Putting the focus back on teaching and learning: a response to the AoC Conference on Teaching Learning and Assessment, January 29th 2013

At last some coherent, aligned messages about the need to focus on teaching and learning in the post 16 sector. The AoC conference on Teaching, Learning and Assessment this week gave us a range of speakers but a single direction of travel. We need to put more attention, time and effort into our core business: improving teaching and learning. There was a sense that the sector has been drifting off track but that now there is clarity about how to re-focus our work and it was a breath of fresh air. The energy and excitement was palpable as many people are clearly keen to embrace this. Thanks to AoC for such a timely and pertinent event.

Geoff Petty spoke with eloquence and passion about the strong case from research that evidence-based teaching methods coupled with peer coaching conversations are the most effective forms of staff development. They can lead to great improvements in learners’ achievement. In contrast, the standard CPD model from the sector (“the sage on the stage” CPD event) was shown to be almost entirely ineffectual, producing as little as 5% transfer of learning into practical application. The research is extensive and the findings persuasive. Improvement in teaching and learning emerges from evidence-based practice, experimentation and embedded professional dialogue. Some institutions need to notice the evidence and make some changes to their CPD model, to reap the positive benefits for staff and learners. For information about a related training event on this CPD model, click on this link:

The colleges where a grade one had been achieved in recent Ofsted inspections were echoing this point. They mentioned the importance of values and vision, in keeping their sights firmly on the main driver of their work – to improve learners’ achievement. Teaching and learning as a standing item on meeting agendas, different opportunities for teachers to discuss practice with colleagues, think tanks, CPD linking into emerging needs in agile ways, governors who engage with the T&L agenda. From the comments made, it seemed that these colleges had gradually fostered a collaborative, innovative culture with T&L at its heart. I even found myself nodding along with the Ofsted speaker, as she outlined aspects of outstanding practice and areas that some colleges could still develop further, all rooted in classroom practice, the craft of teaching and the process of learning.

So far, so inspiring. Aspirational, for many of the conference attendees. There was a buzz around the event, many excited, energised conversations as people talked about what could be and what had been achieved already in their contexts. I was delighted, as my consultancy, coaching and training work has been leading me in this direction for a few years and yet at times I have felt out of step with a sector dominated by figures and funding, an audit-obsessed world more comfortable in conversations about spreadsheets than discussions about learning. I am hugely hopeful that the tide is turning and I meet many colleagues who inspire me with their creativity, drive and passion to move learning forward. There are many reasons to be cheerful, despite the gloomy funding landscape.

And yet, there are several major barriers to truly liberating the sector to focus on teaching and learning.

1. Inspiring, enabling leadership of learning

In the new world where T&L are king and queen, some leaders will need to raise their game and in many cases change their focus. Do they have a vision for T&L to engage staff and learners? Are they enabling the creation of a culture where T&L can flourish? Are they aware of the practical barriers that prevent staff from focusing on this and feel prepared to drive change?

Some simple practical challenges were mentioned in my workshop at the conference:

  • Teams having no single slot on the timetable where all staff could meet to reflect, share practice, problem-solve, let alone regular slots for cross college dissemination.
  • CPD days being scheduled at times of year that did not work for staff or planning processes, e.g. Having several CPD days at end of the summer term when staff are exhausted and unfocused, don’t have outcomes info from the year and haven’t met their new class. This is quite simply a ludicrous waste of time, effort and money.
  • Colleges still wedded to the outdated, ineffectual model of CPD – big jazzy staff development events with gurus brought in and little internal embedding of the learning into practice; the high cost, low impact model of development.
  • Online systems that do not provide data in forms fit for purpose or link up key reports, e.g. Appraisal data needs to link up with observation data, CPD logs, achievement data for individual staff and teams, so all of these can feed into planning and review processes.

2. Joined up thinking; systems that are fit for purpose

I have a CPD and a project management background and in colleges I am constantly aware of a key weakness in planning and implementation. For example, it is rare to find a college with a coherent, joined up set of systems and processes that connect observation, appraisal, SAR, CER, staff and learner voice feedback to each other and into T&L strategy and CPD planning. When these connect well, you have a strong evidence base to plan from. You can track progress, spot problems, identify good practice easily, and act upon them. We need higher quality thinking and planning skills to make these areas join up to deliver a clear vision and process for improvement. We have much work to do in ensuring our IT systems give us adequate information and that processes work smoothly and effectively for users, so that valuable time is not wasted on data entry for the sake of it or in multiple places…….These issues will come into sharper focus as colleges respond to the new Ofsted requirements for following up on quality planning and managing performance with evidence of impact.

3. Encouraging conversations about professional practice

The focus on T&L necessitates more conversations, of higher quality, about our professional practice.  Hooray and bring it on as I have seen the benefits of this through my work on embedding Supported Experiments and coaching into colleges! Many colleges are recognizing the challenge of this in overloaded timetables and college calendars. At the conference, some institutions commented on how they are employing coaching approaches and coaching roles to encourage professional reflection and action planning. It was encouraging to see that coaching skills were being developed in managers, for conversations with their teams and individuals, but also in T&L coaches, to help peers reflect, problem-solve and action plan effectively. These approaches improve the focus, momentum and follow through of these crucial conversations. They create space for tailored individual intervention to support people with specific aspects of their practice.

As research on CPD shows, without these peer conversations, little change in practice actually happens. We will need to focus time, attention and resources in this area to accelerate our drive for T&L improvement, otherwise how will it happen? Without time and effort spent on high quality conversations with colleagues, how can we become more focused on the development of T&L in our institutions, how can we make actually it happen?

Leaders of learning will need to be engaging, persistent and skilled enough to tackle fundamental issues such as these, if our institutions are to take this opportunity to really put the focus on teaching and learning. Otherwise it will be lip service to this inspiring aim and putting the focus on T&L will rapidly descend to the level of cliche, another glib phrase with no substance….in my opinion this would be a waste of a key moment in the evolution of the post 16 sector. It feels like a tipping point to me. I hope we grab the chance and really go for it. I think the benefits for learners and teachers could be immense.

To discuss any of the points here or for consultancy, training or coaching support, please contact me:

Joanne Miles

E: jmilesconsulting@gmail.com

T: 07811 378 398

Twitter: @JoanneMiles2

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This entry was posted in Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, Common Inspection Framework, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, FE, Geoff Petty, Project Management, Supported Experiments, Teaching and learning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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