Principles into Practice: Inclusion and Excellence in English
March 27th, 2021
I’ve had so much fascinating feedback from schools recently about their pioneering work on challenging English that it’s given me the opportunity to summarise some key ways in which progress is being made, whether via remote learning or face to face. This should be of interest to anyone considering curriculum development work in English, particularly in the primary phase.
I want to emphasise the journey schools are making from principles into practice. We all learn much from big concepts in education, perhaps from John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’ or one of Mary Myatt’s oft quoted maxims ‘fewer things, greater depth’. I’ve had extensive coaching and consultancy experience seeing at first hand the importance of steering principles; and the complexities of sharing them widely. I found Deborah Eyre’s ‘Room at the Top’ report particularly helpful in recommending an excellence ethos for all as fundamental to a thriving school. Without visions for English and for the curriculum, we could be mapping random, if valuable, strategies on to a curriculum journey which lacks a compass. Big ideas don’t just belong at big conferences!
I’m working now with the ‘Opening Doors’ network on our own principles ensuring opportunity, equality and social justice for all pupils. Enjoyment and excellence can be an integral part of a quality reading curriculum offering so many more exciting writing opportunities too. Some of our passions revolve around:
- methodology matching intention
- groupings relating to need
- high pitch approaches linked to a range of interventions
- a mindset for flexibility stimulated by the teachers’ mastery of the text
- a clear rationale for the lesson, the unit, the progressive steps
This can be the stuff of a key-note; but it’s the determination of schools to translate principles into practice which has raised standards. It’s the hardest part, it takes unstinting effort, it takes positive leadership – and it’s incredibly exciting! Without the passion behind the vision, it would not happen at all but the small steps and incremental evaluation linked to changes are critical to seeing progress.
I want to mention some fundamental thinking which is common across the feedback I’ve been getting recently, although some of these patterns have been visible in schools with whom we have worked for years. There are constant surprises for me and the schools and the most common is that pupils relish challenges – but it depends how the text is presented! A threat can be turned into an opportunity and here are some ways in which it can be done. It all depends on the context, but I hope this is helpful:
- The Headteacher/Trust CEO must desire a challenging English curriculum for the pupils and makes its development an integral part of a whole school action plan. It takes time, so small steps are planned and budgeted for.
- The English Lead is a pioneer who can model the ways in which challenging English can become a ‘norm’, in which a range of diverse literature can be linked into very focussed sessions where depth and richness are explored via a core text
- School insets – whether externally assisted or not – revolve around case studies where principles into practice become commonplace discussions. It’s a learning journey with evaluation and adaptation critical to the process.
- Emerging from pilots can come a map of learning, organised to the needs of each school’s curriculum design.
- The knowledge of the text is central to the ability to move pupils on to the next stage, to know which supplementary questions to ask and to fully exploit the potential of the text. Therefore, there has been huge encouragement for primary teams to enjoy their own discussions about meaning, ambiguity or quirky delight in the text they are using; and a literary text might be a picture book, quality children’s literature, poetry or a literary classic.
- Linking in texts under a concept or theme has been noticeably growing in popularity as a key way of ‘opening doors’. This is stimulating a higher expectation about pupil reading but still with huge choice and as much a pleasure as any reading might be.
- There is a pattern of schools opening doors to challenging English being passionate about reading for pleasure. That’s terrific, and challenging reading is very much part of the pleasure! Often, schools are part of the ground-breaking Open University/UKLA project. We also find many schools are following Talk for Writing and our encouragement of depth and richness has contributed to T4W work. Schools can apply the principles to any framework or programme. Pie Corbett kindly wrote the inspiring foreword to our latest books.
- Link texts give the possibility of going across time and across the world! It’s massively important in improving comprehension by boosting knowledge via reading depth and breadth.
- The quality text immersion has produced quality writing which has boosted confidence. Many schools have sent me work which has been posted on the Crown House site listed below. Schools in the Ad Astra Trust in Hartlepool even got their own regular slot on local radio reading out work.
These ideas, I hope will give more guidance in terms of ‘how’ schools are finding their own exciting ways of developing a rich English curriculum. It’s complex and many other routes will of course lead to success; but it’s a menu of possibilities from which schools have been designing their own curriculum.
We held our first online conference recently with 240 logging on and this is the beginning of further opportunities to share practice more widely. Do contact me to learn more.
I wanted to give a flavour of what is the ‘make a difference’ work of our growing network of schools. It’s just a snapshot of the ways in which the ideas in the ‘Opening Doors’ series are being filtered by schools into impact. Taking theory, research and ideas from principles to practice is complex but the process is one full of self-reflection and new thinking. CPD is actually every day in the classroom as teaching aspects of English via challenging texts tends to raise more questions for all of us.
There is so much to explore and so much to teach! Perhaps that’s another blog!
The Opening Doors Series. Five books contain 80 units. For details see:
Slides from the ‘Opening Doors Online Conference
Thanks to the presenters from our schools!
www.searchingforexcellence.co.uk go to ‘free resources, including poetry’
‘Back on Track’ by Mary Myatt published John Catt
‘Room at the Top’ by Deborah Eyre
‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ by John Hattie
UKLA/Open University ‘Reading for Pleasure’
Talk for Writing