Our Peer-to-Peer School Review

I am not a believer in the value of ‘Mocksteads’. A bit like graded lesson observations, someone coming in from outside can only ever see a snapshot of what is happening in a school and it’s very difficult to make a helpful general judgement about how good a school is. Mocksteads can also create unnecessary stress and workload for teachers.

Over the last few months we have been working in a new Learning Partnership with a group of local schools. We aim to spend as much of our time as possible focussing on improving teaching and raising standards, and to this end decided that we would help each other by taking a close look at what actually goes on in each
school. What I didn’t want was anyone coming into the school and telling us what Ofsted grade they thought we would get.

As a group, we therefore designed a process that we thought would be helpful for the school, and also helpful for the people carrying out the review. The school being reviewed took the lead in deciding what should be looked at, what activities would be undertaken, and how long the review should take.

I decided that I wanted two of the other headteachers in the Partnership to spend their time with us looking at a sample of children’s books, walking around the school visiting every class, and going through our self evaluation paperwork. I wanted them to talk to the children, and to try to answer the question ‘If you took over as headteacher here tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?’

We told our teachers to carry on as normal and not to prepare anything extra – and they all took us at our word. I asked them at our staff meeting two days after the review if they had felt worried or stressed about it, and they all said they hadn’t. One teacher even said he had forgotten it was happening until we walked through his classroom door.

At the end of the morning our reviewers were able to give us some clear suggestions for improvement that we would not have come up with on our own. They made excellent use of their own experience, and their understanding of the strengths of their own schools.

We were left with some good ideas and a written summary which will serve as the basis for our next headteachers report. They were frank, rigorous and honest, and it was a very positive experience. The key things that made it so useful were:

  • We took the lead in setting up the way the review worked, and decided when it was to be carried out
  • Teachers were not putting on a show or preparing anything extra
  • The reviewers were experienced headteachers who both lead very good schools
  • I know we have things in our school that we can improve, and I wanted the reviewers to help me clarify what we need to do next
  • We received a written report outlining strengths and things to work on
  • We have scheduled a follow-up visit to check that actions have been taken, and that these have had the desired impact

I am really pleased that we decided to take part in this process, and that we could shape the review to meet the needs of our school.




Infant to Junior Transition

I work in a 3 form entry Junior School. We work really hard to make the transition from our partner Infant School a positive and enjoyable process for families and children, and have refined our practice over the years to design an approach that we get very positive feedback about. A group of staff from across both schools came up with our Transition Plan – this is what we do and the order we do things in:

We keep everyone informed about what is happening, including all the key dates.We have a calendar of transition activities that is shared with the staff of both schools as early in the year as possible. The dates are put into the school diary and don’t change – all the other things that happen in a busy school are planned around them. The dates are shared repeatedly with parents and carers so that they know what to expect.

We make transition booklets for targeted children. These include pictures and information about the school and key people. They are made with the children, who often make repeated visits to take photos, meet staff and become familiar with the setting.

Our SENDCo meets the parents and carers of SEN children to discuss how we will make the transition process work for them.

Face to face handovers. We allocate two staff meetings for teachers to spend time talking to the teacher of their new class – one to listen and one to tell. This happens across the whole Federation, and includes sharing any information about EAL and low level safeguarding issues.

Our Year 3 teachers spend a morning in the Year 2 classes observing the provision for SEN children, and to meet with all relevant staff.

Year 2 children have an afternoon orientation visit. They come up to the Junior School to learn where everything is and what the routines are. At the same time the Year 3 children return to the Infant School for ‘Memory Lane’ visit. They make a ‘Welcome to the Junior School’ booklet to leave for the Y2 children to read when they return to their class.

Sampling Day. All children spend the whole day in their new class. We have a shared assembly with all 700 children from both schools (quite an experience) where we sing our Federation Song. The children spend a playtime together, and then the Infant School children go back down the hill. We then carry out the same shared activities during the day:

Share the timetable for the day
Share a video that the current class have made to introduce the children to their new year group
Share pen portraits of all adults that work in the class and year group
Complete English and maths focussed activities that link to the curriculum for the new year group
Have a circle time to share aspirations and to allow the teacher to get to know the children

Following this plan has made sure the children, staff and families are all ready for the new school year.


There’s a lot going on at the moment, with huge pressures coming from a challenging assessment system  and a shrinking budget. This will inevitably mean changes to the way we are able to work with our children. There is also a sense of uncertainty in national and international politics that has an unsettling effect on our school community, including our children.

This term, I will do what needs to do be done to make our budget balance. I will also do what I need to do to support teachers and children working with an assessment system that seems to be in a constant state of flux. With these massive things going on it’s even more important to keep our school a calm, happy place where ‘children feel safe and happy and everyone can truly shine’.

I spent a bit of time over the holidays looking for inspirational videos to share with teachers at out non-pupil day. In the end I decided on Rita Pierson’s ‘Every Kid Needs a Champion’. We have watched it before, but the emphasis of the importance of good relationships is something that bears regular repetition.

While looking, I came across a compilation of videos showing marathon runners struggling to get themselves over the finish line. It made me remember how hard the last few weeks of the summer term can be, and made me think about how I need to prioritise my actions to make sure I get to the end of the school year in a fit and healthy state. I also need to prioritise my requests on staff to make sure they feel the same.

This took me back to my #teacher5aday pledges I made in January. The best thing about making these pledges was that it helped me to prioritise my actions for the spring term, and although I was tired at the end of term I felt satisfied that I had achieved some of what I set out to do.

My Pledges were:


  • I will continue to read, read, read
  • I will listen more and try not to make the same mistakes more than once.


  • I will give our Learning Partnership the necessary energy and time so that it has every opportunity to succeed.
    I will continue to use Twitter to learn and share, and to be amused and entertained.
    I will keep talking about what we do in our school to get feedback and celebrate our work, and I will keep listening to help us get better.


  • I will be better at asking for help and listening to the advice of colleagues
  • I will offer help if I think other people might need it, even if they don’t ask for it


I will go to some new places and take photos of them, with the aim of enjoying the places and getting better at photography.


I really like the process of identifying a running event to take part in, training for it and taking part feeling as well prepared as possible. I will enter (and take part in) some 10K races before the end of the year.

My priority for the summer term is to keep my pledges.

In summary, I will:

  • Enter a 10k race in June, and to get ready for this will take part in #OutRunMay again.
  • Make sure our Learning Partnership moves to the next stage of it’s development, hopefully formalising it’s structure.
  • Write a couple of blog posts a month, celebrating what is happening in our school
  • Be reflective, ask for help, and offer help. I will always think about workload before asking anything of anyone else.

To keep our school a calm and happy place, I will continue to work really hard at maintaining positive relationships with our fabulous Y6 children as they get ready to leave for secondary school. I can remember being told years ago by an Educational Psychologist that some children leave a school psychologically before they do physically, and that in their last few weeks they sometimes try to break the relationships they have to help them leave more easily. I will do my best to remember this.

If I can keep these priorities in mind I will hopefully end the term feeling tired but satisfied – not like a marathon runner that sets off too quickly and hits the wall a few miles before the end of the race.







What we do on our Planning Days

We are a 3-form entry Junior School. Every six weeks the teachers in each year group to get together for a Planning Day to prepare for the coming half term. These days are invaluable, and here are some of the things teachers do during this precious time.

Reflection the first part of every planning day is spent thinking and talking about what the children enjoyed learning about and the successes they had the previous half term. This acts as a reflection and a celebration, and helps teachers thinks about what made particular activities successful in helping children learn most effectively.

Hook ~ Visit ~ Outcome We plan each half terms work using the same structure. Teachers decide on a hook to engage the children, and visit or visitor to give them a broader experience, and a final outcome that gives the children something tangible to work towards. For example, next term our Y4 topic is ‘The Great Outdoors’. Their hook will be spending a day out in the school grounds shelter building, creating art work and cooking their lunch on an open fire. They will visit a local outdoor centre for a guided walk, and their outcome will be to perform poetry and a dance routine in our amphitheatre.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 14.47.33

The content to be taught in each of the Foundation subjects has been agreed across the whole school to ensure we teach everything we need to. The way it is taught is up to the teachers to decide.

Revisit assessment policy We ask teachers to remind themselves of our school assessment and feedback policy. The policy is designed to make feedback as effective as possible while reducing the need for written marking. It has changed over the last year, and it is worth the time spent reading it again and talking about it with colleagues to ensure everyone understands it in the same way.

Gap Analysis At the end of each term the children complete standardised maths and reading tests. At the planning day teachers go through the results, and identify which topics individuals, groups and perhaps the whole class are clearly struggling with. This information is used to help plan what needs, perhaps as a personalised intervention, to be taught during the coming weeks.

What key objectives are we going to teach? Teachers also look at key objectives in reading, writing and maths to identify what the focus of their teaching needs to be for the next six weeks. This is another opportunity for the team to talk together about the approaches they will take and to really understand and think about what the objectives really mean.

Homework Menus Each year group plans homework for the coming half term to give the children (and their parents) a choice about what kind of activity they would like to complete. This came about because our parent questionnaire showed a wide range of preferences, and we wanted to try something that would meet as many of these as possible.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 14.49.59

Online Safety and PSHE The final thing teachers do is to identify the activities they will use to reinforce online safety. For example, this term our Year 4, 5 and 6 children will all be following the ChildNet ‘Trust Me’ lessons. We use 1-Decision as our PSHE programme, and teachers decide which units to teach that best fit in with the rest of the curriculum.

As you can see, our Planning Days are very busy. I think the most important aspect is that teachers get time together to plan, think and reflect on children’s learning. The quality of teaching, the exciting curriculum and reflective practice we get as a result of prioritising this time make them worth every penny of the money invested into them.


Slow down, it’s amazing what you notice.

The last few weeks have been busy.

We send out our Annual Report to Parents towards the end of the spring term. We do this for two reasons: the reports contain targets for improvement, and are of more use now than they would be at the end of the summer term; and we found that everyone is so tired by the end of the summer term that report writing becomes even more challenging.

Our teachers have worked so hard to craft individual reports that give parents a real insight into their children’s achievements, progress and attitudes to learning. They have spent hours and hours, and I am always so impressed by their efforts.

My role is to read every report and make a short comment. This is time consuming – although nowhere near as much as the time spent writing the whole report – and squashed into a short time period. Over the last two weekends I have read and commented on 350 reports. Every spare minute has been used to do this, and it’s really easy to get a bit overwhelmed with such an important task.

One of the #teacher5aday strategies for improving wellbeing is to notice, so I decided that I would consciously look out for some positive things that are happening around our school. Here are a few of them.

IMG_0521We got to play on the grass! It always gets the children so excited when the ground dries out enough to get on the field, and we are happy to put up with the muddy
clothes that result
from this enthusiasm.

Year 4 are practising for their Production, and their singing is amazing. It is wonderful to hear children singing the songs to themselves as they walk around the school.

Year 6 are engrossed in their history, learning about the 1950s and 60s. They are extremely interested and are amazed by how much the world has changed, and how different their lives are to those of their parents and grandparents.

Year 5 are learning about characterisation. They started by describing mIMG_0515e – grey, no fashion sense, old, but also kind and nice to them. I can put up with that.

A group of Year 3 boys are absolutely fascinated by birds, and had their birdwatching book with them at lunchtime to identify any new ones that flew past. They somehow seem have seen virtually every bird in the book.

Year 4 have been making paper, and bounced into the workshops. It was messy and brilliant.

Film Club are enjoying Mary Poppins (they are following Disney films through the decades). The appeal of these films has surprised me – one of our Year 5 boys described Snow White as ‘the best film I have ever seen’.

The positivity and can-do attitude of the amazing staff that work here. I am constantly impressed by their resilience and care for our children, and how far they are prepared to go to meet their needs.

It’s so important to take a step back and reflect. When we are at our most busy it is easy as teachers to forget what an amazing, privileged position we are in.


Observing Lessons

Observing Lessons

Two of my #teacher5aday pledges for 2017 were to get out and explore more of the area where I live, and to keep practising taking photos.

I decided to take a trip to the Otter Estuary and see if I could take a few pictures of birds. I have never been birdwatching before, and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, but the experience of spending an hour just siting and looking was really interesting.

I tried very hard not to think about work, but I never seem to be able to completely switch off. I have been thinking a lot about lesson observations lately, and in the time I spent walking and watching I was able to clarify my thoughts about some of the limitations of formal lesson observations. I came up with three issues for lesson observers to bear in mind:

  1. If you just look for one thing you might miss something wonderful


I sat on a bench overlooking the estuary looking for the wading birds listed on the very helpful information board. I must have chosen a bad time to be looking, but all the birds I could see were so far away it was difficult to tell them apart, even when using the pictures to help identify them. I gave myself a good amount of time, but began to feel that I was wasting my time. Then I caught a glimpse of this beautiful robin out of the corner of my eye – she was sitting on a branch just to the side of me, and it felt like she was watching me to see what I was up to. She sat still while I took a photo, and I as really pleased not to have missed her. When you observe lessons you can only see what you happen to be looking at, and may well miss the magic happening elsewhere in the room. If you just look for one thing you might miss something wonderful. 

2. You’re only ever seeing a snapshot of what is really happening


I found a bench underneath a bridge where the water was moving more quickly. I took this picture, and could try to describe exactly what is happening and what I can see. But this would not be describing the river – however much detail I put in it would only be describing a split second of what was actually there. When you observe a lesson you only see a small part of what is going on in a classroom. You can’t see what happened before or after you were there, and it is so complex that no-one can really accurately describe it to you. Making any sort of accurate summative judgement about the quality of teaching with this limited information is impossible. You’re only ever seeing a snapshot of what is really happening.

3. Being there changes what you are observing


I saw a flock of birds in the distance, so walked towards them to try and take a group photo. It was a bit of a walk, but I was enjoying the challenge of not thinking about work, so headed off to a spot above where they were. In the meantime, a group of people walked past and the birds relocated themselves. I took the photo anyway as it is a lovely view. In the same way, when you go into a classroom, the children and adults can change the way they behave and interact. Being there changes what you are observing.

These conclusions aren’t new and they’re not a comprehensive analysis of the problems associated with formal lesson observations, but I have found it helpful when thinking about what we might do instead in the future.

What I enjoyed last week

‘Don’t you ever stop, Long enough to start?’

Being a headteacher is a full on job. This term has been the same as usual – lots of things to think about, and spending lots of time trying to solve problems that don’t really have solutions. Coupled with the normal school stuff, the world seems to have shifted and we are living through an extraordinary period of change and uncertainty.

I decided to do a bit of a mental stock take this week. Taking inspiration from @samschoolstuff, I have decided to try to practice a bit of gratitude, and think about the some of the things that happened last week that I have really enjoyed.

Monday’s Assembly. We watched the CEOPs Jigsaw video, and the children had the chance to think about their own online behaviour. I could see some of our Y6 children looking a bit uncomfortable, and later in the week a couple of them came and told me that they had changed their privacy settings on their social media accounts. Sometimes you lead an assembly that really works – there is a special kind of silence and you can sense the children thinking and reflecting.This was one of those, and it set me up really well for the rest of the week.

Work Scrutiny. In September we changed our marking  policy it reduce the amount of time it takes, and to allow teachers to have more opportunities to use their professional judgement about what their children need to support their learning. It was an absolute pleasure to look at books on Wednesday, and to see this in practice. There is less written marking, but more of it seems to be making a difference to what the children are doing. Just what we aimed for.

Staff training On Wednesday evening our Sustainability Coordinator led a staff training session aimed at encouraging us to make better use of our amazing school grounds as a learning resource. We made shapes from ropes, discussing how we knew if they were regular or not. We thought about reversible and irreversible changes while cooking marshmallows and hot chocolate on the fire, and tried (again) to use the pizza oven. It was a fun session, and hopefully will encourage us to take the learning outside.

Lunchtimes I love being outside with the children at lunchtime. I really enjoy chatting to them, hearing their stories and jokes, and also helping them to learn how to sort out disagreements themselves. This week I saw a group of Y6 girls using the power of a protest – standing calmly in front of the goals until the boys would let them play a full part in their football game. I saw children inviting children new to the school to join their games; children sharing the spaces and respecting the games that others were playing; children going along with a game that might not be their first choice; and the ever increasing sight of children reading in the playground because they are excited by their book and don’t want to stop. I even saw one boy playing a chasing game while eating an apple and reading his Tom Gates book.

Book of Brilliance Every day children are sent to see me or one of our Assistant heads with their books if they have tried especially hard or have made really good progress in their learning. We write their names in the Book of Brilliance, and they have their names read out in Assembly on a Friday morning. The children can tell us how many times they have appeared in the book, and they are always really proud to be there.

Y6 teachers On Thursday I joined our Y6 team to discuss how the children are getting on and to consider strategies for individuals who are finding things a bit difficult. It was a fabulous meeting – realism teamed with relentless optimism and positivity from a fabulous group of teachers. One comment struck me and will be something I use when I’m trying to solve one of those insoluble problems. We were talking about one child’s behaviour and a colleague said, ‘That’s what he’s doing. What are you going to do?’ That phrase could prove very useful over the coming months.