After a rare weekend of sunshine, the weather returned to normal yesterday. Can this really be fair? Does Britain deserve such continuously dreary, dismal, wet weather? A scary thought. What if it does?
Undeterred by the rain, 3Di attended an interesting political and educational event yesterday. Three of the most senior Liberal Democrat politicians turned up at the New North Academy [Primary School] in Islington – Nick Clegg – the Deputy Prime Minister, Sarah Teather – the Schools Minister, and David Laws – ex-minister and one of the leading thinkers within his party. Not a Tory politician in sight. Interesting.
The event was organised by the National Education Trust – the self-styled “leading education ‘Do-Tank'”: “An independent charitable foundation dedicated to the promotion and sharing of excellent practice and innovation in education”.
On entry to the event we were handed welcome packs that included a brief guide to the school. The school has a brilliant four year old building, which I’m hoping to see more of in the future. Having been involved in designing a “school of the future” I retain a strong interest in school architecture and its impact on children, teachers and parents.
According to the school, “New North Academy is a highly aspirational, effective school which puts pupils first. Our vision is to ensure each of our pupils benefits from motivation, high expectation, participation, good communication and constant inspiration”.
The event was to promote the Pupil Premium, and the school’s own blurb says this – “The Pupil Premium helps to make this core vision possible by providing enhanced opportunities, enhanced experiences, enhanced teaching, enhanced learning, and enhanced attainment. This is all done by channelling our resources specifically to where the greatest need arises.”
The NET used this event to draw attention to a new publication in its “Counterblasts” series – a booklet that focuses on the Pupil Premium.
“The Counterblasts series exists to challenge orthodoxies and champion best practice in education . . . The texts do not necessarily represent the views of NET, but they do seek to help shape our responses to current issues.” The AMS Educational website gives details of other publications: www.amseducational.co.uk
David Laws MP wrote the foreword:
The Pupil Premium has been one of the Coalition Government’s most important policy innovations. By 2015, £2.5bn will be allocated through the Premium. The idea has been to ensure that schools with high levels of disadvantaged pupils receive additional funding to help address this.
In time, we want to see a more rational system for allocating all monies targetted at disadvantage, as well as the extra cash that the Premium brings. A major challenge now is to ensure that the Pupil Premium makes a real difference.
We want to set schools free to establish their own priorities. And we want to encourage innovation. However, with freedom comes accountability. Perhaps an alternative to [government] micromanagement is to hold schools properly to account, only intervening when the proper results are not being delivered? These are issues which the government is considering at the present time. This is why a genuine dialogue involving all those with an interest in education and the Pupil Premium is now so important.
3Di is extremely interested in education, and in the Pupil Premium. We welcome this opportunity to participate in a dialogue about all aspects of education, including achievement, attainment and pupil wellbeing, and also the Pupil Premium.
David Laws’ phrase “the proper results ” is very interesting. The word “results” is interesting. Are we still talking exclusively about measuring how well children perform in timed tests? Is attainment still the main yardstick? Will there continue to be arbitrary ‘targets’ that schools and pupils are supposed to attain, regardless of the school’s intake or the ratio of children with special educational needs? It would appear so. Nick Clegg used the word attainment several times in his speech, and didn’t once stress the importance of other forms of achievement, or other aspects of the school’s work, as being crucial in improving children’s life chances.
The New North Academy had taken the trouble to arrange a very attractive backdrop for Nick Clegg’s address. It included this very important panel:
The school should be strongly commended for including this panel so prominently in its backdrop to Mr Clegg’s speech, since it’s a lifelong love of learning that ultimately determines how successful we become in life. Those who see learning as an essential part of their lives, and those who enjoy learning for its own sake, can ultimately succeed in whatever they set out to do in life. Their life chances will not be fixed by whatever exam successes they achieve by the age of 16 or 18. We need every school to instil a love of learning in all of their pupils, no matter what abilities and aptitudes they show at a relatively early age.
The New North Academy, as we have seen, recognises the value of strong motivation, high expectations, active participation, good communication and constant inspiration. There’s no doubt the school does very well to promote all of these, but it’s unclear how such factors can be measured, in the name of accountability. It’s obvious that it can take at least a year or two for a school to recruit and develop a strong team, and if necessary to change a school’s culture as well as its approaches to learning and teaching – especially if it’s aiming for long-term sustainable change and not just short-term fixes.
Following Nick Clegg’s speech, a member of the audience, an officer of a staff association, asked him about the number of headteachers who are given inadequate time to “turn the school around”, as the jargon has it. Mr Clegg seemed puzzled by the question, as if this issue has never before come to his attention. He doubted whether headteachers were really placed under such unfair pressure. The questioner offered to put him in touch with his union’s legal team which apparently has an enormous caseload of such headteachers. We look forward to hearing about the outcome of that particular dialogue.
Tomorrow we’ll report further on Nick Clegg’s speech, and on our 3Di view on the need for schools to develop tracking systems for the broader aspects of children’s achievement – their levels of confidence, self esteem, resilience, enjoyment of learning, emotional intelligence, self-control, positive relationships, creativity, etc. It might sound daunting, but it’s essential for good teaching, for the child’s development, and for good accountability. It’s also essential for all members of the school community to participate in such tracking of PSHE – it can’t just be left to teachers. It’s highly beneficial for teaching assistants and pupil mentors, as well as specialist tutors, to become involve in the planning, preparation for and tracking of these essential aspects of the school’s curriculum and the child’s development.
Yesterday’s event began with an address by the headteacher of Grove Primary School, Handsworth, who stressed the need to “find out what children are really good at, what their talents are, what interests them and what stimulates them.” It’s so refreshing to hear any headteacher or teacher talking about starting from the individual pupils, and beginning with an assessment of their strengths and enthusiasms. We mention this here as it resonates so strongly with what we’ve been blogging about recently with our focus on Ken Robinson’s brilliant book, The Element.
We were also extremely impressed with what we heard from the head of Grove Primary about the school’s ‘significant spending’ on outdoor learning spaces, which include a beach, a large waterplay area, a cave and an ampitheatre with seats for an audience of 200. Not bad for inner-city Birmingham.
It seems the curriculum at Grove Primary, which is another of the NET’s Advocacy Schools, includes philosophy and thinking skills. When invited by their headteacher to find a philosophical statement that describes how their school operates, the pupils apparently came up with the following:
“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
Well said, Plato. And well done those children.
3Di is currently working on the development of a Philosophy Walk in East London – but that’s a whole other story.