Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. This is Part 2 of my blog about the day and covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport.

Tom Sherrington: Research Literacy and Literacy Research

Tom started his session by talking about research. According to Tom a high proportion oi conversations we have about research don’t reference specific research. Tom had a look at a DfE publication which ranked various interventions. He found that the study which ranked first was done over 20 years ago and was based on work done in one school. Tome said that sometimes citations have a power greater than what they should have. Citations get reported! Tom made the point that we should question the validity of the research. Tom said that in publishing that report DfE had been lazy but teachers cannot afford to be. Some well known literacy intervention research is based on a small scale enquiry. Tom made the point that in secondary schools with students with literacy problems, ordinary literacy teaching is ineffective. Tom’s school used “Accelerated Reader” but it required 1:1TA support and ICT access so they are going to stop using it. His school is going to start using the Thinking Reading programme. Tom was very clear that he was not recommending this programme at this stage as he hadn’t started using it. 6TA’s will be trained in the delivery of this programme. Students will be taken out of lessons for 3 half lessons so they don’t miss an awful lot of the lessons they are being taken out of. Tome says he realises this programme is an investment but in a secondary school where you have students with a reading age of 9 you have to make that investment as because of the literacy problems these students can’t access the rest of the curriculum either. The way this programme work, each lesson will generate a score so Tom and his school will be able to evaluate the programme. Tom ended by appealing to teachers that if they are asked to participate in studies by universities they should say yes! As a governor what I took away from this session was the fact that if the board is asked to sanction spending money on an intervention strategy, then the board should ask for the evidence which supports that strategy and to evaluate that evidence thoroughly.

Tweets about Tom’s session are Storified here

Tom’s blog is here

David Didau Foxy Thinking: How to Use Research to Embrace Uncertainty and Take Sensible Risks

David’s talk was about knowledge and ignorance. David used Ted Hughes’ poem The Thought Fox as a metaphor for how we may be thinking about research (feeling our way through ignorance before grasping an idea). At the same time dealing with the “unknown unknowns” is like looking for a black cat in a dark room when the cat may not be there anyway. It is, therefore, easier to concentrate on the known knows. But certainty has problems too. We don’t know what we don’t know and we prefer people to be sure even if they are wrong. David then went onto talk about foxy thinkers (know many little things, know more about what they don’t know) and hedgehog thinkers (know one big thing, usually see what they want to see). The link to education comes from the fact that when we do find answers they may lead to more questions. Education is complex and trying to say that this is what good teachers do so you should too. Every tool we have (observations etc) have drawbacks and this makes people think teachers shouldn’t be held accountable. David argues that what we should be looking at is developing “intelligent accountability” so teachers feel trusted, supported and accountable. This will mean they will be concerned with “being” good rather than just “looking” good. This reminded me of the system John Tomsett has started introducing in his school where there is joint lesson planning, no observation and then a joint discussion to evaluate. As governors we need to strike the right balance between trust and accountability.

In other words, from this

to this

Above two images courtesy David Didau

Storify of tweets from David’s session can be accessed here

David has blogged about his session and also included his slides.

Sam Freedman: Five Big Policy Challenges for the Next Government

Sam started by warning us that this was going to be a depressing talk. But I think, firstly this needed to be said and secondly Sam did offer some possible solutions so not all doom and gloom!

Sam started by talking about school led system where improvement is led by a good school. This doesn’t mean that the school has complete autonomy over the “what” which should still be prescribed by the government but the “how” is up to the school. Though some chains are doing amazing stuff, on average academies are performing the same as other schools. Similarly although some free schools are doing very well its still too early to tell. There is no systematic evaluations of NLE’s/Teaching schools/School Direct. So, what can we conclude from this? School improvement can happen in chains and federations but that is due to effective deployment of good people. We thought 5-10% of school leaders had the capacity to be system leaders. But system improvement is much harder to achieve, harder than we realised and one reason for this is that we were London centric. We can now either make this work or go back to the government telling us what to do and national Strategies.

Sam then went on to talk about the five challenges facing education which are

  • Resources
  • Infrastructure
  • Teacher supply
  • Leadership
  • Expertise

These are actually all to do with capacity. As far as resources are concerned, this will be a great challenge for school boards. Boards will see £3 billion drop in 5-16 funding. If you govern urban schools you may see pounds being moved out of these schools to rural ones. Boards will have some very difficult decisions to make when funding cuts start hurting even more than they do now. Sam thinks universal free school meals will go. Welfare cuts will have an effect on schools too. If schools can think of ways top use teacher time more effectively then they may be able to make some savings.

Sam then touched upon the role of regional school commissioners. Although they play a hugely important role (and this will increase when they become responsible for “coasting schools”) not everyone seems to know about them. Sam thinks the government will either have to rethink the RSC role or reshape it into smaller areas. The role that LA’s play is another issue. When the student number bulge hits the secondary schools LA’s will face a school place issue which will be a challenge as LA’s can’t force academies to expand. The government may want to rethink this. Sam thinks that one of the biggest problems was the over expansion of chains which clearly not able or ready for this expansion. This is again an area where boards have to think really hard before they decide on joining MAT’s for example. They should explore all options, including those of smaller, local groups.

The next challenge is of teacher supply. Even in subjects such as English where we are told targets are beig met, schools are saying they are having difficulty recruiting. There is a “perfect storm” emerging due to economic recovery, falling graduate numbers and financial pressures on schools, Sam’s proposed that tuition fee for PGCE should be scrapped and there should be a central application system.

Leadership challenges are to do with the fact that Sam and other governors are finding that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit heads. Around half the heads will be retiring. There are not enough people who are equipped top do the executive head or chain CEO roles. Increased accountability is also putting people off, especially true of headships in challenging schools. Sam thinks this can be solved to some extent by non-teachers talking up chain CEO/executive head roles. I think this idea has merit and needs to be explored further by boards. As far as accountability is concerned Sam is of the opinion that schools need an inspection system, but the present system needs a rethink. What is needed is a system which will not penalise schools with low ability intakes.

The last challenge is that of expertise or lack of. There is lack of high quality CPD. Change has started to happen but it will take a long time to bear fruit. Assessment levels have gone but have been replaced by similar systems. Assessment expertise needs to be built up. Management expertise is lacking in schools and schools are panicking leading to teacher burn out. School environment for teachers has a huge impact on student outcome. Sam thinks we need to start thinking of bringing expertise from outside to improve school environment for teachers.

Sam’s session may have been “depressing” according to him but it was a very good session and he did present some possible solutions to the problems faced by education and educators.

Tweets from Sam’s session have been Storified here

Sam’s slides are here

Further reading:

Blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 1 are given below

Laura McInerney

John Tomsett

Carol Davenport

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2 thoughts on “Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

  1. Pingback: Governors and @researchED matters | Governing Matters

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