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