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Join me in a quest to improve the following...

Being an independent consultant, I am able to follow areas of work that I am passionate about.  I have been lucky enough to work for the Local Authority in Leeds before becoming an independent consultant and I have been able to dedicated thousands of manhours to growing my knowledge and developing solutions for schools, most of which directly links to making a difference for disadvantaged pupils.

Disadvantaged pupils

I want all pupils to be able to thrive in education and love learning.  I want them to have every door open to them in the future and to be able to choose the path they want to follow.  No doors barred.  No paths obscured.

  • Investment in leadership linked to disadvantaged pupils - at a strategic level (HT, SLT, Governors).

  • Investment in leadership specifically related to disadvantaged pupils - a senior leader who holds together the threads and co-ordinates the actions.

  • Investment in leadership at all levels to increase knowledge, understanding and action - phase leaders and  subject leaders being clear on how they can act (including foundation subjects and English leaders and Mathematics leaders).

  • Teachers - high levels of understanding about typical barriers disadvantaged pupils face and what action can be taken on a daily basis.

Cracking the code for this group of pupils is multi-layered.  We know a great deal about what works for these pupils, but it is hard to get busy teachers and leaders to have expertise and then the knock-on knowledge of how to implement the research.  There is one thing knowing it - it is something else entirely different to implement it as none of the measures are quick and none of the measures work on their own.

Growing and developing solutions

I am not just interested in broadly knowing what works, and have therefore set about in the last 15 years growing the knowledge needed to make a difference.  

Growing and developing knowledge and understanding that will benefit ALL pupils but have a disproportionately positive influence on disadvantaged pupils:

  • Eradicating word reading issues - We need all pupils being able to read fluently and all pupils to achieve minimum word reading speeds.  Speed impacts on confidence, text consumption and enjoyment - which in turn impacts on vocabulary development, comprehension and ability to learn and enjoy books!  Eradicating word reading issues is not just about phonics -it is also about a number of other issues, e.g. the quality of talk, vocabulary and book use in EYFS; phonological awareness; understanding how auditory processing impacts on development; orthographic mapping in KS2; reading aloud strategies, high-impact word reading intervention strategies.  Recently, I have found that schools have benefited from training in KS2 on: 1) assessing reading speed, 2) understanding typical issues and diagnosing problems from testing, 3) acting on findings at whole class level, group level and individual level.  Teachers in upper year groups need to have excellent knowledge of how to develop word reading that is specific to the needs of pupils in this phase of their education!

  • Eradicating handwriting issues - All pupils need to be able to write quickly, easily and clearly.  Achieving automaticity frees up working memory, improves stamina, improves the quality of composition, increases pupil confidence.  There is a large knowledge base derived from research and classroom findings that informs us as to what makes teaching handwriting effective.  However, even the researchers themselves say teachers don't utilise the findings!  Many teachers (and leaders) simply do not see the IMPACT poor handwriting has on outcomes - for if they did, handwriting would be a high priority and quickly eradicated as an issue!  I have reviewed hundreds of pupil books and see first-hand the difference handwriting makes on outcomes.  You can find out more on my blog.  To help schools try and implement the research, I have created a system that can be used in every classroom to deliver 15 minutes of daily handwriting practice.  

  • Enabling all pupils to be excellent at enjoying and utilising texts - and this means having superb comprehension skills (including a strong emphasis on metacognition and reading).  There are thousands of research articles and hundreds of books dedicated to teaching reading comprehension and the factors which contribute to the development of reading comprehension.  It is a broad and complex field that is worthy of indepth study.  In addition, increased teacher understanding of comprehension also helps teachers to design lessons that get the most from the texts being read!  I have delivered many face-to-face sessions to reading leaders but the problem is making CPD accessible for everyone.  As teachers have different levels of experience and expertise, and because it is too expensive to send everyone on multiple days of face-to-face training, I have developed an extensive online learning CPD programme  'developing reading expertise' which mainly focuses on comprehension, but does overlap with word reading.  Schools can supplement online CPD with live zoom sessions if they want a greater focus on word reading, or just more help with getting the most from the online package.

  • Thinking - all aspects related to thinking - strategies for getting to deeper thinking, different ways of expressing thinking, different types of thinking (e.g. thinking like a historian, thinking like a scientist), models of thinking, diagrams that help people to think about thinking!  I utilise this research in the design of my own training and I work with classroom teachers on considering how to improve thinking, particularly in KS2.

  • Memory - types of memory, the finite nature of working memory, how we judge our memories, techniques for improving memory, the impact of working memory on aspects of education and learning, how to retain memories, how learning can be made more efficient and effective, how the brain works.

  • Metacognition - I believe much of my own success as a learner has been achieved through being metacognitive coupled with growth mindset.  Growth mindset has been very helpful for me as an adult in all aspects of my life!  Good news is that we can teach metacognition - its' development doesn't have to be left to chance!  This is particularly the case in KS2 and beyond.  I am currently working on transferring my face-to-face training into an online course.  I have worked with many schools to implement strong growth mindset practices.

  • Language and vocabulary - Vocabulary deficits for disadvantaged pupils is widely known.  What is still up for debate is the best way to achieve vocabulary boosts.  What we can consider is early development of language in EYFS - and I have developed a programme of CPD that specifically looks at more systematic development of vocabulary and language linked to areas of provision and books.  There are also several recent developments in national programmes for language intervention in EYFS. 
    The quantity of reading (in and out of school) is a key factor in vocabulary - which takes us back to reading fluency and reading comprehension.  The quality of foundation subjects and nonfiction reading are also both contributing factors - without background knowledge it is very difficult to understand the texts being read!  Orthographic mapping is also important in KS2 and teachers perhaps do not place as much emphasis on prefixes, suffixes, syllables, spelling patterns, breaking words apart, morphology, reading words aloud - as perhaps research would suggest that they should.  Language is also be linked to oracy - strategies for using talk effectively in the classroom, modelling of language, teaching useful phrases.  I have led training sessions on questioning and talk, I am a big advocate of Kegan Cooperative Learning Structures, I have created resources linked to 'Accountable Talk' and worked with the Local Authority on talk projects.

  • Progression in writing: Disadvantaged pupils often make less progress in writing.  Many of the above factors feed into writing progression.  However, through my work with schools and many book reviews I have found that teachers often enable pupils to achieve higher levels of writing when they build good genre knowledge with the pupils (particularly structure of writing and sentences linked to a genre), reading many examples of the genre (not just unpicking a WAGOLL).  Pupils need excellent content and background knowledge, support to access and use vocabulary appropriate for the context and genre, support for simple planning, great genre knowledge and solid sentence work.  Schools have moved away from teaching 3 weeks on newspapers, 3 weeks on recount (which is a good thing) and have instead linked writing to novels, experiences and foundation subjects.  However, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and some schools have reduced their emphasis on genre knowledge to the point where it holds back the quality of writing! I have noticed that teachers themselves struggle with what progression in a genre looks like in different year groups and how to focus is on the next steps of development within a genre.  I have worked with schools on training but it is hard to deliver writing training to all colleagues in the same room at the same time!  After all, the needs and questions of an EYFS colleague are not going to be the same for the Year 6 teacher!  Therefore, I have started creating online courses so that teachers can access training that is specific for their year group.  And delivering small group twilight training via zoom for colleagues across school wishing to focus on a particular genre in a particular phase.

  • Marking and feedback: Over the years I have worked with many colleagues on marking, feedback and assessment. Schools have certainly improved their approach over the last 10 years, but it continues to be an area of challenge for schools.

  • Curriculum development: Over the last few years I have grown and developed my knowledge of the curriculum.  This has linked to working with senior leaders on curriculum design.  I have written articles for The Key.  I have supported subject leaders in 1:1 sessions and in group training to consider how the curriculum intent, implementation and impact can be strong and effective.  A great curriculum is an enabler for disadvantaged pupils.  I cover large scale overview theory about the curriculum and have supported schools to consider issues such as sequencing.  Most of my work has focused on academic performance and the development of foundation subjects.

  • Intervention plans: When working for Leeds LA, I worked as an Interventions Adviser and worked with many intervention managers and SENCOs.  I have delivered training to both new and experienced SENCOs via Local Authority training events.  Less of my work is currently based around SENCOs but there are still some areas I work with colleagues to improve - Maximising the impact of teaching assistants, planning effective interventions for disadvantaged pupils.