Wednesday, 30 August 2017

1:1 Tuition with a Difference - A Research Project Evaluation

1:1 Tuition with a Difference
A Research Project Evaluation


At the start of the last academic year, I decided that I wanted to investigate the effect of different types of pupil conferencing across the school.  I wanted to particularly focus on the progress of underachieving children who were not on-track to achieve year group expectations. I met with staff in a range of contexts and worked with them to develop several different styles of pupil conferencing as the year progressed.

End of key stage data in 2016 had identified progress in reading as a school-wide issue, however following assessments carried out at the start of the year with our year 6 cohort, it was clear that there was a real risk that a large group of those children would not reach age related expectations in maths.

By chance, at the end of term 2, I received a promotional email from a maths advisor advertising a showcase meeting at Aldington Primary School for a company called Third Space Learning.  Third Space Learning were offering 1:1 maths sessions for children – teaching children maths by using mentor/coaching techniques to consolidate understanding and deepen their learning in areas of maths set by their class teachers. 

The key difference between Third Space Learning 1:1 tuition and the standard 1:1 tuition that we had used before as a school was that these sessions were carried out online – using a headset and a laptop computer.  Quite often our students were working with teachers based in other parts of the world such as India or Sri Lanka. Whilst at Aldington Primary, I watched a session in progress, spoke to the deputy head and then spoke to a group of children at length about their experiences with the programme.  All came across very positively and indicated that this was a provision that I should investigate further.

Key Research Question:

After speaking at length at SLT level, I got the go-ahead from my Principal to invest what was quite a considerable sum of money in trialling Third Space Learning as a research project with seven children.  I used the following question to frame my research: “How does the use of 1:1 pupil conferencing affect the progress of pupils who are not on-track to achieve combined age-related expectations at the end of KS2?”.


Initially, I met with the class teachers to identify children who had significant progress to make in maths before the end of KS2. Two boys and five girls were selected. The types of children identified were those that were quieter in class and had no significant behaviour problems. They were generally the types of pupil who do not readily join in actively in lessons nor offer their thinking and reasoning regarding answers to problems; they were children whose maths vocabulary was limited. Five of the children were entitled to Pupil Premium funding. Based on the autumn term SATs assessments, the children were on average 30% away from the threshold for achieving ARE. It was clear that they needed to make significantly above average progress and, at that point, were very unlikely to achieve the standard needed at the end of year six.

I decided to survey the children’s attitudes to maths before the sessions started and again at the end. I used the online tool Survey Monkey to do this and used many of the same questions at the start and the end of the project to gauge progress.

I also used an adapted ‘diamond nine’ sorting activity with the children once the programme had finished. This was designed to gauge how effective they had found the 1:1 sessions when compared to other elements of maths teaching that they had been exposed to across the year.

Key Findings:

·    For the entirety of the programme, each of the seven children selected spent each 1-hour session engaged in high –quality maths talk. They were challenged and motivated to make progress through a range of high-quality resources that were pitched at an appropriate level.

·     Tailored 1:1 tuition coupled with regular quality-first teaching back in class is an effective tool for accelerating the progress of underachieving children in maths.

·      The quality of the resources used by the tutors is vital in ensuring children are working at the depth needed to be able to interpret their SATs test independently.

·    The quality of talk for maths – and the quality of the teacher’s questioning is vital in assessing children’s understanding and moving their learning forward.

·         Survey results prove that all children really value the regular 1:1 time and felt that the sessions were effective in moving their learning forward.  

      A range of positive comments were made by the children such as:

“Third Space really helped me with my thinking and how to break a problem down.”

“It helped me with my speaking in class.”

I learnt about fractions because I got really stuck on them and now they are easy for me.”

“It helped me get on in maths and not get more stressed.”

“It was strange a first but now I really like it”

   There were also some negative issues raised by the children:

“     "Don’t offer pictures too much or only offer pics if they’re are getting stressed etc.”

“Sometimes I found it hard to understand what my tutor had said”

“Sometimes the technology played up and my headset broke”

“Sometimes I had to do things that I could do already – they should talk to my teacher.”


Six out the seven children who were chosen for Third Space Maths achieved age related expectations in their maths SATs tests.  The child that didn’t achieve expectations still made solid progress overall but unfortunately really underperformed on the days of the tests.

Here is an example of one of the sorting activities carried out at the end of the programme once SATs results had been issued.

 I asked the children to sort the cards to show what has been the most effective strategy this year for enabling them to make progress in maths.  This shows that for Pupil A, she found Third Space to be the most effective.

Similarly, for Pupil B, she found Third Space learning to be the most effective strategy for her over the past year.

Pupil C did not rate Third Space as highly as the other children, even though she had made excellent progress. 

When I unpicked this with her afterwards, I was surprised to find that there were some uncomfortable racial prejudices that had altered her perceptions of the usefulness of the programme. These felt to me as if they had been ingrained at home and there had been some negative attitudes displayed by her parents regarding her “working with somebody in a call centre in India”. (These never came across during sessions however and I observed her engaging fully and achieving highly in all sessions).  As a school, this highlights that we need to do more to tackle these kinds of attitudes with our children in the next year. Interestingly, the child in question made the most progress across the year, both in Third Space Sessions and in her SATs tests.


Coupled with regular teaching, it is clear that this approach of 1:1 tuition has been very successful in plugging attainment gaps and thus accelerating the progress of targeted children.  Survey results show that children feel that their confidence levels and conceptual understanding have increased because of these 1:1 sessions.  Teachers have noted that children’s language skills have improved as they have been forced to engage in a high-quality conversation about maths for an hour a week on top of their normal maths provision.

The quality of the targeted resources used by the tutors and children during sessions should not be underestimated.  Because the nature of the challenges and problems has been matched so closely to the demands of the year six curriculum, they have really enabled tutors to hone in on children’s gaps and accelerate their learning through a topic.  Third Space Learning have readily responded to current thinking around best practice in maths teaching and have integrated strategies such as bar modelling into their resources to support learning. I have found the company to be very supportive and flexible and have been quick to address any problems that may have occurred.

By working in a 1:1 capacity, tutors are best placed to really unpick a child’s understanding and misconceptions in detail and plug gaps. This is because they have the time to do this and to work at the child’s pace. Because pupils are not being forced to respond in front of a class of 29 other children, they are able to relax and talk without being influenced by peer pressure and a fear of failure. 

By working with the same tutor each week, children develop a working relationship with the same person and begin to trust them and relax in sessions as time goes on.

Next Steps:

We have been impressed with the outcomes of the Third Space Sessions and have committed to continue with the programme next year.  We will be targeting ten Year Six children who are currently not on track to achieve age related expectations by the time they sit their SATs. Seven of these children began the programme as soon as the year 6 children had finished their SATs.  They will have more than double the time using Third Space Learning than the initial Year 6 group.

We plan to make use of the high-quality resources that Third Space provide for all year groups either in class, with small groups, or in our own 1:1 face to face sessions in school.

As a whole school we must fully investigate and explore racial stereotypes with the children to ensure their attitudes are as positive as possible and any preconceptions and negative attitudes are challenged quickly and effectively.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

A different take on learning journals?

Way back in the Summer of 2012, I decided to work with a couple of colleagues to investigate different ways of allowing children interpret their learning in a high-quality, creative way.  I have always been a little bit hesitant about the "one size fits all" approach to recording work seen in many schools - but also fully understand the need for consistency and high expectations regarding the quality of pupil work seen in books. 

We needed high-quality exercise books demonstrating high-quality outcomes (Ofsted) but we strongly felt that we wanted evidence of independent expression and thinking produced without fear of making a mistake.

Having previously worked with a teacher from a local accredited “thinking school”, we had already trained the staff in the use of Dr David Hyerle's Thinking Maps and how to use these from Year R - 6.  We felt that there were likely to be good opportunities for children to independently use these in the learning journals.  We also looked into mind-mapping and worked with our Principal Graham Chisnell (@Chizkent - who uses mind mapping regularly as part of his work) to share with staff and children how this approach can be used to creatively organise thinking.

We also researched current use of learning journals and the expression of thinking in a range of settings. This including a visiting Kingsdown and Ringwould Primary School to meet with their Deputy Head who had introduced the use of Thinking Maps and De Bono’s Thinking Hats across the school. I went with three colleagues to visit King’s Park School in Boscombe and Broadstone First School in Poole to see a range of innovative practice in action. I also used research from to develop ideas.  

I then led a trial in Year 4 and 6 using this new book that we call our “Learning Journal”. I set up my class with a set of high-quality A5 learning journals – the sort with plain paper of a suitable thickness and quality to make the children feel that they were recording in a book that was just a little bit more special than other exercise books. Unfortunately, cost implications stopped us from buying A4 books for all children. It was decided that from the start this would be a “free space” where children could demonstrate independent thinking, collaboration, reflection, enquiry, and evaluation of a range of topics across the curriculum.   The only expectation was that at all times when using the book, children produced work that reflected the highest standards of writing and drawing. As the teacher, I regularly enforced this with the children and they certainly rose to the challenge. Children were to be completely free to use any pen/pencil they wish; encouraged to use colour and pictorial approaches as appropriate. Teachers made the conscious decision not mark the journals in the traditional sense out of respect for the quality and ongoing nature of the work produced. Regular feedback was given in different ways to ensure all children understood how to develop their thinking to the next level.

I set up my class with a set of high-quality A5 learning journals (purchased from Ryman's) – the sort with plain paper of a suitable thickness  (140gsm) and quality to make the children feel that they were recording in a book that was just a little bit more special than other exercise books. 

As teachers, we had to ensure that we gave children the time needed to produce the quality of work that we were expecting.  The children got faster as they got used to their preferred ways of working.  They soon began applying this approach at other time - asking to work in their science book in this way - or learning their spellings creatively using a range of colour as appropriate.  Great for more visual learners.

How are they used?

Here are some of the ways children at Warden House have used their learning journals:

  Learning evaluations
  Mind mapping
  Planning for extended writing– E.g. using flow maps, storyboards, language through colour strategies
  Thinking maps, including allowing children’s variations of these.
  Organising thinking / key questions when listening to or readung a story/text – usually responding to a given focus/question(s)
  Using alongside reading to respond in guided reading or independent reading sessions

Some examples of learning journals used in Year 6

 The following examples are from a mixture of 12 children - boys and girls and all ability ranges:

Thursday, 15 September 2016

How is the role of the Head Teacher Developing in the 21st Century School?

How is the role of the Head Teacher Developing in the 21st Century School?

Since graduating from university in the year 2000, I have been privileged to work under 9 different head teachers across a range of different settings - some for a matter of weeks - others for several years. Each one has been a fantastic professional in their own right with different strengths and weaknesses. The position of head teacher is increasingly unique in today's society and is one in which public perception has barely shifted over the past 100 years. Head teachers are usually held in high esteem by the communities of the schools in which they serve – placed on a pedestal; looked up to; sometimes revered; often feared. Most people have a clear image in their head of the persona that a Head Teacher should project - the aura- and there can often be high levels of consternation – and often offence caused when the person in question doesn't live up to that billing.

A Changing Role in a Changing Climate:
It's clear that the traditional role of the Head Teacher is one that is becoming more and more endangered with each passing general election. Some may argue that that it is a good thing. A government agenda of forced acadamisation – of large numbers of schools run by one “Super Head” with Heads of Schools underneath them is one that is becoming increasingly common. This subtle change in title seeks to undermine the role of the head teacher in the eyes of many. One could argue however that something has to change. A national lack of suitable candidates for headship has been evident for quite some time. It's not surprising really given the incredible pressures placed on the role from relentless government changes and tougher and tougher inspection regimes. One bad cohort, or one unlucky appointment and potentially your job could be at risk. Head teachers are not in the same league as football managers. There is no seven figure severance package and a new job waiting three months down the line. They often have families to support, bills to pay and have their lives to live. It's clear that for too many good people, the pressures associated with the role have often been too much.

A friend of mine, having recently completed his NPQH, has been scouring the job pages looking for a Head Teacher role that would be a big enough change from his current position as a non-teaching Deputy of a large two-form entry primary school. Problems that have presented themselves include a lack of genuine Head Teacher jobs in the local area that would provide the step-up that he needs. Jobs such as Head of School roles within local federations are of little interest, as quite often they pay less than traditional head teacher jobs – and insist that overall autonomy still rests with an executive Head teacher who may visit the school one or two days per week. On paper, that is not much of a change from his current role as a non-teaching deputy so there is little incentive to want to move on. Rates of pay as a head teacher of a small village school would see him take a pay cut from his current role - and a large increase in workload due to the lack of personnel and financial clout that usually comes within the small-school environment. Quite often these schools are at risk of being swallowed up by larger academy chains as they are becoming increasingly financially unviable given the pending collapse of many local authorities.

I have recently met with one ex-colleague who has progressed to the role of Principal within a local academy chain. Although experiences were initially positive, increased top-slicing of the school budget, coupled with a blanket ban on external CPD and a very limited resource budget led to a range of problems. Teacher recruitment has been a significant problem for her – so much so that she spent all of term 6 teaching full time in a very challenging year 6 class – as well as having to run a vibrant one form entry primary school in a socially deprived area.

Her passionate, yet inexperienced staff were at times crying to get out and visit other schools and broaden their experiences, yet were stifled by a chain that insisted on one way of doing things. As principal, she saw middle leadership opportunities for her staff diminish, as, for example, one teacher was appointed as literacy coordinator for the nine schools across the chain with the expectation that the policy, curriculum and practice across all schools in the chain was identical. At times the literacy coordinator (who was teaching full-time in Folkestone) would be expected to deliver an after school staff meeting in Dartford one week and then a similar meeting in Tenterden the next. A cynic would say that the academy chain had developed a great way of saving money, as hardly any staff across their schools would be able to demonstrate impact across a range of schools needed to earn an upper pay scale award. The work life balance of this literacy coordinator cannot have been particularly good.

Someone once said, “Leaders and managers are fundamentally different; managers, it is said, do things right, but leaders do the right things.” To be a Principal in this academy chain, you had to follow your directions from your executive as best as you could, however quite often when this wasn't the right thing for your school, there was little or no autonomy to change – at least without seeking prior authorisation from on high and having to spend a great deal of time seeking permission. You were expected to be more of a manager than a leader and implement the policies of your chain. It's hard to do the right things if you are bound by regulations and rules from a bureaucrat with no classroom experience who only visits your school once or twice a term. As a leader, your wings are well and truly clipped – and that in my opinion is a shame for the profession.

After attending a local deputies meeting presentation given by my Principal on action research strategies, I decided to complete a “Diamond 9” based around what I felt at the time were the top nine roles and responsibilities of a head teacher. I then ranked these, with the most important at the top of the diamond and the others progressing downwards. By reflecting on my choices – I have discovered that there are certain working conditions that – should I choose to move into headship – I would find very restrictive.  To be unable to have complete autonomy over how I would choose to lead learning in my school would be something that I would find very hard to tolerate - especially if I disagreed with the policies being dictated from on high.

So – What have I learnt about effective Head Teachers over the past year? I have tried to summarise my reflections and thoughts below in no particular order:

The best Head teachers are the ones who have a clear, well-articulated set of values for their school. To quote Jim Collins, “Great leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.” This is level 5 leadership!

They carefully and relentlessly recruit excellent staff- and take steps to move on those who do not fit the best interests of the school. You can’t achieve great things without great people!

They delegate exceptionally well – and trust those in their teams, giving them the freedom and autonomy to do their jobs. Trust is vital as if staff feel trusted, then they will feel comfortable and supported enough to push themselves as far as possible in all areas of their professional lives.

They are visible and accessible to all members of staff – and value the role and the professionalism of all employees – whether they be the deputy or a part time cleaner. To quote Bryant H McGill, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” The best headteachers that I have known always have time to listen to their staff – regardless of how busy or pressured they may be feeling. That openness says a lot to staff and allows them to feel valued and supported.

Simplicity rules. I love the Woody Guthrie quote, Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” I try to bare this in mind every time I work on introducing something new to our staff at Warden House. The best Headteachers that I have worked with

School-wide discipline – and consistency in approach - is essential. When you combine a culture of discipline and consistency of approach with an ethic of “entrepreneurship”, - in other words the freedom to try new things grounded in research - you are more likely to achieve great results. A school where all members of staff are actively researching ways of improving their practice is an exciting and progressive place to be.

Consistency and selective cherry-picking is an accelerator. Great schools and head teachers do not jump on all of the latest bandwagons or chase after fads. They determine what the issue is; research a range of solutions and then decide on the best course of action for the job in hand. The best heads that I have known have the courage of their convictions and an unshakable focus on the desired outcomes and then choose the best tools to enable them to reach that goal.

I love the hierarchy below by Jim Collins that ranks the skills of the different types of leader/manager in organisations of all different types and sizes. It's interesting to analyse the traits of leaders and managers that you have worked for or with and to place them at a certain level. It raises the question of how easy it would be to “up-level” a leader on the scale. Is it even possible to move a level one leader to a level five leader?

Taken from Jim Collins: Good to Great

Personally, I am now at the stage in my career where I need to make a decision about whether or not I want to pursue a career in headship. After moving from a class teacher to the role of non-teaching Assistant Principal this year, I feel more ready than ever to grasp the nettle and start to explore the NPQH and to fill in the gaps that are missing from my professional armoury. I am going to give it a go. It's been great to have the support of my current school Principal, Graham Chisnell whose wise words have given me the final push that I needed to make the choice to step forward and begin the journey. He eloquently says in his blog on the subject:

The post of headteacher affords you great honour and with this, the ability to make a genuine difference in supporting others when times are hard and celebrating when times are great.  The ride is energising, inspiring, challenging and exhausting; but it is a ride worth taking. Maybe, just maybe, Vic Goddard is right when he writes that this is indeed the best job in the world. If you are aspiring for headship, my advice is believe in yourself, take a deep breath and dive in.”