Direct instruction or discovery learning – is there a middle way?

I recently attended Paul Kirschner’s presentation at ResearchEd London where he laid out the evidence for the power of direct instruction, which Kirschner describes as a process whereby teachers 1) emphasise academic goals, 2) ensure that learners are involved in learning, 3) select the learning objectives and monitor learner progress 4) structure the learning activities and give immediate academically focused feedback, 5) create a task-oriented yet ‘relaxed’ learning environment.. And the evidence for direct instruction is very strong.

Alongside this strong argument for teachers understanding and using direct instruction, we were all very clearly told that discovery learning does not work. And here is where the presentation fell down for me. Because it’s not the case that discovery learning has no value. There’s a reason why early years curriculums around the world are designed around the principles of discovery learning. And as a result of this, early years practitioners say the children in their care are curious, have a growth mindset, take control of their own learning and ask a lot of questions, all surely characteristics we would want for all learners in our care. Much care is taken to ensure that university learners experience opportunities for discovery learning: following their own lines of enquiry and drawing their own conclusions.

Can we say the same about learners in the primary years, or the secondary years? Many teachers would say that this curiosity, propensity to ask questions, and growth mindset reduces as learners go through the school system and many university lecturers bemoan the absence of these skills in their students. Reasons for this may include naturally increasing maturity and the social pressures that come with the solidification of peer groups throughout the primary and secondary years, but could we also see this as attributable to the move away from discovery learning as pupils progress through their school career?

When working with teachers to develop mathematics teaching, a subject in which the vast majority of lessons are taught through direct instruction, we begin by asking them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of teaching mathematics through discovery, and teaching through direct instruction, and the below table is broadly representative of the answers they give:


And when this discussion is over, we ask them whether they think it is possible to teach mathematics solely through one of the two methods – clearly it isn’t. Children will be very unlikely to discover decimal notation or the written numerals or the protocols for drawing a graph. This can only come through a lesson which tells or instructs the learners. And yet, if we shift towards teaching entirely through direct instruction, where are the opportunities for learners to apply learning to complex unseen problems, which are the kinds of problems for which adults routinely and often unconsciously use mathematics in their daily personal and professional lives? And how are we promoting self-regulation and the value of mistake making?

In fact, Kirschner himself admits there is value in discovery learning in which the teacher is not a passive agent of pupils’ interests, but an active shaper of pupils’ thinking, within the parameters of the discovery activity – much like we see in the best early years good practice.

And in fact, there is a third possibility beyond the polarised concepts of discovery and direct intruction: the concept of ‘guided discovery’. This is one where the teacher has carefully constructed a ‘low threshold, high ceiling’ problem with which all the learners can engage, and in which, crucially, there is a ‘cognitive conflict’ they need to resolve. This problem is designed to align with a very specific mathematical schema, within which the teacher intends to challenge learners’ thinking and enable progression in reasoning. Learners work together in mixed achieving groups to find a way through the cognitive conflict, and the teacher enables a metacognitive discussion amongst learners in which they review the different approaches to the problem and decide which is the most elegant, the most efficient and the one they would use if they tackled a problem like this in the future.

This ‘guided discovery’ approach is Cognitive Acceleration, now known as Let’s Think, a rigorously evaluated approach to teaching and learning from King’s College London which, since the 1980s, has demonstrated it can make a significant difference to all learners, and not just in the subject in which it was taught. Recent studies also demonstrate high impact in new subject areas like English, and the EEF describe it as ‘particularly promising’Programmes for teachers new to Let’s Think run every year, especially in London.

If this is the case, why is Let’s Think not being routinely used in classrooms across the UK?  For two very good reasons:

  1. It’s difficult for teachers. As the table above shows, direct instruction involves less workload, is more predictable, and means the teacher feels more in control of the learning. Contingent talk, which is integral to discovery learning, is difficult: it requires very secure subject knowledge and a familiarity with the thought patterns of young learners, which usually only accrues to teachers with several years of teaching experience, something the UK is struggling to achieve.
  2. It only works in mixed achieving classes. The last 30 years have seen setting and streaming introduced to almost all secondary schools and the majority of primary schools. This is despite a huge body of evidence showing the damage it can do to learning.

So, in summary, what can senior leaders and teachers do to get the right balance between discovery and direct instruction?

  1. Support teachers to develop the confidence and capacity to teach contingently.  Scripted lessons won’t do this, as they suggest that learners are predictable – and they aren’t!
  2. Ensure your schemes of work and teaching and learning policies enable the correct balance to be struck between discovery and direct instruction – for learners of all ages. Don’t be fooled by people who promote one approach and denigrate the other.
  3. Find out about ‘guided discovery’ approaches like Let’s Think that do work and give teachers opportunities to spend time with experts in the approaches, through properly structured professional development programmes – and this means giving time over an extended period of time!

And finally, don’t be fooled by the ‘what works’ agenda and its proponents on Twitter and in the blogging world. The body of evidence is more complicated than they would have you believe! To get a more balanced view of the research evidence join our research-focused programmes, including our first Journal Club in October.

Little things matter for wellbeing

On leadership programmes, there is always a section of learning devoted to being strategic, to not getting bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day school life, but saving time to think, plan, review and make big changes to teaching and learning. These things do matter – if senior leaders don’t devote enough time to the big problems of practice, then schools don’t move forward, teaching stagnates, and pupils lose out on their potential learning power.

But what we never hear on leadership programmes is that senior leaders should also spend time on little things. These are the things that matter to teachers and these are the things that affect wellbeing in the workplace. Replying to somebody’s quick email about a problem with the break duty schedule matters. Sending someone that article you read about their current school improvement project matters. Asking someone how their child’s exams went matters.

We have a crisis in retention in schools. Yes, it’s related to workload, yes it’s about the accountability pressures beyond senior leaders’ control. But it’s possible to work within these system restraints and still ensure teacher wellbeing. And research now shows clear links between teacher wellbeing and teacher retention, but also pupil learning outcomes.

Little things matter to pupils too. Of course, the curriculum content must be covered and the classroom must have a consistent behaviour policy. But pupils also appreciate their teacher noticing their new hair style or remembering their birthday. If the teacher promised they could help hand out the books the next day, it’s important that the teacher doesn’t forget. These are the little things that forge relationships of trust and warmth and, without these, learning is reduced.

Our new programmes look at exactly this issue – how senior leaders and teachers can support teacher and pupil wellbeing and mental health so that schools both keep good staff and offer their pupils the best possible learning experience.

Co-designed and co-led by Dr John Ivens, a trained psychologist and headteacher of The Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, Leading a Mentally Healthy School supports senior leaders to investigate their own schools in terms of wellbeing and to make changes, both big and small, to policy, practice and their daily interactions with staff.

Designed and subsidised by national children’s mental health charity Place2Be, our Mental Health Champions: Classteachers programme is led by trained and experienced psychologists. The programme helps teachers identify and understand the mental health and wellbeing issues their pupils are facing, and take practical actions to support them. A combination of face to face sessions and small group consultations enable teachers to understand and cope with challenging behaviours, supporting their own wellbeing as well as that of their pupils.

People care about both the big picture and small details – as school leaders, we need to make time for both.  Only by doing so will we keep the best teachers in our classrooms and make sure pupils make the most of the learning opportunities those teachers provide.

What have we learnt about getting women into leadership roles?

“When you walk through the open door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. You hold it open.”  Michelle Obama

For the last two years the alliance has run two highly successful women’s leadership programmes and these culminated in a final celebration event on the ninth floor of city hall this week.

For us, this was not a celebration of the end of the programme, but of the beginning of some highly successful careers. The programmes were targeted at women aspiring to or already in senior leadership positions, and those aspiring to, or already in executive leadership positions. We have seen many of the women on these programmes move into new roles and they have all blossomed in terms of the confidence and skills they have developed. And what has helped them to grow and to believe in their own potential has been the power of the group, and of the role models they have met throughout the programme.

They have become a group who rely on, support and encourage each other. The skill set and potential is there – what they needed was someone to say ‘if I can do it, so can you?’  Their colleagues on the programme have done this. The highly skilled programme facilitators have done this, as well as creating the conditions that have enabled deeply supportive relationships to grow and develop within the groups. A number of inspirational female speakers have shared their experiences and given practical tips on managing the challenges and barriers to progressing their careers, which some of the women have faced and continue to face.

Personal skills analyses and one-to-one coaching have helped participants to identify their own strengths and qualities and strategically focus on developing skills that will help them move forward. Am organic programme structure meant the facilitators could be responsive to participants’ needs analyses and to their growing capabilities.

We are proud of the progress these women leaders have made, both in confidence, motivation, skills and understanding. We are sure they have a bright future in our schools and will make a huge difference to the lives of pupils in their care. And we are sure they will open doors for other women with leadership potential who follow in their wake.

This highly successful project was funded by The Equalities and Diversities Fund, which is now open and seeking bids to run future programmes of this nature. We want to help others seeking to run women’s leadership programmes through this funding source. To this end, we are running an information event here at Charles Dickens Primary School, Toulmin Street, London SE1 1AF on Monday 16th July 2018, 16:00-19:00.  At this event you can find out about:

  • The principles behind the programme and its aims
  • How the programme was designed and structured
  • What facilitators and participants have told us about the programme
  • What we have learnt about writing successful bids

If you are interested in coming along, please email us at

Research and teaching: it’s complicated…

Unlike in medicine, education and research have always had an uneasy relationship. In 2013, Goldacre described how education lags behind other professions in its systematic use of evidence.  You wouldn’t want to be treated by a doctor who wasn’t using the latest medical research, so why would you let your children be taught by a teacher who wasn’t using the latest education research? He also called for more scientific studies of education interventions and the wider argument this article engendered led eventually to the establishment of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teacher Toolkit, which aims to make accessible a range of evidence in easily digestible formats to teachers, and is now used by the majority of schools in the UK. As well as making existing evidence available and accessible, the EEF have begun to accumulate a body of new knowledge about ‘what works’, by funding a series of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) which seek to measure the impact of interventions and to share these findings with teachers, in a format that is easy to understand and use.

I’m all for research evidence getting into the hands of teachers, and all of this seemed like a good idea. Teachers can’t access published research journals without paying, and it’s very time-consuming to have to read across several research studies in order to make sense of them as a body of evidence.  Making research summaries publicly available and writing them in plain English is one of the most powerful and useful pieces of work the EEF have undertaken. If this was the main output of the EEF, I would have no concerns about its impact on the teaching profession.

However, I do worry about the EEF’s obsession with RCTs and with the unproblematised representation of the findings of these RCTs on the EEF website. The RCTs the EEF funds are often short-term, for example one or two years in length, and we know that some educational interventions take time to have a significant impact on pupil learning, especially when they are professional development programme that disrupt teachers’ habitual classroom habits: we know that a dip in performance often precedes a subsequent lift when a change is implemented. We also know that early changes to pupil learning behaviours are often predictors of later academic gains, and often the only impact we see of a teaching and learning intervention delivered over a short time frame.

The RCTs focus almost exclusively on impact in terms of achievement in (usually core) subject areas.  This is a very limited way of measuring learning: most of us working in schools would say that learning is so much greater than test results, and so much more important. All the EEF’s research projects have a process evaluation, and for me, these are often way more telling than the headline effect size. These tell us what teachers had noticed about learning, and the impact they felt the intervention would have on their practice in the long term. Why is this data less valuable than pupil test data?  Like Biesta (2010), I question whether the EEF’s ‘what works’ model of evidence-engagement serves to undermine the value of teachers’ professional judgment or what might be called ‘practice expertise’, since it is based on narrow conceptions of teaching and school improvement. If I am teaching in a small rural PRU, with a particular cohort of pupils, the intervention that the EEF says has a zero or a negative impact might be the best intervention for me to put in place with my pupils.

So as school leaders, what should we do when reading EEF research evidence?

  1. Give equal weight to both effect sizes and process evaluation outcomes when reading the EEF website
  2. Rely more on the literature reviews that EEF publishes than the single studies
  3. Educate your staff so that they understand how to read the evidence, and how to be critical about its relevance to their practice.

And finally, get teachers to use evidence to carry out their own classroom research. Godfrey (2017) distinguishes between three approaches to engagement with research evidence for teachers:

  • ‘evidence-based practice’, a passive process in which teaching approaches are based on evidence about ‘what works’ that has been produced by academics;
  • ‘evidence-informed practice’, whereby teachers actively combine evidence from academic research, practitioner enquiry, such as lesson study or action research, and other school-level data;
  • and, ‘research-informed practice’, whereby teachers engage in and with academic and practitioner forms of research, using evidence from both to make changes to their practices.

It is ‘research-informed practice’ that really makes the difference to teaching and learning. Schools who engage in research-informed practice have been shown to benefit in several different ways: increased professionalism (Furlong, 2014), improved attitudes to learning and renewed practice (Cain, 2015; Greany and Maxwell, 2017), improved pupil outcomes (Cordingley, 2015), and school and system performance (Mincu 2013; Supowitz, 2015).

Let’s not allow ourselves to be led by the evidence, let’s shape it ourselves and make it our own.

Is your performance management system damaging teacher learning?

Schools have rightly moved away from lesson observation gradings, a damaging system created by Ofsted and whose legacy persists.  As Chris Watkins rightly notes, we want lesson observations to be about learning and improving, not proving and performance:

The legacy of lesson gradings is the tendency of teachers to try to ‘perform’ when being observed. And when teachers are ‘performing’ for the observer, one of two things will happen: either the observer will witness an all-singing, all-dancing lesson that is in no way reflective of that teacher’s day to day practice, meaning that any feedback the observer gives is not useful in terms of improving regular class teaching. Or the teacher’s attempt to teach an all-singing, all-dancing lesson means they lose focus on the learning they are trying to achieve and again, the lesson is therefore a disaster and the feedback the observer can provide is not relevant to the teacher’s daily practice.

In fact, even if the observer does manage to see a lesson that is broadly reflective of the teacher’s actual practice, there is no real evidence that the feedback the observer gives makes a difference to classroom practice. A Sutton Trust exploration of what supports teacher development stated that the evidence of impact of lesson observation on student outcomes is ‘generally limited’.

But even if it doesn’t work, there is surely an obligation on senior leaders to observe teachers in their schools in order to have a handle on teacher quality? Here again however, the evidence is dubious.

‘Hill, Charalambous and Kraft (2012) estimated that using observations of practice to produce ratings of teacher quality with a reliability of 0.9 would require seeing a teacher teaching five different classes and having each lesson observed by six independent observers.’ RSA, Licensed to Create

So what should we look at? The same Sutton Trust report evaluates some familiar sets of data.  Progress measures are noted to be notoriously unreliable since even tiny changes in measures can dramatically change judgments, the effects of the ‘best’ teachers are long and not short-term (i.e next year’s teacher will benefit), there is a strong chance of measurement error, and a ‘cohort effect’.  Reviewing work outcomes or planning is reliable only when raters follow a specific protocol for evaluating them.  There is one measure that does provide a reliable evaluation: ‘Student ratings are valid, reliable, cost-effective, related to future achievement, valuable for teacher formative feedback and require minimal training.’ The report states that the only disadvantages is the need to consider how best to manage the feedback process in relation to the pupils’ ages.

Given that none of these ways of judging teaching can claim to be fully accurate, how should a school leader proceed? The Sutton Trust advises triangulation: look across more than one set of data before coming to conclusions about a teacher’s performance.

And yet it is this advice that has given us punitive performance management systems which have significantly contributed to teacher workload and stress. Many schools conduct frequent book looks, half termly assessment weeks in which children are tested, termly lesson observations and more regular learning walks or drop ins. Are these systems really built around the needs of the majority of teachers in our schools? Or are they built around the need to ‘catch out’ the weaker members of staff, whilst maintaining a veneer of all teachers being treated equally?

We would never build our class teaching around the needs of the lowest achievers; instead, we take extra care to monitor their progress and put in place an additional intervention to support their learning.

What would a performance management system look like, if it was built around the learning needs of the majority of teaching staff, rather than the minority? Might it encourage self-assessment of strengths and needs, and self-identification of suitable professional development. Surely it would involve evidence, but this might be evidence that is used to corroborate a self-assessment, rather than to judge. A group of experienced headteachers I met in March explained how the removal of regular lesson observations had had a surprising impact: teachers started asking senior leaders to observe them as they focused on developing a particular aspect of their practice, and often repeatedly.

It is possible to develop performance management systems which enable teachers to focus on learning and improving, instead of proving and performance. And such systems are predicated on a belief not only that the majority of teachers do know what they need to do to improve learning in their own classrooms, but that they are also motivated to make this happen, without the need for constant checking and feedback from senior leaders.

Education Endowment Foundation: Implementation

The new Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guide to implementation makes sobering reading for those of us who have led change projects in schools. Its messages are clear and fly in the face of what is often expected by the DFE and school leaders. Implementation of any new practice requires a considerable build up, in order to create a school culture of trust and risk taking that is conducive to implementation, and in order to think through in detail the implementation proposal, both in terms of its content and its practicalities. Key to this is the notion that strict fidelity is not always possible, nor is it desirable. Teachers must make sense of the proposed change in the context of their own pupils and their own classrooms, so a ‘tight but loose’ approach is much more likely to achieve success

Once this ground work has been laid, school leaders should not simply assume that up front professional development will enable the change in practice to be adopted by all school staff: follow up coaching and mentoring will be required, for both individuals and teams, tailored to their needs and based on the implementation data school leaders are regularly gathering. Scaling up from an early small-scale implementation requires a completely new implementation plan. And in order for such implementation projects to be truly successful, school leaders should assume that two to four years will be needed.

Where the report is less helpful is in helping school leaders ensure that implementation is of the highest quality. Here, Hall’s paper on change processes is more helpful. His paper analyses the reasons why teachers do and don’t change their practice in line with leaders’ expectations. He identifies four types of responses to any proposed change in practice:

  1. The teacher makes no changes to their practice, as the new practice was already familiar and part of their usual teaching repertoire
  2. The teacher changes their practice in line with what was asked
  3. The teacher thinks they have made the desired change to their practice but when the school leader looks at it, the new practice is very far from what was desired
  4. The teacher deliberately does not make the desired change to their practice

Obviously responses 1 and 2 pose no problems at all for the school leader. With regards to response 3, Hall offers a specific tool that implementers can develop collaboratively with staff, called an Implementation Configuration.  This simple grid describes different stages the teacher’s practice might go through in order to reach the desired practice. Here is an example from an Implementation Configuration developed with teachers around pupil self- and peer-assessment:

The grid enables teachers to fully understand what the desired new practice looks like, to self-assess and to make plans for their own progress.  It can also support the work of middle and senior leaders who are coaching and mentoring colleagues to successfully implement the new practice.

And Viviane Robinson’s new book Reduce Change to Increase Improvement, a brilliant guide for school leaders wanting to successfully implement change, offers clear guidance to the school leader trying to tackle teacher response number 4. Leaders need to explore teachers’ ‘theory of action’: the beliefs that underpin their actions, and that have led them to resist implementation.  It is only by recognising and acknowledging these beliefs, that leaders can begin to support teachers to change their practices and make a difference to pupils’ learning. Here, trust is key: teachers must trust leaders enough to feel they can be honest about their feelings, and leaders must be prepared to really listen to teachers’ concerns, and take them seriously. Here again then, a supportive school culture makes a big difference to successful implementation.

Building a brighter future: Maximising shared potential

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Sarah Seleznyov as Director of Southwark Teaching School Alliance. Here, in her own words, she shares a bit about herself and why she’s excited be joining us on 1 March:

“I began my career around 25 years ago, in a London classroom very much like the ones in Southwark. It was a challenge meeting the needs of a diverse range of children, with different home languages, different family contexts, and many living in very challenging circumstances. I loved it, and I stayed, and I haven’t left London schools since.

“I am passionate about the right of every pupil to enjoy their education and to be successful. I believe that with the right support, every pupil can grow into an adult who is able to make informed choices about the kind of life they want to have. I have pursued this aim throughout my teaching career, a career which has led me from the classroom, to school leadership, to school improvement work, to working for a national literacy charity, to a mathematics research project with King’s College University, and finally to my role at UCL Institute of Education. Throughout this journey, I have met many practitioners and leaders who are as passionate as I am about this goal, including those I have met as part of my recent work with Southwark schools.

“For this reason, I am excited to be taking up the post of Director of the Southwark Teaching School Alliance. This is an opportunity for me to spend more time in some excellent schools working in challenging circumstances, more time in the classroom with highly skilled and committed practitioners, and more time with pupils who are going places and have so much to offer to future society.

“Schools are increasingly under pressure to do more with less, and quicker. For me, key to working within this ever-changing, challenging context and to making a real difference to the lives of London pupils is collaboration: working towards a shared vision of how learning could be and should be. In such an environment, schools need to hold on to what they believe, making use of evidence about what works to generate home grown solutions to their own unique problems of practice. I believe this intention should act as a road map for the future work of the alliance.

“I am keen for the alliance to continue to grow and reach out to new partners, the early years, primary, secondary and special schools within Southwark, and schools and alliances beyond Southwark. I want to support practitioners within the alliance schools to continue to develop their skills as leaders of learning, both within their own schools and across schools. I want our pupils, and pupils beyond our schools to benefit directly from the professional development we offer, and to go beyond what they thought was possible.

“I look forward to meeting you all and listening to your goals and dreams for the alliance as it moves into its next phase.”

Become an #epic leader with Southwark Teaching School Alliance

I was recently invited to join a conference panel discussing how to have impact at any level as a leader. It got me thinking about successful leadership behaviours. I concluded there are four that together add up to epic leadership.

Epic leaders are empowering, (moral) purposeful, impactful and compassionate.

Epic wasn’t a word I used much until my home became dominated by the superheroes and accompanying jargon my husband and children are obsessed with. It seems a good fit for the notion that successful school leaders have a touch of the superheroic about them. But you don’t need special powers to be an epic leader; just four qualities anyone can develop.


Epic leaders don’t rely on personal performance, but inspire and enable others to deliver. This can be particularly tricky for middle leaders, who are often ‘pace-setters’, leading by example and urging others to keep up. It certainly can be difficult to let go, especially when you know (or think you do) that you can do something better yourself. Yet, while pace-setting can be an effective way to get things done in the short term, it can quickly lead to burn-out for you and demoralisation for staff.

Far better is giving staff genuine responsibility (for outcomes not tasks), and offering them the tools to succeed for themselves. Setting a clear vision and expectations, backed up with practical and moral support is key. Coaching can help staff find their own solutions and approaches, while metoring is useful when they’re stuck. You also need to create an environment where it is safe to try things out and sometimes fail – as we tell our students, this is an important way to learn.

(Moral) purposeful

OK, I had to cheat and put the moral in brackets for epic to work, but think of those parentheses as adding emphasis, not diminishing it.  To continue the superhero theme, with great power comes great responsibility. What you do with the power you have as a school leader really matters. Having a strong moral compass and set of values around securing the best outcomes for all children – while supporting the growth and wellbeing of the adults you lead – should determine the direction of your leadership. Consistently living those values in everything you do is crucial. People will be watching; it’s not good enough to expect people to do as you say if it’s not as you do.


Epic leaders have a positive and lasting impact on those around them, be they adults or children. Of course, the difference we make to the young lives in our care is our most important task as school leaders. It should extend beyond academic success to a genuine flourishing in all aspects of development, including the personal, social, moral and cultural. All our leadership endeavours – from the development of our staff to our use of financial resources – should be directed at securing this impact.

But we need to exercise care that the mantra of “doing whatever takes” doesn’t come at the expense of staff wellbeing, or indeed our own. We all work hard; what we need is to work smarter, innovating and experimenting to secure the biggest gains for the least effort. We cannot successfully nurture our pupils if we do not also nurture and nourish ourselves and the teachers and other adults around them.

The most epic leaders have impact beyond their own organisation, whether that’s a school, teaching school alliance or multi-academy trust. They share their expertise and enthusiasm as true leaders of the system, striving to make it better for everyone in it. System leaders can be found at every level, making an impact through exercising “soft” power and influence (shaping the agenda and promoting learning and development through blogs and conferences, for example), as well as taking on formal responsibilities.


Last, but certainly not least, epic leaders are compassionate – both to others and themselves. Compassion has been much underestimated in traditional models of “strong leadership”, but there is great strength in taking the time to know, understand and empathise with staff and colleagues and in treating them with compassion and respect. It is the right thing to do. It can also inspire commitment and loyalty that will result in a willingness to ‘go the extra mile’.

Compassion is a courtsey you should also extend to yourself. You are likely to be your harshest critic. If this is the case, ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was saying the things you say to and about yourself. Make your self-talk a more positive reflection of the person and leader you really are.

Epic, not infallible

Being an epic leader doesn’t mean getting it right all the time. Development and the achievement of success is not a linear process; it is very messy. Epic leaders acknoledge this, admit when they’re wrong, learn from it and move on. They also create a culture that ensures others can do the same.

Epic and authentic

Like superheroes, epic leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t don a cape, they simply strive to become the very best version of themselves.

If you’re looking to develop an approach to epic leadership that’s as unique and authentic as you are, sign up by Friday 20 October for one of our four leadership development programmes:


Leading the Way – A look back at STSA leadership development in 2016/17 and ahead to 2017/18

Across Southwark Teaching School Alliance, we are striving to create a community of schools where all children and young people are nurtured and challenged to flourish in all aspects of their life – academic, cultural, personal and social. We are doing this by harnessing practitioner excellence and evidence-based practice for the benefit of all schools and children in the Alliance and beyond.

In 2016/17, our schools have worked together to:

  1. provide initial teacher training for 36 trainees across our two Schools Direct partnerships;
  2. offer a range of practitioner-led continuing professional development for teachers and teaching assistants on everything from staff and student wellbeing to phonics to outdoor learning;
  3. formed five new peer review clusters across 22 primary and secondary schools and nurseries to provide school-to-school support and challenge; and
  4. engaged in a range of research and development activities, including leading a project to explore how to reduce the burden of marking while increasing the impact of feedback.

Developing leadership at all levels has been a central strand of our work because research in the UK and abroad has emphasised how “leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning”[1]. And of course its impact extends beyond single classrooms to whole schools. In 2016/17 we have enabled over 50 teachers to develop as middle and senior leaders and towards headship, and 15 serving heads and executive heads to hone the skills needed to progress in executive leadership.

In our new brochure, STSA Leading the Way, you can read more about two of our leadership programmes and the successful leaders they have inspired. All have either secured promotion or taken on additional system leadership responsibilities. All share important reflections about their experience of leadership and why it matters – because of the difference it makes to learners.

You can find out more about the leadership development on offer through Southwark Teaching School Alliance in 2017/18, including National Professional Qualifications in middle leadership, senior leadership, headship, and executive leadership, on page 15.

I hope what you read in the brochure will inspire you to want to join Southwark Teaching School Alliance and pages 16-17 provide details of our 2017/18 membership offer. Together we can ensure that across our community of schools all learners flourish.

[1] Leithwood, K. et al (2004), How leadership influences student learning, p3. See also Day, C. et al (2009) The Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Outcomes Final Report.


Learning lessons on the performance of primary pupils through secondary education from longitudinal data

Southwark Teaching School Alliance and Southwark Council have been working with Mime Consulting to understand how Southwark primary pupils go on to perform in secondary and tertiary education. In this guest blog, Mime Consulting explain what their analysis has shown and how schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities elsewhere in the country can benefit from similar analysis:

Our work tracking a cohort of primary pupils through to A-levels or equivalent found that a primary school’s performance at Key Stage 2 (KS2) often does not equate to success of those pupils in their secondary school. To improve the life chances of their pupils, primary and secondary schools need to understand the combined impact of their education.

Background to the review

We have undertaken a review of longitudinal data from the National Pupil Database (NPD)[1] in partnership with Southwark Council and the Southwark Teaching Schools Alliance (STSA).

A number of Southwark primary schools wanted to understand their impact on the outcomes of pupils after they left.  The STSA wanted to know if there were any lessons to support the sharing of best practice, particularly in pupils’ transition between primary and secondary.

Liz Robinson, Head at Surrey Square Primary School, explains:

“As a school, we understand that a huge part of our purpose is to prepare our pupils both personally and academically for success at secondary school and beyond. We HOPE that we do a good job of that, but don’t really know. That’s why we are really excited about, and committed to, deepening our understanding about how our pupils do at the next stages of their lives. We hope to be able to use this additional data to enhance our understanding of our pupils and their needs, and hopefully to begin a more focused dialogue with our secondary colleagues about what else we can be doing to give our pupils the very best chance of success beyond our doors.”

We have tracked individual pupil attainment through their school career. We looked at 3 cohorts completing year 6 in 2007/08 to 2009/10 across all Southwark primary schools. We tracked them from KS2 through to KS4 in 2012/13 to 2014/15. We tracked the first cohort year (ie Year 6 in 2007/08) through to Key Stage 5 (KS5) in 2014/15. We tracked pupils wherever they went, as long as they stayed in England.

Performance at KS2 often does not equate to success at KS4

We found that there was only a weak correlation between a primary school’s performance at KS2 and the performance of their pupils at KS4. We compared the percentage of pupils in each primary school achieving the expected standard at KS2[2] against the percentage of pupils from that primary school achieving the expected standard at KS4[3].  In statistical terms, at the school to school level, about 20% of the variation in the cohorts’ outcomes at KS4 can be explained by their feeder schools KS2 outcomes.

You can see this in the diagram below.

Mime blog diagram 1Each dot represents a primary school in Southwark. The solid line across the middle shows the best line of fit with the data.  It shows two important results:

  • It was harder to achieve the expected standard at KS4 than at KS2. This will have changed along with the revision in expected standards defined by the DfE since these cohorts
  • Many of the dots are quite far away from the line of best fit. We explore this further below.

Huge variation in outcomes between feeder schools and secondary schools attended

From a secondary school perspective, there is a huge variation in outcomes between feeder primary schools. This diagram shows attainment of the expected standard at KS4 of the primary schools pupils for one secondary school in Southwark:

Mime blog diagram 2

The same is true for primary schools. There is a wide range of outcomes depending on the secondary school attended.

These differences cannot always be explained by the prior attainment of the primary school. We found that many of the highest performing schools at KS2 had lower KS4 achievement than the lowest performing primaries.

Mime blog diagram 3

It is important to note that these results won’t be true of every primary and secondary school. Nevertheless, there are some interesting messages here and it provides a useful starting point for discussion between primary and secondary school heads.

Understanding the reasons

We are in the early stages of exploring with schools what is behind these findings. We believe that the reasons might include the following:

  • Embedding of learning – Some primary schools are good at getting their pupils over the threshold for the test at KS2 but the learning is not embedded. So as the child progresses through secondary school, they are unable to keep up with the increasing expectations. We found clear trends for this in school cohorts in both English and maths
  • Transition support – There is better transition support between some primary and secondary schools, particularly where there is an established route between the schools. We found that outcomes improved from 55% to 69% achieving the expected standard at KS4 when the cohort of pupils moving together increased from 1 to 11 or more
  • Compatibility of teaching methods – There may be issues of compatibility of curriculum or teaching methods between some primary and secondary schools
  • Disadvantaged pupils – the challenging circumstances of many disadvantaged families in the schools we looked at makes it hard to sustain good outcomes through secondary. Our initial investigation found that for disadvantaged pupils, primary outcomes were a less good indicator of secondary outcomes than they were for other pupils.

In partnership with STSA we plan to do further sessions with schools to explore these findings in more detail. We hope to draw out any lessons of best practice that can be shared. The analysis continues to be a useful tool to encourage dialogue between primary and secondary schools with the aim of improving the combined outcomes.

Find out more

For more information, please visit the Mime Consulting website here  or to talk about how we can support your primary or secondary school, or schools in your local authority or area, please contact us at .

[1] The Data Controller of NPD is the Department for Education (DfE). The DfE does not accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the NPD Data by third parties

[2] For the cohorts studied, the DfE’s expected standard at KS2 was to achieve Level 4C or above. This was later changed to 4B and subsequently to scaled scores but in 2008 was as shown.

[3] For the cohorts studied, the DfE’s expected standard at KS4 was to achieve 5 or more A*-C grade at GCSE including English and maths. This was later changed to Progress 8 but in 2012/13 was as shown.