Tag Archives: Tom Sherrington

Reclaiming Pedagogy

Northern Rocks banner

On Saturday 7th June, 16 teachers from Belmont Community School travelled down to Leeds for the inaugural Northern Rocks Education Conference at Leeds Metropolitan University.  Of the 500 delegates who attended the day, I’m fairly confident this represented the largest attendance by a single school.  A fantastic testament to our teachers’ passion for education and desire to develop their practice further.


L-R: Daniel Narcross, Chris Jones, Michael Caygill, Amanda Telfer, Veronica Waldie, Jon Boniface, Suzanne Falconer, Lee Ferris, Louise Hindmarch, Dan Brinton, Laura Jackson, Julie Ryder, Nicola Roberts, Jane Cooper (not pictured Ste Hall, Andrew Hall)

Following the initial panel discussion, we moved off into the various different workshops we had chosen.  My choices for the day were:

  1. If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? (David Weston)
  2. What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? (Tom Sherrington)
  3. The confident teacher (Alex Quigley)
  4. It’s the teaching, stupid! (John Tomsett)

Workshop 1: If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? – David Weston

David began with a simple, yet powerful question: “Why should we improve our teaching?”

why improve teaching

As you can see from the Sutton Trust research David shared above, teaching quality impacts directly on student progress.  The higher the quality of teaching, the more progress students make.  This effect is even greater for disadvantaged learners, who stand to lose or gain the most from teaching quality.

The research of Hanushek and Rivkin shared next, however, shows that teacher development tends to grind to a halt after the first few years in teaching, rather than continue to improve.

Rivkin and Hanushek graph

One reason for this, David argued, could be the lack of active learning associated with “traditional CPD”.  A large-scale survey of common practice conducted for the TDA (Opfer et al 2008) highlighted one-off lectures, presentations and courses as common place, rather than a frequent and sustained focus on fewer things in greater depth.

With 99% of CPD experiences (CUREE research) never really moving beyond scratching the surface and a lack of focus on evaluating how CPD impacts on student learning (NFER 2008), one of the most effective things school leaders could do therefore, was to empower teachers to become learners and improve their own teaching (Robinson 2009).

Robinson 2009

In order to do this teachers need to know where they are now and where they need to be.  We heard how being more diagnostic in our approach: assessing needs, identifying patterns of behaviour, recognising ‘symptoms’ and developing a broad repertoire of approaches would help.

For CPD to be truly transformative, however, will require us to build on our pre-existing knowledge and skills and ensure that deeper learning opportunities are provided such as coaching, micro-enquiry, research and Lesson Study.

Lesson Study

By incorporating approaches like Lesson Study in to our CPD programme, we focus more on the diagnosis of student needs and outcomes and are therefore more likely to improve our own practice.

If we want our CPD to be transformative though, we will need to create the conditions in which this can happen. Aspirational, collaborative, relevant, sustained, challenging, fully evaluated CPD requires dedicated time for repeated practice, cover to enable collaboration or the use of video technology to support this.

Workshop 2: What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? – Tom Sherrington

Tom’s workshop similarly began with a question: “What makes a great teacher?”


He then went on to share his ideas about what makes great lessons (as opposed to those that have been manufactured using an Ofsted evaluation schedule that was never intended for this purpose) and which might form the habit of our day-to-day teaching:

  • Probing
  • Rigour
  • Challenge
  • Differentiation
  • Journeys
  • Explaining
  • Agility
  • Awe
  • Possibilities
  • Joy

The tension between progressive and traditional teaching methods was acknowledged, but also the symbiosis between the two, where one might walk a progressive “and” traditional line, rather than “either/or”.  The balance between the need to direct and instruct whilst providing the “soul food” to nurture and encourage a love of learning was proposed, with both having a vital role to play in education.

We also heard how perhaps we sometimes get the scale of things wrong, instead of focusing on getting the basics that underpin everything right (e.g. behaviour).  We need to keep things in perspective!

culture and systems

Culture (atmosphere, informal conversations in the staff room etc.) and systems (meetings, follow-up, evaluation etc.) were seen as important in realising this too, as were creating the conditions for great teachers to thrive:

  • Purpose – align values and goals – why are we here?
  • Challenge – high standards, rigour, quality – we can do this better
  • Autonomy – give people choice and a chance to input
  • Growth – create an outstanding CPD environment
  • Recognition – acknowledge and celebrate excellence – not necessarily pay
  • Care – look after people and support family circumstances

Shared values and language were significant as was evaluation and intelligent accountability, which can be achieved by knowing our departments and individuals well.  Reviews should be sensitive, intelligent, rounded (and complicated!)

The importance of culture on professional development was also reinforced:

  • Intelligent Performance Review.  Rigour without fear.
  • Focus on inputs as well as outcomes; engagement with CPD is a bottom-line
  • CPD is tailored and self-directed to greatest extent possible, given a teacher’s context.
  • CPD for mastery vs CPD for innovation – we need both
  • CPD is individual and collective (i.e. teams)
  • CPD includes: behaviour, subject knowledge, assessment knowledge and pedagogy

Finally, we heard how Tom’s school (King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford) prides itself on being “A Research Engaged Learning Community” that engages with research (reading blogs, books, journals, examiners’ reports etc.) as well as in research (Masters programmes, CamSTAR research projects, T+L workshops, Lesson Study etc.)

Key messages

  • Get the basics right – keep the rest in perspective
  • Create a culture of intelligent accountability and self-evaluation
  • Develop the culture and systems for engagement WITH and IN research
  • Make tailored CPD the key driver of improvement at individual and team level

Workshop 3: The confident teacher – Alex Quigley

Alex embraced the conference theme by encouraging us to reclaim pedagogy – by focusing on the small changes we can make to our teaching, rather than worrying about systems and structures.  His view was that instead of systemic, top down changes, teachers should be helping themselves by creating human networks in schools.  To paraphrase Dylan Wiliam: good teaching makes the biggest difference.

Focusing more on our teaching may well require us to “drop some of our tools” though.  Working as a team or as part of a collective would help to lighten the load.  Stripping away the unnecessary, would also allow us to concentrate fully on the core elements of our practice – to be more responsive and agile – to do less, but better.

dropping tools

Fear can prevent us from doing this, however.  We heard how the culture of Ofsted-obsessiveness in some schools was unhelpful, as were the whispers and rumours of “what Ofsted want” – which are often untrue.  Instead we should trust our expertise and develop great teaching ourselves – to teach as if nobody was watching.  Getting rid of the misnomers would also help: “talk less teaching”, “progress in 20 minutes” etc.  We need to separate “learning” from “performance” – what we teach needs to stick!

Deliberate practice, which is difficult and takes a long time, is required if we are serious about becoming ‘expert’.  The small adjustments we make to our practice accumulate, however.  Focusing on doing fewer things better – the 20% that gives us 80% of the impact, e.g. better explanations, better questioning, better feedback – will help us to become more confident as we develop, hone, improve our practice and reclaim pedagogy!

Workshop 4: It’s the teaching, stupid! – John Tomsett

John’s presentation weaved together three key components:

  • Learning
  • Culture
  • “The Golden Thread”


John felt that when faced with the choice between being the Executive Head or Lead Learner, that Head Teachers should be the Head TEACHER in their schools.

Head teachers, we heard, need to know what they are talking about in terms of practice, as well as understanding some of the barriers teachers face on a day-to-day basis in their classrooms. This requires Heads to spend time connecting with their classrooms and getting engaged with learning. John even went as far as proposing that all SLT are outstanding teachers who deliver in terms of results – otherwise why should anyone listen to them?


Head Teachers are crucial in creating school cultures. One of the key jobs of the Head Teacher, John felt, was in creating the right conditions for teacher growth. Long-term performance should not be risked in order to secure short-term gains.

Some of the key points from “The School for Quality Learning: Managing the School and Classroom the Deming Way” were shared and elaborated on in support of this, i.e.

  • Establish the core purpose of your school………and be prepared to be challenged on it!
  • Institute leadership – focus on making lessons great, strip out the rubbish, stop weighing the pig and start fattening it
  • Drive out the fear – remove lesson grades, ask your teachers “how would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching?”, coaching and the use of video have contributed positively to this in John’s school, no PRP
  • The joy of work – look after people, treat people unbelievably well and they will work unbelievably hard
  • CPD – find time for and invest unerringly in teaching and learning, focus on performance development, work hard on the small improvements e.g. tone, body language, made to measure not one size fits all
  • Accomplish the transformation – e.g. change the construction of the School Improvement Plan so that it focuses on teaching and learning, meaning everyone is part of making the school better

Are we great or are we failing? Checking the temperature regularly helps establish where we are on the continuum and allows us to set goals for improvement.

golden thread

The Golden Thread

Everything must be traceable through to student outcomes, which requires us to get better at evaluating the impact of what we do. Of the 5 leadership dimensions John shared from Vivienne Robinson’s book on “Student Centered Leadership”, leading teacher learning and development had the biggest effect size (d=0.84) on student outcomes.

The importance of developing a culture of growth mindset in school was also shared, e.g. the consistent use of effort-based praise with students.

To finish, John summed up with this message:

“The more leaders focus on their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the better student outcomes are.”

Reclaiming pedagogy

The emerging messages from the day couldn’t have been clearer to me:

  • Great schools recognise that great teaching makes the biggest difference to student outcomes
  • Great schools create cultures that nurture teachers and allow them to develop their teaching without fear
  • Great teaching requires great CPD that is tailored, personal and transformative
  • Great teachers focus relentlessly on developing the core elements of their practice, engaging with and in research
  • Great teachers and great schools evaluate the impact of all of their work in relation to improving outcomes for their students

Our revised programme of Personal Practice Development (shown below); engagement with NTEN; participation in the Durham University/EEF RISE project and Bristol University/EEF teacher observation project; investment in IRIS Connect video technology and our commitment to investing the time and resources to allow all of this to happen, should hopefully go a long way towards making this a reality in our own school.


We’ve had an amazing year this year.  I know from the numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues towards the end of last term and during the holiday that I’m not the only one feeling incredibly excited about returning to work next week.  I look forward to updating you all on our progress next term!

The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 1: “The name’s Beyond…..”

The spy who loved us

“The design and implementation of the curriculum is at the heart of school life.  It creates the atmosphere for learning and sets the tone and philosophy for teachers.” from Creating Outstanding Classrooms: A whole-school approach by Oliver Knight & David Benson

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the 10th film in the James Bond series, “The Spy Who Loved Me” is about a reclusive megalomaniac who plans to destroy the world and create a new civilisation.

In April this year, author, blogger and chief provocateur David Didau – a.k.a. @LearningSpy – came to work with our fabulous English department to help them to plan their new curriculum and post-levels assessment system.  I’ll leave you to draw your own comparisons.

“I wasn’t looking, but somehow you found me”

The whole process began early in February this year via a few Direct Messages through Twitter, followed up with a quick chat at the NTEN conference at KEGS to agree dates, before finally confirming the intended outcomes via e-mail, which looked something like this:

  • Our English team would have a framework curriculum, with possibly a unit planned in depth for Years 7, 8 and 9, including assessment.
  • Capacity would be built within the team through modelling and the co-construction process.
  • The school would be left with a potential model way of working to roll out with other departments.

These would be achieved by:

  • Determining shared values of the team and the “what” of what the team wanted to teach.
  • Supporting the design of a Programme of Study and assessment system that assesses mastery of threshold concepts rather than levels.
  • Supporting the design of a model Scheme of Learning.

As far as timescale was concerned we had two possible options:

1) Try and cram all of the above into 1 day

2) Do it over 2 days and do it right

…we chose the latter.

“I tried to hide from your love light”

Wanting to make the best possible start to their 2 days with David – and to avoid any chance of “the tumbleweed moment” – the team spent quite a bit of time beforehand trying to discuss exactly what they wanted to teach.  This was clearly time very well spent, as the first question they were hit with following my introductions was this – now legendary – one posed by Headteacher Tom Sherrington:

Having already seen this tweet from Tom at the time, the department had no need to convince me of its merit and were encouraged from the beginning to design the curriculum that they wanted, without interference or restrictions of any kind.  To me, this wasn’t a leap of faith, it was just trusting our experts to do what they do best.

“But like Heaven above me”

As well as knowing what they wanted, the team also found it helpful to be clear about what they didn’t want.  Here’s their final wish list:

  • Full novels that promote reading.
  • Less assessment and more learning.
  • Longer schemes to really explore texts and themes.
  • All assessments marked for both reading and writing so they are no longer seen as separate skills.
  • More educational trips that are linked into our schemes of work.

In order to do this, they were encouraged to avoid succumbing to the “sunk cost fallacy” and to “murder a few of their darlings” (more about this in Part 2), for example the way Lady Macbeth was taught.  The point being, they started the whole process knowing exactly what they wanted.

Their outline Programme of Study included more challenging texts and contained just three Schemes of Learning per year that were arranged chronologically, as shown below:

Planning our KS3 English curriculum

“The spy who loved me”

David also introduced the team to the work of Hermann Ebbinghaus and Robert Bjork.

Ebbinghaus first introduced the world to his forgetting curve and the spacing effect as long ago as 1885 through his pioneering work on memory. Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve This popular graphical representation shows the idea that the amount of newly acquired information we retain declines over time without any attempt to retain it. To increase retention over time Ebbinghaus thought that spaced repetition could help.  Spacing works on the idea that we learn better when information is spaced out in intervals over a longer time span rather than when information is repeated without intervals  (massed presentation).  Each repetition is thought to increase the length of time before the next repetition is required – from days initially to years.

Bjork explains the spacing effect in more detail below:

In his New Theory of Disuse Bjork also argues that spacing reduces the accessibility of information in memory and in doing so fosters additional learning of that information. In other words, building in opportunities to revisit information at the point of ‘almost forgetting’ for students is good, as it means they are more receptive to learning new information.

Spacing may well be one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but what do you do in between repetitions?  Bjork argues that an effective strategy might be to interleave our study.  The theory being that interleaving requires learners to constantly ‘reload’ or retrieve information, allowing them to extract more general rules that aid transfer.  Here’s Bjork on interleaving:

“Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight”

One of the ways this might manifest itself in the curriculum was shared by our Acting Head of English, Adele Corrigan, at our Curriculum Conference last week.

The department agreed on six organising concepts against which they have chosen to assess  – the six concepts of English: Analysis, Impact, Structure, Grammar, Evidence and Context.  To quote Knight & Benson again:

“Organising concepts are needed to facilitate retention in memory, develop economic mental processing and support analytic reasoning” 

These six organising concepts underpin the design of the department’s Programme of Study and Schemes of Learning.  The concepts are mapped against the Schemes of Learning before being tracked over the Programme of Study to ensure the requisite spaced repetitions.


Structure and Coherence, for example, is one of the six organising concepts that would be spaced so that it was met in each Scheme of Learning across the Programme of Study in different ways.


Year 9 Term 1 – Gothic – Frankenstein.

Analysing the use of structure in a novel e.g. paragraphing, length of paragraphs, ending of chapters and cliff hangers. Examining the effect of these structures and why they are used.

Year 9 Term 2 – War – A range of war poetry.

Looking at the wide range of structures available to poets e.g. aabb, abab, sonnet and free verse. Comparing the differences between the structure of a novel and a poem and discussing which is the most effective for certain purposes. Linking prior knowledge by examining the effect of these structures and why they are used.

Year 9 Term 3 – Dystopia and freedom – Animal Farm and 1984.

Writing a persuasive speech about banishing certain objects to “Room 101”.  Focusing on own structure and writing in a structure that best suits individual purpose and style. Using prior knowledge to think about intended effect and reason.

“And nobody does it better”

Initial thresholds for each of the six organising concepts were then agreed from the simplest “Working towards” to “Exceptional” in order to establish the depth of knowledge and skills for each organising concept.

English key concepts and assessment criteria

The “Beyond” threshold was added afterwards and came from a desire to ‘go deeper’ than “Exceptional” and create a threshold that stretched students beyond the confines of Level 8 or A* at GCSE.  Here Yoram Harpaz’s “Performances of Understanding” were particularly useful in directing assessment beyond mere presentation of knowledge and into the realms of questioning, criticising, critiquing, challenging and developing counter-arguments to it.


“Performances of Understanding” by Yoram Harpaz from Creating Outstanding Classrooms: A whole-school approach p57 by Oliver Knight & David Benson

“Though sometimes I wish someone could”

The team then used the following seven fertile questions from the same book’s Teaching and Learning Cycle to enshrine the construction of medium term plans for each Scheme of Learning:

  1. What can my students do?
  2. What do my students need to understand next?
  3. What will they do to generate those understandings?
  4. How will we all know they have been successful?
  5. What will their feedback be at the different stages?
  6. What performances will there be – both intermediary and final?
  7. What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?

Here’s an example of how they were used to help plan the Year 7: The Story of English Scheme of Learning:

SoL Y7 Story of English fertile questions

“Nobody does it quite the way you do”

Once this planning for progression was complete the idea of disciplinary thinking could then be introduced in order to ensure knowledge is applied and becomes useful knowledge rather than the mere acquisition of facts leading to inert knowledge.  The team used Peter Lee’s disciplinary planning grids from p72/3 of Creating Outstanding Classrooms in order to think about how they could encourage students to think like, talk like and become experts.

Y7 Story of English disciplinary planning grid

The planning grids are currently being used to plan out the lesson-by-lesson overview, which also includes assessment criteria based on the organising concepts.

Y7 Story of English SOL

“Why’d you have to be so good?”

So was it all worth it?

Doing all of the thinking for themselves enabled the department to build a deep and clear understanding, while also allowing them to take personal ownership of their new Key Stage 3 curriculum.  In doing so they have been able to go way beyond what could ever have been achieved by following anything that was externally imposed on them.

After two days the process left the whole department feeling reinvigorated, energised and seriously excited about teaching their new Programme of Study.  These quotes are typical of their feedback at the end of the second day:

“It has been really exciting. We absolutely love our new assessment criteria and can’t wait to use it. We also think that our new KS3 programme of study is really challenging and engaging and can’t wait to start teaching it.”
“I can say for definite that I haven’t been this excited about teaching for a long time, a very long time.”

Not only that, but thanks to David and our English team we believe we now have the basis of an excellent model that can be used to support the redesigning of curriculum and assessment across the remaining subjects in our school.

You can also read David’s excellent blog about his work with us One step beyond – assessing what we value as well as his subsequent blog about the efficacy of our assessment system Does it do what it’s supposed to? Assessing the assessment following the initial feedback.