Are post-nominal letters important?

Did you know my name is:

Maj (Retd) Shane Clark BSc(Hons), QTS, PGCE, PGDE, MSc, NPQH, CSciTeach

A “title” I rarely use, if I do very sparingly. As I found in education such use of “post-nominals” is looked at with disdain and in some quarters with scorn. So why do I write about them now?

Over the last 5 – 10 years there has been an ever-increasing shortage of physics teachers, particularly those with degrees in physics. Most schools now have non-physicists teaching the physics curriculum and research has found that this can have a detrimental effect on students education as the teachers, no matter how enthusiastic they are, lack the subtle knowledge and understanding of physics. As result the Institute of physics (IOP) in partnership with the Department of education (DfE) have established what is known as the Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) to support schools develop physics and physics teaching. An essential element of this is the appointment of 50 leading schools and physics practitioners to support other schools in their area.

I personally like a challenge and at times feel that we who are working in the state sector don’t always recognise the wonderful work we do and how we have incredible talent that we should be sharing with other schools. Therefore, after consultation with the other physics teachers and headteacher, we applied and have been successful in becoming 1 of these 50 leading schools. An essential element of this is the requirement for a school based physics coach (SPC) to lead the project, a role I’m so much looking forward to particularly being part of a unique team of outstanding practitioners in physics education; a lot to live up to!

Within days of becoming an IOP SPC I was asked if I wanted to work towards my CPhys (chartered physicist) accreditation. Reviewing the documentation it is clear that to get this status I’m going to have to work hard at being a leading coach and demonstrate impact of my work in physics. The only visible benefit is that I get to put the “post-nominal letters” CPhys at the end of my name. I get no salary enhancement, recognition or extra portion of potatoes.

Post-nominal letters can be quite a big thing in some careers and occupations. They can be used to indicate an individual’s position, degree, accreditation, military decorations, … In fact, reviewing my own career and past exploits I’ve discovered that I too have quite a number of post nominals that are recognised and I could use if I chose to. There are even pre-nominal letters which are titles placed before your name.

So in my case I could use:

Maj (Retd) Shane Clark BSc(Hons), QTS, PGCE, PGDE, MSc, NPQH, CSciTeach

In my career a lot of teachers would see the use of such “letters” as flashy and presumptuous; Definitely frowned upon. I recall some 20 years ago in my early career as a teacher a few outstanding headteachers and teachers were bestowed honours and awards for outstanding careers and had made immense difference to so many young lives. I personally felt “wow what an amazing achievement”. However, many of my colleagues seemed to think, “why should they get rewards for doing their job!”.

When I reflect on my 15 years of military service I remember the process of promotion and career development. It wasn’t just about how good you did your job and how good your annual report was but if you wanted a career you needed to identify early your next post and then prepare yourself, getting qualified and trained for it. Hence, we had what I recall the wine list – a list of appointments and who was occupying them, from the top job (General) to those recently graduated from Sandhurst. For each role there was a clear name, rank, title and list of post-nominals. As you progressed further up the career tree the post-nominals list got longer and longer. By the time the few managed to get to General their post nominals were on at least two lines! There was a clear expectation of personal and professional development.

Are post-nominals important?

Many in education seem to frown upon ‘collecting’ post nominals. They seem to think they are unimportant as they only recognise the job you do, and “it’s only CPD, so why bother?” Many of these teachers don’t seem to have invested in their own career beyond just doing their job and getting their first degree and PGCE and doing a few courses. Perhaps as educationalists we need to model what we do and strive to improve ourselves throughout our careers?

I recall one colleague who was quite dismissive and patronising when I was one of very first few to apply and receive the chartered science teacher (CsciTeach) recognition. I had spent many weeks including my Christmas vacation writing the application, evaluating the impact of my work and seeking feedback from respected colleagues. This process had a profound impact on my professional work, it definitely made me a better science consultant and adviser. I offered to support this colleague with their application for the CsciTeach, they refuse as they saw no value in it, particularly as they would have to pay for it themselves.

My list of post nominals highlight important aspects of my developing career from the military to Headship and to outstanding science teacher. Each stage of my career I’m justly proud of my achievements, experiences and hopefully the difference I have made. So, for me they have been important not as badges a of honour but as recognition of my investment in my career. Each and every one of them has required study, commitment and determination with no extra reward or recognition. Most have cost me financially, but all have made a difference to who I am and what I do.

I do have a few regrets for example as a soldier I missed out on the TD (Territorial Decoration) by only a few months service and that I have not, yet, got a doctorate. That said over the next 6 – 12 months I hope to be adding to my post nominals with C.Teach (Chartered Teacher) and MBA (Masters of Business Administration), which highlight my return and training as an outstanding teacher a as well as my developing entrepreneurial skill in business. So, I suspect that I will be completing my application for the CPhys (chartered physicist), not to impress anyone but because it will make me better at what I do. And perhaps in the future the CMathsTeach as I become a better maths teacher!

Post nominals are a personal choice, but they do require a commitment to your career and I feel do show that those who do gain them are at the cutting edge of their profession and leading learners.

 

 

A paradigm shift in professional development?

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“For a profession so dedicated to learning, teachers seem to take little care of their own learning” (Ward, 2017)

After becoming an independent education consultant, after 10 years as a school adviser, I adopted the same CPD activity model historically used in education – a single day where participants have a day out of school, a nice lunch, opportunity to network, top tips for teachers, and hopefully learnt some new skills. Feedback from participants have always been excellent but I have never been convinced of the effectiveness of this model. Does it really make a lasting impact on the participants, the schools or young people? Timperley et al (2007) noted, “a one-day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on pupil outcomes”

I’m currently completing an MBA, an essential element of the programme is reviewing and developing your own business practices. While studying my latest module, Designing and Managing service processes, I reviewed CPD delivery models as well as reviewing participants feedback on long term impact.

Schools are accustomed to the single day CPD activity model and feel they support individual professional development. Participants enjoy the opportunities to network, provided with new ideas and ‘tools’ to use at school, and have an inspiring day. However more detailed analysis of long term impact is less positive. OfSTED noted that, “Effective professional development should be seen as a key driver not only of staff development, but also of recruitment, retention, wellbeing, and school improvement.”

Reviewing a range of CPD models a number show great promise. For example the Primary Science Quality Mark  (PSQM) is a developmental programme over 9 months and involves subject leaders writing an action plan and then delivering it with the support of the experienced hub leader. Another is the Tapestry Partnership model – developing teacher learning communities. Both models demonstrate that CPD can be very effective in school improvement.

In 2016 the Department for Education published their Standards for Effective CPD. Based on work of an expert group it highlighted that for CPD to be effective it should:

  1. have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. be development programmes, sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:

  1. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

While professional development can take many forms, the best available research shows that the most effective professional development practices share these characteristics.

What does the model look like in practice?

Reviewing my own CPD provision I have moved away from single day activity to a developmental programme approach where participants work collaboratively over a 3-4 month timeframe, meet up for 3-4 ½ day sessions and apply what they have learnt or developed into their own school setting. Underpinning this is a professional dialogue, mentoring and coaching.

The Standards for Effective CPD How our programmes meet the DfE standard for effective CPD (DfE 2016)
Focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes
  • The programme equip the participant in improvement approaches and evaluative techniques to support pupil progression over time
  • Action planning and intercessional tasks focuses on outcomes to explicitly improve T&L/AfL approaches across the school
Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise
  • CPD programme is informed by effective CPD research
  • Activities drawn from highly reputable and credible community
  • Mentoring and coaching to support professional development
Collaboration and expert challenge
  • School collaboration through intercessional tasks ensures effective application of knowledge and skills
  • Programme is led by an experienced Specialist Leader in Education
  • Ongoing online, phone and mentoring support throughout the programme
Sustained over time
  • The programme develops the participant and equips them with tools and approaches to sustainably develop and lead improvement in their school
Prioritised by school leadership
  • Participants are encouraged to work with the school leadership in developing their own leadership practice to ensure value for money and lasting impact

Where I have used this approach the feedback and long-term impact has been profound, “I feel I have developed as a leader over the year. I am now more confident to lead a subject and know how to ensure progress is made. The directed activities and deadlines have meant I have had a focus and the opportunity to reflect has enabled me to identify how we can develop further.”

But are schools ready for a new way of working?

Although evidence shows this approach works we need a paradigm shift in how schools focus on CPD, are schools ready for this change?  A few years ago I ran a programme called Learning and Teaching Research Project, participants were funded to spend 3 days over a 7 month period to learn about research, identify an area they wanted to work on and then implement their plan, finishing with reflection and review of impact. The impact on the individual and their own practice was significant. However, although the programme was free take up was not great – the biggest barrier was the view that schools could not commit to the programme as the outcomes were not clear.

Summary

“Effective professional development for teachers is a core part of securing effective teaching. It cannot exist in isolation, rather it requires a pervasive culture of scholarship with a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop so that pupils benefit from the highest quality teaching.”

To be more effective we need to become more focussed on developing supported learning communities that enable teachers to develop and grow, supported by effective mentors and coaches.

I’ll be reviewing and updating this post over the coming year after reviewing my new CPD programmes. Please do share your experiences and views.

 

Effective recruitment and retention of teaching staff within a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) – Management consultancy in action?

“It is widely accepted that the quality of teachers is one of the most important factors in improving our education system.” House of Commons Education Committee (2012)

I’m currently crafting a proposal for my MBA consultancy project focussing on recruitment and retention of teachers and how a management consultancy approach can drive change and improvement, and make substantial financial savings too.

unhappy-teacher

Effective Schools understand the importance of recruiting and retaining high calibre staff and try and manage their retention, this can be difficult and limited in scope due to the organisational constraints of schools – regulations that limit incentivised payments and limited professional development or in school opportunities for career progression. Each year if a school stopped one member of staff moving or extended their stay they could save, £6,00-£12,000. For a school who has an average staff turnover of 10-30% (5-10 teachers) this could equate to annual cost/saving of £20,000 – £120,000.

“Almost 84% of school leaders reported that they were experiencing unprecedented challenges in recruiting teachers”, and this is set to continue. Key insights noted that school leaders are, “finding teacher recruitment and retention tricky, … they, and governors, expect to be their greatest challenge for the next 12-18 months”

To allow schools to better manage their affairs Government have created the Academy, publicly funded independent schools. Academies have considerable autonomy for operational and strategic management with a focus on driving up standards. Currently 25% of schools are academies and the government’s aspiration is for all school to join a Multi Academy Trust (MATs) by 2022 costing over £1.0 billion, Replacing the role of the LA and provide the management, infrastructure and HR services.

Academies as autonomous charitable ‘businesses’ are able to write their own HR policies, negotiate their own pay and conditions and have considerable flexibility in managing recruitment and retention of staff. For example, one Academy I worked in the Principal was able to offer overseas teachers a loan to purchase a car to help them commuting and travel and to pay staff incentives without being bound by custom or regulations. However, the NAHT survey of school leaders, “found that despite the greater flexibilities that academies have in terms of offering pay and conditions, they struggle just as much to recruit” and few are using these powers effectively.

It is argued that by adopting more ‘creative’ recruitment and retention process MATs could make considerable financial savings, particularly important with reducing school budgets and real term savings by as much as 10% per annum as well as improving the retention and moral of staff; But where do schools find new innovative and creative solutions?

In business, there is a historic acceptance and use of external consultants to manage change and improvement. In education the culture is more of a ‘consultocracy’, whereby elite and influential networks of consultants (SIPs, LA advisers, National Strategy Consultants) have been able to obtain a dominant position within education and do the governments bidding. Where these approaches have fallen down has been the lack of understanding of the consultant-client relationship and the split loyalty to the consultocracy and the client school. What is needed is a more pragmatic and dynamic management consultancy approach taken from business and tailored to the needs of schools.

Management consultancy is the creation of value for organisations through the application of knowledge, techniques, assets, to improve performance. This is achieved through the rendering of objective advice and/or the rendering of business solutions

It could be argued that within education we could adopt a management consultancy framework to support change and improvement, but it is essential that there is a clear client-consultant framework focussing on the needs of the organisation. As an MBA student, this field within education is in its infancy and I have proposed that to make the possible savings and have lasting impact it is essential that a new methodology and approach is used that blends best practice from business with experience and understanding of the educational sector. In terms of recruitment and retention of teachers there is a human resource management approach (business) but this needs to be tempered and adjusted through an understanding of the educational profession.

As part of my MBA consultancy project I’m looking at working with MAT’s to see how management consultancy can support school improvement particularly focusing on recruitment and retention of teachers.

The objectives and deliverables of this consultancy project will be to provide the Multi Academy Trust:

  • A detailed analysis of current recruitment and analysis process
  • A detailed analysis of teaching staff views and attitudes to recruitment and retention
  • An options report on possible strategies and approaches to make recruitment more effective (processes and cost savings)
  • An options report on possible strategies and approaches to make retention of staff more effective and sustainable.

So if you have any thoughts or suggestions on this project or leading a MAT and would like to be involved please let me know. I’ll be posting updates as the project develops!

teachers2-small

Improving standards for teachers’ professional development

In July 2016 the Department for Education (DfE) published the “Standard for teachers’ professional development”. The expert group noted that, “Effective professional development for teachers is a core part of securing effective teaching. It cannot exist in isolation, rather it requires a pervasive culture of scholarship with a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop so that pupils benefit from the highest quality teaching.”

As a teacher and deliver of professional development for schools I must admit that the classic model of delivering single day activities has not been effective.  “Evidence suggests that a one-day course as a stand-alone activity without a specific focus is unlikely to have a lasting impact on pupil outcomes.” The most participants seem to get out of it is a nice lunch, time to network and some new ideas. sadly once they are back into the fray of the classroom little impact is achieved.

Reviewing feedback from my development courses over many years shows that the model that has the biggest impact are those that are sustained over time, involves collaboration and support. As such a “professional development programme” approach that involves many activities designed to sustain and embed practice, including, individual and collaborative teacher activity but essentially expert input who acts as coach, mentor, guide.

The importance of professional development is fundamentally important and must ultimately make a difference to the young people we educate. As such I have reviewed the DofE standards and developed a range of programmes that focus on supporting and developing teachers through a model of face-2-face meetings, mentoring and coaching to have impact both in their own practice but across their school.

All my programmes are three-four months in duration and consist of ½ day face-2-face meetings that provide the support and guidance required to develop participants, intercessional tasks to ensure application of skills and opportunities to reflect, develop. Ultimately each programme will help participants to develop and implement a whole school improvement strategy.

Participants will be supported and guided by a very experienced mentor/coach who is a Specialist Leader in Education for science.

Department of Education Standard for teachers’ professional development

This is an exciting time for Professional Development, the barrier might be the marketing of this approach to schools who are so use to sending teachers on a ‘day out’ to improve, or, because of previous experience, not supportive of CPD..

Programmes I have developed:

  • Developing the role of the science subject leader
  • Developing whole school assessment in primary science
  • Effective Teaching and Learning in science
  • Developing a whole school science curriculum

Find out more: www.tvsn.uk 

 

Should, “Education research come with a health warning?”

Is there an argument for all school leaders to have higher degrees or at minimum training to critically evaluate research methods and consider the impact of implementing new ideas into schools?

The article “should educational research come with a health warning?” argues that too often approaches and ideas (phonics, parental choice, discovery learning) in education are identified through research or unresearched ideas then implemented with little thought to the impact of the research or ideas on schools, teachers or children.

https://england.magazine.tes.com/editions/edition_edition_edition_5238.england/data/339329/index.html

In my own experience I have seen this all too often and it is worrying that a snap shot of research findings, a new fad or popular idea can be accepted into practice with little regard to efficacy or impact.

some examples

  • One secondary school liked the idea of learning styles and implemented a programme of assessing every young person’s learning style and them providing teaching through that preferred learning style as a means of accelerating progress and achievement.
  • A primary school that had implemented cursive writing in year 1 and 2 for all children as it could support any child you might be dyslexic.
  • A secondary school who designed their science laboratories around behaviour, having paid a fortune splitting each laboratory into a teaching space and wet experimental area, only to discover it had no positive impact to behaviour and if anything made doing science extremely difficult.
  • A primary school who decided all teaching of curriculum subjects should be done by a specialist, only to discover when they move on there is a distinct hole created…

I’m not saying any of these approaches are wrong, it is great schools are trying new things and pushing the bubble. However in all these cases they had given little thought to the potential negative impact or unintended consequences of these approaches and ultimately the impact on young people.

However, as Professor Humes notes, and I have seen on many occasions, “A lot of educational research operates on a system of ‘let’s try this and evaluate it’. From the very beginning, the researchers, unless they are able to detach themselves from the project, are disposed to look for success and the problem is that sometimes they are blind to the downsides. That is understandable but not commendable.”

While doing research for my MSc and MBA an essential aspect is critical research methods approach, weighing up the advantages, disadvantages and impact within an ethical framework. Within education it is BERA (British Educational Research Association) (https://www.bera.ac.uk/) who makes a clear case, “the development of a world-class education system depends on high quality educational research but this field is where policy decisions are often driven by ideology rather than robust evidence.” At a school level by the ‘snap-shot’ from the research, the vocal educational ‘gurus’ or what the school down the road is doing.

To mitigate unintended consequences or negative impact of a new policy or approach in school perhaps all school leaders need to undergo training in research methods so they are better able to critically evaluate research and consider its full impact. An aspect which is lacking in core training and development of head teachers.

As an educational adviser and consultant I do my bit by making sure I reference all material I use and where necessary highlight possible positive and negative impacts!

Thoughts appreciated.

BERA Ethics guidelines: https://www.bera.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/BERA-Ethical-Guidelines-2011.pdf

Effective recruitment and retention of teachers within a Multi Academy Trust – Management consultancy in action?

“It is widely accepted that the quality of teachers is one of the most important factors in improving our education system.” House of Commons Education Committee (2012)

 I’m currently crafting a proposal for my MBA consultancy project focusing on recruitment and retention of teachers and how a management consultancy approach can drive change and improvement, and make substantial financial savings too.

unhappy-teacher

Effective Schools understand the importance of recruiting and retaining high calibre staff and try and manage their retention, this can be difficult and limited in scope due to the organisational constraints of schools – regulations that limit incentivised payments and limited professional development or in school opportunities for career progression. Each year if a school stopped one member of staff moving or extended their stay they could save, £6,00-£12,000. For a school who has an average staff turnover of 10-30% (5-10 teachers) this could equate to annual cost/saving of £20,000 – £120,000.

“Almost 84% of school leaders reported that they were experiencing unprecedented challenges in recruiting teachers”, and this is set to continue. Key insights noted that school leaders are, “finding teacher recruitment and retention tricky, … they, and governors, expect to be their greatest challenge for the next 12-18 months”

To allow schools to better manage their affairs Government have created the Academy, publicly funded independent schools. Academies have considerable autonomy for operational and strategic management with a focus on driving up standards. Currently 25% of schools are academies and the government’s aspiration is for all school to join a Multi Academy Trust (MATs) by 2022 costing over £1.0 billion, Replacing the role of the LA and provide the management, infrastructure and HR services.

 Academies as autonomous charitable ‘businesses’ are able to write their own HR policies, negotiate their own pay and conditions and have considerable flexibility in managing recruitment and retention of staff. For example, one Academy I worked in the Principal was able to offer overseas teachers a loan to purchase a car to help them commuting and travel and to pay staff incentives without being bound by custom or regulations. However, the NAHT survey of school leaders, “found that despite the greater flexibilities that academies have in terms of offering pay and conditions, they struggle just as much to recruit” and few are using these powers effectively.

It is argued that by adopting more ‘creative’ recruitment and retention process MATs could make considerable financial savings, particularly important with reducing school budgets and real term savings by as much as 10% per annum as well as improving the retention and moral of staff; But where do schools find new innovative and creative solutions?

In business, there is a historic acceptance and use of external consultants to manage change and improvement. In education the culture is more of a ‘consultocracy’, whereby elite and influential networks of consultants (SIPs, LA advisers, National Strategy Consultants) have been able to obtain a dominant position within education and do the governments bidding. Where these approaches have fallen down has been the lack of understanding of the consultant-client relationship and the split loyalty to the consultocracy and the client school. What is needed is a more pragmatic and dynamic management consultancy approach taken from business and tailored to the needs of schools.

consultancy

Management consultancy is the creation of value for organisations through the application of knowledge, techniques, assets, to improve performance. This is achieved through the rendering of objective advice and/or the rendering of business solutions

It could be argued that within education we could adopt a management consultancy framework to support change and improvement, but it is essential that there is a clear client-consultant framework focussing on the needs of the organisation. As an MBA student, this field within education is in its infancy and I have proposed that to make the possible savings and have lasting impact it is essential that a new methodology and approach is used that blends best practice from business with experience and understanding of the educational sector. In terms of recruitment and retention of teachers there is a human resource management approach (business) but this needs to be tempered and adjusted through an understanding of the educational profession.

As part of my MBA consultancy project I’m looking at working with MAT’s to see how management consultancy can support school improvement particularly focusing on recruitment and retention of teachers.

The objectives and deliverables of this consultancy project will be to provide the Multi Academy Trust:

  • A detailed analysis of current recruitment and analysis process
  • A detailed analysis of teaching staff views and attitudes to recruitment and retention
  • An options report on possible strategies and approaches to make recruitment more effective (processes and cost savings)
  • An options report on possible strategies and approaches to make retention of staff more effective and sustainable.

So if you have any thoughts or suggestions on this project or leading a MAT and would like to be involved please let me know. I’ll be posting updates as the project develops!

teachers2-small

Coaching outdoors – how things have changed!

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them but by building a fire within them”

climb coaching

I have always had a passion for being outdoors – as a young person doing the DofE and scouting and later in the military. This has taken many forms – climbing, mountaineering and paddling, basically anything outdoory. For me it has always been about the freedom and fun, the risk and the challenge.

In the military I became an outdoor instructor in paddling, climbing and mountaineering – mainly so I could do stuff but increasingly so I could share my love of being outdoors. This led to expeditions  all over the world. The underlying ethos was to instruct techniques  – survival, climbing, walking paddling strokes. And I became quite good at it.

paddle coachAfter having a family and a bit of a break  I got back into paddling, largely due to my kids doing scouting and being asked to help. I then embarked on ‘retraining’ becoming a paddle and climbing coach. I was really surprised to find that the landscape had changed greatly. We were no longer instructors but coaches. No longer focusing on perfecting strokes but more about skills, fun and enjoyment . This has of course generated a new industry of qualifications and requirements, mostly sensible I think.

As well as paddling I have also updated my climbing and hillwalking qualifications and think that the move towards a coaching culture is welcome. For example climbing has moved from telling how to make a move to a more holistic view and approach of coaching movement, balance, forces. Even mountaineering is moving in this direction with the focus on the client experience – flora and fauna (never my strength).

MWE coachingI think you can teach an old instructor new tricks! I have recently undertaken the Moderate Water Endorsement programme for paddling with http://gene17kayaking.com/. I was so impressed by my coach, really talented, experience and supportive, a real role model. Again exemplifying a changing way of working with young people.

2016-01-15 train the trainer courseAnother area I have been developing working outdoors, having gained my Mountain Leader qualification recently I undertook the ‘train the trainer’ course at Plas y Brenin. Led by a former geography teacher this was very much about supportive learning, not being judgmental and discovery learning, not dissimilar to my style of teaching in the classroom.

Reflecting on the developments in the outdoor industry there has I think been a massive change, largely for the better, towards a coaching model that is supportive and inclusive that should see a greater uptake in people of all ages taking on adventures outdoors.

For me coaching is like teaching, making a difference to people,

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen”

Unlike instructing, coaching is a dynamic two way process, before the session not just about the skills but the needs of the coachees, during the session a intricate dialogue (supporting, motivating, encouraging) and afterwards a reflection on the experience, what has been learnt and what I have learnt too. Always thinking of new ways of doing similar sessions in a different way so that it will engage, motivate and inspire!

 It reminds me of my first years of teaching, I had a colleague who had been a classroom teacher for over 30 years, he was far from past it. He kept his enthusiasm and motivation by focussing on the people and the learning and the fun of the whole experience, living in the moment day by day. I swear he was the biggest child in the class with bounds of enthusiasm and curiosity.

 But I don’t think coaching is quite teaching like instructing is neither coaching or teaching. A discussion for another time I think! Thoughts appreciated!

 “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so that you can be who you have always known you could be”

Who would not want to be the best?

DSCF0937 a

In a school as a middle leader how can you and your department be the best?

When I took over my first science department it was in a challenging school, had failed OfSTED and was a ‘fresh start’. I remember the first conversation with the newly appointed  interim Headteacher, “we were going to build the most wonderful school that was going to make the biggest difference to our pupils”, I was hooked. Over the next two years, with the trust and confidence of the Headteacher  I was given autonomy and freedom of action to literally build our science department from scratch – new build, new team, new curriculum and a new way of doing things. Being a special forces Army officer you jump and relish such challenges. It was a hard grind but with a fantastic team we achieved some of the best results the school had ever seen.

It was not all plain sailing though. With the transition to a new Head she had a very different way of doing things, less trust and more control; More boss than leader. After only three months the new Head was not happy, the science department was not being run the way she wanted, we were not good enough. I, and my team, became very down hearted with the constant bashing of the department so I resolved, naïvely, that an external review would provide a level of reassurance and confidence that we were on the right track and that we were making good progress; How wrong was I!  The external review was led by a very confident but, as I discovered later, inexperienced consultant who had no leadership experience. The ‘review’ was very much done to us. It was not a pleasant experience, in fact most of my team wanted to walkout. The ‘inspector’ found a liturgy of “faults” that were presented to the SLT deeming us to be inadequate – no acknowledgement of the great strides we had made;  2 years’ work judged in two days – I wanted to cry, resign out of pride but I’m not a quitter and more importantly I had sold the vision to my team, “we were going to be excellent”. The meeting with the Head was not pleasant, the head seemed to relish it and the outcomes were used as a hammer to beat us with “why are you so bad, you’re the worst department”. What was rather sad was that at no stage did the SLT take any responsibility or offered any guidance or support. To rub salt into the wounds I was presented with a bill for the review of £1,200 for our troubles, to come out of my meagre budget.

Not a pleasant experience, it was hard to keep up moral and a positive perspective with my new and fragile team. My own fault really… But we did pick ourselves up and make changes and six weeks later we received the call!!

We were inspected by  a science expert (Clive Simmonds) who had for many years working in very challenging schools in Birmingham, and had been a head of science and science adviser. It was, for as best it could be, a positive experience, we as a department actually learnt and developed over the five days – he joined us for tea most mornings and we learnt and respected him greatly. In his final analysis we were deemed a good department with outstanding features and he recognised that we had made massive improvements over two years, “the leadership and management of science are very good. The subject co-ordinator has welded together inexperienced teachers into an effective team who share good practice.” The subsequent PANDA  (school assessment grade) three months later also confirmed the OfSTED findings we had moved from E* to A in less than three years! Again vindicated what we had been doing was right and that we were making a difference to our young people!

Reflecting on this experience a few things I drew out:

  • Understanding your Department is of paramount importance – as a subject leader you can be too close to the ‘chalk face’ to really understand what is going on so a different perspective can be helpful
  • Get a credible external perspective – an external view is really important, but must have specialist expertise and credibility, you must trust them too. What is more they bring a greater ‘world’ view that lays the foundations for improvement.
  • Learning experience – being treated with respect and part of the process was essential and helped us as a department grow and develop, being demonised was not helpful.
  • Your only as good as your team! Spend time to build and develop your team.

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Some great foundations were laid, we had an excellent team. However sometimes you have to stand aside particularly as the Head and I never really saw eye to eye. I soon moved on to other challenges in other schools and ultimately became a science adviser myself, carrying out many departmental and school ‘reviews’ and inspections. As much as I felt reviews could be helpful they too often were judgemental and did not provide clear strategies on how to improve, basically telling schools what they already knew, but not how to fix it!

As part of my role as a school adviser I did all the training to be an OfSTED inspector but in the final assessment I could not cross to the ‘dark side’ as I realised I cannot be judgemental and walk away; I always have to try and ‘fix’ or support people to fix and improve. In essence always wanting to be the best.

So from being on both the receiving and the giving end of reviews and inspections I would say the following:

  • Must be a positive experience – reviews and inspections can be traumatic, they should be positive learning experiences, a time to  reflect and learn – not to traumatise and destroy.
  • Accountability with responsibility – yes we have to hold people to account but there must also be responsibility on the part of the SLT to provide support, training and development but most importantly encouragement
  • Ownership and Improvement strategies – we need to provide not just a measure of success but strategies for improving success
  • Learning and partnership – there needs to be a credible and respected partnership of collaboration between the adviser/inspector and the people involved, and it has to be an opportunity for the team to learn and grow

In my experience, I believe subject leaders want to do their best for their students, their team and their school. However the pressures on a subject leader are immense; Having to navigate curriculum changes,  health and safety, assessment changes, managing teachers and technicians, whole school pressures as well as a teaching load of 60-80%. No wonder it is difficult to recruit and even more difficult to retain good subject leaders.

Over the years I have found the best way to support subject leaders (particularly new to the role) and departments is the provision of an independent external subject specialist who has the experience, knowledge and confidence to mentor and support them to improve and be the best. They can add so much;

  • Improve leadership through mentoring and coaching
  • Improve curriculum provision by providing expertise advice and guidance on new and developing curriculum models and examination boards
  • Support and develop high quality teaching and learning by providing and modelling excellent practice
  • Provided independent expert advice on health and safety, practical work, behaviour management, technician support
  • Accountability – ensuring that there are proper and rigorous systems in place to support the schools aims and ambitions

In the final estimate no good teacher would dream of inspecting a pupils work, judge it to be inadequate, return 6-8 weeks later expecting it to have improved. So why do school inspections and reviews seem to follow this same pattern?

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So if we want to build and strengthen our middle leaders and for them to be the best we need to provide support, guidance and ‘critical’ friend that can arguably only come from someone who has experience, expertise and credibility.

Learning styles – Being a heretic and mastering the myth!

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I read with interest that ‘learning styles’ are now seen as a myth – there is little or no evidence to say it made any difference (Jarrett) and in fact it causes harm as it, “encourages teachers to teach to students’ intellectual strengths rather than their weaknesses.” I could not agree more! But should we throw it out with the bath water?

As a teacher I was introduced to the concept of learning styles many years ago – the thinking went, by knowing the preferred learning style of your pupils you can tailor your teaching to ensure you involve all pupils, the VAK approach.  I must admit that as an education consultant I did buy into this particularly as it was the prescribed doctrine of the National Strategy at the time and did seem ‘right’, you were not supposed to challenge the wisdom given from above. I was however always somewhat skeptical on focusing solely on pupils preferred learning styles, what about the teacher?

One school I went to for an interview as a prospective Assistant Headteacher had taken learning styles to the logical conclusion and were assessing all pupils and grouping/teaching them by their preferred learning style. I was seen as a heretic for challenging the wisdom of this ‘inspired’ approach as I tried to argue that the brain is like a set of muscles which all need to be exercised to maximise performance, not just the strongest one.  I of course did not get the job, the school was in special measures and remained so for years.

I have also come across learning styles as a paddling coach – it is advocated that you should teach paddling in the preferred learning style of your participants; which seems rather silly considering paddling is inherently kinaesthetic in nature; it is still an essential element of training for new coaches. And again I remember being a lone ‘heretic’ voice when I had the audacity to challenge the wisdom of this approach.

Jesse Singal (link) suggests that if you do a web search you will find that the vast majority of links presented are very positive about learning styles – it has over the last 10-20 years grown into a massive business and been accepted across the education piste. Have a go and see for yourself, few dissenting voices out there. However Wikipedia does give a more balanced view! Clearly this ‘myth’ persists. So should we actively discard learning styles completely? It is now seen as a myth, there is no evidence and it is discredited.

As an educational adviser working with school leaders and teachers I have always taken a pragmatic or somewhat ‘heretical’ view of learning styles, I have always argued that if learning styles was to be believed it is the preferred learning style/approach of the teacher that greatly impacts on the way they teach. Hence it is the teacher that needs to know their preferred approach and develop strengths in the other areas to ensure we reach all pupils using a diverse array of approaches – making learning fun and engaging. I challenge any paddling coach to teach forward paddling or teacher teaching fractional distillation successfully through auditory means alone.

So as a ‘heretic’ I don’t think that we should totally discard learning styles as a myth but we do need to master it by perhaps re-phase what it is and what we do with it. Perhaps ‘learning approaches’  to better reflect how understanding how different styles of teaching can influence learning.

As a pragmatist we need to learn from this ‘myth’ rather than discard it. I believe that as educators we need to understand ourselves first, how we learn, then how others learn and use this as a foundation for teaching/coaching but more importantly growing our repertoire of teaching styles and approaches so that we:

  • Individualise teaching/coaching – try to understand our students, what motivates, interests and challenges them – in ways that make them comfortable and confident learners.
  • Adapt our teaching/coaching – deliver our material in different ways to reach pupils who learn in different ways – make it fun, memorable and engaging
  • Understand our material as a teacher/coach – so that you can present it in a variety of ways and convey what it means to understand something well.

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must adapt the way we teach to ensure the child can learn”

The role of entrepreneurial behaviours and practice in the educational sector

The imperative for a competitive advantage

Improving education is the most important part of the UK’s long-term economic growth strategy. The potential gains from getting this right are huge, including raising living standards and boosting social mobility. But we still have a system where some young people fall behind and never catch up.” CBI (2013)

 

Abstract

Britain is the 6th largest economy in the world. This competitive position has been maintained largely due to a successful knowledge and financial business base. Over the last 20 years the national industrial base has diminished and the future will be dependent on the quality and availability of a highly adaptable and skilled workforce. The CBI have identified that schools are not providing or developing quick enough this skill base, and that it needs to be a national priority.

In this report it is suggested that the deficit of skills is due largely because of leadership deficits in the educational provision which is still based on a 19th century model of learning and leadership. In business there has been a growing interest in the importance and development of entrepreneurialism, particularly leadership capabilities. It is proposed that by developing entrepreneurial leadership in school leadership this will greatly support the national agenda for developing an effective workforce fit for the 21st century.