Educational leadership & learning

Learning First for all

A fabulous event of professional networking, learning, sharing of ideas and experiences took place on Thursday 22 September at Bath Spa University. #LearningFirst: created, developed and organised superbly by tireless and inspiring @AlisonMPeacock and @JulesLilly.

A day to listen to nationally recognised keynote speakers. To learn and interact with ten colleagues sharing the experiences and journey in changing assessment practice within their schools (apologies that not everyone is mentioned within this blog). To have time to sit and reflect on the key purposes and principles of assessment, to ensure the practice in our schools is as effective, useful and manageable as it can be.

The needs of the learners and the value for the learning journey should always be the key driver for any time spent on, action about or system for assessment. Too often we can over-complicate practice and approaches in education, but by keeping practices and approaches simple and applying them intelligently and regularly, we can help our learners succeed.

I don’t think there is a single system that would work everywhere. However I think if staff are involved in creating a purposeful and useful system, they will believe in it, buy into it and drive it together to make it successful.


  1. Tim Oates.

“It’s always about the quality of the learning, curriculum & assessment, whatever the school structure.”

The new National Curriculum has brought more than just a change in the content, although that is what Tim believes many schools have focused on. It has brought a different approach to Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Different ways of looking at learning sustainably and of aiming for higher equity and attainment for all learners. Assessment should be used at all stages within a learning journey to check if learners understand key concepts in subjects before moving forward. The most important purpose of assessment should be the detailed understanding of every learner to identify and  support the filling of gaps and enrichment of the learning journey.

Tim still talks passionately about the curriculum encompassing “fewer things in greater depth”, which is still a challenge for us at our school. Particularly in maths, the tension between coverage of the objectives within one year’s curriculum versus the genuine need to explore concepts at a slower pace to ensure secure understanding is complex and at times very frustrating.


2. Mary Myatt (@MaryMyatt)

I had not met or heard Mary speak before, and was very much looking forward to her presentation. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Keep the main thing the main thing” (a focus on teaching and learning)

Mary encouraged colleagues to take some risks, to not interrupt the pupils when they were struggling as this was the point of new learning, that numbers (data) are not king, and that there is a difference between a task and learning (something we have been challenging ourselves with regularly at our school). She also discussed the importance of listening in on pupils’ conversations during learning discussions: that this more than tests or books is the prime source of evidence to demonstrate understanding. We need to demand difficult thinking and learning from our pupils, if we are to move below a superficial level of recall and regurgitation.

We need to be open about concepts of attainment and move away from old ideas about grouping by fixed ability.

“We put serious limits on our children when we label them.”


3. Chris Chivers (@ChrisChiver2)

Chris continued from Mary by talking about how valuable information about our pupils is. That the better we know them as learners the more effective we can be as teachers.

“Relying on the hard evidence of assessment to really know our children, not relying on assumptions.”

Assessment is essentially about knowing your pupils, being clear about what they need to learn and then helping them to do it: which results in continuity and progression, as opposed to discontinuity and regression. Chris referenced the importance of Teacher Standards 5 and 6 in ensuring that every lesson should help you to know the pupils better as learners. Chris finished his presentation with the following quote from George Bernard Shaw:



4. Richard Lucas and Jane Thorton

Richard is headteacher at Uplands Primary and Jane the headteacher of the secondary who receives some of the Year 7s from Richard’s school (among 39 other primary providers!). They discussed the importance of honest sharing of detailed information and open conversations between colleagues to ensure transition was successful. The two schools had created an agreed set of Y6/Y7 standards, and had come up with novel idea of giving Y6s a ‘summer gift’, which was an open-ended opportunity to share with their new teachers something a piece of work they were proud of.


5. Carolyn Robson

Carolyn spoke passionately about giving every child every opportunity to learn and exceed their potential, by not capping their progress by our beliefs of their potential based on prior data.

“Everyone is born with extraordinary powers & possibilities.”

And as teachers we are in a very privileged position to nurture those possibilities.


6. Jim Dees and Ian Bennett

Jim and Ian discussed how they had developed Research Lesson Studies at West Lodge Primary, which as a “developmental not judgemental” process had harnessed the power of formative assessment within an active learning staff culture. Observers focused on the learners and their learning. The quality of pupils’ talk and importance of modelling were two aspects that had been discovered as very important. Staff reflectiveness and the richness of professional dialogue had increased through the process.


7. Ed Finch (@MrEFinch)

Ed spoke passionately, openly and entertaingly about how his school were developing pupil created reports. By keeping the children at the heart and giving them a genuine voice (even if one child wrote “I detest English”) it added to the assessment information they could discover about their pupils. Another colleague listening suggested using ongoing learning logs to help the pupils reflect on their learning in their final reports.


8. Simon Cowley (@SiCowley)

Simon explained how in the White Horse Federation assessment was definitely not just all about the data. It is important to listen to the learners and have in depth professional conversations about their wider aptitudes and strengths. He shared the “The Intelligence of the child Toolkit” graphic below.


They use exemplification materials to support their assessment, have introduced same day interventions and view Pupil Progress meetings as validating teachers’ judgements. Staff come to those meetings with provision maps for those learners who have gaps, but it is the detailed information that is effective because as a school they believe that “my worth will not be dictated by a number!”


9. Ruchi Sabharwal (@Missvintagepink)

Ruchi spoke enthusiastically and with great authenticity about how she had developed SOLO within her classroom as part of cultivating a meta-cognitive ethos. Within a lesson learners can move from Uni-Structural to Multi-structural, and then to Relational and perhaps Extended Abstract. The power came from the pupils challenging themselves and seeing that their learning journey might not be complete even if their task was. SOLO gave the class a shared language and developed them further as a shared community of learners.



10. Nicky Bridges (@Mrs_Rob_Says)

Nicky is Deputy at Robin Hood in Nottingham. She shared some fantastic brick wall styled overviews of the curriculum for each year group. These are shared with parents and also the learners who are able to self-assess their progress and attainment across the year. They have also started to create assessment portfolios of pupils’ work to reference against in future years.


11. James Pembroke (@jpembroke)

James pulled no punches in his criticism of systems which gave hierarchy towards data, particularly those that had been created with crowbars within the algorithms to evidence progress. The questions James thinks we should ask are:

  • Is this data meaningful?
  • Is this data accurate and valid?
  • Is this data useful?
  • Who is this data for and how will it be used?

As teachers we should be able to show / demonstrate progress through the pupils’ work. The Ofsted Framework requires schools to monitor and track progress, but not to measure it. James explained that linear progress is a fallacy, and that research shows that only 10% of pupils follow a linear attainment path from YR to Y11.

“A healthy system has numbers going down as well as up. Chasing numerical progress risks exploring at depth.”

Often we insist on having more and more data. But actually for learning less is often more. Too much data can be unnecessary, a burden and actually slow us down.


12. Sarah Earle (@PriSciEarle)

The host of the event spoke about the projects she is undertaking with many schools exploring assessment in primary science, although the findings can be used across the whole curriculum. Sarah asks the following questions about assessment information: is it reliable / manageable / valid / consistent? Importantly is assessment doing what we want it to?

Her research is showing that pupils being active partners within an assessment process is highly beneficial, that teachers need to be responsive to the learners and develop a shared understanding of assessment. Sarah would welcome other primary schools who would like to be involved in future research projects at the Bath Spa University.


13. Sean Harford (@HarfordSean) (Director of Ofsted)

I had an opportunity to talk with Sean and Lisa Harford at lunchtime. They were both lovely, open and genuinely pleased to here about our school’s journey and development. Sean is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Ofsted have improved their reputation with some within the profession, as he is always keen to work in partnership and learn together. Today was not exception.

Sean started by explaining that he was at the conference to listen, as it was not helpful for Ofsted to tell the profession how to assessment or what system to use. He said that he was (as he often is) heartened by the passion and commitment of staff working in our schools. He insisted that we should use what works for us.

He fed back key messages he had heard during the day:

  • Professional discussion at a granularity level was better for the pupils and their learning
  • That it was really about the curriculum and we should always come back to that
  • How do we use assessment information, and the greater freedoms we have been given, to make learning better.


14. Dame Alison Peacock (@AlisonMPeacock)

Alison closed the conference by thanking those who had presented and shared so generously during the course of the day. She also thanked Julie (@JuleLilly) for all her hard work in organising such a successful and smoothly run event.

Finally she encouraged everyone present to keep networking, to keep sharing and to keep developing and improving together for the benefit of the learners.


After the day concluded I was fortunate to have really interesting and valuable conversations with many colleagues. One was Chris (@ChrisChivers2) and a summary of our conversation can be read at:

Chris Chivers (Talks)


Trending phrases for me from the day were:

Validation. Professional dialogue. Trust. CPD. Inform. Impact. Learning behaviours.

Know the learners better.


Personally I think the present and future of our education system is bright.

(But that’s just my assessment).






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