10 Nov 2017

October round-up: Spirit of collaboration

October round-up: Spirit of collaboration

When I started working at NDHS, my Headteacher (Brian Conway) told everyone at the start of the year that he had an “open door policy”. And he emphasised that he really meant that: if his door was open, we were always free to knock on it and talk to him. I’ve taken him at his word a few times. The two most recent times, I asked if he’d consider creating a Research Lead role and then subsequently (a year or so later) asked if he thought we could submit an application to become a Research School.

The reason I say all this as an introduction to this post is just to give a bit of context. I never had a “grand plan”. I am just someone who is very interested in research, and I’ve seen how it can really make a difference to teachers and pupils. I’ve observed this “from the ground”, working alongside colleagues as a classroom teacher but, most importantly, I did this within the context of a Leadership team who listened and were willing to take onboard constructive criticism. I’m keen to help others use research to improve…. things: outcomes, workload, effectiveness, results…. it depends on the context and the person.

When we found out that our bid had been successful, I was excited, but I was also a little apprehensive! I had little idea what to expect, but I was really keen that we would make this work and make a difference. What I discovered, when we joined the Research Schools Network, was a wide range of energetic, collaborative people who are as willing to learn as they are to share, and who are equally determined to work together.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

One of the most exciting aspects of becoming a Research School, and being part of the Research Schools Network, is the opportunity it brings to work closely with others and collaborate. Our ultimate aim is to help improve outcomes for young people in Norwich (and Norfolk), but we can’t do this on our own! However, we have an great chance to work alongside others to help and support people around us.

Jackie Bircham is doing some really impressive work co-ordinating the various “stakeholders” within the Norwich Opportunity Area. She has worked with us from the outset to find out who we are, what we’re going to do, and how we can work with other people. I have also attended a meeting of the Opportunity Area Board, and seen just how much people care about trying improve outcomes here. It’s very positive and encouraging to see them all in action.

Team East, Team South… #EasternEvidence

One of the things that has been most apparent from meeting other Research School people is how keen everyone is to support each other. We are divided into 3 regional networks, and I spent some time during our first regional meeting just wondering at how amazing it was to be sat in a room within Durrington High School and across a table from Shaun Allison. Durrington’s excellent Blog Site was the inspiration for the site I co-ordinated from my own school, and Shaun’s writing has been inspirational and (at times) transformative for me over the past few years.

I have gained so much from being in Team South: chats on the train home with Caroline Creaby (another hero of mine) from Sandringham Research School, a day visiting the beautiful Rosendale Research School and learning from the super-knowledgable Marc Rowland… only to unexpectedly find myself in a room recording an episode for their brilliant podcast. And we constantly benefit from Kerry Pulleyn’s gentle steering, as she keeps an eye over how things are going and gives helpful, timely nudges.

But I cannot finish this section without referring to my colleagues in our particular Eastern corner of “the South”. Every time I meet up with John Cattermole (East Cambs and Fenland RS) and Andy Samways (Samuel Ward RS) (aka “Team East”), or even just talk on the phone or by email, I feel so excited about what we can achieve as a group of schools working together and co-ordinating our efforts. Our schools are quite different and, as individuals, we all bring different experience and skills to the Network. But this diversity is in itself a strength, and we’re all keen to move together in the same direction. Soon, we’ll have a new East Anglian Research School (in Ipswich), and I’m really looking forward to meeting and working with them, too.

Norwich and Norfolk…

Norwich has been designated as an Opportunity Area because it is a region of low social mobility. Ultimately, we want to help change this. Luckily, the spirit of openness and collaboration exists within our city, too. One of the biggest privileges of my new role is the opportunity to visit schools and work with teachers and leaders in and around Norwich.

I have visited The Hewett Academy, and seen how they are using research to cut out extraneous bits and pieces, and to cut workload. It was really encouraging to hear what they’re doing to try and make life as straightforward and purposeful as possible for pupils and staff. I have seen first-hand the positive effect on the environment and culture at St Mary and St Peter Catholic Primary School in Gorleston from thinking hard about what we mean by “mindset” and how it can be used to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have heard about the work they’re doing at West Earlham Infant and Nursery School to help support communication in Early Years pupils. I have seen how Sir Isaac Newton Free School have take ideas from Cognitive Science research and embedded it throughout their curriculum and systems. I’ve learned about the work that the Right For Success MAT are doing to with Behaviour Support and co-operative learning. I’ve talked to teachers at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School and heard about how good it is to be part of the Norfolk and Suffolk Maths Hub, and how they use research in their whole-school CPD. I have heard from Michael Fordham about how the Inspiration Trust are re-shaping their curriculum to focus on knowledge and a solid foundation, rather than intervention and exam practice. I’ve been introduced to Long Stratton High School’s weekly T&L briefings and Book Club and Archbishop Sandcroft High School‘s approach to evidence-informed CPD.

And this is just a snap-shot! We are really looking forward to working with these schools, as well as others in the surrounding area, to find ways that we can collaborate to support schools and learners in and around Norwich .

And there is already a huge amount of expertise in our county, so we are keen to find ways that we can co-ordinate our efforts to do something really powerful in the region that we call home. We’ve been supported by the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at UEA from the outset, and they are keen to work with the Research Schools in the area. They have been generous with time, ideas and expertise, and are closely involved with Opportunity Area work. Our school is part of a Teaching School Alliance, and we have already discussed how we can work in partnership with EASTA schools. Individuals in Norfolk that we’ve met and talked to include Jon Biddle, who has done a great deal of work with primary school children (and teachers) to encourage them to read for pleasure. He’s helping Aspirer Research School this weekend with their Reading Conference, and we’re keen to work with him here, too. Tim Taylor and Jenny Lewis are experienced teachers and trainers for Mantle of the Expert and Bren Pendergast, an expert in SEND law, has helped underline how important it is that TAs are supported to be effective with evidence-informed training. An unexpected gem has been finding out that Mark Burns, who co-wrote Teaching Backwards grew up in Norwich. Not only that, but he attended NDHS! So we’ve had some really good chats about “omnivores” and “grazers”. More on this in a future post! We’re also very impressed at the number of well-known and sought-after researchers who are working with the Inspiration Trust in their CPD programme. A few of us from NDHS have attended their sessions, and found them helpful and enjoyable. I particularly loved the way Christine Counsell can capture you with her stories and context, as she persuades you about the importance of what she is doing.

Training, support and networks

We would love to come and talk to you about research, “best bets” and the EEF toolkit. If you would like us to introduce you to the latest Maths Guidance or help you use the Guidance reports for KS1 and KS2 Literacy, please get in touch! We also have particular expertise in Science and using approaches from Cognitive Science to shape curricula and teaching, so let us know if you want to know more. Or you might simply like us to drop some copies of the reports into your school for you to browse in your own time. If so, that’s why we’re here. We’ll also be contacting schools to find ways of working with them, that will best fit in with their contexts. Our philosophy from the start that we’re the “Norwich Research School”, and we happen to be based at Notre Dame, but we are keen to spend time in other Norwich schools.

Longer term, our experience is that research is used most effectively by schools when it’s the people within the schools themselves who are the ones that lead the evidence-based practice. We are very lucky to be working with Stuart Kime to train Research Leads in the Norwich area, and to help grow a network of evidence-based practitioners. We also met Suzanne Culshaw this week, an experienced teacher and researcher, who will work alongside us to evaluate what we’re doing in real-time (a “critical friend”, which is so important in any new approach).

I’ve written before about the value of networks. I manage an online Research Leads network (#RLNetwork), and it’s heartening to see how willing people are to share their experiences and offer help and answers to peoples’ questions. We have seen similar things in our #CogSciSci network, with teachers from all sorts of backgrounds sharing doubts, queries, links and lightbulb moments. Chris Dale and Andy Samways wrote recently about how important it’s been to work with other organisations, such as the Chartered College Teaching, to ensure we are all supporting schools in a useful way, rather than bombarding them with too many “offers of help”. We are busy finding ways that we can do this together as “Team East”, so watch this space!

The structure of the training courses we’re offering for next year are based on research into effective CPD that underlines the importance of sustained support and evaluation over time, with opportunities to review, re-visit and change direction. This doesn’t mean there isn’t also value in one-off “event” type CPD sessions. We will be offering these, too. But these training courses are in specific areas of need that have been identified by the Norwich Opportunity Area and the EEF as having the potential to make a real difference in our area, and so these are being offered in greater depth. We are looking to help leaders to develop research-informed CPD, support teachers to use cognitive science to improve retention, and to demonstrate to leaders how they can use TAs more effectively. Each of these courses follows a 3 day model over a period of 5-6 months, so delegates have the opportunity to really embed change in the long-term.

Do come along and talk to us on 29th November about what we’re doing and how we can work with you. I’ve only been able to outline a few things here, and we are always willing to hear about ways that we can do things differently.

We look forward to working with you.