Autumn term round-up

As December comes racing to an end we’ve decided to look back on some of our most popular blogs in our autumn term round-up.

Writing is always a popular theme on the Primary English website and this autumn term has been no different. Our article on modelled writing proved hugely popular in schools and has been read by hundreds of visitors to our website. This has also been the case with our more recent article on ways to create better writers.

The most popular search term bringing visitors to the Primary English website is guided reading. We know that it concerns hundreds of teachers around the country so this term we brought you two posts about guided reading. One about moving guided reading from good to great and improving reading comprehension with PEE. Do keep visiting us as during the new year we will be adding to our articles about guided reading with a particular look at guided reading in KS1.

We’ve looked at leadership twice this term. Once to look at updates to the Ofsted framework and secondly at how to use the DODD acronym to organise your subject leadership activities. One of our most popular posts of the term was the one we wrote about vocabulary and how to provide quality opportunities to teach vocabulary in the primary classroom.

It’s been a busy few weeks and we’re now looking forward to a good rest before starting again in the new year.

Rachel and Charlotte – Directors: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

English subject leadership through DODD principles

 

Leading learning for impact and on-going improvement is a challenging occupation. In this article we explore four simple principles to help you find your way as an English subject leader. These principles were introduced to us earlier this year as DODD and here we introduce each of them to help you with your English subject leadership.

Discussion

Discussion is an important tool for Ofsted inspectors. During an inspection they will talk to senior leaders, governors, and pupils. As a subject leader you should therefore hold discussions with all of these groups as part of your strategic leadership role. Discussion will enable you to discover what’s happening in teaching and learning in your subject. Significantly, it will also inform you about what’s not happening; which is where pupil interviews spring to mind. If there’s one thing that can be guaranteed when talking to pupils – it’s that they’ll tell it as it is!

Discussion is an important leadership tool but remember: leadership activities like discussion are never an end point. You may find out what’s happening but a good discussion should also leave you with new questions to explore and new problems to solve.

Observation

When an inspector calls most teachers think of lesson observations as the main tool used to judge the quality of a school. Certainly lesson observations are important and rightly so: the most significant activity taking place in an institution of learning is teaching and learning. We should expect it to be observed. As a subject leader you should know the quality of teaching in each class across the school and the best way to ascertain this information is by watching teaching and learning taking place. Ofsted inspectors don’t only observe lessons, they also observe children on the playground and as they move around the school. You can do this too. If you’re leading on English what are the children’s learning behaviours like when they’re using the library or choosing a book from the reading scheme? If they demonstrate how to choose a book based on reading the cover, the blurb and trying an except from within the text then you have firm evidence that children have been taught how to choose a book.

Don’t forget that informal observations can also tell you a great deal about practice in your subject. I am by no means advocating you start snooping on your colleagues but when you pop into their classrooms do take in the quality of displays, the accessibility of high frequency words and the availability of dictionaries and thesauruses. These little observations give a really good insight into how English is valued and how your colleagues strive to support the children in their care.

Documentation

Having your documentation in order is important for a subject leader. Top of the list should be your policy document. A real policy. One that reflects daily practice in your school and not one quickly amended from the internet. Long, medium and short term plans for your subject should also be included in your documentation. Whilst there is no expectation from Ofsted that lesson plans follow a particular structure there is an expectation that lessons are planned. As subject leader you do need to scrutinise lesson plans to evaluate the quality of what is planned for children. By looking at medium and long term plans you gain insight into progression in your subject and can see that there is balance across the aspects of your subject. So, as an English subject leader you should be able to see a balance of fiction, non-fiction and poetry in what is planned. There should be a suitable distribution of lessons dedicated to reading and writing and sufficient focus on the key skills of spelling, handwriting and grammar.

Data

For as long as Ofsted want to scrutinise your school data then you should as well. You need to have a handle on RAISE online and the Ofsted dashboard for your school, as these are what the inspectors will use when they pay you a visit. Leading a subject though is not just about outcomes at the end of Key Stages. You need to use your school data systems so that you can talk about progress year on year and within each year group over the academic year. Data never tells the full picture. What it does is to provide us with questions to investigate. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘being forensic with data’. It’s about interrogating that data, raising questions from it and then exploring those questions to find the answer. This is where you need to combine the other aspects of DODD in order to arrive at an answer (or a new question). As an example, your school data suggests that boys don’t achieve as well as girls in writing at the end of KS2. You may now need to look at the provision for writing in KS2. This could involve scrutinising planning; observing lessons; looking at the writing of boys and girls and talking to pupils about their perceptions of writing. The outcome may well be that the boys are not motivated by the written tasks they are set, it could be that the texts chosen to springboard their writing are not engaging; it could even be that teacher expectation is too low. It may be none of these things but the results of the investigation will set you on a new path to improve writing in KS2 so that boys achieve more highly.

In short the DODD provides us with a set of principles by which we can improve English subject leadership. Since being introduced to the DODD acronym I have been urging English Subject Leaders to organise their subject leadership files and ultimately their leadership activities by these principles. Their simplicity makes them a powerful tool by which to organise your English subject leadership.

This is the second in our series of articles about leading English with an eye on what the inspectors do and say. Like our earlier post Leading English in Primary Schools we are grateful to our colleague Paul Weston for his inspiration in bringing this article to life.

Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant

 

 

Leading English in Primary Schools

Leading English –  Installing your Ofsted update

Leading learning in school is a hard job. Leading learning when it covers reading, writing, phonics, spelling, handwriting, and speaking and listening is tough. We can’t promise to give you a magic wand but in this article we’ve applied the principle of ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and collated a number of links to Ofsted updates to help you ‘Ofsted proof’ you subject leadership.

 

The latest release

Unsurprisingly, our starting point is the current Ofsted framework. Whilst not greeted with the euphoria of the latest i-phone, Ofsted updates happen just about as regularly as the latest release from Apple. Unlike Apple launches, they don’t receive blanket press coverage meaning you have to search for them on the Ofsted website.

We’ve had the current Ofsted framework for a little over a year now but did you know it was updated in September of this year? Like the i-phone it’s not a major overhaul. And, just like it’s cellular cousin it’s been subject to user feedback – in the form of evaluation of section 5  inspections.

Whilst consistent high standards in signal coverage concern rural and coastal phone users our Ofsted colleagues have noticed there is a similar pattern in the quality of schools in these areas. Consequently Ofsted have upgraded their schedule to ensure that all children attend a good school.

Check your operating system

Now the changes to the Ofsted framework may not be major but it’s our operating system and there have been some changes. You need to check your systems for compatibility and iron out any glitches. There have been a few small changes to the grade descriptors. In behaviour there is now a greater emphasis on learning behaviours which has implications for you as an English subject leader. Let’s take guided reading as an example. What’s the quality of independent learning in guided reading across the school? Do children know what to do if they need help? Are they able to solve problems in reading? How resilient are they when decoding unfamiliar text? So, if you want to move practice from good to great in guided reading it may be that you need to look at the behaviour descriptors.

If you’re leading English in a secondary school be aware that inspectors will now hear children in Y7 and Y8 read. Remember this will not just be about decoding but their comprehension of what they’ve read, their ability to infer and deduce and their enjoyment of reading.

In fact as a secondary teacher you need to be particularly aware of Ofsted’s report into the achievement and progress of able pupils. Primary colleagues, you may think you’ve been let off the hook here. However,  the transition of youngsters as they move between KS2 and KS3 is always an important topic, meaning this is a document you should take a look at.

There has been  keen interest in the achievement of groups of learners for some time. This has sharpened. You need to know the key groups in your school, how they achieve and significantly what progress they make. With specific reference to those pupils in receipt of the pupil premium  their progress in English and mathematics should match that of other groups. Do you know this data? Is this the pattern in your school? As an English subject leader you need to know this information. Furthermore, you need to know what you’re doing to ensure that this group of pupils makes progress? And the impact of what you’ve done.

Install software updates

It’s not only the Inspection Handbook that has been updated. Other key Ofsted documentation has been refreshed and all subject leaders need to update their software accordingly. By key documents I mean: the Framework for School Inspection; the School Inspection Handbook; and, the Subsidiary Guidance for Inspectors.  The third one tells inspectors how to go about their task of inspecting – it is an invaluable resource for school leaders as in effect it directs them how to conduct their school improvement activities. It’s already in its third version since September this year! You need to download the latest version and press delete on all other versions in school.

Improve user knowledge

Harvest what you can from good practitioners. If you’re on the web reading blogs and articles by other educators there’s a strong chance you’re already doing just that. Remember though, that Ofsted are not just inspectors, they’re school improvement experts. They have a wealth of knowledge from thousands of hours spent in some of the best schools in our country. Ofsted subject surveys include vignettes of outstanding practice from schools around the country. Download it, visit the websites of the schools involved and use what you can. We’ve shared English at the CrossroadsReading by six and Moving English Forward with our subject leaders and regularly return to them to look for examples of best practice.

We’ll be returning to Ofsted and how they can help us improve our subject leadership soon. We know that not all Ofsted inspections are a positive experience but when we can use the expertise that does exist within the organisation then we can reduce user error and improve the educational interface for everyone involved.

This is the first in a series of articles inspired by our work with Paul Weston HMI, who has been working with us here in Coventry for the past few months. Paul’s sharpened our focus on leading teaching and learning for maximum impact and effect – and whilst these are our words, we thank Paul for the advice that inspired this article.

Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant