To be clear from the outset, I don’t think as a school we have resolved all workload issues, or necessarily created original solutions, but I do think we have made progress at Cornerstone CE Primary in Hampshire.
The utopian ideal we keep striving for is to improve learning and outcomes for pupils whilst at the same time supporting staff to make their workload manageable, efficient and sustainable. Motivated, fresh staff with the energy levels to think and focus on the key element of their role (teaching and learning), are more effective, more fulfilled and have a better workload balance.
Part of our Governing Body Vision for the school is to “create a place where staff can thrive” and we as a school we aim to grow an “Inspirational Learning Community“. We define this as:
- Together igniting a love of learning
- Encouraging and empowering partnerships
- Nurturing a Growth Mindset
Together as partners we can encourage each other to explore and learn new ways to manage our workload effectively and ignite the pupils learning.
We are a relatively new school (we opened September 2013, and currently have 133 YR-Y4 pupils) and therefore part of our challenge is to develop our planning, curriculum, marking, feedback and use of data in manageable ways within a new context. Not straightforward.
Planning and resourcing
- Planning is critical and underpins effective teaching. Planning has been a focus for CPD and professional discussions in staff meetings. The focus is on making sure planning is useful for the teacher to promote learning (not for other purposes)
- Planning a sequence of lessons is more important than writing individual lessons plans. We do not write individual lesson plans. For English and Maths we have devised a ‘Unit of Learning’ format which encapsulates elements of our Teaching for Learning policy. We have also devised simple medium term planning units for other subjects, with the expectation that there only needs to be a minimum of 4 lessons a half-term. Staff are free and trusted to adapt and use the planning as is most helpful for their teaching and for their particular class.
- Blocks of time to allow for proper collaborative planning which offers excellent opportunities for professional development. As a whole staff we have designed and then revisited our curriculum overviews. We have also discussed and adapted Assessment Journeys for all subjects to support staff planning. In their first year teachers are released for a half-day each half-term to work with our Curriculum Leader. We are also fortunate to have an English SLE on our staff team, who has been released for half days to work on planning with colleagues. We have also used many staff meetings to discuss and develop our understanding of planning effectively for English and Maths.
- Planning should start from the curriculum to be taught not the activities. We have spent time focusing on the key importance of clear Learning Aims, with linked Success Criteria in our planning and within each lesson. We have also developed ‘Learning Journey Prompts’ which are a series of questions that can be asked at the start, during and at the end of a sequence of learning, to support the pupils to think about and reflect on their learning rather than on what they are doing.
- Consider the use of externally produced and quality assured resources. Staff make good use of online platforms like Twinkl and Purple Mash. We could probably do more in this area to support staff, although there is a danger that if there are too many sources of support it can become overwhelming.
- The quality of feedback should not be confused with the quantity. As a staff we have developed a Feedback policy (we have no marking policy) which is only on one page of A4. It has a set of clear principles: that it should offer specific next steps, that time needs to be given for pupils to think and improve; and that teachers should use their professional judgement. It has a clear set of aims: to assist and activate learning and to raise learners’ attainment and standards. The actions that teachers undertake only cover half of the policy. The majority of the feedback is given during lesson time, (either verbally or with quick green and pink highlights) which is more effective for the pupils learning and they can act on feedback instantly. At the end of lessons staff and pupils assess against the Learning Aim and/or Success Criteria (again either with a quick coloured highlight or coloured dots).
- Marking practice that does not have the desired impact on pupil outcomes is a time wasting burden. We keep re-iterating as a staff team, and to parents and governors that any feedback in books is for pupils only. We will not write comments for anyone else.
- Meaningful, manageable and motivating. As explained above we believe our use of feedback is meaningful and manageable. Pupils are motivated as much by ‘Think Pinks’ which gives advice or identifies aspects to improve, as they are by ‘Great Greens’, which celebrates successes. Our continuing focus on nurturing a Growth Mindset, both with our pupils and ourselves, helps us recognise and be motivated by mistakes.
- Only collect what is needed to support outcomes for learners…When used well, data can have a profound and positive impact. We have designed our own Assessment Journeys for reading, writing and maths (essentially these are fairly basic Excel spreadsheets). We assess against the objectives from the National Curriculum and nothing else. We have devised and revised our own criteria for inputting the numbers 1, 2 and 3. A 2 equates to meeting End of Year Expectations (ARE) and 3 is for those who have demonstrated learning at a deeper level. Although the numbers do automatically calculate an overall percentage for each child and each class, teachers are more focused on aspects of the curriculum which have not been sufficiently covered or where there are gaps for individuals or groups. This information is then used by teachers to inform future planning. This is the only data collection required for core subjects. This one document is then used by myself as headteacher to analyse standards, but it is based on teacher assessments of the pupils progress in their learning journey. Staff usually update these Assessment Journeys at the end of each 2 or 3 week Unit of Learning, whilst the pupil achievements are still fresh in their minds.
- We must insist on broader professional pedagogical conversations where data is a component part. There are a number of times each half-term when teachers choose to come to discuss a particular pupils work with me, to attempt to assess the extent to which the pupil is secure in their understanding and learning. These are never simple, but are useful and powerful conversations. Four times a year we have PAMs (Pupil Achievement Meetings) where we discuss the Assessment Journeys and the evidence base for some of the teacher’s judgements. These are professional discussions and not one way checks on numbers.
- Create an assessment and data collection calendar. The PAMS are identified on the termly staff development meeting timetable. The week in which they take place, we do not have any other meetings.
As I stated at the beginning of this blog, I do not think we have resolved all workload issues at Cornerstone, but the positive steps we have taken we have done so as a whole staff team together. This has supported the growth of our ‘Inspirational Learning Community’ and keeps us focusing on improving pupil learning and outcomes whilst making workload more manageable, efficient and sustainable as we move forward.