X Close

Institute of Education Blog

Home

Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education

Menu

Isn’t time we focused on what matters – schools in which staff, students and families feel they belong?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 September 2016

Kathryn Riley.  
I amble across the tranquil shores of Studland Bay, Dorset on an unexpectedly hot day. My Labrador Finnegan is in fine fettle. Not being a sun worshiper, I’m dressed in a baggy pair of cotton trousers, long sleeve tee-shirt and – as I’ve forgotten my hat – a scarf, a headscarf. My mind switches to an image of another woman on another beach. She’s also dressed from top to toe but she’s surrounded by armed police who are ordering her to take off a layer of clothing. ‘Her’ beach is in Nice. So much time, so much control, so much aggression focused on appearance: ways of labelling, judging, excluding.
Linked to my first blog in this year-long series about place, identity and belonging ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’ is a video about what belonging   means for young people, Place, Belonging and Schools in our Global World. ‘Belonging means to feel comfortable where you are and just to feel you can be yourself and not have (more…)

It takes a community of practice to educate a teacher

Blog Editor, IOE Digital24 January 2014

 Vanessa Ogden

“My dad says that if you can’t teach me what I need to know between the hours of 9 and 3, then you ain’t doing your job properly” … proclaimed “Ryan” in front of the rest of his Year 9 class when I tried to enforce his detention for non-completion of homework. As a new teacher just out of the Institute of Education’s PGCE programme, I had a repertoire of appropriate responses for such situations but I recall, on this occasion I was stumped in that moment. A million possibilities occurred to me all at once – which to choose to get the best out of the situation for everyone? There was a pause while a cavern opened in the floor in front of me and everyone held their breath, waiting to see if I would fall in.
I thus realised very early on that learning the craft of teaching is career-long. My PGCE tutor once described teaching as a “generative art”.  It is situated in deep knowledge about subject and pedagogy – and for those who choose to teach in challenging urban, rural and coastal environments, the relationship between education and “place” brings with it a multitude of other professional learning that needs to be embraced. The complexity of learning your craft as a teacher requires on-going, professional support from within schools and from the rich human and intellectual capital in “Outstanding” university providers like the Institute.
I was delighted therefore to hear news of the Institute of Education’s recent Ofsted inspection judgement of ‘Outstanding’ and its glowing report – a fitting accolade for one of the key architects involved in London’s success over the past ten years. Of course, for over a century the Institute has led the international field in education research and development as well as in the initial training of teachers. The Institute has been responsive to changing times, adapting to new policy environments taking on innovation.
In 1993, provision for early professional development following initial teacher training was limited and leadership training was sparse in London. For many, London schools were not the schools of choice in which to teach and teacher shortage was becoming a real problem. There was no national framework for teachers’ development. I relied heavily on the Institute’s resources for further professional learning.
Twenty years on, the picture  in London for both early and career-long professional learning is widely different – and the Institute has led the way. London teachers and leaders have benefitted enormously from the wide range of opportunities it has provided for further learning during this period – especially through the establishment of innovative practice-based masters and doctoral programmes and the foundation of the ‘London Centre for Leadership in Learning’. In particular, strong mutually beneficial partnerships with schools, collaboration between academics and practitioners on research and writing in education and the embracement of initiatives like Teach First are just a few of those to name.
Becoming “at least good” as a teacher or school leader takes a wealth of high quality support and development from others. And whilst “Ryan” (and other pupils) have extended my learning and calibrated my practice – which, although not always easy, has been an important part of my own journey – and whilst I have learned so much from the cutting edge work of many school colleagues, the Institute has also been fundamental.
They say it takes a community to educate a child – it takes a community of practice to educate a teacher. The Institute is central to that community in London and practitioners in the Capital are proud to have it.
Dr Vanessa Ogden is head teacher of Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, which works in partnership with the IOE, and received her Doctorate at the Institute
The pupil’s name has been changed.

The transformation of Tower Hamlets: how they did it

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 January 2014

Chris Husbands
In 1998, schools in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets were performing poorly. Despite spending more on education than any other local authority in England, results were well below the national average. OFSTED ranked Tower Hamlets as the worst performing of 149 boroughs nationwide.
By 2013 the position had been transformed: Tower Hamlets, still one of the poorest boroughs in England, returned GCSE results above the national average. Every maintained secondary school had been judged either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and the gap between the performance of children on free schools meals and their peers was only 7 percentage points compared to a national gap of 23 points.
This is an outstanding success story. In Transforming Education for All, Chris Brown, David Woods and I try to explain the Tower Hamlets turnaround. We drew on a range of data, including pupil attainment data, council minutes, OFSTED reports, questionnaires and interviews with key participants to trace the story. It is a fascinating tale: an initial turnaround under Christine Gilbert, appointed as Director of Education in 1998; a consolidation and extension of improvement from secondary to primary schools under her successor, Kevan Collins; and then acceleration and sustained success from 2008.
We identified seven key success factors which drove the borough wide transformation.
Ambitious leadership at all levels
In the 1990sTower Hamlets was an ineffective education authority. The appointment of Christine Gilbert (who later became Chief Inspector of Schools in England) was critical in the improvement journey. Her successor was clear that it is “impossible to overstate” her achievement. But this appointment catalysed other forces already ambitious for children’s achievement, the politicians in particular. One official comment that “Christine led from the front; there were no excuses, only challenges to be overcome.” The task was to mobilise ambition at all levels through stretching targets for schools and teachers. One head put it to us simply: “things have to be implemented in a consistent way, they cannot be demoted or watered down – consistency is part of the concerted effort and ensures things are done right and well”.
Very effective school improvement
Very quickly after 1998, the school improvement service was re-shaped. Schools causing concern were identified and targets set. Robust action was taken: financial delegation to some schools was withdrawn, and in 48 schools causing concern between 1998 and 2012, 42 head teachers were replaced. Tower Hamlets’ schools have also been well served by their Research and Statistics Department which has provided a sophisticated range of contextual and benchmarked data to complement DfE and Ofsted data.
High quality teaching and learning
Tower Hamlets faced a severe teacher shortage in the 1990s. The LA strategy to address this was multi-layered, including recruiting and retaining high quality staff; encouraging and supporting local people into education and maximising work based routes to qualified teacher status; improving the recruitment of newly qualified teachers; improving access to housing for teachers; and professional development. The Authority ran a Masters programme in close partnership with a university, and retained a Professional Development Centre while other councils were closing theirs. The impact was considerable: OFSTED reports in the past five years are clear that teaching quality in Tower Hamlets is very high. But it was not achieved through a single strategy – and it was strongly steered by the authority.
Effective spending
No account of the transformation in Tower Hamlets can overlook resource: its schools received almost 60% more resource per pupil than the national average and higher levels of resourcing than almost all other London boroughs. It is easy to attribute success to high funding levels but money needs to be spent wisely.
External, integrated services
Through much of the period of sustained improvement, national policy encouraged local authorities to integrate services around the needs of the child. Tower Hamlets did this in a particularly effective way. In a relatively small authority, it was somewhat easier than in larger authorities to bring key agencies together, but huge progress was made in its key priority areas: reducing truancy, reducing NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) and in improving the performance of looked after children. All these were important in themselves, but they had knock-on impacts on wider attainment. In each case, the Authority led schools, and was able to bring them alongside, by virtue of the strength of its vision and the effectiveness of its delivery.
Community development and partnerships
Although Tower Hamlets has always had a strong community identity, in the years after 1998, community resources were mobilised effectively around education. Formal agreements were forged with the Imams from this largely Muslim community to counter the effects of children taking several days off for religious festivities or extended holidays in Bangladesh in term time.
Adults were welcomed into the school workforce: as many as half the adults in many schools in Tower Hamlets came from the community itself, developing strong relationships with teachers and school leaders. Some schools were developed into community centres, establishing extended service and providing resources and recreation for children and young people. The Education Business Partnership was particularly effective in building links with companies in the City of London.
A resilient approach to external government policies and pressure
Tower Hamlets’ leadership was consistently robust in its approach to government initiatives. In some cases – for example, early piloting of literacy and numeracy strategies – it was an enthusiastic cheerleader for government support; in others – for example in setting improvement targets – it wanted to be more ambitious than government advisers counselled, embracing London Challenge with enthusiasm. In yet others it rejected government pressure – for example, no Tower Hamlets school was converted to academy status between 2002 and 2010.
Our report has attracted wide attention – a double page spread in the Independent, and, strikingly, a feature article in Forbes magazine. That article bore the headline – not quite accurate like all headlines, but worth having anyway “How London’s failing schools became the best in the world”. Our conclusion was a little more measured, but we believe that Tower Hamlets has shown that it is possible to create superb urban schools in genuinely challenging circumstances.