#EducatingNorthants – the start of something special

Firstly, I should apologise for the delay in publishing this blogpost. #EducatingNorthants and 30th March seems like a long time ago now, but the business of the last week of the spring term, followed by the Easter holidays has interrupted my intentions to write this for some time.

If you have read any of the blogs about #EducatingNorthants already, you’ll have read about the challenges and contexts of working in Northamptonsire schools, where staff retention and recruitment is challenging, where there is a need to further improve outcomes and opportunities for young people with fewer resources, where there is a need to open young people’s minds to the world beyond our borders and a changing labour market. It would be easy to look at these challenges, and the national media’s reporting of education and come to the decision that teaching in or working in our schools is not worth it, but #EducatingNorthants didn’t feel like that. It didn’t feel like a day of doom and gloom; in fact the complete opposite.

BBC News Education Homepage – 22nd April 2019

#EducatingNorthants was a meeting of minds; of teachers; of senior leaders and of colleagues from outside schools who want to improve the educational outcomes and opportunities for young people across our schools. I left the conference on Saturday 30th March feeling inspired about the potential we have in our county, optimistic about the opportunities and actions that would become the outcomes of the day, and most importantly, full of belief and reassurance that the work we are doing in our schools is going to have a positive impact for the young people in our care. I’ve tried to collate my thoughts into two sections below; my takeaways for teaching, learning and assessment and my takeaways for leadership. I’ll come back to some of this in future blogs to talk about the direction we’re travelling in our school and context.

Teaching, learning and assessment takeaways

  • We need to spend more time as curriculum teams thinking about what exactly we are assessing; the practice for assessment or the actual practice of assessment. Daisy Christodoulou‘s example of a football game is a brilliant analogy – during training you wouldn’t regularly practice a full 90 minute game (practice of), but rather breaking the discrete skills down and practicing the elements that are needed for success, set pieces for example (practice of). I had a brilliant conversation with a teacher during the last week of term about this. The teacher was finding that their Y11 class were struggling with answering extended questions so was setting one every week as homework but they weren’t getting any better. Practicing the actual assessment wasn’t actually helping. What the teacher needed to do was identify the elements that were not working and practice those instead.
  • Daisy used a brilliant analogy for data and assessment that hit home and has already become a true measure of our assessment structures moving forward. We want our assessment system to be the thermostat, with the information gained being used to take action, rather than just being the thermometer which would tell us information but not make any changes next. If we are not doing anything with the information gleaned from assessment, then let’s stop measuring it.
  • I love a good MCQ to test understanding of students but Daisy reminded us of something so simple but oh so important. Our MCQ and the possible answers we provide students must provide us with a real test of student understanding. The example of good distracting answers below was such a powerful reminder when judging the efficiency of assessment.
  • Carry less, do more was a theme when it came to James Pembroke‘s session about data collection and turning this into meaningful and useful information. We have already started reducing the amount of data we collect but Jame’s thoughts particularly about our desires to turn raw data into something else have resonated with us and are forming part of the thinking for the next stage of our refinements. We have to make sure that we only collect, use and report information that is accurate and therefore trying to shoe-horn it into something that is not is useless!

Leadership takeaways

  • One of the presenters used a phrase (not necessarily their own!) that I wrote down as it really resonated with me: “we don’t do that here as it has no impact on learning of students”. I think we are on a winning journey in our school and we have already removed lots of things that have no impact on student learning or outcomes, but I think there is a real opportunity for leaders in our school, and others, to be brave in removing things that have no positive impact and only introducing things that have been fully considered from all perspectives.
  • My final takeaway from the brilliant #EducatingNorthants was about optimism and ambition. Working in education is tough at times, but it remains the careers that gets me up every morning and gives me opportunities that I never imagined. Teaching allows me to meet incredible colleagues who are committed to supporting young people and it allows me to interact with young people who are full of belief and enthusiasm about the world they are about to enter. With all of the challenges around us, it would be easy for leaders and teachers to bring a sense of gloom and doom across young people, schools and their staff. #EducatingNorthants has reminded me of lots and made me think, but most importantly it has reminded me that as teachers, but leaders in particular, one of our primary roles is instilling a sense of belief in our colleagues and students. Regardless of what is going on around us, schools in Northamptonshire, our school included (I am slightly biased) are doing brilliant things and making a real differences to the life chances and success of young people. We must remember that every day, remind colleagues of this and praise the students in our care who have got great futures.

I am incredibly proud to work in education, and in Northamptonshire, not least because if the buzz and enthusiasm of #EducatingNorthants is anything to go by, the future landscape of schools in our county is going to be incredible. I’m excited.

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