Well? What do you think? Really?

This blog starts with a riddle: Teachers do this on average 400 times a day and roughly twice per minute. This means that in total they will do this, on average, 70,000 times per year and between two and three million times in their careers. If they do it well children’s understanding and learning is transformed and if they do it badly they can halt a child’s enthusiasm and interest in a nanosecond.

So what is this thing that teachers do so often with such importance and power? Simple: Ask questions.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” Voltaire

There is one question which every parent hears. At times the question helps keep conversations flowing and at times it has parents begging for a moments time to think. That question is a simple, one word question: ‘Why?’

I remember, not too long ago, that my son’s favourite question was ‘why?’ Though at times I may have silently thought ‘please, no more whys…’ I appreciate just how important the question was for him understanding the world better. Every time he asked ‘why?’ in response to something which I thought I had explained excellently he was simply trying to find out more. Asking why was his opportunity to keep on finding out more and better understanding things.

We encourage children to ask questions at Coupals for a number of reasons. Children asking questions develop better skills around reasoning and critical thinking but most importantly questions help children to stay curious. But more than this the questions that children ask are used to check their understanding. In this context, if children don’t ask questions they are never taking the time to check their understanding.

But why?

So what about teachers? What type of questions do they ask?  Teachers ask questions naturally – it’s hard not to when you are working with children. But, like anything, some questions are good and some aren’t so good. We talk, as teachers, about open questions (where the answers are explanations) and closed questions (where the answer is a simple yes or no).

Neither of these better or worse than the other but how they are used is the important thing. Teachers are very good at selecting questions depending on what they want children to share. For example if they want a short answer they will ask a different question to if they want an explanatory answer. The best example of this is when your child comes out from the gate at the end of the school day. If you want your child to tell you about their day at school then asking ‘Have you had a good day’ doesn’t really work. All they will give you is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But ask ‘what did you learn at school today?’ and there is no easy one word answer (though you might get the stock, ‘I can’t remember’ until you’ve made it a little way down the road) that they can give.

We know that children ask questions to find out more and to check their understanding but why do teachers ask so many questions? There are lots of reasons for asking questions. Like children, we ask questions to check our understanding: think of any time a child is explaining a long, complicated description of an event to you. Checking understanding is essential. But most importantly teachers ask questions to check the understanding of pupils’ learning. There are lots of things that teachers can do to understand how well pupils understand, for example quizzes, written assessments and tests and questions. But no method is quicker, more immediate or useful than asking questions.

Teachers have to think about questions constantly. 400 a day is no mean feat and the best teachers I have worked with (at Coupals and in other schools) have refined their skills of asking good questions carefully over years of teaching. But you don’t have to be a teacher and spend hours of your life thinking about the questions you are going to ask. Any question gets children thinking. A question where they can’t simply answer yes or no will get them thinking in a deeper way. A beguilingly simple question such as a ‘thunk’ (see the Thinking Corner page of our website) will get children thinking deeply on a range of different levels.

Next time you ask a question make it trickier for the children. Don’t let them get away with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it will get them thinking. More importantly, it’s your chance to get them back for every time the asked ‘why?’…

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Farewell to the year

There are lots of things that could be said about 2016. Some call it an ‘annus horribilis’, others a ‘year to forget’ and no doubt, for someone, ‘the best of year my life.’ This blog has seen the best of both sides of the year. It has explored the loss that so many people have experienced through 2016 in my blogs about David Bowie, my friend Michael and the legendary (yet unheard of) Sharon Jones. It has been a year of interesting decisions and political changes too but that isn’t what this blog will focus on. No, instead this blog is going to take an unusual view of 2016: it is going to focus on the positives that our school have experienced in 2016.

So this blog, my last of 2016, will focus on the successes that we have had as a school and the things that I am most proud of. I have managed (just about) to narrow it down to 5 things but to say it was a difficult decision is an understatement.

So, here goes…

5. Results

I am a firm believer that results are a tiny part of a school and how successful it is (and this makes me unusual as a Headteacher compared to some Heads). However the last academic year which culminated in the SATs in 2016 was one of huge change at unprecedented rate. Amidst this turmoil our pupils achieved very well in both Year 2 and Year 6 compared to both the local and national pictures. We were proud of the results, but more of the pupils and how well they did.

4. Continued improvement

In November we had our annual Internal Review which was very positive and showed that the school has continued to improve over the last 12 months. The review highlighted that teaching over time is good across the school and that pupils across the school are making good progress. What I am even more proud of is that the staff aren’t quite satisfied with the improvements we have made and are keen for our school to continue to improve further in the future. I know for a fact that it will continue to improve and can’t wait to see these improvements (and their impact on pupils’ learning) in the future.

3. Visitors

Over the past couple of years as our school has been on a journey of vast improvement I have visited many schools to see the excellent things that they are doing. This year became a real turning point for us in the sense that we went from being a school that visited others to gain ideas to a school that other people visited to gain ideas. We have had people visit from lots of schools to see our approaches to teaching reading, our curriculum and our values. We are proud of the fact that that we are now in a position to support other schools and share the expertise that we have developed on our journey.

2.Primary School of the Year 2016

In July we were named Primary School of the Year in the 2016 Cambridge News Education Awards. Put simply, the recognition for everything that our team has achieved meant a lot to us.

1. The team

We have started the 2016-17 academic year with what I consider to be the best team of people we have had in the 5 years that I have worked at Coupals. The team of people in our school right now are the hardest working, most committed and open minded teachers we have ever had teach our pupils. Their dedication and determination to teach well, and to continue learning new ways to teacher better, is inspiring and is a huge benefit to the pupils in our school. This year has seen us begin the school year with teachers who have just completed the first term of their teaching careers. What has been wonderful to see is them developing and blossoming in to very strong teachers and to see them being supported by the rest of the team who have been keen to share their expertise in the interest of developing the next generation of excellent teachers. Not only are they incredibly hard working but they also have an exceptional sense of humour (evident in the flyposting of my office which has occurred more than once this year) which make working at Coupals a fantastic experience everyday. I am proud and privileged able to lead the fantastic Coupals team.

There were, of course, many other things that were successful that simply couldn’t fit in to this blog and I am sure that if you were to ask any member of the Coupals team they would have a slightly different top 5. The bottom line however is this: 2016 was a great year for our school.

The good news is that 2016 won’t be a rarity for our school. 2017 is already shaping up as an exciting year with work on our new building starting in January along with the launch of a new curriculum which will provide our children with amazing opportunities to develop their knowledge and understanding. 2016 was full of excitement and success of things that we hadn’t dreamed of this time last year. So which successes will I be reflecting on this time next year? It’s hard to say. But it will be an exciting journey to get there…

Happy New Year and here’s to a successful 2017 for our staff, pupils and families.

Sharon Jones – The queen of soul, heart and grit:

2016 has been a challenging year. Not in terms of politics (though as far as political years go 2016 has been a big one) but in terms of people that we have lost. I have already written two blogs about people who we have lost this year (David Bowie in January and a wonderful friend in March) but sadness filled me again in November following the loss of one of my musical heroes. The saddest thing in all of this however was that despite her enormous wealth of talent, she is almost unheard of in most households. Her music was amazing, her attitude exceptional and her grit and determination unmeasurable.

A long road to the top:

Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Georgia (USA) in 1956 and her journey to fame was anything but straightforward. From the age of 20 she dedicated herself to music, moving beyond her roots singing gospel in church to making a name for herself as a solo artist. The road wasn’t easy though and for years she received endless rejections frequently being told that she was ‘too old fashioned and unoriginal.’ But this didn’t put her off. Instead it made her more determined to succeed. She continued to work hard and look for opportunities over the next 20 years until finally her chance arrived.

In 2002, aged 46, she was asked to record with a band (an incredible band at that) called the Dap Kings for a recording session they were holding. Within minutes it was clear that she was an exceptional talent and was signed up immediately. From that session she went on to record several albums with the Dap Kings and received acclaim around the world for both her voice and incredible stage shows – the world finally realised what an exceptional talent she was.

Her grit, determination and resilience to rejection (of which there was a lot) saw her overcome doubters to prove that she had the skill and talent to become a performer in her own right. Regardless of your interest in music or whether you liked her music, her attitude to failure and refusal to fail is admirable and the key driver to her success. But also her patience was exceptional – how many people would wait 20 odd years for their opportunity instead of giving up and making excuses for why it never happened. This is just one of the many ways in which Sharon Jones was inspirational and is an amazing role model for learners. Sometimes it might take a long while to master or achieve the goal but without grit and determination it will never happen. As someone once said to me ‘if it was easy, everyone would have done it.’

High exepctations = high standards

I never got to see Sharon Jones live (I was due to in August of this year but she was unfortunately taken ill and the show was postponed) but any glance, even quickly, at live footage shows two things about her. The first is that she has high expectations of everyone around her. The Dap Kings are one of the best live bands I have ever heard and this comes down to her high expectations. There are fantastic stories of her approach to rehearsal in which she’d stop the band if someone was even a millisecond late for a beat. Her attention to detail and expectations for everyone to want to be the absolute best they can be are wonderful. She once (and this is a story I have heard a couple of times) told someone to leave the band because they were happy enough with the standard of their playing. This wasn’t good enough to be in the Dap Kings and Sharon Jones expected them to want to be the best around. To do that musicians can never be satisfied with how well their doing.

After each performance she would think back and critique herself and make notes on what she wanted to do better next time. Sometimes this was a single note and other times it was a whole song but she was never satisfied with how she performed. She could always do better than she did in her last performance. Like with her determination, her high standards are something that should inspire us as adults and also children as learners. If you always want to improve and do better, and take the time to reflect on how you can improve, you will continue to get better and better at whatever it is you are trying to achieve.

More than a musician?

Was Sharon Jones more than a musician? Of course she was. She was a role model for singers, musicians and people in general. But even better she should continue to be a role model for learners everywhere. Because, the bottom line is if any learner shows the patience and determination that Sharon Jones did to succeed and the desire to continually improve then success will be the only outcome.

As I told my wife after the news of Sharon Jones’ death: ‘She wasn’t just a singer, she was a force of nature.’

In memory of Sharon Jones: 1956 – 2016

How do you measure a school year?

For my final blog of the school year it seems poignant to look back at exactly what a school year is and most importantly how can you measure it? There are several questions there and several different answers which this blog will cover. A school year is more than the 11 months between September and July, it is a journey and voyage of discovery for every pupil and adult who works in any school. That sounds very grand, but speak to any reception parent about the spectacular range of things they have learned and the idea of a voyage of discovery seems the best description imaginable. But how do you measure a school year?

Statistics: 

I love statistics – I make no bones about this. But the thing with statistics, as someone once told me, is that if you question them long enough they will tell you whatever you want. So if we were to measure a year in statistics what would it look like?

  • 2470 work hours for teachers
  • 1295 teacher hours face to face with children
  • 11211 books marked
  • 81400 questions asked
  •  2 residential trips
  • 190 breaktimes and lunchtimes
  • 83 certificates awarded
  • 532 leaves given in assembly
  • 1 Primary School of the Year award (in case anyone had missed it)

Now as I said, I love statistics but this doesn’t even scratch the surface of a school year. So what does?

Progress:

I know I talk about progress a lot in my blogs but the reality is that this is what schools and teachers do, they support progress. As you would expect there has been some amazing progress made across the school by our pupils as a result of hard work on the parts of teachers and pupils alike.

We can easily measure a school year in progress of a school and the best way in which I can describe what this progress is like is by comparing it to a rowing crew (think Cambridge vs Oxford – come on the light blues). George Yeoman Pocock, legendary rowing shell maker, explained that when a rowing crew work perfectly, stroking the water at the same rate with minimal disruption of the water the result is quite simply perfection. In his own words he explained:

“To see a winning crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right.”

There is an equivalent to this in terms of a school. When all of the parts of the school, i.e. the pupils, the staff, the plans, all work the school also achieves the perfect harmony like Pocock described. When that perfect harmony occurs, so does progress.

The most powerful and simple way to describe the progress of the school is to acknowledge that every individual has had a huge impact on the school and the school a huge impact on every single individual.

Change:

I have blogged on several subject this year and a couple of times change has come up. Change happens a lot in education and schools and this year has been a year of massive change (but I’m still not ready to blog about the changes for Key Stage 1 and 2 – it’s too soon). But the kind of change I am referring to is that in individuals, adults and children.

This year I have witnessed first hand huge change in pupils across our school. I have seen pupils who lacked the confidence to answer a question on the carpet lead class discussions around some fairly hefty philosophical ideas. Likewise children with a complete phobia of maths end the year finding huge satisfaction in digging deep in to some challenging mathematical problems.

The same goes for adults too and the reason for this is simple: even if you’re an adult in school you are still constantly learning. Teachers who began the year nervous about new assessments or teaching approaches have ended the year as experts. Teaching Assistants who began the year nervous about having to learn new content to support in maths and English have ended the year with a knowledge which has helped lots of children.

Pride: 

There isn’t a unit to measure pride, but if there was I think it should be called a ‘Coupal.’ For the last two and a bit years I have always ended the year with an immense amount of pride. Pride of my pupils, pride of my colleagues and pride of our community. The thing I know most of all is this: each year I feel more proud of Coupals than the previous (even when I didn’t think it would be possible to be more proud).

This year is no different. I am hugely proud of Coupals and its pupils, staff and families who have all contributed so heavily to the success of the year. I am proud to work with the teachers, children and parents whose encouragement make the most challenging of things achievable.

So how do you measure a school year? 

The choice is yours. You can measure a school year however you prefer. The truth though is that a school year should involve all of these things: statistics, progress, change and pride (though not necessarily in that order). But maybe there is a simpler way. At the end of year I ask myself: ‘Am I proud of what we have achieved. Could we improve next year?’ If the answer to either of those questions is no, it’s probably time to for me to do something else. If I’m honest, I can’t see the answer being ‘no’ any time soon. Besides, I have got September to plan for…

Thank you to our pupils, staff and their families for their hard work and support this year. We look forward to next year and building on our successes (but not before a well earned break). 

This blog is for my friend Michael. I would have loved to have told him all about this year.

The best team around…

“The strength of each team is the individual. The strength of the individual is the team.” Phil Jackson

“Coming together is a beginning.Keeping together is a progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

The title of this blog is deliberately provocative. Who does the best team in the title refer to? The All Blacks? The German national football team? Leicester City? The Denver Broncos? My very own Swindon Town FC? All of these could fall under the banner of the best team (well apart from the last) but none of these are the team that I am talking about. There can be no question that success comes from a good team of individuals but if Leicester City have proven anything this season it is that the combined value of a team is far more powerful than the individual talents of the players. But this blog is not about Leicester City. It is about the team that I am lucky enough to lead. The Coupals Academy team.

But what makes the team special?

The extra mile 

Any group of teachers are inherently committed to making the lives of pupils better (if they aren’t then they have chosen the wrong profession – blunt but the truth). The team here at Coupals go the extra mile so frequently that a marathon of extra miles is achieved on an almost weekly basis.

The commitment I see from our staff goes far beyond the sight of the parents and is always heartwarming and awe inspiring in equal measure. The fact that most staff are in before 8.00am and leave at the last moment when the school is locked isn’t seen by parents but is the greatest example of their commitment. Every minute of their day is put in to making children’s lives better whether that involves planning lessons to meet every pupils’ needs or marking work specifically to ensure they know how to improve the following day. It is by no means a given that teachers in every school do this. But it is not just these aspects of our teachers’ work that impress me but the many other manifestations that going the extra mile can take.

Regularly I see our staff giving up their lunchtimes to give extra help to pupils or running extra sessions after school to help pupils achieve things they didn’t think they could. After busy weeks at school they give up their time to attend discos, Christmas and Summer Fayres as well as many other things because they care for our pupils, school and the community that it serves. But the thing that impresses me most about our team is that they don’t do this for themselves. They do it for others. It isn’t part of their job (as lots of things technically aren’t) but if they benefit the children, they do them. They demonstrate for our pupils the very principle of ‘others before self.’ This makes me a lucky Headteacher.

Adaptability

The past two years have been quite a journey for us as a school. The only way for a school to progress is for the staff to accept change and be adaptable. Culturally our school is a different place completely and so many things have changed for our staff. Following our last inspection we looked at everything that we do in school from top to bottom and there was a lot that needed changing. The problem with change is that people don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if the change is a new pair of shoes or a new way to work. At first it feels strange and people don’t like it.

Our school and our approach to teaching is a constantly changing and evolving thing. This is great news for our pupils. It is possible, in the wrong school with the wrong team, for this constant evolution to become negative and for staff to become rigid and unprepared to adapt. What never ceases to amaze me is the way in which our staff approach change. They are adaptable in their work in so many ways whether it be the introduction of a new approach, idea or strategy (and believe me in 2016 there have been more than a few but I’ll blog about that another time). But they are adaptable beyond changes we make at school. Our teachers plan for every eventuality and know the children in their care so well that they adapt and tweak everything they do. Why do they do this? Because they think the pupils they teach deserve the best and adapting when things aren’t working is the least they can do. It’s not easy but it’s important. And if it’s important for the pupils our team will do it.

Humour

There is no doubt in my mind that our fantastic team at Coupals are just about the most humorous that I have ever worked with. You might ask why humour is important to making our team successful. The truth is that to some teams it isn’t but to ours it is. When you work in a school that is trying to rapidly improve there is no doubt that the stakes are high and everyone feels under pressure. This has been the case for us at several times over the last 2 years. What helped us through the times when the pressure was on? Humour. And lots of it. It is hard not to be impressed by by our staff’s sense of humour and ability to see humour in every situation (even the darkest and most challenging). Nothing unites a team like being able to laugh. The best thing of all about the staff is that they can laugh at themselves and one another. But most of all, they’re very good at laughing at me.

You might still be wondering why humour is important. The bottom line is this: we want our teachers to take risks because risks lead to progress. The downside is that risks can lead to failure. Humour is the secret weapon here because if teachers can laugh when things go wrong (and sometimes they do go spectacularly wrong) being able to laugh about it helps us dust ourselves off and take another risk to improve something different.

There are several things that set our team apart from others and one of the (if not the) most prominent is the humour they approach everything with.

The real star of the team? 

When I think of the motto of Team GB at the 2012 olympics it strikes me as the attitude our team take towards their work: Better never stops.

Our team is an amazing one. Like any team it is made up of some exceptional human beings all of whom have taken on great challenges to achieve what they have done so far in their careers. Most importantly they have not taken on these challenges for their own reward but for something far greater. 

Howard Lay, Chief Executive of Samuel Ward Academy Trust, explained to me once that he didn’t go in to teaching to help a particular class of children or one particular school but to change the lives of as many young people as possible. That’s not only the case for him but for the rest of our team too. 

So who’s the star of our team? It’s simple.  There isn’t one when you have a team like ours. Because when you have a team like ours, the team is the star. 
 

Who’d be a teacher?

“You (teachers) have the most important job of anyone today. Our kids need you to advocate their futures.” George Lucas

If your eyes and ears have been even slightly open over the last couple of weeks you will have heard something or other about education and schools in the news. It might be Headteachers heckling the Secretary of State for Education at their annual conference or it might be about testing or other mishaps (we mustn’t mention the “oops that wasn’t the practice” practice SATs paper…). If I’m brutally honest education appears to most as a bit of a shambles at the moment (one could even in the words of Malcolm Tucker that it is an ‘omnishambles’). There is no doubt that it is a challenging time to be a teacher and I’m sure many people are asking the same question: Who’d be a teacher?

Challenges:

Anyone who tells you that teaching is not challenging is a liar. If you’ve told someone there are no challenges in teaching and are offended by my calling you a liar I don’t apologise (and I’m not taking it back)! Teaching is challenging. It always has been. And it always will be. There is always a lot of talk about change in education. Some find change good, some find it hard and some just try to ignore it altogether. The bottom line is that education has to change because if it doesn’t it becomes stagnant. No team, system or organisation has ever become better by staying the same. There is a famous quote from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper which says:

“The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘We’ve always done it this way'”.

Change is good. Scary, but good. The greatest challenge in education at the moment is not the change but the rate and manner in which it comes. This year alone for example we have seen huge changes to the way that Year 2 and Year 6 pupils are assessed and the way Reception are assessed when they enter to name but a few. Throw in the suggestion that all schools become academies (that’s a whole other blog) and resignations from several high profile headteachers along with schools budgets being reduced and it seems like education is doomed. Again, one has to ask why would anyone want to work in a profession where there is no good news?

The answer is simple. Because there is good news. You just have to look carefully for it.

Change can be good:

There are several changes that are taking place which are very positive but aren’t always as prominent in the news. Of course these are my opinions and one man’s good news is another’s catastrophe so my disclaimer here is this: This is my opinion of good news (and I do consider myself an optimist).

One of the biggest changes, and the most positive, is the change to the ways schools are inspected. Yes, there is some good news about Ofsted. There are lots of positive experiences being shared locally and nationally through networks such as Twitter explaining how positive inspection experiences have been. Inspection is now focusing more on evidence, such as pupils’ work, and how well the children are doing in school now rather than being heavily dependent on previous data which sometimes made schools judgements better or worse than they actually were (though this wasn’t often the case it has been known to happen on occasions). A bigger revelation is that, and this may require sitting down to comprehend, Ofsted are actually human. Sean Harford, their National Director for Schools, is a positive public presence. He dispels myths, follows up where negative experiences have been shared and responds to questions personally (I have experienced this when I had a question about a change to the school inspection framework). When Ofsted become a positive fabric in the tapestry of education there is a sign that change is in the air. When change is in the air it is a good time to be a teacher.

One of the huge changes which there has been a lot of complaint about is the removal of ‘levels’. If you ask me, this is one of the best news stories in education at the moment. For years we have used levels which rush children through a curriculum too quickly, worked on best fit (meaning that children are ‘assessed up’ when they are not ready to be) and made it impossible to track how well children have done from the start of school when they leave reception to the end of Year 6.

The removal of levels has given us massive freedom in how we assess and to assess pupils more, and in greater depth, on less curriculum content over a longer period of time. For the first time in a long time teachers are able to assess pupils on a day to day basis focusing on what they are getting better at and what they can do that they couldn’t do a day, a week, a month or a term ago.  This is a massive development and empowers teachers to assess in the best way they see fit for their children, the children they know best because they spend more time with them than they do their own children. But again, this is a positive news story so you might have heard about it in the news.

Opportunities:

Teaching is about opportunities. It is about providing them and about taking them. On average a teacher has over 1,000 interactions with children. Every one of these interactions is an opportunity to help children become something better. Whether it is a better communicator, listener, problem solver or just to feel valued, teachers have the power to make these opportunities count and change young people’s lives. The best teachers understand this and realise what a privilege it is to have these interactions everyday. As John Hattie says ‘Know thy impact.’ The knowledge of how much of an impact a teacher makes on young people should be enough to make anyone want to be a teacher.

Now, more than ever, there are lots of opportunities for teachers. When I began teaching (and that wasn’t all that long ago really) opportunities to develop as a teacher were fairly limited. The best you could really hope for was a one day course run by the Local Authority, whoever that Local Authority was. Jump ahead 11 years and there are opportunities to develop all over the place. The development of Teaching Alliances, such as our own fantastic Suffolk Borders Teaching Alliance which is part of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, mean that schools have direct access to professional development (training in everyday money) which helps to develop teachers on their doorstep. Our school are beginning to develop a model of in-class professional development in September which means that teachers will begin to receive their development without having to even leave their classrooms. Throw in resources such as Twitter which help teachers link up to share ideas, resources and opinions and in the words of Edwyn Collins ‘the opportunities are endless.

So why would you want to be a teacher?

For me the answer is simple, but the question is wrong. The answer is this: the pupils, the opportunities, the challenge, the variety, the passion of those around you, testing yourself, aspiring to be better and wanting to make a difference to those children you spend over 950 hours a year with.

But as I said that’s the wrong question. The real question should be this:

“Why wouldn’t you want to be a teacher?”

Progress

“Strive for progress not perfection.” Unknown 

In schools we talk about progress a lot. In fact barely a day goes past without us mentioning progress when talking about pupils. Like anything that is measured and reported, progress becomes something which we often don’t question (we being teachers, parents and pupils). The problem is if we don’t question we often don’t understand.

What does progress actually mean? 

Though we can over complicate it, progress is actually very simple. Progress is simply measuring improvement. In a typical day in school we will see progress in a vast number of ways and that is one of the reasons why working with children is such a fantastic job. This week was a fairly typical week (actually, there is no such thing – but that’s another blog) and there are three good, but very different, ways in which I have seen progress from pupils in our school.

I’ll start with the most obvious – pupils’ work. Throughout the week I have been looking at children’s books to see their writing in English lessons. My mission with this task was a simple one. To identify if their writing had improved since September. I was so impressed with the Year 1 books (the first group I looked at) because it was evident at a quick, cursory glance that the progress the children have made in writing was huge.

The next came from a pupil who had been struggling with an aspect of maths. This particular child was working on a topic which often causes stress, anxiety and very occasionally (and I mean VERY occasionally) excitement: ratio and proportion. In the first lesson on Monday the subject content was very difficult and the pupil got several questions wrong. On Tuesday the content was still tricky but the pupil got more questions right. By Wednesday the content was easier but still tricky and the pupil had got even more questions right than the day before. The thing about progress is that this pupil, during the week, made more progress than other children who found the topic far easier. The beauty of progress is that it is a great leveller and focuses on how much children have improved from their starting points (which of course are all different), whatever they are.

The final example of progress came from a pupil in reception. This step of progress was probably the most simple but was the most satisfying for any of the pupils I have written about. A little boy in the class has been struggling with doing up his zip independently. He has been trying hard since September to master his zip and this week has finally done so. It doesn’t seem as dramatic as the other examples but does that make the progress any less? Not at all. Because as someone once said “A little progress every day adds up to big results.”

How do measure the immeasurable? 

Noticing progress is one thing but how do you measure it? In schools we often like to use numbers and then percentages to tell the story of what progress in our schools looks like. Of course the problem is that children don’t make progress in perfectly proportioned chunks of time or at the same rate as one another. So if this is the case measuring it can’t be easy. Can it?

Schools are going through a time of great change at the moment. We are moving to a system of inspection which is more focused on looking at evidence in pupils’ work than looking at pages of numbers and figures. So rather than looking at what the numbers on a page tell us we look at what the pupils have actually done in their learning. It sounds very much like common sense doesn’t it?

At Coupals we have begun to work like this since September. Our first stop when looking at pupils progress is looking at their work in books or even on their online learning journeys in reception. This works well because the best way to look at how much progress they have made is to look at what they could do at one point in time and then another before comparing the difference in what they can do. We start our conversations with the simple question: what can they do now that they couldn’t do before?  It’s also a useful thing for parents to do as well. It’s easy for us tell you how a child has progressed in terms of scores but sometimes the best thing to do is to think about that question. In fact I’d offer that as a challenge to you if you’ve taken the time to read this blog. Next time you have the chance look at the things your child has done (their learning journey on Tapestry, their English book or even their drawings on the fridge) and look back over the last month or so. What is better than it was before? That’s progress.

A parent’s perspective of progress 

This week, like our parents, I attended Parent Consultations at my son’s school. I love seeing how much he has grown and progressed as a learner since he started school in September. When he entered reception he had little interest in writing (or even holding a pen in fact) and has now become a voracious writer, sketcher and reader.

The thing that I have noticed the most about him in terms of progress is that the greatest progress he has made is not in the things he can do but in the person, and learner, that he has become. The greatest progress that my son has made in his first two terms of school are around his attitude to learning and his work ethic. He shows resilience when things are tricky but a real enthusiasm for learning new things. You would be hard pushed to put a number or figure on how much progress that shows since the start of the year.

The progress of the person is one of the most important, and overlooked, areas of progress we deal with in schools. Maybe next time you think about the progress that your child (or class) is making in their learning remember to take the time to think about the progress they’re making as a person. It’s harder to define but it’s just as important (or dare I say it, more important).