Educational leadership & learning

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Three heads are better than one

Part One.

I was fortunate and privileged to be able to spend a day in professional dialogue and reflection with two passionate, dedicated and inspiring headteachers: Jon Le Fevre (@advens_learning) and Matt Hickey (@headhighwood).

We have all taken on headships at our current schools in the last 3-4 years (although it is Jon’s second headship) and each of our schools is a growing school. What I think really unites us though is the desire and determination to make learning and the curriculum meaningful, real and engaging for our learners, and to support staff to grow professionally in a trusting and empowering school culture.

We are visiting each other’s schools over the course of this academic year, to analyse how these visions are developing in practice. For me our first day was a mixture of ‘magpie-ing’ resources / ideas, raising questions / thoughts for me to discuss with colleagues at my school, and evaluating the evidence in practice seen on a range of classroom drop ins.

We shared different formats for Strategic Development Plans and Self Evaluations.

  • Matt’s made me consider whether we should add Ofsted criteria for Outstanding and Good (RAG rated) to the top of each section. Should our SDP focus more directly than currently on gaps in the Outstanding criteria?
  • Jon’s SDP was on the same format as his whole school vision map (based on Simon Sineck’s Golden Circle). It made it clear how each element of school improvement was strongly personalised to the school context.
  • It also made me question our SEF. Previously we had a one page summary and then a separate evidence document. Currently we now have a combined document which provides our grades, rationale for these, evidence and next steps. However I was reminded of the power and usefulness of having all the key info on a one page document. This is definitely something I want to re-consider
  • We discussed setting data targets for staff, including as part of their PM. It reminded me of a conversation I had last year about setting a range (from minimum expected to more aspirational).


We discussed the structure and focus of SLT and Subject Leader monitoring activities, and how this provides accurate information but also helps drive school improvement.

  • I want to consider whether as we grow as a school (both in size and number of years since we opened) we would benefit from a more centrally agreed and tight focus for monitoring.
  • Do we have the right balance of leadership and management tasks / time in our SLT, or do we need to ring-fence more regular strategic work?

Matt is very passionate about developing and embedding ‘Learning Behaviours’ with his staff. Jon is currently developing a ‘Learning Adventures’ pedagogy with his team, but plans to develop a similar approach re. learning behaviours as he did at his previous school.

  • At our school we agreed with our Pupil Voice Groups 5 ‘Learning Powers’ last year (to our power up our learning journey). These are: Communication, Teamwork, Resilience, Independence and Positivity. We have launched new posters and ‘Learning Powers’ vehicles with our learners this term.
  • Questions I want to consider include, how we might develop ideas / expectations about how these might be evident during an English or Maths unit of learning? Or how they might be evident during a Learning Quest?
  • Should we consider creating with our learners social stories for each of the Learning Powers?

We all valued a long term approach and investment in culture and staff development at our schools. This is something that at our school I think we generally do well, and has been commented on positively by many visitors and the staff themselves.

  • How effective though is our coaching model and practice?
  • How often should we be encouraging teachers to self-evaluate in a more formal way? They currently do against elements of our Teaching for Learning policy and the ‘Teacher Standards’, but what impact does this have? Could it have more?
  • Could we use technology to make more use of photographing and filming learners during drop-ins and learning walks, and this being part of the following professional dialogue?

We discussed the importance of the balance between the core subjects and wider broader curriculum experience. That standards in one are not mutually exclusive, and that a broad balanced and empowering learning experience was what we are all striving for, for our learners.

If we ensure learning is always the focus, the results should take care of themselves.

We discussed the overview of English & Maths in each year group.

  • This made me want to come back and review again with staff the range of documents / systems they are using
  • How do these fit with our Learning Quests and Curriculum Maps, which staff develop in additional release time with our Curriculum Leader?

Jon explained in more detail the ‘Learning Adventures’ approach to their curriculum. These included the elements: destination, flexible map, great guides, learning skills, up for it attitude. He was keen to find out if we could identify these elements when we dropped into classes and how the learners would articulate their learning.

There was agreement between us that learning and lessons should always aim to have a real purpose, but without ‘crowbars’ being employed to force all learning into the same contexts. Learning should be exciting and fun but with rigour and clear Learning Aims underneath.

I reflected on our school’s Values of Love, Forgiveness and Hope and our Vision to ‘Grow an Inspirational Learning Community’ amongst staff and pupils.

  • I want to return again to look at how these fit in with our Cornerstone Rules, Learning Powers and Learning Quests?
  • Do I regularly enough and authentically enough live out our Values and Vision?
  • Do I regularly enough engage in conversations with staff and learners about Values, Vision and learning?
  • Do these conversations have as much positive impact as they could / should?
  • Am I being effective enough as a ‘Great Guide’ (in Jon’s ‘Learning Adventures’ vocab)? Are other staff with their learners? Do we spend sufficient time observing and listening before considering the most appropriate actions?

What I really valued was the time to reflect and the expertise / collegiate approach Jon and Matt selflessly provided. It certainly proved that ‘Three Heads are better than One!’

I look forward to developing some of my thinking in practice before ‘Part 2’ of the trilogy, when I will be hosting in the Spring term.


Crucial Primary Maths Knowledge

So, in the news this week Nick Gibb has confirmed that from 2019, Year 6 pupils will undertake a Times Tables test alongside their other SATs tests.

Nick Gibb Times Tables test announcement

“Multiplication was a “very important” part of a child’s mathematics knowledge, Mr Gibb said…It is my view that there should be a multiplication check.”

To be fair I don’t disagree at all with Nick Gibb’s view that an accurate and quick recall of times tables facts (and the linked division, fraction, decimal and percentage facts) are very important. Not to pass a test (or check) but to allow pupils to focus on application of these facts when undertaking complex or lengthy calculations and problem solving. In my opinion having a secure and accurate recall and understanding of some basic mathematical knowledge is crucial in order for pupils to think and work as mathematicians.

After all if someone was learning a musical instrument they would need to know key information, such as how to play certain notes and how read music before we could expect them to play whole pieces of music fluently and expertly.

I’m not sure I even have a problem with there being a test in Year 6. By then all pupils should know these facts. But what about other facts…

Since the introduction of the Phonics screening check in Y1 and Y2, schools have invested a great deal more time on teaching phonics. Again personally I think this has had benefits, but it has also potentially minimised time and focus on other aspects of reading, and other strategies required to become a fluent and confident reader.

So what are the other aspects of Crucial Primary Maths Knowledge? And will some of these be sidelined to some extent in the drive to show high achievement in a national test linked to school accountability?

At our school we have a series of “Maths Learn Its” that go home each term (these can be viewed at Maths Learn Its or on the Numeracy Shed, thank you @grahamandre). Within school we have ‘Regular Drip’ time, which is when what we think are key reading, writing and maths knowledge is practised during registration times, and in those 5 minute slots that sometime appear before lunch or going home time.

These are then balanced with the pupils being engaged in more contextual practice and application in more open-ended problem solving lessons.

For me Crucial Primary Maths Knowledge would include:

  • Counting on and back (in different amounts: 1, 2, 5, 10, 100, 1/2…)
  • Finding 1 more or less (moving onto 10, 100, 1000, 0.1…)
  • Number bonds to 10 (and all single digit numbers) (moving onto to 20, 100, 1000, 1…)
  • Place Value knowledge and understanding, initially Tens and Ones (moving onto Hundreds, Thousands… and Tenths, Hundredths)
  • Time tables to 10 x 10 (and learning how these link to division facts, fractions, decimals and percentages)
  • Doubling and halving
  • Multiplying and dividing by 10, 100 and 1000


In his excellent book “Transforming Primary Mathematics” Mike Askew (@mikeaskew26) explains his view on ‘Elements of fluency’ he states that:

“In moving up through the years of primary mathematics children are hampered if they are not fluent in

Elements of fluency

  • adding or subtracting a single digit to any number
  • adding a multiple of 10 or 100 to any number
  • counting on or back in ones from any starting number
  • counting on or back in twos, tens or fives from any given number
  • recalling rapidly the multiplication facts up to 10 x 10
  • multiplying any number by two or ten”

He then goes on to share a second set of skills which he calls ‘Procedural fluency’. He states that these would include:

“Procedural fluency

  • knowing what to add to a number to make it a multiple of 10 or 100
  • halving any number
  • multiplying any number by five ( by multiplying by ten and then halving)
  • knowing the division facts associated with multiplication facts”


I do wonder what the views of other primary colleagues are. If you had to pick a Top 5 aspects / sets of maths knowledge / skills for your pupils to be absolutely secure, fluent and confident with by the end of Year 6 what would they be. I’d be very interested to hear.


Key Values

Below are the Values that define me as a person in my role as a headteacher:


I shared more about how these have been developed over time and with colleagues in our school at Pedagoo Hamphire 16. The presentation can be viewed at:

Pedagoo Hampshire 16



Chris Chivers (Talks)

If you have not had the opportunity to met or speak with @ChrisChivers2 you have missed out (so far). The man who @eduCarditon today rightly referred to as “the wise sage” has always a thoughtful perspective and a previous experience to share on any topic educational. I  make a point of sitting with Chris at some point during every TeachMeet or conference we attend, and (to the shock of anyone who knows me) try very hard to keep my mouth closed as much as possible and my ears open. When Chris Chivers (Talks) I generally learn from something new and insightful.

At #LearningFirst today in Bath we had a great reflective conversation about how schools can best support teachers in their professional development and their impact on learning. With apologies to Chris, if I have paraphrased, misquoted or misremembered, here are some of the nuggets we discussed.

Chris often refers to the Teacher Standards. Whilst we were discussing how as school’s we often need to simplify our work, he made the point that to be effective teachers he would want them to:

  1. Know the children well and plan accordingly (TS4)
  2. Make accurate and productive use of assessment (TS6) and adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of the children (TS5)
  3. Have a better knowledge and understanding of the children

(This would then be repeated)

We discussed that learning is a dynamic, in real time, collaborative process. Impossible to predict in advance with 100% accuracy and never ending.

That an element of a teacher’s role is to be a detective. Searching for the clues about the children’s learning and understanding, so as to tweak and adapt the teaching and curriculum provision. For those with gaps and barriers to find the key to unlock their understanding.

To develop and be increasingly successful in their role teachers need to be confident in their abilities and that the leaders in a school trust them.  To take the shared and agreed school structures (which should be sufficiently flexible) and trial, adapt and innovate within and beyond them. Leaders should support and challenge, but minimise judgements.

Teachers need to be encouraged to spent the minimum amount of their thinking time on low level organisational matters (particularly once these are agreed, set up and habitual) and the maximum amount of their thinking time grappling and questioning about the teaching and learning in their class, and the impact and progress of their learners.

As school leaders the more we can do to set up systems and nurture a culture that allows for this the more empowered and effective the teachers in our school will be.

Thank you as always Chris for sharing so generously of your time and wisdom. I think next time, I’ll have to record our conversation to ensure I capture it all.


Leadership Key Priorities

As the headteacher of a new and small school, days and weeks can fly by feeling very full and busy. However on reflection they are not always filled with a controlled focus on the key priorities. These other tasks are usually important and valuable, but they can distract my attention from the key strategic priorities which should be the centre of my focus and impact.

To try and force myself to say no more often and to make wiser in the moment decisions about how I use my time strategically, I have compiled a Top Ten Key Priority list, which I will display in my office this half-term. It is not earth shattering, or amazingly perceptive, but will it give me clearer focus? Will it make a difference?

I have split the list into two priority groups: 6 that are most crucial and 4 that are just crucial.

  1. DSL (CPLO): Safeguarding has to be the top priority at all times. Any issues automatically take precedence over any other tasks
  2. Strategic Development: planning, reviewing, refining, constantly looking a few steps forward
  3. Self-evaluation: evaluating the ongoing impact of actions and whole school provision
  4. Teaching & Learning: ensuring consistently high standards, a coaching and learning culture
  5. Data and progress: measuring and analysing, focusing on pupil outcomes
  6. Health & Safety: ensuring processes, systems and the full site are safe and people’s wellbeing is supported

7.  Curriculum & Assessment: what is being taught, how and how we are assessing learning effectively

8.Monitoring: lessons, pupils work, learning environments, planning, pupils’ views, staff’s views…

9. Behaviour: appropriate behaviour from pupils and adults that align with our Values and policies

10. CPD: investing in staff, to enable them to continue to grow as motivated and empowered professionals

So this half-term, anything outside of this list will be left until time is available. We’ll see how it goes…

Growing an Exceptional Learning Community

We are on a fascinating journey as a new growing school: Cornerstone CE Primary in Whiteley, Hampshire (@cornerstonecofe).

  • Sept 2013: opened with 25 pupils in 2 classes in a temporary building on a temporary site.
  • Sept 2015: 103 pupils in 4 classes and starting to work with Hampshire County Council on designing our new 3FE building and site.
  • Sept 2018: planned move into our new building.
  • Dec 2020: predicted to be full with 630 pupils.

I took over as headteacher in Sept 2014 and one of the crucial elements of my role is defining a vision for now and the future and growing a positive ethos: Growing an Exceptional Learning Community. (Staff’s initial draft definitions are at the end of this post).

We have been using this phrase to describe the vision and ethos we have been developing, but without formally defining it. Well we started the process of doing so as part of our INSET day on the 29th of January. It was an inspiring session, with fantastic and passionate conversations between staff.

What was particularly pleasing for me was a comment made by our visiting NPQH colleague Sarah Mullins (@sarahmu14) who shared her opinion that all our staff, and in particular our support staff, are very articulate and passionate about being involved in these type of discussions and developing their practice. (This is part of what we think makes an Exceptional Learning Community).

One of the interesting conversations was about the word “Exceptional” which is not meant to suggest we think we are better than other schools. Or that we are undertaking aspects of practice that is not happening in any other school. We would not be this arrogant, we certainly know that neither is the case. The purpose of using the word “Exceptional” is that we are always aiming to improve ourselves and are not satisfied with just being as good as we currently are. We are very keen not to use a work that overtly links to the Ofsted framework, or any other specific DfE phrase. We want something that has meaning for our community, and something that will last. But is “Exceptional” the best word to use? We started to discuss alternatives: Extraordinary? Inspirational? Empowering? Fulfilling? Valued? Thriving? It’s a conversation we will return to many times in the future, and one we will be including the pupils, parents and governors in as well.

What was also pleasing was the examples that staff shared that they felt show we are already on this journey of growth:

  • Valuing everybody
  • Celebration Worship: children seeing their learning journey
  • Pupil Voice Groups: genuine partnership and consideration of children’s opinions
  • Displays: to celebrate and support learning
  • Ready Steady Grow reward system
  • Sharing practice with other schools / visiting other schools to learn
  • Reflective practice amongst all staff
  • Supporting staff with their own professional learning ventures / CPD
  • Parents invitations: their child’s learning and also understanding of education (e.g. Values process and Teaching, Learning & Assessment workshop
  • Student placements
  • Involving parents and other family members as group support / hearing readers
  • Home link books
  • School events: fairs, sports days…
  • Community and communication on Facebook and Twitter
  • Links with Church, e.g. Messy Church

However, I became most inspired when staff began to create initial draft definitions of what an “Exceptional Learning Community” means at Cornerstone CE Primary (@cornerstonecofe). Whatever we decide as a title, or indeed as the final definition agreed by all the community, these early thoughts fill me with great hope:

  • An exciting journey which inspires a passion for lifelong learning within our valued, caring community
  • Love for Learning = Lifelong Learners
  • A commitment to working together to building the Cornerstone community to develop learners who are open to life’s challenges and experiences
  • Continually striving for excellence for all learners
  • Independent learners who use their initiative, embrace new ideas, are always willing to try, share opportunities and have a growth mindset
  • Learning always and all ways
  • Empowering partnerships in which all seek challenge and responsibility and are positive and passionate about their learning journey
  • Learners who are driven by values, ask questions, challenge assumptions and constantly looking for ways to develop and grow
  • All learners are valued, respected, open and act with integrity
  • Equity and excellence for all

We are not certain were this process will eventually take us, but with a team of such committed, professional and passionate staff, I’m certain it will be an exceptional journey!




#teacher5aday 2016 pledge

#teacher5aday 2016 pledge


I could view last year either with my ‘glass is half full’ perspective or my glass is empty and drained perspective. Let’s go for the positives!

  • I have spent more dedicated quality time with my family (though probably not enough)
  • I kept up my morning exercise for over half the year (in blocks). I completed a 10K in a personal best, the Great South Run in a PB and completed the 48 mile sponsored walk with friends
  • I was doing very well with eating healthily (until mid November: last 6 weeks have been fairly dire)
  • I have attended different courses, Teachmeets and the wonderful #TLT15. (Extremely disappointed that I can’t attend #PrimaryRocksLive in March 2016 due to family commitments)
  • I have kept in contact with more friends via Facebook, Twitter, messaging… (though again probably not enough)
  • I have supported and promoted the #teacher5aday initiative when and where I can (wellbeing bags were very positive at work and #teacher5adaycalendar which I will happily make an annual event)




I re-read my 2015 pledge with interest. The context in which I work: first headship, new school, growing school, small staff, major educational changes nationally: all make it a challenge to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

This academic year I am trying to be more strategic with my time at work. We have developed the staff structure in a few ways so I am not trying to do everything I was in Autumn 2015. We have had, and ‘passed’ our Ofsted which has definitely helped my sleep and stress levels. We have employed some fantastic new staff, which is really helping more the school forward. I am still using my subsets within my to-do list:

  • Statutory and urgent
  • Statutory
  • Important and urgent
  • Important
  • Ideally should do
  • Would like to do
  • Dreams

However I still have times of being overwhelmed. Of us not developing as quickly or as strongly as I would like, nor us embedding the developments from last year as consistently as we need. I still have times when I don’t give enough time to my wife, family, friends or colleagues. I still get tired, stressed and grumpy.

So what should I realistically aim for in 2016…


January pledge for 2016

  1. I still aim to spend quality time with my family and cherish these moments. It may not be as often as I or they would like, but I will aim to make sure it is fun, positive quality time.
  2. I have booked my usual Eastleigh 10k for March and am trying my first half-marathon since I was 19 in April. The Great South Run is booked for November, but I might try to convince some friends to take part in a bike or walk challenge during the summer.
  3. Sleep patterns. I will aim to be in bed by 10 pm every night, not get up until 5.45 am and under no circumstances turn on my phone if I awake in the middle of the night to read emails, surf the net or scroll through Twitter.
  4. I will try to keep reminding myself of the positives of each day. The things I should be proud and pleased about, not the mistakes, issues and jobs not done.
  5. I will take time to listen and really think about what others say. But I will not try to appease every opinion about how our school is lead or I lead my life.


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