The power of our strategic groups came to the fore this week at our 3 -18 Strategic Learning and Teaching Group.
This group has 25 members who represent a wide cross-section of those of us involved in education in East Lothian. I know its accepted logic that such a large group can’t operate successfully but it’s the very size of, and representation within the group that actually makes it effective.
We started the meeting reflecting upon the impact of our Learning and Teaching policy in the last year. By splitting up into groups of 3 we were able to identify a wide range of observable changes in our practice throughout the authority that would evidence our emphasis on learning and teaching.
The second part of the meeting was given over to considering our Service Improvement Plan for the coming session. I showed the group a range of the possible outcomes which we have been exploring. One of the draft outcomes read as follows:
“All children will achieve Level B in reading by the end of P4, level D by the end of P7, and Level E by the end of S2.”
We discussed the thinking behind this desired outcome and the reaction it might stimulate amongst teachers. The problem lay in the notion of “All” and the idea it just seems to reaffirm a focus on attainment – which many teachers just see as a means of keeping the Authority and HMIe happy – as opposed to helping individual children learn.
I’ve written so many plans for departments, schools and authorities now that I’ve become acutely aware of the dissonance between what the writer of the plan might intend and the perception of the plan by those who have to implement it.
The idea behind the outcome is that we would like every child to be able to read by the age of 9 – at least well enough that their reading ability does not limit their progress in any other area of the curriculum. As we wrestled with the problem of how we might come up with an outcome which was clear, kept our focus on reading, but didn’t antagonise teachers we struck upon a solution. That solution was to take the problem to the teachers – let them know what we wanted to achieve, why it was important, and some guidance on the characteristics of an outcome – and let them come up with the answer.
The power of this idea is that has so many advantages:
- It engages teachers with the rationale of the outcome approach;
- It will enable us to generate an agreed outcome which has a wide range of stakeholder ownership;
- It will enable us to have the impact we desire, i.e. make reading a central focus of our practice in schools.
It’s only through talking through a problem like this with such a wide ranging group that such solutions can be generated.