STAFF and pupils at a Teesdale school are celebrating being placed 100th out of 3,017 nationally in terms of the progress made by its students. The confirmation came in March 2014 from the head of education in Co. Durham, Caroline O'Neil, who congratulated students and staff on achieving these outcomes at a time when schools are adapting to a changing landscape in education policy.
A spokesman for the Teesdale school said: "At Staindrop we are keeping pace with government changes in policies by frequently reviewing practices to ensure we are delivering the best education possible for our young people. With the benefit of a highly supportive governing body and innovative leadership we endeavour to ensure that every young person achieves success at Staindrop.
It is gratifying to know that a relatively small rural school such as Staindrop is delivering an education that places it in the top 100 schools in the country. Furthermore we aim to ensure our students leave Staindrop as mature, confident citizens ready to tackle the challenges that face them after school. Our vision "Maximising success in a strong community" perfectly summarises the ethos of the school.
Ofsted will refuse outstanding as a grade unless a school's poor and disadvantaged children are making proper progress. The data for the judgement of such progress will be over three years. Ofsted says the gap in performance between such children and those from better-off families must be closed.
Payhembury CE primary school in Devon was denied "outstanding" in 2010 as inspectors felt the absence of other than white English pupils limited pupils' experience of a multi-ethnic society. This year this small village school has arranged an exchange with a large school in London. Pupils will stay in each other's schools overnight and establish pen-pal contacts as well as shared study projects.
The school goes from strength to strength. Twelve or eighteen months ago it was inspected and received two "excellents" and the rest were "very good" – it was the first school in the Borders to get two "excellents" and it continues to demonstrate the quality of the school and the staff. It is close to being full – and that includes quite a few from the town (Lauder) who know what we know- our village school is excellent!
The International Journal of Educational Research, published by Elsevier Ltd., reports wide-ranging studies of educational issues. In a 2013 example the researchers looked at the significance of training children to ask questions and seek answers in science. The abstract of the findings follows:
Teaching children to ask and answer questions is critically important if they are to learn to talk and reason effectively together, particularly during inquiry-based science where they are required to investigate topics, consider alternative propositions and hypotheses, and problem-solve together to propose answers, explanations, and prediction to problems at hand. This study involved 108 students (53 boys and 55 girls) from seven, Year 7 teachers' classrooms in five primary schools in Brisbane, Australia. Teachers were randomly allocated by school to one of two conditions: the metacognitive questioning condition (Trained condition) or the prescriptive questioning condition (Untrained condition).
Data on students' discourse and reasoning and problem-solving (RP-S) were collected across Times 1 and 2. The results showed that while there were significant differences in the discourse categories of the students in the two conditions at Time 1, the only significant difference was in questioning behaviour at Time 2 with the students in the trained condition continuing to ask more questions than their untrained peers. Given that these students had been taught to specifically ask 'thinking' questions that probed and interrogated information, these results are not surprising.
A follow-up examination of students' discourse during their small group discussions illustrated how these students interacted with each other to probe and interrogate information by providing explanations and reasons to make their thinking explicit and by using analogies to verbally represent concepts they were trying to express. Results on the follow-up reasoning and problem- solving (RP-S) tasks indicated that students in the Trained and Untrained conditions improved their scores from Time 1 to Time 2 although the change was not significantly different between conditions.
Guidance on Leadership and Management as well as the Teacher Status Project have also been studied recently and reported in the Journal- not least research reviews on rural schools. NASS has been told:
"Thank you for your interesting and inspiring letter. I am attaching three papers: The finding that teachers in small rural schools perceive that they are held in greater esteem by their school communities and express a greater sense of responsibility to their pupils than teachers in larger urban schools might add a little grist to your mill. It might also add to pupil and teacher well-being in small rural schools.
The other two papers are the introductory and final chapters of the journal to give a wider perspective on rural schools in Northern Europe. In general the evidence is that small school attainment is as good as in large schools. Relevant websites give more details."
A voluntary initiative promoting project-based learning in rural schools began four years ago with a handful of schools and will be expanded. Schools volunteer to participate in the programme.
"In most schools, we treat the subjects as distinct units of instruction. We might have 50 minutes of math, followed by 50 minutes of language arts, followed by 50 minutes of science throughout the day," said Dan Guericke, cooperative director. "The approach we're taking is, when you attack a problem, you may be working with math, science, language arts and art all at the same time. It's the teacher's role to tease out whatever standards are being addressed in each of those areas and determine whether mastery is being achieved."
In one school two staff teach biology and language arts simultaneously Every written biology assignment also counts as a language arts assignment. The students recently learned about genetics, anatomy, physiology and the environment by developing a model for the "perfect cow and pasture." The model varies, attuned to individual classrooms and students.
"I've been a part of a lot of initiatives in my years in education and this was one that made the biggest change for me as an educator and also transformed my students' outlook on education," one participating teacher said. "My students were empowered by the work they got to do in the classroom, because they knew they were solving a problem that was real and was relevant to them, and they knew they were making a difference."
She added that teachers are encouraged to share resources and information about projects they developed with other schools. Teachers also have access to an online site to share that information or ask questions. Professionals from various fields in the community are encouraged to come to schools to talk to students about their field.
"We thought it was a great opportunity for our kids, to provide them with an opportunity to get out and do a little more hands-on type of activities that deal with more real-world problems. We all know when they can get out and do things, the engagement goes up tremendously. We are careful, with many new top-down required State initiatives, not to overload teachers."
NASS welcomes such news- even if derived from secondary years. Effective UK primary schools have applied the principles since Plowden in 1967. It is eminently regrettable they have not become universal, and so invited wasteful and damaging intervention to solve problems such methods would have resolved.
We have long encouraged collaboration as a way to identify and sustain perceived best practice. Will some enterprising member schools now be investigating what is the perfect pasture for local cows- or what defines the perfect cow? Did the Dakota project start with a pupil's question.
Such work remains within any freedoms the Government claims to offer teachers- even if fitted outside the curriculum prescribed! At a recent National Education Trust conference such principles and practice were seen as ways to meet many prescribed requirements.
NASS is aware of particular experiments in organisational flexibility such as the growing number of part-time Headteachers and the on-going professional development this can mean for the senior teacher on days when there is no Headteacher. A free sixth form college in Sweden operates a four-day week, though pupils have the school itself open the fifth day. Staff are paid for four days. A State sixth form college elsewhere in Sweden offers staff one day a week free for reflection. It is a disciplined, responsible system under which teachers must explain the outcomes of a day walking the dog or otherwise reflecting and show how it is influencing their teaching. They maintain special notebooks for the purpose.
Does a four-day week have potential for UK schools- not least rural schools? Government argues for a longer school day and is very concerned at the costs of overall bussing.
NASS has recently been contacted by leaders of this active organisation that is very concerned to close the gap in the learning opportunities offered to children from disadvantaged and other difficult backgrounds, as well as those with Special Educational Needs. Individual differences are recognised but AFA sees many of the circumstances facing children compounding rather than easing such differences. We are asked to encourage your interest in their work. We reproduce the notice sent for this newsletter.
Achievement For All (Small Schools)
Achievement for All is about improving results in reading, writing and maths for children with SEN, those claiming FSM, looked after children and other vulnerable learners, with whole school impact. Implemented and developed in collaboration with schools, it engages leaders, teachers, other staff, parents, carers and pupils.
It provides a framework for schools to focus on aspirations, access and achievement across the four elements of leadership; teaching and learning-leading to improved progress and outcomes for all pupils, parent and carer engagement- developed through the 'structured conversation' and leading to improved relationships across the school and wider outcomes- to support participation, enjoyment and achievement of children in all elements of school life.
Recent evidence shows that when the four interdependent elements are developed equally in schools, pupil progress, attainment and wider outcomes are enhanced.
A special small schools pricing package is available to schools with less than 100 pupils. We are advised they have a specially discounted small schools subscription for services provided through visits to schools over a minimum two-year period.
The rationale of this offer is to enable schools with limited budgets and a small teaching team to engage with the Achievement for All programme and provide the benefits of the programme to their respective pupils. Details are as follows:
School Fee: £1500 + VAT per year.
Duration of Programme- minimum 2 years.
Coaching visits: up to 9 visits per year.
Registration: via e-mail or phone
(see Achievement for All 3As website for details: www.afa3as.org.uk)