Review by Sonia Thompson

Headteacher, St Matthew's C of E teaching and research school

8 May 2021, 5:00


Sonia Thompson’s blogs of the week, 5 May 2021

Resources for teaching empathy, Ofsted’s view of history, a curriculum overhaul and the importance of modelling good practice are the key themes of Sonia Thompson’s blogs of the week


Empathy Day: A Magic Bean

@jocotterillbook (hosted by @Petersbooks)

This blog is about Empathy Day, which this year falls on June 10. And as a member of the EmpathyLab judging panel, I am compelled to share it here. In it, author, Jo Cotterill captures the essence of the day beautifully, celebrating a hive of authors, activities and books brought together to create and teach empathy.

Cotterill deftly sets out the scientific and social benefits of empathy, and flatly rejects the stereotypical comments that it’s all “wishy-washy feelings stuff”. She entreats us to do our own research about how the brain reacts when we read empathetically. I am wholly convinced, and totally primed for the magic on the June 10. I hope you will be too.


History in outstanding primary schools


Ofsted is the Marmite of education world, but love it or loathe it, you certainly cannot afford to ignore it. Here, HMI Tim Jenner sets out a menu of excellence in primary history teaching that he calls the “building blocks of progress”.

The blog summarises what inspectors have found nationally and cements the importance of knowledge, ambition, challenge and the centrality of pupils’ grasp of concepts across contexts. The areas for improvement are punchy, too, calling for support for leaders from subject specialists and associations and calling out “anachronistic writing tasks” that “distracted from the history content pupils needed to learn”.

Ofsted is planning a number of such subject inspection blogs. For those who think Ofsted should not be telling us how to teach but limiting itself to judging the quality of our provision, this will be hard to swallow. For me, as a head and history lead, it does offer the prospect of something useful.


Changing what’s in the tin


Matthew Lane knows his RE. Here, he walks us through his journey to overhaul his school’s RE curriculum and in doing so, sets out a convincing blueprint. The blog centres around the multi-disciplinary pedagogies contained within the  “Religions and Worldviews” document. Matthew credits it, alongside the  “Agreed Syllabus”, with providing him with the opportunities he capitalised on. As he puts it, it contained “the knowledge-rich, engaging and downright meaty learning that I wanted to see in our curriculum”.

In this articulate blog, Lane starts with an audit of where they were as a school, sets out the issues they faced and takes us through the solutions that were needed for his context. He is frank that what was lacking (as with many primary schools) was subject knowledge and his solution echoes one of the points in the Ofsted history blog: Lane entreats us to seek help from experts and associations. Any RE subject leader who is striving to deepen their thinking about their subject will find this blog a revelation.


Teach them the moves


Ben Newmark was featured in this column last week, but it’s impossible not to include his musings again. Here, he ponders the plight of a lottery winner who wants to become a pop star and hires a team of experts to help. He imagines a choreographer who expects our novice to make moves he hasn’t seen modelled, and likens this to how we sometimes deal with new teachers.

Newmark castigates this approach. “Teacher training and development, particularly for early years teachers,” he says, should give teachers ‘moves’, even if in the moment they do not understand them or cannot articulate why they are effective. The blog is clear that this is not about “brainless implementation”.  Rather, it’s about equipping teachers with the routines needed to do the job, while the expert helps them to perfect and understand the routines, one sequence at a time.

Newmark asks us to consider the alternative: a teacher facing a class with nothing in the armoury. He calls it “the transition between doing and understanding faster” and appreciates that the process might be slower for it. For me, he makes a compelling case that having the moves will mean new teachers have a greater chance of becoming strictly teaching champions.

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