Vale of Glamorgan School Improvement Service
A good 'what' and a good 'how'
Why is it that when the same intervention strategy, such as Catch Up, is introduced in various schools and various authorities, results differ so widely? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the fact that successful intervention in schools depends on a good 'how' as well as a good 'what'. The 'what' may be a powerful element of a literacy or numeracy strategy, or a powerful strategy from 'assessment for learning' ideas. But in terms of value for money, in terms of translating these ideas into effective practice in the classroom, what are the key ingredients - the 'how' of intervention?
The cadre group model
Following discussions with Philip Adey and Dylan Wiliam from King's College, London, the Vale of Glamorgan School Improvement Service has been experimenting with a 'cadre group' approach. We have used a similar model at KS1 and KS3, and so far results have been very promising; it might be interesting for others in Wales to see how far their own experience matches ours.
Essential ingredient 1 - SMT
The first essential in our model of intervention is active support and involvement of at least one member of the SMT. Commitment depends on the project being seen as valuable, so that at crucial times when other priorities could dominate, the project is given top priority. If teachers are not released for key meetings, or leave meetings early, or do not turn up for whatever reason, the impact of the intervention is drastically reduced. So before any school is included in the project, a member of the SMT is briefed, consulted, and asked if the school wishes to be committed to the scheme.
Essential ingredient 2 - high quality input
The second essential is obviously a good delivery of the 'what', the teaching and learning approach which has a credible track record, and preferably one which has research evidence behind it. (Of course there are times for complete innovation, but there is so much research available into what works that it would seem foolish to ignore evidence.) In most cases we have opted for training from the experts, for example from King's College, London, rather than relying on second-hand versions.
Essential ingredient 3 - involving the teachers
Each teacher on our cadre group project signs an agreement. This may seem excessive, but in our experience does help the teachers commit themselves to certain aspects which we see as vital:
trying out a particular teaching and learning strategy in the classroom within a tight timescale
teaming up with at least one other teacher carrying out a similar strategy, preferably within the same subject area
carrying out some kind of qualitative/ quantitative evaluation of its impact
meeting with others doing similar work, and sharing the ups and downs.
Knowing that they will be attending a meeting, and knowing they will be expected to contribute, provides a powerful incentive to use the ideas from the training rather than just thinking about them! One other aspect we have included has been giving teachers a choice of strategies from a range of powerful alternatives. Giving teachers the 'locus of control', in the jargon, helps them see this as their own project rather than a top-down imposition.
Essential ingredient 4 - coaching
The research of Joyce and Showers has revealed what many have long suspected - that INSET on its own has little lasting effect on teaching and learning in the classroom. But if this is followed up with coaching, the INSET's effect increases dramatically. Of course, the coaching has to be appropriate and of high quality, and it is not a solution in itself. But translating the ideas on the INSET into the day to day realities of a particular topic in a particular classroom often depends on explicit support, and takes time. The school needs to give enough priority to the project to allocate the necessary time to the teacher and the 'coach'.
Essential ingredient 5 - evaluation
Action research has become a widely used method for involving teachers in exploring aspects of teaching and learning. Giving teachers the opportunity to conduct mini-research experiments has had a perhaps unexpected bonus - that the teachers become committed to the project because they can see the impact it is having on their pupils. Indeed, in many cases the atmosphere in the classroom has shifted away from an unhelpful 'us and them' assumption, to the realization by pupils that the teacher is genuinely exploring more effective ways of helping their learning, and that they have a crucial part to play in providing feedback on the experiment.
But attitudes of the SMT and attitudes of teachers can change as well. At one end-of-project feedback meeting, when teachers from a variety of schools shared their findings, their testimony was powerful enough to convince the most sceptical onlooker of the value of the method.
Both the KS1 and the KS3 interventions have been made possible by BSA funding. In the present financial climate, many schools are drastically cutting back on INSETs. The danger is that the baby is thrown out with the bath water. Powerful ideas in INSETs, combined with a strategy such as the above for putting these ideas into practice in the face of classroom realities, can have a substantial impact on raising standards.
From the local authority's point of view, its credibility is enhanced when teachers and headteachers appreciate the combined power of the various ingredients in the cadre group diet. But in many cases the most immediate next step and the most immediate impact is when these teachers become powerful advocates for the methods they have tried out within their own school, helping to convince others that those strange ideas on the INSET day - traffic lighting? comment only marking? a measuring stick? - are really worth trying.
Vale of Glamorgan School Improvement Service
With grateful thanks to the SMT and teachers involved from: Barry Comprehensive School, Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, Llanilltud Fawr Comprehensive School, St. Richard Gwyn Roman Catholic School and all those schools in the Vale of Glamorgan involved in the 'Let's Think' and 'Catch Up' interventions.