Let’s send academics back to school

I am just back from an academic conference in Lisbon, hosted by CICE (Chidlren’s Identity and Citizenship Education) – a network of universities across Europe. I was very lucky to be there, for Lisbon is a beautiful city and I met several earnest and well-meaning researchers from whom I had much to learn. I was doubly lucky to be there, as the afternoon I flew out coincided with ‘the call’ from Ofsted. I was there at the invitation of London Met University, with whom I have been working this year one day a week.

Working with educational academics as I have done this year, I have come to respect their expertise. I value particularly the insights that can be afforded to those who have gained some distance from the classroom. Those of us who answer to the call of the school bell, whose planning for one lesson is trumped by the marking for another; those is the classroom more than I: teachers can rarely stick their heads up for too long to engage in the theory of what they are practising. It’s a good thing that someone does.

So, I value educational academics: we should spend a bit more time in their company. The trouble is, I suspect they could do with spending a bit more time in ours. If I was struck by one thing at the CICE conference it was that the academics are too reliant on the theoretical frameworks they started out with (their ‘critical theory’ and their ‘ethnological methodology’) and bereft of real opportunities to test them in schools. Very often, their research field was the student teachers they had in front of them. They wanted to know how happy teachers were, how teachers mix across age and ethnic divisions, how they experience racism, their attitudes to Europe in times of economic downturn – all relevant and important questions, and each time researched by talking (sorry, ‘discoursing’) with the class of student teachers they already had. In these cases, evidence may be the personal testimonies of these student teachers, their declared opinions expressed in questionnaires or surveys. I am not one to decry the use of affective, qualitative data, but I would prefer that it were substantial, reliable, valid and cross-referenced with other evidence. I repeat: academics are my friends and they are asking important questions. I just want to be able to trust the answers they come up with.

Which is why I reckon they should spend more time with us. But of course, they cannot. The  sort of immersion they would require to make an ethnological approach valid is not available to them. Frankly, schools are not very welcoming places to outsiders poking their noses into our business and asking our students questions. (Recall I mentioned Ofsted came in last week.) We could do with the work these academics are doing, but we are none too keen on allowing them to do it.

Others, such as teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/ have written about academic research in school. I myself have blogged on my leadership of a work-based MA programme. Action Research conducted by teachers for their schools is just about the most valuable CPD I can conceive of. But I have something else in mind here. What if teachers conducted the action research (we could not, after all, be more immersed than we are) on behalf of an academic researcher? The academic could apply the theoretical framework, the bibliographic underpinning, and the access to publication. The two could be listed as co-authors. The academic would have a data field much wider than they normally do. The school would have been invited to think about its practice in a much broader context. And the product – the research – would be a much more trustworthy item altogether.

And before anyone thinks, ‘But schools don’t have time to collect data about their students or their teachers,’ what do we do every day? There is a degree of research rigour that goes into a simple learning walk (observing teacher practice, coding student responses, scrutinising evidence of impact, interviewing students) that I believe would be the envy of any academic.

So my small contribution to academe would be this: approach my school with a research proposal; have a look at our learning walks, our faculty reviews, our impact analyses; tell me what you think you can make of it; and let’s publish together!

A CPD Leader Prepares for the Call

I stress, this has not happened to me yet: I am an unreliable witness; I may be giving duff advice. Although we have been living on the promise of an Ofsted visit for several months now, the call has not come. My CPD file sits, ready to proffer to Ms Inspector, but still as yet uninspected. I have had a lot of time to think about it. There will be no excuse if I get this wrong.

From what we have heard about the questions Ofsted will ask, CPD leaders will be under scrutiny. My roles include improving teaching, leading on pedagogy (including literacy and AfL), appraisal, NQT induction, professional studies for student teachers, and running our school-based MA. No doubt some of this will be considered as luxuries by less imaginative inspectors, but I will be hoping to impress upon them the impact of this development work.

Some advice I have picked up:

  • Don’t produce a file (I’ve ignored this)
  • Be able to answer the question, So what? (As in, ‘you have done all of this, so what difference has it made?’)
  • Point to impact – on student outcomes, on individual teachers, departments, a pedagogical area, the school overall.
  • Other factors will have contributed to progress, so what part of it might be down to CPD?

This file I have put together is organised into several sections, according to the priorities I have worked on and for which I can claim some credit for the impact of CPD. Some of these:

  • Case Study 1: Improved outcomes in Maths (impact of CPD on student outcomes in a curriculum area)
  • Case Study 2: Development of NQTs (impact of CPD on a staff group)
  • Leadership: measures to ‘manage talent’ and enhance career development (impact on leadership)
  • AfL, Literacy, Independent learning: use of staff development time (impact on pedagogical areas)
  • Moving to Good: mentoring of selected teachers (impact on teacher effectiveness)

Each section is fronted by a summary template which asks…

– What we needed

– What we did

– What impact has it had?

… and includes sample supporting evidence. I have exemplars of good assessment practice, printouts of NQT blogs, internal reviews and learning walk reports, reports on outcomes of teacher mentoring. Where possible I have tried not to create a document just for the file, but to use what I already had. This feels more authentic. In fact (whisper it quietly) it has been an exercise in personal reflection for me. I work very hard in my role, but it is only right that I should be asked, So what? The file is my answer so far.

We await the call.