Regular readers of this blog and my twitter followers know that I am a bit of a conference junkie! One of the conferences I enjoy attending are researchED ones. I was really happy to have been asked by Claire Stoneman to do a session at the researchED Birmingham conference and to be part of a panel. We (Steve Penny and I; Steve had kindly offered to drive us to Birmingham) reached Erdington Academy at around 8.30am. After registering we made our way to the canteen for tea and a pastry and then to the hall for the start of the proceedings. Below is a short account of the sessions I attended and what I think their relevance to governance is.
Tom Bennett and the Claire Stoneman started us off, both explaining why researchED is so important. Tom talked about the importance of research informed practice if we were to progress as profession. He also appreciated the fact that people have given up their Saturday to be here and that the speakers are speaking for free. Claire said that organizing #rEDBrum was like throwing her ideal party. She told us about the context of her school and that she didn’t want her children’s future to be risked on a whim or fancy. We could not afford to waste time and children deserved the best education and teaching rooted in research. Not giving them this was akin to gambling with their future.
It was then time for the keynote address. This was given by Professor Daniel Mujis, Head of Research at Ofsted. My main takeaways from the keynote were
The importance of schools working as communities: A shared culture with a strong buy in from parents is important to improve behaviour and drawing on the culture of the community can help with this.
As governors, we need to ask ourselves if our school is actually a close knit community or not. Ask yourself if you know what the behaviour is like in your school.
Cultural capital isn’t equally shared and this is one reason for inequality. We should be teaching our kids a curriculum which adds to their knowledge and doesn’t replicate what they already know. Using pupil interest to drive the curriculum is a mistake.
When your head and senior leaders are discussing the curriculum with you, do you ask questions around cultural capital?
- Do you know your students and their backgrounds well enough to know if they lack cultural capital which other children may have?
- How does your curriculum help in reducing this gap as well as the inequality?
Healthy school environment where debate is encouraged is needed as democracy is built on it. For this to happen we need an environment where we different/opposing views can be aired and where we learn from each other.
- Do governors know if this happens in their schools?
- Do you have debate societies as well as an environment where people can learn from other cultures?
- Is there an environment where different views are heard and understood?
Does your school have a broad curriculum for ALL students?
- How do you ensure you are not giving them more of the same?
- Do you expose your scientists to literature and arts and your humanists to science and maths?
- Is there progression in what’s taught?
Prof Mujis ended his keynote by encouraging everyone to take part in the consultation into the new framework (consultation is open till 5th April).
The next session I attended was by Mark Lehain, provocatively titled, “Getting SLT to behave on behaviour”. He started off by asking the audience to think of an answer to the question, “Why educate?”. This is such a powerful question and the answer would determine why we do a lot of what we do. This might be a good exercise to do as a board. Mark went on to show us some stats. The number of teachers who told Teacher Tapp (a free app which asks three questions each day) that they dreaded going to work was a shock. A Delta poll found that 75% of the teachers polled thought that low level disruption occurs frequently or very frequently in their schools and 72% reported that a colleague had left the teaching profession due to bad behaviour. Mark asked the audience if the same was true of them and around half of the audience responded that they had left a school due to bad behaviour. As governors this should be of great concern to us for three reasons
- Teachers leaving the profession due to bad behaviour in schools will fuel the retention problem
- As governors we need to be mindful of the effect bad behaviour has on staff well being
- As governors we also need to consider the effect bad behaviour has on the well being and education of other students
- Are you aware what behaviour is like in your school?
- Are you aware how bad behaviour is tackled in your school?
- Do you conduct exit interviews?
Mark said that as a head his test was, “Is this good enough for Sophie (his daughter)?”. I think that is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves; is what we are doing good enough for our own children.
Session 1 was followed by a panel debate. On the panel were Stuart Lock, Heather Fern, Sonia Thompson and myself with Tom Bennett in the chair. Stuart, in reply to a question about culture, made a very important point. He said that we often talk about vision and culture rather than talking about things which actually affect what happens in schools. Stuart also made the case for prioritising professional learning and CPD for teachers. Heather posed some questions which I think are some governors could ask too. She asked us to consider
- Which subject has the strongest curriculum?
- How do you know?
- What can other departments learn from this subject?
Sonia, speaking from a primary phase point of view, said that designing primary curriculum was scary. This needed greater subject specific knowledge and progression of cultural capital.
When asked about a governor’s role in curriculum designing I said this, again, is one area where we need to be mindful of not stepping into the operational. Instead, we should be asking questions such as
- Do we have a broad and balanced curriculum?
- What do we think a child leaving our school should know?
- Does our curriculum follow a progression model?
- Is our curriculum in line with our school values and how do we ensure that it is? This is important as what is taught becomes the public declaration of out ethos and values.
- How do we ensure it is accessible to all?
- What CPD is available for staff to help them develop their subject knowledge and help them in curriculum designing?
Stuart agreed that the role played by governors is an essential one. It was good to hear an executive principal say this about governors/trustees.
For Session 2 I decided to attend Andrew Percival’s session who talked about his school’s development of a knowledge rich curriculum. If you have a curriculum in which you can change the order of things you are teaching then that is not a progression model. The five principles which Andrew’s school used to develop their curriculum are
- Acquisition of knowledge is at the heart
- Knowledge is specified in meticulous detail
- Knowledge is acquired in long term memory
- Knowledge is carefully sequenced over time
- Focus on subject disciplines
As governors, are you aware how your school is going about building its curriculum so it follows a progression model and builds up content in the long term memory? Andrew made another point which we as governors should be mindful of. He said building up a curriculum is a big and hard job. Heather, earlier in the day, had said that Ofsted is aware of this and realise and appreciate this. As governors we should be careful that we don’t expect to see a complete overhaul of our curriculum in a very short period of time. Ofsted don’t expect this and we certainly shouldn’t.
I next went to hear Summer Turner talk about subject communities. Summer said a subject community is not a place where someone tells others what to do; everyone be they a head or a trainee teacher is equally important. A subject community is where teachers, academics and other subject specialists can come together and exchange ideas. Summer thinks that perhaps these are more needed by primary schools. A subject community can facilitate subject specific CPD, evolve wider networks and help form a professional library which is subject linked. Summer thinks subject communities are vital for school improvement because they can
- Help with recruitment and retention
- Help with curriculum development
- Help with teacher development
I found this talk fascinating. I wonder what, if anything, governors can do (should we do?) to encourage our staff to join such communities. We can of course ask our leadership team if our staff have thought of subject communities as way of getting subject specific CPD. Governors, too, I think should be part of governor communities. One very good way of doing this is to follow @UKGovChat on Twitter and join governor groups on Facebook (School Governors UK, Jane-School Governor’s Group, Governing Matters are three such groups).
I then made my way to Stuart Lock’s session. Stuart talked about behaviour in his school. He said that he won’t say behaviour is impeccable because nothing can be perfect. However, it is good because when it’s bad school leaders deal with it. Stuart made the point that “sweating the small stuff keeps the standards high”. He also talked about culture and values and elaborated what he had said during the panel session. He thought culture is very hard to define and value statements can become “waffle”. Stuart said that they carry out anonymous staff surveys which keep them grounded. They also have open and frank discussions about pupil performance and these conversations do not form part of performance management so staff feel they are able to ask for help if they need it. It is also very important for them that the leadership is visible. Hearing Stuart speak made me think of some questions governors could ask themselves:
- How good/bad the behaviour is in your school?
- How do you know how good/bad the behaviour is?
- Do you know if policies are applied consistently?
- Do you know what staff, parents and pupils think about behaviour in the school?
- Do you see results of staff surveys? Do you do survey staff yourself?
- How do you ensure your school values aren’t just a statement of something nice to have? How does it distinguish you from other schools? If someone were to read your vision/values statement could they identify your school or is it so general that it could apply to any school in the country?
There were some brilliant speakers in the fifth and final session but as I was speaking myself I had to miss those. Slides from my session are here if you would like to have a look.
All in all, it was a wonderful day and I took away a lot from it. I’m very grateful to Claire for outing governance on the programme and for inviting me. Even if I had not been speaking I would have made every effort to go. I think it is important for governors to attend events other than pure governance events. As governors we need to be interested in education and this interest should go beyond governance in our own school. As governors we may, at times, feel slightly detached from what happens in classrooms, what do teachers think and the direction education and educational research is moving in. Attending events such as these gives governors a chance to meet and exchange ideas and views with teachers. It may help you to better understand what is happening in your school. These events are a great networking opportunity. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. And best of all, researchED events are very reasonably priced which is an important consideration for us volunteers.
My Wakelet collections of tweets from various sessions: