2016-17: The Year of Consolidation?

Aidan Blowers – Acting Deputy Head for Teaching and Learning, Melksham Oak Community School, recommends this approach to other schools…

When you have been teaching a while, you get used to change, but this last year feels like one of the most whirlwind I have ever known: life without levels, new GCSEs, A-level changes, BTEC changes, to name but a few. No matter what your level in education, from NQT to headteacher, there has been so much to consider that needs your time, planning and action.

At Melksham Oak Community School, like many institutions, we have a theme for the year. You will recognise some of our recent ones: growth mindset, metacognition, independent learning. After some time reflecting we decided that 2016-17 was going to be The Year of Consolidation. With so much changing, we just felt we needed to give our staff some time to breathe and really go back to the basics of teaching and learning to refine our practice.

I think this was the best move we could have made.

As a TEEP training school we have been working with TEEP for six years. It is of course fully embedded, but actually this provided us with a real opportunity to go back to TEEP and refresh the core ideas and values. This began with our staff training day in June/July half-term 2016, where we reflected on all the basics of lesson planning – considering how we tie in not just the TEEP model, but those areas like growth mindset and metacognition that we had looked at in previous years.

In term 1 this year, rather than directing our staff we gave them the autonomy to decide an area that they wanted to revisit in their own practice, within lesson planning, marking, or differentiation. This is a model we have moved to over the last few years. We have an AND culture at our school (Support AND Challenge) – put simply, we always begin with support, but will challenge and hold staff accountable at all levels when needed. This translates into a simple training day.

The support is provided at the start of the day, where we clarify our aims, and provide some key resources to get the creative juices flowing. Then we give staff the freedom to use the bulk of the day autonomously, working toward this aim. The challenge typically comes in a market-place share, or series of coaching conversations, where everyone showcases what they have developed and gets feedback there and then.

In term 1 this year, rather than directing our staff we gave them the autonomy to decide an area that they wanted to revisit in their own practice, within lesson planning, marking, or differentiation.

This thread of 2016-17 being the year of consolidation has been sewn throughout our planning this year. Calendared staff meetings have been built around things we have always done; thus we have just begun to look at revision in our triad groups for terms 3 and 4 as we get to grips with ever more exams and the disappearance of coursework. We know how critical it is to give our students every chance of success and, whether we like it or not, exam performance is critical.

I sadly remember a conversation with a colleague from another school who, like me, was tasked with CPD, and asked in desperation if I “knew anyone good” to come in and “inspire” their staff with a new theme. This is so against the culture of our school and the way we do things. We believe that we listen to the needs of our school; and with staff wellbeing so pertinent right now I would ask all schools to consider this approach.

You know your staff, you understand the pressure, so why don’t you consider a year of consolidation, where you reflect back on your journey, and revisit some of the things you never really had time to evaluate before rolling out the next big thing. It just might provide you with that little bit of breathing space that we all crave in education.

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