Newsletter Monday 12 May 2014 – ‘Discovering the Excellent’


Next week, our ISI Inspection report is to be published, and everyone linked to our school is more than eager to give it a good read. I have already blogged that the Inspectorate had an ‘excellent’ Inspection – suffice it to say that our teachers and pupils had an excellent one too.

Given that much of what I stand for seems at odds with the prevailing acerbic and confrontational views coming from DfE, what have we done that makes such a difference? How can broad ability education from age 3 to 18 have such positive outcomes?

I suppose I could direct you, Dear Reader, to wait until the ISI report is published on Monday or to read my previous blogs, of course. But actually reading about outcomes for Children is not the same as discovering what the input looks like.

So here’s a short video for you to watch from the TED series – Ideas worth Spreading.

The Myth of Average

Todd Rose

Last June 2013, L.Todd Rose presented his ideas about ‘The Myth of Average’ at the TEDx Event held at Sonoma County Day School in Santa Rosa California. It is worth your review!

“Todd Rose a High School dropout turned Harvard faculty talks about how a simple new way of thinking helps nurture individual potential. Designing for the Average reaches ZERO students and individuals, we need to personalize learning, adjust learning according to strengths and weaknesses, and Ban the Average. Design to the Edges.”

For many years, working in schools with adults and children, I have extolled the values of ‘Normalising the Extraordinary’, and I feel Todd’s instruction that there is no such thing as ‘Average’ is fit for our times. He highlights the notion that an average adult size is made up of lots of different measurements (height, weight, reach, torso, and so forth), and that scanning all those measurements highlights that no-body has the same profile. Describing anyone person’s list of measurements as a ‘jagged’ profile, as seen in the 2 sets here, it’s easier to see this visualised:

His specific example relates to the US air-force, who directed their cockpit manufacturers to stop designing for the average, and start ‘designing to the edges’. The message then  in 1952 was ‘Ensure that all elements of the pilot’s space can be adjusted so that the environment fits’.

Getting the best out of the curriculum and the assessments you use

Most schools in the UK are going through a rigorous look at their current curriculum, because of course both the National Curriculum for KS1-3 and the public examinations curriculum have been ordered to change by DfE. Through this last year, my colleague Liz Green (ISA consultant) and I have been designing and delivering courses in School Development, Assessment and Curriculum design, and we have met up and down the country some very committed teachers who have attended our sessions and checked their thinking against ours.

What has come quite clear is that we can’t recommend one assessment tool over another, and that’s because each tool measures learning in a slightly different way to another. And even though Granada Learning and CEM centre have suites of tools which imply that just using their ‘set’ will work, actually as the previous picture indicates, we actually need to see a ‘ragged’ profile so we can see more clearly what strengths and weaknesses the child has.  All we can say is don’t use too many tools too often, and don’t be shy of developing your own standards, unique to your classroom and school.

What we strongly recommend is that, where possible, children need to receive direct instruction to acquire the knowledge and understanding of the skills they need to deploy in their work, and then be given the freedom to explore specific topics and areas of work so that they put their skills to the test.

Liken what we ask of the child to how you might ask them adjust the driving position for them in a 21st century car. “Learn how to use the tools in the car, move the rake, height, distance etc. so that you are best set for driving as best you can, feet on the pedals, hand on the wheel, eyes right for the mirrors, and then go play”. Be certain that you have in mind your destination for each of the learners in your care, but don’t prescribe route, do encourage them to work with others and allow them to take some wrong turns and blind alleys.

Schools and their Digital provision – ‘Going to the Cloud’

Make no bones about it – what we have been able to achieve over the last 6 years since ISI were last with us, and recommending that we tackle the consistency of provision of ICT across the school is little short of amazing.  I put the vast majority of the credit down to a mix of hardware, software and technical brilliance – Samsung hardware, Google Apps for Education, and a mix of technical wizardry from our own staff and Ian Nairn of C-Learning,

I continue to see schools pretty much every Monday in term time, as they visit Claires Court to learn more about our use of GAFE, Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, Tablets and iPads.  As a member of the ISA Inspections committee, I get to read a good number of Inspection reports on our own schools, and more generally I review the Literature across the English speaking world to see what is working well.  Here’s my top 10 tips for ensuring your school makes an effective transition into the use of Cloud based Digital tools in the classroom.

1. The School leaders must agree with the programme and spend the time to be the best learners of what to do. ‘Going to the Cloudrequires school leaders to commit fully.

2. Makes sure you have great WIFI services in your school.  Providing that you have an OK internet connection, you can go to the Cloud. Chromebooks require ‘WIFI’ connectivity to work, and though Tablets don’t need ‘WIFI’ all the time, their use is extremely limited without.

3. Develop some of your staff to be the Lead mentors, go-to people who can help others when bite-size training is needed to resolve confusion.

4. Staff training is essential and it will be time consuming. You can’t learn to go to the cloud quickly; set aside half-day and day-long events so that mastery of the tools is acquired.

5. Model one tool at a time, and sequence the introduction of other tools.

For example, Going to the Cloud needs to include moving to a web mail service. Do this first, and switch off your school-based email client for teachers quickly.

Work with teachers so that every subject curriculum has explicit use of the tools embedded in it. For example, when developing writing skills in English, state when word-processing is to be used, when presentations are to be used, when mind maps are to be used and when story-boards are to be used.

6. The Best thing about Cloud-based computing is the ability it gives learners to collaborate – use this aspect lots.

7. ‘Going the Cloud’ is one of the things you are going to do – not the only thing. Blend the use of digital resources with other ways of working, and don’t overdo the Digital variety.  Children are not Digital natives, they are no better at using technology than they are reading and writing. They need to be taught some stuff and be allowed to use it for themselves.

8. Finds ways of Celebrating Good Digital work, and use those examples to show other pupils and teachers how they might use Digital tools to help them in their classrooms.

9. Use Digital Technology to do things differently. If all you do is swap handwriting for typing, and drawing for taking pictures, then you will see no learning gains. And children will be no more excited by this ‘new’ work than the ‘old’.

10. Give parents advice on how they can help at home. Parents won’t really have any idea about school and Digital learning, so they’ll need opportunities to learn.

Above all direct parents that children must not use Digital technology late into the evening. Kit needs to be switched off at least 1 hour before sleep. Phones need to switched off too – enough already! Adults are able to understand addiction and adjust their behaviour appropriately. Children can’t and Internet addiction is with us everywhere.

Which Cloud-based tools are best?

There are many tool that schools can use, but first things first, you need to choose your Ecosystem. Unless you have a core set of agreed tools to use, then you can’t have a planned implementation in your school.

For Education, you can’t do this implementation on your own.  You need some friends and technical help. Like installing a new telephone system in your school complete with switchboard, you are unlikely to pop down to Maplin and buy the kit in boxes.

Google Apps for Edu (GAFE)

The Ecosystem is free for schools, so long as they set up their account with Google for Education. This gives you 5 core tools – GMAIL, DOCS (productivity tools such as word processor, spreadsheet, forms, presentations and a drawing tool), SITES (website creation tool), CALENDAR, GROUPS (so you can manage your classes).

Cost will include buying VAULT so you have your staff GMAIL covered for archiving, e-discovery and information governance capabilities.

You’ll need to spend on CPD – you can’t learn these tools with being taught!

In addition, a whole world of other organisations are creating Apps that integrate with GAFE, and that’s developing into a specific platform called Play for EDU sometime this year in the UK.  If you want to use GAFE on PCs, then the only extra item you need to instal on the PC is Chrome browser as GAFE is designed to work best with Chrome.

GAFE is my best buy, because it is lean, changes gently and is managed from the website end. ITHelp don’t need to go near your device normally.

When as a school you sign up for Google Apps, you pay for 30GB of Google Drive and email storage space for each mail account, for the programs that let you manage an unlimited number of email accounts on your domain, and for phone support. Google Apps for Education and Google Apps for Nonprofits are free. All packages can handle an unlimited number of users.  GAFE accounts do not attract any advertising, so you and your school are spared a commercial world.

Microsoft Office 365

Includes all the Office productivity tools Microsoft users are familiar with. If you are a high end corporate user, and you have SysAdmins ready to spring to support school and family devices, then since there is no real change (except you now have Office 2013 tools) then you’ll probably take the financial hit and go this route.  For a serious comparison between GAFE and 365, here’s a detailed report. The reality for schools is they are unlikely to want to go down the Surface Tablet route because of cost, and the high-end maintenance and support needed for Office 365 will largely rule it out.

Your teachers and pupils need an ecosystem that is simple to learn and use. Later on in life, if they join the corporate world, they may need to upgrade their knowledge and skills a little.

Apple iWorks

As yet there is no integrated school ecosystem for Apple Cloud based learning.  That’s not to say you can’t go iPad, but you’re likely to want to adopt GAFE so you gain the benefits of their Drive and Tools, and so that children can get to their work even when they don’t have an iPad near them.

Accessing training for Google Apps for Education

The final training session of the ISANet year is being hosted at Claires Court, Saturday 14 June. Courses gather at 9.30 for a 10am start and finish at 4pm.

Paul Farrell <> organises these courses now, and I do strongly urge you to contact Paul about this course or indeed any other training needs you might have for your staff.

And finally…

  • Who’d have thought our Secretary of State would have raided the Cookie Jar for £400 million to cover the costs of his Free schools?
  • As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile, here some evidence that man has run 1 mile in 4 minutes some 200 years earlier.
  • If you want an alternative philosophy to identify the culprit and punish, have a good read of Pernille Ripp’s alternative ‘Instead of Punishment’ from her ‘Blogging through the Fourth dimension’
  • Where have all the Girls gone in mixed state schools from A level Sciences? Probably voted with their feet since the ‘press’ consistently given to how easy subjects now are at school. Honestly, for George Osborne and Elizabeth Truss to bemoan the fact that our schools are not producing scientists is just too rich. From the Telegraph “He said a dramatic change was needed in schools to overcome the perception that science and engineering is part of Britain’s “great industrial past” with little relevance to the 21st century”.  The article goes on to highlight that the comments were echoed by Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, who said the country was blighted by “science deserts” where few teenagers study the sciences to the age of 18.  But don’t worry dear Reader about a scientific life for our own girls – diamond shaped independent education seems to offer the very best of all worlds, including excellent female Physics at A level.
  • Time to celebrate women’s roles in Science then  – what about Dorothy Hodgkin, born in 1910, Nobel prize in 1964 for her pioneering work in X-Ray crystallography, here’s her diagram of the Penicillin molecule, all wrapped up in a Google doodle:

dorothy hodgkin

Have a great week – and for those able to attend the ISA Annual conference at Coombe Abbey, I’ll see you there.

James Wilding and


About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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