The importance of developing Understanding

As a school we have a long history of avoiding educational bandwagons and faddish approaches to improving outcomes. Our view of what are priority changes to our practice is driven by highly detailed reflections on the progress that our pupils make, built directly into our School Development Plan. As such we have a very clear vision regarding to what we need to do to be better and this is focussed firmly on the children.

To support this we ensure that our School Development Plan is very clear and only includes things which are intended to improve the impact of the school on the children and the wider community. It doesn’t include any tasks which occur on a regular basis, these are separated out into an Annual Task Schedule. As such our School Development Plan is a visual map, on a single sheet of A3 paper, of where we are heading as a school.It is contributed to by all and available to all, both within school and beyond.

As a result of this approach we are able to ensure that we never unknowingly fail to complete an identified development aim. We sometimes decide that it isn’t the priority we thought it was at the time of writing, but we never get to the end of the year and realise we haven’t done something we said we would.

In terms of implementing the changes we have identified one of the things we try to avoid is the purchasing of resources to provide a quick fix. Quite often the tools that are available commercially don’t quite fit the development aims or the needs of the children we teach and we will not compromise on their individual needs in order to get something ticked off. More often than not we will evaluate what is out there and then begin to adapt it in order to ensure it does what we want it to do.

This provides a number of opportunities that lead to improved outcomes for the pupils. The first is that we have greater flexibility of approach and are able to better adapt to our pupils’ needs. We don’t invest heavily in overly structured resources, which often define the nature of progress, but instead look at what a resource is trying to achieve and use elements of it in order to create a bespoke portfolio of tools, matched to individual need.

The second is that because we take a highly analytical approach to learning and the identification of individual barriers to progress, we question the nature, sustainability and transferability of progress repeatedly. This means that we often find ourselves finding challenges for which there are no commercial tools. Rather than find the best fit, we will invest significant intellectual energy in developing resources from scratch. One such example is our Early Reading Scheme. This take the individual prerequisite intellectual and reasoning skills necessary for reading and allows them to be applied in combination within a structure that is comparable to formal reading. The plateau that we were previously wrestling with as children moved from applying the intellectual and reasoning skills in isolation to working with books has been addressed and we saw a significant increase in the number of children working with formal reading schemes as a result.

A third impact of this approach is the investment in the intellectual capacity of the teaching team. A reliance on commercial solutions to barriers to learning risks creating a limited depth of engagement with the challenge being faced. You can buy the tool you think is best suited to the job and you can develop knowledge of how that tool works, but without ever analysing the problem from the point of view of developing your own solution, I’d question the extent to which the solution is truly understood. One of the significant values of investing in the development of understanding is that you equip staff with the skills to solve multiple challenges as and when they arise, but it also enables you to better adjust approaches to ensure they truly meet the needs of the individual.

As an approach this is not without its risks, it can be frustratingly slow and requires a collective buy in to the importance of the process not just the outcomes. But it breeds consensus and a shared understanding which helps to develop a culture of expectation across the school. This is essential if children are to have the necessary level of consistency as they move through the school, consistency that is essential if they are not to lose developmental momentum every time they move class.

To enable us to find the time to make this happen we have one compulsory after school meeting a week. Every Wednesday we spend about an hour talking about the challenges we face in ensuring our pupils are the best that they can be and developing the resources necessary to make this happen. Every Wednesday we spend time together as a team developing our Understanding.

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