In front of every pupil at the start of a new school year is a fresh page in a new exercise book. Teachers and leaders, too, have the chance to start anew. Each year I promise myself that I will do less, better; focusing on the things that really matter and shedding any nonsense picked up along the past academic year.
Perhaps you are also thinking about returning to first principles. This blog by head of science Adam Robbins is an excellent place to start. He outlines how he has created a policy derived from a singular first principle: memory is the residue of thought. “I think by anchoring all we do on this one simple, but profound, idea we can maintain a set of shared principles whilst preserving professional autonomy.”
Sure, this approach doesn’t describe everything you’d care about in a school, but its purity and simplicity is incredibly appealing. I hope that Robbins blogs throughout the year to exemplify exactly how the policy is enacted.
As well as clearing out policy clutter, the start of a school year offers a chance to galvanise and inspire teachers and pupils. For me, the national ResearchEd conference is a lightning bolt of energy to kick off the year. Headteacher Kev Bartle feels similarly, noting that not only is it an opportunity to “submit ourselves to the rigours of academic thinking that we hope will be of some use to us in the year”, but that it’s also “bloody good fun and a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones”. This post reviews the seven sessions he attended, and what he learnt from each.
One of the talks Kev Bartle describes was by the inimitable Jo Facer who, along with being a whirlwind of optimism and positivity, will take up the headship of a new school next year. This post distils everything that she has learnt in her career. There is deep humility here. Followers of Facer will know that she sculpted, pioneered and finessed many of these ideas and approaches. Every decision at the new school, she notes, will be underpinned by three key beliefs:
Impeccable student behaviour is possible and desirable.
A challenging curriculum full of powerful knowledge changes lives.
There are no limits to student achievement.
She acknowledges that “the opportunity to found a school from scratch is an incredible one,” and although readers may be working in more established schools, there is much to learn from someone building something from the ground up.
It would be foolish to look ahead to the future without learning from the past. Each September I look forward to Herts for Learning’s breakdown of the SATs taken by primary pupils.
I am especially inspired by how the good folk at the consultancy eschew quick fixes and exam tricks, instead delving into the domain that feeds each of the test questions, and how we can improve our teaching of them. The perennial problem of “inference” is unpicked, as well as a closer look at the hot topic of vocabulary.
This blog is a gift for primary teachers, but should also be required reading for secondary colleagues to understand the expectations placed upon their children before they arrive in big school.