How best to make an Impact on a child’s learning – consistent, insistent, persistent application of the right approach.

One of the better independent commentators on Education matters I follow is the Teaching Times, an on-line journal for our industry, published by the Imaginative Minds Group, led by publisher Howard Sharron.

In “Ofsted Is In Denial; Special Needs Do Exist” – Suzanne O’Connell, Editor of their Every Child Update service reminds us that Ofsted is in such trouble over its spectacular failures over the past 18 months that credibility in its work is at an all time low. The article is a splendid short essay highlighting that passionate rhetoric and the setting of high bars for all is a simple denial of the human condition of the whole of childhood around us. SEN and Disability exist, as do considerable issues of Mental health. Suzanne concludes her article “It might be unduly pessimistic and I might be an enemy of promise, but the new consultation provides no guarantee that SEND will hold the attention of inspectors in the way that it should. Neither will it provide those schools who battle daily to support their SEN pupils with the platform they need to celebrate their achievements.”

I quote from her article, specifically focusing on the way children learn, Ofsted has this to say ‘all children and learners progress well from their different starting points and achieve or exceed the expected age-related standards, and/or attain relevant qualifications so that they can progress to the next stage of their education into courses that lead to higher-level qualifications and into jobs that meet local and national needs.’ 

Who can write such complete tosh about all of our children? You can’t have everyone achieving or exceeding age-related standards between say Years 2 and 3 without displaying a worrying ignorance of  child development, unless you set the bar very low indeed. International comparisons highlight that in much higher achieving countries such as Finland, school doesn’t start until Year 2. Child development does not assure anyone that at this stage, the cognitive development of all 7 year olds is sufficiently advanced to set baselines for all children. It’s agenda-driven inspection of ‘stuff’ like this that has led Ofsted to miss so much of the big picture problems reported  in the article.

Considering the same view at upper secondary level, is it really possible in our sceptered isle for everyone, whatever their starting point to leave education through higher level qualifications into jobs that meet local and national needs? This is such a depressing, reductionist view of the purpose of education, and in many senses is of course uninspectable. Education is simply not there just to fill our factories and production lines, or provide workers for the NHS and Military, City and Country alike. Education is so much more than this, multi-faceted and diverse, occurring not just in schools, but at home together and apart from family and in the weft and weave of life itself.

I don’t work for OfSTED, but am a Reporting Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, where I am tasked with managing whole inspection teams to judge schools against their aims and national standards. Separately, I design and develop national training courses for schools in England to design and build their curricular challenges and for future headteachers so they develop the skills to lead and manage, and know the difference between those 2 challenges. Working with the former Head of our Girls School, Lizbeth Green, I have learned from her just how different the expressed purpose of education is in the Scottish system. Here’s the declared purposes (4 of them, called capacities) north of the border:

The four capacities. The purpose of the curriculum is encapsulated in the four capacities – to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. The curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future.” This makes rather good reading – employment will follow because those capacities are built, as will perhaps a more fulfilled individual and a better society beyond.

In the Claires Court Essentials, we try even harder, and our curriculum continues to develop such that it is well mapped against those values, characteristics and ways of working. I am not saying success is assured, but I am that our children stand a much better chance of developing the multiple skills and interests, emotional intelligence and thick skin because we have thought of all those needs, and tested them sufficiently during development in school so they’ll stand the test of time beyond.

My work over 40 years in education has helped me understand how important it is that we work authoritatively and with a great evidence base of research to build upon. Here’s an example of that in action. Head of Sixth Form Andy Giles and his colleague, Stephanie Rogers, Assistant Head with responsibility for Careers and Enterprise education, are leading at a national conference for Sixth Forms in London this Friday. Take the opportunity to flick through their presentation on the co-curricular work we have developed for our Year 11 through Sixth Form to undergraduate population beyond. You don’t need to hear their talk to appreciate the quality and depth of their work, highlighting as it does how students can make choices and commit to gain significant vocational skills and experiences along the way that can only enhance the quality of experience they gain in their Sixth Form years, additional to gaining the academic grades…’so that they can progress to the next stage of their education.’

One of the points of their presentation is that all Sixth Form centres can aspire to produce the extra financial resources to make this happen – and in so doing build deeper and more complex opportunities for more in their community to succeed in the future. Working alongside Andy and Steph, I am demonstrating the cloud-based solution we have developed over the last 5 years that now encompasses all of our provision, which enables specifically schools to improve yet further the 4 most important value-adds for teaching and learning. Google Classroom, Apps and environment specifically assist in building opportunities for collaborative learning, enable teachers to give feedback whilst work is building rather than just corrections and marking at the end, massively improve opportunities for peer learning and innovation, and through making choices and thinking about how to reimagine work, significantly improve metacognition and self-regulation.  Google Apps are of course not something that brings in new revenue, but since they are free for schools,  you might wonder why so many institutions are not yet involved?

Two diverse solutions from one institution, both seem to ensure that children of diverse needs can be catered for and inspired, not just for now, but for the longer term. The multiple skills needed, for both the real and virtual worlds will be acquired most successfully because the learning approach we use embraces the ways that make the most impact, and we consistently apply these ways over the child’s career with us. If I may rewrite O’Connell’s words “Either choice, through consistent, insistent, persistent use, though better both, will provide those schools who battle daily to support their  pupils, whether SEN, AG&T or just plain enthusiastic, with the platforms they need to celebrate their achievements.”

About jameswilding

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