Alastair Smith opened the inaugural #TLAB13 with his keynote speech entitled: 50,000 chunks: how we become ‘experts’ and what it might mean for our conference today.
I’ve posted a link to the presentation which Alastair has uploaded on to his website. I’m not going to attempt to re-hash the presentation, but rather discuss what I personally took from it.
Starting with a call to arms to identify the expert schools amongst the audience, Smith was both challenging and entertaining.
He cautioned us, as a profession, to beware the ‘Ofsted whisperers’ as: “Ofsted chasing will reduce us to the mean, turn our profession into a trade and make us all vulnerable to the industry of second guessers…” Having recently sat through some (no doubt expensive) training which was designed to teach me about the new Ofsted framework and yet taught me nothing I couldn’t (and indeed pretty much had already) read myself, I found myself nodding in agreement.
Citing an example of a school who had gone from special measures to outstanding under the guidance of an inspirational leader, Smith spoke eloquently about how it isn’t all about Ofsted. There is an Ofsted 1 and a ‘real’ 1 – I think I know which kind of outstanding I’d like to be a part of.
So how does a school become truly expert, truly outstanding in its day-to-day life?
The following characteristics of an ‘expert school’ were offered:
- Have a School Development Plan
- Seen School Development Plan
- Feel you have contributed to School Development Plan
- Senior Staff Member responsible for Teaching and Learning
- Teaching and Learning number one priority within the School Development Plan
- Within Teaching and Learning Priority there are identified strategies
- CPD priorities built around these strategies
- Regular whole school dialogue around these strategies
- Lesson observation (including peer observation) built around these strategies
- Agreed strategies revisited consistently and over time
- There is shared lesson planning utilising strategies and data
- Staff are accountable for students results
- Involvement of students in understanding processes of learning
Given that the audience were comprised of, in my opinion, predominantly forward-thinking educators, it was surprising how few people remained standing once the entire list was read out.
So, once all of that expert practice is in place, what else is needed to make the Ofsted 1 a real 1?
Alastair Smith suggests that a school needs core purpose, clarity, coherence, consistency and community. Music to my ears. Too often I worry we suffer from initiative-itis… we’re guilty of adopting the ‘Dangerous Deputy’ approach. We say ‘I fancy giving that a go’ and jump on the latest faddy bandwagon without really considering what value or impact it will have.
If we are clear and consistent in our approach, if the whole school community knows what our core purpose is and works together to achieve it then positive and lasting change will happen.
I’m not a school leader, but I aspire to be one. I am currently leading a department and so much of what Alastair Smith said resonated with me.
I need to now think about the strengths we have as a department and how we can embed this. I also need to think about where we can improve, look at what other departments or schools are doing and make that a part of our daily routines. As Alastair said, the rhetoric of marginal gains is all well and good but the basics need to be in place first: “you still need to get the bike up the hill.”
Expertise requires dedicated practice. It requires simple, clear and coherent messages which everyone can get behind.
We owe it to our students to be expert teachers in expert schools. No matter what is going on with education at a political level, we can be agents of change.
That’s a call to arms. That’s a reason to get out of bed… even on a Saturday morning.