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Practical Pedagogies: The Quest For Outstanding

Sharing the best we do with the best we have

Siobhan Dickerson, Assistant Head teacher, Lostock College

Over the past eighteen months, Lostock College has been working as part of a teaching alliance with Great Sankey and Priestnall schools, a primary school and various other education providers in the Warrington and Wirral areas. The alliance has been formed to share research on what makes great pedagogy in schools which face challenging circumstances. This challenge could be contextual, sector (Special, PRU), economic and so on. The alliance contains schools which face challenge and those who have overcome challenge, moving on to become system leaders. The focus of the research is to ascertain what additionality, if any, is required to achieve an Outstanding judgement for teaching and learning across the school. The findings will then form a bespoke training package for schools in such circumstances, as well as enabling the management teams in schools to quickly target what has been identified as essential practice and to disseminate this among staff.

The project is part of a National College initiative to invest in key drivers for change and improvement in secondary schools. It is supported by the Institute for Education and regular feedback is required to monitor how the project is developing, what results are being discovered and what impact can be measured.

The project centres around nine statements that research proves are the ‘essentials’ of Outstanding pedagogy. Each practitioner involved with the project is asked to put these in order for how important they are for delivering Outstanding teaching in their specific context.

Great pedagogy: nine claims from research

  1. Effective pedagogies give serious consideration to pupil voice.
  2. Effective pedagogies depend on behaviour (what teachers do), knowledge and understanding (what teachers know) and beliefs (why teachers act as they do).
  3. Effective pedagogies involve clear thinking about longer term learning outcomes as well as short-term goals.
  4. Effective pedagogies build on pupils’ prior learning and experience.
  5. Effective pedagogies involve scaffolding pupil learning.
  6. Effective pedagogies involve a range of techniques, including whole-class and structured group work, guided learning and individual activity.
  7. Effective pedagogies focus on developing higher order thinking and metacognition, and make good use of dialogue and questioning in order to do so.
  8. Effective pedagogies embed assessment for learning.
  9. Effective pedagogies are inclusive and take the diverse needs of a range of learners, as well as matters of student equity, into account.

Each teacher who is part of the project is asked to select a class they teach and put these pedagogical statements in order for this class. They should think about which are the most important and put these at the top, then work through to the least important. The rationale behind this is that the majority of teachers feel you need to consider ALL of these aspects when planning a teaching episode, but what the project teaches is that these statements will all be used/seen over a period of weeks, not necessarily in one lesson. Additionally, one may choose to elevate some for one class, as, for example, scaffolding may be more essential for a Year Nine bottom set class than it is for one’s Year Eleven top set, who require more student voice or higher level thinking skills.

A process of coaching and mentoring then takes place, with informal lesson observations being carried out by the project leader and those teachers involved. Teachers who sign up to the project are those who consistently achieve Good judgements; the project requires a commitment to reflecting on your own practice and a willingness to ‘think outside the box’ and try new things. The project leader may be in a position of seniority but this must not inhibit the learning process; the judgements and comments made about the teaching seen should not be linked in any way to Appraisal or Performance Management. A positive relationship must exist between all parties, and there must be openness and resilience at all times. I meet with the staff involved every fortnight at the start of the project cycle, and then twice per half term once the mentee is happy to monitor their own learning and collate their own data. I am now in the process of setting up my first project mentee as mentor to two new recruits, to ensure succession planning and to ensure that good practice is disseminated across the school.

Lostock College has decided as a school that the defining characteristic of an Outstanding lesson is the teacher:

Effective pedagogies depend on behaviour (what teachers do), knowledge and understanding (what teachers know) and beliefs (why teachers act as they do). 

We think the rest are equal, and an outstanding practitioner will juggle these depending on the group, topic being taught and the time of day/year, mood of the class etc.

As project leader, I allow those staff involved with the project to find this out for themselves, and, along with mentoring and regular lesson observations, I encourage staff to experiment with the other eight statements to see which have the most impact on learning, both in individual lessons and over time. Staff are fully amenable to monitoring their own progress and have developed a Learning Log to monitor what they are doing before, during and after teaching episodes. This is a huge undertaking but project participants have found it both useful and rewarding. Roxanne Ferguson (Geography, Lostock College) has completed an extensive Learning Log which was praised by the Institute of Education, and last year Roxanne and I presented our research at the Manchester Metropolitan University Partnership Conference, where we were encouraged to submit it as part of study for a Masters qualification.

The intended outcomes of the project are enhanced classroom practice for those teachers involved, and an understanding of the factors which lead to Outstanding pedagogy, as well as the impact that it has on student learning. We should also see increased classroom confidence and closer working links, involving professional dialogue, between colleagues both within and across schools in the area.

So far, Lostock College has found that impact on improving colleagues is clear from discussion and observation (two being graded as Outstanding by Ofsted in June 2013, and two moving from Good to Outstanding during in-house observations March 2014); impact on student learning is also becoming clear. There are positive indications of improved attainment in Year Eleven English and Geography classes (which have been part of the project since its inception in 2012) and the new cohort of classes includes Year Ten English, Food Technology, Geography and Science. All classes are monitored closely and new achievement data is entered every six weeks.

The next stage of the project is to extend to national and international research and development to see how other contexts have overcome the challenges presented to achieve outstanding success. I am extremely excited by this possibility, and am proud to have secured improvement for Lostock College, both in terms of staff development and student outcomes. I am very much looking forward to seeing what impact the project will have at our partner schools, and seeing improvement in our GCSE results this summer.

Should you wish to find out more about the project, or see examples from our research, please contact me: sdickerson@lostock.trafford.sch.uk