SSAT National Conference 2015 – day one

SSAT National Conference 2015As day one of the SSAT National Conference 2015 comes to a close, we pick out four of the very best sessions…


Speaker: Ani Magill
Session title: Introducing Raising the bar
Strand: Raising the bar

‘I worry that many schools have swapped their focus of what they are for, from the word children to the word Ofsted,’ Ani Magill declared in opening her plenary presentation.

She cited the case of a primary school where she was head, in which some teachers showed concern to impress parents with the children’s knowledge of adverbial clauses, while the children were banned from throwing snowballs.

‘By raising the bar you do right by the children,’ she added. ‘Try to ignore Ofsted – I know it’s hard but you’ve got to try.’

She claimed never to read books explaining and promoting Ofsted’s criteria. So when Ofsted did visit her school at 24 hours’ notice, there was much scrambling to get the data required.

As it happened, the data reassured the inspectors (pupil premium children had done particularly well, for example), ‘and we got away with it – because, I believe, we try to do right be the children.’

Ani MagillShe suggested five things for other school leaders to think about:

  • Positive and visible leadership.
  • Unrelenting focus on teaching and learning – ‘and not lip service: every meeting, every Inset should be about that, and at the end of the year you should be able to say all teachers are better teachers than they were at the beginning.’
  • ‘100%’ aims: all teachers are looked after, all support staff are accountable for ensuring all the children know that people care about them; and in all things you aim for 100%, whether it’s the food or the displays.
  • Continually try to do it better.
  • Cherish your staff and your children – ‘selfishly, because I don’t want anyone to stay off sick!’

Speaker: Ian Livingstone
Session title: Closing the digital skills gap
Strand: Closing the gaps

Inventor and developer of some of the most well-known video/computer games (Dungeons and Dragons) and companies (Games Workshop), Ian Livingstone was persuasive in his championing of the careers potential this world-leading British industry has for today’s young people.

First, he knew he had to overcome some scepticism from many in the audience of school leaders: these games, through ‘the power of play’, give children the opportunities to develop valuable skills and aptitudes, such as social communication, problem-solving, encouragement to try again when they fail… ‘it’s empowering for kids, it lets them take charge of “real” events.’

These games are not all about dealing our death and destruction, he pointed out. They also include resource management, planning, simulation, ethics, and physics. ‘Why can’t learning be fun?’

SSAT National Conference 2015Ian noted a recent TV Horizon programme had shown that violent video games don’t make people behave violently. Indeed, MRI scan in elderly gamers showed that games playing improved their cognitive powers.

And the charity Special Effect has greatly helped young people with severe disabilities to become more active and gain enjoyment. The key for educators, of course, is how to turn schoolchildren from consumers of technology to creators of it.

He showed a film clip of 10-year-olds in a Scottish school who were designing their own functioning video games. But from his point of view schools and HEI are not doing enough to encourage and develop the skills that can lead young people to the very many career opportunities of these creative technologies.

He pointed out that the UK is a world-leader in this industry, and visual effects are the fastest growing sector in the UK film industry. That combination of creative flair and digital skills, which span many subjects in school, as well as digital technology, offers huge career potential for troday’s young people.

He finished with an appeal for more playful learning.

School-hosted workshops

Host: Ian Critchley
School: Wade Deacon High School
Session title: Effective use of the pupil premium and measuring impact
Strand: Closing the gaps

Wade Deacon High school, in the borough of Hatton, Widnes, is the 18th most deprived borough in England and Wales. Twenty-nine percent of its students qualify for the pupil premium. Not surprisingly, then, the school’s use of premium funding is worthy of note.

Key actions the school has taken include:

  • involving middle leaders and key staff in spending decisions, and ring-fencing the spending
  • also involving the governing body and school business manager
  • senior leadership team takes responsibility for the spend – and the evidence of its impact
  • examining the possible barriers that hinder disadvantaged pupils
  • meeting the needs of these particular pupils
  • commissioning reviews by external expert bodies.

One part of the extensive monitoring is a regularly updated spreadsheet identifying each student’s attitude and learning behaviour in each lesson.

This is shared with parents. Other aspects monitored as part of the pupil premium evaluation include absence, exclusions, academic performance and reading ages. ‘We try to track everything,’ says Ian.

A lot of the parents couldn’t help their children with homework, so the school ran parental sessions focusing especially on literacy, numeracy and e-safety.

And for those parents whose memories of school prevented them from coming, some sessions were held in local pubs, shopping centres, etc.

Other events for parents and grandparents offer activities not directly related to the children’s school work – such as drama, cookery, and art. A particularly successful event recently attracted some 400 parents and grandparents.

The school uses a wide range of interventions and events to support and enthuse these students, many of whom have rarely if ever travelled outside Widnes. These have included:

  • reading support by FE students
  • a weekend visit to London to see a Harry Potter movie
  • workshops with the author of Bob the Builder books, who gave the children signed copies
  • trips to universities (the ‘Brilliant club’) for those of middling attainment
  • alternative provision for two days a week at FE college
  • academic mentors
  • summer and easter schools.

Host: Craig Walker
School: Tudor Grange Academy
Session title: Raising standards of teaching and learning through deliberate practice and peer collaboration
Strand: Leading learning

Craig Walker set out the ‘explicit ideology’ the school had adopted for its journey to raise standards:

  • personalise
  • collaborate
  • celebrate
  • aspire.

These are part of every conversation that takes place in workshops and teacher meetings at the school, he said: ‘It’s a common language.’

Every teacher has a particular focus within this ideology. They all assess their own long-term aspirations and areas for deliberate practice, and share these with their colleagues.

And by concentrating on their own development this way, they also tend to bring that focus into their classrooms, said Craig.

Triads of teachers with the same focus work together over a school year, meeting regularly to update, compare notes and challenge and encourage each other through co-coaching and observation.

One member of each triad acts as the leader, and six of the school’s most talented leaders of learning work with all the triads. Having such ‘layers of leaders of learning’ is very significant, he believes.

The model for this coaching is illustrated by a ‘coaching wheel’, comprising:

  • thirst for learning
  • areas of deliberate practice
  • active learning
  • progress over time
  • marking, feedback and dialogue.

Collaborative learning may seem easy, even automatic to teachers, but this is not so, said Craig.

A huge thank you to everyone who made day one of the SSAT National Conference 2015 so memorable – we can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow!

Spending Review 2015 – what schools need to know

26 November 2015

SSAT National Conference 2015 – day two

4 December 2015