Philosophy For Children

Just before half term we had an outstanding INSET day with ex-head of Philosophy for Children, Will Ord. I have watched some very good speakers in my time but none have held my attention quite like this guy- the atmosphere was electric. Philosophy for Children is an enquiry based approach to learning which opens up children’s minds. It gives children the possibility of seeing that their ideas have value; that others have different ideas that have value too. It helps them realise they don’t always have to be right and gives them the confidence to ask questions and learn through discussion. It sits alongside and supports growth mindsets- it assumes intelligence is a flexible, growable thing and susceptible to change; that it can flourish in some circumstances and wither in others. P4C pushes us towards valuing the non-academic as well as the academic in a school environment and towards giving all children a sense of value.

P4C can be taught as a structured session that starts with a stimulus, encourages children to collectively decide on a question to explore and is followed by a discussion that is not contained but follows its own path, guided by the children’s thoughts and ideas, agreeing and disagreeing but always giving a reason for their point of view. However what we found even more exciting is its potential for informing practice across the curriculum and in all areas of learning. To this end we have instigated an approach to our professional development which hinges on joint lesson study between teachers. Teachers and TA’s are using this to explore teaching methods (which are akin to P4C) which set out to let go of the reins on learning, to encourage deeper reflection by the children and to ensure all pupil responses are valued. Of course the lesson study method itself aims to do the same for teachers- to take away the fear involved in lesson observations and to give them the license to experiment, take risks and grow.

Closely allied to the concept of a growth mindset is the concept of challenge. Challenge by its very nature encourages effort, personal investment and intellectual engagement. This in turn involves a desire to engage with and understand the world, have an interest in a wide variety of things and not be put off by complex and challenging problems. In school we have introduced children to the idea of a learning pit. When they are faced with a real challenge and are unsure which way to turn, they are in the pit. Our job is firstly to teach them a state of mind- that jumping into the pit is something worthwhile and secondly we need to help them develop the tools to help them survive in the pit and work their way up and out the other side. Don’t worry- we won’t be digging pits, any time soon, to throw your children into but we will be looking to give them the courage and resilience to get out of their mental pits.

Life After Levels Part 2

I include here some notes that summarise some of the salient points made at the life without levels. First note please that this has to be viewed as a starting point- we going on journey on this one- one that will be very productive- but lets not assume we will all fully understand/ be fully reassured just yet.

2 things before we start:-

  1. This is complex- – it involves a new way of conceiving of pupil achievement and a radical overhaul of some of our ways of working. It will take us a little time to get to grips with.
  2. It is progress it is a better way of conceiving of pupil achievement and it will lead to better learning for our children

1 thing that changes right now:-

We wont be telling you whether your child is below/ in line or above expected attainment or progress right now. We will only be informing you where they lie on an effort/ attitude scale. This is an interim measure and we may not stick to this. However please note that we only started giving you a report card before a parent meeting relatively recently: this to give you a bit more of a heads up before you walked into the meeting and provide another starting point for discussion with the teacher. Note also that most primary schools simply hold the parents evening so whatever you feel about these new report cards they are still more than most parents get and, as I’ve said, they are only an interim arrangement.

1 thing to be reassured of right now:-

The school’s progress scores (as detailed on the Ofsted data report called Raiseonline) are very good. This is now the last time levels will be reported on this document and it is the best one the school has ever received. Basically the data says children progress well at our school. A change to a system without levels will not change this fact; will not change the good work our teachers do.

What you need to know:

Levels have been removed from primary education.

An Expert panel reviewed use of levels to judge children’s progress through school and their impact on learning”

They found the way they levels had developed in schools could be negative:-

  1. Children were labelling themselves and comparing themselves to others in an adverse way. Their assertions on this mirror our school’s feelings about the need for a Growth mindset model in education. They said, “We need to switch to a different conception of children’s ability. Every child needs to be capable of doing anything dependent on the effort they put in and how it’s presented to them. Levels get in the way of this.
  2. Schools were pushed (because of the high stakes system of accountability in education) to move pupils at an undue pace through the levels and this meant pupils were often left with important gaps in their knowledge and understanding.

The panel looked at high performing jurisdictions or education systems across the world and found a common theme. They found that, in these jurisdictions, primary school age children studied fewer things in greater depth. Tim Oates (Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment) says, “They secured deep learning in central concepts and ideas”he concluded, “Assessment should focus on whether children have understood these key concepts rather than achieved a particular level.”

The National Curriculum has therefore been re-organised so that there are expectations for each year group rather than level descriptors. The principle here then is to not move a child onto the next year’s key concepts but to stick with those appropriate for that year group and deepen their knowledge and understanding; this by applying their skills and getting pupils to think and reason around the concepts. It is assumed that all children in a year group will be working their way through the curriculum appropriate to them.

The question that will come to mind immediately for parents is, will my child be given appropriately challenging work? The answer to this question is yes of course within each year group, children’s needs will vary as much as they have ever done and it is the class teacher’s job to provide input, experiences and support to cater for these needs. Don’t, for one second, imagine that this is about lowering expectations or aspirations or treating everyone the same. Instead of imagining this, hold onto the key concept behind this change- that we must encourage pupils to learn more deeply before they move onto the next stage, if we are to give them the best possible education.

This expects plenty from our teachers- is all too easy to move children rapidly (or competitively) onto the next thing or next level; it’s quite another to creatively stretch the learning sideways and strengthen their understanding. To do this teachers will be getting children to rehearse and apply their understanding in different purposeful contexts and in ever more challenging and stimulating ways.

Another question that you may have for me is how will we know how our children are progressing? Firstly please note that the most important information we should be discussing is the qualitative information about them as learners; their strengths, habits, needs and next steps. The whole spirit of this new curriculum and the new assessment process is to not label children and allow them to compare themselves to others in an adverse way. That said you need as much clarity as possible so that we can work together to help them reach their potential. We will be working hard between now and the Spring reports to create a system that aims to achieve both of these things.

The Big picture

How your child’s progress will officially be calculated at the end of KS2

The end of levels also means the end of calculating progress from KS1 to KS2 in terms of the difference in levels attained. A new approach will be used to measure progress to the end of KS2 from KS1 and, eventually, from the Reception Baseline. The methodology works as follows, here based on progress between the end of Key Stages 1 and 2:

1.Take a pupils performance in the end of KS2 reading or mathematics tests or writing teacher assessment.

2.Look back at that pupil’s aggregated prior attainment at the end of KS1.

3.Take all the pupils nationally who had exactly the same KS1 prior attainment and look at their KS2 results; work out the average progress made by this group of pupils between Key Stages 1 and 2.

4.Go back to the original pupil and see if she/he made more or less progress than the average. If it’s more than average, she/he gets a positive score and if it’s less than average she/he gets a negative score.

5.Repeat the process for all the pupils in the school’s Year 6 cohort and add up all the resulting positive and negative scores.

6.If its pupils have made more than average progress, the school has an overall positive score, and if they have made less than average progress it has a negative score.



Growth Mindset Part 2

Viney Hill predictably inspired yet more thoughts concerning growth mindsets. I spent my days helping children overcome their fears as we put them through one challenging situation after another and I spent my nights reading an account of Shackleton’s Great Antarctic Rescue by the captain of the Endurance. The week was all about mindsets which is partly what makes these residential weeks so valuable and why they can have such a profound impact on children’s confidence. It is not every day that you scale rock faces, squeeze through caves, cycle down rutted, slippery paths or canoe across freezing cold lakes without an adult. I’m sure we’ve all said, “I can’t” at some point or points in our lives and we’ve all been told, “There’s no such thing as can’t” by our parents or teachers. I lost count of the number of times I heard the words, “I can’t at Viney Hill but then again, I also lost count of the number of times I saw the same children’s faces beaming with pride and deep satisfaction at having overcome another fearful challenge.

Our mantra has to be either “I can’t” or as has caught on in school recently, “I can’t do it yet”, A school should be about learning and not necessarily results; about a willingness to keep trying and not necessarily getting there; about doing one’s best but not necessarily being the best. We have to want our children to want to go on learning when they leave school; to be willing to learn from their mistakes, to embrace the challenges they will inevitably encounter with confidence and determination.

I related the story of Shackleton’s extraordinary tale of survival to the children in assembly last Monday. If you don’t know this story- I urge you to find out more. As an example of a growth mindset; of keeping your spirits up and keeping on going; of keeping on looking for the way out in the face of huge challenges, I can think of none to equal it. That said there are very many other real life and fictional stories out there that can be used with the children to illustrate the point. Please keep an eye out for them and share them with your children.

Maths week will start on Monday November 2nd 2015.  The purpose of the week is to reinforce with  the children just how fun and fascinating maths can be, as well as how important it is in their daily lives!

To help us, renowned author, Kjartan Poskitt (author of the fantastic Murderous Maths series) will be coming to visit. He will be speaking to pupils throughout the day on Friday 12th November (Friday after maths week) and will be hosting a family maths evening on Thursday 11th November.  You can find out more about Kjartan through visiting his website or viewing clips on Youtube – see the school website or Facebook page for more information.  The Thursday evening event will be open to all and further details will be available soon from the PTA. We will not be selling his books in school, however, if children want to bring in one of his books they will be able to get it signed.

To keep you entertained over the half term, please find attached to this newsletter, a family maths challenge! This can be entered into a school competition.  If your child would like to enter, they need to return it to school with their name and class written on by Wednesday 4th November.  The first KS1 and KS2 names drawn out will win prizes!

Life After Levels

As of this September, levels have been removed from primary education. An expert panel that reviewed the National Curriculum between 2010 and 2013, studied many high performing jurisdictions or education systems across the world and found a common theme among them: that primary school age children studied fewer things in greater depth. Tim Oates (Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment) says, They secured deep learning in central concepts and ideas, Assessment should focus on whether children have understood these key concepts rather than achieved a particular level.

There are a number of compelling reasons for levels being dropped. While the original idea of levels was that children worked their way up the levels, they have become overly influenced by other factors. Children are labelling themselves and comparing themselves to others in an adverse way, and they are encouraged to move at an undue pace through the levels. We need to switch to a different conception of children’s ability. Every child needs to be capable of doing anything dependent on the effort they put in and how it’s presented to them. Levels get in the way of this.

This of course echoes all we have been saying about growth mindsets since the beginning of term. We have to approach education and learning from the starting assumption that anyone can do anything. Of course some of us will need to work harder to achieve say a Physics A level than others but the assumption has to be that we can all get there.

In the meantime, please recognise that the information you receive on reports regarding progress will have to change. The first report card will come out at the end of the second week back and will have grades for learning attitudes alone. This will be followed by parent meetings the week after. The most valuable substance for this conversation is yours and the teacher’s ongoing formative knowledge of your child’s specific strengths, needs and next steps as opposed to a random level or how they compare to other children in the year group. Given the new National Curriculum is organised into year specific descriptors of knowledge, understanding and skills as opposed to level specific descriptors, it is assumed that all children in that year group will be working their way through the curriculum appropriate to them. We are refraining therefore from publishing attainment information at this point in the year because the year has just begun. Of course within each year group, children’s needs will vary as much as they have ever done and it is the class teacher’s job to provide input, experiences and support to cater for these needs. Don’t, for one second, imagine that this is about lowering expectations or aspirations or treating everyone the same. Instead of imagining this, hold onto the key concept behind this change- that we must encourage pupils to learn more deeply before they move onto the next stage, if we are to give them the best possible education. This expects plenty from our teachers- it’s all too easy to move children rapidly onto the next thing or next level; it’s quite another to creatively stretch the learning sideways and strengthen their understanding. To do this teachers will be getting children to rehearse and apply their understanding in different purposeful contexts and in ever more challenging and stimulating ways.

Please recognise that there is a steep learning curve here for all of us; particularly in how we need to conceive of children’s learning and progress and what this means practically for how we respond to pupils and help them. We at school are feeling our way gradually and pragmatically towards a way of working that will fit this new assessment landscape and in turn the best interests of the children and their learning. Please bear with us on this journey, be rest assured that it is an improvement on what came before and know that I will be providing you with more information at the outset of the next term. There will also be an open meeting in the school hall with parents and myself and Miss Tonner after school on Wednesday 11th November. We will be providing a creche for this event.

Growth Mindsets

I intend drip-feeding you information about growth mindsets over the next little while and this dripping will, I imagine, culminate in some kind of workshop for those of you who might be interested.

Just for today I’d ask you to consider two pupils. George and Geoff are friends, have similar levels of achievement and do similar things outside of school. One day they are given an interesting task that is well-pitched and challenging.

George gets going with gusto. He’s good at this sort of thing and likes the fact that he has a reputation for getting things right, and fast. He does find the task unusually difficult however and quickly becomes dispirited with it, worrying that the other pupils will think he is coming across as slow. He dismissively tells the pupil next to him that he thinks the task is boring and he disengages from it and shows others he is not trying.

Geoff gets going with gusto. He enjoys this kind of thing because he likes working things out. He finds it tough and begins to enjoy himself- his intellectual curiosity is aroused. His first attempts lead nowhere and he laughs to himself when he finds he is going down a blind alley. He tries a new strategy and talks it through with a couple of classmates. He is tenacious and begins to make progress with the task.

Where do George and Geoff’s mindsets come from? Research would indicate there are two key factors:  the way we give feedback over time and the way we over-value self-esteem. George has been praised for getting things right and quickly—‘clever boy.’ He now does things in measured proportion to the praise he receives. People have been effusive about his every action to help him develop positive self-esteem. Geoff on the other hand hasn’t received a great deal of praise- instead it has been noted and commented on when he has worked hard and people have shown an interest in what he is doing. People have encouraged him to value effort over easy success and take an interest in problems as intrinsically interesting.

I hope you’ll agree it is worth pausing to reflect on this research. In school we will be looking carefully at how we talk to pupils and in particular how we respond to their efforts.

An Exciting New Year

This year ahead of us stands out from many that have come before for the number of exciting development opportunities coming our way. To be the head of a school where all the teaching staff are reliably energised by and open to progressive and enlightened teaching methods makes this job a real pleasure (your children help also, by the way). I use the word ‘progressive’ because I think it’s about time we took the word back from the cynics and critics out there: its’s a word we should be proud of. ‘Conventional wisdom’ has sometimes been at the source of the criticism. Unfortunately conventional wisdom all too often props up either vested interest (and we’re not talking here about the interests of the child) or fear or prejudice. To my way of thinking there is such a large body of thorough and thoughtful research out there now into how children learn, it is irresponsible not to take notice and develop ones practice: I say irresponsible- perhaps I should say immoral (given the children don’t get a second take on all this).


I have already given you the heads up that we will be receiving training in Philosophy for Children and carrying out action research with an educationalist called Shirley Clarke. We are also now looking very seriously at Growth Mindset research, because the evidence is so compelling; because if you get it right, it has such a profound impact on learning and because it complements everything else we are trying to do. In fact we are finding many of these initiatives are now dove-tailing together which hopefully vindicates our general sense of direction. By encouraging a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) in our children, we will help them to embrace challenges; to persist in the face of any setbacks they encounter; to see effort as the path to mastering things- not ability; be able to learn from criticism and be able to find lessons and inspiration (as opposed to envy) in the success of others. If you are interested in finding out more, in time we will run some parent workshops but for the moment try looking up Carol Dwecke who has pioneered this research over the last 50 years.


End of another year

Dear Parents/ carers

The Year 5/6 production, Robin and the Sherwood Hoodies, was brilliantly performed this year: the pupils and staff never let us down. We are always treated to a bit of a spectacle (the props and costumes were superb) and we are always blown away by the children’s confidence and presence on stage. The play was riddled with awful jokes which in the wrong hands can be hackneyed and tedious. Instead we were all prepared to give ourselves up to it and laugh because the children delivered their lines so expertly- with precision timing – and threw themselves into their characters. The singing, the dancing, the acting- were all first rate and as usual fresh talent was realised and nurtured up there on the stage. The final performance on Wednesday really took off- one actor’s confidence rubbing off on the next and inciting the audience into greater participation until the atmosphere was electric. It was the perfect send off for a group of pupils who have always gelled well and looked out for each other- the performance had a flavour of them as a group; was, if you like, a good true reflection of their group spirit, their togetherness. It also felt though like a group coming of age- growing into their parts as they’ve grown into themselves recently—a display of confidence, personal ambition and readiness for the next stage in their education. In short they shone.

A lot of our Year 6 children had been together since Reception and those that joined later had slotted in as if they had started in Reception. Looking on you could see a year group that functioned well; that was full of so many wonderful friendships; friendships that if they’re lucky and if they make an effort- should and could last a lifetime. For my part, I will miss them enormously- partly because I’ve been around long enough now that I felt they were my Leavers – they were just coming into Year 1, after all, when I arrived on the scene. As a group they had always been impressive; energetic and creative and full of beans, and they will undoubtedly leave a big hole here at Minch. They, no doubt, had been bursting to get out and get on with the more ‘grown up’ business of secondary school for some time: to them the years in primary school have been half a lifetime. I hope they enjoyed themselves and I hope they felt proud of themselves. I hope that they felt ready, for the most part, to take on the challenges ahead, as well as make good use of all the rewarding experiences and opportunities that will be coming their way. We felt very proud of them and this will always temper any sadness. We felt proud of the way they had conducted themselves as a Year 6; proud of them as individuals; of their many attributes and talents; proud of them as young people with so much to give. We so enjoyed having them and send our very best wishes with them as they strike out into the blue beyond.

We selected a book of poetry as a present for them this year. For me poetry has the capacity to reflect deeply on all of life- on everything and anything – so it seemed an appropriate present to give them as they drift off beyond our clutches to lead the rest of their lives. This particular collection is a favourite of mine- it’s called ‘Because a Fire Was in My Head’ – I hope this is how we are passing these children onto their secondary schools- fired up and ready. I hope this is what we are achieving for all our pupils. We aim to recognise and nurture all the pupils as individuals; to work on an ethos which supports their emotional and social needs as well as getting them inspired and fired up by learning itself so that they will always want to learn. I am very proud of our teaching team – we are none of us perfect but there is real strength in depth in this team and an unfaltering commitment to the children first and foremost. We are not pre-occupied by what an Ofsted team might think of us or by the SATS results per se- these are necessary and perfectly reasonable methods for judging one school against another but in terms of ‘knowing’ a school they are a scratch of the surface – real life is always going to be infinitely more complex and subtle than a number or a grade. The bottom line is this however- if we get it right for the children and I mean right for them in as many ways as we can- then high standards will always follow. As an Ofsted inspector I have seen schools who are so cowed by the Ofsted process and so preoccupied with their data (understandably so, I might add, given the very real pressure on schools to perform), that they have lost sight of the child. We are not prepared to make this mistake- I have staff with real integrity- who are determined to care for nothing but the children in their care.

The high standards are filtering through. Below are the latest figures – some of these may need to be revised if papers are sent back to the markers so treat this as a draft but a reliable indicator, all the same, of an upward shift in standards over time.

Phonic Screening Check


  2013 2014 2015
Minchinhampton 62 81 100


Key Stage 1 Data


Level 2 + Level 2b+ Level 3+
2013 2014 2015 2013 2014 2015 2013 2014 2015
Reading 100 88 96 89 86 91 39 48 47
Writing 96 91 96 83 79 77 22 7    30
Maths 100 95 96 89 88 81 22 33 40


Key Stage 2


  Level 4+ percentage Level5+ percentage Level6+percentage 2 Levels of Progress 3 Levels of Progress
Sch13 Sch14 Sch 15 Sch13 Sch 14 Sch 15 Sch13 Sch14 Sch15 Sch13 Sch14 Sch 15 Sch13 Sch14 Sch 15
Reading 100 90 95  59 66 79 5 0 2 97 93 98 19 21 43 
Writing 97 93 100  51 63 64 0 7 4 97 98 100 29 48 68 


Maths 92 81 95 51 59 60 18 12 17 95 88 98 30 33 43



A few things could to be said by way of explanation:-

  1. Progress is the most critical measure for schools because some cohorts will always have a higher attainment profile than others. The progress measures here are strong when compared
  2. The percentages of pupils achieving level 3 at KS1 and level 5 at KS2 has been rising steadily. These figures are strong when compared to other schools nationally.
  3. Maths is finally catching up with English. We continue to work on ways to improve the teaching of maths and this trend will continue.
  4. The disparity between Level 6 in English and Level 6 in maths is the same nationally.

Now that you have seen the figures, I have to warn you that levels will no longer exist as of September. This is to be applauded – the new way of working without levels and instead through year group related skills and knowledge is educationally much more enlightened; more in line with our approach and ethos and much better for the pupils. However it will take some getting used to – for teachers and parents alike. I will explain how it is to work and the thinking behind it in detail next term.

For now I am signing off for the summer and I wish you quality time and happiness with your children. There should be a temporary classroom in place as of September as well as some lovely play structures in Foundation Stage- so plenty to keep us busy until then. It’s been a tough year for some of our teams this year- in particular The Nursery and our school office and we wish them a better one next year. The children however continue to thrive and that’s what we’re here for.

N Moss


Class Size & Formative Assessment

Not long ago I wrote about the importance of something called formative assessment in our teaching.  I was lucky enough recently to attend a conference with a man called Dylan Wiliam who is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education and a man worth listening to (see  He has painstakingly been through all the research about what actually makes a difference to children’s learning (there are ‘mountains’ of this kind of research). The three areas of teaching practice he identified as empirically proven to have impact on children’s learning were:- formative assessment, metacognition and philosophy for children. Of course that is not to say educationalists have found the definitive answer to this hot potato- but certainly those of us in teaching have a responsibility to spend our time and money on those things that are proven to work. We are therefore committed to formative assessment – the whole school attended a conference on this for our last INSET and all our teachers work in teaching and learning groups on an ongoing basis, supporting each other to develop better methods of formative assessment. Our school will be leading 15 schools in some action research next year, working with one of the most high profile proponents of formative assessment over the last 15 years, Shirley Clarke. We will also be receiving whole school INSET on Philosophy for Children in October. Both the formative assessment and the P4C are things we are working on with DGAT- our multi-academy trust.

I joined Shirley Clarke for a conference on Friday and again the question of what actually makes a difference came up in conversation. I bring you back to this because I find it fascinating how sometimes public perception (and that includes teachers’ perceptions) can be so at odds with empirical evidence and/or lag so far behind. For example it has been proven that class size, ability grouping and moving schools has little impact on a pupils’ learning. There you go- I’ve said it! And now you’re all sitting there (myself included), going slightly red in the face, and screaming, ‘Nonsense!’ from the rooftops, or at least across the living room. To all of you I would say three things:- firstly we need to be careful not to maintain a strong opinion about how things work just because we have always held it; secondly there will always be individual exceptions to the rule and thirdly, consider that much of what gets bandied about in the press and by politicians about education is based on their own educational experiences (some of which will, by now, be 30 + years old and 30 years is a long time in education).

The argument about class size is always going to be a hot one, particularly because it is often held up as an advantage for independent schools but also because it would seem patently logical- teacher has more time with each pupil- therefore pupil makes better progress. I suppose the point here is this- the most significant impact on pupil learning is the relationship between teacher and pupil, followed closely by the employment of enlightened teaching strategies that empower the pupils as learners as opposed to teaching ‘at’ them. If the teaching is weak or closed, it has a detrimental impact on learning- whether it be 15 pupils in a class or 30. Also the dynamic in a classroom is more subtle and important than you would imagine and can defy the logic of high teacher: pupil ratio. I have taught classes of 15 in an independent school and they have been really hard work- particularly if the combination of children is problematic in terms of generating ideas or balancing certain personalities. The learners themselves are a critical part of the equation (predictably enough) and more often than not, a class of 30 can be a richer and more productive resource in the hands of a good teacher than a class of 15. The best teaching strategies out there (ones that employ formative assessment) utilise the learners as a resource for learning and involve lots of collaboration and peer support: the smaller the class size, the less the scope for doing this. Of course class size can make a difference but it is not necessarily a smaller class size that makes the positive difference- it is more subtle than that and reliably comes down to the quality of teaching every time.

I will return to this ‘conversation’ at the outset of next term. The conference gave me a great deal of food for thought, some of which needs in-depth conversation with the Senior Leadership Team and the rest of the staff before we decide how to proceed. I always witter on about how careful we are that the decisions we take will lead to the best possible outcomes for your children. I reiterate that now.

Creative Thinkers

As a rule I wouldn’t generally describe out pupil body as rule bound. Don’t get me wrong- they understand their right from wrong and are unfailingly great company and always mean well. However they don’t just follow the instructions on the box- their natural creativity means they generally break out of any boxes provided and come up with something entirely unexpected- hence the success of the scrap store in school lunchtimes: the scrap store being, ‘present given to child at christmas-child then plays with the cardboard box that the present came in instead,’ taken to its natural extreme and it thrives here at Minchinhampton. Hence the success in recent years of our K’Nex challengers- a 1st and now a 2nd place in as many years, when you consider the numbers in the competition, is rather impressive and speaks volumes about our pupils’ capacity for creativity- as of course do the many and varied ways in which our pupils respond to being given topic and values homework; the wonderful initiatives our school committees come up with and their beautiful artwork . At every available opportunity our children grab the initiative and take the law into their own hands. We, for our part, ride the wave as best we can- providing a significant range of extra-curricular opportunities for them; giving them autonomy in the classroom and freedom at lunchtimes and letting go the reins on learning whenever we can and dare. I spend my days awash with children’s work which never ceases to surprise and charm me and with endless ideas and requests from the children. Sometimes I feel my head going under -heaven knows, the rest of the school community, whether it be staff or parents, governors or the PTA, are no better- they are simply grown up versions of these ridiculously proactive, busy-minded children- but it is all undeniably pleasurable. We are presently reviewing our school rules and behaviour in school and, as part of this, I will soon be sending you back a survey about behaviour. Our primary concern here is to ensure the children’s learning behaviours deliver, for them, the very best learning. It’s an interesting conundrum this one- given the children’s creativity is a key driver as well as an invaluable engine for this school, what is the best approach for getting the very best traction with their learning? We’re doing just fine of course -this is always going to be about fine tuning and I will be very interested in your feedback as we look to go forward.

Pastoral Care At Minchinhampton

Anyone visiting Minchinhampton Academy for the first time always comments on the positive atmosphere. This is down, in no small part, to the engaging, enthusiastic pupils we borrow, each day, from yourselves. It is also down to the quality of relationships between adults and children throughout the school- that atmosphere people talk about comes from hearing and seeing interactions around the school that are friendly, considerate and trusting. Visitors talk about well-behaved children but it is the spirit of the school that people all feel very strongly about. This has grown over the past few years, and is because the school has a clear conviction about its culture and what it means to be a part of Minchinhampton Academy. As part of this, we have a strong commitment to pastoral care throughout the teaching team.

We aim to be proactive about children’s needs; to predict when children might have worries and respond before they develop into something bigger. We want to be there to provide children with direction at play time, a guiding hand in class and a safe haven at any time during the school day. Children always pick up on change, they feel the vibes when the lives of the people around them shift or move in a direction that feels wrong or not familiar. This affects them and they bring their feelings to school – albeit they might not be immediately obvious. But the staff know what to look for and how to handle these feelings. This is the essence of what Minchinhampton is about. The school puts the children’s needs first: all of them just need space and time to be themselves and to be understood.

There have had to be subtle changes to the way we operate pastorally over the last few months and I thought now would be a good moment to update you. All pastoral concerns should be referred first and foremost through the class teachers and teaching assistants and/or myself. If you cannot contact us directly, we will come back to you as soon as possible and at least within 24 hours. We will then keep you informed about what action we have taken and how things are going and parents must also keep us informed. Sometimes there is no easy ‘click of the fingers’ to solve an issue but usually constant communication and feedback between ourselves and yourselves goes along way. We do also have a Pastoral Team who operate across the school: they are myself, Sara Jones, Ronald Jansen, Paula Hough and Rob Bradshaw. The team are on hand to support pupils during lunchtimes but also to offer more in depth support where it is necessary at other times of the day. Staff will regularly refer on pupils or ‘situations’ to the pastoral team who then have at their disposal a whole range of strategies including giving children responsibilities, signposting them to particular clubs or  offering them guidance and support. They can also refer on again to an outside agency if more specialist advice is needed. Last year the Buddy Room became a good base for the team and a safe place for children to sit, draw or talk. Unfortunately it has been a music room for the majority of this year but we will definitely have it in back in action at some point.

Please, please, if you have any concerns about your child, their happiness and well-being, don’t hesitate to contact your class teacher or myself. We will always listen and are very committed, as a school, to helping your child to feel happy and settled. Every child goes through difficult times at some point in their school life but, as I have already said, if we work together, we can find solutions.

Formative assessment and reading spaces

With the other head teachers from the Academy Trust, I was lucky enough recently to attend a conference with a man called Dylan Wiliam who is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education and a man worth listening to (see  If Educational Policy was defined by people like him as opposed to politicians with short term agendas and their own (possibly inaccurate) pre-conceptions, I firmly believe education would be in a better place than it is. He does not ‘pull his punches’ when discussing politics in education. He spoke about the National Strategies for English and maths which were designed to radically improve achievement in this country. They cost ½ billion ponds to implement but actual levels of attainment went up very little. He said it would have been cheaper to offer every child in the country a £1000 bribe to try to improve their exam results! Wiliam is unconvinced by many other expensive solutions that have been seized upon over the years. He says there is little empirical evidence that many initiatives have had any significant impact on pupil achievement including curriculum reform; how schools are structured (for example small schools, large schools, middle schools); computers, interactive whiteboards and workforce reforms.  And yet, he says, there is more need than ever to get this right because the world is changing at such a pace. There are many traditional skills that are disappearing fast from the workplace and being replaced by technology. Essentially there is a race on between education and technology and unless we are clear about what children really need from their education, we are going to fail them hopelessly. Education (despite the age old claims by one generation that the next is ill-educated and theirs was a golden age before it all went wrong)- has continued to improve steadily. The average IQ of the population has gone up by 3 points every decade for the last 80 years. Schools and education have got better but unfortunately the price of admission to the workplace has also gone up. Wiliam says there is only one 21st century skill worth worrying about- ‘We need to produce people who know how to act when they are faced with situations for which they were no specifically prepared.’ (Paper 1998).

Wiliam claims there are only three areas of teaching practice that are empirically proven to have impact on children’s learning- formative assessment, metacognition and philosophy for children. We have been weaving more and more formative assessment into our practice over the last few years and now we intend to make it better still. Formative assessment is nothing new- it is what good teachers have always done. Good teachers establish where the pupils are in their learning. They identify the learning destination and then carefully plan a route to get there. Along the way they make regular checks on progress and make adjustments to the course as conditions dictate. This all sound terribly simple but at its heart is a really strong commitment to each child’s needs, a fine and subtle appreciation of learning and an excellent level of interaction between teacher and pupils so not so simple then. We need our children to take responsibility for their own learning- to understand themselves as leaners and to be constantly evaluating their learning and the learning of their peers. We want the children generating their own ideas and questions and we often take these as the starting point. Wherever possible we want them to use their initiative and think creatively, exploring different possible solutions to the same problem. We want them to be resilient and persevere when faced with a challenge. Again, not so simple, but definitely worth spending our time and energy on.

I’d like to say a word quickly about our ongoing project to develop our reading spaces in school. Our thanks must go out to Mrs Webb for all her inspirational work. Over the last two years Mrs Webb has built up our impressive stock of books both in the library and in each classroom. She runs whole class sessions in the afternoons, promoting the very best new books we have on offer; she manages the school librarians who help to organise, maintain and promote the library; runs book clubs with groups of children and produces arresting and exciting displays. We must also say a very big thank you to Mr Knowles, Mick Orr and Meg Mclaughlin who have  very recently created our reading pods (or caves as they seem to now be known) outside my office window. The children have taken to these immediately and at lunchtime or during guided reading sessions, there are reliably a huddle of them happily tucked up inside, pouring over books. The Water Garden has always been a space where some children like to go and read as well as act out their oral re-tells. We aim to encourage this further by providing them with chests full of dressing up clothes (hence the request later in this newsletter)  and building cabinets to house ‘outdoor’ books- these being some of our older books, past their best and ready to be put out to pasture. Lastly we have an artist coming in this next term to work with children and parents to create little ‘borrower- style’ installations of scenes from stories. These will be found all through the library and other shared spaces and will each come with a QR code. You will be able to scan the QR code with a mobile device; this will then links you to a video of a class re-telling of that story or perhaps also some artwork, drama or writing by the children.