Thursday, 6 October 2016

Proud of our diversity

Reported widely this week has been the government proposal to 'shame companies into listing their foreign workers'. Although it is always possible that plans have been misreported, we thought we'd take this opportunity to state how proud we are of the diversity within the Elliot Foundation.

The Elliot Foundation was conceived as a charity committed to improving outcomes for all the children in its primary schools regardless of their backgrounds.  This sentiment extends to our employees.

We will never be 'shamed' into revealing their nationalities. We are incredibly proud of their diversity. We cannot divulge the ethnicity or nationality of all of our 1,500+ employees because we do not have their permission to do so.  

But the photo above is of all the staff in head office this morning, all of whom resoundingly endorse this message. They are, reading from left to right: British Nigerian, Kenyan British, British Sri Lankan, Nigerian British, Ukrainian, Somalilander and Polish.  Not in the photo is our British Jewish Office Manager and the photographer and author is a Balding Ginger European.

Our diversity is not the result of any policy or active plan. It is merely the product of drawing together people who believe that restricting children's life chances simply because of where they are born or the colour of their skin is unacceptable.

For the record, we will never employ a member of staff or not employ them because of their ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation provided that they are entitled to work in the UK.  Not only because it is illegal to discriminate on this basis but because it is morally wrong!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Fostering success

Now that the dust is starting to settle from the Education White Paper, there has been some time to reflect on its implications.  

Shortly after publication we shared with the DfE some thoughts on a number of the potential risks or unintended consequences of the policy outlines and suggested some ways of mitigating them. But the biggest issue probably now needs wider reflection, hence this blog post.

Here's the excerpt from our initial reaction to the white paper:
"Engineering success rather than just delivering a policy outcome

    • All schools to become academies does not, of itself, improve outcomes for children
    • MATs need to be successful
    • The DfE doesn't actually know what success looks like yet
    • All it knows is what it doesn't want"
Engage existing MATs who have been successful over time and through growth to bring on new MATs through 'MAT Factories" - possibly becoming members of the new MATs that they help to create" 
Whilst the problem statement is quite clear, the mitigation suggestion is a bit off kilter. The difficulty is in the language and more specifically the use of the word 'Factory'.  Any genuine educationalist knows that success comes from suiting the learning to the learner rather than a one size fits all approach... So why would an industrialised approach to school and academy groups succeed? The short answer of course is that it won't.  

Much better would be to foster success. To identify those sponsor organisations [1] who appear to have succeeded in turnaround and acceleration of improvement in schools in different contexts and inviting them to foster fledgling MATs as they in turn seek to discover the best path for their own children.

The great advantage of this approach is that it moves aways from the tick box mentality, the seven secrets, or top tips.   The egocentric... 'Let me tell you why I am so wonderful and what you need to do to be as wonderful as me.'  It shifts the emphasis onto the learner whether they are a child or an academy principal.

Creating a MAT fostering programme would allow successful MATs and Local Authorities to build capacity in the next generation of school-led systems. It would be much more effective and more efficient than the command and control regulation and oversight approach. It would create breathing space for Regional Schools Commissioners to identify the most efficient levers for change and it would distribute risk rather than concentrate it.

We are already doing it where we can (and are always happy to support others build enduring model of success) but it would be great if there were a properly funded government programme to support it.

[1] We are delighted that following the white paper the government is in discussion over allowing successful local authorities to set up their own MATs.  We have been suggesting this for over two years as the best way to retain expertise in the school system. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Getting Reading Right

Getting Reading Right
A reading conference at Ramnoth Junior School

‘I’d like to do some training and development about how to improve the teaching of reading, real strategies which will help teachers. Maybe involve other schools and learn from each other' said Karen Crawley, Executive Principal at Nene and Ramnoth Federation.

She was talking to Sue Robinson in November 2015 and it was the beginning of an idea, which culminated in a successful reading conference on 21st January 2016. The conference attracted 125 visitors from Elliot Foundation schools and from 20 schools from Peterborough and Cambridge.

Patricia Metham opened the conference with her keynote address. Until 2014 Patricia was Ofsted’s National Lead for English and Literacy. She engaged the audience with her knowledge and understanding about how to develop effective reading.

Identification of challenges and barriers to learning to read well, steps to success, ensuring many ‘real’ reasons and varieties of opportunities to read and planning a reading curriculum and its assessment were just some areas covered by Patricia in her highly evaluated session.

Afternoon keynote speaker, Judy Clark, Primary Literacy Adviser for the National Literacy Trust, mesmerised the audience with her obvious enthusiasm and passion for books and using quality texts to motivate and develop life long readers.

Ruth Leask, who is much valued as a consultant and former primary principal with the Elliot Foundation, presented a ‘sell out’ workshop on ‘inference versus retrieval’. Hearing comments such as ‘I’m always inspired by Ruth’ was another indication of the quality of the provision at this exciting conference

The Trust is a collaborative organisation. It was wonderful to see the high quality input from Hillingdon Primary’s Sabrina Kelly and Louise Maylor leading another packed workshop on Phonics. 

Highlees/Eyrescroft Federation is well known for the excellent relationships built with their parents and the community. It was a delight to have Gemma Brown presenting strategies used by this successful federation on engaging parents in building a reading community.

Variety and high quality were features of the day. Other workshops available included the Hounslow Language Service, Cambridgeshire Libraries, Norfolk Book Centre and several publishers

‘Getting Reading Right’ was the first conference held at Ramnoth School. It was organised by Karen Crawley, Becky Reeve and Ruth Leask. As the Development Director I am always impressed with the sheer hard work, commitment and collaborative spirit of our outstanding colleagues who organise or help to present for our events or programmes. They are what make the Elliot Foundation great and their belief enables our children to achieve

Already looking forward to our next collaboration!

Sue Robinson PhD

Monday, 27 July 2015

Using Film as a Centre of a Curriculum Model

In this case study Dr Sue Robinson asks Karen Bastick Styles, Executive Headteacher of Greenside School in London, what led to her innovative approach of adopting film making as the basis of her school’s curriculum and probes more about what the experience will be like for children. It is the first of a two-part study. The second part, at the end of the Autumn Term, will look at some of the impact of the approach and the film work produced by the children.

Karen believes that a good learning experience for her primary aged children should teach them to be world ready and test ready. She describes these two areas of learning:

"We are using two bold phrases. One is ‘world ready’ as when these students grow up we don’t know what the world will be like but we need to prepare them for the world of adulthood. It will have changed and they need to be ready. We also use ‘test ready’. By this we mean testing yourself and overcoming the challenge of getting things wrong and having the resilience to deal with it. Also academic tests because we want them to do well but it shouldn’t be an either/or. 
There has to be a balance. We want them to be world and test ready but we are doing it through the Arts. In the autumn term we are turning the school into a film company. We are calling ourselves, The Greenside Film Factory in tribute to Russian Cinema and Andy Wharhol, which is of course where we are getting our name. Everything we do for the whole week will be without any constraints of lessons and of time. We plan lots of vertical learning and innovative approaches."

Before discovering what the learning experience will look like in detail I wondered what led Karen to adopt this approach?

The route to innovation

Although most of Karen’s experience is in secondary education, which included leading two secondary schools, Karen became a primary head when asked by a friend to support her current school that was:

‘… Struggling a little and likely to go into a category and would I go and just be there to see them through that inspection. I said yes and joined them in September and Ofsted came in October and we got RI. I don’t wear that with a badge of honour! What happens then of course is that Ofsted and HMI say that if there is to be another change then that judgement is difficult to give because of sustainability.   
I said I would stay a year and we appointed a Head of School. I then agreed to executive head, 2 days a week for a year to ensure consistency. The Head of School left during the year. We were then left with a school awaiting another inspection and as a positive move and we decided we would use the model of me as Exec Head 3 days a week with my two Deputies leading Greenside on the other days.’ 

How did Karen initiate the changes she wanted to make at Greenside?

‘On the first day I came it was clear to see that we needed to improve significantly and rapidly. We needed changes to the pedagogy and philosophy of learning and so with a new vision it was easy to do. The first thing we did was to radically change the curriculum and introduce our own Creative Baccalaureate.  
The last 2 and half years of concentrating on how students learn have led up to this point. We recently quite literally sat down with a piece of paper and asked ‘What is the point of primary education?’ I don’t believe this country has a clear understanding of what it expects and the purpose of primary education. Sadly in the Secondary the battle for creativity has reduced with each new education reform. Just temporarily, I hope. I think primary education has around 3 years to regain the wonder, fun and creativity and to reclaim what we know is important about learning. This will demand a new emphasis on different skills, knowledge and understanding and a different focus on application.

Joining the Elliot Foundation

Greenside converted to become a member of the Elliot Foundation on 1st April 2015 and Karen comments:

'To do so has been so positive for us. I say that as somebody who was ‘Ms Anti Academy extraordinaire!’  But working with The Elliot Foundation felt right. Without exception everyone, in terms of a philosophy of education, is coming from the same direction. I wouldn’t have joined Greenside to any other group. 
You do genuinely feel that like - minded people are here working in partnership with you and moving in the same direction. We had a ‘good with outstanding features’ inspection in October 2014 and needed to think about how to move on from that point in our journey. It’s the right time for us to take calculated risks and we want to do something new and different to improve the experience our students have even more.  We have both a freedom and partnership being with The Elliot Foundation and we relish this!'

‘Creating an alternative school’

Karen has been ‘relentlessly pragmatic’ in her use of resources, planning and ensuring her curriculum will work for children. What will the experience look like? 

‘It really is about pushing educational boundaries. We started with our Hollywood star and placed our students at the centre/ top. We asked what do we know about our students, what’s our cohort? We then looked at what we want them to learn and how, at research findings and our underpinning values and pedagogy. We wanted them World Ready and Test Ready and we want to do this through an Arts based model. In the first term our Art form is film and we are testing ‘the power of film’ in student learning. 
From September we want everyone to work as teams and groups to explore Film and to develop skills through an experiential model of learning. It’s going to be fascinating as to how we are going to capture all of the student experiences, progress and success. The students will have an iPAD each and so will create e-portfolios.  
Crucial to the model is genuine independent learning. The outcomes we believe that could come from two days a week with 30 students between 3 and 11 making films together with teachers and other adults is exciting and limitless! We are also commissioning another film to be made by a group of students without any teachers to challenge them beyond limits and see what just what they are capable of achieving. 

What will a week’s experience look like for a student?

'We will start each Monday with a Board Meeting, which will involve every student exploring ‘big questions’, showing accountability to the Film Company and operating within a real world business model. On Mondays and Tuesdays we are operating an integrated Film Based Programme ‘Students as Researchers’. Writing workshops and STEM Learning will be generated from key film texts, all related to our film texts. On Wednesdays and Thursdays we will work in whole school Film Crews. On Friday mornings we will return to writing for an audience and tell Greenside Film Stories for our e-communication strand. Then we’ll be moving straight into specialisms and all students will choose from a whole range of learning experiences including cooking, carpentry, Guitar, Spanish, Running a house and some wonderful charity projects. Each 6-week programme will ensure students have a balance of theory, practice and take their work in to the community. Then on Friday afternoon the whole school will do Sports/ PE together.  

Our week will be punctuated with shared reading, General Knowledge quizzes and SMSC opportunities. We all came into education to change the world… I don’t want this to be a selfish generation and we place so much value at Greenside on altruism and collaboration. 
Our new model requires a balance of everything; competition and collaboration, individual learning and group tasks quick pressure and working to time alongside real in-depth learning. We have done a lot of work on critical thinking skills. We’ve done it for a couple of years and this, along with student leadership is at the heart of The Film Factory. We are trying to be as responsive and free as we can get, times with students able to sit outside for a whole day making costumes for our films whilst creating stories because in education we are always reluctant to spend any length on time on anything.  We give them 10 sequins and worry it takes too much time and wonder why they aren’t any good with fine motor skills. We don’t give enough opportunities for students to ‘get things wrong’ and rectify errors and thus we don’t really build resilience. 

Some days I want our students to explore with time to do so but then on other days we are working to deadlines and they need to understand if they don’t get their completed, legible script to the next person the film doesn’t get made and it lets everybody down. We aim to give students a huge variety and balance of different skills over each term.'

How will Greenside assess the impact of its changes on children’s learning and progress?

'We are working on a core assignments model. The reading and writing assessment will be straightforward as we are setting the portfolios up and students will still sit a formal paper each half term. We will be building this into our Film Company appraisal system!Students will learn and practice skills but there will be no decontextualized learning. We need to ensure that the experiences we give students aren’t fragmented ensuring a successful holistic, integrated approach. It will be fascinating to see how we make everything different. We aren’t going to have lessons, end of! Yet we want every student to excel in a number of different ways; to be sparkling students of English & Maths, confidence leaders, to be critical thinkers, to be amazing global citizens with a desire to make the world a better place and to creative, artistic people. The students at Greenside are fantastic and we are very lucky!

When Karen first joined Greenside she was ‘amazed by how many students couldn’t talk confidently to people. They couldn’t identify or articulate the joys of their learning experiences. Karen argues ‘It is this that set me on the path to the Film Factory’.

How different it is now as students are very keen to describe their exciting learning journey. At the end of the Autumn Term I hope to bring part 2 of this study of Greenside and its principal’s creative and innovative approach to how and what students learn.'

Dr Sue Robinson 07/15

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Five minutes with Crone Caroline

[Last week Caroline was invited to give a five minute presentation at CfBT's Inspiring Leadership Conference @InspLdrshipConf the below is a slightly expanded version of the ideas she explored]

"Thank you for the opportunity to embrace my inner crone for five minutes.  The great thing about being a crone is you are allowed to be really blunt as long as you do it with a smile.

So, I have five minutes in which I'd like to share three ideas:
  1. Mind your bloody language
  2. Let’s face facts
  3. Stop wasting our time

1. Mind your bloody language

The words we use and accept, often without question, shape all of our realities. Language may seem innocuous but it’s one of the most important things there is. Here are a few examples of our unquestioning or inadvertent meaning making:
  • ‘Academy Chain’ was a word initially adopted by education academics for a piece of research. It is now used without challenge or thought. In business the word ‘chain’ carries a meaning of top-down, command and control, copy and paste. Is this what we really mean? Is this the system of academies we want to create?
  •  If we describe ourselves as ‘failing’ or ‘inadequate’ we create a reality and yet in every inspection – at best a “snapshot” - there will always be some good areas - in school variation - which are then overshadowed by the blanket description
  • Nothing could be less ‘free’ than a ‘free school,’ they cost more than mainsteam schools and yet they are also academies and subject to the same regulations
The language of classroom and a school is largely enabling and aspirational. In contrast, the language of the education system and its regulating bodies is controlling and negative. This negativity runs through the whole political and managerial discourse. 

  • There’s not enough money in the system to run the system and what there is, is unevenly distributed. 11 year olds don’t arrive in secondary schools “off plan” they have been educated in nursery & primary schools. Considerable evidence shows the benefit to children of better resourcing in the earlier years and yet the imbalance remains
  • ‘Off with their heads’ is hardly a sustainable approach to school or system improvement and yet this and the notion of “Super Head” persists. How many Super Heads are there? Do they actually exist when removed from the context of their school? How many of you would want to be called a 'Super Head'?
  • There are no genuine freedoms in the academy movement and academy status by itself does not confer automatic improvement
Change of status and change of leadership do not in themselves generate improvement.  They are about as effective as changing the name of the school or changing the uniform.  The original strategic intention behind the academy programme, that to enable schools to thrive you have to 'free' them from stifling and ineffective bureaucracy is a good one.  But it has to be delivered otherwise we are simply putting lipstick on a pig.

3. Stop wasting our time

  • Reporting in general is driven by defensive paranoia rather than an aspiration for our children
  • Regulators overlap significantly and there are inconsistencies across their teams
  • There is a massive superfluous reporting requirement made on schools and much worse a noticeable absence of common data sets and therefore data sharing across agencies. Data collection from the same or similar education agencies required in different formats is an absurd state of affairs.
  • Time-consuming pupil transition reports from primary schools are often ignored by secondary schools, which cannot create time to read the information they contain. Secondary schools who require different information for their purposes should be honest and work with their partner primary schools to streamline systems that are not so onerous and more importantly help children to transition.       

In conclusion “Unleash the power of you!” 

  • There is no point in moaning
  • If not you, who then will make a stand on behalf of our children?   
  • If not now, when?
  • We should stop accepting a deficit model immediately
  • If we are ‘waging war on mediocrity’ then we should look for it everywhere
  • If life throws you lemons… reach for the gin
  • In other words, its our system  
  • Get on with it!