School’s careers programme proves successful one year on

dsc_1021One year after its launch, the Aspirations Programme, created by Hartlepool’s Dyke House Sports & Technology College (Dyke House), is already making great progress in helping students to reach out for career success.

The Aspirations Programme was created to provide information, opportunities and support for pupils, parents and staff in order to raise aspiration and achievement throughout Dyke House College and its cluster primary schools.It is co-ordinated by Sally Holt, a former graduate of St Chad’s College, who was inspired to get involved after she witnessed the creative and innovative approach Dyke House has to solving problems. Sally also organised and spoke at the event.

To mark the occasion, a celebratory event was recently held at Durham University’s Hatfield College, to reflect on the successful first year of the Aspirations Programme. The programme is led by current research and focuses on students who are most able but least likely to go on to higher education.

Programme co-ordinator Sally Holt said: “We work with pupils, forging coherent progression pathways which enable them to compete with their privately educated and advantaged peers.

“In a society where the most vulnerable are 55 times less likely to progress to Oxbridge, compared to their independent school peers and in an area with one of the greatest progression gaps in the country, our pupils cannot imagine a future career path, for they do not know the opportunities available to them. It is the vision of the Aspirations Programme to imagine for our students – to imagine better for them. By converting that imagination into action, that truly is power.”

This year the Aspirations Programme has engaged with 62% of students from years 7-12 in the Dyke House area, with hopes of increasing this percentage in the future. It is evident that educational disadvantage is not faceless at Dyke House and the Aspirations Programme is determined to pursue its vision to see every child maximise their potential.

Andrew Murphy, Head of School, “It is only when this truly occurs that students will have the opportunity to be the leaders of the future”.

Getting the priorities right: Pupil Premium and Closing the gap

g3qfcypw“I dislike the ethos of so many of our comprehensives, where the imperative is to drag up the bovine thickos to some agreeably semi-literate level while the bright kids can go hang. It is all there in their epic disdain for competition and academic rigour, their indulgency of stupidity, the emphasis on the self-esteem of the students, as if they didn’t have enough of that already.” Rod Liddle, writing in ‘The Sunday Times’.

Stumbling across Liddle’s ‘opinion’ about comprehensive education was more than a little depressing on Sunday evening. Liddle has made a career from his extreme and provocative views but that doesn’t make it any less enraging. Rather than unleashing the tempting torrent of abuse on Liddle here (that was vented in the letter/stream of consciousness/tirade to the Sunday Times, written much later on Sunday evening!) perhaps it could be read as perfect embodiment of the damage the superfluous grammar school debate is doing.

To continue Liddle’s delightful agricultural metaphor, it appears the “bovine thickos” should be effectively rounded up like cattle and removed, so they don’t continue to offend our intellectual sensibilities. It is, of course, gloriously regressive: advocating rejecting the needs of many to focus on the development of the privileged (be it intellectually or financially) few. What is also more profoundly depressing is, as many within the education system have vociferously pointed out, systematic change will do little to improve education for the many. What will is a committed and reflective dialogue about how to improve teaching and learning and how to encourage teacher and leadership retention.

Given that perhaps it would be refreshing to use this week not to add another voice to this futile debate, but to take a step back to what seems to me be a much more honourable dialogue, one that aims to improve outcomes for the less privileged: the use of Pupil Premium funding. The principal is very simple: additional funding that exists to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities and to close the gaps between them and their peers. Yes: closing gaps not widening them.

Context is very important: these young people are not homogenous and will have a range of different needs and requirements. Making glib generalisations about a Pupil Premium student will not assist them in developing as a learner. Obviously there are whole school initiatives and ethos that play a huge role: the drive for achievement for Pupil Premium students’ needs to be ubiquitous throughout the school, in every department and in every classroom. Discipline needs to be tight and consistent and high expectations need to permeate. Mentoring and pastoral support can also be a driving force to improve this attainment. Yet where it really matters (again) is what happens in the classroom. As the individual classroom teacher, this is my action plan for this year:

Knowing my students: The soulless part of this is obviously the first step: data. Data can inform us to an extent at this stage: what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses? What are their potential barriers to learning? Having been empowered by this then the careful planning will take place. Where would be best for them to be seated to maximise their learning? I am not an advocate of some kind of Pupil Premium table; that is merely reinforcing the notion of exclusion. Instead the priority will be to encourage seating based on others who will work best with. Simple pragmatism. Next I need to carefully reflect and plan for  how to remove some of those barriers to learning: is it organisational, parental support, attendance, literacy skills? I will then need to monitor carefully the data throughout the academic year, a myopic focus on the progress based on meaningful assessment. Keeping parents engaged and a part of this driving force also only reaps rewards, particularly in terms of the focus on attendance. But this obviously goes beyond seeing the Pupil Premium that might identify the student on our lessons plans, each individual is not merely a representation of data. That leads delightfully into:

Building positive relationships: There is no divorce from any other student: the relationship that I form with the Pupil Premium student will be hugely enabling in terms of encouraging them to make progress in the subject. Communication is again vital: how can I motivate, cajole and encourage the student? Very simply for me this is about acknowledging my Pupil Premium students at every opportunity in lessons, making sure that I am checking carefully their understanding, their capacity to organise themselves in the lessons, the quality of their work. It is also about positive affirmations, using praise frequently and trying to motivate and using language that develops self-esteem positively. Empathy is again a driving factor – seeking to understand that home situations can often be difficult. After lessons conversations about interests and about how they are managing, it all goes a huge way and can provide support that might otherwise not exist.

Quality teaching: The relationship is superfluous unless it is combined with quality teaching in the classroom. Although nurturing is obviously important we are here to teach, so getting the balance with high expectations this year is a focus for me. I am aiming to assist with literacy development by ensuing reading is a core focus to lessons, I will blog on strategies from Doug Lemov’s masterful ‘Reading Reconsidered’ in the next few weeks. I will be planning for challenging objectives, frequently checking understanding, supporting and scaffolding tasks, modelling frequently, thinking carefully about how I use teacher dialogue and the nature of my questions. Supporting any progress with meaningful homework is also a focus alongside making every second count in lessons: exist tickets, do it now tasks – squeezing learning to its full potential!

Practical and actionable feedback: The Education Endowment Foundation has conducted extensive research on the impact of different elements on students’ progress and found feedback ranked amongst the highest ( Yet it comes with a caveat. To generalise: Pupil Premium students will be some of the hardest students to get to engage positively with written feedback. This year I am working hard to make sure that any effort that goes into marking is clear and translated into actions for the student. Monitoring carefully my Pupil Premium workbooks is also a focus, I make sure they are the books I mark first and the ones I invest most into. I also make sure that there is time designated in response time: if I have spent ten minutes students need to spend twenty. Importantly feedback is also about the one to one discussions I might  have with a Pupil Premium student: which again need to be frequent and prioritised. It all helps to provide absolute clarity about what they need to do to develop their work further.

Academic and aspiration: John Tomsett’s recent blog on unfettered expectations ( struck a real chord with me. I am not advocating a warm and cuddly environment in which nurturing takes priority. Nothing should be diluted: the expectations of all our Pupil Premium students need to be very high. That comes from ethos in the classroom: expectations of the very best all of the time. I am trying to focus more on shaping quality verbal feedback, expecting well structured and well expressed responses at all times. I am being more insistent about the quality of writing in workbooks – if it is not good enough then the students need to repeat. I also want to build in more extended writing this year, giving regular opportunities to all students to write at length. Cultivating independence is a major driving force – I want my Pupil Premium students to develop the skills to self-correct and proof read. This requires real training and time in every lesson to proof read what they have written, at the moment shaped by a ‘Look out for’ slide that lists common errors. Key words are shared every lesson and used by me as frequently as possible, vocabulary acquisition can only work with incessant repetition! This drive to only accept the best speaks volumes about what we expect from them in their independent work. Aspiration needs to be everywhere: encouraging students to aim high and dream big!

Meaningful Intervention: This is deliberately last: the priority needs to be the pace, rigour and drive of what happens in the classroom. If this is secure then intervention should not exist. I would rather put all my effort in planning meaningful lessons and securing the progress of the individual students than exhausting myself and students with endless after school and lunch time intervention. In many cases, however, it is a necessary evil. Any I do this year will need to be targeted and personalised: knowing exactly who you will be working with and what their learning priority is. If the students are turning up to satisfy parental demands then it is a waste of time, they need to be there emotionally for it to have any impact. When they are there they need to work very hard for it to be at all worthwhile, all needs careful planning.

In my view the grammar school debate is frustrating because it leaves us investing our emotional and intellectual energies into things that fundamentally do not matter. What matters is what happens in the classroom, how we focus unerringly on the achievement of all our students, regardless of ability. Channeling some of this thinking into ensuring our Pupil Premium students are achieving to the very best of their ability, however, is surely a more noble and worthwhile pursuit. Indeed as teachers we are idealists who place immense value on social mobility, and ensuring that some of the wonderful students that Liddle defines as “thickos”, achieve the very best they  are is a huge part of what drives us through the week.

Thanks for reading, there are some really helpful resources out there:

Jamie Thom, English teacher in the North East, blogging at

Grindon Hall school founders resign fearing it will “lose its Christian ethos”


Three founders of the school have resigned over fears that its faith ethos and its pupils’ exam performances will not survive a takeover by a new sponsor.

Elizabeth Gray and John Burn, said they had no option but to resign from Grindon Hall Christian School, in Sunderland, due to concerns that “a secular sponsor will be left in the impossible position of trying to run a Christian school.” They are also concerned pupils’ results will suffer.

The founders are calling on the Department of Education to look into how the faith ethos of schools can be preserved when they are taken over by a multi academy trust (MAT) and to provide similar legal protections to those enjoyed by Anglican and Roman Catholic schools in the same situation.

Grindon Hall was placed in special measures by Ofsted last year and Bright Tribe was chosen as the sponsor to help the school improve its performance.

In a letter to Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, the founders expressed their “deep concern for the future of education and wellbeing of the students” under the new sponsor.

Mr Burn, who was awarded an OBE in 1994 for services to education, said: “When we wrote to Lord Nash last September we raised our concerns that Bright Tribe had never run a school with a faith ethos. At Grindon Hall it has always been the Christian foundation that we and parents believe underpinned the school’s success and popularity. All of this owes much to the founder of the school, Mrs Gray.”

Matters came to a head when the founders were asked to agree to the school being formally passed over to Bright Tribe, and to the founding charity being dissolved.

Mrs Gray added: “Many children have benefitted over the years from the school’s strong academic education and Christian approach. As members we have done our best to fight to protect this. It’s very sad that the school we founded and which has gone on to be so popular with parents, including many who are not Christian, is being undermined.

“The decision made by the DfE last year is forcing us down a secular route. The school won’t even have its own local board of governors. There will be no-one who can effectively guard the ethos. We appeal to the new Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to review the decision of her predecessor.”

Mr Burn said the matter raised serious issues about the guardianship of schools established on the basis of faith.

He said: “There are protections for Church of England and Roman Catholic schools that, even in transfer to a MAT, they retain ownership of the land and a degree of continuing control which can be used to safeguard the school’s ethos. There is nothing like that for schools in Grindon Hall’s position. The DfE needs to look at this so that other schools in the future do not see the ethos on which they were founded undermined.

“We’ve ended up in this position because of the discredited 2014 Ofsted inspection which the DfE commissioned. It rated us as the worst state school in Sunderland even though our exam results showed we were among the best. This was after very intrusive and inappropriate questioning of pupils by Ofsted inspectors which left some pupils and parents very upset indeed.

“It felt like Ofsted had been ordered to find fault with the school by the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. Their report was flatly contradicted by the excellent exam results, and the testimonies of parents. If Ofsted had been interested in academic success instead of political correctness, they would have recognized Grindon Hall for what it was: the top state school in Sunderland.

“I have severe doubts over whether anyone in Government really considered the best interests of the children at this school. The decision to hand our school over to Bright Tribe means one of Sunderland’s best performing schools being handed over to someone with undoubted commercial acumen but no consistent track record of improving schools.”



National campaign against grammar school plans launched at Labour Party Conference


img_4674Jeremy Corbyn said Labour members will “hit the streets” to expose the Conservative Party’s “divisive and damaging agenda”.

The newly re-elected Labour leader used his victory speech to announce a campaign for “inclusive education for all” that will start with a street demonstration on Saturday, October 1.

Mr Corbyn made a call for action to members nationally, saying: “this time next week we’re all going to hit the streets, united as a party.”

The party leader also pledged to raise taxes on businesses in order to fund a ‘national education service‘, promising employers they would see a return on the investment as the future workforce becomes more skilled. He added that if Labour won the next general election, it would introduce an arts Pupil Premium worth £160m of extra funding for schools that would help pupils learn to play instruments, drama, dance and give them regular access to cultural institutions in their local areas.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner made her first major speech at the conference, where she said the Prime Minister has “no evidence” that grammar schools boosted social mobility and called the selection of pupils “toxic”. She promised that Labour “will defeat” the plans to expand grammar schools which “entrench division and increase inequality”.

She also told Schools Week exclusively: “Half a million leaflets will be hitting the streets all over the country next Saturday as part of a national campaign day, which will include an online and off-line petition, social media campaign, video, mail shots, street stalls and a range of community events.

“We will not let Theresa May get away with segregating children by creating new grammar schools. Labour is united against her plans to provide a privileged education for the few, and a second-class education for the rest.

“Over the coming months we will work with all people of goodwill right across the country to stop this Tory segregation in its tracks.”

Education was a priority issue discussed throughout the conference, accompanied by the slogan “Education, Not Segregation” during the debates.

Plans underway for new strategy to improve Middlesbrough schools

Education chiefs at Middlesbrough Council are reportedly drawing up a new strategy with radical plans to tackle the underperformance of the area’s schools.

This comes after a report written by Lord Heseltine and commissioned by the Government, concluded that problems with education and skills are the “thorn in Tees Valley’s side”.

Loca media are reporting that Council executives will discuss the plans at a meeting next Tuesday and that the overall initial cost is estimated at £790,000.

Collaboration will be a key approach to achieving the following targets:

  • Closing the gap between Middlesbrough and the national average for both attainment and progress at key stages one, two and four
  • Reduced exclusions
  • Improved attendance
  • Ensuring a good or better school for every child and young person
  • Engage parents to support their children in schoolwork
  • Fast improvement for some schools

Six group leaders will be selected and employed to ensure schools work together to drive up standards in Middlesbrough’s schools.

Ofsted grades for Northern Powerhouse schools “far too closely linked to APS on entry”, Sir Nick Weller tells North East Heads

The school leader chosen to lead a Government review of school performance in the North has highlighted a worrying correlation between average point scores (APS) and Ofsted outcomes, leaders attending the SCHOOLS NorthEast Annual General Meeting heard.

Sir Nick Weller, head of the Northern Powerhouse schools review, published researched showing the breakdown of all Ofsted judgements and the corresponding APS on intake. The data showed those schools with lower APS were far more likely to be given a Requires Improvement or Inadequate inspection grade.

Sir Nick also told the audience that Northern schools were lagging behind the rest of the country in part due to the region taking a “conservative” approach to Government reforms: “the North needs to respond better to curriculum reform, possibly be less conservative in order to raise standards”. In particular, he felt the Northern region was suffering a lack of Ark or Harris MAT equivalents that could lead on developments around the school day and curriculum innovation.

He added that there are fewer NLEs and LLEs and they are in the “wrong places”, and identified significant areas for concern, particularly around governance, where the Northern region has schools with more “representative” rather than “skills-based” governing bodies. Sir Nick recommended creating more urban Teaching School Alliances and NLEs, focusing academisation more strongly on school improvement and, very significantly for the North East, “breaking down mono-cultural disadvantage”, by focusing very specifically on “moral purpose”.

Quoting IPPR North’s report about Northern schools “Putting education at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse”, Sir Nick mentioned that pupils in the region are at a considerable disadvantage compared to their peers in London, as the North-South divide starts before children reach school age: “Children start off in the worst state in the North and the gap only widens”.

A focus in Sir Nick’s speech in front of a 50-strong audience of Head Teachers was recruitment and retention, and development of leadership. He pointed out the increasing wastage and loss of teaching talent from the profession: “this isn’t worse in the North than across the country, which I found surprising”.

The feedback received from Head Teachers in the audience focused on MATs, transitioning from primary to secondary, governance, partnerships and aspirations.

The strategy devised to improve education in the Northern Powerhouse was given £70m over the span of three and a half years to build capacity and raise standards in the region’s schools. It was announced by former Chancellor George Osborne. Sir Nick said the review of the sector in the Northern region will consider analysis of data on underperformance and possible underlying factors.

The SCHOOLS NorthEast Annual General Meeting took place on Friday 16th September, at the Durham Centre. The AGM provided Head Teachers from across the region with the opportunity to shape the organisation’s priorities and work programme for the coming academic year.

  • Sir Nick Weller will be speaking at the SCHOOLS NorthEast annual Summit at St James’ Park, Newcastle on Thursday, October 13. To book a place, please email

Parents – ‘You’ve got to love them!’

colin lofthouse‘Why?’ I hear you cry.

Well I sympathise. I don’t think there will be a school leader in the land, who hasn’t been brought to the point of tears or past it by an intractable parental issue.

I was introduced to this aspect of school leadership as a new deputy when the Head Teacher was showing me the filing cabinets. We came to the fattest file in the rack. ‘And this…’ he said with a sigh, ‘is the Smith File.’

Mr Smith was a serial complainant (I’ve changed the name – substitute whichever name you have in your mind). No matter what the school had done to placate, communicate, pre-empt, issue after issue was raised. His name brought a range of reaction from office to the Head, ranging from eye rolling resignation to abject terror. The sad thing was that as I became involved in the situation it became clear that all Mr Smith wanted was the best deal for his child – exactly what the school itself also wanted. What also became clear was Mr Smith’s complete lack of emotional literacy and a chip the size of Gove’s Bible on his shoulder. I won’t go into details!

At best relationships with parents can be intensely motivating and rewarding for all school staff. When productive, open and honest communication results in excellent support, success in learning and a recognition at least (if not gratitude) that everyone is striving for the same goals.

At worst a breakdown in this relationship can lead to school staff and in particular leaders, feeling frustrated, unsupported, lonely and under attack. Parental problems can become all consuming, taking hours, days even weeks to resolve if issues go to Governors and worse beyond. Leaders take the brunt of this usually, we rightly try to insulate our staff against problems, step in and take on management of difficult parents. This can lead to a huge amount of stress and it takes its toll.

I recently came across a blog on a small business forum about the importance of good customer relations and it really stuck a chord.

‘While the customer may not always be right, the customer certainly deserves the right treatment. While profit may be the lifeblood of the company, customer service is the heart, and when customer care is poor, it is simply a matter of time before sales begin to drop and what could have been a successful, thriving business, starts to have develop cracks in the foundation and consequently crumbles.

Making a good first impression is important, but keeping that impression in place is even more important. People don’t always speak of the product which they’ve bought or service which they’ve made use of, but they will almost always speak about poor service which they’ve received. On the flip side, they are often quite likely to make mention of excellent service which they’ve received – the best form of free advertising!

So where do you start?

How easy is it for your customers to contact you?

If your clients were to have a question or complaint, how could they reach you? Are you available when they are available? This is not to say that you have to offer 24/7 connectivity and availability, but you need to consider very carefully what your customers expect and the type of support your competitors are offering.

Learn to really listen

Get to know your customer needs. Listen attentively to any suggestions or complaints, and while you may not want to admit fault (let’s face it, it isn’t always the seller who is at fault), you should always look into the matter. Always follow up. Never leave the client hanging and assume that because they haven’t approached you again, the problem has mysteriously disappeared.

Establish a customer service identity

No matter how small your business, it is wise to have a customer care policy. If this is established while a company is still in its infancy, by the time it has grown the customer service levels will have grown along with your business and be ingrained in your company’s culture. You may also find that this will influence your hiring decisions.

If it’s broken, fix it

If there is a legitimate problem with your product, fix it otherwise don’t sell it. Selling an inferior product or service may cause irreparable long term damage to your reputation. Loses can always be recouped, but a broken reputation can be extremely difficult and costly to fix.

Remember that no matter how elaborate your advertising campaigns, how flashy your packaging, the one thing your customer is going to remember is your interaction with them and whether you made them feel as though you value them…or if they’re simply another entry on a spreadsheet.’

Ben Lobel ‘The importance of good customer service.’

I think there is a lot of learning in this for us. How many of us have a parental care policy? And how much time do we spend training our staff in good customer relations?

The thing is – and this is what sets us apart from most businesses – is that we are ‘selling’ a service – worse than that people have to buy us. It’s the law. Whether it’s from my school or yours down the road their child has to get their education from somewhere. This brings the relationship to a more critical level. It’s very difficult for a parent to change provider and buy somewhere else. So we have to try and get it right and deal with it when it goes wrong.

Good relationships with parents takes a lot of work – from everyone. It is impossible to get right without the right culture in your school. My parents can be challenging. Sometimes to the point where I catch myself thinking ‘I can’t deal with this right now I’m just going to shut the door. There. That’s better.’ DON’T DO IT.

On my arrival as Head in my current school I quickly became aware of a widespread breakdown in positive parental relationships. The Head told me about it, showed me the bulging filing cabinet, warned me. The staff told me about it – particularly the office staff. The parents told me about it. Worst of all the school culture showed me. Apart from carefully managed events the school was shut to parents. Communication was guarded and edgy which compounded the situation. I remember standing with staff on a Sunday night after spending 2 nights away on a residential trip helping 60 worn out but happy Year 6 find their waiting parents. We waved the last one off before realising we hadn’t had a single word of thanks from anyone.

So I did the obvious and easy thing for the new Head and flung the doors wide open. We had so much parental involvement that we began to get complaints that there was too much going on! It worked mind you. We got a huge amount of positive parent press and gradually the staff began to relax and see the benefits of excellent relationships. My deputy and I took on all of the ‘tricky ones’. We listened, mediated, changed policy, explained and stood by our non-negotiables and it got a whole lot better. It still is better… but it’s never easy and I would never claim to have all of the answers. Sadly, we have now got a ‘Parental Behaviour Policy’ and we still have a few fat ‘Smith files’ in the cabinet.

But there is another fat file – full of letters, emails and notes of praise and thanks – hard won I can tell you. But when the going gets tough we get that file out.

Oh and the last time we came back from a trip away, lots of grateful parents thanked my staff.

Finally, something to share. I came across this whilst searching for high quality advice on handling parents. It’s from Australia – the State of Victoria –  ‘Addressing Parents Concerns and Complaints Effectively – Policy and Guides’. It’s full of sensible concrete advice which we have used to good effect and I make sure all of my new staff read it.

Have a happy term!

Colin Lofthouse, Head Teacher at Rickleton Primary School in Washington

Newcastle United and Kenton Academy Trust team up in “biggest wave of free schools”

Over 80,000 new school places will be created in a bid to deliver the Government’s goal of opening 500 free schools by 2020.

Education Secretary Justine Greening announced the approval of 77 new free schools on Friday, of which two are located in the North East: United West Academy and Laidlaw School Trust Alternative Provision Schools (LSTAP), both based in Newcastle.

United West Academy (UWA) will be opened by the Newcastle United Foundation and Kenton Multi-Academy Trust, and will aim to use the appeal of football to get disaffected children back into the education system. The UWA will open its doors next September, initially to just 50 pupils with plans to cater for up to 90.

David Pearmain, Chief Executive of Kenton Schools MAT, told the Chronicle: “We are delighted with the news and really excited to be working with Newcastle United Foundation on this venture, whose involvement will open so many new opportunities and new motivation for young people who have previously fallen behind in their education.”

Head of Newcastle United Foundation Kate Bradley also commented: “We are delighted to have been given the opportunity to open United West Academy with Kenton Multi Academy Trust. Young people in this city are passionate about their football club and we in turn are passionate about supporting them.

“We firmly believe that United West Academy will be a game changer for at risk and excluded young people in Newcastle, improving attendance, attainment and behaviour, but overall, giving them hope for the future.”

The paper states that the UWA will offer smaller class sizes, vocational learning, enhanced pastoral support, work experience and high quality careers advice to reduce the number of children who end up not in education, work or training.

The Department for Education called these recent approvals the “biggest wave of free schools” which will give parents “even more choice of a Good school for their child”.

Ms Greening said: “Our country needs more good school places for children. This next wave of free schools means more options for parents so they can choose a place that really works for their child’s talents and needs.

“‎Alongside the reforms announced last week this will build on the progress that has seen 1.4 million more children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than in 2010. This will help deliver the true meritocracy the Prime Minister has pledged to create.”

Academies white paper will go ahead, Justine Greening confirms

The Education Secretary faced her first grilling in front of the Education Select Committee yesterday, where she announced the Government’s plan to enact the Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper.

Ms Greening explained to MPs that the Government is currently “pulling together” legislation to go ahead with the planned changes, adding that she wanted to focus academisation on “struggling” schools.

The Committee heard that more details will undoubtedly be made available later in the year.

The Education Secretary said: “Our hope and expectation is that schools will want to steadily take advantage of the benefits that academies can bring, but our focus will be on those schools where we feel standards need to be raised”.

However, Ms Greening told the Committee that one controversial policy within the white paper put together during Nicky Morgan’s tenure will be scrapped. The bill won’t include plans to remove the need of parent governors from academies, who the Education Secretary believes have a “vital role”, adding: “Often…when schools turn around it’s when parents become more engaged and more invested in the school’s success.

“That helps to build the school from the outside, as well as the hard work teachers are doing on the inside.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years, but parents are part of how success gets delivered so I do not think we should proceed with that.”

Further reading: 
Justine Greening’s first Education Select Committee: 4 things we learned (Schools Week)

But how do we do resilience?

SUMMIT 39We all know how important resilience and growth mindset (which aren’t interchangeable, but are certainly complementary) are to the development of successful learners.

To be sure, research recently published by Iowa State University suggests that “grit” (the term generally preferred by Angela Duckworth and other American researchers) is less important in students’ success than other elements, namely teaching them study skills and ensuring high attendance levels.

Notwithstanding that view, given that in a setting such as the RGS those other elements are largely in place, the next piece in the jigsaw of achieving successful learning must be to tackle the problem of turning that discussion of growth mindset and resilience into a practical, practised reality.

So how do we do it? I confess I was no wiser than anyone else. A good teacher does quite a lot of it naturally: but we need to be more systematic, more thorough, and not just do these things by chance with the right class or on a good day!

The answer came at a useful staff training day here at the RGS in June, devoted to those very themes. An excellent presentation from Anthony Kerr-Dineen ( moved us on a long way. Anthony has become an expert in these fields: not a scientist or psychologist himself, he brings his own experience as teacher and musician to a thorough reading and digest of all the relevant literature.

The moment of clarity came for me when he asked us all to think about one of our greatest achievements and ask ourselves what the key to success was. Then he produced a list of some 24 concepts or qualities: we might all have predicted the presence there of such things as determination and hard work. But others had certainly not occurred, such as: enjoying the process; self-belief; imagining yourself doing it; working to repay others’ faith in you

The school’s Senior Leadership Team spent a few hours later that month brainstorming the qualities that we thought the ideal RGS learner should seek to have and use. Having organised them to some extent, we found (somewhat to our surprise) that they fell conveniently under three overarching domains: confidence; control; compassion.

I really wished that they hadn’t all become begun with C! The educational world is already too full of clever acronyms or alliterative mantras. Yet, try as we might, we couldn’t devise any better synonyms.

Confidence is an essential overarching quality: it’s all to do with self-esteem, the ability not to be beaten down by failure but to feel one can learn from it and move forward. It really is all about that positive growth mindset that students need to develop, to cope and deal with setbacks as they occur.

Control was one that slightly surprised us. It has to do with the kind of self-discipline and self-knowledge which allow learners to be realistic not only about the challenges that face them (which can appear overwhelming) but about the direction they have already travelled, so they can take a measured view of their progress. That realism forbids despair and easy giving up: it also provides a measure of balance that ensures that ambitions, while perhaps lofty, are achievable, not mere pipedreams.

Finally, we’ve been struck, ever since hearing Anthony Kerr-Dineen, by the concept of gratitude: one of the drivers of achievement is that sense that one must do something with the opportunities given. Moreover, whatever gifts and talents a student is born with and then develops, it must be within a humane framework, used for the good of others, not for selfish gain or wrongdoing. And so compassion became our third overarching theme. Thus our list of desired qualities ended up looking like this:



openness                       honesty                  kindness

curiosity                      adaptability              gratitude

determination          sense of humour     selflessness

optimism                      self-control             empathy

zest                             self-awareness

common sense

So what do we do now? Nothing glib, nothing formulaic: no mantras or chants! We hope that, with all the teaching staff aware of the need to focus on these qualities and concepts (which don’t cover every eventuality but would make a very sound working basis for success if all were developed), the concepts are sufficiently numerous to be comprehensive but not so many that we drown in words!

We hope teachers will readily share them and talk about them with their students. The teacher who likes a list on the wall of an office or even a classroom can do it: those who don’t, don’t have to. There is no centralised thought-control on this: teachers must find their own way forward.

Nonetheless I believe we will move towards consistent collective action on developing these qualities at the RGS: we think that gradually our students will start to absorb them and understand what we are talking about, given our coherence as a teaching body. The gains may be slow, but they will be steady, and they will be sure.

Watch this space: perhaps we’ll be reporting back in a year’s time, but for now it is good to start the new school year with a clear direction.

Bernard Trafford, Headmaster at RGS Newcastle