Creating a culture for academic excellence

I wrote this last week for our school blog. Thought I’d repost it here too for anyone who missed it:

Class Teaching

more able

In this week’s 15 minute forum, English teacher Andy Tharby discussed how we can create and sustain a fertile culture for academic excellence.

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Our school is situated in a coastal town and has an intake that covers a large social demographic. We are currently asking an interesting question: how can we help students from all backgrounds and academic starting points achieve academic excellence? One small but significant group of students have been at the forefront of our attention – those who achieved highly at KS2, but are making less progress than those who arrived at lower starting points.

In The Hidden Lives of Learners (2007), the researcher Graham Nuthall (2007) theorised that there are three interlinked worlds that shape a student’s learning:

  • the public world of the teacher;
  • the highly influential world of peers;
  • the student’s own private world and experiences.

If we are to help more students achieve academic excellence and aspire to the top then we need to tap into each…

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Hop, skip, jump: the origin of useless teaching & learning policies

hop skip jumpImage: @jasonramasami

Jonny Edwards is a great teacher. Everyone says so: his pupils, his colleagues and his end of year results all bear witness to the fact.

One day, during Jonny’s free period, the school’s inquisitive new CPD leader, Dave, comes to see him.

“Jonny,” he says, “I’d love to learn the secret behind your classroom success. What’s the magic ingredient?”

“Ah,” says Jonny with a mischievous glint in his eye. “Then you must come and see the first few minutes of my next lesson. Watch carefully.”

Later that day, Dave, clipboard in hand, finds himself seated in the back row of Jonny’s Y11 class. The class file in, settle down, open their books and write down the lesson title. All is fairly standard until, precisely three minutes into the lesson, an extraordinary event occurs.

Jonny stands at the front and calls the class to attention. Once every eye is settled on him, he turns himself ninety degrees so that he is facing the door. He lifts one foot from the floor and jerks forward; next comes a shuffled canter; finally a two footed jump.

“Right class, let’s get started!”

Our new CPD leader is amazed; he has never seen anything quite like this before. Who knew that teaching could be this simple? Hop, skip, jump!

For the next few weeks, Dave starts to practise Jonny’s manoeuvre on his own classes. Sure enough, he starts to notice an improvement. If he starts his lessons with a triple jump three things happen: students work harder, they appear more attentive and the quality of their work improves. Incredible.

Over the next few months a transformative new teaching and learning policy is rolled across the school: The Triple Jump Start. A full INSET day is set aside in which Jonny guides teachers through the routine, step by step. The nuances are important. You should stand directly in the centre of the room. You should hop forward an optimal 80 centimetres. You should land with both arms outstretched. You should, like Jonny, raise your eyebrows at the moment of landing. The perfect Triple Jump is performed with a soundless poise and grace.

While some teachers appear slightly quizzical about the new policy (one culprit is reprimanded by the headteacher for being unable to stifle a high-pitched squeal during Dave’s insistence that planning one’s triple jump routine should take precedence over planning the content of one’s lesson), the staff seem broadly supportive. After all, the school is failing and nothing else has seemed to work.

For the next term, Dave insists that every teacher hones their triple jump routine. Dave understands that teachers are tricky customers so he announces that from the first week of February there will be a series of lesson pop-ins: the focus will be on the implementation of the Triple Jump policy. SLT will expect to see it at the start of every lesson. And, he assures a few concerned faces, don’t you worry if we come into your lesson a little later – we will quietly check in with a member of the class to see whether you have already performed it.

By the end of the academic year, The Triple Jump policy is in full swing and Dave has hard data to prove it. In January, only 2.5 percent of teachers – i.e. Jonny – were opening classes with a hop, a skip and a jump; now, at the end of July, there are only three sticking points – two recalcitrant English teachers and a wheelchair-bound R.E. teacher. This amounts to a staggering ninety percent take-up rate!

Come August, come exam results day. The school’s progress data is still well below national average but, encouragingly, it demonstrates a five percent improvement on the previous year.

It’s an upward trajectory! The start of the Great Leap Forward! In the following year, The Triple Jump becomes a cornerstone of the school’s teaching and learning policy. (It is rumoured that Ofsted, in their next inspection, will want to see it implemented by every member of staff).