Autonomy | Consistency – Good feedback causes thinking.

Good feedback causes thinking.

If feedback is one of the most important factors in improving student work and outcomes.

If the modelling of the feedback process enables young people to develop their own self-regulation of improving work.

How does a school implement a whole school feedback policy that takes into account the many nuances of each subject?

Feedback is important. We feedback to students daily in every lesson in a variety of different ways. Part of my role this year has been to draft a feedback policy for the school so that students consistently get effective feedback across the curriculum.

Before venturing any further it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider the difference between marking and feedback (something that is often taken for granted).

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Marking is very much about checking a piece of work against a set criteria. If the criteria is clear and concise this is something students should do themselves before submitting a piece of work. Providing the criteria is clear then the act of marking should open up the gaps in learning. It’s the feedback that follows to the student that can communicate how well a student has met the criteria and initiative improvements to the work. The purpose of feedback? It has to be to close the learning gaps.

In thinking about and working towards effective feedback it’s worth considering what research on the matter suggests – remembering that the research is just start of the conversation.

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Dylan Wiliam.

One of my favourite thinkers on the subject is Dylan Wiliam. From his work with Paul Black called ‘Inside the black box’ they suggested that in order for students to truly benefit from feedback students needed to know three key things:

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I’ve tried to sum this up visually in the diagram below:

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This is where modelling becomes a pivotal part of the feedback loop. In order for students to achieve the required ‘good performance’ it needs to be modelled to them. This could be through the use of work from previous students or live modelling of current work as students are undertaking the task. Simply providing students with a rubric is not always useful as they tend to be vague and abstract. Showing students an example of good performance and then de-constructing it with them to highlight the success criteria seems a far more valuable use of time.

Once students have a more secure understanding of what it is they are aiming for and have made an attempt, they next need to know how far away from the desired good performance they are and what they need to do in order to close this gap – the feedback.

Dylan Wiliam also suggests training students to carry out a number of steps before submitting work (which starts the wheels in motion for self-regulation):

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Slide via @Dan_Brinton

I’ve tried this multiple times and have started to embed this into my practice, insisting students check their work against the criteria, check for spelling errors, e.t.c. before submitting the work. I have also in some cases handed work back to students to carry out these checks sending a clear message to students that they must take some responsibility in the feedback process.

John Hattie.

John Hattie’s meta analysis into effective teaching and more precisely feedback is nicely summed up (in another of @LearningSpy’s slides) here:

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The key idea to take away here is that feedback is really powerful but its impact has the potential to be both positive and negative. So how do we keep the impact positive? How do we train students and motivate them to actively seek feedback themselves and eventually self-regulate part or all of the process?

Effective feedback?

Taking into account some of the ideas from the research and then also spending time talking to teachers in my school who consistently get good outcomes, I drafted (with the help of @Teach_Physics) success criteria for effective feedback (a starting point at least) that could be used to shape a whole feedback policy.

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These criteria can be applied to both verbal and written feedback. As we began to test the criteria by going through our feedback strategies we quickly found that it is difficult to argue that each is not important for closing the learning gap between current and great performance. One aspect of the criteria that we discussed at length was should a feedback strategy be created with observers in mind and be made explicitly visible to them. The answer is probably no. Feedback strategies should concern themselves with improving student awareness of great performance and closing the gap between current and great performance. Ofsted don’t dictate how feedback is given or the frequency of it, therefore as long as a feedback policy contains examples of the strategies being employed by teachers, the emphasis can be placed upon the observer to look at the policy beforehand so they know what to look for. This is an important step forward as it stops teachers creating redundant feedback strategies that have the sole purpose of pleasing an observer rather than closing the learning gap.

Drafting a whole school feedback policy.

In drafting a whole school feedback policy it’s important to take into account a few things:

  1. The principles of effective feedback (see success criteria) are probably the same across different curriculum areas.
  2. The feedback strategies employed by teachers across different curriculum areas are probably not the same.

For example if we take verbal feedback given during a PE lesson on a practical skill vs. written feedback given to a written piece of work in English, the principles of effective feedback are probably the same but the strategy to achieve this is different:

  1. It’s possible to challenge the student in both cases to think about and produce excellent work through verbal (probably easier with verbal feedback in a practical situation as the teacher can model it immediately) and written feedback.
  2. Feedback can be close to the learning – in the moment for the student in PE. The challenge for the English teacher is the turnaround of marking/feedback but there are strategies to help achieve this (code-marking for example).
  3. Ensuring no student opts out of the feedback (especially vulnerable groups like pupil premium) is challenging and there may be issues beyond the teachers control that impact on this, but that doesn’t mean to say we should not aspire to every student acting on feedback to improve their work and close the gap to great performance.
  4. Giving students time to act on feedback is paramount to effective feedback otherwise whats the point? In both situations in this example it’s possible to give students time and space to act on the feedback they receive. It may require some planning in terms of building time into a SoW, but this is a really important part of the process.
  5. Is it manageable for teachers? This is another challenge, but not an impossible one if the teachers (in this example) are prepared to experiment with different strategies (especially when dealing with written feedback).

This academic year we’ve moved our policy on feedback forward by setting the criteria for effective feedback (and we’re open for this to change as new ideas emerge) and then asking curriculum areas to use feedback strategies that hit the criteria and work for their subjects – Autonomy | Consistency.

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Adapting a form I first read about in @HuntingEnglish’s post about whole school feedback, curriculum teams have been asked to create a policy using the template below:

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This will be a working document that is quality assured and tested throughout the academic year through regular work evaluations and lesson observations. The policy also includes an appendix for each curriculum team which they will update with examples of the feedback policy in action so that observers have a clear idea of what they should before going into any classrooms. It makes supportive accountability easier as the curriculum teams have come up with their own strategies (that meet the criteria).

Here’s the first draft of the Science teams policy:

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Feedback matters – lets embed it into our practice rather then bolt it on.

Further reading.

@LearningSpy archive on feedback –

@HuntingEnglish – Whole school feedback –

@headguruteacher – Making feedback count –

@danbrinton – Fast feedback –

@teachlikeachampion – Forget the rubric – use worked examples instead –

Plan for learning.

Image via @gapingvoid

Image via @gapingvoid

If learning happens when we are made to think hard.

If learning happens over a period of weeks, months and years.

Is lesson planing always carried out with student learning in mind?

Recently I have led a series of talks/sessions/workshops on the challenges of leading teaching & learning across a school. What has struck me as somewhat odd is the number of people that hear the phrase ‘teaching & learning’ but only really register the ‘teaching’ part. Teaching without any understanding of how people learn or what learning is, conjures up thoughts of the blind leading the blind. What does your school focus on? Is their balance between teaching and learning with links between the two?

What does your school focus on?

What does your school focus on?

After reading books like ‘Why students don’t like school’ and ‘the hidden lives of learners’ I can’t help but think about learning whenever I’m planning a lesson or reflecting upon my teaching. This has led me to reflect further on lesson planning and a few questions that teachers could consider, to focus the planning of a lesson to maximise learning:

1. What is the desired learning outcome?

2. What do I want students to think about at different points during the lesson?

3. Will the activity make them think hard about the desired content or distract them from it?

4. How will I link new knowledge to students existing knowledge base?

5. How will I model the learning outcome?

What I think about when I plan a lesson.

I always go back to a definition of learning by Professor Coe that has stuck with me. and stays at the forefront of my mind…

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So I think about the one thing I want my students to learn and then design a sequence that will enable them to think hard about the knowledge and apply / practice the desired skills. If an activity does not contribute to the learning then it doesn’t form part of the lesson.

The spectrum below (created by Shaun Allison) expertly depicts what teachers should be aiming for – the struggle zone. Learning should be difficult enough that students grapple with the content but not so difficult that it flies straight over their heads or so easy that it doesn’t require any real thought at all.

Image via Shaun Allison

What is the quickest path to the learning?


On a recent trip to Malaysia (so recent I’m currently sat in my wife’s parents house in Malaysia writing this post) me and my wife decided to fly direct from London to Kuala Lumpur, with a 3 month old in tow it seemed like a sensible idea. Our objective was to get to Malaysia as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle and distraction. Now we could have flown from London to Amsterdam, wait a few hours flown to Dubai, wait several hours before flying onto Kuala Lumpur which would have used up almost a whole day on travelling. This option might have saved us a little money but would have almost certainly used up lots of time and energy. This scenario made me think about lessons and the quickest possible route to learning.

I’ve observed a number of lessons where the objective has been really clear on the learning that the teacher wants the students to engage with, but the students have been held back by a flurry of activities with questionable links to the desired learning. This leads me to think that as teachers, if there is a direct route to the learning we should take it. When planning a lesson, if the objective is for students to learn X why should they embark upon an array of activities that eventually lead them to X or miss the destination altogether? We sometimes get bogged down in planning lessons to fill time using multiple activities (that sometimes take us off course) to buffer the learning rather than getting straight to the learning.

Consider the two diagrams below – which one best represents your lessons?

A sequence of lessons that provide a buffer to learning.

A sequence of lessons that provide a buffer to learning.

A sequence of lessons focused around the desired learning.

A sequence of lessons focused around the desired learning.

When planning a lesson it’s important to keep in mind the learning and design activities that will enable students to think hard about the desired learning by spending time in the struggle zone and allow time for students to practice the application of desired knowledge / skills.

Habits of highly effective lesson planning.

Image via @pepsmccrea -

Image via @pepsmccrea –

This blog post by Pepe Mccrea outlines habits of highly effective planning. Below are the 7 habits with a few key extracts from Pepe’s blog.

1. Start with the end in mind.

Excessive clarity – The clearer you are about where you want them to get, the better you’ll be able to help them get there.

2. Take the shortest path.

Don’t waste time designing overly complex learning experiences. What is the least I need to say to explain this concept to my students? What is the least amount of information I need to give them before they can get started?

3. Assess reliably and efficiently.

Hinge questioning Asking the whole class to: answer a multi-choice question using hand-signals; or show their thinking using mini-whiteboards.

Exit ticketing Giving students 3 questions to answer on a sheet of paper which they have to hand to you as they walk out the door.

4. Build learning that lasts.

Plan for thinking As Daniel Willingham so eloquently puts it, ‘learning is the residue of thought’. Plan what you want your students to think.

Anchor thinking David Ausubel tells us that ‘what students already know is the most important factor in what they can learn’. Design activities to help your students tap into what they know and make connections with what they’re going to learn about.

5. Anticipate the unexpected.

Increase your impact further by looking for points in your lesson where students are likely to struggle, make mistakes or develop misconceptions.

6. Move towards inter-lesson planning.

The relationship between lessons is just as important as what happens within them.

7. Plan better together.

Sharing your planning and practice not only brings fresh eyes to old problems and helps us articulate what we’re doing and why, but it also spreads our understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) amongst our profession.


We often have lots of great ideas for lesson activities but must consider the execution of them and the effect they will have on the desired learning. When planning a lesson consider:

– working backwards from where you want students to end up.

– what you want students to think about at different points in the lesson and how your planned activities will foster that thinking.

– the quickest path to the learning – don’t waste time with lots of activities that just keep students busy – focus on tasks that enable students to grapple with knowledge / skills in the ‘struggle zone.’

Knowledge organisers for GCSE Computing

Always in the pursuit of doing better for the students I teach, two posts have made me reflect deeply on my practice this week.

1. Knowledge organisers by Joe Kirby.

In the post Joe describes how he specifies the subject knowledge required for a given topic in meticulous detail. This is useful for a few reasons:

– it clarifies for the teacher exactly what the students need to know and enables more precise planning.

– it serves as a good benchmark for students at the beginning of a topic. Seeing the required knowledge laid out in front of you on a side of A4 is extremely powerful and will enable students to highlight what they are already know.

– when it comes to revision, students have real clarity about the knowledge they need to know.

During my relatively short time as a teacher,  when starting a new topic I may have shared a vague outline of what the topic will involve but never to the detail suggested in Joe’s post. I feel like a trick has been missed here, which is why I plan to experiment with knowledge organisers from this point forward.

2. Sequencing lessons in the run up to exams by Andy Tharby.

Andy’s post puts into practice Joe’s knowledge organiser for a GCSE English class. Andy also describes in depth his approach to a series of lessons leading up to an exam. Lessons follow a similar routine (although the stages of each lesson might involve different delivery styles / mediums):

1) Begin with a ‘memory platform‘ where they will be tested on key knowledge/quotes from the knowledge organisers using a wide range of  quizzing methods. Students need to be fluent in this knowledge and to do this they will need to cover it repeatedly. They will be encouraged to elaborate on these points of knowledge, exploring their wider significance.

2) Revise and extend a key area. OMAM and AIC – the green lessons – will be taught side-by-side, whereas the poems will be revised in pairs.

3) Lessons will end with 15 minutes of deliberate writing practice where students will be expected to hone the finer parts of their analytical style by writing a paragraph at A/A* standard – this is a top set – based on the content of the lesson (modelling and scaffolding will feature here too).

When planning revision sessions (and in a broader sense planning a curriculum structure) it’s worth thinking about the following:



If learning happens when we think really hard about something and we remember what we think about, then engaging students in activities, practices and routines that encourage this is probably a sensible course to take.

GCSE Computing revision.

As a result of reading the aforementioned  posts and adopting the collective thinking of Professor Coe and Daniel Willingham, I have developed a revision structure for a GCSE Computing class I teach. It follows this cycle:

Revision cycle

1. Start with a memory platform, usually a multiple choice quiz (these are deliberately rigourous with any one of the three answers a potential correct answer, forcing students to study the different answers and think hard about theirs).

memory platform

2. Knowledge organisers. I have only just started using these as prompted by Joe and Any’s blog posts earlier this week. But I intend to use them at the beginning of teaching a topic as well as revision. It’s a collection of documents that will be referred to throughout the entire course. in revision sessions the knowledge organiser is an opportunity to see an overview of the knowledge and pick out the things they can remember and the things that they need to revisit first.

knowledge organiser

3. Key subject specific vocabulary. Students are then given time to recall key terms from memory for a particular topic. This is followed up by the TLAC technique ‘Check or change’ where students check their definitions against correct definitions and make changes if needed.

key vocab

4. Flash cards. Students are then given time to create a set of flash cards based upon the key subject specific vocabulary. Flash cards have previously been identified as a more effective revision technique. I’m working on the premise that if students are comfortable with the subject specific vocabulary then they should be able to at the very least attempt every question for that topic (obviously they need to understand the context of each question, that comes next). Feedback from students has been really positive as the motivation to use the flash cards appears to be higher than to write out copious notes.

flash cards

5. Past paper questions. Finally students attempt past paper questions, using the subject specific vocabulary in different contexts. I have also experimented with working through long answer questions with students using the following routine:

  • students attempt a question in exam conditions
  • teacher works through the answer with the class using students answers to prompt discussion and supportive critique
  • students attempt the same question again in exam conditions
  • teacher works through answer again with the help of students to model an answer
  • a similar question (that requires the same knowledge but uses a different context) is then used as a starter in the next lesson.

past papers


It’s hard to evaluate how much of an impact the above strategy will have on exam performance but…

… from a teaching perspective, revision sessions certainly seem more focused with a greater clarity of what students need to know for each topic which lends itself to more precise deliberate practice.

… students have a much clearer picture of what they need to know and the work they are producing is of better quality and a greater depth. Students are more inquisitive and motivated to increase their knowledge.

… lessons have a greater sense of urgency to them.

RESOURCE: GCSE Computing knowledge organisers.

Computer systems [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Programming [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Hardware [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Software [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Networks [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Databases [.PDF [.PPTX]

Data representation [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Complete set of knowledge organisers in one file [.PDF] [.PPTX]

Lesson observations for ‘Genuine improvement’

If learning is invisible.

If learning occurs over long periods of time.

If teaching is led by an individuals’ beliefs and values.

If effective teaching is hard to agree on and to a large extent determined by outcomes (but not entirely).

Is it right to persist with inferring judgments on teachers and lessons?

Image by Tony Gurr

Image by Tony Gurr

It seems we’re trying desperately to measure something that is very difficult to quantify (if not impossible). “Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter” a colleague of mine said recently when discussing the grading of lessons. Does the grading of lessons actually detract from genuine, deliberate improvement? This made me consider an over arching question – what is the purpose of lesson observations? Are they to judge or are they to offer support and help develop teachers? Is it possible to do both? In my experience I’m not sure that it is.

The problems with grading lessons.

The main problem with trying to judge a lesson is that it’s hard to agree on exactly what great teaching is and in the moment of an observation it’s impossible to know what the learning gains for the students will be as a result of that lesson. If learning is invisible and it happens over long periods of time then perhaps all we can see in lessons is performance rather than learning and as Professor Coe points out, this generates lots of poor proxies for learning that we quite often use to grade lessons and assume learning is taking place.

Content by @ProfCoe - Image by @LearningSpy

Content by @ProfCoe – Image by @LearningSpy

Despite a shared vision of improving the outcomes for young people, because the act of teaching is based upon peoples own beliefs and values (which will differ from person to person) it’s very difficult to agree on ‘good practice,’ and quite often our own confirmation bias takes over when attempting to observe it. As a result you could say it’s unlikely that multiple observers will arrive at the same grade, which brings into question the reliability of grading individual lessons. This was evident in the MET project…

Slide by @LearningSpy

Slide by @LearningSpy

Questions around the reliability of lesson observations are further explored here…

Slide by @LearningSpy

Slide by @LearningSpy

If we consider Professor Coe’s ‘Poor proxies for learning’ is it possible to truly know whether a lesson is likely to produce good outcomes from a 20 minute observation? It’s easier to check for evidence of a schools ‘list of non-negotiables’ in lessons – have books been marked, is homework being set, learning objectives, e.t.c. This is made possible by their prescriptive nature. But can observers accurately predict outcomes based on this and the conditions in the classroom? We know that a calm, quiet classroom does not necessarily indicate that learning is taking place, however it quite often gets used as a proxy for learning during observations. Which leads to this question…How many lessons that are judged to be ‘outstanding’ produce truly outstanding outcomes? 

Leadership matters.

 The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

Colin Powell

As a senior leader how well do you know your teachers? How often are you in and out of lessons?

As a senior leader when was the last time a member of staff came to you for help regarding a tough class? In a thriving school that genuinely prioritises the improvement of teaching, shouldn’t this be fairly common?

As a senior leader, how much of your time is spent in lessons speaking to students about their learning, getting a feel for typicality of teaching across the school? This should be a daily ritual, part of your core business.

As a senior leader how much time have you spent with the teachers who consistently get great results? What have you learnt from them? Has this been shared?


Image by @GapingVoid

Image by @GapingVoid

Teachers are people, not robots that can be pre-programmed. They have beliefs and values related to teaching and education. A teacher on a full timetable is an extremely busy person carrying a reasonable amount of stress with them on a daily basis, mainly because they care so much about their students. Lesson observations should serve to support, challenge and develop teachers but quite often in a graded system the added stress of ‘being observed’ leads to a culture of fear. This is probably caused by:

  • a lack of clarity for teachers around what observers are looking for in lessons
  • a lack of clarity for observers around what they should be looking for in lessons
  • subjectivity of observers and teachers
  • what will happen next should a teachers lesson not be ‘up to scratch.’

If teaching is the most important factor in achieving great outcomes for young people, do we really spend enough time trying to genuinely improve it? Does a graded system help create a culture of improvement or distract from it? Does a graded system inspire teachers to improve or does it burden them with unnecessary stress? Does a graded system sharpen the focus of improvement or blur it beyond recognition?

Genuine improvement.

It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to agree on a list of prescriptive teaching strategies (and Ofsted don’t presbive any methods of teaching) but it’s easier to agree on elements of great teaching. When I think about elements of great teaching I tend to look no further than Shaun Allison’s fantastic model.

Expert teaching by @Shaun_Allison

Expert teaching by @Shaun_Allison

Whenever I revisit this model I find it difficult to tweak or change it. When I share it with colleagues it just seems to make sense to both them and me.  How teachers go about implementing the above model into their lessons / series of lessons should be down to them. What this model looks like in a series of drama lessons it probably different to what it may look like in a series of maths lessons (however that does not mean that are things that cannot be learnt from observing both). Teachers should be trusted as the professionals that they are to do what’s best for the students.

The danger of moving away from a graded lesson observation system for some schools is that it could invite mediocrity, as most graded systems bring with them a very prescriptive set of teaching strategies. In some cases where schools are in need of improvement putting in a prescriptive structure can be the first step towards improvement – tighten up for good, loosen for outstanding. Tightening up will only take you so far. Grading lessons can show a direction of travel for improving teaching (as Dr Dan Nicholls explains here) but it also comes with excess baggage which can slow down the speed of travel. Perhaps a simple ‘secure’ or ‘developing’ may provided a stepping stone to merging the two schools of thought on grading lessons, e.g. “From the evidence collected in the lesson the questioning observed appears secure because… Further evidence from talking to the students suggests…” However this opens the flood gates of subjectivity, which can be curbed with prescription and eventually takes back to square one.

What is the alternative?

What if instead of trying to judge the teachers / lessons we adopted an approach where observers go into lessons to learn. This could take the form of observers going into lessons to collate evidence for teachers (perhaps under the headings of Shaun’s expert teaching model above) with a view of feeding this evidence back to them, similar to a lesson study approach. Build a picture of what appears to happening in the classroom (feeding the pig) rather than making a judgement (weighing the pig). Evidence could come from questioning students about their learning, looking at student work, observing how students / teacher interact with each other as well as assessment data provided by the teacher.

What if observers gave live feedback to teachers based on their observations during the lesson instead of waiting hours, days or even weeks to feedback. Here’s an example. A lesson is underway and the observer is watching as the teacher delivers an explanation of a key concept using a subject specific key term. After the explanation the observer spends a few minutes questioning the students to gauge their understanding of the task they have been given and the key term being used by the teacher. Out of the several students that have been questioned by the observer they are all able to explain the task (what they have to do) but none are unable to articulate what the key term means. Using live feedback (rather than waiting for the follow up feedback session) the observer is able to give feedback to the teacher straight away who is then able to help move the students forward with their understanding of the key term. In the follow up meeting the teacher explains that they had been using the key term for a few lessons and despite explaining the meaning in the first lesson they had failed to continually reiterate the meaning of the key term through the series of lessons. Together the observer and teacher are able to collaboratively come up with a simple strategy of asking students to repeat back definitions of key terms during lessons and the teacher was set the target to make this habit across all their lessons. This also served as a timely reminder for the observer to continue to develop across their lessons. At a department team meeting later that week the teacher is able to feedback their experience to colleagues.

Collated evidence + clear collaborative target = genuine improvement(?).

Not only did this experience serve as a timely reminder for the observers own teaching but the other teacher involved had a small step to implement and experience some immediate success. The observer followed this up with another supportive observation where they the teachers new habit developing in real time and it allowed the observer to collate further evidence of what was happening in the classroom, for the teacher. How might this process had gone if I had graded the lesson? I think the point here is that there is no need to grade the lesson at all – making the simple more complex for no additional gain. All the teacher needed to know was what was happening in the lesson – what did the observer notice that perhaps the teacher did not? What are the next steps to improve? In hindsight (my confirmation bias may be at warp factor 10 here), but I think a grade being given in the example explained above could have diluted the feedback and perhaps stifled the motivation for improvement.

Collating evidence in the classroom.

Chris Moyse has already started some great work on evidence based lesson observations – read about it here.

The idea revolves around going into lessons to learn and help teachers see things that they may not notice during a lesson – very similar to the lesson study approach. I’ve started to develop a document (in its first draft – feedback welcome) to collate this adopting the principles of great teaching from Shaun Allison’s model.

Front page of draft evidence based observation form.

Front page of draft evidence based observation form.

Back page of draft evidence based observation form.

Back page of draft evidence based observation form.

Draft observation form [PDF version]

Judging the quality of teaching.

How do we judge the quality of teaching if lessons are not graded? We really get to know our teachers. If quality teaching is the most important factor in determining great outcomes then SLT and middle leaders should spend more time in classrooms. What if members of SLT blocked out an hour a day to get into lessons and provide live feedback to teachers in the teams they line manage (if the one thing that would move a school forward is the quality of teaching, is an hour a day manageable? Probably). This could also be used to ensure non-negotiables are being met reducing the need for additional book scrutinies, learning walks, e.t.c.  This could be on a continuous cycle that creates an open door culture and encourages teachers to ask for help rather than shy away from it. This would help the school have much clearer picture of the typicality of teaching. Judging the quality of teaching would be qualitative, as Shaun Allison explains…

If we really need to assign numbers to teachers, based on a 30 minute observation, to know about the quality of their teaching, then we are doing something really wrong.  We still know our teachers inside out – we know who the really great ones are, and who are the ones who need that extra support with a particular aspect of their work.  Without the need for numbers.  We know this by looking at their student outcomes, as well as by looking at and discussing their lessons, the feedback that they give to students and the work that their students produce during lessons and at home.  We know our staff.

In order to genuinely improve teaching we need to stay focused on the main thing – the quality of teaching. We need to focus on how it can be improved and not allow anything to dilute or blur supportive feedback. We need to remember that teachers are people and that our best chance of improving the outcomes of students is to support and challenge colleagues through a trusted relationship built upon collaboration and a relentless desire to learn.


  • Grading individual lessons is difficult, unreliable and time consuming which often results in little actual improvement.
  • Grading individual lessons does not always speak to the person, diluting and blurring the focus of improvement.
  • How can lesson observations be used to improve teaching (feeding the pig rather than weighing it)?
    • Live feedback during observations – why wait for a feedback session if it could help students in the moment.
    • Collation of a variety of evidence including student voice, assessment data, work in books, e.t.c. to give teachers further insight into their lessons.
    • Continuity – SLT take joint ownership of improving the quality of teaching with middle leaders through daily time spent in classrooms. Time spent here could reduce the need for additional learning walks.

Next steps.

More questions have been asked than answered in this post but I hope it has provided some questions to consider when attempting to improve the quality of teaching through observing lessons. I intend to follow this post up with a more strategic plan of how the points in this post would manifest themselves in school (the logistics) and potentially replace a graded observation system.

Further reading.

Learning is invisible – David Didau

Classroom observation – it’s harder than you think – Prof Robert Coe

Evidence based and reflective observations – Chris Moyse

To grade or not to grade… is probably not the question? – Dr Dan Nicholls

How can we make classroom observations more effective? – David Didau

Stop Ofsted grading – Joe Kirby

Life without lesson observation grades – Shaun Allison

Creating the conditions for great teachers to thrive – Tom Sherrington

Lesson Observations Unchained. A new Dawn – Tom Sherrington

Still grading lessons? – David Didau

Beyond lesson observation grades? – Mary Myatt

On Grading Lesson Observations – Alex Quigley

Great teaching = great results? Wrong – Jack Marwood

Updated GCSE Computing revision pack.

Below is a link to a GCSE Computing revision pack that i have recently updated (and simplified) which focuses on past paper exam questions.

A451 revision booklet [.pptx]  [.PDF]

The booklet is split into theory topics and allows students to:

  • identify gaps in knowledge before attempting questions.
  • define keywords and build subject specific vocabulary.
  • mind map key areas of each topic.
  • attempt past paper questions by topic.

You can read more about my thoughts on revision here.

Feedback welcome!

**Also check out this great resource from @teknoteacher – GCSE Computing revision.

Here’s a video in which he explains the use of the resource – click here.

He is also running a series of free computing webinars for teachers – click here to find out more.


2014 has been an extremely busy year both professionally and personally. I have taken on more responsibility and challenge at school as part of an extended leadership team, focusing on teaching and learning. Me and my wife are expecting our first child in April 2015, which means things are changing (in a good way!). It has been almost two years since I set up this blog and it has enabled me to reflect much more deeply on my own learning in teaching and leadership.

I've found something I truly love doing.

Image via @GapingVoid

Here’s a few things (in no particular order) I have learnt / achieved in 2014.

1. Never underestimate the power of positive relationships in school. I learnt very quickly in my new leadership position the power of listening to concerns and more importantly acting upon them. The minute you don’t, trust is lost and it’s incredibly difficult to ever get it back. Some advice from Stephen Covey that I have been able to practice (a lot!) is “Seek first to understand before being understood.”

2. Prioritise the main thing. What one thing could you do more of that will have the biggest effect in school? This was a question posed by the Principal at one of our SLT meetings. Quite often the urgent takes the place of the important. there’s always an email that needs replying to or some marking to be done, but in my leadership whats the one thing that would make a bigger difference across the school? Getting into classrooms. The last 2 weeks of term I managed to walk classrooms every other day for about 45 minutes. This enabled me to talk to students about their learning, talk to staff, champion great practice and give live feedback with no grades. In discussion with other members of SLT I believe we have learnt more about the typicality of teaching then planned learning walks or observations.

3. TeachMeet #NeverStopLearning. In hindsight it was probably a bit ambitious trying to get teachers to attend an evening event the day before term 1 came to end, but that did not deter just over 100 teachers making the effort. The event was a great success with David Didau providing a very thought provoking keynote. There were some excellent workshops from Nina Jackson, Lucy Crehan, Crista Hazell, Zofia Higlet, Amber Bracey, Alex Heath, Chris Baker and Rory Gallagher. The evening was wrapped up in style with a plenary from Mark Anderson. These evenings are always inspirational to the people that attend and give people an opportunity to look outward from their school to seek new ideas.

NeverStopLearning Teachmeet October 2014 by David Vignolli

NeverStopLearning Teachmeet October 2014 by David Vignolli

4. Time. Since starting my new leadership position i have found the most useful resource I can offer colleagues is time. Whether it’s a colleague unloading after a bad day or seeking support in a lesson or just a chat. No matter how busy I am I will always offer time and enthusiasm for my colleagues.

Image via @GapingVoid

Image via @GapingVoid

5. Reading. I’ve read a number of teaching and leadership books this year (see my reading list). Continually building my knowledge and exploring new ideas is something I hope to continue to do for the rest of my life. It’s something I genuinely enjoy and thrive on. I want to be continuously challenged – it’s something that help keeps me to keep pushing the limits of my own capability.

6. Colleagues. I am fortunate enough to work with some remarkable colleagues that inspire and challenge me on a daily basis. Seeing colleagues thrive in school and enabling them to pursue ideas and try things out has been one of the most pleasing aspects of my work in 2014. I had the absolute pleasure of working with a fairly large cohort of NQTs these past two terms and it has been one of the highlights of my career so far watching them grow and develop, meeting challenges head on and coming up with creative solutions. A real inspiration.

7. Students. They are truly wonderful (each in their own way). Whenever I am involved in strategic decisions I always try to come back to the students and how it will help improve their outcomes. Keeping the main thing the main thing. Everything thing I do in school is focused around the students. One of my main duties in my leadership role is organising CPD for teachers, a role I don’t take lightly and one that I will work tirelessly to ensure teachers value CPD and feel suitably challenged by it. Great CPD enables teachers to thrive which helps children to succeed.

8. Running. I managed to complete my first 100km race in 2014 in addition to several other ultra marathons and marathons. This is not something that happened over night and is the accumulation of a few years of training, patiently building up the distance. Running is now part of my life. It clears my mind and puts things into perspective.

First 100km trail race completed in 2014.

First 100km trail race completed in 2014.

9. NPQML. I successfully completed the NPQML course in 2014 which opened up a number of doors. My project aimed to raise the profile of effective, challenging CPD across the school to help drive up student outcomes. As a result of my project I was able to work with a team of great teachers to organise to run a number of CPD sessions, INSET workshops and deliver a teachmeet in March (the second quickly followed in October). As a result of my project I was given the opportunity to deliver my first keynote speech at a National Education Trust event at a school in Bracknall sharing a bill with Roy Blatchford and Lucy Crehen. I was able to (briefly) discuss my project with Sir Michael Wilshaw after being observed by him during a visit to my school. I was asked back to speak to a new cohort of teachers starting the NPQML course which i really enjoyed – it’s always inspiring speaking to teachers who have a genuine desire to have a positive influence whole school.

Meeting Sir Michael Wilshaw and Bradley Symmons. (SW Director of Ofsted)

Meeting Sir Michael Wilshaw and Bradley Symmons. (SW Director of Ofsted)

Next steps (in no particular order) – what does 2015 have in store?

1. Increase leadership capacity. The best way to learn is to do. In 2015 I hope to take on further line management responsibilities as this will give me an opportunity to work with more teachers and help them thrive whilst learning from them at the same time.  I see accountability as helping colleagues to achieve their goals. This may lead to some difficult conversations but if it’ll help more individuals thrive then its a conversation worth having.

Image via @Gapingvoid

Image via @Gapingvoid

2. Secure an Assistant Principal post. About 18 months ago I decided that I wanted to become a headteacher and my next step is to secure an Assistant Principal post – a challenge I am ready for. I have learnt so much in the last 4 months working alongside a remarkable leadership team. I’ve finally had the opportunity to put into practice a lot of what I have read. I’m learning everyday from every meeting, conversation, call out duty, break/lunch duty, lesson observation, NQT session and I want to pursue leadership to the highest level so that I can help as many students and staff as possible. I feel a real allegiance to public service and I want to dedicate my career to it.

3.  Reading. Continue to read as much as possible in order to develop my ideas around effective teaching & learning whilst also developing my ideas around leadership. The more I read the more I question. The more I question the closer I get to understanding. Some books currently in a pile waiting to be read include: ‘Formative assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam, ‘Visible learning for teachers’ by John Hattie, ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and ‘Leading change’ by John P Kotter.

4. Keep my moral purpose at the centre of decision making. This is really important to me and something that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind. As I progress in my career I am exposed to more of the day to day activities that make a school run which could start to cloud ones vision. Yes these processes are important but never forget why you do what you do. Schools are a people place that thrive on great relationships – students, staff, parents/carers and the wider community.

What is your moral purpose?

What is your moral purpose?

5. Make my business getting into classrooms. As part of my leadership role I want to help develop an ‘open door culture’ which doesn’t currently exist in my school. In order to do this I need to re-prioritise my work. It’s far to easy to get sucked into your office and a never-ending flow of emails. As part of a leadership team that is truly seeking to help teachers thrive and students achieve the best thing we can do is be more of a present around the school and get into classrooms, build more trust with teachers so that it’s completely normal for SLT to be in and out of classrooms supporting and learning.

6. Running. With a baby on the way and a demanding job I have to be realistic. I want to keep running on a weekly basis and i’m hoping to compete in a 50km in February, but I expect ultra running will take a back seat in 2015 until iI can afford the time to train properly for it. 2016 will hopefully see a return to the 100km distance and my first attempt at a 100 mile race.

7. Family matters. I look forward to wrestle with the work/life balance monster in 2015 and I hope to tip the balance in my favour by working smarter. I am lucky to have an amazing wife and a remarkable family and I need to ensure I make the most of both. This is a non-negotiable.

Image via @GapingVoid

Image via @GapingVoid

8. #NeverStopLearning. This is the phrase I have adopted to promote continual professional development although I apply it to all aspects of my life. I don’t want to ever settle for OK. I am devoted to meaningful work that produces remarkable outcomes. To achieve this I need to continue to listen, learn and grow.

"Changing lives by understanding what works." #NeverStopLearning

“Changing lives by understanding what works.” #NeverStopLearning

Finally, a big thank you to all the people I have interacted with via Twitter (and in real life!). The discussions that I have been involved in and observed have broadened my thinking and made me question things more. The number of thought provoking blogs currently circulating is phenomenal and I wish I had more time in the day to read them all! It was these posts that initially inspired me to start a blog. 2 years on, 36 blog posts later and over 28,000 views has not only empowered me to reflect to a deeper level but it has also enabled me to encourage more teachers to get involved, get connected and deepen their understanding.

Here’s to a great year in 2015 | Keep making a difference.