Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Unstructured problems

January 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Currently I’m in the process of completing a dissertation based around problem solving in A level mathematics and how this can be improved. This is a focus as in our setting students have struggled with this in the past. It was timely, then, that the article picked for this week’s Maths Journal Club was around the same subject.

The article was by Sheila Evans and was entitled “Encouraging Students Formative Assessment skills when working with non routine problems”. Available here.

The article itself was interesting, it set out an approach to teaching based around these unstructured problems and designed student responses to get students talking and thinking about the way they are approaching the questions. The article seems to suggest that students with an instrumental or procedural understanding are less likely to succeed at this type of problem than those with a relational understanding, and that is something I’ve been thinking myself.

I think the approaches mentioned in the article sound interesting and I am going to tailor them to students and trial them in my own context to see if there is an effect.

It’s certainly an article that has got me thinking and has given me ideas for things to investigate in teaching, as well as signposting a raft of other pieces of literature that I want to investigate further too.


A request for help

October 6, 2015 1 comment

So I’m working on some research, looking at motivation and effective teaching in A level maths. As part if my preliminary research has I’ve put together a short questionaire to help me shape the direction of that research.

If you have completed a maths A level in the last 5 years I’d be eternally grateful if you could fill in this short survey. It shouldn’t take more than 4 minutes.

I’d also be eternally grateful to anyone who knows anyone that has sat a level maths in the last 5 years if they’d share the survey with them.

The survey can be found here. (


Categories: A Level, Exams Tags:

Northern Rocks 2015

June 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Today was Northern Rocks 2015, slightly over 1 year since Northern Rocks 2014. Last years event was very enjoyable and included lots of opportunities to be reflective and question things so I was hoping this year’s would be the same, and I was not disappointed.

Panel Discussion

The conference opened with a few words from organiser Emma Ann Hardy (@emmaannhardy) who set the scene and the tone for the day. She then passed over to co-organiser Debra Kidd (@debrakidd), who chaired a panel discussion involving Kevin Courtney (@cyclingkev), Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney), Melissa Benn (@melissa_benn), Jonathan Simons (@pxeducation), Michael Cladingbowl (@mcladingbowl) and Mick Waters. The discussion was great and covered topics including “how can we ensure creative subjects aren’t marginalised by Ebac?” And “To what extent is Government rhetoric responsible for the problems we have with teacher recruitment?”

Creative Subjects

There were many salient points made within this discussion. Kevin stated that he believes it is time schools take back the ownership of the curriculum and start doing what they think is best for the children rather than the league tables. Jonathan proclaimed that there’s actually nothing to stop creative subjects being taught as there are 3 free “bins” on the Ebac. Mick Waters suggested that English and Maths shouldn’t be taught distinctly but within other subjects, which made me think a bit and I think will be the subject of a future post. I was left at the end thinking “but Maths IS Creative!”

Government Rhetoric and Teacher Recruitment

Laura made the point that if prospective teachers were going to be put off by things Gove said then they’d not last long with a tough year 9 class. Jonathan claimed the government had never knocked teachers (I guess “the blob”, “Enemies of hope,” “dealers in despair,” and “enemies of promise” were meant as compliments?). Kevin put forward the view that perhaps government rhetoric couldn’t be blamed for the recruitment crisis, but it could be blamed for retention rates which are low on the main due to the massively overwhelming workload faced by teachers which is driven by government rhetoric.

The whole discussion was lively, invigorating and all panel members made me think.

Martin Illingworth (@MartinIllingwor) – Think before you teach

Martin is a former teacher who now works in teacher education. His presentation style was brilliant and left me thinking that he must have been an inspirational teacher. He started the session by reading an excerpt from his new book which describes a satirical academy made up of all the strange policies he has encountered in his time. It was amusing and made me think I might enjoy the book.

He then moved onto his presentation, he posed a series of questions about learning which got me thinking. He seemed to strongly hold the view that we shouldn’t be teaching anything other than how to learn. This seems a bizarre idea to me. His argument is that we live in a digital age and we all have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips so don’t need to remember anything. This goes against the research into long term and working memory that suggests holding knowledge in long term memory allows more working memory to process what we are doing.

He suggested that we shouldn’t teach prescribed knowledge because we don’t know what people will need to know in 15 years. This seems a redundant argument, Michael Cladingbowl has spoken in the panel discussion on creative subjects about the common curriculum that has run for years. That there were many things taught to our parents and grandparents that we still teach today.

I think the biggest argument against this idea comes when I think of the innovators of tomorrow. How will we cure cancer if we have no knowledge of cellular biology? How will we make the links into the unknown if we don’t know the known?

Alastair Arnott (@Alastair_Arnott) and Mick Waters – Positive Psychology

The main theme of this session was one I could certainly get behind, that learning from your mistakes is key. I strongly believe that by failing and learning from your failures you can make the best improvements. Alastair spoke well on this from a psychological perspective and I’m interested to read his views in more depth. I try to create a culture in my classroom where learners feel they can get it wrong without ridicule because this is a key part of learning.

However, the main thing I will remember from the session was perhaps a throw away line from Alastair that irked me no end. “Knowledge is becoming obselete.” NO IT IS NOT. As mentioned above, we need knowledge to live the world forward. We need knowledge to move us forward, he’ll we need knowledge to live, to eat, to have a conversation. It is not, and never will be, obselete.

Jo Pearson (@jopearson3) – Teaching schools, supporting teacher development from the inside out.

This was an excellent session, Jo started by explaining in depth about teaching schools and their nature. Then went on to discuss some of the work her own teaching school alliance (TSA) has been up to. It’s an interesting topic and she said some worrying things about the system as a whole.

Her TSA is one that encourages collaboration and increasing outcomes for all no. She spike about aristotellian friendships and the mutually beneficial nature that can be garnered by these partnership. But she also warned of the sharks, the TSAs out for themselves who could consume rivals in a sort of municipal darwinism.

She also spike of some of the challenges she faced with funding. It seems that the funding dries up a little after three years and puts TSAs into a negative incentive systen where they can make considerably more funds from one day conferences with little effect than they can by deploying SLEs to have real long term effects. This is something that I feel needs addressing.

Phil Wood (@geogphil) – Initial reflections on a slow research approach

I think I enjoyed this session most. Which is good, because it was the hardest choice of workshop fir me with 5 speakers on that I would have really liked to have seen. Phil spoke about slow education and slow research which looks at the process as being as important as the outcome.

He highlighted a view that all teachers should have been involved in at least some small scale research to enable them to be more able to critically evaluate the wealth of edu research that is thrown at them. I can see how this would be effective.

He also highlighted the importance of discussion. Giving examples of innovation stalling in schools with no shared staffroom as there us nowhere for spontaneous pedagogical discussion to take place. This was a large focus in a recent masters assignment I wrote and had been a topic of discussion for me with a former colleague earlier in the day.

Phil also spoke about how some teachers find themselves in a position when engaging in research led to them holding views that differed from senior leaders, and that the best schools were where leaders were open to being part of a wider debate.

Phil’s session, as all the sessions, gave me plenty of food for thought. The day was great and I’m already eagerly anticipating next year’s event.

This post is now part of the June 2015 #blogsync on Northern Rocks. The other posts can be found here.

Class sizes

March 29, 2015 5 comments

Today the labour party released a list of 40 things they would change should they come to power in may, (you can see the list here). When I was reading it I was pleased to see “smaller class sizes” included at number 4, the first non-nhs point on the list.

In my experience smaller class sizes lead to better progress. The smaller the class the lower the amount of low level disruption and the higher the amount of time the teacher can devote to each learner. Both these facts mean student progress is enhanced.

But, I’m sure I read that class size has no effect?

I’m sure I have too, I think it’s in the Sutton Trust toolkit produced by the EFF. Which is itself a meta analysis. I’d like to read the studies individually, as it goes against my own experience and the experience of every teacher I’ve ever spoken to.

I haven’t read the studies, so can only hazard a guess as to why the effects don’t show what we see. It could be that the analysis is distorted by other variables. I know that in the four schools I’ve been involved with the top sets have been bigger, so analysis run on class size vs progress would be distorted by the fact the most able make the most progress. If you have experience of, or links to, these studies do let me know, I intend to investigate further.

So how do you know your experience isn’t distorted by similar other variables?

There are two cases that I’ve been involved in that make me sure class size does have an effect in progress, certainly within the environment of a lower middle ability class at a school within a deprived area.

When I was an NQT I had a year 7 class who were set 7 or 9. The class had 26 pupils in it and over the first three half terms had made minimal progress, this was across the board in all subjects. A teacher was employed to take half their class in each subject and we specialists were to plan the lessons. Each pupil in that class made significantly more progress after the split than before it.

Then last year I had a year ten class, lower middle ability, with nearly 30 pupils in it. The class were mostly progressing well, but around 8-10 of them weren’t progressing as well as we knew they could. Extra capacity became available within the team and we split the class, from that point on the whole class made much more progress than they had before.

What are your views on class size? Have you any personal experiences? Have you seen a positive effect? Do you agree with the view of the Sutton Trust toolkit that it doesn’t have an effect? I’d live to hear your thoughts.

Challenge Everything

June 11, 2014 3 comments

Recently Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) wrote this post which sets out a rather bizarre chain of events that occurred after he wrote a review of Daisy Christodoulou’s (@daisychristo) “Seven Myths about education“.

I won’t recount the events here, if you are interested read Tom’s post, and I won’t discuss the book or the review as I am yet to read said book. It’s on my list, I’m very much looking forward to it and I’m sure I will write about it once I’ve read it.

The reason I mention it is a twitter conversation I saw about the events. Tom was discussing it with Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net). The gist of the discussion was that people shutting down debate and seemingly cynically setting out to silence one side had led to disengagement. Chris then tweeted this:


And this really got me thinking on the whole subject of twitter, blogging and educational research.

Around 18 months ago I was having a conversation about Twitter as CPD with Mark Miller (@GoldfishBowlMM). During the conversation I mentioned I had unfollowed some people because I felt they held views that were diametrically opposed to mine. Mark responded by saying he had thought about doing the same, but had decided to keep following those people. His reasoning was that if you only followed “like minded people” than you were only hearing opinions that reinforce what you believe already and you never test or develop those ideas as they are never challenged. I re followed said people.

This idea of testing and challenging ideas is an important one. Tom Sherrington said at Northern Rocks that if there was no one in his new school challenging his policies and ideas he would appoint someone as a challenger to do just that. We all need to be challenging, where appropriate, things that are put in front of us, but we also all need to be challenging our own ideas.

When I’m researching assignments I find it very easy to find sources that agree with me and use them to pick holes in ones that don’t, but since that conversation with Mark I’ve made a marked effort not to do that. I’ve even ended up changing opinions on some things, and I think that’s healthy. We all need to be in a position where we can accept we’re wrong when we are presented with the evidence.

Debate is a good thing. It was testament to the organisers of both Northern Rocks and ResearchEd York that speakers from both ends of the spectrum were they. The organisers wanted to promote debate, not shut it down. They wanted to help people challenge what’s put in front of them and challenge what they think. We need to be constantly challenging everything. That’s how we grow, how we evolve our practice, refining it. Keeping what works and rejecting what doesn’t. It’s also how we grow as people, and is a mindset we should be instilling in our pupils and our own children.

I think this sums it up quite well:

“I don’t necessarily want you to think like me, I just want you to think” Tait Coles (@totallywired77), Northern Rocks, 7th June 2014.

Northern Rocks

June 7, 2014 4 comments

Today was the “Northern Rocks: Reclaiming Pedagogy” event at Leeds Met Headingley Campus, #Nrocks.

The event was organised by Emma Ann Hardy (@emmaannhardy) and Debra Kidd (@debrakidd), and like Nten-researched-york,  had a mass of fantastic speakers running workshops. So much so I had terrible trouble selecting some of the workshops, and I cannot wait to catch some of those I missed online! (I believe they were all taped and will be available).

The event started with a panel discussion, chaired by event host Debra Dimbleby. The panel was: Mick Waters, a professor and former Chief Education Officer; Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead (@IanMearnsMP); Dominic Cummings, former policy advisor for Gove; Kevin Courtney (@cyclingkev) of the NUT; Richard Gardner of the Independent and Dot Lepkowska another journalist. The discussion was at times really interesting and focused around Ofsted, Policy and Performance Related Pay.

Some of my favourite soundbites:

“We need to stop dancing to Ofsteds tune”- Mick Waters

“Hey ministers, leave them teachers alone”- Richard Garner

Then the surprising: “This WILL be the last national curriculum” – Dominic Cummings

Professor Robert Coe (@Profcoe)

For the first workshop I chose to see Prof Coe, the theme was research and he looked at various strands of research and it’s findings. He also loomed at the impact in schools, and the impact he’d like to see. He covered a lot in the time and I left the session with a long list of further reading I’m looking forward to getting into when I find some time.

Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher)

The second session I attended was by Tom Sherrington and was in the CPD strand of the programme. I am a regular reader of Tom’s blog, and I often finish reading them wondering if Chelmsford (now Highbury) are commutable! (they aren’t.)

This session was no different, and left me firm in the knowledge that Tom would be an amazing person to work for. He spoke of his distain at lesson grading and performance related pay, “PRP is a legal requirement, so we pretend to have it!” and his commitment to staff development and research informed CPD. If Tait Coles if the king of “Punk Learning” then Tom is the king of “Punk Headteaching”, with his attitude to PRP and the fact he has extra INSET days “because we felt they’d be beneficial, and no one has said we can’t.”

Tom’s presentation included some fantastic examples of the research based initiatives going on at KEGS and how they shared them. He’s written previously on the subject here.

He spoke of creating a professional culture in the school where staff are striving to develop and are thoroughly engaged in driving their own CPD.


He also spoke of getting the basics right. Talking about the progressive vs traditionalist debate he quipped that there’s no point arguing about the benefits, or not, of thinking hats if the behaviour is stopping the class from learning.

On the traditional progressive debate, he referred to it as a symbiotic relationship, like a tree, believing parts from both to be important.


You can see Tom’s presentation, complete with links to relevant blog posts, here.

Tait Coles (@totallywired77)

Next up was the Punk Learner himself, who welcomed us into the room with The Fall’s “Hit the north”.

When browsing the programme I saw that Tait’s session was around inequality in education, and as this is something extremely close to my heart I opted for this session over a few others in the timeslot I would also have liked to see.

Tait’s presentation was almost like a call to arms. Setting out his feelings around the inequality in the system and why he feels the system is broken. A lot of the things he mentioned are things I’m currently investigating for a masters assignment and I picked up some good references.

The session itself was enjoyable and thought provoking l, and I intend to write more on it later. It included my favourite quote of the day: “I don’t want you to think like me, I just want you to think!”

The questions section at the end was also brilliant and included a lively debate on cultural capital and the role of schools. I have plenty to say on that too, but that’s another post for another day.

John Tomsett (@johntomsett)

For the final workshop I chose John Tomsett. There were many others I would have loved to see in this slot, but John is another of my favourite bloggers, having seen him do the keynote at Nten-researched-york I was worried it might be the sane talk, but the title was such that it seemed different, and it was.

John’s session was, in many ways, similar to Tom Sherrington’s. They both left me feeling that they would be great to work for, that their schools would be great to work in, that CPD and PM should be highly personalised, non-judgemental and intrinsically linked. They both mentioned they had more than average INSET days, and that they cared about creating a growth culture for staff and students alike.

John then spoke about his own teaching. He expressed his strong view that the headteacher in a school should be the HEAD teacher in that school. He then showed some videos he’d used to identify and improve his own teaching. Showing that even experienced heads can grow.

He spoke deeply, openly and honestly about his own journey, gave me a ton of books I now need to read and got me excited about his own book!

He shared this quote from Saracens Rfc:


Sharing the Saracens philosophy, which is to get the best players, develop them and keep them happy. He applies this philosophy to Huntingdon and sees similar rewards.

Hywel Roberts (@HYWEL_ROBERTS) and Mike Waters

The final session was led by Hywel Roberts and Mike Waters. They spoke about the 4 key themes of the day: Policy, Pedagogy, Professional Development and Research. Their session was funny, thought provoking and entertaining, and included opportunities to discuss the day with others.

Mick left us with a final, poignant, thought for the day: “The only thing consistent about Ofsted Inspections is their inconsistency. The judgement will depend in the assertiveness of the headteacher and the lead inspector.”

All in all, the day was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have gathered knew info and ideas which will help in the classroom, in my studies and in the future. This write up has been done without my notes, so apologies if I’ve confused anything. This is just my views as they stand. There are many strands of discussion from today I hope to discuss further in future blogs.

Engaging with research

May 20, 2014 3 comments

I’ve had a number of conversations today that have got me thinking about educational research, Ofsted guidance, and how they are, or worryingly often aren’t, linked to what’s actually going on in schools.

During one conversation with a PGCE student I was informed about certain practices which were heavily integrated into the CPD offer at her previous placement school which have now been totally debunked. This led the conversation down a windy path. We discussed lots of things but the crux of it was centered around how this could have happened.

The reasoning isn’t necessarily fully correct, but we hypothesised that this could happen when people leave their own learning behind once they qualify. The possibility is that people can be trained in whatever is deemed good practice at the time, but without continued learning and engagement with research and policy they don’t necessarily know when the world moves on.

In another conversation a colleague of mine seemed shocked that I was writing an essay, and when I told him that a few of the books were great and would be worth his investment he suggested that that takes one hell of a commitment to education. I took this as a compliment, and thinking about it later it struck me that it does take one hell of a commitment to education, and only a handful of staff at the school would have such a commitment.

Is it any wonder, then, that despite Ofsted changing tack in line with the most up to date research some schools are still working from an old playbook? Many schools are still grading lessons, I even know of some where grading and judgement are attached to a constant programme of learning walks. This is despite of the fact that all evidence points towards a developmental process of lesson observations being far more productive and beneficial to the teachers.

I feel lucky to be in a school that has stopped grading observations, and where learning walks are fed back to the entire school as a “we saw this good practice” style report. It would seem that this is not commonplace elsewhere.

In some schools, it would seem that management have little interest in the research and as such are working from massively outdated ideas. We need to work on ensuring the profession is moving forward, that we are developing new staff as best we can, that we are learning from our mistakes and learning from the research. This means engaging with it, and questioning it where appropriate, as David Weston (@informed_edu) and Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) suggested in York. When we have engaged and questioned, then we can apply it to our own context and each improve our own practice.

How can we do this?

At ResearchEd York John Tomsett (@johntomsett) mentioned that at his school he has appointed Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) “Director of Research”, this sounds like a fantastic role, and shows how seriously this is taken at Huntingdon. Perhaps more schools would benefit from such a role.

Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) tells us in this post that he sees the development of a research based CPD programme as a major priority as he starts a new headship, which shows how committed he is to this vision.

Shaun Allinson (@shaun_allinson) runs a “blog of the week” for his school, to engage staff with the Blogosphere, this is a way into the research and could be beneficial for all.

These are a few excellent examples, but I fear they are in the minority. I think, though, that above all, the burning issue is time. 3 hours isn’t enough time to “Plan, Prepare and Assess” for up to 27 lessons. The majority of teachers work 55-60 hour weeks as it is and would baulk at any additional “work”. It’s not impossible to engage with it on a full timetable, I do it and I know others who do and benefit from it, but to get buy in from everyone on top of such vast workloads is unlikely.

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