Tuesday, 13 October 2015

School's own data in the Ofsted inspection data dashboard

Hopefully if you are involved in secondary school data you will already be aware of the publication of the Ofsted "Inspection dashboards" which are available via the RAISEonline website.

However there is an issue with the data that will be shown in these dashboards as for many schools in 2014 there is a difference between best and first entry, meaning that the dashboards may distort the picture. For some schools this may also be the case for 2015.

Furthermore the dashboards published so far do not allow comparison of the latest data - potentially imminent in its release, however it's useful to know what to expect.

To try to overcome some of these issues while still presenting the data in a format very similar to the official dashboard I have thrown together a spreadsheet that emulates the Ofsted layout as much as I can (given Excel's limitations).

The file can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/Inspdashboard.

The file as shared contains dummy data (mostly derived from the anonymised version of the dashboard that is available in the RAISEonline library), which you can overtype with data from your school. Obviously you'll need to do the actual calculations for the numbers yourselves, or with whatever package your school uses to process/estimate the stats for your figures. The sheet simply presents the data in a way that is similar to Ofsted's official version. Note this was made so that I could present data within my school so I'm afraid that some of the sheets are a bit fiddly to use - afraid I've not had chance to make it slick, but it does work if you take the time to enter your data! Most of the sheets are fairly obvious where the data entry goes - I'm sure you'll figure it out with a bit of trial & error.

My perferred way to print the file is to get Excel to print the entire workbook. It does come out with a blank page on P6 when doing it this way - not been able to fix that so either ignore it or don't print that one.

Hope this is useful!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Pareto principle and the great divide

I just scared myself looking at my last post...it was at the end of January! So far this academic year has seen just 5 posts to my blog - in previous years I averaged 1 post per week during term time. In fact I've just passed the 2 year anniversary of starting this blog and I've now written less since September 2014 than I have at any time since I started it. I think it's about time I explained why...

SLT role
Good grief it's busy as SLT! I wrote a post (here) back in October about my first month as SLT and the multitude of unexpected pressures that suck away at your time. In all honesty I've had to stop posting to my blog so regularly because I've simply been that busy that I couldn't justify any more time sat in front of a computer writing a blog post each week. I've wanted to post, in fact I've even started a decent number of them and then saved them in draft because I wasn't able to finish them to a point where I'd be happy to share them publicly. In fact half of this post was written months ago, but seems to fit with what I wanted to say today.

This isn't intended to be a whinge about workload or that kind of thing so don't worry about digging out the violins, however I do have some observations about the tensions caused by the SLT role.

Is there a great divide?
As I got closer to and then started my new role as assistant head and I became increasingly aware of the perceived divide between SLT and middle leaders/mainscale teachers. I know it's not just at my school, I've seen it at every school I've been in but it becomes really clear as you get up close to it and then jump across into SLT, I think it's particularly visible to me as I stayed at the same school.

It started with the jibes from my fellow Friday afternoon staff footballers who were counting down the number of games I was likely to be at before I become "too important" to play with them. I'm pleased to say this has stopped as I've carried on playing!

It continues with discussions about timetables where as an assistant head I teach less than half the number of lessons I did as a head of department, leading to jokey conversations about me having plenty of time to think up jobs & initiatives to keep the middle leaders and mainscale teachers busy.

The thing is the structure of a week for a member of SLT is so massively different to that of a middle leader they look like completely different jobs. Compare SLT to a classroom teacher and it's even more different - I actually teach only slightly more lessons than a main scale teacher gets for PPA.

I'm not necessarily saying its wrong, but it changes your perspective of the job massively. A marking policy that is completely manageable on an SLT timetable can become tough to manage as a middle leader, and completely impossible as a main scale teacher. Teaching a difficult group when you have loads of time to prepare/recover, plus a level of seniority to trade with, is very different to having a similar group amidst full days of teaching.

Of course much of the time not teaching as SLT is spent doing management & leadership functions, so the "loads of time" is a fallacy, but the perception is there from those outside of SLT even if it's not the reality.

I like to think I'm fairly approachable and try to make sure that I spend time talking to colleagues at all levels of the organisation, and have great working relationships across the school. A great part of that, and the fact that I wasn't always SLT at this school, means that I think some are more open and honest with me than they might be with the other members of the leadership team. I know for a fact that that some will say things to me that they wouldn't dream of saying to others in our SLT. This gives an interesting insight at times...

No time for perfection
I think the biggest actual disconnect I've discovered as part of all of this is the perception from many staff in general that all actions from SLT are deliberate, and that SLT have complete control over everything that happens in the school. Now I'm not suggesting that we go around blundering into things and have no control over what goes on, but we are a team of humans and with that comes limitations. Similarly we work in a setting that has a massive number of stakeholders with a vast array of needs and agendas, and are subject to legistative, judgemental, procedural and time constraints that limit or shape things in all manner of ways.

Sometimes the size of a team means that not everyone can be consulted properly in advance. Sometimes the speed a decision needs to be made means that only the most central consequences can be considered (see comments about Pareto below). Sometimes an element of planning falls between areas of responsibility meaning it gets missed. Sometimes a task is simply not done quite as perfectly as it might have been because a human has done it or they ran out of time. All of these are issues to be guarded against, and even planned to be mitigated, but none would be done deliberately. However I know from that the consequences of what I know to be a small human error at SLT level can be seen as a direct decision to undermine or cause issues for other staff.

I've seen a situation where a given member of SLT has been working as hard as they could on something, but due to the realities of life in schools it ended being delivered to a wider audience slightly before it was completely finished. The reception from others in the school was frosty "it's a half baked Idea", "they've not considered the impact on...", "why couldn't they have told us that weeks ago?" and so on. The expectation from the school as a body is that the SLT have all the answers and have the time to plan everything out fully. The reality is that there is so much going on that there is too often no time to complete any task fully, sometimes it just has to be good enough to get the job done.

Pareto principle for leadership
If you've not heard of the Pareto principle it stems from the observations by Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto that 20% of Italians own 80% of the land. This has been extended to business in various ways with assertions that 80% of profit comes from 20% of your clients, or 80% of sales come from 20% of the sales team. It is also used in health and safety where 80% of injuries come from the 20% most common incidents and so on.

In my experience it can be fairly safely applied that about 80% of the behaviour incidents in a school come from just 20% of the students (you know which ones!). Similarly about 80% of the high grades come from 20% of the students. 80% of absences come from about 20% of staff, I could go on...

Furthermore another aspect of Pareto in terms of leadership is that if you consider 20% of the stakeholders in a given decision then you'll probably expose 80% of the potential issues. Due to time pressures and general day to day management constraints it is common for leaders to have to revert to this 80/20 rule in all sorts of situations in order to see the wood from the trees. Many leaders do this unknowingly, or some knowingly but rarely is it applied in a cold, deliberate way, however the Pareto Principle can be used to prioritise all sorts of things in all sorts of ways. Yes it's a rule of thumb but it actually fits reasonably well in many situations, and does force a level of perspective that can help get the job done.

Of course I'm not saying it is a good thing to be forced to prioritise like this, and certainly if you're one of the 80% of the stakeholders that is not consulted who then raises one of the 20% issues then I completely understand that you'd feel aggrieved, but that's not really what this is about. What I'm trying to say is that SLT sometimes set themselves up a little as infallible, and are often expected to perform that way by wider staff. However often what they are doing is their best given the situation they are in and the conflicting demands they have on their time. Often this means prioritising and that then leads to some people feeling overlooked.

For SLT the key thing is to acknowledge that we're doing this and to communicate more clearly with those involved. Be willing to acknowledge that at the bottom of all decisions is a human that has done their best, but may not have done it perfectly. For those outside of SLT looking in, perhaps consider if it was physically possible to do it better, or if the compromise you need to make is actually the right one for overall progress (are you one of the 80% or the 20%).

Yes SLT are paid more in order to make decisions, yes SLT have more time in the week in order to make decisions, but that doesn't change the laws of physics, and it certainly doesn't make anyone perfect or infallable. Time is finite for all of us. We all have constriants to manage, and differing perspectives.

I think the biggest thing I've learnt as a member of SLT is that I can't always take the time to be a perfectionist, but I can do the best I can given the time and resources I have available.

No, I'm wrong... the BIGGEST thing I've learnt is that once I've had to commit to something that I know might not be perfect I need to avoid beating myself up over it and constantly revisiting it. I've spent too long doing that at various points during the year and it's done me no favours. You don't needs to be perfect in order to get it right for the vast majority of the time; the important thing is to make sure that even if something isn't quite right it is still one of the least bad options!

This is just me rambling again - sharing the thoughts bouncing round my head - comments always welcome!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

RAG123 as defined by the students

Our head of maths has done a piece of work recently on RAG123 that I think I just have to share...

Firstly if you've never heard of RAG123 then look here for my original post on it, and then see here for all the others I've done...

Pupil voice
So far with RAG123 I've seen teacher definitions of what R,A,G mean, and what 1, 2, 3 mean, and we've occasionally had a go at doing a student oriented set of descriptors. However it surprises me to admit it but we've never previously asked the students to define it themselves!

With my stepping up to SLT this year I have had the pleasure of welcoming and line managing a new HoD to run the maths department. Simon Preston arrived at our school, inherited RAG123 from me and then he embraced it and used it for a while. Then he had a brainwave that is so obvious I don't know why nobody had thought of it before... He asked the students to define their understanding of all the RAG123 ratings...

Simon did this by issuing a sheet like the one below and asked the students to fill in the boxes with a description of what types of work or attitudes warranted each rating. Notably he didn't just ask them to define R, A, G and then 1, 2, 3, but he got them to define all 9 combinations of letters and numbers.

What did the students say?
I have been fascinated by the responses that the students gave. Having collated their inputs and drawn together the common themes Simon has compiled the following grid, which for me now seems to be the definitive RAG123 rating grid.

I think the nuance that the students have highlighted between R2 and R3 in the root cause for the low effort is really interesting. Also like the A1 "just enough". Overall I am really pleased by the clear linkage between effort and understanding. It all comes back to the basic position where students on 3 for understanding need clear input from the teacher to move them, and those on R for effort also need a decision from the student to improve.

Involving parents
Also this week we held a parent information evening for our yr 11 students where we were briefing them on revision techniques and ideas to improve home-school partnerships. This RAG123 grid was shared with parents and students in this session. We suggested that parents could work with students to RAG123 their revision processes at home in order to help figure out whether a session was effective or not. This was really well received and we have had several positive comments from parents about this giving them the tools to help review progress with revision, particularly in subjects that they have no expertise in.

Have you done something similar?
The idea of asking the students is so obvious I'm amazed I or someone else haven't already done it - does anyone else have a similar student perspective on RAG123? If you have I'd be really keen to see it.

Once again - if you've not tried RAG123 you don't know what you're missing in terms of building linkage between marking and planning, building dialogue with students and the promoting growth mindset type linkages between effort and progress. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

SOLO mats - a 1 page lesson

It's been ages since I did a blog post about a teaching resource, so here we go...

I was looking to build in SOLO (For more posts on SOLO see here), some independence and also some structure to a lesson that also included an amount of differentiation. I try wherever possible to aim my lessons at the most able in the group, with scaffolding back for lower ability so that the more able aren't always subject to differentiation by just being given more work to do.

I mucked about with various ideas and finally landed on this one page lesson structure to try. The basic idea is that it incorporates a starter, core learning points and extension all in one place. It is possible for the strongest students to progress through the whole sheet with relatively little teacher input with prompts for them to reflect on what they've noticed. Students are given an A3 print of the sheet to work on, but can choose to make other notes or even do all of the work in their books if they want to (and some asked for squared paper for plotting the graph in the extending knowledge section).

Clearly this is a VERY maths based example - but I see no reason why this basic approach couldn't be used for any subject/topic that is looking to build on and combine prior knowledge in new ways.

(I should note that this was done for a very high ability group of year 11 students, it assumes quite a lot of knowledge and is certainly not a "start from scratch" position for this topic)

Powerpoint version available here.

The assumption is that the students start broadly in the top left, progressing down the left hand side, and then the right hand side, finishing off with a RAG123 assessment and comment in the bottom right (for more posts on RAG123 see here). Some got stuck straight in with it and progressed from one box to another fairly independently, others needed more support in lesson (possibly delivered by me or sometimes I would direct them to another student to discuss it), and some needed prompting to move on to the next box or to make links beyond what was immediately in front of them.

At the end of the lesson I collected in the sheets to review and complete the RAG123 comments. In the next lesson I issued the next sheet as follows:

Powerpoint version here.

This second sheet builds on the info I knew they had picked up in the first lesson and then structures some extension.

Reflections on using it
I was really taken with this approach and the majority of the students seemed to find them useful. The more inquisitive students came up with interesting ideas to navigate through it and made links readily, often pooling ideas to find solutions.

The lessons were very much of the form "here's your sheet, off you go" - I did very little discussion at a whole class level, in fact for the second lesson the sheets were already out on the desks and the students just came in and got started as they knew what to do. During the lessons my interactions with students were focused on removing barriers to them making links and progressing with the sheets. Sometimes I would add a line to a diagram to help them spot the right angled triangle, sometimes re-phrase or express what they told me verbally into algebraic form, sometimes it would be asking a question to open the door to the next box on the sheet. For those making most progress independently I would occasionally draw them back to earlier boxes to explore reasoning for answers or particular approaches to make sure they had seen the more general patterns among their specific answers.

The lack of formal instruction in a particular method or rule did expose some weaknesses for students who are otherwise strong performers; for some it was simply their discomfort with working with algebraic variables, for others it's a reluctance or lack of practice linking up different mathematical topics.

The most negative responses tended to come from those students who are diligent in making notes when a method is explained explicitly but tend to then apply this as a procedure to follow rather than understanding the underlying concept. In particular I had a group of girls who will probably get A* grades at GCSE (indeed they have already done so in Mocks), who got stuck at every stage because it was presented in a way that didn't signpost a method to apply, and sometimes there was no single clear answer to give. As a result they were fairly difficult to motivate through the lessons, however I still think it was a worthwhile experience for them.

For maximum benefit across the class I did use a final plenary to draw together all of the central key points with a few more formal notes, and then we spent a lesson applying this knowledge to exam type questions to check security of the concepts in different ways.

Other difficulties come with storing the sheets afterwards - A3 is not a convenient size to tuck into a small exercise book, but that's not a reason to not use them - I'll certainly use this approach again.

The group I was working with are generally well motivated and would get on with much of this independently, and also had a large amount of prior knowledge to work with. To use this approach with a weaker group, or with a group prone to behaviour challenges would need some thought as the lack of structure opens the door to classroom management issues if too many get stuck. I do think it could be used with weaker or more challenging groups, but it would need some more thought.

I think this basic approach could be used with almost any topic, it just needs a bit of thought. You also need to know the class well in order to know what knowledge you can assume. there is also no reason why this approach couldn't be used beyond maths.

So there it is - plan and deliver your lesson on a single page...

All thoughts welcome as always.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Deliberating on deliberate practice

There is quite a lot written by others more qualified than I about students doing deliberate practise in order to learn or perfect a skill, however I've been thinking recently about deliberate practice, which is different...

Whatever you do, do it deliberately
It can become all too easy to drift along and do things because it's always been done that way, you think it's what's expected, or even because that's what the policy says. The problem comes when we forget why we're doing something, and just do it without thinking, without questioning.

Any one size fits all approach or policy risks losing sight of 'why' when deployed at an individual teacher, class or lesson level. Bloom's might be exactly the right approach to setting objectives for a particular lesson, but probably not ALL lessons. Interactive, active learning might be right at times, traditional chalk and talk might be right at others. I could go on with these...

What I'm getting at is that as professional teachers we should actively seek out as wide a range of methods and techniques for teaching as we can for all aspects of practice. We then need to use our professional judgement to select from this range, and to choose the right thing to do based on the needs of the class in front of us, and on a knowledge of our own skills and limitations. To do something because someone else has told us to do it (yes even if SLT have told us, or if it's what we believe the dreaded Ofsted will expect) is to abdicate our professional responsibilities.

Don't get me wrong, schools do need to have policies to act as guidelines (not straight jackets) and to set out minimum expectations. Similarly teachers of all levels should be able to offer suggestions to others at all levels. However we need to use these suggestions and guidelines as a starting point for a professional decision, not the end point; it can sometimes be right to ignore advice.

As a professional I would hope that a teacher both feels able in themselves, and feels empowered by their leadership, to take a deliberate decision about how to approach a lesson or other aspect of teaching. Actively choosing methods for differentiation, style of delivery, types of activities, etc. is vital. Choose because you believe as a professional that it's the right thing to do based on your knowledge of the class. When you take that decision then be willing to defend it if questioned, and be willing to acknowledge if your decision wasn't quite right. Reflecting and improving is part of taking responsibility as a professional too.

Basically teaching practice should be a conscious, deliberate act. Decisions need to be taken actively rather than received passively, and improvements actively sought.

If you're a school leader then ask yourself if you are empowering your teams to take professional decisions or giving them rules to follow? If someone deviates from policy do you start by asking them why they took that decision or by insisting they return to the policy? Have you questioned whether the policy is any good in the first place, is it possible that their way was better at that time and in that context?

This can even extend to demeanour around school, or in personal lives. Do you give off a frosty persona? Is that deliberate? Do you actively choose to be positive in your outlook? Is that deliberate?

I believe at times we all need to stop and consider if our practice is deliberate? At home, at school, as a leader, as a teacher, as a whole school, a department, at class or lesson level... are decisions taken for the right reasons?

Is your practice deliberate?

All thoughts welcome as always...

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A ragging birthday!

Time flies!
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote my first blog post about RAG123 (find it here) which followed a single week trial of an idea that seemed illogical... Mark more often, but write less, improve feedback and reduce workload. Remarkably it worked - students responded positively, I felt more in control of my marking workload and my lessons were more effective. I still haven't taken a single pupil book home to mark since I started RAG123 over a year ago, but ALL of my books are marked up to date.

I've since written loads of posts on RAG123 (all found here), and tweeted prolifically on it over the past year. I know I am guilty of being a bit evangelical about it, but I do feel justified in my enthusiasm. The evidence suggests that using this approach to marking and feedback (and planning) really does have a beneficial impact both on the students and the teachers involved. I get fantastic feedback like this on a regular basis:

No going back!
As I know I can be a bit biased on this throughout the year using and developing RAG123 I have regularly asked for negative feedback or stories of people that have tried RAG123 but stopped. From the responses I have received there are only a couple of people that have stopped once tried. In these cases it was never because they didn't think RAG123 was beneficial, it was due to some external factor such as illness or a change in role. In all cases where someone said they'd stopped they followed up with a comment that they would start again as soon as their circumstances allowed. I remain open and receptive to constructive criticism of rag123 and want to retain balance on it. To be honest though negatives only really come from people who have never tried it, or haven't really understood the idea. To date the overwhelming evidence is that once you try it you will see such benefits that you won't want to go back. 

Going national and international
As well as individual teachers using RAG123, there are whole departments adopting it, and I know of a couple of schools that have adopted RAG123 as a central part of their marking policies (one has even reported it to me as a contributing factor in their schools journey out of special measures). I'm constantly being contacted by people who are sharing it within their departments, their schools or via teachmeets across the country. In fact it's also gone international, and not just in English speaking countries. I know it's been translated into Welsh (#COG123), and also is in the process of translation into Swedish...

So... a year later what have I learnt?
I've written, thought and learnt a lot about RAG123 over the past year. While the core idea remains exactly as described in the original post, there are a number of subtleties that I have seen and picked up over the last year. I've probably tweeted most of them at some point or other, but it's also about time I shared them all in one place. Along the way there are a couple of confessions I should make too...

Top 10 tips to get the most out of RAG123:
1. There are no strict rules for RAG123! Each teacher should take the core principle and make it work for them, their students, their school, their workload.

It makes no real difference if you use the colours or numbers for understanding or effort. It also doesn't matter if you need more than 3 levels for each aspect to fit with some other system (I know of at least one RAG1234 system being used, and there is also a RAGB123 out there). Actually you could call it anything, ABC123 would work just as well

However I do personally think colours are emotive and therefore can add to impact, which is why my preference remains RAG for effort as that's the bit I want the students to identify with the most (though for a cautionary note on colours see point 5).

2. While the process I put forward for RAG123 involves marking every day, there is no actual necessity to mark every day or every lesson. However without a doubt the more often you can manage it the more effective it will be.

Personally I try to RAG123 between every lesson but don't manage it all the time (still true even now I'm on an apparently empty SLT timetable). What you gain from doing it after every lesson is the opportunity for RAG123 to feed into planning for the next lesson, thereby improving differentiation and the impact of the next phase of teaching (for more on RAG123 as formative planning see here). I now find it much harder to plan if I've not had chance to RAG123 my books.

3. It's the 2 dimensional nature of RAG123 that brings its strength. Separating effort (student controlled) from understanding (teacher influenced) is really important.

If a student is not trying then even the best teacher will struggle to help them learn. Conversely if the student is working as hard as they can but not learning then it is the teacher that needs to do something different. This is why it's simply not the same as a plain traffic light assessment of understanding (more on that in this post). Highlighting the impact of their effort is important to students and makes direct links with other powerful things like growth mindset.

I often get asked how to measure effort, or how I decide exactly what constitutes a "green" "amber" or "red" effort? My answer is always the same - the rating should be scaled to the message you want that individual student to receive. If you think they're cruising then it's amber, if they're going flat out then it's green. It doesn't matter that one student has done half a page vs another doing four pages... If you know from the lesson that the half page struggled and persisted the whole lesson then it's green, if the four pages are all well within the ability of the student then it's amber. The brightest, best behaved students can certainly get reds if they are cruising (and they really don't like it so improve almost instantly!).

4. RAG123 doesn't and can't completely replace more detailed feedback, and I've never said that it should. Students need this, you still need to write extra at times. To help this it's good practice to aim to write an extra comment in 10-15% of books each time you mark. This hardly takes any extra time and after a week or so you can easily cover the whole class. Alternatively perhaps that feedback is verbal - which is fine too, though fails a little fouler of the dreaded "evidence for inspection". For me if you and the students are able to talk to an inspector about the feedback given (verbal or otherwise) and how it helps them to improve then that's perfectly valid feedback, but I do acknowledge that it takes a bit of confidence to fly without the safety net of written evidence. 

5. There is likely to be a colourblind student in every class group.... This was a big penny that dropped part way through the year, and I give thanks to @colourblindorg for the pointers on this. Clearly this causes tension for a system that has colours at its heart. However there is NO barrier to using RAG123 with colourblind students so long as symbols (e.g. "R", "A" or "G") are used and not simply coloured blobs/dots or even different coloured ink. Colourblindness is a big limitation for the various "purple pen of progress" or "green for good, pink to think" concepts that abound across teaching policies and #chat discussions. Using different coloured pens becomes irrelevant if colourblind students (and teachers) can't reliably tell the difference.
Colourblindness can render unlabelled R,A,G unintelligible to an average of 1 student in every classroom
The key message here is that all RAG123 posters, stickers, guidance must always have a way for colourblind people to distinguish between the colour designations - simply labelling R, A, G does this perfectly. Colours are still powerful and useful for the non-colourblind majority so I'm still in favour of using colours, but it's important we make them accessible to those that can't distinguish between them.
Just labelling R,A,G as shown above retains full accessibility for colourblind students.
6. RAG123 is absolutely a leap of faith, and sceptics take a lot of convincing!
Perhaps my biggest confession here is that despite sharing RAG123 nationally (& internationally) and even having it adopted by whole schools in other parts of the country I have not yet got it embedded across my school, or even widely used outside of the maths department.

The reasons for this are many... Perhaps I have been  being a little more shy about pushing RAG123 within my school with people who may not be actively looking for new ideas (compared to people at teachmeets, on Twitter or reading blogs who are clearly looking for and open to new ideas). There's also the fact that until September I was 'only' a head of maths and my influence only reached so far within school. Even now I'm on SLT there is someone else on the team that has the clear remit of improving marking and feedback and I don't want to step on their toes. I've spoken to them about it and actually they like the idea, but can't quite build it into a whole school position yet due to other priorities. While I do find this a little frustrating I want to emphasise that this is not a criticism of my colleague(s) across my school. They are all working immensely hard and have a real desire to do the best for the children in our care, they simply choose to do this in a different way to me and I have yet to fully do he hard sell on RAG123.

This also in no way suggests that I don't have faith in RAG123. Personally I feel my teaching would suffer massively if I had to stop, and think most people's teaching would benefit from adopting it, but I also recognise that change is difficult and it's not easy to try something like this. I know I'm not the only one that faces this challenge, Damian Benney who is the author of probably the second most read blog about RAG123 is a Deputy Head at his school but has struggled to get colleagues to try it, as detailed here. We're both completely sold on RAG123, and have had success sharing it across the country but changing minds more locally can be really hard.

7. Students need support with RAG123 to make the self reflection aspect meaningful. I've written before about how difficult reflection is so won't go into it again for this post (find more here and here), however I will emphasise that the provision of sentence starters or other scaffolding to prompt more meaningful comments really does help. It's also vital that students are given the time in lesson to review and respond to comments - if you don't demonstrate it's important they won't treat it as important.

8. Relating to the last sentence in the paragraph above... Marking & reviewing books as regularly as using RAG123 allows becomes a really powerful way to demonstrate to the students that you care what they do every lesson. This is a big point and shouldn't be underestimated. There are groups of students who don't like RAG123, when you ask them it's usually because they have nowhere to hide in terms of effort. The vast majority of students REALLY like RAG123, when you ask them it's because they know for certain that the teacher is taking an interest in what they do each day.

9. Even bad RAG123 is still quite good. I'll be absolutely honest, compared to the examples I've seen on Twitter my own practice of RAG123 is nowhere near the level that some people have adopted. In all honesty I don't know where some of the teachers that do this find the time to do anything other than school work, maybe they don't? The detail some go into with RAG123 marking is almost to the level you'd expect from a more traditional marking methodology. For me this is awesome but a little overwhelming and I wouldn't want others to think that if they can't sustain that level they are doing it badly.

What I do know is that my books are basically marked and I know the students in front of me extremely well as a result of talking to them in lessons and using RAG123 with them regularly. I also know that the lessons I plan are tuned to the progress that the students make each lesson, and therefore the marking that I do isn't pointless (see more on my thoughts about pointless marking here). I'll gladly argue my case that the progress students make is evidence that my marking and feedback is effective, even if it only results in a better planned next lesson rather than reams of written evidence in books. This will be a contentious point for many, and some may disagree completely, but that's true of so many aspects of teaching.

10. RAG123 as with all good teaching simply comes down to promoting good levels of effort from the students and good planning from the teacher. Initial users of RAG123 will often ask if a student can get a R1 (low effort, excellent understanding), or a G3 (high effort, low understanding). The answer in both cases is of course they can. For me the effort ratings should provoke the students to question what they are doing (can they try harder, can they maintain their current effort across a sequence of lessons) and the understanding should provoke the teacher to question their support/extension/differentiation for the student or planning for the class as a whole.

RAG123 and the future
So a year in and what's next. For me it's simply keeping using RAG123, I would be a worse teacher without it; I know other users feel the same. 

Sceptics will often ask for evidence that it works before trying it. I understand this but am also frustrated by it. I've tried to put together some evidence (see here) but it gets confounded by other factors, and as a result the relatively small sample size and other influences makes this limited sample ripe for taking shots at in terms of robustness of data. To accumulate enough hard data to support it (with a robust control group for comparison) would take a spectacularly long time and frankly I think it's simpler than that...

  • RAG123 costs nothing - there are no subscription fees!
  • RAG123 can be started and stopped overnight, all it takes is a decision to do it.

As such I'll reiterate the challenge that I issue whenever I present this at a Teachmeet... Try RAG123 with a class for 2 weeks. If you don't see a benefit then stop... If you do stop then that's absolutely fair enough, but please get in touch to tell me why as I'm keen to understand if it has limitations! Similarly if you find it useful then please spread the word by challenging others!

Comments are always welcome, happy Ragging!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

First month as SLT

A few reflections on my first full month as part of SLT since I started my Assistant Headteacher role at the start of September...

If I had to give a single word summary it would be "busy", and perhaps most telling as part of this is that I originally titled this as "First week as SLT", but never even got close to finishing it; writing the title and pressing save was as far as I got! Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind during the past few weeks...

Am I still a teacher?
The first thing that hit me is that I'm now not teaching very much. It's almost a third of a main scale teacher's timetable, less than half of what I was teaching last year as a head of department. There are whole days when I don't have a lesson at all, I also no longer have a tutor group.

As a result as I started term I struggled a bit with the fact that I'm spending so little time in front of classes - the job balance is massively different and now teaching is the minority of my week. It almost causes me to wonder if I'm still a teacher. At the core I know I am, and the other things I'm now doing can have a wider impact on more students than I did before, even as a head of department. I'm loving the new pastoral side of my role, getting an overview of the college team I now lead, dealing with our students and seeing the progress they're making it brilliant.

Of course this light timetable is one of the things that can be quite divisive in schools, where the majority of the teaching staff see SLT apparently swanning about on a light timetable where it becomes the exception to be teaching.

In many jobs there is the visible bit that outside observers see, and the hidden bit that is only really visible to the person doing the job. All teachers have the visible bit when we're stood in front of a class teaching a lesson, but the invisible bit is planning and marking - hence the popular misconceptions about teacher working hours and holidays amongst the general public. The further the emphasis of a role moves towards leadership the more activities move away from visible "work" and more towards strategic activities that may be completed invisibly.

Perhaps naively I entered the world of SLT with the view that I was already really busy as a head of department, and that one of the things that caused me to be busy was the fact I still had a substantial timetable. I expected that my SLT workload could not possibly be bigger than my HoD workload; my mind argued that while I'll have more management work to do I'd also have more time to do it because I'd have more non-contact time. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't ever expecting SLT to be an easy time, I was not expecting to put my feet up in my office during non-contact times. I always will work hard, but I was fully expecting to be able to manage the workload within a similar pattern to that established as a head of department.

What I've discovered during these first few weeks is that the number of varied ways for the invisible or less visible side of the SLT role to burn up non contact time is incredible. As such right now my workload has massively increased as I often get much fewer of the management activities done in the time I have available.

Burning time
I might well start a day with just one lesson to teach, but it's not time to kick back and drink coffee all day; there are a multitude of things that will burn off that time and make you feel a bit frantic...

E-mails - I thought I received quite a few as a head of maths, it's doubled since being on SLT. Many of them don't need a response as I get copied on on all sorts, but I still need to read most to be able to decide on that. I have always found myself to be quite efficient with e-mails in terms of response times and keeping track if it all - but the recent increase in volume does threaten this a bit.

Meetings - wow there are lots of them as SLT! What with direct line management meetings, SLT meetings, meetings with parents, governors, other groups relating to your area of responsibility it's easy to fill up a large proportion of a week. Of course some are not that efficient, maybe some aren't needed at all, but as yet I've not figured out which ones...

Being the expert - heads of departments, classroom teachers, admin staff, all appear to expect SLT to have the answer to almost any question relating to the school, and can be visibly disappointed if you don't. In some ways I'm fortunate that I was promoted to AHT at the same school, meaning I do already know about the majority of the systems. However there are still a few changes or aspects new to me or new to the school this year that aren't part of my direct responsibility or past experience that have me scratching my head a bit. For those SLT who are entirely new to a school it must be doubly difficult.

Naughty students - I did a reasonable amount of this as a head of department but when things escalate further and reaches SLT you have to support the wider school staff as and when they need it. When this happens it's always going to interrupt time you'd planned to spend marking, planning, sorting e-mails, making plans for the core area of your responsibility, etc. There is no point arriving to a classroom to lend a hand if the student has already gone to the next lesson - you have to respond when you're needed, regardless of the impact to your workload.

Even when the initial incidents are over there is often time to be spent following up. This might be investigating an incident, finding a challenging student, talking with them, making plans for them with the pastoral teams, contacting parents.

In my second week I was required to write a report for our governors about the exam results from the summer. While on lunch duty on one of the days I had planned to get this report completed I had to deal with a fight between two students and then lost the entire afternoon in investigating it and finding the right response for the students involved. the right thing to do was deal with the students, but it blew my plans for the week to bits.

Maintaining teaching quality
In amongst all of this I'm still teaching, and with distractions and interruptions to time intended to be spent planning, marking, etc it can actually be a genuine challenge to keep on top of it and maintain the overall quality of teaching.

I have never bought into the idea that all SLT have to be outstanding teachers. They just need to be 100% reliably good teachers, and be able to bring out the best teaching in others (whether that is branded as good, outstanding or whatever). They need to follow all school classroom policies and model the behaviours expected in others.

As a result of this while I'm confident in my teaching I felt some pressure when planning and delivering my observed lesson this week. It's too easy to become lazy with planning if you only have one or two lessons in a day - other things float up the priority list and you arrive at a lesson only partially planned. This is compounded a little when your'e teaching in a multitude of different rooms and don't have a fixed/known set of resources to draw upon as SLT rarely get their own base classroom.

This all sounds fairly downbeat...
As I'm writing this it seems like I'm highlighting all the challenges of the job and you might thing I am regretting the move... That's not the case in the slightest. I'm really enjoying the job, it's just such a big step from where I was last year to where I am now. I've gone from feeling completely in control as a head of department to just about maintaining control as an assistant head, which brings with it a level of stress that isn't entirely comfortable at the moment. I like to feel that I know what I'm doing and how to do it - currently that balance isn't quite right but it's getting there. I've hit the ground running but the ground was already moving quickly! As time goes on I'm adjusting how I approach each week to ensure that I maintain control and can get further and further on top of things. An indication of this is that I've found time to write this post this week!

I've no idea if this post will be interesting to anyone other than me - frankly that's not the point of it. I'll try to update on my progress as AHT as we continue through the year, mainly to remind myself that I'm making progress! If you have any thoughts or comments I'd be keen to hear them.