Guest Blog from Jack Tavassoly-Marsh, Senior Assistant Headteacher at Farnham Heath End School.
As a Research School, we are very keen to work with colleagues from other schools and share ideas about effective teaching and learning. Last term, we had the pleasure of welcoming Jack and a team of Heads of Departments from Farnham Heath School to Durrington. The aim of the visit was to discuss our subject-based CPD programme (SPDs), as this is an area that Jack is looking to develop at his own school.
At Farnham Heath End School our aim is to become more research aware and evidence-informed. Historically, we have ran CPD sessions that relate to the needs of our staff and the school, and most of these sessions were in the main hall. It wasn’t until a meeting with Chris Moyse that we realised that we were actually offering occasional professional development and not continuing professional development for our staff.
Earlier this academic year, we went to a route-path CPD system that focused on specific areas of pedagogy across the academic year, and staff were provided with a choice of which route to follow. Feedback from staff was more positive, but certainly not glowing, and there was a sense that whilst the sessions were planned, delivered and evaluated, the impact that they were having was still rather minimal and certainly not matching the effort and time that was going into planning and delivery.
Therefore, we decided to look further afield at different strategies to allow staff to put their own subject knowledge and subject pedagogy at the centre of their continuing professional development. This led us to Durrington Research School and their use of Subject Planning and Development Sessions (SPDS). We were specifically intrigued by the focus on the subject-led model for CPD and allowing staff time in their subject teams to actively plan to make learning great over the next two weeks (each SPDS is done fortnightly)
At Farnham Heath End School, we decided to stop the route-path CPD model mid-year and move towards the SPDS model to allow department teams time to plan for improving their subject knowledge and pedagogy. Using the guidance questions from DHS, our subject leaders ploughed into leading the first two SPDS. Several early attempts failed, with subject leaders reporting that the outcome of the session wasn’t what they were looking for, with too much discussion taking place and not enough concrete subject development. However, like with effective classroom practice, the issue was a lack of modelling. We hadn’t modelled what an effective SPDS looks like and, therefore, we felt it hugely important that we needed to see a SPDS in the flesh.
Hence I decided, along with six subject leaders, that we needed to see the SPDS in action at Durrington Research School. Fran Haynes, part of the Research School, offered for us to come down and see a SPDS as well as providing a one-hour session for us on the rationale behind the SPDS at Durrington Research School, discussing the potential pitfalls and how the SPDS link into the line management structure of the school. A few questions were answered immediately, such as:
- How do you plan for years 7 – 11 in one hour?
- How the SPDS are best led?
- How do they link in to the school’s development plan and subject aims?
Firstly, at Farnham Heath End School, we are in the very early stages of moving towards SPDS as a CPD model, and at the start our subject leaders were trying to cover all years in one hour. This was impossible, and it was good to hear that at DHS they focus on one year group, or a particular topic that is being taught over the next two weeks. This immediately made more sense, and as long as there was a strategy behind which year group to focus on and which topic/s to cover our subject leaders had a greater idea from where to start.
Secondly, it is clear that the SPDS are not always led by one person, but the areas that focus on subject knowledge tend to be led by one person who is the expert in that area/topic. Lastly, it was also clear that agendas are sent out prior to the meetings and these were decided on through the line management structure of the department, allowing for a clear strategy for the SPDS for each department area.
It was then the moment of truth, we were all off to watch a SPDS in action. Three of us headed to PE and the other four headed off to science. In the PE SPDS, we listened to one of the teachers going through the topic of ‘levers’, with a focus on how the department will teach this to the students. A focus was on the examples being used for each lever, the acronyms being used to remember them and what the specification focuses on in terms of content. The rationale for this section of the SPDS was clear. All PE students will be taught levers in the same way, with the same examples and the same acronyms. The expert was effectively teaching the department how to teach this topic, a new topic that has dropped down from the A-level specifications. The benefit would be consistency for all students. Whatever class they are in, they will get the same enacted curriculum as the desired curriculum. This demonstrated subject knowledge development and great planning for the team.
In the science session, it was split into chemistry and physics sessions, with staff then going through a recent mock exam. This was different, with the focus being on the difference between the new specification’s content and mark scheme, versus the legacy specification’s content and mark scheme. Teachers were asked to complete answers to the exam questions. The leader of the session then went through the mark scheme and the staff were able to mark their own answers, focusing on whether they had met the criteria on the new mark scheme for the new specification. Again, there was a focus on consistency across the department, putting subject knowledge first, with all the department aware of what is and isn’t required from the new exams.
The Farnham Heath End School subject leaders were enthused, motivated and could now see how the SPDS will start to work here. As mentioned, we are in the early stages, with a full launch from September 2018. However, we have already seen the geography department focus on how they will provide knowledge retrieval practice in a consistent manner at the start of lessons from years 7-11. The maths department have focused on specific ways that they will teacher certain concepts, so that all staff are teaching with the same method. We started off trying to plan for the next two weeks for each year group, and now have a much clearer notion of what SPDS will actually look like in practice.
Our next steps are to evaluate how the SPDS run at Farnham Heath End School through the summer term, with regular discussions with the subject leader team to share effective practice and the successes and pitfalls through the process. The rationale is now even clearer, providing teachers will time to put their own subject knowledge and subject pedagogy at the centre of their CPD, with a focus on ensuring that the enacted curriculum for all students is the same as the desired curriculum. A challenge, but one that we are very much up for!
The greater challenge is to ensure that the content being covered and the subject pedagogy being discussed is evidence-informed as well as the strategy behind it.