Brad's Blog

From Good to Outstanding

Monday 30th January 2017

"Really inspired by your presentation yesterday."

Off to a good start for the New Year with receipt of the above email commenting on my presentation of the CPD programme 'Good to Outstanding in Manchester yesterday. I also offer this programme under the title, 'Stepping-up to Outstanding' and it may be tailored towards vocational programmes, A-Level provision, WBL or Adult Education as appropriate.
The programme addresses the fall in the number of colleges receiving 'good or better' inspection grades 2015-16 and within this evidence of insufficient movement from 'good to outstanding.'
"The proportion of good or outstanding general FE colleges has declined from 77% in 2015 to 71% this year." (Ofsted annual report December, 2016)
Essentially too many colleges are not stepping-up from 'requires improvement' to 'good' and from good to 'Outstanding.' To step-up within TLA requires close attention to the following three closely linked themes:
· Independent learning
· Feedback
· Challenge.
Lesson observation teams, curriculum teams and T&L coaches should be highly aware of the relevant Ofsted criteria and ensure that effective strategies are firmly in place in each case.
Independent learning
Ofsted's grade one criteria refers to the importance of learners, "seeking out and using new information" and that they are "curious, interested and keen to learn." The rapid expansion of online learning resources offers all learners beneficial additional support and extended learning opportunities. Our learners need to realise that timetabled lessons are a 'window' into the relevant curriculum and one part of their learning experience. Learning doesn't have to end because the lesson has ended. Typical timetables often have only 16-18 hours of lessons per week but there are 24 hours in a day and if we do the arithmetic 168 hours in a week. We need to 'grow' independent learners by ensuring all have the skills to take advantage of online resources to extend and consolidate their learning. The Chief Inspector's report has identified that many learners do not have the necessary skills:
"A failure to equip many students, particularly those studying vocational subjects at level 3 and those studying below level 3, with the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes to achieve and progress to their full potential."

Coaching the skills of independent learning starts with enforcing the most basic study requirement of all i.e. arriving at lessons, "equipped to learn."
Learners also have to be prepared for the increasing integration of Blended or Flipped learning strategies. Blended starts in the classroom and is completed online whereas Flipped starts online and is completed in the classroom. The benefit of regular Flipped or Blended learning is the ability to personalise learning. Struggling learners can receive tailored support and the 'invisible middle' and the more able can explore extended learning opportunities. All will benefit from the extra learning time and the ability to re-watch and re-examine key information and links to wider resources which may well stir curiosity and interest. Addressing motivation is a significant factor and curriculum teams need to consider how to 'sell' the benefits of full engagement beyond the classroom. Consideration should also be given to replacing Schemes of Work with learner centred, 'Learning Plans' to underpin independent learning and to link the classroom with online resources. Schemes of Work are staff documents which are rarely shared with learners. The SOW informs teachers of what to teach but how do we inform learners of what to learn? Take a look at the Learning Plan pro-forma on the Collegenet website as a step in this direction. It is designed to promote links between the classroom and the VLE and by presenting a series of key questions provide a focus for independent learning.
Feedback
The transformational impact of 'feedback' is the second significant theme underpinning Ofsted's inspection judgements. The Grade One criteria specifies, "incisive feedback" and that learners should not only receive but act on feedback, "capitalise on opportunities to use feedback to improve." Feedback and related study targets need to be embedded classroom practice rather than 'bolt-on' within ILPs and only reviewed once or twice a term. This leads to bland targets. Feedback and related study targets should be fully integrated into lessons and flow from week to week and lesson to lesson. Regular whole class feedback provides a focus for improving learning and especially if closely linked to how to improve in a 'carry forward' manner. Individual feedbacks, plus small group feedback should be a regular feature of lessons with written feedback as necessary rather than routine. As far as possible learners should record feedback rather than staff regularly writing feedback. Targets should arise from the progress being made within each lesson with targets issued for the whole class and for individuals according to individual learning difficulties plus 'stretch' targets as appropriate. In most cases feedback and targets should link to online resources on the VLE.
Challenge
The lack of 'challenge' is often the reason why inspection judgments do not improve as reported by the Chief Inspector, "In almost all, teaching was not demanding enough, resulting in slower progress and lower standards." The tendency to teach to the middle remains a significant problem and often too many learners are content to stay low. Within lessons Ofsted's Grade One criteria states, "all learners undertake demanding work." It is important to address the highest standards of the relevant qualification. This may mean Distinction or A* or in the case of pass/fail qualifications raising awareness of the highest industrial or commercial standards and stretching in relation to developing employability skills and improving English and Maths. Challenge is also about challenging the individual to achieve their full potential and raising their ambitions and awareness of future employment and study opportunities. A student with clear goals is more likely to apply effort to succeed and to be responsive to feedback and online learning opportunities. Challenge can be embedded in our lessons via lesson objectives ( although I prefer a hierarchy of key questions), recaps and recaps that often return to earlier topics, questioning strategies, demanding paired and group learning tasks, learner participation in presentation tasks, reciprocal teaching, 'bridge' to next lesson tasks and finally the issue of regular challenge tasks topic by topic with prizes and recognition for successful completion.
All of the above forms part of my new CPD programme Good to Outstanding. The programme should help to raise staff awareness of the application of Ofsted criteria to step-up from Grade Three, and to step-up from Grade Two. The programme includes lots of practical examples of how to address Independent learning, Feedback and Challenge to adopt or adapt. Finally, the programme also makes a very good update for Lesson Observation teams. If you would like to explore further do email me bradley@collegenet.co.uk.