Lesson observation. My response to the excellent Mary Myatt.

Ofsted is mainly interested in forming a judgement on the whole school or on a curriculum team ‘over time’. The current framework isn’t designed to judge lessons on an individual basis so the best fit a school can offer is to attempt to craft criteria for observation from the whole school descriptors that already exist.

The basic definition of outstanding teaching is “good teaching over time”. Schools need to consider how to interpret this at different times in the school year. When observing how do you factor in that you are observing the first lesson of a rotation with a new teacher in, say, science? Perhaps the teacher has been teaching 3 weeks and had one quality marking opportunity with that class?

In these scenarios, where a teacher has had little or no time with a group what should we be looking for? Should we simply judge the quality of differentiation by the teacher following their initial data analysis as an indication of a high quality response? Clearly, the “outstanding” judgement is rather hard to make without an appropriate amount of “time” to throw into the mix when attempting to ‘judge’.

There are a number of, suggested, July 2013 lesson obs “criteria” doing the rounds at the moment which attempt to offer a framework but I feel we need to take care. One of the most important things to do is to be completely clear with staff about the strengths and weaknesses of the observation process and to be clear what SLT is really trying to achieve:

1. SLT want to be clear on the typical experience of our students on a day to day basis (all of our observations are ‘no notice’ in the main). This is the most important part of the job – our staff understand the need for this and have responded professionally to this.
2. There is an issue about matching individual judgements in lessons as Ofsted haven’t issued criteria to easily judge this.
3. Even though Ofsted don’t require a lesson plan, the observer still has to be clear that there has been high quality, differentiated planning. Therefore, planning will sometimes be checked by informing colleagues in advance that this needs to be available.
4. The easiest way a teacher can demonstrate progress over time is to ensure that some data is provided to demonstrate this progress. This is really hard to do of course if observations are ‘no notice’. You can’t expect a teacher to scrabble around to print off data in the middle of a lesson. Without this observers will need to rely on book scrutiny in the lesson, conversations with students and evidence provided in the form of student recording of progress in exercise books. Data on the school’s MIS will also be checked subsequently (or before) to give an indication of progress – though this won’t necessarily offer much of a story until later in the year if you only have 3 data collections a year.
5. Most importantly, and back to Mary’s excellent post, SLT must ensure that teachers understand that the main point is to have a professional discussion to celebrate what has gone well and what can be improved into the future.


Creating the Right Conditions

One of the most important things to understand before considering a change towards vertical tutoring is that the project should be regarded as a whole school change with all of the planning, consultation, logistical impact and change management that any large-scale project of this type will always bring. I have heard of schools who have announced this kind of change on the last day before a summer holiday. Each to their own I guess but that isn’t the way that we went about it! The project was planned and executed over a two year time frame – I would recommend that this is an appropriate length of time from initial review to final delivery.

I get the feeling that not as many schools have the energy to divert to this type of project right now. Even in the three years since we introduced Vertical Tutoring most UK schools have been forced to consider and absorb even more changes from external sources and a project like this therefore might be considered one step too far for some schools in the current climate. Almost all schools that have chosen to go down this route have found that the change to vertical tutoring has brought a number of highly significant benefits. I’m very pleased that we have made the change and would like to offer some insight on our experience should you be considering a similar pathway.

For me the main reason that we have made the change is to create the right conditions for highly effective learners. In previous years a number of our year seven students had remarked how scared they were of older students when they were year six pupils. Whilst this fear hadn’t been justified it was nonetheless understandable from a younger child’s point of view. We wanted to bust this myth in a practical way and ensure that younger children did not feel scared in the first year at being at a large comprehensive school.

We also wanted our older students to have a set of positive benefits from this new system also. Being given a definite set of responsibilities has benefited our year 11 students immensely. Having a very successful Sixth Form had made our year 11 students less high-profile than they might have been in an 11 to 16 school. VT offered our students a new set of responsibilities and, in fact, a new mind set for our older students. Younger students felt more at home and benefitted psychologically and physiologically. They no longer had that sense of fear about older students and they felt accepted and developed a sense of belonging very quickly.

We have four Houses led by a teaching Head of House. they are supported by a non teaching Learning Mentor. Each House has twelve tutor groups (21-23 students per group) of mixed age (Y7 – Y11) students. Students are spread equitably between all tutors and all houses. Every tutor and is trained to address the needs of all students at any time.

Students are grouped and spread to ensure that those who might require a higher degree of input are spread equitably across the four Houses. It is possible to group siblings in Houses to ensure that a strong family relationship can be developed between home and school.

The natural spread of students is also beneficial for the smooth and effective running of the school. Behaviour issues which might typically be found in year 9 are spread between all tutor groups in all Houses. Similarly, year 11 students who might require a higher level of input are spread and can be given a greater amount of individual attention by teachers since there are only four or five of them in every tutor group. Year 7 students can bring freshness and enthusiasm to every tutor group.

With horizontal systems it can become more difficult for some tutor groups to remain positive as children get older it can also become more difficult to motivate older students in the same age groups when there is no obvious academic reward at the end of the session. Good tutor groups rely on creating goodwill and a positive ethos. So much of the vertical methodology offers an opportunity for groups and individuals to develop and contribute positively and therefore tutor groups rarely have issues that require any significant input in terms of behaviour management.

Year seven students have a year 11 buddy who receives training on how to execute the role. They then take care of the Y7 student and meets with them during tutor time to ensure that they are enjoying their time at school.

The year 11 student gains significantly from this leadership role and develops a range of emotional skills from the time they begin their training in year 10 and then throughout the whole of year 11.

Marking Policy (Oct 2013)

Wellsway School Marking Policy

Final Version, October 2013


This policy lays out the minimum expected response for teaching colleagues in all subject areas at Key Stages Three, Four and Five.


  1. 1.   Aims and Objectives: This policy is designed to have the following impact:


1.1         To ensure that each student can reach her/his potential in terms of progress achieved over time in each subject.

1.2         For students to receive written feedback which is clear and consistent and focuses on what has been done well, what can be improved and where errors in spelling and grammar have been made.

1.3         To give teachers a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each student in a teaching group. 

1.4         To give parents/carers an understanding of the progress that has been made by students. Parents/carers may be able to support areas where improvements need to be made through discussion/work at home.

1.5         To ensure that students think about the feedback from teachers and actively respond to what has been suggested. The written response and subsequent action by the student is an integral part of the process and contributes significantly to the learning process.

1.6         For teachers to show students that their efforts are valued and for students to feel motivated to improve.  


  1. 2.           Basic Expectations of Classroom Staff:


2.1        It is essential that teachers and Curriculum Team Leaders audit a group/cohort’s collective strengths and weaknesses at appropriate times in the year to give an indication of progress made as well as aiding lesson planning for the overall group.

2.2        Not all work will be marked by teachers.  It is perfectly reasonable for some work to be marked by peers, peer-pairs, other classroom staff or, on occasions, by the student themselves.

2.3        Teacher marking must reflect student targets, what the student has done well and what needs to be improved.

2.4        Lesson planning will need to take account of the need for students to respond in class to a teacher’s written comments and to share this response with peers.


To achieve this aim, there must be a uniform approach across the school.  


Students must know:


  • Overall target level/target grade for the unit of work;
  • Level/grade for the section of work to be assessed within the unit;
  • Successes within the assessed work;
  • How to improve work.



3        Our Consistent Approach:


When marking, teachers must address:


3.1     Factual mistakes/inaccuracy and technical inaccuracies in line with the subject’s requirements and expectations.

3.2     Poor exam technique e.g. failing to answer the question, answers which are limited in depth or, conversely, overly detailed for the question asked.

3.3     Presentation and handwriting.

3.4     Coherence of points made.

3.5     Improvements that can be made to written style e.g. use of paragraphs,  sentence construction, repetition,  mixed tenses, limited use of connectives, limited vocabulary and an overall lack of sophistication, commensurate with expectation.


Marking should focus on the assessment of progress in relation to specific learning objectives or a student’s target/s. At the end of the marking process it should be clear to the student “what they have done well” and “what they need to do to improve” in relation to learning outcomes.


  1. 4.           Written Comments from Staff:


Comments should be positive and subject specific.  Linking words such as “BUT” are best avoided. “Even better if…” (EBI) is a more helpful way of focusing teacher and student feedback. An interim Key Stage level or grade should be awarded to students when appropriate and, following key internally assessed pieces, students should be given the opportunity to improve their work.


At the end of tasks where the teacher has decided to record a mark centrally then it will be necessary to award:


4.1         A level or grade (depending on the Key Stage). At Key Stage 3 this should  

include a sub-level.

4.2         At least TWO positive points – two strengths of the piece of work.

4.3         At least ONE “even better if” – one improvement that could be made to raise

attainment. This could be in the form of a question so that students can carry out extra research.


5        Attainment:


Grades/levels aren’t always necessary. They can for example be meaningless given the size of the task, and distract from improvement comments. However, it is still important for teachers, parents/carers and students to know periodically how well learning is progressing and what still need to be done.






  1. 6.           Our Marking Code for Classroom Staff:



Where students make large numbers of SPaG errors teachers will need to balance the need to correct errors with the need to maintain student enthusiasm and positivity. 

Verbal Feedback stamps are available for staff who prefer to use them.

The ‘Green Pen’ Approach

Student Response


In order to improve the quality of learning it is essential that each student has the opportunity to consider and respond to feedback as well as correcting their work. 


A teacher may tell a student to mark her/his own work or mark that of a peer.   This is likely to only be for pieces where teacher assessment isn’t an immediate requirement.


Teachers must direct students which pieces are to be corrected and responded to in green pen.


Green pen editing should include the following:


Amendments to:


  • Spelling;
  • Punctuation (e.g. full stops, capital letters and commas);
  • Grammar errors;
  • Use of paragraphs;
  • Language improvement/development (inclusion of subject specific key words and concentration on more descriptive vocabulary);
  • Ideas which could be extended.


When the editing process is complete, a student who produced the initial task must then make two statements at the bottom of the finished piece of writing:


  1. In general terms, how well has the question/task been answered/addressed?
  2. What could you do better here and specifically what could you do at home to develop knowledge and understanding? 


Specific areas for improvement must be highlighted by the teacher for re-writing if necessary.   Students must be directed to re-write spelling errors three times per error to help students to remember new spellings.


The statements above can be amended by teachers to increase the sophistication/complexity of the student response as required.


When this exercise is undertaken by students, all responses will be written in green ‘ink’ whether this be hand written or where possible, as part of an electronic response.


To avoid confusion teachers must not use a green pen to mark work.




It is essential that this basic approach is adopted universally by teaching staff.  In order to ensure that the process is effective middle leaders and SLT will monitor teacher marking and student feedback as part of book scrutiny and lesson observations.  


In order to ensure the marking policy is a success the following expectations are in place:





  • Student work to show evidence of feedback at least once every three weeks.
  • Give students full feedback for at least one piece on average, once every three weeks in student books/folders (class and homework).
  • Advise students on how to improve the level or grade for the section of work in their books/folders.
  • Ensure that students have the target level or grade clearly displayed on the front inside cover of their exercise book/folder.
  • To share good practice with book marking in meetings. (Book Scrutiny)
  • CTLs to check marking of books three times per year through work sampling. (Once every two terms of which there are six per year)
  • Not to use a green pen when marking.
  • Coursework elements to be marked in line with exam board criteria.
  • At least one ‘Green Pen’ response to be completed every three weeks.

Teaching Assistants

  • To read through the comments written by teachers in order to guide any SEND students in the class – not do the work for them.
  • To use the ‘correction format’ e.g. ‘SP/GR’ during the lesson if required. This can be marked on students’ work.


  • Read comments written by teachers.
  • Respond positively to comments written by teachers.
  • When advised, self-assess work using criteria provided by teachers.
  • ‘Green Pen’ your work when directed.
  • Peer assess work fairly and responsibly, giving 2 positive points and one “even better if”. (2 strengths and one improvement).
  • Put your best effort into written work.
  • Catch up on book work after absence.
  • Keep standards of presentation of written work high.
  • Do not graffiti on the cover the exercise book or doodle in your books. The cover should only show name and class details.
  • If you forget your book, you should complete work on paper in class and copy this up into your book at home. This should be shown to the teacher in the following lesson.


  • To read through the comments written by teachers at least once every fortnight.
  • To support the school in checking that students are organising written work appropriately.
  • To check that students are packing the correct books and equipment for each day of the week.
  • To support the school in providing a bag that can accommodate books comfortably.

Curriculum Team Leaders

  • Carry out formal work scrutiny 3 times a year and check on the marking of books during learning walks.


  • Report on the quality of book marking during Lesson Observations.



Curriculum Responsibilities to Maximise Student Performance

What Are Our Priorities?

The role of school leaders, in all posts, is to ensure that our work in the classroom is of the highest possible standard, every day, and that student achievement is maximised.  A specific part of that leadership role is to ensure that our teachers adopt and embed best practice approaches.   As a result, students will engage strongly with learning and ultimately develop the skills to take full charge and responsibility of the learning process over time.

The aim of this paper is to give all Curriculum and School Leaders the opportunity to consider where these priorities should lie.  

Outstanding Curriculum Teams successfully create environments at all key stages where:

  • Leaders and teachers respond positively and proactively to the accountability of their role;
  • Standards of student achievement are a paramount concern;
  • Teacher practice is highly effective and regularly quality assured;
  • Teaching practice is developed in line with clearly defined whole school and team priorities.

Below I have attempted to map out basic responsibilities for Curriculum Team Leaders and Assistants in smaller Curriculum Teams outside of English, Maths and Science.

Outstanding Teams should manage accountability to raise standards by:

Curriculum Team Leader:

Assistant Team Leader:

Developing and implementing teaching and assessment strategies to improve student progress.

Interpreting progress data for teachers, subjects and groups of students across the Curriculum Team.

Monitoring the typicality of our daily provision.

Data at KS3: interpreting and intervening to ensure progress.

Devising and implementing programmes for underperforming colleagues.

Investigate, disseminate and embed effective T&L approaches using IT.

Liaising with SLT line manager to set targets for teachers, students and the overall team.

Contributing to robust PMR processes.

Leading robust PMR processes within the team.

Seeking Student Voice to feed into team evaluation.

Ensuring thorough, evaluative assessment of examination performance for SLT and the team.

Monitoring the typicality of our daily provision.




Attention to Best Practice:

Curriculum Team Leader:

Assistant Team Leader:

Researching, developing and implementing teaching and assessment strategies to improve student progress.

Seeking Student Voice to feed into team evaluation.

Develop evaluation into high quality team strategy for the short and medium term.

Co-ordinating display and celebration of student progress.

Overseeing digital media approaches.


Advertising the wider work of the team.



Regular Operational Activity:

Curriculum Team Leader:

Assistant Team Leader:

Evaluating and refining the course offer at KS4-5. 

Monitoring Budget and Resources.

Overview of the Budget.

Monitoring Student behaviour (+ve and –ve).

Deploying teachers appropriately to complete the timetable.

Overseeing the development of schemes of work.

Monitoring Student Behaviour (+ve and –ve).

Contributing to website resource.

H&S overview and direction.

Cover arrangements for absent colleagues.

Overview and leadership of SOW production.

Implementation of H&S.

Liaising with SLT regarding the appointment and induction of new colleagues.

Support and development of ITT/NQT.


Developing SOW work with colleagues.


Additional skills

  • Delegating appropriately to ensure work is distributed across the team
  • Asking for help when required
  • Inter-personal, political and strategic skills.

There are, of course, other tasks carried out by middle leaders in curriculum teams.

Larger teams benefit from additional leadership capacity through Lead Teachers, Assistant Team Leaders who are subject leaders and Key Stage co-ordinators who take additional responsibility and add significantly to the leadership in larger teams.

Q.        How should we change the leadership structure in our teams to give Curriculum Team Leaders appropriate accountability and leadership opportunity to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms and for standards of achievement?


SWH Oct, 2013

In Praise of the Blue Bird

I will offer a view on Vertical Tutoring in my next blog but as I prepare to watch the football results roll in I wanted to share a view on a very valuable self improvement tool. My Saturday routine in the winter months is to enjoy a good breakfast and to reflect on what has happened nationally in the world of education. As I did so this morning I was reminded of some first rate guidance from a parent of one of the members of my Year 9 rugby team at the time.

Around 12 years ago one Essex Saturday morning, I was preparing for a fixture, supping from a flask of tepid coffee, pumping up the match balls in the PE team staff office. Incidentally, the odour that hits you as you open the door of such bolt holes is the same wherever you are in the country. North, south, east or west the smell is usually revolting but somehow so very comforting.

I remember feeling that my career had got very slightly stuck. I was frustrated because my school had neglected me that year as I hadn’t been on a very expensive course – it was the fashion at the time. A very kind, smiling parent called Brian (who was a deputy head at another local school) was willing to listen to my gripe but very gently and professionally put me right. Brian was clear: “Your CPD is your responsibility. The best CPD you will experience is the stuff you do yourself.” Experience tells me that he was right.

For that reason I’m a great fan of Twitter. I think it is one of the best CPD mechanisms that I have come across during my teaching career. Understandably and pleasingly most of the posts on Twitter from educators focus on improving teaching and learning and also, of course, the current debate surrounding many of the changes being introduced by the current UK government coalition. I can not remember a period when school leaders have been faced with such a mountain of issues to address in order to ensure that the school they lead improves. Using CPD time wisely is essential for all teaching staff. Using Twitter also makes you realise that you are not alone.

The focus on T&L improvements is undoubtedly the right area to spotlight for our profession. It is crucial for teachers to continually analyse, improve and modify where necessary to ensure that delivery meets the needs of 21st-century young people. I fear for those schools and teachers who do not continually develop their strategy in this area. The Ofsted judgement in schools that fail to properly address the needs of the new framework as well as the young people in their care is likely to be savage.

If you want to find out about current views and approaches being taken to address the shifting sands in our craft then I can recommend Twitter wholeheartedly. I tend to use Twitter as a reading digest in the main. It allows me to keep up to date with experts across the range of education disciplines. Excellent Headteachers nationally who have been kind enough to put their thoughts on e-paper include: Geoff Barton (@realgeoffbarton) from Suffolk, John Tomsett (@johntomsett) from York and Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) from the grammar school sector in Essex. Other first rate tweeters and bloggers are available.

If schools do not embrace and understand the technological changes also being experienced by young people then I feel that the outcome could be disappointing for students and staff alike. For this reason I also recommend Mark Anderson from Clevedon School. Not only is he incredibly generous when it comes to sharing his resources and knowledge but he is also passionate and inspiring about introducing mobile learning technology into the lives of students in his school (@ictevangelist). iPad technology (or similar) is likely to be a significant factor in securing further improvements in many schools and ensuring that the potential disconnect between teachers and students is avoided. In fact, I believe that learning will improve through using such devices and is likely to be taken to a place beyond where we previously thought possible.

You can also consider the views of luminaries such as Dylan Wiliam, Sir Ken Robinson and David Cameron (no not that one – this one is a really clear thinker on education – @realdcameron). The best bit about Twitter is that it lets me learn when I want, where I want to and what I want. Twitter is easy to use, accessible, personalised and free.

There is a recent trend lately for some of the Twitterati to be a little self congratulatory – lots of virtual backslapping which clutters up one’s timeline. Perhaps it’s my inability to cope with seeing any school leader receive praise (it’s not part of the culture of school leadership at the moment). However, if we don’t congratulate each other we may die waiting for Messrs Wilshaw and Gove to offer a word of encouragement. Don’t be put off by this – give it a go!

I will now get my regular thrashing at connect 4 from my 6 year old. She is an assassin in disguise – do not be fooled!


Why I’m bothering….

I’m not afraid to say it….one of the most enjoyable bits of my job is at Friday at the end of school when all the students have left the site and I have that feeling that everything has worked in sweet harmony and that our team has got it right. That lovely moment that hits you as you walk to the car park where you feel a little satisfaction that the team that you lead has really made a difference. Hopefully you know what I mean!

No one has been excluded, the ‘at risk’ students have attended with no serious incidents – a great week. Or is it?

One of the problems with any pastoral system is that too much time can often be taken by the most vulnerable. How can we be sure that the other students, those who go quietly about their business each day, are thriving, getting the most of what is available, learning deeply and genuinely operating somewhere near their best.

I believe that there are several factors that contribute to a school where this happens each day. I believe that it comes down to excellent, well thought out systems. Creating conditions for outstanding learning – that’s what it’s all about – that’s where the real enjoyment lies. The truth is however…I rarely experience the “Friday Car Park” feeling and always know there is so much that can be improved on Monday.

I try to read widely, research and uncover new ideas that will impact positively back at the ranch. I’m going to write about some of the systems that have worked in my various schools and, if anyone else is interested, perhaps we can debate a little….

To offer some context my school is high attaining, VA 1000, attendance rate of 96% currently with low rates of exclusion, fixed and permanent. Most students are white British and we have around 1350 students aged 11-18 on roll. The last time Mr Wilshaw’s troops paid a visit the grade was ‘1’ overall with a ‘1’ for ‘care, guidance and support’ also. T&L was graded 2 at the last inspection which isn’t good enough.

I love what I do and the people I work with. I have nothing but respect for staff who work in schools and give it their best shot each day.

This blog will be dedicated to those school staff who wake at 4am worrying about whether a student will improve tomorrow and wondering what else you can do that will make a positive difference. I also hope that we can all develop the ability to get back off to sleep for another couple of blissful hours. Perhaps we can communally look for a cure for this feature of term-time teacher sleep. I also know that this is not just reserved for teachers but I quite liked that little bit of alliteration – indulge me a little – I’m a PE teacher by trade!