A dame and an inspector 

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a conference led by Dame Alison Peacock and Mary Myatt, two highly respected educationalists. I had eyed up this day back in June and not only persuaded my Head to let me attend, but also to come along himself with the deputy. Firstly I am so pleased they did, I think sharing these experiences with the SLT team helps you forge ahead as a team. It was a beautiful setting, at Sprowston Manor, and it was full of Norfolk’s finest, including some talent pool colleagues of mine from a couple of years ago, so sharing what we have all experienced was good too.

Dame Alison led the two morning sessions, sharing with us the values and visions of her now well-renown school in Wroxham. The back story of her evacuee-father tasting mushrooms for the first time that he had picked himself with his ‘foster’ family, and his reminiscing of that throughout her life, gave some insight into how experiences people have as children impact their lives, have led her to develop this solid and frankly, sensible vision. ‘Offer opportunities, keep the door open.’

The core principles they live by are – Trust, Co-agency and Inclusion. It seems so obvious, and actually much of what she spoke of rang true to my colleagues and me, affirming the stuff we do ourselves. But the passion with which she spoke reignited the whole room. The children that we watched from Wroxham, warmed our souls and inspired us to put dialogue back in the driving seat of learning. 

Growth mindset was discussed, including her recent Radio 4 appearance with the queen of Gm, Carol Dweck. GM has become the most recent popular thing to do in schools, it feels a bit like thinking hats or some other ‘trendy teaching tool’. Sadly there seem to be many out there who think whacking a GM display up will help children develop a mindset of ‘not yet’ and ‘what if’, but like anything it needs to be taught, entrusted and shared by excellent communication between the children and the staff, and as Dame Alison pointed out, totally modelled by the staff. We need the children to see that we can all become better learners. ‘Every child is on a trajectory to learn’ at Wroxham, and I think this should say, every person! Interestingly during the day I had two conversations that made me think of GM in staff. One was with a head who clearly believed everything they do is perfect, hmm fixed mindset I thought to myself, then I thought – don’t think I’d like to work with you! The other was a head who talked about her staff who she was struggling with because they believe what they do is excellent, no matter how many ways she, the head, tries to tell them other routes might be better, this time I did not envy her difficult conversations!

Dame Alison and her colleagues challenge themselves all the time by giving children genuine choice. The ideas and anecdotes were funny, heart-warming and inspiring to watch. It made us think about our own settings and what our children would say if videoed in similar circumstances. It made me think of the importance of the assessment discussions we use at my school for foundation subjects, and how my role as curriculum leader is to make sure the staff using them are asking the right kind of questions to inspire the children to be really open about their learning. Another point on my to-do list. But as a team on the way home, we also thought about the fact that we don’t need to mimic what Wroxham do, we do great stuff, we just need to look deeper into it. Our school has its own unique qualities and we can celebrate them as well as learning from others. I had been thinking about my class and how I want to develop the Fail/Sail approach with them, and how wonderful Austen’s butterfly by Ron Berger has been as a inspiration for my classes in the past, and Dame Alison and later, Mary Myatt both made me revisit that. One of the Wroxham school videos had a Year 1 child say, ‘I might need a low challenge so I can discover it a bit more.’ That is absolutely the core of what I want my children to believe in their learning with me.

All this linked purposefully with the assessment commission report she didn’t share with us, because she couldn’t. But the heart of the report is positive, a full breadth of curriculum that needs to be well-taught. The children should be thinking, ‘what if, what about this, what next’ and reflect alongside the teachers in a deep and meaningful way that embeds the learning. Yes! This is the positivity of the new curriculum, and I wish people would see it and stop worrying so much about crow-barring an hour of this and that into a timetable every week, as Dame Alison said, ‘seize the opportunity to do something different.’

The wonderful and inspiring Mary Myatt gave us a great follow up to the morning’s work, linking in with much of what had been said about modelling and talking, alongside accountability for the new national curriculum  and the updated Ofsted framework. ‘Discourage the pursuit of outstanding, consistently good practice leads to outstanding over time.’ A visit from the inspectors should not be a tick box exercise, but an affirmation of the quality of the information we can share with them. As teachers we should ‘honour the child’ Mary said. ‘I love her,’ I whispered to my colleagues. What difference do we make to a child’s life? It’s not all about graphs and numbers, data is in so many formats and pupil and parent voice is hugely significant. ‘Values must be interpreted in the way we live them out.’ And you only need to speak to a child about their experiences to understand the values inherent in your school. Marking is not necessary on every piece of work, she said. We know this, we, in our school, spend valuable time on marking to provide feedback so the children can reflect and improve during DIRT time. I did hear a head whisper near me, ‘no, every piece of work needs a tick at least.’ And do you know what, I guess everyone is entitled to their own policy and beliefs, if it works for you. I hope they’re bearing in mind workload for their staff though!

I took many ideas away from the day, pupil led report writing, some new ideas for how we might set up our next step targets, areas I would like to lead on in staff meetings. The huge importance of professional development for teachers – this but gave me a buzz because Mary mentioned the cpd stuff I have been doing personally. I’m delighted that I have introduced mini TeachMeets in staff meetings, a staff book club about educational work, and lesson study type observations to develop staff dialogue, as well as local TeachMeets and hopefully something new and exciting in Norfolk next year, which I will share when it is confirmed! 

Sheli Blackburn has also blogged about her experience of the day here so enjoy hers, and for more information on Mary’s work and some brilliant SMSC resources look here. For a good look at Wroxham’s work and some of their brilliant videos look here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog, please feel free to comment.

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4 thoughts on “A dame and an inspector 

  1. This sounds like my own school, and, having visited Wroxham at Alison’s invitation, I can say that I saw much in common. This is why I constantly blog about knowing the children, giving them challenges, letting them make decisions within the tasks, to sort out problems, interacting at a nuanced, individual level, so that all can learn from the progress of others. above all, it is a clear focus on the processes of learning, as much as the minutiae of the curriculum.
    The current incarnation of the curriculum, with the insecurity over the assessment is the single factor holding back most schools. Not all are as brave as Alison. I was, but it was a different time and I was always aware of fielding the incoming issue, eg the National Strategies, which took some individuals backwards, so that they needed rehabilitation!
    Courage is needed, but, in reality, what can really go “wrong” with learning, if we all learn from mistakes?

  2. jillberry102 says:

    Sounds a great day, Amy! And I really agree with your comment: “we don’t need to mimic what Wroxham do, we do great stuff, we just need to look deeper into it”. Sometimes training just helps us to identify the ‘bright spots’ and think about what we can perhaps do even more of.

    Hope the term has started well for you!

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