New Year Gold: A selection of brilliant ideas from some fabulous schools


To kick off 2018, here are some of the best ideas I’ve come across on my travels to various schools around the UK.  I’ve limited most of this sample to practices I’ve encountered in more than one school  – to avoid the sense that things can only happen in specific contexts.  Where relevant I’ve named the schools doing something more niche.

Knowledge organisers and retrieval practice

A lot has been written about knowledge organisers this year.  However, I see a lot of variation in the way they are used.  Crucially, investing time in knowledge organisers is not about creating them or making them look pretty; it’s about using them routinely to secure good foundational knowledge.  In the best cases, students have clear quizzable knowledge organisers in their possession (not just dumped online) and engage in regular quizzing as part of lessons.  Retrieval practice can be engaging and buzzy, it is always low stakes whilst being…

View original post 1,543 more words


Making Learning Walks Work For All 



Learning walks are a great tool for school improvement as they provide a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of a school. However, they can also be a source of anxiety for learners and staff. It is therefore important to make these learning walks as purposeful and calm as possible. And I believe the suggestions outlined below can help to make this a reality.

Share the reason for the learning walk with learners

SEND learners are often observed by  a host of different agencies throughout their time in school. Therefore, when another adult enters the room, they might become nervous and uneasy because they feel that they are being watched. However, if the class teacher makes it clear that the observation is for senior leaders to see their skills and knowledge, this can help to put learners at ease. And when learners are at ease, they are free to learn and engage with the lesson being taught.

Share who will be doing the learning walk with learners

Working within a specialist autistic school, I have come to realise that one of the key ways to put learners at ease is to show them a picture of new visitors before they arrive. The use of a picture is helpful in creating a sense of familiarity with the visitor and so, students are more likely to have a positive reaction to their presence. Of course, the person conducting the walk is likely to be a member of the senior leadership team. In this case, simply sharing that these leaders are likely to visit the classroom could also help students to feel at ease when these changes occur in the lesson.

Share the structure of learning walks with staff 

In the recent WomenEd Conference, Matthew Parker spoke about a clear structure that could be utilised when carrying out learning walks. I believe that if a model like this is used, teachers will view learning walks in a more positive and constructive way, which will in turn influence their learners’ feelings and behaviour when an observer comes into the classroom. A structure of this model can be found below:

Matthew Parker

So yes, learning walks are important and they can help schools to be more effective. However, schools must be clear with staff and learners about how they will work, the reason why they are happening and who will be doing them. If all these elements are clearly communicated, I am convinced that they can always be a positive and constructive experience for all involved.



Closing the Gap for SEND Learners


Today, I was excited! The report entitled ‘Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage’ (Andrews, Robinson & Hutchinson 2017) was published. I had hoped that the expanding of academies and the creation of free schools might have helped us to close the gap in education like never before. Instead, the picture proved dismal with the “most disadvantaged…over 2 full years of learning behind non-disadvantaged pupils by the end of secondary” and those Higher Attaining students with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), neglected.

The word neglect is of course, a very strong word. It suggests that our education system has failed to properly care for and look after the needs of those with SEND. There is an extent to which I agree. It is known that some teacher training programmes did not give enough focus to SEND and there were schools who were focused on C/D borderline students to the exclusion of other groups. However, in some ways, this is changing. The introduction of progress 8, means that the progress of all students matter. Teacher training programmes have also been revised so that teachers have a better understanding of the SEND of their learners. So, I do believe there is a shift in the way that we work with SEND learners. However, I also wanted to highlight some key approaches that could ensure that we are not neglecting those who are struggling to keep up with their peers.


Many students with SEND show that they find it difficult to retain the material they have studied. As a result, it is not a surprise that they “struggle to keep pace with their peers”. One of the key ways in which we can level the playing field for these learners, is to build curriculums which make overlearning possible. Performing a task or using information to the point where it becomes automatic, is said to improve retention. Within our schools and classrooms, we can aid the overlearning of key concepts or tasks by revisiting them throughout the term until students can use these concepts or tasks automatically.

Emotional Regulation

As individuals, we all experience some anxiety. However, for many learners with SEND, these anxieties can lead to challenging behaviour, tantrums and meltdowns. As we know these behaviours become a barrier to learning and progress of that child and the class that they are in. As a consequence, these students are often given detentions or asked to work away from the class. Of course, I am not saying that these consequences should not be applied as I understand that we must not allow the learning of the majority to be interrupted. However, I believe that we must also support these learners to constructively express and regulate their emotions. If students are able to manage their emotions, it is possible that they become better able to focus and contribute to their lessons. If they are focusing and have a good working memory, then their struggle to keep up with their peers could be reduced. Therefore, if we want to ensure that our SEND learners aren’t being neglected or endlessly struggling, we should seek to use aids such as 5 point scales, social stories and ABC (antecedent-behaviour-consequence) charts, amongst other tools to help them to manage their feelings.

Emotional regulation and overlearning are just two approaches that we can use to level the playing field with our SEND learners. If we can support them to be less anxious whilst finding it more automatic to engage with concepts and tasks, it is possible that they will struggle less to keep up with their peers. This will in turn help these learners to develop their confidence as successful learners. Additionally, by helping these students to regulate their emotions, they are able to recognise and use a range of strategies that help them to respond constructively in a range of situations whether in or outside of school. Of course, these approaches might mean shifts in our curriculum or investments in staff training on how to help students to regulate their emotions. However, if the end result is to have students who can manage their emotions and make good progress, it must be surely worth the cost. Right?








Building Automaticity in Handwriting

Loving this!

The Stable Oyster

English teachers seem to attract a lot of comments about students’ handwriting. Parents are often keen to discuss it at parents’ evenings, often pushing it as a discussion point over other important areas of their child’s progress. Other subject teachers often feel (sometimes correctly) that handwriting is indicative of literacy levels and sometimes (incorrectly) that it’s indicative of academic ability. I sometimes resent the frequency of these comments; literacy is a whole-school issue, yet seems to get dumped at the English faculty door. Literacy is not the same as English Language and certainly not the same as English Literature. I acknowledge crossovers but on a bad day, I feel aggrieved that my subject is reduced, in the minds of some others, to penmanship.

I do see that the need for written fluency in English is perhaps more pronounced than in other areas. I started to look into it: the literature on the physical processes…

View original post 1,904 more words

Three things that happen when your autistic child is different at home and at school

Jekyll and Hyde are exactly the words that I used to describe a pupil of mine this week. This is such a powerful article, raising a really important issue. Thank you.



I am going through a very difficult time with my son. This morning he was carried to his taxi by my husband and myself kicking and screaming. He was stressed, his sister terrified and I was anxious and worried.
I haven’t called the school and asked if he is ok because I know what they will say.
He is not like that in school

Reports from school don’t marry with the child at home at all. In school he conforms, is settled and appears happy. At home he can be violent, unpredictable and highly distressed. This creates some problems for school, home and professionals. The great divide between home and school is a huge challenge and I am not alone in struggling with this.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes parents feel they are to blame.

When the common denominator for the challenging behaviour…

View original post 759 more words

CHAMPS and the Compliance Classroom

I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for following my post. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for your writing! Powerful!

Ryan Boren

My stomach dropped when I saw CHAMPS at our elementary school. “Eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” leapt off the wall and rose from memory. I was in school in the 70s and 80s. Some teachers were really into table readiness and proper student posture, and some principals thought a paddle made them persuasive. Compliance was the soul of their pedagogy. Those are not fond memories. I was an undiagnosed autistic in a culture without the vocabulary to understand me or help me understand myself. But I understood authoritarians well enough. They are a straightforward grok.

I handled the thoughtless compliance better than many of my peers. I could disappear into myself and hide in almost still silence. The tugging of my hair betrayed my perpetual anxiety and my yearning to scratch my scalp. In the head beneath the scalp I wanted to scratch and the hair I wanted to…

View original post 323 more words

Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Loved this! Marking is about formative comments NOT grades! Cheers to moving kids on and closing gaps!



Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Context and Motivation

I’m feeling relieved, smug and virtuous because I’ve just marked some books. It feels good because a) it was overdue and, hence, was having that ‘albatross’ effect; b) for a change I am looking forward to going into my class tomorrow without feeling guilty and most importantly c) because I feel like I’ve renewed a connection with my students’ learning in a way that is hard to do any other way; I’ve done something worthwhile which always feels good.

To be absolutely clear, I am a Dylan Wiliam devotee; you won’t catch me doing marking slavishly because someone tells me I should or because it looks good; I only do marking if I think I need to – and this only if I think it will make a difference. I expect my staff to have the same attitude. I’m convinced…

View original post 1,547 more words

SENDT: Autumn Awakening


It’s been a while since I’ve written about my journey. Yet, I think of my students almost everyday. I think of what makes them sad; I think of what makes them happy; I think of what I can do each day to assure their progress.

I listen to the news, always with an ear for them. I’m always trying to find out something new that I can share and enthuse them with. In class, I tell them “we’re a team” and after saying this, Mr Cheeky announces: “No, we’re not a team. We’re a family!”

In them, I see the circle of life. The better I am with them, the more strategies I use, the more I learn, the more I am able to guide and grow my own little man into the person I want him to be. There are so many fruits to this symbiotic relationship of teacher and pupil, tutor and tutee.

Regardless of politics, boohoos and tears, they are the highlight of my teaching career. Their commitment to progress, their undeniable resilience in the face of endless anxiety gives me courage. Their very presence forces me to reach beyond myself and encounter new and exciting ways of teaching; being at peace; experiencing joy!