Welcome to the fourth edition of the ‘Harrow Way Middle Leader Bulletin‘ a fortnightly digest of news for middle leaders at Harrow Way Community School. (Curriculum Leaders, Year Leaders, Lead Practitioners) I hope this will streamline communication and help you stay up-to-date with the latest key dates, education policy, research and best practice.
As I mentioned last time we will now divide the blog into 2 sections – The first section will be general messages for all Middle Leaders at Harrow Way. The second section will be focused on our ongoing professional development as Leaders. It strikes me that it would be a huge benefit to us all if we’re more or less on the same page when we’re discussing contemporary ideas about pedagogy, learning, assessment, motivation, neuroscience and so on.
Section 1 – Middle Leaders at Harrow Way – Updates
Data Entry / Moderation – Never in isolation, never without moderation
The Data entry window opens on Monday and time should be set aside in department meetings to moderate data entry. Class teachers and the Curriculum leader need to moderate and enter data, identify students causing concern and action required.
A Possible Draft Department Agenda from NPE
Year 7 – Programme of Study entry using the guidance from Kim and sheet from Paul Townsend and the booklet “A New Way to Assess Your Childs Progress” given to staff in September Inset. Remember we are not trying to “level” them but teachers should make a professional judgement of whether a student has mastered, is secure or developing their knowledge and skills on their pathway at present. Emerging should only be used where a student is really struggling to access the curriculum at all.
You could ask teachers to bring some evidence to help moderate judgements across the year group. The most important part of data entry is what are we going to do as a result of what we know now?
Year 8 – You could focus on HPA ( High Prior Attaining) and look at whether they are being stretched? LPA (Low Prior Attaining) moderate their data?
Year 9 – This is the first professional prediction, where will the student be at the end of year 11 if they continue to work as they have been? This is also the time to flag to me any target minimum grades which could be boosted or you may want to review them lower (evidence required)Year 10
Year 10 – Moderation around a specific grade boundary perhaps looking at the 4 / 5 boundaries or 6/7 boundary, does the department agree what this student looks like across the department. Do not get too hung up on what the exam board says this looks like, do you as a department agree, so you are all predicting in agreement.
Year 11- Moderation at key boundaries 3 /4 / 5 or 6 /7 . But most importantly do teachers know who the key students are in their classes and are there a plan to address underperformance.
Clearly, you are unlikely to have time to do this all, select the moderation which is most pertinent for your department, but please recognise that through the year all these checks will need to take place at some point to ensure robust assessment in your curriculum.
As you will be aware from the published calendar you are scheduled to do a Tutor Learning Walk during the first week back after half term – this is not a METAL but a brief visit to each group. Caroline will send you the standard form for you to complete and let you know where to place it.
Wildly Important Goals for 2018
”A wildly important goal (WIG) is a goal that can make all the difference. Because it’s your strategic tipping point, you’re going to commit to apply a disproportionate amount of energy to it”
Progress 8/Attainment 8 Scores in line/above the National Average
English and Maths
English and Maths Grade 4+ and 5+ to be in line/ above the National average
(FFT Top 20%) English 4+ (75-78%) 5+ (54-57%) 7+ (16-19%)
(FFT Top 20%) Maths 4+ (75-78%) 5+ (54-57%) 7+ (20-23%)
English Attainment 8/Progress 8 and Maths Attainment 8/Progress 8 to be in line/above the NA
Basics – Achieving a Grade 5+ in English and Maths (46% – 52%)
EBacc Subjects – In line/Above the NA
Combined Science/Computer Science/History/ Geography/French & Spanish Results compare highly favourably with national and local averages in respect of new performance indicators and new grading system.
EBacc Overall – Attainment 8/Progress 8 to be in line/above the NA Open P8/A8 to be in line/above the NA
All other subjects – Results compare highly favourably with national and local averages in respect of new performance indicators and new grading system. Open P8/A8 to be in line/above the NA
Groups at Harrow Way
Continue to close the gaps between Boys/Disadvantaged students when compared within school and nationally.
As you will aware Fae Dean completed her NPQH placement at Harrow Way in the summer term. Fae was promoted to Headteacher of Westgate from September and I was delighted to be asked by the LA to act as her mentor. When Fae worked with us during the summer term placement I asked her to carry out an action research project around questioning and literacy. It is always refreshing to get another opinion when reviewing the impact of a whole school strategy.
Thoughts – Questioning: there is a discomfort around hands up but Fae couldn’t sense a common approach to structuring classroom dialogue e.g. response partners/think pair –share/phone a friend/stop reflect and rewind. This didn’t seem to be habitual practice………….. This might be worth reflecting on with the department – remember the strategies from ‘What would Mark do?
Lots of questioning strategies collated here to support responsive teaching
Video blog by Jon Tait on essential questioning strategies in the classroom. For more videos, articles and classroom inspiration.
Section 2 – Middle Leaders at Harrow Way – Professional Development
CPD 1 Ofsted Updates (3 mins Reading)
In the last few weeks, Ofsted has updated its inspection handbooks. Below are some details of the 2017 updates to Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook and section 8 inspection handbook. I will also look at Ofsted’s plans to launch a new CIF in 2019
Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, referred to changes to Ofsted’s inspection handbooks in the September 2017 edition of Ofsted’s inspection newsletter. His message assures that “none of the changes means [Ofsted is] inspecting anything additional or new”.
Ofsted explains that it has made changes to the “Outcomes for pupils” section to reflect changes to GCSE grades and data reports. There is some new wording in relation to inspectors’ analysis of data. Paragraph 185 says that inspectors “… will analyse all pupil-level and group-level data…”
However, it adds: Only if groups are large enough will inspectors be able to draw valid inferences from group-level performance. This is to avoid forming unfair judgements about a school.
In relation to disadvantaged pupils (paragraphs 188-189), the new handbook says:
- Inspectors must review carefully what data is meaningful and avoid focusing on the performance of small groups where assessment information is less reliable
- Where performance information is limited due to small group size, inspectors should gather a wide range of other evidence to ensure the school is providing effectively for disadvantaged pupils, including:
- Reviewing pupils’ work
- Talking to pupils and teachers
The handbook also includes a new paragraph (190), which says:
Inspectors should talk to leaders about the quality of teaching, behaviour and the design and delivery of the curriculum to examine why there may be underperformance for some pupils.
It adds that where there is “an identifiable shortfall in progress or attainment of disadvantaged children or in wider evidence”, inspectors should consider:
- The adequacy of the core provision and approaches that have an impact on all children
- Identified needs of the child, e.g. special education needs and disabilities (SEND), and how these are met
- Any additional provision that may appropriately be made on the basis of family economic or social disadvantage
Regarding the most able pupils, paragraph 191 includes a reference to cases where performance information is limited due to small group size, and says:
… inspectors should gather a wide range of other evidence to ensure the school is providing effectively for the most able pupils …
In paragraph 192 it also uses similar wording in relation to lower-attaining pupils for cases where a small group size limits performance information.
In the section covering inspectors’ planning and preparation, paragraph 30 of the handbook now includes references to the inspection data summary report (IDSR) and Analyse school performance (ASP). These have replaced a reference to RAISEonline.
More Ofsted myths addressed
Ofsted explains it has updated the “Clarification for schools” section on pages 11-14 of the handbook, regarding myths and misunderstandings.
Under “Lesson planning”, it now also says:
Ofsted does not expect tutor groups/form time to include literacy, numeracy or other learning sessions. Schools can use form time as they wish.
In relation to self-evaluation, it adds a clarification that Ofsted does not require self-evaluation to be graded.
It clarifies several new points under the heading “Evidence for inspection”, including that Ofsted does not:
- Expect to see photographic evidence of pupil’s work
- Require schools to predict their progress scores
- Require schools to hold onto books and other examples of pupils’ work for pupils who left school the previous year
It also explains:
- Inspectors are not required to routinely check personnel files, but may do so in specific cases when looking at schools’ procedures for checking employees’ suitability to work with childre
Section 8 inspection handbook: 2017 updates
Ofsted also updated its handbook for section 8 inspections on 13 October 2017. This handbook covers short, monitoring and unannounced behaviour school inspections.
Short inspection arrangements
As explained in section 1 above, Ofsted set out changes to its short inspection process in its response to its consultation on short inspections.
Paragraph 5 of the updated section 8 handbook explains:
… some good schools will be subject to a full section 5 inspection instead of a short inspection, for example where a school has expanded its age range or where the quality of provision may have deteriorated significantly.
Ofsted will select these schools through its risk assessment process.
Further updates include:
- Clarification that once a school has received its first short inspection, further short inspections will “normally” be completed at approximately 3-year intervals (paragraph 41)
- Confirmation that in secondary schools of more than 1,100 pupils there will be two team inspectors (paragraph 42)
- Clarification that in cases where a short conversion is converted to a section 5 inspection, this will happen “usually within a maximum of 7 working days” (paragraph 45) , rather than “usually within 48 hours” as in the previous version of the handbook
New CIF planned for 2019
Ofsted’s July 2017 school inspection update provides information on the future of the Common Inspection Framework (CIF). It says that the current CIF will now be in place until September 2019, rather than August 2017 as originally planned. Ofsted says it plans to launch a new CIF in September 2019.
CPD 2 – Memories are made of this from Dylan Wiliam (5 mins Reading)
A wonderful article from Dylan Wiliam on Memory
Research and pedagogy
Three simple but hugely important aspects of memory are largely being overlooked in schools, but the right classroom approach could see students retaining the maximum amount of learning for their efforts, says Dylan Wiliam
Look at the following characters for as long as you like and then try to copy them onto a piece of paper without looking back at them.
Most people can’t do it. In fact, most people in Britain would probably need to copy it one character at a time and maybe even one stroke at a time. You might then need to look back at it a dozen times to be sure you had it right.
If on the other hand you have learned some Russian, four of the symbols would be immediately familiar, so perhaps a couple of glances would do.
If you can read Kazakh, you would need to look at it only once, because you would recognise it as the Kazakh word for “box”.
This might seem like a trivial observation, but it reveals something rather profound about the way our brains work – and about memory in particular. More importantly, a failure in schools to take these realities into account means that much of what happens in our classrooms is less effective than it could be.
Of course, no one knows exactly how the human brain works, but over the years scientists have developed a number of models that seem to describe pretty well how our brains do what they do; importantly, they predict quite accurately what humans find hard and what they find easy.
At the outset, I should be clear that whether the models are right or not is unimportant. To paraphrase British statistician George EP Box, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”.
What makes a model valuable is not how accurate it is – any model can be made more accurate by making it more complex – but rather the trade-off between simplicity and power. This is particularly important when we look at the human brain, which is probably the most complex thing in the universe.
Findings from neuroscience do help us understand what is going on inside the brain when students learn and, in years to come, neuroscientists might find particular structures in our brains that correspond to particular parts of the models we use to talk about learning. But whether they do or do not should not change what teachers do. Teachers need to focus on doing the things that result in the maximum learning for their students.
An analogy might be helpful here. When learning to drive in icy conditions, inexperienced drivers are told to “steer into the skid”. This is hard to do because the natural reaction to a skid is to try to correct it by steering in the opposite direction, but steering into the skid is definitely the right thing to do. Now, we could analyse the steering mechanism of a car, the laws of friction, the properties of the tyres and so on, and while this might give us some understanding of why steering into the skid is the right thing to do, it does not change the advice.
In the same way, over the next 50 years, neuroscience is likely to provide us with plausible explanations about why the models developed by cognitive scientists are right and neuroscience might even provide some clues about new things to try to improve learning. But the evidence that these are, or are not, good things to do will come from experiments in which teachers and students try out new ideas and we examine their effect on students’ learning – in other words, from cognitive science, not neuroscience.
What we need to know about short- and long-term memory
Perhaps the most useful model of how our brains work, especially in terms of the trade-off between power and simplicity, is the idea that there are two kinds of memory: short-term or “working” memory, and long-term memory.
Short-term memory is where we hold things that we are working on right now, such as when we look up a phone number and hold it in our heads while we are dialing the number. Long-term memory is where we store things such as our home telephone numbers and family dates of birth.
The important point – the point that in fact should guide the whole of education – is that short-term memory is limited in both capacity and duration. We can’t hold very much in short-term memory and what little we can hold doesn’t stay there for very long. Most adults can, if they look up a seven-digit phone number, remember that number for long enough to key the number into a phone, but 10 minutes later, the number is often difficult to recall. Moreover, there seems to be little that we can do to increase the capacity of short-term memory.
However, long-term memory is, for all intents and purposes, infinite, or at least we do not seem to be anywhere close to finding its limits.
The good news is that long-term memory and short-term memory work together pretty seamlessly. So although we can’t increase the power of short-term memory, we can make our brains much more powerful by increasing the contents of long-term memory.
As an example, consider the following telephone number: 0113 246 0531.
To remember this number involves remembering 11 digits. But if I know that the place I am calling is in Leeds and I know that the code for Leeds is 0113, then I only have to remember eight things: the fact that the number is in Leeds, and the seven digits of the number that come after the 0113.
The number becomes even easier to remember if I notice the number’s pattern of increasing consecutive even numbers and decreasing consecutive odd numbers. The contents of long-term memory makes the use of short-term memory more powerful.
This is why the idea that knowledge is unimportant because “you can always Google it” – a comment now so familiar in education commentaries – is so profoundly wrong. Long-term memory works seamlessly with short-term memory, but looking things up requires valuable space in short-term memory, reducing the amount of such memory available for thinking (and even that is only possible if you know what you need to look up).
If you have to look things up, your brain will simply be less powerful than if you know the same things. And this is also why it makes little sense to separate content from skill in education: what separates experts from novices are differences in long-term memory – experts know more and their knowledge is better organised.
How what we know about memory connects to teaching
The purpose of school – indeed, the purpose of all learning – is to change long-term memory. The problem is that much of what we do in school takes little account of what we know about how memory works.
In particular, our students would almost certainly learn more if we used three fairly well-established facts about memory in the design of our teaching.
- Students can be intensively engaged in something with little or no resulting change in long-term memory
It is obvious that with poorly designed classroom activities, students may not learn what we want them to learn, such as when a history lesson involves designing costumes for historical characters rather than grappling with cause and effect, chronology and reconciling conflicting sources.
What is less obvious is that students can be intensively involved in highly relevant activities and still learn little. This was first researched in depth by Australian psychologist John Sweller. He gave maths undergraduates mathematical problems to work on and while the students correctly solved a number of problems, they did not notice that all the problems shared a common solution method. It is possible for students to solve problems successfully without getting any better at solving problems.
For novices, going through worked examples can often be more effective than solving problems unaided, because the “cognitive load” involved in solving problems can overwhelm short-term memory, so that little learning takes place. While students do remember more of what they have to think hard about, there is a limit, beyond which learning is actually reduced.
As students gain expertise, it makes sense to reduce the support given, for example, by asking them to fill in missing steps and at a later stage solve entire problems. At this stage, while cognitive load theory offers a lot of advice about how to design effective teaching, substantial teacher judgement is needed to determine how much structure should be provided for students. But we definitely know that just having students think hard in classrooms might not be the best way to learn.
- What matters for long-term learning is not retrieval strength but storage strength – how well something has been learned
The second insight comes from the work of Robert Bjork, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, on memory. Most people think that when we learn something, such as a telephone number or an address, unless the information is used regularly, then the memory fades and is eventually lost (this model is called the “theory of disuse”). But it seems that once something has been learned, the memory is never really lost. Many people cannot recall the postcode for their childhood home, and assume that it has been forgotten. However, if they were presented with a list of five postcodes, they would immediately be able to recognise the one that was correct.
The memory is still there; what’s hard is retrieving it. Bjork’s “new theory of disuse” distinguishes between how well something has been learned (“storage strength”) and how easy something is to recall at a given moment in time (“retrieval strength”).
This distinction is important because what matters for long-term learning is not retrieval strength, but storage strength – how well something has been learned.
The fact that someone can remember something right now could mean that it is something they know really well (high storage strength), but it might just mean that the retrieval strength for that item happens to be high at that moment.
To be sure that something has been learned, we should be finding out what students know some time after teaching. In other words, we should be testing our students on what they have been learning at frequent, regular intervals.
Frequent testing has an additional benefit, which is that successfully retrieving something from memory increases storage strength, and the harder something is to retrieve, the greater the increase in storage strength. The best time to do practice testing is just as students are beginning to forget things.
- The more confident someone is that an incorrect answer is, in fact, correct, the more likely they are not to repeat the error if they are corrected
The third insight comes from the work of Janet Metcalfe, professor of psychology at Columbia University and others on learning and feedback. It used to be assumed that the more confident a person was about the correctness of an answer they had given in a test, the harder it would be to change their mind if the answer was in fact incorrect. But it turns out that the opposite is true. The more confident someone is that an incorrect answer is correct, the more likely they are not to repeat the error if they are corrected.
Or, to use the psychological jargon, high-confidence errors are hypercorrected. Every teacher I have ever met says that it is OK to make mistakes, but very few teachers believe that making mistakes – and being corrected – is better for long-term learning than not making mistakes.
Lots of practice testing, with feedback on errors, is therefore likely to substantially increase students’ long-term recall of what they are learning.
The problem, of course, is that students do not like being tested. The way out of this impasse is to realise that students do not gain any additional benefit from practice testing when a teacher records a score in a markbook. The benefits of testing come from the retrieval practice that students get when they take the test, and the hypercorrection effect when they find out answers they thought were correct were in fact incorrect. In other words, the best person to mark a test is the person who just took it.
Application of the science
There are, of course, other things that follow from this simple model of human memory, but the evidence that they will improve learning in real classrooms is not as clear cut as it is for cognitive load theory, the new theory of disuse and the hypercorrection effect. Moreover, these other theories are somewhat more complex, so are more difficult to apply in real classroom settings.
Learning will always be a somewhat mysterious process that happens inside the heads of our students when they are in our classrooms. But by understanding the distinction between short-term and long-term memory, teachers can think about how to design and present classroom activities in ways that limit the cognitive load for students. Then, with regular practice testing, where students correct their own work and do not even have to tell the teacher how well they did, we can improve how much of what happens in classrooms our students remember – which is, after all, the whole point.
CPD 3 Disadvantage and Privilege
Not a blog this week but a short video (2 mins) that makes a very powerful point about disadvantage and privilege. Please take a look.