Below I have outlined some of the changes we have made that some have shown an interest in over the course of the year. Whilst relatively brief (I will try to develop full length posts on each as further reflections/evaluations points occur), I hope it might prove of interest in outlining key changes we have made to marking and curriculum. There is another blog to be written on changes to behaviour and rewards policy (though do check on the recent post on the St. Cuthbert Award), though I have left it out here, mostly for reasons of time. Anyway, all feedback/questions/comments welcome!
We have taken the view that marking too often became a way that a teacher was expected to demonstrate their own work, rather than help a pupil improve theirs. Quite apart from the huge and unnecessary burden this places on staff, it is also ultimately inefficient if the desire is not to check up on teachers, but to check on learning.
As with many of our changes, the overriding goal has been to grow a culture in which our pupils develop a sense of self-discipline and responsibility, the better to form in them healthy habits that will, we hope, help children successfully navigate life in general, not just school in particular. In addition to our behaviour and rewards policies, we came to the view that this can be further reinforced through marking policy – that is, by expecting pupils to take pride in, and responsibility for, the improvement and correction of their own work, rather than placing that responsibility primarily on the teacher. There is plenty of evidence to suggest revision, evaluation and correction also improves retention and understanding – so it felt like a straightforward decision.
And so, we have moved away from a marking policy and toward a feedback policy.
In this, written feedback from the teacher is optional, but not required or expected. What is expected is that each session will start with feedback time, during which the teacher will give verbal feedback to the class on three broad categories – punctuation and grammar, spelling, and content. These sessions should last no more than 10 minutes, but sometimes they might throw up issues or opportunities that a teacher chooses to make a focus of a follow-up lesson. The sessions can be used to reinforce spelling and/or grammar rules, to develop depth and add detail to initial work, or set challenge tasks. During this time the teacher circulates to make sure a pupil is acting on feedback, and will enact any interventions that might be necessary (an issue with presentation, for example, or a particular problem with repeated misunderstanding or inaccuracy).
We are still monitoring impact at this point, though the initial results have been pleasing – instead of a child correcting three missed capital letters and three spellings, all of which the teacher had found for them, the pupil might now make 5, 10, 15 or more improvements, with SPAG rules consolidated along the way, an intervention that would have taken an inordinate amount of time for the teacher to identify and highlight for each pupil under the old, more traditional marking policy. The policy has also been put through its paces in the context of an LA review, and came out well, which was pleasing.
This is not to say that there are no questions thrown up by our new approach, or that we have squared the circle; we are still grappling with how to make this work most effectively in KS1, though we are seeking to embed the principle of self-review, evaluation and improvement there, too. Similarly, we take a slightly different approach in Maths (more on that in another blog), whilst there are further conversations to be had regarding specific interventions for more significant barriers, particularly spelling. Nonetheless, to date the change of approach to marking and feedback has been an important step in raising standards. We will continue to reflect on and refine our policy, to achieve the overriding goal of learner responsibility and improved standards.
No More Marking
Following on from the Feedback Policy, we have moved toward No More Marking to help us with writing assessment. This was partly entered into as another aspect of our attempt to address workload and put greater emphasis on planning over marking when it comes to managing time and resources, but it was also about finding ways to improve the assessment process. Whilst we have brought in various assessment changes across the curriculum, assessment for writing is more difficult, since it is more vulnerable to the risks of subjectivity, as well as shifting (and sometimes baffling) moderation frameworks. As such, No More Marking, with its layers of built-in moderation, seemed to offer the opportunity to improve both assessment of work, but also greater opportunity for reflection and discussion on our own moderation judgements as individuals.
To date, we have completed an internal moderation session, across the Federation, to introduce the staff to the process, and we are now aligning with the national moderation windows. This will become a part of our internal moderation schedule, but also give useful data against larger cohorts. Writing moderation has had its fair share of critics recently, though the move toward best-fit criteria makes No More Marking appealing as a valuable source of both formative and summative assessment. At this point, our goal is simply to monitor impact and see if it enables us to achieve our development points with regards to writing. This will include our own implementation and use of the opportunities it affords, in particular ways in which it might be used to impact more directly upon teaching (and thus CPD), rather than just assessment.
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll have probably guessed that curriculum has been a particular interest over the past year or so (see here, here and here). The blog was the thinking aloud of changes we were already making to our curriculum, considering them in light of own desire for a knowledge focused curriculum that was not only faithful to, but articulated and illustrated, the contours of the Catholic vision to which we are committed. We have developed our curriculum accordingly, with an eye on developing ‘cultural literacy’ (though I have problems with that term – see here). However, it was also with the belief that it is the job of educators to furnish the mind of pupils with (to use a phrase common to Catholic educational philosophy) the good, the true, and the beautiful, the more so in contexts where, as in our case, exposure to such things might otherwise be minimal.
Nonetheless, we are not a large institution, meaning that resources, and time, is very much limited. As such, we have decided to phase our changes, and have focused on developing the foundation curriculum first. This is to better ensure the delivery of a broad curriculum that, if successful, also naturally supports and enhances the core subjects of Maths, English, Science and R.E. Without time to reinvent the wheel, we were guided by the Core Knowledge scheme, using these as templates for developing our own curricula.
To help signpost core content, we have initially taken an approach of content statements (see snapshots below). These are not used for assessment beyond a glance at what has been covered and how the pupil performed within the context of that lesson (as judged through written work and formative assessment). Instead, they are intended to outline what we expect the children to know as part of their learning over the course of any particular module. Further skills statements – particularly in Geography and History – run alongside the content markers. In places, these statements have the potential to be developed still further, and the move into module planning is a short one, though that would be a heavy investment of resources. As such, focus at the moment is on sharing of planning across institutions, building up planning and resources over the course of implementation.
We are aware that, to develop this approach, we will need to develop a more systematic assessment to accompany the curriculum, although having reached out to several schools it is notable how assessment within the foundation subjects is markedly undeveloped. I suspect this will change with the shift in broader inspection priorities. This is something we will be looking to develop over the course of the forthcoming year, as well as further considering the question of how such a curriculum might begin to inform pedagogical choices.
For English and Maths we are less embedded at this point, though the English curriculum in particular lends itself to a more codified knowledge-based approach, something we are actively developing over the course of this academic year. Of course, English contains many significant strands of study, and the nature of assessment frameworks means a focus on skills cannot be sidelined entirely – as such, the vision is for a signposted curriculum in which certain skills can be taught through certain identified texts, ensuring both breadth of content and attention to the detail of assessment criteria.
We have been itching to improve our science curriculum since we came into the school. Science can be a tricky one to get right – it can be very easy for development of practical skills and experimentation to find itself sidelined due to lack of resources, or lack of expertise, or indeed lack of teacher confidence, or lack of teacher time. At the same time there can exist an opposite risk, so that Science can be reduced down to general ‘whizz-bang’ without accompanying academic content. When we were looking at ways to improve Science, we noticed that so many courses seemed to offer a quick-fix piece of training for an individual teacher, or a standalone resource kit which would have little overall impact on delivery of Science across the school.
In the end, we came across Developing Experts, a new-ish initiative working in conjunction with various luminaries of the core knowledge approach, most notably E D Hirsch. The scheme is exhaustive, places emphasis on developing inquiry and experimentation skills alongside academic content, and provides all curriculum-linked planning (and even data analysis). It also has briefing sheets for teachers, video content to help explain and explore scientific theory and application, links for each area of discovery to testimonies of those who have developed careers in this area of expertise, and also how-to videos for the experiments outlined in planning.
To date, we have been delighted with the impact on Science in our schools, most notably transforming the frequency and quality of science practicals, but also, the development of scientific inquiry in our pupils, and the quality and depth of work being recorded in Science books.
Obviously, there is still a long way to go on our improvement journey, and but I hope this might be of interest to those who have, at various points, asked for details about some of the changes we have been making. If anybody has any further questions, or would like to know anything more, do please get in touch – or better still, pay us a visit!
One thing we’ve been interested to develop at our school is a reward scheme that reinforces school priorities, and encourages children to proceed through the stages of motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic. In so doing, we aim to shift pupil perspective from individual focus to recognition of what it means to be a part of a school community. This has lead to a reinvention of historic behaviour policy, the reintroduction of a House system and House Points scheme, and investment in a reward scheme and celebration schedule which includes everything from small gifts, to trips, to pin badges for excellence.
However, we are also aware that there are some things which might historically have been taught discretely at school, and which most adults would expect children to know, that are slipping through the gap. As such, we hoped to find a way to bring in aspects of personal and moral development into the Reward System. We had heard from a local school of a Headteacher’s Challenge award and, after having a look and being impressed, we have decided to put something together of our own.
As it stands, the idea is to run an annual award scheme, and those who complete the challenges will attend a reward trip at the end of the year. The children receive a small booklet with all the targets listed, to be signed off by a teacher upon completion. Not all need be completed (we have set a minimum of 27 to be completed out of 32 total challenges) – we’re aware this has to span over several year groups, and interest/capacity for some targets might vary, so latitude is needed.
One question upon which we are not yet firmly decided is how to structure the targets. Whilst the original idea was to focus exclusively on life skills, we have expanded it to include three core areas – study success, personal living, and spiritual/moral development (we’re a Catholic school). This is not set in stone, and it can make the targets look a bit hotch-potch, but we hope it will link with what is already in place to ensure our children know that excellence must exist not only in academic achievement, but personal skills and development too. In the end, it is about developing discipline, in the broadest sense of that word – this will underpin any successful future attempt in the art of living well.
The award is initially anticipated to be targeted at Key Stage 2. There is something to be said for separate lists for each year group, or perhaps each phase, to follow a child all the way through their schooling, and maybe this is something we will look into going forward. This would certainly allow us to include a great deal more targets, and take a more expansive approach to personal development. Still, as an initial run, we will focus on introducing a scheme with Key Stage 2 and refining as the need arises.
And so, below is the provisional list we are working with. These are subject to change, and some are under discussion. I have also included suggestions below that others have offered. Since we’re trying to split this over three different categories, it is impossible to include everything, and some valuable things have to be left out – maybe this is something we can consider moving forward, particularly if we decide to go ahead with having different age-related strands in future.
Anyway, if you have any thoughts – about either the organisation of the scheme or the targets in it – then do please comment below.
- Take on a household job for a term
- Become a House Point Star
- Achieve a commendation certificate in celebration assembly.
- Recite a poem off by heart to class or during a school assembly.
- Perform on stage (or support off stage) in a school production or concert.
- Attend Mass in the parish at the weekend at least three times
- Keep a class or school job/responsibility for at least half a term.
- Achieve an attendance award
- Write a formal thank you letter to a member of school staff
- Know all your times tables by heart
- Research and write a biography of St. Cuthbert (compulsory)
- Know the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Glory Be off by heart
- Attend in full school uniform every day
- Run/jog a mile without walking.
- Achieve full marks in every spellings test for a term
- Be able to read an analogue clock
- Read 12 books from the school library.
- Be able to keep eye contact whilst talking with an adult
- Be able to use a knife and fork correctly.
- Attend an after-school club for at least three half-terms
- Attend an out of school club for at least a term
- Raise money for a charity
- Be able to tie shoe laces
- Be a reading buddy for a younger child for a term
- Add a prayer to the Prayer Tree
- Receive a House Point for cursive handwriting
- Use your school planner and hand homework in on time
- Find a five (or more) letter word in a dictionary in seconds or less.
- Lead class worship
- Receive a House Point for good manners or politeness
- Know ABC and be able to put someone in the recovery position
- Make a simple healthy snack or meal (with adult help)
Other suggestions that have been made, primarily through Twitter, include:
- Be able to iron a shirt
- Know your own address, birth date, and telephone number
- Write a birthday card
- Polish your own shoes – with polish, brush and buffer
- Be able to introduce yourself politely, with handshake and eye contact
- Write a simple thank you note
- Grow a plant or vegetable
- Be able to sew a button on to clothes
- Be able to cross a road safely
- Be able to wash hands properly
- Be able to ride a bike
- Be able to swim at least 20 metres
- Be able to identify ten common plants/birds/bugs
- Be in charge of washing up and putting away dishes for at least a term
- Have cared for an animal for a period of time
- Use a screwdriver
- Make a bed properly
- Clean and dress a wound
- Be a reading buddy for a younger child for a term
- Be able to plan a balanced meal
- Be able to follow a recipe
- Be able to tie a tie
- Be able to fix a puncture
- Visit a retirement home
- Do a cartwheel.
- Pack an overnight bag
- Be able to boil an egg