Planning to be great

Class Teaching

MELCmainThe new year is well underway at Durrington High School.  Due to the local reorganisation of schools in our area, we had a double transition year.  We welcomed 330 new Y7 students for the first time, alongside 330 new Y8 students at the same time – 660 new students in all!  To facilitate this, over the summer a major building project was completed, comprising a new teaching block, performing arts studio, full size astropitch and sports pavilion.  And of course, to complete the package – 40 new staff!

So, it’s back to our core business – great teaching in the classroom.  To support our new colleagues, Andy Tharby and I led a session outlining our approach to teaching at DHS and how we should plan for this.


The quote above should underpin our teaching – if students are going to believe that they can be successful, they need to experience…

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A Letter to my NQT self

Wise words. Good luck to this year’s NQTs…

Teaching: Leading Learning

Dear Chris,

It’s 1997, and you’re about to start your teaching career. In May, as you were completing your PGCE, Tony Blair led the Labour Party out of 18 years of opposition to win the General Election on a ticket of “education, education, education”; that night and the day after, anything felt possible. It’s the summer holidays now; you’ll be reading a newly published book for children called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to see if it will make a good class reader. It will for a year – but then everyone will have read it. The day before you start at school, Princess Diana will die in a car crash in Paris and her death will dominate the country in your first nervous weeks in the classroom.

I am writing to you now from sixteen years  later. A lot has changed; but much is still the same. Children…

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Penguins and Professional Learning 2014-15: Teaching Excellence Projects at Sawston Village College – Example Projects

Following the previous post explaining the culmination of this year’s professional learning at Sawston Village College, this post includes some examples of the final presentations of individual Teaching Excellence Projects.  To read the first post, please go to –

Flipped Learning in Science:

Increasing higher-level thinking in lessons using a flipped TEP

Motivation in English:

TEP 2015

Collaboration with Teaching Assistants in Geography:

TEP Feedback PPT 9th July

Plenaries in Science:

Some key questions to ask when planning a Plenary activity

TEP poster 2015

Leadership and Curriculum Development in ICT and Computing:

TEP 2015 ICT & Computing

Extended writing in MFL:

Improving quality of writing at KS4 in Modern Foreign Languages

MFL TEP 2015

Revision and knowledge retention in History:

TEP 2015 – History Poster

Germany – Odd one out

Germany – Similar and Different

International Relations – Themes & Titles

Key Dates – Before, During and After revision activity

Overview – Captions for Pictures

Overview – Road Signs

Overview – Words and Themes Activities

Revision Tips – A list of different revision strategies

Pick an event and take notes using the headings on this sheet - what when why therefore

Penguins and Professional Learning 2014-15: Teaching Excellence Projects at Sawston Village College

Who would want to be the first penguin to leap into the icy Antarctic waters?  The first brave soul to do so risks unseen leopard seals and orca.  However, without at least one penguin prepared to take that first plunge, they would all starve.  So, the penguin community needs risk takers to survive and grow.  Teachers are a bit like penguins.  We need risk takers.  We need to encourage risk taking.  Otherwise, our practice stagnates, intractable problems remain unresolved and pupils’ experience is diminished.

In order to be a bit more penguin, all teachers at Sawston Village College undertake a Teaching Excellence Project, a research and investigation project designed to develop the practice of individual teachers, build the expertise of subject teams and enrich the learning of pupils across the school.  The projects culminate in an annual celebration, when colleagues share their work and insights.

This year, the teachers who pushed themselves furthest from their comfort zones, who thought most radically about teaching and learning, were presented with the inaugural “Penguin Award” – the cuddly, foot high penguin is now taking pride of place in the lab of the science colleagues who explored the possibilities of flipped learning, producing a series of videos as they reimagined what homework is for and how it can be done.

This post gives just a taste of the inspiring, vibrant, thoughtful work that colleagues have produced.  Subsequent posts offer some more specific examples of the work undertaken by Sawston teachers.

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Differentiation is Hard – Part 2

Following his earlier blog on new approaches to differentiation, Neal Watkin has now published the second part of his work.  This time, Neal looks into the role of knowledge in improving pupils’ writing.

If you missed it, Part 1 can be found at:  or

Part 2 can be found at:

Differentiation is Hard

Neal Watkin, History SLE, has just published the first of a series of blogs that have emerged from his Teaching Excellence Project.  All teachers at Sawston Village College undergo a personal research/investigation project that links to the school’s development priorities, their subject’s departmental development plan and their own professional interests.  Neal has been focusing on how to differentiate most effectively and has come to the conclusion that we first need to decide what we are differentiating for; it is not enough simply to differentiate so that instructions for tasks are clearer.  Neal also argues that in order to develop pupils’ written literacy, they must first develop their oral literacy.  Read more at:

Exploring Growth Mindset – CASSA R&D Conference and Teachmeet, February 2015


How do we help pupils to develop the confidence, resilience, determination and belief that they can make progress?  Carol Dweck’s theory of Growth Mindset ( might provide an answer to this perennial question, and many schools are exploring, experimenting with and sometimes adopting wholesale her approaches.

Thursday 12th February saw colleagues from across Cambridgeshire and Suffolk primary and secondary schools gather at Sawston Village College ( for the CASSA ( R&D Teachmeet and Conference on the topic of Growth Mindset.  The title of the event was “Exploring Growth Mindset”, providing an opportunity for colleagues to learn more about the theory and its potential implications for schools, teachers and pupils.    (more…)

Moneyball for schools: can we use data like the Oakland A’s?

One argument for how to make constructive use of meaningful data…

Improving Teaching

The Oakland A’s were a fairly successful baseball team facing a problem: a budget half that of their top rivals.  In Moneyball, Michael Lewis explained their response: exploiting market inefficiencies which left great baseball players undervalued.  Other analysts used statistics reflecting dramatic but unimportant aspects of the game; baseball scouts focused more on players’ looks than their abilities.  Smart buying allowed the A’s to recruit fantastic players who had gone unrecognised by richer teams.  The A’s achieved impressive winning streaks against far richer sides: well used, knowledge – data and statistics – is power.


In my career so far I’ve moved from outright suspicion of ‘data’ to a recognition of its usefulness – under certain circumstances, interpreted carefully.  Moneyball reminded me of the limitations of relying on instinct, experience and conventional wisdom; one passage discussing Bill James, the first person to collect baseball statistics identifying effective players, led me to rethink the role of data in…

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Growth mindset: What interventions might work and what probably won’t?

Turnford School blog on growth mindset – what might work and might probably won’t. @turnfordblog

Evidence into Practice

Whether discussed under the guise of ‘resilience’, ‘grit’ or ‘character’, there appears to be a great appetite for psychologically manipulating pupils’ personalities or their attributions about school. One concept which has particularly captured the imagination of teachers and school leaders is ‘growth mindset’: the idea that children who possess incremental theories of intellect (a growth mindset) appear to achieve better grades than those who possess an entity theory of intellect (a fixed mindset).

The claim that there are attributional differences between pupils which can affect their experience of school and their academic outcomes is well supported. You can read a bit more about some of the psychology behind the idea of a ‘growth mindset’ here: Growth Mindset: It’s not magic

However, accepting that these key attributional variables exist still leaves at least two important questions that school leaders and teachers should be asking before seeking to implement ‘growth mindset’ interventions…

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