About @DrDanNicholls

Executive Principal within the Cabot Learning Federation. Thoughts and ideas do not necessarily reflect that of the CLF.

Urgent Action Required | addressing disadvantage

“Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need.” (Rick Lavoie)

As educationalists we have an urgent problem. A problem that has always been there, one which we have struggled to address and now this problem threatens to disenfranchise and damage an ever increasing number of children. However effective we believe our present education system is, it fails year after year to address the disadvantaged gap; there is very limited evidence of attainment mobility in our schools; disadvantaged children at age 16 are 18.1 months behind their more affluent peers (EPI, 2019) and more than half a GCSE grade behind per subject (Progress 8 -0.45 to +0.13).

“Over recent years, there has been a dramatic slowing down in the closure of the disadvantage gap (at the end of Year 11), … the five-year rolling average now suggests that it would take 560 years to close the gap. … an increase in the gap in 2018 suggest(s) … that we could be at a turning point and that we could soon enter a period where the gap starts to widen.” (EPI, 2019)

This is now an urgent issue, the impact of the present pandemic will not be felt equally; our asymmetric society will become more so. As you read this the disadvantaged gap is widening quicker than ever. The inconvenient truth is that the legacy of the pandemic will be far reaching, will extend into the future, and for an increasing number of children the impact will be irreversible. It may well threaten the fabric of society, but it is the fortune of individual children that should motivate our action now and as we emerge into a post-pandemic world.

It will be hard to describe the challenge that our disadvantage children and families now face. In a World that acts explicitly and implicitly against the disadvantaged, the present hiatus in their education and the impact of school closure will have a deep pastoral and educational legacy exacerbated by a deep economic downturn; the level of disadvantage across the country will deepen and grow. The already strong propensity for disadvantaged children to self-deselect will grow significantly.

Of all of the problems that our sector now faces this is the most urgent; we must act now; not in isolation, but as a sector to address the expanding disadvantage gap. Not just because it is right for individual children growing up in uncertain times, but because our very society may depend on it.

“Education and organisations should be judged by how well it supports its most vulnerable and disadvantaged to achieve and feel success.”


Disadvantaging the disadvantaged | Distance Learning

For all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew Effect)

If we wanted to design a curriculum and a mode of delivery that would disadvantage the disadvantaged then distance learning during closure would be it. Overlay a challenging unemployment and economic climate, the disadvantaged and newly disadvantaged will have even less ability to focus on education; will have even less opportunity and control over their lives.

The following table identifies the reasons for the widening disadvantaged gap through the lens of distance learning during the pandemic, … something that is also true during normal times.

During the time of closure there will be increasing numbers of children who are curriculum negative (accumulating disadvantage) and are falling behind; a group that will expand over time. At the same time there will also be curriculum and learning positive pupils (accumulating advantage), those who thrive in the home, making greater progress than if they had to contend with the noise of school. The result is a stretch in present attainment profile that is now widening the disadvantaged gap and significantly growing the number of children who will have delayed attainment; from those who have little, more will be taken away.

Again the impact of this will not be felt equally across schools and academies, those serving high disadvantage in highly deprived areas will have the greatest challenge; where the full impact of the pandemic and economic downturn will play out. It is in these areas and schools that we will need to work the hardest to maintain a child’s focus on education, secure attainment mobility and give them the opportunities to be be more than they thought they could be.


The impact of Distance Learning for disadvantaged (and other) children

The following chart identifies the impact of poor versus highly effective teaching on an average student and a disadvantaged student. Whilst this is true when children are in school it is also true, probably more so, when children are distance learning. This should focus us to view distance learning through the eyes of the disadvantaged learner, taking into account the barriers identified above and the suggested criteria for distance learning below.

Sutton Trust, 2011

If we are in any doubt that attendance is linked to progress, then the following graph identifies the Progress 8 score achieved by children whose attendance fall below 90% and where attendance is between 90-95% for disadvantaged (blue) and non-disadvantaged (grey). Again the disproportionate impact on disadvantaged reduces progress 8 by a further 0.36 compared to non-disadvantaged for children with less than 90% attendance. (sample data, not national data)

We will soon have the vast majority of children with attendance <90% for this academic year, but as with the pandemic, the impact is never felt equally across society; the asymmetry will deepen, the disadvantaged (and others) will fall further, loosing their foothold in education.


So what? how do we tackle this enormous challenge?

This is a question for the sector and it will need to evolve over time. The following is not exhaustive, but is a starter for 10, a plan for action based on some key periods of time:

During the pandemic | Now

  • Feed the disadvantaged and vulnerable children; prioritise the feeding of families during the pandemic, working with community groups to meet this basic need.
  • Keep disadvantaged and vulnerable children safe; do everything we can to keep children safe through the pandemic, maintaining contact and support to build their sense of psychological safety.
  • Get disadvantaged online (now and in the long term); we need to do more to tackle the digital divide, now more than ever with the current jump in technology and on-line learning.
  • Create effective Distance learning through the eyes of disadvantaged children through the pandemic; based on the following principles:
    1. Accessible: High clarity, specific instructions, dependable in format, encourages routine. – limit all barriers to accessing and completing learning.
    2. Sequenced: Ordered and progressive, does not assume high levels of inference or cultural context. – random content in the wrong order does not support learning and progression.
    3. Proportionate amount: Is achievable, meaningful, and encourages completion – too much work will encourage opt-out.
    4. Engaging and compelling: Build in hooks and engaging tasks that encourage return and continuation of learning. – reducing disadvantaged propensity to self-deselect.
    5. Human interaction: The more we can give a sense of human interaction and narrative with the more likely it will generate motivation.
    6. Validation and feedback: Encourage further working by validating and acknowledging completed work.
  • Expect and prepare for the reduced quality and coherence of distance learning as fatigue sets in and where there is a lack of long term vision for distance learning; consider key leveraging learning, lessons, resourcing that are focused on the most important key concepts and learning for the next phase of education.
  • Make this everyone’s challenge; unswerving focus and high ambition for disadvantaged children; lifting the ceiling of what we believe is possible; shifting culture and ambition will underpin all efforts to address this challenge; start now, build momentum with colleagues now – share the challenge, call for innovation.
  • Convert and recruit all Raising Standards Leaders to the cause; to focus entirely on the attainment and progress of disadvantaged children in every year group; championing and building the plan through others.
  • Build on-line and deliver Professional Development sessions during closure that focus on:
    • “Teaching through the lens of disadvantaged learners.”
    • “Leading through the lens of disadvantaged learners.”

Preparing to re-join the new normal | Next and in addition to the above

  • Review deeply the curriculum:
    • Map clearly what has been lost, not covered … assume universal coverage is low.
    • Debate then define the core spine of the curriculum; that which is now the key concepts, knowledge and skills that are most leveraging for the future.
    • Look to remove noise out of the curriculum; more than ever we need to take the shortest route to learning.
  • Plan how you will assess each child, when we re-join, to understand that key curricular and learning gaps; not to allocate a number to each child, but to understand the needs of each learner to inform the curriculum, planning and teaching.
  • Maximise and plan for the greater use of technology; exploit the recent jump in on-line learning – sift out the good and package it to supplement the curriculum for disadvantaged learners over time.
  • Plan for the deeper involvement and collaboration with families as co-educators of children. Plan how this can be directed to add resource to closing the attainment gaps.

Post-pandemic world | Academic Year 2020 – 2021

  • Do not drop disadvantaged children down sets.
  • Do give disadvantaged children the very best teachers and teaching, promoting disadvantaged up sets to get to the best teacher.
  • Invest deeply in quality teaching; the greatest determinant on disadvantage progress, ensure all professional development activity improves the quality of teaching. Be highly specific on the key spine of the curriculum, direct instruction, modelling, deliberate practice, interleaving, review, revisit. Sequence curriculum to have a strong narrative and a level of purpose that motivates and makes learning irresistible.
  • Teach disadvantaged more; this is about equity not equality. Consider extending the school day and holidays to address the widening gap.
  • Get every disadvantaged child on-line and with a suitable device; reduce competition for the device within the home. Direct learners to highly specific learning on the core spine of learning that will be most leveraging for closing the gap.
  • Do not just focus on the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge – without context, understanding, meaning and purpose this will not stick in the long term, to support understanding of the world, so that disadvantaged children have self agency in childhood and adulthood.

Long term change to education

  • We need to judge the quality of provision through those that most need it and keep disadvantaged attainment (and progress) as a defining measure of the quality of the provision. Measuring an academies ability to secure attainment mobility over time. Rewarding those who genuinely reverse disadvantage.
  • Do not create a national assessment and examination structure in 2021 that only serves to measure the impact of the pandemic and the deep inequalities in this country.
  • Adapt the present framework to address the deep needs of disadvantaged children in a post-pandemic world; one that will be harder not easier for disadvantaged children

“The question is, ‘What will normal look like?’ While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.” (McKinsey, March 2020, a quote from 11 years ago during the global financial crisis)

Whilst there are many things that are uncertain in a post-pandemic world, we already know that the impact of the pandemic and the economic downturn will hit those who will be least able to cope. We need to act now; if not now, when, if not you, who?


Dr Daniel Nicholls

April 2020

Leading in extraordinary times | paradigm shifting

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” (C.S. Lewis)

We are coping, working and leading in extraordinary times. We are in the midst of a high magnitude, low frequency event; a global pandemic that has significantly shunted and disrupted life as we know it. An event that is more disruptive to education than any other in our living (working) memory. Considering how we lead in this pandemic era and in a post pandemic world provides a framework for us to seize opportunities and to imagine how education could be. (the pandemic, at the very least, demonstrates that anything is possible).

Under times of stress we are conditioned to focus on surviving and coping; our horizon is near, our perspective is narrow. Whilst this is a necessary phase of crisis management if we step back and look into the future we can start to take control, rationalise and address the challenges and prepare to exploit the opportunities that this hiatus to normal provides, so that we increase the chance of an extraordinary destiny.

Hiatus: a pause or break in continuity in a sequence or activity.

If we name it, perhaps we can manage it. … and as educators we must manage it; children and communities rely on us to make sense of this hiatus and to lead beyond it, into a post pandemic world. Indeed the way schools have responded to the pandemic has elevated their role as a civic actor; there has never been a greater opportunity to rethink, evolve and establish an education system, led by and developed by our sector.


Situational Awareness

The following diagram provides a representation of the pre-pandemic phase, the pandemic and the post pandemic world; providing a framework for discussion and greater situational awareness.

The framework identifies how we moved from sensing the change that might be caused by the pandemic to the reality of the high magnitude event; an external shunt to the system that forced educators into crisis management. The traumatic change, in mid-March, closed schools across the country with educators leading from one hour to the next. This then shifted to a period of stabilisation, in the present pandemic era. A new normal, characterised by distance learning under lock-down.

At some point in the future, in a post pandemic future, we will prepare to re-join normal. This is where educators will need to show strong and deliberate leadership that addresses, among other issues, significant challenges related to societal and cultural cohesion and the urgent need to address the hiatus in the education of disadvantaged children as well as key year groups, 5, 10 and 12. The flip side is a significant opportunity, using this hiatus in normal to trigger a new paradigm; perhaps a once in a generation opportunity to understand how education could be. A release from our organisational (sector) blindness.


“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” Marianne Williamson


Paradigm shifting | our system has been externally shunted

As humans we live by accepted norms; cultural, societal and educational; taken together these create the present paradigm; one which has been thrown into chaos. How we see the world and perhaps what is possible has shifted..

Paradigm shift: a time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely. 

The following diagram, which represents the same time span as above, identifies the former paradigm, the new temporary paradigm during the present pandemic era and the new paradigm that will establish in the post-pandemic world.

Whilst we have shifted into the pandemic era we necessarily play a finite game where the immediacy of the situation necessitates coping, supporting and crisis management. As we stabilise in the pandemic era we need to extend our time horizon and think with a more infinite mindset necessary to plan for and realise what we can build as the next educational paradigm. (influenced by Sinek, 2020)

This requires us as a sector and educationalists to have a purposeful awareness of the opportunities that can shape education in the new world. This requires us to seed and occupy an Innovation space, created and stimulated by the hiatus and the paradigm shift forced by the global pandemic… a unique opportunity to seize.


Our challenge | pandemic, post pandemic and beyond

The following is some initial thinking in broad terms (and far from exhaustive) of the challenges and opportunities we have a sector in these three phases…

Within the pandemic era

  • Secure provision, defined by distance learning, that is sequenced, efficient, consistent and accessible and one that has (at least a sense of) human interaction and narrative. To maintain our curriculum, learning and a sense of normality to our children.
  • Understand the impact of distance learning on disadvantaged children; an urgent concern, one that could have an irreversible legacy. (if there was ever a strategy to further disadvantage disadvantaged children then distance learning would be it.)
  • Supporting and maintaining societal cohesion; acting with community agencies to support families in these challenging times.
  • Supporting and maintaining contact with our most vulnerable children and families and those that become so.

Preparing for a post-pandemic world

  • Planning and preparing for children to re-join their education. A pastoral and curricular challenge.
  • Planning specifically to rationalise and empower children, particularly those in Years 5, 10 and 12 to experience a curriculum and assessment structure that does not compound the hiatus in their education.
  • Planning specifically to support disadvantaged children; deliberately and rigorously seeking to tackle the growing disadvantaged gap, which will be exasperated, not supported by distance learning; a challenge that will be measured in years not months.

Paradigm shifting into a new education era

  • Understanding what we need from the national assessment and examination structure. Not just for Year 5, 10 and 12 in 2021 (whose gap and random curriculum coverage is already undermining the fairness of 2021 exams and assessment, particularly if you are disadvantaged), but in the long term. There has never been a better opportunity to rationalise this structure and understand how we could better prepare all children for adulthood and to be economically and personally successful.
  • Building on the role of schools, academies and Trusts as community partners; how far does this pandemic re-shape and re-articulate the position of schools and Trusts at the heart of their communities?
  • Capitalising on the role of parents and families as co-partners in educating their children; building on the deep investments being made by parents/carers in their child’s education.
  • Re-imagining the role of technology in supporting learning in and beyond school. We are already seeing a significant jump in the use of technology; a foothold in the virtual space that will not recede.
  • Deeply considering and understanding the key/leveraging curricular elements that enable children to transition to adulthood (or secondary, or Post-16); something that is required in the planning of Year 5, 10 and 12 , 2020-21 curriculum.
  • Exploiting the depth of altruism and support between Trusts and the wider sector evident through this crisis, to build a self-supporting, self-improving system.
  • The future of school inspection in a post-pandemic world; and the opposite opportunity to build sector-led quality assurance, based around a greater understanding of what matters. What does education look like with limited performance tables and a hiatus in curriculum continuity?

“Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity.” Og Mandino


Into the Innovation Space | Don’t go into hibernation

So from adversity may come opportunity, perhaps one that is rich enough to bring significant good from the present struggle. One that may transform education and support our children to thrive in this uncertain world.

So go into the innovation space, avoid hibernation and dare to dream of an education system at the heart of the community, working in deep partnerships and focusing on the right things for our children and the future generations.

This hiatus may well be the jolt to the system that allows educationalists and the sector to create a new paradigm; one that will better serve our young people… but only if we seek it.


Dr Daniel Nicholls

29 March 2020

Key Stage 3 Curriculum 3.0

The following is an update that details the development of the Cabot Learning Federation’s Key Stage 3 Curriculum 3.0; it is the third iteration of the curriculum that has been in place for the last two years. It is the result of the work and insight of curriculum curators from across the Trust who have been charged with the deep responsibility of curating the curriculum for our children. A curriculum that allow children to dance across disciplines…

Everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines… modern life requires range, making connections across far-flung domains and ideas. ( Range, David Epstein, 2019)

We choose to curate our own CLF curriculum across the Trust not because it is easy, but because it is hard… and because it is a challenge that we are willing accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win (for our children).

We take on this challenge fully aware of the weighty ethical responsibility that it brings; knowing that what we choose to teach confers or denies power… there is nothing more important than what we choose to pass on to the next generation.

We choose to empower experts across the Trust to own and curate our Curriculum. A shared curriculum that builds a platform on which experts can perform (teach and inspire). The shared curriculum frees professionals to follow the learning to meet the needs of all children. On the platform of the curriculum we believe colleagues should be empowered to “red dance“… to realise the promise of the curriculum and its loftier goals

We choose to empower curators in an ever-onward curation to provide the best possible curriculum for our children.

The curators are charged to fulfill the ambition of the Curriculum.To deliver the promise of the curriculum and its loftier goals.

The ultimate aim  of the Curriculum is to ensure all children have self-agency so that become active participants in their own lives, because each child has a strong sense of self and an understanding of their place in the world. This is the result of children seeking meaning and making connections as they build understanding from a foundation of knowledge and skills (expertise). Where knowledge and skills are the foundation and servant of the loftier goals of the curriculum.

The aims can be represented in a hierarchy that move from knowing some stuff, to disciplinary thinking to being able to transfer and connect to wider subjects areas and ideas, interdisciplinary knowledge…

or linked to cognitive science…

And that the nature of cognitive challenge varies. From low cognitive challenge for new knowledge and skills to high cognitive challenge for the loftier ambition of the curriculum that requires a level of assimilation into present schema. To build our sense of self and place we need to alter what we already believe to be true. Whilst it is far harder to secure these curricular goals they are necessarily built on a strong foundation of understanding made possible by a deep foundation of knowledge and skills.

The loftier goals of the CLF Curriculum are to support our young people to develop a sense of self; so that teaching and the wider curriculum support the positive development of behaviours, perceptions, dispositions and character traits that create a sense of self.

Understanding who we are can only be in relation to the world in which we live. Closely allied to the supporting children to have a sense of self is to secure a sense of place in the world. Not that this is directly taught, of course, because as with a sense of self every child is unique and at the centre of many networks of social relations, and nobody else occupies that particular position…

These loftier goals of the curriculum have the ultimate aim of giving all children self-agency both now and into adulthood. Self-agency: the ability to take decisions that give us control over our lives… so that we know what to do when we do not know what to do.

It is the loftier goals of the curriculum that live on into adulthood, far more than the specific knowledge or skills that we acquire in the detail of the curriculum that fall away. Perhaps in the same way that far after the knowledge of the rose garden have gone, the underlying meaning and pattern of that learning that changed our view of self and place remains deeply in the soil, waiting for a time to be useful (or appear in a dry spell)…

The CLF KS3 Curriculum is part of the CLF 3-19 curriculum…

Against aims of the curriculum and within the above spiral there are a set of guiding principles for the CLF KS3 Curriculum:

The aim of the curriculum is to secure self-agency for all children now and into adulthood, through a developed sense of self and place that is built on seeking meaning based on understanding secured on a strong foundation of knowledge and skills (expertise). The curriculum is based on age related expectations that are progressive and built across the 3-19 curriculum. It focuses on securing the disciplinary knowledge required to support children to be mathematicians, authors, historians, artists… It is built by Curriculum Curators and the entitlement for all children is protected by Curriculum Guardians across the Trust.

It purposefully builds up from Primary to support breadth and depth of curriculum that seeks broader curricular than that stifled by drawing GCSE of flightpaths down from KS4.

In addition the following are key principles:

The curriculum is intended to be taught to depth, stretching, demanding and expecting opinions from children. Based on a shard curriculum teachers evaluate and reflect on the learnt curriculum to follow the learning and meet needs. There are vertical strands in the 3-19 curriculum of oracy, writing, reasoning and reading. Assessment is principally through DOYA, with knowledge acquisition assessed through MCQs.

Whilst the shared curriculum is important … what really matters is how it is enacted (taught) … and then what matters is what is learnt …. and then what is long-term learnt…

The curriculum is divided into four cycles of teaching, assessment and re-teaching … repeat:

Each subject in the KS3 Curriculum is defined by a set of Age Related Expectations; starting with KS2 prior learning, knowledge and skills, Understanding and Application and then Meaning … the loftier goals cannot be directly taught.

For each cycle there are medium term plans; sets direction without stifling teachers to follow the learning to meet needs; to red dance on the platform of the shared curriculum…

All of this demands a deep focus on pedagogy and the quality of teaching. The loftier goals of the curriculum in particular are likely to require something like this:

  • Make explicit how the whole curriculum links and connects together; giving opportunity to explore direct and indirect connections between schema to piece together how they fit in the world.
  • Bounce up through the future curriculum to spark awe and wonder and set-up future learning, a sense of progression and to see the bigger picture early.
  • Build in space in the curriculum to support children to seek meaning and develop their sense of self and place in the world. 10% eureka time where the only output is speculation.
  • Explore the sense of self agency: the notion that social, political and other change can be triggered by individuals and groups. Developing skills and competences that build self-agency and the ability to trigger and sustain change.

“Empowering students to create social change and solve problems that will improve living conditions and increase well-being.” (Nathan, 2017 in Fullan, 2019)

  • Promote the he role of teacher: we learn by paying attention to others; it is staggering how much information is socially transmitted. What if it is significant others in our lives that actually make the difference; shaping who we are and who we become?
  • Understand the key importance of disciplinary knowledge (how to think like a… (historian for example) for deepening understanding, exploring meaning and enabling children to understand how to think and to conceptualise the world.
  • Contextualise learning in the present and future challenges that children face. We only attend to things that we belie/e or are made to believe are important; to these things that are directly relevant to us – make it important.

Dr Dan Nicholls | Cabot Learning Federation | July 2019

What if the Curriculum is the thing and we get it wrong?

Our opportunity

What if our opportunity is to build, design and curate a curriculum that inspires the next generation to understand themselves and their place in the world? What if this curriculum, built by teachers, as curators of the curriculum, enabled the next generation to be unusually well prepared for their future? What if this requires us to think deeper about the curriculum and what children really need?

“The importance of knowledge is not in question, but knowledge alone is not enough.” (Mick Waters)

What if we need to go back and understand how children develop, how they learn and what they need to thrive now and in the future so that they are successful in adulthood? What if these are uncertain times socially, politically, environmentally and economically and that this complexity means it is hard to predict what children in Early Years will need when they are 30 (2045) or 40 (2055)? How will they navigate the increasingly fractured and fracturing world that they will inhabit? What if by exploring these questions we gain a deeper understanding of what the curriculum should be and why knowledge alone is not enough?  

What if the dominance of knowledge and skills in the curriculum may miss the point of what it really takes to be successful in an ever-complex world? What if it is not that knowledge is not important and that knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more is not important?

What if we are endanger of swinging and being seduced by cognitive science to creating a curriculum that fails to equip children with the confidence and tools to exploit opportunities now and in the future; a curriculum that does not provide space for children to find meaning and connections across their learning so that they know who they are (sense of self), how they fit within their world (sense of place) and engage positively in an ever-changing world (self agency); a curriculum that is not worth having?…

“This is Vanity Fair (our curriculum) a world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.”

What if this is our opportunity to create a curriculum that is not limited to or by knowledge, but seeks to support all children to (based on a foundation of knowledge) deepen understanding, seek meaning and to have a greater sense of self and their place in the world; a curriculum that enables children to know what to do when they do not know what to do? (an ability that has never been more required)…

Enabling children to acquire knowledge and skills (expertise), which secured through application (over time), deepens understanding and allows children to seek meaning so that they have a greater sense of self and their place in the world.

What if we consider these aspects in reverse, to underline the servant nature of knowledge and to ensure we are building a curriculum that is striving for something that is worth having? Children know what to do when they do not know what to do because of a curriculum that is…

Enabling children to understand their place in the world, which they exploit because a developed sense of self and agency built on an ability to seek meaning and make connection based on  evolving understanding secured through playing with knowledge and skills.

What if knowledge is a servant for growing ourselves and our understanding of how we fit? What if knowledge falls away and is forgotten as we grow; such that we do not use as adults much of the detail of this early knowledge?

What if we start with what it means to be human on this planet; what it means to have a sense of place? then a sense of self and self agency? then seeking meaning and leave knowledge, skills and understanding as there is little risk of these being under-represented in the new approaches to curriculum? Explored here: What if this is how we learn?


Building a sense of place in the world

a curriculum that supports children to understand their world and how they grow within it as a connected individual.

What if 300,000 years ago the species known as Homo Sapian evolved in East Africa? What if sometime between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago there was a Cognitive Revolution, triggered by a genetic mutation that enabled the evolution of a brain, out of sink with other animals, that allowed for communication, memory and the opportunity to contemplate the meaning of life? … an advantage that would enable the species to conquer the world…

“The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes a Cognitive Revolution… The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens… it enabled us to conquer the world.” (Yuval Noah Harari, 2015)

What if The cognitive revolution enabled humans to communicate, think, remember, learn, invent and collaborate together? What if this created the need to develop myths (shared truths) by which humans could exist together and understand their place in the world? (countries, currency, language, religion, laws, morals, values, rituals…)

What if our understanding of our place in the world is shaped and guided by a set of myths that humans have created?

“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”  (Yuval Noah Harari, 2018)

What if understanding these myths and having cultural literacy is essential if a child can have self agency now and in the future?

“Cultural literacy is important too and if you don’t know those key facts in the society you live in, you’re permanently disadvantaged. I think that is a key fact” (Michael Barber)

What if as a species, humans are myth-makers, sharing myths to support collaboration and to bind humans together. What if these myths are shared stories and structures that help us to understand the world; to make sense of it and our place within it? What if these myths become the truth (laws, language, nations, currency, religion … the curriculum)? What if the curriculum we curate is essentially a set of myths that we believe will support children to understand their place in the world as they grow?


Building a sense of self and self agency:

a curriculum that builds a sense of self and releases self agency that allow children to flourish as individuals, exploiting their sense of place in the world.

“It’s unlikely that something as complex as the sense of self resides in a single brain region … many different aspects of the self – including the ability to distinguish self and other, the looking-glass self, the ability to introspect, and our cumulative store of memories and experiences… emerges from more than one different neural system … interact with each other to produce a complex set of behaviours, perceptions, dispositions and character traits that make up the (whole) self.” (Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, 2018)

What if our sense of self is the sum of our edited memories?

What if the structure of the brain has evolved to provide babies with neurons set in different regions of the brain that get connected by synapses over time to sculpt remarkable abilities that allow humans to communicate, store memories, build understanding, seek meaning and gain a sense of their own self and their place in the world? What if by age two there are one hundred trillion synapses

“At birth, a baby’s neurons are disparate and unconnected, and in the first two years of life they begin connecting up extremely rapidly as they take in sensory information. As many as two million new connections, or synapses, are formed every second in the infant’s brain. By age two, a child has over one hundred trillion synapses, double the number an adult has.” (David Eagleman, 2015)

All the experiences in your life – from single conversations to your broader culture – shape the microscopic details of your brain. Neurally speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been. Your brain is a relentless shape-shifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry – and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast, detailed patterns in your neural networks. Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target; it never reaches an endpoint.” (David Eagleman, 2015)

What if Individual humans are memory makers. What if we are the product of our edited memories over time? What if our experiences over time shape our schema and create a unique set of connections across the architecture of the brain to give each of us a unique sense of self? What if this means that we each understand our place in the world in a unique way?

“Among the multitudes of mental representations that a human mind entertains… only a minuscule proportion are similar to other individuals’ representations. We constantly build and update representations of our physical environment … (and) … of the social world around us that are … unique, since we are each the centre of many networks of social relations, and nobody else occupies that particular position.” (Pascal Boyer, 2018)

What if these memories are edited and altered over time so that they are imperfect and distorted by time? What if as soon as we create memories they are both edited at the time (as we cannot fully encode everything from an experience) and edited over time (each time we recall a memory it will be influenced by other memories, adapted to fit your schema and open to decay (connections being weakened over time).

What if passing exams and assessments are necessary, but no longer sufficient? What if this is insufficient and counter productive for the deeper learning that is required for surviving, let alone thriving in the future?

It is frustrating to know that the kind of learning involved to pass .. tests does not bolster students’ sense of agency or belonging, and there is little room for the learning that would.” (Nath, 2017, in Fullan 2019)

What if the key purpose of any curriculum is to allow children to develop a sense of self and based on a sense of place use their agency to feel and be successful in the their lives? What if as educators we carry this burden of responsibility? Educators set the conditions and the climate that allow individuals to grow and invent themselves; a curriculum that allows children to know what to do when they do not know what to do.

“For many of us, a deep and complex sense of self, particularly of our social self, has its origins in adolescence.” (Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, 2018)


What would it take to create a sense of self, agency and place? What if this is for starters?

What if we understood that there are strategies that are key to developing a sense of self, self agency and a place in the world? What if to stretch beyond knowledge, skills and understanding it is important to:

  • Make explicit how the whole curriculum links and connects together; giving opportunity to explore direct and indirect connections between schema to piece together how they fit in the world. What if this is often facilitated in advantaged families? What if knowledge, kept in silos, widens disadvantage and does not contribute to seeking wider meaning and a developed sense of self?
  • Bounce up through the future curriculum to spark awe and wonder and set-up future learning, a sense of progression and to see the bigger picture early. What if teaching needs to seed future learning and connections? What if we need to be careful not to confuse cognitive conflict with cognitive overload? What if seeing the big picture at the same time as the detail is a key aspect of successful individuals?
  • Build in space in the curriculum to support children to seek meaning and develop their sense of self and place in the world.

What if you can bullet point the knowledge and skills requirement of the curriculum, but you cannot prescribe the meaning the children find, or their sense of self or their place in the world? What if this requires space and the highest level of teaching and support?

  • Explore the sense of self agency: the notion that social, political and other change can be triggered by individuals and groups. Developing skills and competences that build self-agency and the ability to trigger and sustain change. What the present up-swell if populist movements requires new insight and competencies?

“Empowering students to create social change and solve problems that will improve living conditions and increase well-being.” (Nathan, 2017 in Fullan, 2019)

  • Promote the he role of teacher: we learn by paying attention to others; it is staggering how much information is socially transmitted. What if it is significant others in our lives that actually make the difference; shaping who we are and who we become? What happens when to allow teachers to shape individuals?

“Humans stand apart from other species in the amount and diversity of information they acquire by paying attention to other humans’ behaviour, to what others do, and, crucially, to what they say. It is difficult for us to realise how much information is socially transmitted, because the amount is staggering and the process is largely transparent.” (Pascal Boyer, 2018)

  • Understand the key importance of disciplinary knowledge for deepening understanding, exploring meaning and enabling children to understand how to think and to conceptualise the world. What if Christine Counsell is right? ..

Disciplinary knowledge, by contrast, is a curricular term for what pupils learn about how that knowledge was established, its degree of certainty and how it continues to be revised by scholars, artists or professional practice. It is that part of the subject where pupils understand each discipline as a tradition of enquiry with its own distinctive pursuit of truth. For each subject is just that: a product and an account of an ongoing truth quest, whether through empirical testing in science, argumentation in philosophy/history, logic in mathematics or beauty in the arts. (Christine Counsell, 2018)

  • Contextualise learning in the present and future challenges that children face. We only attend to things that we belie/e or are made to believe are important; to these things that are directly relevant to us; how far does knowledge alone achieve this?

What if there are lots of other aspects of the curriculum that will support children to develop their sense of self, agency and place in the world? What if this is the true purpose of the curriculum; a curriculum in which knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more is just the start? a a servant (foundation) that allow children to invent themselves, thrive and take hold of the world in which they live.

… a curriculum that is that something that is worth striving for.


“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

Dr Dan Nicholls | May 2019

CLF Cognitive Science and Teaching Framework | Empowering Learning, Conference 2018

Empowering Learning | Autumn Conference 2018

The key focus of the CLF Autumn Conference is empowering learning. This is the central aspect of the CLF improvement triangle that identifies three key aspects: 3-19 Curriculum (evolved by experts), 3-19 Pedagogy (delivered by experts) and 3-19 Assessment (used by experts).

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The focus on CLF 3-19 Pedagogy will identify two key aspects:

  • The CLF Cognitive Science: the cognitive basis for how we learn; so that teaching, pedagogy and learning has a sound scientific basis.
  • The CLF Teaching Framework: the framework that provides for structure and language for experts to discuss teaching, pedagogy and learning.

The Conference is facilitating experts to discuss teaching and pedagogy against the background of cognitive science. Investigating the…

“… conversations and interactions that occur around events of interest between  trusted and skilled adults and their child companions are especially powerful environments for learning.”

The Conference seeks to empower experts to discuss teaching and how we play with pedagogy to secure learning against the background of cognitive science and within the structure of the CLF Teaching Framework; concentrating on the key aspects that affect learning…

“Supportive learning environments, which are the social and organisational structures within which teachers and learners operate, need to concentrate on the key aspects that affect learning.”


CLF definition of learning

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Teaching enables…

… children to acquire Knowledge & Skills, which secured through Application develops Understanding and allows the seeking of Meaning to achieve Personal growth


CLF Cognitive Science

Humans are amazing, the cognitive revolution that occurred 70,000 years ago placed them at the top of the food chain. At this point we developed an architecture of connections in the brain that allowed humans to think, invent and build meaning. In fact it is amazing what our 100 Billion neurons can encode…

“While a bee brain has one million neurons, a human one has one hundred billion, … we’re privileged in another way too: not only in the quantity, but the organisation of those neurons. Specifically, we have more brain cells between sensation (what’s out there?) and action (this is what I’m going to do). This allows us to take in a situation, chew on it, think through alternatives, and (if necessary) take action. The majority of our lives take place in the neural neighbourhoods between sensing and doing . This is what allows us to move from the reflexive to the inventive.” (Brandt and Eagleman, 2017)

From birth we are constantly trying to make sense of the world…

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Babies are born with a biological capacity to learn; this raw capacity is actualised by the surrounding environment. From birth they are constantly striving to make sense of their environment so they can gauge where best to invest their attention.

Understanding how we learn through the key principles of cognitive science (that have become much clearer over the last 15 years) allow us greater insight into the mechanics and impact of teaching. It provides a basis on which we can play with pedagogy and drive learning and secure progress over time. The table below highlights the CLF Cognitive Science approach (20 principles) that underpins the CLF Teaching Framework.

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The following table identifies the five key cornerstones of cognitive science that explains how we learn. The Cognitive Science column defines the principle and the “So What” column seeks to identify what this means for learning and teaching…Slide7

The next five seek to explore short and long term memory, myelin, curve of forgetting and automation…

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The next 5 consider schema and proximal zones, and what this means for disadvantage and different levels of attainment…

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The final five consider the curriculum, co-construction, the role of emotion, cognitive overload and our ability for divergent thinking…

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“The genius of our human minds is that they are endlessly adaptable and more powerful than we realise… learning is our superpower..” (Alex Beard, 2018)



CLF Teaching Framework

Based on the CLF Cognitive Science, CLF Pedagogy Developers have developed a CLF Teaching Framework that seeks the support the discussion and development of Teaching and Pedagogy across the Trust.

This is based on considering learning through an I DO, WE DO and YOU DO lens, so that we follow the learning and meet needs of all children. This seeks to secure learning within a culture that supports learners to attend to their learning.

The framework is detailed in the following diagram…

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The Conference supports experts to consider each of the aspect of the CLF Teaching Framework against the Cognitive Science background. The diagram below highlights the I DO and Pre DO aspects of the Teaching Framework and how this might link to the Cognitive Science…

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The diagram below highlights the WE DO and Follow the Learning aspects of the Teaching Framework and how this might link to the Cognitive Science…

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The diagram below highlights the YOU DO and Climate/Culture aspects of the Teaching Framework and how this might link to the Cognitive Science…

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An unswerving focus on learning and how this supports children to learn, seek meaning and find their way in the world is a privilege; education is the premise of progress…

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” (Kofi Annan)

Dan Nicholls

CLF Conference 2018

Cabot Learning Federation | October 2018

CLF Teaching Framework | empowering teachers to teach

It is probably true that when teachers are empowered to play with pedagogy, informed by assessment, within an inspiring curriculum, children learn and flourish.

It is also probably true that within a Trust or collection of schools a shared teaching framework offers the opportunity to deeply collaborate and develop approaches to pedagogy that accelerates learning.

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What if this Teaching Framework is delivered by experts to secure a shared inspiring curriculum that is designed and evolved by experts (3-19 Curriculum Curators) and supported by assessment that is used by experts to adapt pedagogy that follows the learning?

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What if  Pedagogy Developers from across the Trust build a shared Teaching framework? What if this Teaching Framework is built on a deep understanding of how we learn and how we construct our understanding of the world?

What if  it is important to understand what underpins the framework…


Basing the CLF Teaching Framework on How We Learn..

What if we teach, discuss practice, collaborate, investigate and play with our pedagogy against a deep understanding of how we learn? What if this is how we learn?…

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What if learning happens when we form and solidify connections in the brain; connections that are reliably fired as long term memories through the wrapping of myelin? A process that requires focused attention, deliberate practice and repetition within an interleaved curriculum. (see How we Learn)

What if this acquisition of knowledge requires application to build understanding that leads to an individual finding meaning and then developing a new sense of self? What if this goes from few connections (local; knowledge) to connecting schema (regional; understanding) to connecting across centres of the brain (national; finding meaning) to connecting across all areas of the brain (global; change in a sense of self; personal growth)

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What if the following underpins the purpose of teaching…

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What if the key outcome of teaching is also to achieve attainment mobility: “Enabling children to attain higher than would be expected based on their starting points.” … reversing delayed attainment, linguistic under-privilege and lack of early opportunity, so that children self select (not self de-select) and accumulate advantage (not disadvantage) through life?

What if collaboration, discussion and development of teaching across schools is hampered by not having a shared understanding of learning? What if this provides a good definition for learning? (from Hattie and Donoghue, 2016)

Slide7(Hattie and Donoghue, 2016)

Perhaps then the following provides a shared definition of learning…

Slide8What if we should also see it as a process by which we more fully understand our place in world, have an increasing sense of self and grow personally?


What if underpinning the teaching framework is an understanding of the different ways the brain works? …

  • Up to 40% of what we do is automated – triggered automatically by the subconscious as a response to routine triggers. This is how we cope with a small working memory and a complex world – this automation frees us to survive and think (it is everything from patterns of thinking, talking, emotional response, vocabulary, mannerisms as well breathing etc.). What if we understood better what we need children to automate?
  • Our frontal cortex is a logical, top down problem solving area of the brain. It runs scenarios about the future (what ifs). It comes up with multiple solutions and scenarios – the vast majority of which we are not conscious of because our brain is highly selective of what makes its way to our consciousness (it would otherwise be over-whelming). This internal censorship increases with age; reducing our creativity and adaptive thinking (and interestingly increasing our susceptibility for organisational blindness and being obstructed by our historic assumptions of what is possible. What if we support children to have the tools for logical thinking and the knowledge and understanding to solve problems… so that they know what to do when they do not know what to do?
  • Elastic thinking is bottom-up. It is what happens when we engage all parts of our brain to see a our world a fresh. This requires the development of connections across all areas of the brain. It is often what happens when we are not thinking specifically about a problem, or when we are engaged in thinking about something else – we get, what is often described as, light bulb moments. This critical aspect of our thinking is ever present (not always conscious due to the self-censorship). What if we consider how we can develop this thinking in young people to support connection between topics and ideas… seeking to support children to run what if scenarios, find connections (in the world and in their thinking), seek meaning, build a sense of self and their place in the world? What if this is enhanced by cluttering the corners of young minds with knowledge and increasing the development of connections across schema in the brain?

“While a bee brain has one million neurons, a human one has one hundred billion, … we’re privileged in another way too: not only in the quantity, but the organisation of those neurons. Specifically, we have more brain cells between sensation (what’s out there?) and action (this is what I’m going to do). This allows us to take in a situation, chew on it, think through alternatives, and (if necessary) take action. The majority of our lives take place in the neural neighbourhoods between sensing and doing . This is what allows us to move from the reflexive to the inventive.” (Brandt and Eagleman, 2017)

What if connections and schema are built over time and are the result of opportunity and the support of a knowledgeable other over time? What if this early architecture and opportunity is the key to early advantage and disadvantage? …that fuels our unhelpful cultural views of innate talent?

What if this means that ordering content, building understanding in logical sequences and securing a foundation of knowledge (connections) is key to building schema in children through our teaching? What if this is why story telling is so effective at supporting understanding and developing meaning? (and explanation and modelling etc.)

What if the proximal zone is key to understanding how we learn and the importance of how we teach? What if we need to experience cognitive conflict (ideally with others) to create connections and assimilate new connections within existing schemas (groups of neurons connected together).

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What if we need to keep children in cognitive conflict as often as possible? What if it is also important to consolidate understanding and to build fluency and to extend beyond the proximal zone to offer a sense of awe and wonder?

What if we need to attend to things with a high level of focus to assimilate new knowledge or ideas? Then classroom climate becomes key. What if our emotional state also limits or increases are ability to attend to learning? What if tapping the emotions and teaching with passion, conviction and a sense of purpose increases a learners ability to make deep connections across the brain – learning becomes stickier?

What if concepts and misconceptions become the key ingredients in building coherent and helpful schema for children? What if explanation, modelling and logical construction of learning informed by key concepts will increase a child’s ability to find meaning and grow personally?


CLF Teaching Framework

What if this understanding of how we learn is considered within a teaching framework: one that considers the key interactions of teacher-learner and learner-learner within a learning episode. What if this is demonstrated circularly to emphasise the role of on-going assessment and the need to follow the learning between the key teaching elements of I DO, WE DO and YOU DO (what if this is remarkably intuitive in application). The order, length and interplay of these elements are not defined and vary over time (the framework should not be viewed as a lesson). What if this provides the structure, framework and vocabulary to discuss and consider teaching, learning and progress across the Trust?

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What if this teaching framework provides the basis for securing the key elements of How Children Learn?

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  • I DO: What if teacher explanation, modelling, instruction, use of language, development of knowledge directly supports the development of connections and grows schema? What if this builds on previous knowledge, exploits story telling and narratives to trigger interest? What if teachers expertly dance in and out of the proximal zone so that it … consolidates and builds the fluency of key knowledge and understanding already acquired AND creates cognitive conflict in the proximal zone with new knowledge, examples and build new connections AND touches on ideas beyond the proximal zone to generate awe and wonder, seed future learning and seek connections across the brain? What if this is key to the WE DO aspect of the framework?…
  • WE DO: What if this is the most important aspect of the framework? Where learning is a social enterprise prompted and provoked by questioning, debate and discussion facilitated by the teacher? What if this is often the area that has the greatest variability and where expert teachers shine? What if this is where teachers facilitate the co-construction of knowledge, understanding and thinking out loud (full response and precision of thinking)?  What if this is where learning predominantly happens in the proximal zone, where teachers support the learners to explore, debate and argue about the learning? What if this is also where students try a bit, get feedback and try a bit more? What if this is how connections are made, understanding built, meaning is sought and children have the opportunity to evolve their sense of self and place in the world? What if this is consolidated and developed in the YOU DO aspect of the framework?…
  • YOU DO: What if this is where children work in their proximal zone balancing between consolidating/fluency (within schema), developing (in cognitive conflict) and exploring (beyond the proximal zone) … balance of individual and paired working? What if this is meaningful work that maximises the use of time?
  • YOU DO : WE/I DO: What if teaching follows the learning during YOU DO, being alive to opportunities? What if teachers intervene with impact to support more children to be in cognitive conflict more often and for longer? What if this can be individual, group or whole class intervention to seize learning opportunities, follow the learning and use time purposefully? What if this is informed by conceptions, misconceptions, identifies links between learning and uses peers to support peers in their learning?
  • CLIMATE/CULTURE: What if culture (high expectations) and climate (attitudes to learning) are essential if children are to focus and attend to their learning? Wrestling in cognitive conflict to assimilate new knowledge or insight requires a non-distraction environment? What if cognitive (over) load drastically reduces are ability to learn … the brain cannot multi-task … when we try to do two things the brain has to power up and power down every time you switch focus?
  • PRE DO: What if planning for learning episodes is based on teachers following the learning? The careful and precise selection of content (in the right order) and approach to support acquisition of knowledge to build understanding and support children to seek meaning? What if this is an ever-onward within as well as between learning episodes?
  • Follow the Learning: What if the circular nature of the framework underlines the importance of formative assessment and the need to follow the learning? What if this is the art and craft of teaching? What if this is where the most effective teaching secures greater learning gains over time?

Maybe then…

  • We will share an understanding of what learning is, what teaching aims to achieve and how we learn.
  • We will share an understanding of how we learn (cognitively) that allows us to plan, teach and evaluate the impact on children.
  • We will have a shared teaching framework and vocabulary to deeply collaborate around teaching.
  • We will deepen our understanding of the teacher-learner and learner-learner relationships in the classroom through I DO, WE DO and YOU DO.
  • We will link these aspects to how children learn and deepen our understanding of the cognitive mechanics of learning.
  • We will empower teachers to have a shared framework that allows experts to play with pedagogy to follow learning.
  • We will have a standardised framework that seek to support teacher to have enough autonomy to follow learning and seek mastery in their practice.
  • We will support teachers to use the framework and underpinning cognitive science to develop their practice collaboratively; without greater specificity of approach or strategies.

We would have teachers who are empowered to play with pedagogy, informed by assessment that allows all children to learn and flourish.

September 2018 | Dr Dan Nicholls

 

 

 

Key Stage 3 Curriculum 2.0 (CLF)

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It is probably true that the removal of levels and the growth of Trusts and collaborating groups of schools presents an enormous opportunity for teachers and leaders at KS3 to be curators of a curriculum, with embedded assessment and pedagogy, that inspires children to learn, secure progress, find meaning and grow into successful individuals … to educate the whole being so they can face the future.

“With opportunity comes responsibility … there are few more important roles in education than to be responsible for designing a curriculum that inspires the next generation to find meaning in their lives.”

It is also true that KS3 has typically been defined by mediocrity and over-shadowed by KS4. The opportunity, then, is to develop a curriculum that builds from KS2 and avoids drawing grades and progress 8 down from KS4. It should be the foundation of what we choose, across a broad curriculum, to pass on to the next generation.

Which begs the question.. what does an effective KS3 curriculum look like? How can this be designed to inspire the next generation to learn and make good decisions about the future and throughout their lives?

And… how can Trusts and partnerships of schools collaborate to enhance the curriculum and drive up standards?


What if the following is an approach to Key Stage 3?… (and the approach of the Cabot Learning Federation (CLF)) (link to: life after levels, KS3 1.0)

What if the intent of the curriculum is to enable children to acquire knowledge and skills, which are secured through application (over time and in different contexts) to develop understanding (change in long term memory) and allows children to seek meaning and achieve personal growth? (based on how we learn?)

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“…our brains do something vastly more impressive, forming neural nets from billions of cells, each connected to thousands of others. And these networks are organized into larger structures, … and so on, in a complex hierarchical scheme..” (Leonard Mlodinow, 2018)

What if the KS3 curriculum builds-up from KS2 to secure a foundation for children to be successful in life (and KS4)? What if the curriculum is focused on the progression of key content, concepts and misconceptions through KS3 (in the right order) that are designed to accelerate progress within a progressive and purposeful 3-19 Curriculum? 

What if it is broad, balanced, conceptually stretching, relevant and contextually useful… and built on high expectations of what children should be capable of?

“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

What if it is designed to develop a sense of awe and wonder that secures a joy for learning; supporting children to do more than they thought possible. Boldly opening minds to hitherto uncharted knowledge and experiences? What if it empowers children to make well-informed decisions through life, with built-in entitlement for all by age 3-19?

What if the curriculum is our opportunity to inspire children to be successful individuals, historians, mathematicians, geographers, musicians, authors, artist, sportspeople, scientists, writers, innovators, dreamers, magicians, mothers, fathers, citizens?

What if we developed an approach that used well defined and detailed Age Related Expectations (AREs), for Year 7 and Year 8, across each subject that secured and deepened learning; bringing the curriculum to life? What if the Age Related Expectations are organised like this… (starting with a justification of why the subject exists?)

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What if these are written by groups of CLF Curriculum Curators across the Trust? Those Curators of the Curriculum entrusted to evolve the curriculum for our children?

What if instead of levels or grades we were only interested in children working towards Age Related Expectations (following the primary model), achieving the Age Related Expectations and importantly being given the freedom to deepen their understanding to seek meaning for themselves so that they better understand their place in the world? We might describe a child’s attainment as.. (known as DOYA)

  • Deepening (D): child has reached the year group expectation and is now taking this deeper into more abstract work – following their passion within a broad curriculum that inspires the full range of attainment and interest.
  • On track (O) / Working At current age related expectation. The child is working at the age related expectation for their Year.
  • Yet to be on track (Y): the child shows some working at age related expectations, but is not yet on track to achieve them.
  • At an earlier stage (A) in their learning journey. The child is short of the age related expectation, typically around a year behind.

What if these Age Related Expectations were built into an aligned curriculum and assessment system that supported children (and teachers, and parents) to know what they can and cannot do/understand? What if these are the key questions?… and the three key elements: Age Related Expectations, Curriculum and assessment?

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What if the transparency and publication of the Age Related Expectations gives ownership of learning to children and their families so that children are supported to keep-up, catch-up and deepen?

What if this is purposefully a knowledge-rich curriculum rather than a knowledge-based curriculum? What if there is a medium term curriculum plan in each subject across the Trust that identifies, quarterly, the key areas of age related expectations to be considered? What if this significantly enhances collaboration and focuses Networks across the Trust on planning and pedagogy?

What if the aligned Age Related Expectations, curriculum and assessment empowers teachers to collaborate across the Trust to focus on pedagogy and planning that secures and accelerates learning and progress to meet the needs of all children?

What if the curriculum provides the platform for teachers to teach, children to learn and to spread ideas (pedagogy and planning) that work?…

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” (Seth Godin)

What if we remain fully aware that there are distinct and important differences between the Planned Curriculum, the En-acted Curriculum and the Learnt Curriculum? What if we systematically evaluated the effectiveness of the learnt curriculum to inform teaching, pedagogy and learning episodes within the KS3 curriculum?

What if this is the purpose of Multi Academy Trusts? …to provide an aligned platform of curriculum and assessment so that experts are empowered to play with their pedagogy and planning to follow the learning and inspire children to achieve more than they believed was possible?

Alignment

What if the content of the curriculum is progressive and is based on consolidating and revisiting content over time to secure changes in long term memory and progress over time? What if this shows how topics are taught, tested and re-taught over time; where gaps in the learnt curriculum are revisited in re-teaching and future testing?…

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What if the curriculum seeks depth of study rather than breadth to build understanding and to seek meaning; stretching and challenging children to think? stock-footage-deep-end-deep-end-of-the-pool-a-good-visual-metaphor-to-show-madness-for

What if The Age Related Expectations and exemplars are widely published to support the child, parent, teacher, leader and other staff to understand the expected standards and the content of the curriculum; enabling wider ownership of the curriculum? What if exemplars of At an Earlier Stage, Yet to be On Track, On Track and Deepening (DOYA) are used across all subjects to raise the bar and exemplify the the Age Related Expectations? What if these are used for moderation and professional development to consider pedagogy, inform planning and becoming experts at supporting students to gain understanding and seek meaning in their learning… securing progress?

What if the values, assessment cycle, Age Related Expectations and written exemplars for every subject in Year 7 and 8 are put together in one document to form the CLF KS3 Age Related Expectations syllabus?


What if there are two key areas of assessment:

  • Shared on-line Multi-choice Quizzes (MCQs) assessments four times a year to assess knowledge/skills acquisition and elements of application and understanding. What if this provides immediate feedback to understand gaps in learning, to support planning and re-teaching? What if this reveals the level of knowledge acquisition and application across 1000 students; providing student, class, department, cohort and academy comparisons to support improvement and trigger discussion on the effectiveness of teaching, planning and pedagogy? (so that teachers can follow the learning?)
  • Teacher assessment of attainment that uses standardised exemplar material to support teachers to make an assessment of a child’s attainment against DOYA. What if we assess across the breadth of what children can do in any one subject to judge how far a child will achieve Age Related Expectations by the end of the year? What if this includes practicals, extended writing, presentation, oracy, performance, short assessments, long assessments etc. … to provide a rounded view of attainment based on DOYA, against the subject’s AREs? What if work scrutiny and student voice support moderation of the attainment of children across academies and the Trust? What if progress is seen in maintaining and improving a child’s DOYA and in the work (broadest sense) that a child is able to produce over time? (What if teacher assessment of DOYA is linked to broad standardised scores 100, 103, 105, 107, 110 etc. so that progress from a starting point can be measured?)

What if this is how the assessment within the KS3 curriculum works?

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What if we could plot the attainment of over 1000 students (a benefit afforded by being part of a Multi Academy Trust)? What if this created a unique opportunity to moderate and standardise performance against a significant sample of children in each year, in each subject across all classes and groups? What if this was a significant nudge that raised standards at KS3?

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What if the shared AREs, curriculum and assessment cycle empowers and frees teachers to plan to meet need, follow the learning and deploy pedagogy that supports all children to feel and be successful? What if approaches to pedagogy and planning are based on how we learn? so that we:

  • Explicitly teach children to achieve the age related expectations. So that we secure the knowledge and skills through application that are the foundation for building understanding and seeking meaning – in line with how we learn and cognitive science…
    • Modelling that sought to build from knowledge/skills to understanding to seek meaning.
    • Questioning that prompted and provoked application and understanding to articulate meaning – deeply exploring concepts and mis-concepts and seeking to support children to explore and explain their developing schema.
    • Planning for children to experience desirable difficulty as they deepen and grapple with the curriculum. Thinking different and deeper for presently high attaining children.
    • Using explanation (in a variety of ways) to support connections and tell stories that allow children to accommodate greater understanding in their schema so that they better understand their place in the world.
    • Tell stories to support (with emotion) to support changes in a child’s long term memory, so that they secure progress. (tapping emotion and feelings secures understanding by anchoring connection across different areas of the brain)
    • Revisit and interleave so that children build myelin and strengthen connections to semi-permanence in the long term memory.
    • Specificity of feedback for impact so that children are more precisely supported to make connections and learn in real time, whilst they are is cognitive conflict. Emphasising live feedback and adapting teaching during learning episodes.
    • On-going teacher assessment followed the learning of children; emphasising medium term planning and aims.

What if there is also an emphasis on the development of reading (widely and often), oracy as well as the quality of writing?


Maybe then we would have a KS3 curriculum that…

…builds a sense of awe and wonder and a joy for learning up from KS2 that inspires children to be individuals, historians, mathematicians, geographers, musicians, authors, artist, sportspeople, scientists, writers, innovators, dreamers, magicians, mothers, fathers, responsible citizens… a curriculum that empowers and frees teachers to plan to meet need, follow the learning and deploy pedagogy that supports all children to feel and be successful… a curriculum developed and evolved by experts across the whole Trust and assessment that is both formative and summative so that we raise standards and accelerate progress as part of a progressive 3 to 19 curriculum.


Dan Nicholls | June 2018

Director of Education | Cabot Learning Federation

What if this is how we learn?

“The genius of our human minds is that they are endlessly adaptable and more powerful than we realise… learning is our superpower..” (Alex Beard, 2018)

“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.” (Dan Coyle, 2009)

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It is probably true that we can make teaching and learning too complicated; we forget the key mechanics and processes of how we learn and secure progress? It is also probably true that developments in cognitive science have not influenced teaching and education enough and that this has informed unhelpful beliefs about a child’s potential; lowering our expectations of what individuals are capable of?

Cognitive science has opened up new (and not so new) understanding of how we learn and make progress that need to better inform teaching and our present approaches to education…


What if learning something new is a physical (and chemical) process in the brain? What if the ability to know, understand or do something relies on the development and consolidation of connections in the brain? What if progress is a measure of how far these connections form and establish in the long term memory so that schemas (groups of connections in the brain) are grown so that over time a child knows, understands and is able to do more?

A schema is a cognitive framework of connections that help organise and interpret information. Schemas allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the vast amount of information that is available in our environment.

What if the ability of our brains to group knowledge and experiences together so that we can quickly interpret the world around us is an important developmental aspect that has allowed our survival across time? What if the development of schemas in each child is unique, is the product of opportunity and learning over time (particularly in the first few years)? What if the early architecture of the brain provides the framework and structure for later learning?

Essentially, the more adept you become at a skill, the less work your brain has to do. Over time, a skill becomes automatic (hard wired) and you don’t need to think about what you’re doing. This is because your brain is actually strengthening itself over time as you learn that skill. (important to teaching as well as student learning)

What if these connections, schema and the physical and chemical altering of the brain to create long term memory is a game changer? … our minds are expandable vessels, shaped by various things we do throughout our lives…

“…no such thing as predefined ability – the brain is adaptable and training can create skills that did not exist before. This is a game changer. Learning now becomes a new way of creating abilities rather than bringing people to the point where they can take advantage of their innate ones … People are not born with fixed reserves of potential; instead potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives. Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We can create our own potential.” (Anders Ericsson)

What if Daisy Christodoulou is right?…

“When one looks at the scientific evidence about how the brain learns and at the design of our education system… one is forced to conclude that the system actively retards education… What you think about is what you remember. What you remember is what you learn.” (Daisy Christodoulou quoted in Alex Beard, 2018)

What if the following demonstrates the growth of connections in the brain? What if these show the  growth of connections as a child learns (right)… and the growth in brain size over time (left)… and the impact of extreme neglect that limits future learning?

What if we experience cognitive conflict when we experience new information and attempt to make a connection to it in our brain? If this new piece of knowledge or skill is in the proximal zone, connects into our present schema and is re-visited/reinforced over time it becomes available for application and wider understanding in the future. (it becomes retrievable from our long term memory)

What if Myelin acts like layers of insulating tape surrounding connections in the brain? What if deliberate practice, revision and revisiting supports the wrapping of myelin around connections? What if the application of new knowledge and skills, particularly in new contexts allows both greater solidity of connections and more securing connections to be added? What if overcoming cognitive conflict and permanently assimilating new knowledge, understanding and skills into schemas (secured as long term memory) is progress?

What if this is Myelin; the layers wrapping around a connection in the brain?

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What if the sparking and cementing of new connections is often revealed in our language? What if this is an example of how the developing connections in the brain have located “elbow, shoulder and soldier” in the same area?…

Daughter: Can I have some elbows with my runny egg? (mis-fired connection)

Father: You don’t mean elbows do you?

Daughter: No, ..(pauses, thinks).. can I have shoulders? (mis-fired connection)

Father: You don’t mean that either, do you?

Daughter: No, ..(shakes head, pauses, smiles). I mean soldiers with my egg? (new myelin formed)

What if early learning, in the first few years, is the key to establishing the architecture of the brain and on building the connections that provide the basis for later learning? What if the research suggests that differences in genes only accounts for 3 to 7% of an individual’s IQ?

What if there is no innate talent? What if differences in levels of attainment are the result of the following conditions over time?

  1. growing up in a family that consistently provides opportunities, over time.
  2. where significant others support and encourage effort. Often an expert coach or tutor whose direction enables deliberate practice.
  3. where risk and failure is embraced.
  4. and where expectations are high; it is not ok to give up.

What if this is why deliberate practice is key to the altering of long term memory and to automation; the use of hard wired, often visited, set of connections that enable sub-conscious-like recall or execution of skill? What if this is a useful summary of deliberate practice from Malcolm Gladwell…

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What if the concept of a proximal zone is useful when we consider how connections are formed in the brain? What if Vygotsky is still relevant; that learning occurs when children are taught and supported to think and seek meaning in their proximal zone … that area where a child’s existing schema (connections) are in place to connect to the new knowledge?

What if the following diagram shows connections in a brain and the location of the proximal zone around the outside? What if the yellow dot highlights the impact of pitch of learning on how this is responded to by the Brain? (Highlighting when securing, conflict and rejection of new knowledge occurs)

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What if the ability of teachers to dance between cognitive conflict (middle) and consolidation (left) is the key to sparking and consolidating the connections in the brain that alters long term memory so that it can be recalled and used over time (progress)? What if there is also value in exposing brains to that which is not yet comprehensible to the individual – perhaps to reveal elements that are motivating a sense of awe and wonder and to sow seeds for future progress? What if reading a text to a child that is more complex than they can read supports vocabulary growth and provides hooks for future learning? (Doug Lemov, in TES, 2018)

What if we should seek desirable difficulty? What if connections are formed when we are focused and not distracted, when we experience cognitive conflict, when, because of this effort, there are physical and chemical changes in the brain that fuse and then harden, altering long term memory?

“Comfort (is) the enemy of progress.” (Barnham, Greatest Showman)

“Mere experience, if it is not matched by deep concentration, does not translate into excellence.” (Matthew Syed)

What if the purposeful and ordered accumulation of knowledge and skills within a progressive knowledge-based curriculum is essential to building schema and understanding? What if we understood that it is the application of this knowledge and skill that has greater leverage on the growing of myelin and supporting the greater stickability of learning so that it can be used in the future? What if we took more notice of the specific impact of the curriculum on learning; prioritising our understanding of the “learnt curriculum”, in comparison to the “planned curriculum” or the “in-acted curriculum“… when it comes to learning and progress the learnt curriculum is the one that matters? What if the identification of key concepts and mis-concepts by age and topic within the curriculum is key to supporting the conceptual awareness that children need for the next stage of their education?

What if some connections grow stronger (greater wrapping of myelin) when the learning is rich and experiential? Riding a bike or driving a car are good examples of this hard wiring of connections in the brain.What if emotional reaction and seeking/reflecting on meaning significantly enhances the chance of assimilating new knowledge into an existing schema and then consolidated as a change in long term memory?…

“A very important element of learning was therefore the process of how you paid attention to something, thought about it and thus ended up with it stored. … You couldn’t learn something you didn’t pay attention to. Yet the process of paying attention to something was complex, and not always under our control. It could be enhanced… in a few ways: things that created an emotional reaction were much more likely to be remembered; repetition helped a little; wanting to remember didn’t help much; reflecting on meaning had a positive effect, such as knowing where something fitted in a story or schema, whether personal or general.” (Alex Beard, 2018)

What if “a teacher’s goal… should almost always be to get students to think about meaning.” (Daniel Willingham, quoted to Alex Beard, 2018)

What if feeling safe and ensuring that all basic needs are met is crucial for supporting a child to focus on learning? What if learning and committing abstract information (not essential to survival) to long term memory can only be done when we do not feel under-threat or anxious?


What if formative assessment is the key to understanding what a child can and cannot do so that teaching is more often pitched in the child’s proximal zone? What if the support of a knowledgeable other/coach/ teacher catalyses the opportunity for a child to connect with new content? What if this means that the planning between learning episodes based on formative assessment and how teachers respond to learning in classrooms is key to maintaining as many children in their proximal zone as possible, over time? What if these are the conditions that grow connections in the proximal zone?..

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What if the specificity of feedback is key, as it has greater potential to overcome cognitive conflict and conceptually be the next area for the child to learn? What if too much feedback is presently too generic and not focused on cognitive science, which tells us that new connections, consolidation of existing connections and linking across schema to create new meaning requires specific pitch and precision of feedback (and teaching)? What if we are highly specific about the knowledge and skills being taught in a learning episode – reflecting the connections that are being sought and how this fits into the schema?

What if precise and specific feedback has much greater impact on leveraging learning? What if this specific feedback needs to happen in the moment when children are in cognitive conflict or we need to take children back into cognitive conflict when they receive feedback? What if we re-evaluated our present approaches to feedback through this lens?

What if we should develop different ways to explain and show the same concept or idea? What if this increases the chance of making a connection to existing schema in a child’s head? If a child does not understand or connect with new information, we increase the chances of connection if we seek to connect to other parts of the child’s schema.

What if modelling is a key aspect of pedagogy that seeks to support the growth of connections and the development of schema? What if modelling systematically consolidates previous learning and takes children forward with their learning – actively building schema?

What if teachers need to support children to remain in their proximal zone so that they wrestle in cognitive conflict and make gains in their learning? What if we let children give up too readily and that children are often inclined to de-select themselves when it gets hard? (particularly if they are disadvantaged) What if low level disruption is the enemy of forming and establishing connections in the brain?

What if “ah ha” moments occur when schema connect to provide a new view of the world? What if such moments can be planned for?

What if the opportunities, experiences and support that we receive (particularly in our first few years) shapes the architecture and web of connections in the brain and that this is the key difference between advantaged and disadvantaged children? What if this early advantage accumulates over time to accentuate the gap?  What if the following represents that difference in size of schema, amount of connections and size of proximal zones between advantaged and disadvantaged children?

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What if  the lower exposure to words, vocabulary and conversation for disadvantaged children  reduce the opportunity to overcome linguistic under-privildge? What if Alex Quigley is right and that the hidden growth of vocabulary significantly determines success?…

“We know that a great deal of our vocabulary is learned incidentally and implicitly outside of those (school) gates. This largely subconscious, hidden growth is like a child’s physical development… By paying attention to vocabulary growth at the micro level, we can better understand it, we can go to cultivating it and in so doing every child will be gifted a wealth of words.” (Alex Quigley, 2018, Closing the Vocabulary Gap))

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“The accident of birth (context and upbringing) is the greatest source of inequality in the US” (James Heckman) … also true in the UK. 

What if the differences in schema and proximal zone is evident in presently lower, middle and higher attaining children…

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What if in a class of 30 children the structure, size, connections (architecture) of each child’s brain is different? What if pitching learning and meeting the cognitive needs of 30 children is the art and science of teaching? What if the Yellow dot represents a particular episode of learning and how just 3 individuals may be able to access this new knowledge, understanding or skill? What if this means that differentiation and pitch by child is the key to supporting more to work in their proximal zone? What if this is not about hitting the sweet spot for all children every lesson, but more often over time … perhaps a different 80% each lesson?

What if we need to “think differently” for presently high attaining children; who need to do different to ensure that they are challenged and stretched in their proximal zone more often?

What if progress is better described like this… (that connections form, erode, stabilise, become hard wired over time; accumulated connections afford the opportunity for new understanding and meaning)…

“Siegler’s image of surging and receding waves helps to explain the seemingly random retreats and swells we experience as we grapple with new skills and tricky concepts. Rather than feeling ashamed about ‘slipping back’ into the old ways of thinking and acting we thought we had outgrown, such episodes are better viewed as part of the natural ebb and flow of learning. Slipping back is part of the process of integrating new and troublesome concepts into our mental webs.” (David Didau, 2016)


What if story telling and narratives have the ability to draw learning together and connect schema in the brain that build greater understanding and bring meaning to the world? What if George Marshall is right and that…

“…stories perform a fundamental cognitive function: they are the means by which the emotional brain makes sense of the information collected by the rational brain… beliefs about (information) are held entirely in the form of stories. When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts, but a consistent and comprehensible story.” (from Out of the Wreckage, George Monbiot, 2017)

What if stories are uniquely powerful in securing new knowledge and understanding? What if these stories mirror the schemas developing and adapting in the heads of young people? What if stories tap into the narrative instinct that we all share; and use from birth to navigate and comprehend the world? What if this is deeply linked to human evolution and how humans have evolved to understand the world in story form; developing useful schemas about the world? What if stories tap into our emotions, attract our attention, and light up areas of the brain that allow us to secure change in our long term memory? (anyone who has delivered assemblies over time will immediately recognise that power of story, particularly when it is about you.)

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What if the curve of forgetting describes the need to consolidate connections and wrap myelin so that new knowledge is assimilated and committed to long term memory? What if interleaved curriculum and re-teaching and revisiting is key to securing changes in long term memory and supporting retrieval; allowing children to apply understanding from one area to seek meaning in another? What if connections break and erode over time if they are not revisited or significantly secured? (adding to the advance and retreat of progress over time)

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What if Dan Coyle is right and that greatness isn’t born it’s grown; talent is physically (and chemically) built through purposeful practice…deep practice?

“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).”

The challenge then is not to accept poor or wrong assumptions about what our children can achieve, but to develop culture, curriculum and teaching based on cognitive science. An enabling education system that does not limit what individuals are capable of – there is no magic involved in learning something new – it is about sparking connections in the brain, hard-wiring this understanding so that children build schema that allow them to understand the world and to seek meaning.

“From our first steps to our last words, we are what we learn.” (Alex Beard, 2018)

 


Maybe then we will…

  • …see learning as a physical (and chemical) process of sparking new connections in the brain and firming these connections with myelin that secure changes in long term memory so that learning can be applied over time and in different contexts.
  • …understand that only when knowledge, understanding and skills are stored in the long term memory as a permanent feature that children have genuinely made progress – recognising that even then these connections can erode over time.
  • …realise that learning happens when children work in their proximal zone, when there is desirable difficulty and when effort is required to overcome cognitive conflict to assimilate new knowledge, skills and understanding into schema.
  • …build progressive, knowledge (skills)-based (including application) and concept-sensitive curriculum. So that children are supported to systematically build knowledge and understanding over time and in-line with their growing schema. Each stage of education purposefully building the knowledge and conceptual understanding that readies individuals for the next stage.
  • …realise that the “learnt curriculum” is what matters when we consider the efficacy of teaching for securing learning and progress.
  • …realise that this is why teaching is so complicated as every child has schemas and brain architecture that is the result of their unique opportunities and experiences to date; so that each proximal zone and existing architecture will react differently to learning episodes.
  • …realise that disadvantaged children are not innately less able, but the product of lower opportunity and linguistic under privilege. Building knowledge, systematically and applying this knowledge will accelerate learning; vocabulary and heightened exposure to words over time is key.
  • …understand that the real impact of the 30 million word gap by age 3 is a connection deficit in the brain of maybe 60..90..120 million? On this basis it is unsurprising that early advantage and accumulated advantage is so strong in education and underpins the reasons why it is so hard to convert low attaining children age 11 to high attaining by age 16.
  • …stop seeing the gaps in attainment as being the result of differences in innate talent and open up a world of possibility for all children regardless of their start in life and opportunities to date. (the tendency for disadvantaged children to de-select themselves means that too often they do not create or sustain enough connections in long term memory to realise any appreciable progress)
  • …stop using the word “ability” and replace with “present level of attainment.”
  • …realise that it is what is planned between learning episodes based on formative assessment and the skill of teachers to respond in lessons to learning that will keep more children in the their proximal zone more often.
  • …create more specific feedback that seeks to spark and consolidate connections in the brain. Find time to recap, revisit and respond to feedback to build reinforced connections over time.
  • …seek response to feedback when children are in cognitive conflict.
  • …seek greater differentiation so that we can support more to work in their proximal zones over time. Seeking to support children to grapple with desirable difficulty, because we plan more specifically to meet of cognitive needs of children. Thinking different for presently high attaining to secure stretch and challenge in the proximal zone.
  • …use modelling to support schema development.
  • …understand that new connections are fragile and erode over time if they are not fired/used. We would build in to learning opportunities to spiral back to content and ideas with the intention of firming up long term memory.
  • …work harder to plan and create curriculum that is ordered and progressive over time so that concepts and misconceptions and knowledge are visited in an appropriate; supporting the growing schemas in children.
  • …tell stories and tap emotion in passages of learning that heighten both interest and emotion so that children fire across the areas of the brain increasing the chance that physical and chemical changes in the brain are solidified and committed to long term memory.
  • …understand why it is important to taking different approaches to explain new concepts, so that we can access and anchor new learning to different parts of a child’s schema.
  • …teach content and skills in a way that moves up and down through complexity. So that schemas are purposefully developed and consolidated over time and that new knowledge and understanding are introduced to lay the foundation for future learning.
  • …challenge children to seek meaning in their learning; taking risks and thriving in desirable difficulty to build knowledge, understanding and skills.
  • …ensure the highest expectations of attitudes to learning and focus in lessons. Committing learning to long term memory requires cognitive conflict and desirable difficulty; a significant level of focus. Dis-organised or disruptive classes will reduce focus and limit a child’s ability to convert learning to long term memory.

…there are many more implications for education when we consider learning and progress through this lens; but it would appear that Malcolm Gladwell might be right…

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities…” (…that spark connections, build schema and commit knowledge, understanding and skills to long term memory; that is the foundation for success(Malcolm Gladwell)

Dan Nicholls | May 2018 | Twitter: @DrDanNicholls

Seek attainment mobility

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Create connections – reverse delayed attainment

What if the most important role of education is to enable attainment mobility? …to support presently low (or middle) attaining children to become high attaining.

What if we were better at reversing delayed attainment so that schools and academies genuinely secured attainment mobility?Maybe then we would have a world class education system.

Attainment mobility is the key challenge for education… but, we are far from securing this mobility… our system may well be preventing it.


What if we are beguiled by high ability and have a false belief that exceptional performance is due to innate talent? What if we are conditioned to explain demonstrations of ability in any discipline as a result of a God-given talent, a genetic pre-disposition or an innate gift? …ability is written in our genes prior to birth.What if this has limited our belief in what is possible or what children are capable of? What if our culture reinforces it?…

” I think the X factor is something that you are born with; you either have it or you don’t.” Nicole Sherzinger (Sept 2017)

“You spot that thing you cannot buy as soon as they sing.” Sharon Osbourne (Sept 2017)

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However, what if Anders Eriksson is right? That there is…

“…no such thing as predefined ability – the brain is adaptable and training can create skills that did not exist before. This is a game changer. Learning now becomes a new way of creating abilities rather than bringing people to the point where they can take advantage of their innate ones … People are not born with fixed reserves of potential; instead potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives. Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We can create our own potential.”

What if after 40 years of research Anders Eriksson has been unable to find evidence of innate talent and that every example of exceptional performance that he has researched has its roots in opportunity, supported effort and deliberate practice over time? (Excepting that there are some physical traits, like height, for example that are advantageous in some fields)

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” (Albert Einstein)

What if education unwittingly reinforces present attainment as a limiting factor for children? What if we unwittingly create conditions for present attainment to be the determining factor for a child’s outcomes, their targets, aspirations and their future? Embarrassingly few low attaining on entry go on (through) education to gain the qualifications they really need to be successful in life?

What if this false underlying belief means that when we see differences in levels of attainment (for example on entry to EY, KS1, KS2) that we attribute this to differences in genetics and believe individuals are limited to certain levels of attainment; they have lower innate potential than presently high attaining children? Low attainers, will remain low attainers and high attainers have a natural predetermined ability that comes from birth. (or even that we assign differences to context and opportunity… but see this as immovable as “natural talent”)

What if we have become conditioned to believe (even if we do not deeply believe it) that attainment is largely fixed?

However, what if there is no innate talent? What if differences in levels of attainment are the result of the following conditions over time?

  1. growing up in a family that consistently provides opportunities, over time.
  2. where significant others support and encourage effort. Often an expert coach or tutor whose direction enables deliberate practice.
  3. where risk and failure is embraced.
  4. and where expectations are high; it is not ok to give up.

… and what if this leads to accumulated advantage over time that enables much higher performance and a reinforcing sense of ones ability over others. What if this self belief is further reinforced by the widely held assumption that this elevated performance is the result of innate talent?

What if the reverse of these conditions are hopelessly compromising and leads to delayed attainment? What if this leads to accumulated disadvantage over time? What if this is further reinforced by the widely held false assumption that this lower performance/attainment is the result of a differences in our genes?

What if the key limiter and barrier to attainment mobility is early linguistic under-privilege? What if we do not do enough to reverse this linguistic disadvantage?

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For all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew Effect)

BUT…

What if… we foster a “delayed attainment” mindset for any attainment level that is not presently high attaining? Could this transform how we educate?

What if this means that presently low attaining children are not less able or less innately talented/gifted, they experience delayed attainment?

What if this delayed attainment leads to greater self de-selection to avoid failure; often leading to the development of sophisticated work avoidance, coping strategies and poor behaviour that only serves to reinforce our false beliefs about ability and innate talent?

What if we don’t understand this – or truly believe it .. and consciously or unconsciously label children and limit what we believe children with delayed attainment can achieve?

What if this false assumption of talent and the labelling based on ability (or present level of attainment) – becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?…

“When people assume that talent plays a major, even determining, role in how accomplished a person can become … we assume that people who are not innately gifted are never going to be good at something, then children who don’t excel at something right away are encouraged to try something new.” We also do the reverse by supporting early advantage and enabling children to accumulate advantage, such that they begin to appear gifted or innately talented… proving that we were right all along.

What if we take early advantage and foster it, support it, put it in the top set, label it, ask it more questions, praise it, give more training time, send it to sporting academies? What if these accumulating advantages only reinforce our belief that innate talent triggers ability? What if society and education accelerates the gap between those who have early opportunity and supported effort and those who don’t? What if we do not even realise that we are doing this?

What if the keys to attainment mobility lie within curriculum, assessment and pedagogy? What if this should emphasise:

  • Knowledge: because knowledge is power. (limit discovery of knowledge and prioritise application of knowledge)
  • Understanding: supported deliberate practice.. meaningful and purposeful application of knowledge.
  • Interleave and spiral curriculum around a coherent narrative of learning – to address linguistic disadvantage and enable connections to be made as limited proximal zones develop. (Vygotsky)
  • Expectations: that all children can achieve given time… supporting children not to de-select themselves… (“meeting them there”)
  • Assessment that secures self-esteem, learner ownership, rewards and points to the next learning.
  • Create opportunities.. to spark interest and intrinsic motivation.

What if we should not insist that it is all about progress?.. and what if we are overly satisfied when children entering with low (delayed) attainment make better progress than similar national starting points?  What if this progress only really becomes relevant if children attain at a level/grade that supports good progression, opens opportunities and enriches their future lives? What if it is attainment that really matters to low attaining children over time?

What if we judge the effectiveness of education through the lens of its effectiveness to secure attainment mobility?


What if we…

  • never assigned ability, performance or attainment to genetic advantage or innate talent or some fulfilment pre-destined potential, and…
  • understood that ability is born out of opportunity, commitment, supported effort and deliberate practice over time, and consequently…
  • saw education as the vehicle for enabling attainment mobility by levelling up the playing field for all.
  • understood that teaching every lesson, every day is the key to attainment mobility.

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  • we expected more of individual children; ensuring that given opportunity and supported effort that there is no limit to a child’s potential, certainly not at GCSE levels of attainment.
  • actively recognised that society and education actively supports both accumulated advantage and accumulated disadvantage.
  • we do not use “ability” and only used present level of attainment. We acknowledged that presently low levels of attainment are the cause of delayed attainment. We changed our language so that we:never use… Low, middle or high ability
    • do use… presently low, middle or high attaining.
    • and consider these  significantly delayed attainment, delayed attainment or expected attainment (instead of LA, MA and HA)
  • we valued and measured attainment mobility as a measure of a Schools success: conversion of low attaining (LA) to middle attaining  (MA) and to high attaining (HA). Attainment of LAs and MAs at 9-4 Basics and HAs at 9-5 Basics.
  • recognised that it is attainment that triggers social as well as attainment mobility; it is attainment more than progress that is important to life chances and greater opportunity in a child’s future.

Maybe then:

  • we would evaluate education by how well schools/academies are genuinely places of attainment mobility that reverse delayed attainment.
  • we would replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and support all children to reach any potential they choose.

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Dan Nicholls | October 2017

Director of Education | Cabot Learning Federation

Is there Life after levels? – an approach using Age Related Expectations..

“We have.. come to believe that an individual’s rank on narrow metrics of attainment can be used to judge their talent ..and ability.. and potential.” (adapted from Rose, 2106, “The end of Average”)

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“Typing and ranking (against the average) have come to seem so elementary, natural, and right that we are no longer conscious of the fact that every such judgement always erases the individuality of the person being judged.” (Rose, 2016)

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It is probably true that the removal of levels and Ofsted’s “no prescribed or preferred method” presents an enormous opportunity for teachers and leaders at KS3 (likely to refer to Year 7 and 8 for most – with the preference for three year KS4)  to own the curriculum, develop assessment, improve pedagogy and inspire students to learn and progress into rounded, successful individuals (who also achieve well at GCSE and A-level).

This opportunity is likely to be enhanced in Multi Academy Trusts where scale provides a unique chance to drive-up standards and create world-class, shared, moderated approaches to curriculum, assessment, reporting and teaching in an area of the curriculum without external benchmarks. A chance to define specifically and focus on what students need to know, understand and do as the foundation for being and feeling successful.

It is also probably true that it is hard to avoid recreating a levelled system or to simply drop GCSE grades (or numbers) down through Key Stage 3.

“There are no ladders (progress is not linear), instead, each one of us has our own web of development, where each step we take opens up a whole range of new possibilities that unfold according to our own individuality.” (Fischer quoted in Rose, 2016)

It is also true.. that to move from levels at KS3 requires a shift in what is valued; a letting go of reassuring and convenient level descriptors, ladders of progress and grades. There is also an inherent danger that we will drift into a time of mediocrity and low expectation as schools and academies introduce non-standardised approaches across KS3 – an area that is presently riddled with  underachievement, dips in progress and firmly in the shadow of performance measures at KS4. And.. there is additional danger that where KS3 is inept this will have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged learners and those on the margins; widening gaps already open on entry to KS3.

And it is importantly true.. that primary colleagues have already moved to an age related / mastery approach. The 2016 results show 53% of students achieving the Age Related Expectations (AREs) in Reading, Maths and Writing (with the percentage achieving ARE in Reading (66%), Maths (70%), Writing (72% (TA)) and SPAG (72%)). Children entering secondary in September understand their attainment and to a lesser extent their progress against Age Related Expectations.

It is also true.. that the time for stalling on a life after levels approach at KS3 is over; not least because of the extraordinary opportunity that it provides. Almost half of all schools have dropped GCSE grades (or numbers) down through to Year 7 and 8 from GCSE (some dropping Progress 8 measures through the five years). Whilst this is both reassuring and convenient it offers no continuity with Primary approaches and essentially replaces levels with grades – particularly where these are fine graded and flipped to the new number grades… (replacing 4c with 4c, but less useful than the previous level because it relates to an equivalent performance projected to a distant summative exam, inherently narrowing the curriculum and experience of children)

However.. in a world without levels there is still a need to measure both the relative attainment and progress of students against a clearly defined age-related standards or expectations to measure the efficacy of the curriculum, teaching and to identify groups and individuals who fall behind, as well as ensuring that all students who need to deepen are stretched and challenged. And.. as Ofsted rightly identify there is a need to secure progress across all Years, in all subjects and across all groups and that where students fall behind they are caught up.

“When we are able to appreciate the jaggedness of other peoples talents – the jagged profile of our children – we are more likely to recognise their untapped potential, to show them how to use their strengths, and to identify and help them improve their weaknesses.” (Rose, 2016)


Which begs the question, what should an approach to life after levels seek to achieve at KS3?

What if.. we developed an approach that used well defined and rigorous Age Related Expectations across each subject and an assessment approach that measured both progress and attainment of children against these AREs and an approach to teaching and learning that inspired, deepened learning and brought the curriculum alive? What if.. was all enhanced through collaboration within a Multi Academy Trust?

What could that look like?..

What if.. this approach to KS3 had a fundamental influence on:

  • The curriculum – so that it becomes absolutely transparent what every child should know, understand and be able to do. As well as affording the space and time to support teaching that deepens and stretches all children within Age Related Expectations. Building a curriculum that inspires children to enjoy and find life long passions across a broad and balanced curriculum – that answers, “what do we want young people to become, how can we give them wings and purpose in life?” as opposed to, “how can we prepare children to achieve an A grade (or 9) in 5 years time on a narrow summative exam testing areas that do not translate well to success in life?”
  • Assessment – common summative assessments that test students against Age Related Expectations (requiring teachers and leaders to develop, create and moderate assessments, enhanced within a MAT or a Collaborative). Using  formative assessment to close gaps, accelerate progress as well as catching-up those short of or falling behind the Age  Related Expectations. Broadening our use of formative and summative assessment to include teacher assessment, coursework, book scrutiny, oral presentations, group working – to assess and support children to work at and deepen within ARE.
  • Teaching and learning: Secure learning and progress of all children against the age Related Expectations of knowledge, understanding and skills. But, and here is the real opportunity, inspire and stretch children so that they deepen within the Age Related Expectations within a flexible, broad and balanced curriculum. Built in Formative feedback that has a strong influence on lesson planning and closing gaps to and beyond the Age Related Expectations.

What if.. we no longer equate speed of learning with ability? (Rose, 2016) What if.. we stopped labelling children as less able or more able; recognising that the key thing is that all have potential to attain well, regardless of their present level of attainment? The present level of attainment of a child is much more likely the result of background, chance, opportunity, linguistic privilege, context etc. than innate talent or ability. What if.. Age Related Expectations made explicitly clear how to close attainment gaps? And that.. the assessment and feedback woven into (and not bolted onto) the curriculum celebrates the jaggedness of children’s abilities and talents?

What if.. this new approach championed all subjects; Art, Music, Drama, PE, writing, poetry, sculpture, design, craft, reading, languages … because when students are enthused in their learning and they value increasing parts of it, they will also progress in literacy and numeracy as the vehicles for them to pursue their passions?

“Good Schools get on and do things: dance, drama, music, art, using the outdoors, speaking in other languages, finding out about the past and other places, growing things, cooking, going places, using ICT and paint brushes, making things, experimenting, learning about their own bodies, working out how to get on with others in the real world. Above all, they use all these experiences as vehicles to do amazing English and Mathematics to support the structured literacy and numeracy programmes at the same time bring purpose to learning for pupils.” (Mick Waters, 2013)

What if.. this extended to extra-curricular opportunities, not least because this does can unpick disadvantage and has been shown to have a significant impact on grades and progress. As Angela Duckworth describes extra curricular activities are, the playing fields of Grit. (When we talk of curriculum at KS3 we should retain “curriculum” in its broadest sense).

“When kids are playing sports or music or rehearsing for the school play, they’re both challenged and having fun.” … “There are countless research studies showing that kids who are more involved in extracurriculars fare better on just about every conceivable metric – they earn better grades, have higher self esteem, are less likely to get in to trouble and so forth. … more participation in activities predicts better outcomes.” (Angel Duckworth, in Grit,2016)

“Talent begins with brief powerful encounters that spark motivation (ignition) by linking your identity to a high performing person or group (or self image). This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them (or do that, or achieve that)” (Dan Coyle)

What if.. the present Year 7 and 8 Curriculum is so opaque, directionless and random that it actually works to enhance accumulated disadvantage? What if.. there was real clarity and consistency for all about the Age Related Expectations so that.. only motivation is the limiting factor for a child’s attainment. What if.. this disrupted the loop of unequal opportunity for students at the margins?

What if.. all of this had the ability to tackle workload through:

  • The sharing of resources, SOW and curriculum planning.
  • We did not seek breadth and focused on quality and depth of learning; reducing the burden on teachers; freeing them from the need to skim and teach at pace. Reassuringly clear clear about the key concepts and misconceptions, as well as the required Knowledge, Understanding and Skills.
  • Centralised assessments and reporting to generate real clarity of expectation.
  • Curriculum groups and CPD to have clear direction around, for example, the key Year 7 concepts and misconceptions. This will bring shared purpose to departments across Academies.
  • Establishing shared exemplars for the Age Related knowledge, understanding and skills in Year 7 and 8 to support modelling and acquisition of AREs.

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What if.. the very first question that we ask is, “what should students at the end of Year 7 (and 8) know, understand and be able to do?” ..in each subject? (and across the full curriculum?)

“Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.” (Ken Robinson)

What if.. it is much more about developing successful individuals, historians, geographers, musicians, artist, sportspeople, scientist, writers, innovators, dreamers, mothers, fathers, positive citizens.. and that KS3 is about this grounding across all of these areas within a broad, balanced, inspiring, motivating curriculum … Then the question is what do we, as professional teachers, subject specialist and leaders, want our Year 7 (8, 9) children to know, understand and do? Ensuring that we set our expectations high enough.. (and on from Expectations at KS2)..

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” (Michelangelo)

What if.. we also realised that there should be only one set of expectations – the Year 7 Age-related standard – And we avoided describing any sort of level on the way to this standard or beyond. We became comfortable that the Age Related Expectation is just that. And in a similar way to Ofsted who provide no descriptors for Requiring Improvement (it is not yet good) .. students are  “working towards age related expectations” (Of course it may well be helpful to use departing levels, KS2 Age Related Expectations and even GCSE descriptors to inform and support shared construction of the Year 7 Age Related Expectations and the Year 8 AREs … BUT we should resist on-going comparisons and remove levels and grades from assessment – there is no life after levels if levels or grades or a proxy still exist – AREs are single statements of what is expected by age, no ladder through them just distance from ARE and deepening within ARE)

What if.. it is also unhelpful to try to align the Age Related Expectations to GCSE grades or numbers. Whilst you would expect a child working at Age Related Expectations to go on and achieve at least a “good pass” (at least a 5 (1-9)) and that through deepening and pursuing excellence will access 6-9 at GCSE, we should resist placing age related expectations on a graduated scale or flight path across 7-11. Not least because KS3 should be about progress and preparation for life across a broad and balanced curriculum, that learning should spiral and interleave and that assigning a child as an F, G, H in Year 7 is a non-sensical descriptor of their attainment that ignores progression in learning. We should tread carefully if we try to force-fit summative GCSE grading down through to Year 7, even if there is a level of convenience in drawing on GCSE descriptors, questions, mark schemes etc. What if.. a better fit is to base all types of assessment to percentages or standardised scores of 100 and then determine percentage of performance that relates to working at Age Related Expectations? – (banding that can to planned into tests or derived through moderation post-assessment).

What if.. Knowledge is Power and that this should be a key focus for a Age Related Curriculum? What if.. the acquisition of knowledge allows the proximal zone of development to  widen so that progress accelerates as students are more able to assimilate new information/understanding/skill with their existing ability. What if.. this is more important from disadvantaged students who age 3 have half the words of children from professional families? (553 words v 1100 words) What if.. therefore, our KS3 curriculum and Age Related Expectations emphasised the required knowledge and this was made accessible, transparent and secured through quality first teaching .. so that effort (motivation) was the only barrier to acquiring the required age related knowledge?


What if.. instead of levels or grades we were only interested in children working towards Age Related Expectations at KS3 (following the primary model), achieving the AREs and importantly being given the freedom to deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills within these Age Related Expectations? We might describe a child as..

  • Deepening (D): child has reached the year group expectation and is now taking this deeper into more abstract work – following their passion within a broad curriculum that inspires the full range of talent and interest.
  • On track (O) / Working At current age related expectation. Child is working at the age related expectation for the Year group.
  • Yet to be on track (Y): the child shows some working at age related expectations but is not on track to achieve them.
  • At an earlier stage (A) in their learning journey. The child is short of the age related expectation.

(…and we resisted trying to describe any stages before or beyond age related expectations, which would recreate levels)

What if.. these tracked onto the national criteria at KS2?..

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What if.. we tracked both attainment and progress against age related expectations (ARE) using the following?.. for whole cohort (Year group or MAT Year group), groups, subjects, classes etc. … enabling inter and intra Academy and subject and group comparisons.

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What if.. this shows where students enter year 7.. using the KS2 scaled score. (where >100 reflects “Working at Expected Standard” on the x-axis? That in-line with Progress 8 this is the average of Reading and Maths. (53% of students achieved >100 (scaled score) in Reading, Writing and Maths. (SPAG being the fourth area measured at the end of KS2.

What if.. we used blue to identify non-PP, orange to identify PP children, triangles for female and circles for male and that an SEND child is shown by a black border?..AND what if.. as you rolled over each symbol the name and class of the child popped up?

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What if.. we used the y-axis as a 100-scale – most likely to be linked to a summative assessment (percentage) that identified children’s present attainment against Age Related Expectations.. What if.. the measure of a child’s attainment against Age Related Expectations could be given through teacher assessment, practical scores, oral presentation against set criteria?

What if.. the child’s vertical position identified their present attainment or distance from, on or beyond Age Related Expectation? AND that vertical movement up or down is a reflection of progress toward or away from the Age Related Expectation..

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What if.. we could plot over 1000 students against these Age Related Expectations (a benefit afforded by being part of a Multi Academy Trust)? What if.. this created a unique opportunity to moderate and standardise performance against a significant sample of children in each year (n.>1000), in each subject across all classes and groups? What if.. this was a significant nudge that raised standards at KS3?

What if.. we presented this data for each subject? ..or group? ..or class? So that..

  • We were able to track cohort percentages of the attainment of students – e.g. 63% at or above ARE
  • We were able to track the progress of students – e.g. of those starting at ARE and above at the start of Year 7, 40% are gaining ground against ARE, 52% are falling behind
  • We can visually and directly see who is falling behind … and intervene.
  • We can compare the attainment and progress of groups, particularly focused on groups.
  • We can measure the progress of students by class – a class that is moderated across a number of schools – in a student cohort of >1000, across 8 Academies.

What if.. we described progress over time against Age Related Expectations as:

  • Accelerating progress against Age Related Expectations
  • Gaining ground against Age Related Expectations
  • Maintaining progress against Age Related Expectations
  • Falling behind against Age Related Expectations
  • Falling further behind against Age Related Expectations

And.. these could be used with the attainment against Age Related Expectations: Deepening ARE, At ARE, Yet to be at ARE or At an Earlier stage (as above).

What if.. this allowed very clear identification of the children who are falling behind from where they were against the clearly defined Age Related Expectations?.. what if.. this told us about PP or SEND or gender or academy or department or individual? what if.. we did a work scrutiny and student voice for those students falling behind, and actively caught them up?

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AND.. those that are gaining ground from where they were against the clearly defined Age Related Expectations.. so that we can grow bright spots, celebrate and share practice that accelerates the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills..

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What if.. our job as educators just became very straight forward … all children regardless of present attainment need to be supported to reach the Age Related Expectations and for those who are secure to deepen and further bring alive and broaden the curriculum. So that the standard deviation shrinks and attainment rises (or deepens!)… seeking this…

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OR more simply.. to get all up to the standard and to deepen within the curriculum to inspire the next generation of mathematicians, writers, readers, sculptors, actors, artists, play writes, composers, biologists, astronauts, comedians and so on? against deepened AREs … and without levels and/or grades.

AND What if.. this just required:

  • a set of rigorous and well crafted Age Related Expectations – cleverly described and accessible…(to students, teachers, leaders and parents) Expectations that develop over time (through moderation and the professional dialogue of subject specialists) to articulate ever more clearly the expected knowledge, understanding and skills?
  • a set of common assessments that are 2/3 times a year sat across all Academies., as well as a suite of other summative and formative assessment techniques?

BUT we need to.. remember that we can also measure whether children are working at age related expectation through teacher assessment, through the quality of books, practicals, presentations, group working etc. After all this should really focus on the quality of formative feedback and importantly how this informs and shapes teacher’s planning.

What if.. the real benefit is that children, teachers, leaders, parents etc. will know much more precisely what they know, what they do not know, understand or can do … and importantly how they can close gaps in their learning. This may help to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks…

“(KS3 needs to…) replace the patchwork of lucky breaks, context and arbitrary advantages that determine success…with a system (curriculum and teaching) that provides opportunities and the conditions for all to feel success.” (Malcolm Gladwell, adapted)

What if.. ALL OF THIS is compromised if we do not invest time in establishing outstanding Age Related Expectations. AND what if.. even with this we need to support the development of teaching to secure deepening of ARE, the quality go feedback for planning lessons, feedback for children and the ability to broaden the curriculum to inspire and secure a passion for deeper learning.

What if.. we need to become excellent at setting ARE summative Assessments? as well as teacher assessment, coursework, practical assessments etc. to judge children against Age Related Expectations. Where Multi Academy Trusts have scale they become their own Exam Board for KS3 with paper setting, expectation setting, moderation, reporting and feedback. The moderation, CPD, sampling, ARE reporting, ARE data will grow our understanding of ARE over time; clarifying and improving the Age Related Expectations and the quality of Assessment (and feedback).

What if.. the age related expectations are clearly communicated on single sheets that show the specific gaps in what children know, understand and can do? – not dissimilar to PiXL Covey tables or PLC grids…a DTT approach. What if.. deliberate practice approach is then used in lessons, at parents evenings, in reports and through intervention to close gaps.

What if.. this allowed reporting and parents evenings to have the structure of…

  • Your child is gaining ground (or falling behind) in their learning towards age related expectations. (progress)
  • She is presently short of Age Related Expectations (Attainment)
  • What she specifically needs to do to secure Age Related Expectations is … and this … and that … (Targets)
  • And here is the specific Age Related Expectations that I have colour coded to show you where there are gaps and these link to specifically how you (and we) can support your child to go beyond ARE and deepen in these areas…
  • For every subject at KS3.

What if.. this enabled us to plan, teach and intervene to: catch-up those who fall behind, ensuring all achieve ARE, deepen children’s knowledge, understanding and skills within the Age Related Expectations and stretch and challenge all to release their passion for learning within a deep and challenging curriculum – inspiring excellence


What if.. all of this required great teaching … perhaps most importantly emphasising..

  • Feedback that inform planning of lessons against ARE and specifically what students can and cannot yet do. (More reading/marking for planning over marking to the individual)
  • Questioning that secures and deepens key concepts and challenges mis-concepts by age. Focusing on the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and application.
  • Deepening and challenging lessons that bring the curriculum to life and to depth to challenge all learners to ARE and to deepen beyond.

What if we then further embed ideas around Blooms and SOLO taxonomy? That “by age” we were very clear about what is expected (what competences children need to have or be able to do?)…and that this provides the framework for depth, teaching, questioning etc. as it already does in many classrooms.

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What if we taught to depth around these age related expectations because the necessity to cover lots of content is removed. What if there was a real stickiness around redrafting and re-doing, such that children were challenged to do their best work and this enabled students to spend more time working at Age Related Expectations?

“More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.”

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What if all of this also sought the ethic of excellence, because…

“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

What if.. this seeking excellence required an unswerving expectation that all teachers were  purposeful, deliberate and precise around formative feedback and that this was within tasks and lessons and not bolted on. What if.. we judged the quality of feedback much more on the quality of what students produce and less on ticks or comments or forced dialogue in books.

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What if.. the curriculum was interleaved so that the Age Related Expectations are re-visited to embed and secure new knowledge and understanding? What if.. we developed a spiral nature to the curriculum?

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Maybe then we would have an approach to life after levels that..

  • was focused on developing successful individuals, historians, geographers, musicians, artist, sportspeople, scientist, writers, innovators, dreamers, mothers, fathers, positive citizens.. as identified by subject specialists in our Academies.
  • took control of the curriculum, assessment and teaching against a clear set of Age Related Expectations that importantly allow teaching to deepen and inspire within the expectations.
  • built on the Primary experience of Ager Related Expectations and Mastery and provided a strong foundation across a broad curriculum – including
  • was able to measure attainment and progress to identify those that fall behind.
  • was clear about the precise Age Related Expectations for Year 7 and 8 – so that children understood the knowledge, understanding and skills that they can and cannot do and importantly the gaps in their learning and importantly how to close them.
  • did not recreate levels in a new format or simply use GCSE grades or numbers down through to Year 7. It did not seek to provide any other descriptors other than one set at Year 7 and one at Year 8 – the child is either at an earlier stage, yet to be at ARE, working at ARE, deepening within ARE.
  • took full advantage of Multi Academy Trusts and Collaboratives to own and develop standardised approaches that sought to raise the bar. That charged subject specialists with developing AREs and Common assessments (summative and other) that brought real ownership of what and how knowledge, understanding and skills are secured in our young people.
  • had a sophisticated way of visually showing the attainment and progress of all children, by year, group, class … Academy, department etc. So that progress of a child is identified as accelerating progress, gaining ground, maintaining progress, falling behind or falling further behind.
  • never forgot that it is still the quality of teaching in each lesson every day that is the transformative engine of education regardless of the curriculum.
  • had at its heart a drive to close gaps for the disadvantaged and children on the margins. In fact catching-up all those who are and fall behind.

“An individual is a high-dimensional system evolving over place and time.” (Molenaar, in Rose 2016) “…if we demand that social institutions value individuality over the average, then not only will we have greater individual opportunity, we will change the way we think about success – not on terms of our deviation from average, but on the terms we set for ourselves.” (Rose, 2016)

What if.. it was precisely this opportunity to take control of the curriculum, assessment and teaching that inspired us all to enter Education and seek to make a difference?

Dan Nicholls | August 2016

Thoughts and ideas largely my own and do not necessarily reflect that of the Cabot Learning Federation.