safety through the financial efficacy of a tight budget. All our work is under-pinned by strategic and effective financial management. We take a visionary and creative approach to the delegation of resources, always using public money for the greater good.

*There are many reasons why students may be disenfranchised, these include: poverty, abuse and neglect, lack of parental support, feeling different, introversion, anxiety, substance misuse, lethargy and boredom, to name a few. Knowing the reason for disenfranchisement is less important than knowing that students aren’t included and seeking to include them.

Sam Gorse

Head Teacher

A whole school Trivium curriculum for Turton School: An entitlement to knowledge and learning for everyone

I would say that a philosophical mind and a principled character are the best attributes of a person. Certainly, I would wish for each of our students to leave Turton with the capacity to think and the strength of character to lead a good life.Image result for idealism vs realism

Philosophy and principles, however, cannot lead us to do great things without pragmatism’s timely involvement.

For a significant part of my career, I focussed extra energy on Pastoral work – student behaviour and psychology. I enjoy working with people and sharing philosophies, ideas and ideals; I am also driven by a strong desire to make a difference, to influence and develop educational practice, such that it improves people’s lives.

In an effort to gain insight from the experts, expand my thinking and deepen my understanding, I have read hundreds of books and articles pertaining to behaviour, psychology and how children learn. I was excited every time I picked up a new book on my areas of interest. Of current note are: Flourish, Martin Seligman and What Every Teacher Needs to Know about Psychology, David Didau. While I revelled in the principles and philosophy extoled, I was also keen to get to the section of the book where I hoped there would be some practical examples of how things might look in my school.

Over time, I came to realise, that many education related books are unable to localise advice, where practical approaches are recommended, they lack detail and precision. Thus my job then, as now, is to explore and debate the philosophies, establish clearly my own principles and ultimately come up with practical applications and solutions myself. As Head Teacher, this is ever more poignant; with my time now spanning across pastoral ideologies and those of the curriculum- indeed the two are inextricably linked – I find that even where solutions do exist, such as the government’s National Curriculum, they are often lacking.

Much has been written about curriculum of late. My Leadership team and I operate a book club, and have read many great books on education, including curriculum. I take seriously my responsibility to have some knowledge and understanding of the ‘big ideas’ in all subjects, reading books that scan across subject areas. Of note: The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer; Figuring, Maria Popova; Leonardo, Walter Isaacson; The Righteous Mind, Jonahan Haidt.  I see the Leadership team and myself as the people to lead curriculum design across Turton.

Over 3 years ago, the government announced the removal of National Curriculum levels; creating an opportunity for schools to take back control of their profession and create a curriculum and assessment design to suit their school and their students.

We have seized hold of this opportunity, working with the philosophies and principles close to our hearts, to design a curriculum rich in knowledge, focussed on learning the best of what has been thought and said and forging cohesion across disciplines, so that students understand the big ideas, connections and concepts that run through each subject.

Prior to this change, it was rare to hear teachers discussing knowledge or what they were teaching; behaviour – yes, attitude – yes, test scores – yes, but not what students were learning. This article, on the School of Life website suggests that we aren’t as good at thinking strategy as we are at execution (just getting things done).

‘At school, ‘working hard’ still means dutifully following curriculum, not wondering whether or not it happens to be correct.’ School of Life

As well as students being required to dutifully follow curriculum, so too have most teachers. As successive governments have interfered more and more in education, curriculum design and deciding what should be included in each subject, at each stage, is a highly under-developed skill in teachers and school leaders.

‘We should strive to ensure that at least 20% of our efforts is henceforth devoted to reflecting on the deeper ‘why’ questions – before we allow ourselves to ‘relax’ into the more familiar and routine work of execution.’ School of Life

Four years down the line, reflecting on the deeper ‘why’ question, we have read much, and discussed and debated even more. Deciding, with subject leads, what to include and what to leave out at each stage. We identified a set of organising principles running through each subject from years 7 to 13. Once agreed, the content was then structured as narrative, identifying substantive knowledge, disciplinary knowledge and relation to knowledge, as well as the interplay between grammar, dialectic and rhetoric.

Our expertise in all subject areas has grown as we focus, in detail, on designing sound, academic curriculums with an emphasis on classical ideas, exploring how knowledge builds and how students come to understand and draw connections.

Our philosophy is embedded, not just in the minds of the Leadership team, but in the minds of subject leads, teachers and all staff across school working with students. We have strong, sound guiding principles and values, and a clear sense of purpose and direction.

All good so far! We have explored the thinking of the experts, heeded the advice from the School of Life and arrived at a clear sense of what matters to us in curriculum design and ideology.

However, the purpose of this article is not to harp on about the concept of ‘curriculum design’ as abstract, nor do I want to keep extolling certain curriculum philosophies and principles. I now want to talk about the 4 years of intensive work put forth to build our Trivium curriculum and share the product itself as a model for others.

On arriving at the point of execution, similarly to my research in pastoral work, I have found little in terms of pragmatism from the experts. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful books  and articles and inspiring minds contributing to the educational debate these days; of note: Trivium 21C, Martin Robinson; The Learning Rainforest, Tom Sherrington; What Schools Should Teach, Alex Standish & Alka Sehgal Cuthbert; Christine Counsell, thedignityofthethingblog.wordpress.com. But to move from debate to practical application is stepping into the void without a guide book.

The upshot, then, is DIY! The government provide a National Curriculum, but we know that this is seriously flawed and lacking in terms of coherence and narrative.

Michael Young claims that the curriculum is a resource for charting the teachers’/school’s/country’s goals; that it should contain what is valued that is important for all pupils to have access to. This is only realisable if the Leadership of the school has the capacity and desire to lead the production of a school curriculum that contains what is valued, by the school leaders and teachers, but also by the community that the school operates within, both locally, nationally and globally. And if school leaders are prepared to accept the amount of time, energy, intensity and dedication required for the process of a whole school curriculum re-write that places emphasis on knowledge, understanding and application rather than exams.

We believe that a coherent, academic curriculum, where knowledge is fundamental, forms the bedrock of success for any student in our school. We believe that all students have an entitlement to important knowledge through a relevant curriculum; that knowledge, learned and then understood, is the route to a good life, to over-coming disadvantage and the route to all students flourishing during their time at school and beyond.

Then, as leaders, is it enough to put forth the philosophy and principles, leaving the teachers to make up their own curriculum?

We think not! Certainly Heads of Department and all teachers are a crucial part of the big conversation on curriculum, but leaders must question, challenge and debate what is to be included, how we establish the common core across each department, and how cohesion is vital in ensuring the quality of students’ learning experiences. This goes right down to the details, such as ensuring that every English teacher has the same definition of a paragraph, which is then communicated to students with clarity, ensuring that even when students move from one teacher to another there is no confusion.

Even then, establishing this in each subject was not enough. Through our work, we realised that establishing subject curriculums from year 7 to year 13 and the path to mastery in each subject, was only part of the curriculum story.

To complete the story, we must produce a whole school cohesive curriculum that provides a narrative, for students and parents, of the knowledge to be gained, the learning expected and a clarity of the development from building knowledge, developing dialectic and exploring rhetoric through the Trivium, on a student’s journey through school.

This required discussions and debates about important knowledge, connections across subjects and the timings of when things are learned where, or how things are learned in preparation for experiences in other subjects further down the line.

For example, if science require students to manipulate the equation for density in year 7, and maths don’t introduce this until year 8, do we alter the timings of the introduction of this knowledge? Or do we enable science teachers to work with maths teachers to deliver this concept in a way that supports students’ learning and understanding in maths later on?

How many of Shakespeare’s works should students be exposed to during their time at Turton? If they study Othello in English Literature in year 8 and Macbeth in Drama in year 8, is Romeo and Juliet challenging enough for study in KS4? Or would Merchant of Venice be more academically rigorous? Is three full Shakespearean texts enough?

‘The best of what has been thought and said’ comes from great minds, so who are the 3 to 5 historical figures, in your subject, with the big ideas? Does deciding on these people bring into question what to include in your curriculum?

network

After much research, discussion, disagreement and agreement, we now have a publishable draft, whole school curriculum, such that any student, and their parent, arriving in year 7, can clearly see the wonderful knowledge and learning they will gain throughout their time at Turton.

Our whole school curriculum presents students with the notion that this is all the great stuff you will know and come to understand by the time you leave us in year 11/13. This is your entitlement, as a student of Turton, no matter who you are. Through knowledge we form community, we overcome disadvantage, remove racial tension and bigotry and we develop parity for people in the North of England.

By ensuring that every child has access to a high quality curriculum, we can reduce the differences in student achievement that are due to students’ backgrounds, and help them to develop the knowledge they will need to participate effectively in society. This, combined with a culture, created through our Triad programme, where every teacher continually improves, means we develop a teacher workforce where almost all teachers are as good as the best; this is a goal we can achieve, and our students deserve nothing less.

My reason for writing this blog is to share the product, not just the philosophies and principles.

In a large comprehensive school such as ours (which has suffered at the feet of the skills revolution and teaching to the test; with a wide range of teachers, many of whom have never been required to think deeply about curriculum and many who have no experience of the classics in their own education) curriculum review and reform, to this level, is a major piece of work. This work has its own process, pace and intensity. It has taken almost 4 years to come to fruition – not completion; this process is never ending and each step of the journey reveals the length of the journey ahead!

Reading around and coming to understand each subject, establishing a rationale for teaching it and deciding what the ‘big ideas’ are that need to be included, has been an education in itself for us as a Leadership team.

The process of selecting ‘the best of what has previously been thought and said’ and by whom, has led us to a more enlightened curriculum and a deeper cohesion, both through and across subjects.

Most significantly, we have arrived at a whole school narrative that illuminates each subject, draws on connections between subjects and provides a clear perspective on how each subject/topic/idea forms part of a much bigger picture.

If, like us, you are searching for an answer to the questions of curriculum design such as: what is the ‘best that has previously been thought and said’ for each subject, then I hope you will find our curriculum overview useful. This is our version of a coherent, knowledge-rich curriculum, providing a strong liberal arts education through the three ways of the Trivium.

LINK:    https://www.turton.uk.com/curriculum/

curriculum

Enter through the curriculum icon, which will take you to a subject map (as above). Each subject has a philosophy: a reason for including it in a child’s education and why the knowledge is important; and a narrative: the story of the important knowledge acquired and then understood in that subject, told as narrative from year 7 to year 13.

The subject narrative is underpinned by 3 or 4 organising principles (in bold) that run through the subject as the child progresses.

Key historical figures, that have contributed to the best that has previously been thought and said and worthy of inclusion in the curriculum at Turton, are highlighted in red.

In italics are key texts, selected carefully to ensure students read and understand important works, and underlined are the time periods relating to the area of study.

Clicking on the triangles in the centre of the subject map takes you to a network diagram that provides an overview of every child’s entitlement to curriculum on entering Turton. It demonstrates how knowledge builds over time and where connections are made, across disciplines, providing important contexts for understanding the world around them.

I hope you find our curriculum of interest and invite feedback in the form of constructive comments and points for debate/discussion.

Accountability or Responsibility

triad4

 

Turton Triads, CPD/Performance Development

My inquiry question: Can individual responsibility be truly intrinsic within the culture of school, thus completely removing the requirement for a top down structure of enforced accountability? Through the culture of the school, can teachers effectively reflect and develop their practice and hold themselves and each other to account without an enforced structure from senior leaders?

When we embarked on our Triad process, we had a collective imperative to transform teaching across school. Our intention was to re-focus our attention on what students were learning in the classroom, the content and sequencing of the curriculum and how well students were learning it. We undertook a good deal of research and analysis into the culture of teaching at Turton, the effectiveness of our taught curriculum, current pedagogy and the extent to which students were learning what was being taught and how we knew (assessment). We combined this with extensive conversations about current educational research outside of school and our personal values in relation to the purpose of education at Turton.

Subsequently, our school priorities were threefold:

  1. Our Hive Switch ensures that all students develop good character through a strong work ethic and excellent learning habits.
  2. Embedding the three ways of the Trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) into our curriculum to ensure that we deliver a world-class education for our students.
  3. Teachers as experts in their subjects who provide a broad and deep learning experience for students.

Moreover, our mechanism for meeting these priorities was through the Triad process for professional development and performance development. We established the Triads as a way of developing this together, and there was much work to be done!

A culture change in teaching had to be brought forth with a requirement for all teachers to immerse themselves in their own professional development and supportive of the development of others. We began working on developing a reflective, transformative culture, where everyone sought to improve their practice and invoke school improvement through each of us getting a bit better, year on year.

As part of the triad process, each member of staff set out three intentions for developing their practice for the year. Intentions rather than targets because targets has implications of a straight-line path towards an immovable goal, whereas intentions can set you on a curious and exploratory journey to improvement that is flexible and varied, with many possible routes.

These intentions link to school priorities but are crucially decided by individuals and Triad groups. Teachers firstly reflect on and assess their current practice, then discuss their intentions for the year with their Triad group and their Triad lead.

Now in our third year of the Triad process, I am highly impressed by the work that all teachers are doing within their Triad groups. The research, evidence-informed developments, the collaboration and collegiality and the notable improvements and excellent practice that is taking place in classrooms, tell me that a real culture shift has occurred. A culture that is now embedded in the practice of every teacher across school.

Once the culture change has occurred, there is no longer a need for the same rigidity in structure. I am now confident that teachers reflect, develop, collaborate and improve as part of their yearly practice. Thus, this year, we will move to each teacher setting just one intention in September. This will be set up as an inquiry, leading to evidence-informed improvements to practice. If appropriate, a second intention may be introduced at the review stage in February.

The teaching profession suffers from accountability overload, forcing people into practices that can destroy the fundamentals of great teaching: supportive relationships and self-growth. Our Triad structure provides the guidance needed to ensure that everyone can flourish in a collaborative community. It is a move away from accountability towards responsibility and integrity, values that better align with our culture. We value teacher professionalism, trust, collaboration and community and I hold a strong belief that my teachers want to do their very best for the students on a daily basis.

Vision and Purpose 3 years on

I began working with my Leadership team 3 years ago this Christmas. Our coming together as a team was a meeting of minds; we are all passionate about the same thing: the power of education to transform life.

We keep our intentions simple: we want to provide the best education possible for our students.

Turton is the place where our passion and purpose come together. We believe our students deserve our very best on a daily basis, the best teaching, the best care, the best education.

Our vocation, and that of all Turton staff, is to transform the lives of our students through education, enabling them to make their mark. We believe that students from the north of Bolton, in the NW of England, can compete and succeed in making the NW area a significant global success.

Proud of our Lancashire roots, our goal is for students to make their mark in the world, keeping one foot rooted firmly in a heritage to be proud of; thus removing any sense of geographical disadvantage.

Education is the vehicle for social justice and a fairer society. Our students will contribute to over-coming the North/South divide, towards a better future for everyone and to an end to discrimination and poverty.

Our shared vision and purpose is the means by which we achieve our intentions, summarised in the diagram below:

vision and purpose

Knowledge, relationships and hard work are what we value.

The Touchstones are how we articulate our values to the students and wider community. They are the six elemental values that we want students to develop and leave Turton with; values that enable them to lead a good life:

Knowledge & wisdom, relatedness, community & belonging, creativity & expression, self-awareness, seeing the good in others.

The Trivium is the philosophy and methodology that forms the bedrock of our curriculum and the three ways of the Trivium – grammar, dialectic and rhetoric – inform pedagogy. The Trivium embodies the pursuit of wisdom from a knowledge-rich foundational curriculum.

The Trivium combines knowledge with hard work to foster learning.

The Triads is our performance development model, combining professional development with accountability. This model of performance development is formed on the principle that suitable collaboration ensures that everyone gets a bit better, year on year. The vision is of teachers as evidence-informed experts, leading the way to school improvement.

The triads is a collaborative process where teachers develop their knowledge and expertise through their professional relationships.

The Hive Switch supports learning by helping students to understand that this is the way we do things around here, making our expectations explicit to sustain a positive learning climate.

The Hive switch is where relationships and hard work combine to inspire learning behaviour. It contains eight elements that every teacher in every classroom commit to, thus provoking a group-related adaptation that creates a cohesive climate for learning at Turton which then enables everyone to be more successful than working independently.

The Hive Switch is a ‘one for all and all for one’ mind-set, similar to that of a team approach where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Three years is an excellent point to pause and reflect. It is enough time to see the extent to which our developments are successful and how much the enacted daily experiences align with our vision and purpose. It is also enough time to gain confidence in the momentum of our work, which, with tweaks along the way, will provide the transport towards an even brighter subsequent three years.

 

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.

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,