The world is your problem. Connectedness is your answer.

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine September 2015]


With the new year comes the new curriculum; an opportunity to be bold and brave in the ways that we challenge and support learning. Many schools have used this opportunity to explore and extend learning beyond that required by the new curriculum; finding innovative and exciting ways to glue together new and existing subject content.


With the new national curriculum comes also another step on the journey of our nation; improving mutual understanding and respect between people both young and old. Increasing empathy between diverse communities. Equipping children and their families to communicate effectively with a range of people in a range of places. Developing an articulate vocabulary which utilises the opportunities that our globalised world provides.


“Our new curriculum is not just about implementing the changes that have been made by government. It’s about linking our local school curriculum with the new National Curriculum, and ensuring that it all connects together in such a way that reflects the real-world, international, global, context that our children live in. We have a local, national, international curriculum”.  


One Simple Question. The Curriculum is the Reply.

One of the many ways that networks facilitateschallenge and support is by bringing school leaders together to share practice. A recent session including leading Executive Headteacher Michelle Thomas from Grazebrook and Shacklewell Primary Schools, London[1], explored International Mindedness across the curriculum stemming from simple yet significant entry questions such as ‘How many countries have you had connections with since you woke up this morning?’ These simple questions open up meaningful, personalised dialogue so that children think about the journey of their breakfast ingredients and economics of their clothing material, the social-history of their family furniture, and the recipients of the morning’s social media exchanges, amongst so much more. Schools at this workshop discussed learning catalysts including children with families members around the world overlaying family trees with maps in order to think deeper and more rigorously about what living in a different country or culture really means – moving beyond the surface level learning that can sometimes be seen in Geography (where children’s knowledge of a country or culture is just a cursory tour of their 5 F’s; Food, Fashion, Festivals, Flags and Famous People). For example, one of the outcomes of a recent project at Grazebrook Primary School in Hackney was this interactive display which as well as an outcome of children’s work also provides a personal and human entry-point for further learning conversations between children after the lesson and project. Each child appears with their home country seen in the map behind them, and sound buttons with children’s recordings about their home and host countries. These are great for prompting dialogue between children and can be used as a living display with changing stimuli around the edges depending on events and prompts of significance; both internationally but also of personal significance to the child and their peers.

From a simple question, and a simple activity, stems such a rich tapestry of learning opportunities both for personal and local learning, to community and global learning.


The mutual relationship between Global Learning and Student Impact

There is a correlation between schools who provide deep and meaningful global learning for children with schools who also enable children to understand themselves effectively as learners. Meaningful Student Voice is interwoven with the principles of a globalised education, and the combination of these two things empowers children to take responsibility; for themselves and for their wider world.


Armathwaite Community Primary School ( is an Expert Centre for the new Global Learning Programme (GLP), supported by SSAT[2]. GLP is a national programme that is helping schools to embed effective teaching and learning about development and global issues within the curriculum, and as an Expert Centre, Armathwaite received funding, training, local support and resources to help other schools inspire their pupils by embedding global issues into their teaching. This is in part achieved through a series of 8 ‘Twilight sessions’ that the GLP Expert Centres hold with their Partner School network. At Armathwaite Primary School these sessions are led by a combination of both children and teaching staff; participating in activities as an equal; demonstrating; and through informal conversation. Armathwaite wanted to involve the children in meaningful way, reflecting their ethos of ensuring children are at the heart of all school development choices.


Twilight sessions explore concepts such as interdependence and sustainability in a global context and in order to generate meaningful dialogue and learning experiences, ‘Philosophy for Children’ (P4C) principles were used[3]. A group of children sat in a circle, with the teachers forming a second circle in a ‘goldfish bowl’ format to engage with, and start discussion based on a catalyst resource such as a poem or image. As one of the attending schools commented, ‘Experience of a P4C session in action, gave me many ideas. Thinking about my own understanding of the concepts, and ways in which I can approach concepts with children.’ Another attending school leader reflected that this style of professional development was invaluable; ‘I particularly valued the activities with the children – it gave me a much clearer vision of what could be achieved’.



Caption: Pupils engaging in a P4C enquiry observed by teachers


It is very much an emerging trend that where a school vision embodies a passion for a globally emcompassing curriculum, there is also a heavy emphasis on ‘Student Impact’. By centring school improvement around how to better equip children for their futures; through skills, knowledge, understanding and personal philosophy, the curriculum necessitates having a global dimension. More now than ever before, these connections from the classroom to the continents have significant and every-day impact on children’s lives, and in turn provide both motivation, engagement and context across subjects and catchments.


For more, visit and download a copy of the Primary Get Started with GLP kit.


Planning for Global Learning and an International Curriculum

With inspirational programmes and approaches such as those outlined above, new approaches to curriculum planning and assessment are sought and used. Particularly in the light of the new accountability measures, many schools often ask how for guidance about implementing such programmes.


In the Summer Term, Leszek Iwaskow HMI, the Ofsted National Lead for Geography joined a group of schools brought together by SSAT and the Royal Geographical Society, and raised some key points to think about when planning and implementing the new curriculum. These are just a few, and relate to geography as a subject, but as other Ofsted national leads that day agreed, the principles apply well beyond geography;

  • A skills based, integrated curriculum, often leads to geography becoming a context for learning in other subjects;
  • Pupil’s knowledge of places remains weak in a majority of schools, and locational knowledge is particularly weak. Often schemes of work are incomplete or poorly planned because of high turn-over of subject leaders;
  • Achievement is generally better in EYFS and Key Stage 1 with particular good use made of the outdoor environment. Fieldwork skills are less well developed than other geographical skills, especially at Key Stage 2, and little or no geography may taught in Year 6 until after completion of national tests.


Some of the suggestions from a workshop to address these challenges included:

  • Use more first-hand experiences to prompt learning, as part of every-day school activity – think about how the spaces that you have inside and outside of your school can be used more effectively to engage children with thinking and talking about the world around them- not just through displays or bespoke equipment. How do your spaces facilitate or restrict children’s exposure to diversity? Simple ideas include small group working areas surrounded by unusual sensory planting (both good and bad scents!) to prompt vocabulary extension, or multiple fishtanks with contrasting species or creatures in them to catalyse comparisons and thought provocation. A number of schools across our network are creating rooftop classrooms and learning spaces – not just newly built schools but also older and more traditional buildings with limited groundspace (unlimited vertical potential)! Another simple example shared by one of our schools was to use diverse-but-everyday-sensory stimuli – such as children working all day barefoot in the classroom with sand and soil on the floor, to prompt their discussions about aspects of living in contrasting locations. Many school leaders share examples of how specific spaces around the school are used for specific activities or lessons, but how much more effectively could your usual classroom be used by adding unusual stimuli or sensory catalysts? A good place to look for ideas is the Learning through Landscapes charity who have a number of booklets to prompt thinking about alternative uses of space (
  • Engage with the subject specific curriculum and assessment resources available from subject associations to ensure that every class and year group see appropriate challenge, support and progression. There are a vast array of resources available – for example through the Royal Geographical Society ( and Historical Association (
  • Network with schools with similar curriculum design but contrasting locations or buildings to see how principled curriculum design doesn’t need to be constrained by practical attributes of your school estate. Rebuilds or refurbishments can often be catalysts for change, but SSAT’s Primary Network has a vast range of schools with stories to tell about huge progress and achievement leaps being made ‘on a shoe-string’. As a number of headteachers recently observed, sometimes not having a budget for something can make our minds focus more sharply on what it is we are aiming for and what it is that we are seeking to achieve as an outcome which in turn makes the planning and execution of school improvement better align with the impact that it seeks to achieve. There are a number of Innovation Tours, Curriculum Open Days and school-to-school sharing twilights coming up across SSAT’s Primary Network this term – come and join us.







Deep roots of moral purpose in school

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine October 2015]

The importance of being earnest: two school strategies which have roots deep in moral purpose

As the brilliant systems leader Anthony Alvarado often said, “isolation is the enemy of improvement,” and with tighter budgets restricting the extent to which school leaders can get out of school, creative approaches to collaboration are becoming increasingly common and increasingly popular. School networking has grown significantly in the last  few years, partly because of the high-impact and creative approaches to bringing schools together to work in partnership; through joint research, sharing practice, exchanging resources and providing a valuable combination of challenge and support. Here are a few examples of inspirational schools sharing strategies.

The Compass Partnership[1]:

By focusing on behaviour, to what extent are we implying that we don’t actually ‘expect’ our expectations?

The Compass Partnership is a soft federation of five primary schools with very contrasting communities. All schools are successful and achieve highly through a shared vision and set of values which not only underpin the work of the schools, but are deeply and sustainably embedded within the culture within and between the schools across the partnership.

Listening to the terminology used to describe behaviours within the learning environment at Compass schools, expressions such as Restorative Justice, Culture of Conversation and Diligence occur with consistency. This kind of focus on equitability between children, and in the interactions between children and all adults; not just teachers and leaders, is both profound and purposeful. John Camp, Executive Headteacher of The Compass Partnership describes “the environment as an illustration of what the school values”, and walking around the schools it is absolutely tangible to see the partnership’s values deeply, and consistently, embedded.

It is within this context that the schools across the partnership have made an educated and strategic decision to develop behaviour, learning, and learning behaviours all without the use of reward systems – instead focusing on creating a powerful and sustainable culture of conversation. As values-driven schools, the presence and exemplification of what is important is found in every space – for example carefully structured learning spaces which focus the mind on specific aspects of learning through visual and evocative display. Display that celebrates but also challenges and extends – not just through reminders and questions but through powerful imagery or purposeful use of lighting. Precision is found everywhere; from books to wall mounting; clearly communicating the importance of visible and tangible high standards, and all adults – not just teaching staff – are trained and supported with the tools and vocabulary for structuring conversations, phrasing challenge and providing support, in such a way that exemplifies the values themselves.

This subtle yet overwhelmingly powerful and positive use of the environment is what empowers the schools to move beyond traditional behavioural systems – so that every interaction between child and child, child and adult, or adult and adult, is embraced by a cultural familiarity – a culture of conversation. This approach empowers every individual to become confident with the tools of resolution such that the school’s gift of learning transcends academic results

  • Key Question: Thinking about your school reward system; to what extent is the giving of your rewards inferring that good behaviour (or work) is being recognised as an exception, rather than an expectation?

Christ Church SW9[i]

Seek first to understand. Then, be understood.

Christ Church SW9 is magical place – described by visitors as feeling more like a home than a school. This is a special place, with an ethos of finding solutions in the most creative and inspiring of ways. But the magic of Christ Church is not just about the breathtaking artwork displays, the pedagogy of the outdoor learning or the exemplary approaches to managing behaviour. Instead, the special ingredient is the love that the children, staff and families have for their school – which for both visitors and those who attend everyday feels more like a home.

In talking about Christ Church SW9 it doesn’t feel right to refer to the staff as leading, because listening to the Headteacher Jakki Rogers, her leadership team, learning mentors, teachers and artist-in-residence, the vocabulary that is used all stems from a genuine belief that the school community – children, families, staff – are a one big, extended, unique family. It’s all about ‘we’, and all about addressing challenges which for the children translate into real impact on social mobility. Walking around the school, it’s clear that every member of staff knows every child’s name and most importantly their story. Christ Church SW9 really is a school where everybody matters – children, staff, families.

Through this introduction one could be easily forgiven for thinking that this is a school with a plentiful budget and countryside setting, but Christ Church SW9 brings diversity to the table. Situated in Brixton with high levels of social challenge, and a plethora of families where only some have access to FSM and PP funding, this context is not an easy one. But the solution for this school has been the SLT expectation that every child and adult should know and get to understand each other.

The focus and emphasis is about understanding each individual child and then the dynamics of groups of children. Staff have developed skills which utilise Kagan methodologies and counselling techniques amongst other influences. Strategies are undertaken only after deep observation of contexts; of watching children’s behaviours, learning, and learning behaviours – focusing on individual children, then groups of children. Only then, once a deep understanding of the dynamics has been ascertained, are strategies planned and implemented.

  • Key Question: To what extent are individual children’s learning behaviours and group dynamics part of the observation process for intervention and curriculum work in your school?

Christ Church SW9, in the most challenging of circumstances are achieving what they, the school and the government want them to achieve but through their own vehicle. Central to the school’s mission is the importance of experiential learning; being outdoors growing and measuring a plethora of vegetables, cooking on the roof in the pizza oven made by the children, developing vocabulary inside a greenhouse made entirely from empty drink bottles. One of the most striking features about the Christ Church approach is that rather than depend on huge sums of money to resource all the creative projects they aspire to undertake, emphasis is very much on ‘making something from nothing’ which has resulted in a number of significant impact ripples. First, that children and their families are seeing ways to be creative with everyday objects, and how to achieve projects on a shoestring. Second, that the focus of all resourcing is absolutely and unapologetically about the learning rather than about the vehicle or the resource. One of the most creative thinkers is Jules Rogers who leads on Outdoor Learning development who explains the impact of this way of thinking on the children; “I love doing these things; making something out of nothing, being creative – and that shows the children that it’s possible and that it’s about learning, and that it’s exciting, and then they develop a passion for these practical, lifelong skills”.

Last but not least, one of the unique features of Christ Church SW9 is the Art Academy that takes place with carefully identified children across Years 3, 4 and 5 who have been identified as benefitting in one of many ways (eg; children recently bereaved, children for whom their English is very limited, children who had witnessed crime). As Hannah Littlejones; Artist in residence says “Children respond really well to have the chance to work in smaller groups. These times develop really meaningful dialogue and relationships with the children, and for them with each other. It focuses the conversations, through art, onto caring, sharing, having pride, recognising leadership and responding to it all – the loosest sense of Christian values – and how they can be made relevant for children who often are from such extreme backgrounds”. The Art Academy projects, in simplest terms, use art stimuli as a counselling vehicle; delving into the philosophy of what’s happening and the emotions that stimuli create “we don’t draw an image about going to the moon – how would they know what that’s like – they’ve never been to the moon – but they can be part of dialogue about love, fear, hatred, everyone has felt these emotions – and we can translate these emotions into art through collaborative pieces”.




Finding that extra 1%

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine January 2015]

Finding that extra 1%, and changing aspirations of children and families

Here, we share with you an introduction to Raynham Primary School and its inspirational headteacher, Marva Rollins OBE, and a small insight into the ways in which the team have transformed not only the school but the community around them.

Raynham Primary School is one of the largest primary schools in the country, situated in Edmonton in North London. Raynham’s intake is over double the national average on deprivation indicators, and includes children from the most challenging of backgrounds; including families who have arrived here from warzones and children who witness crime in their home or community on a regular basis. There are 37 ethnicities represented, 54 languages spoken, and whilst there are 81% children for whom English is an additional language, sometimes there may be only one child that speaks a particular language in the school. It is not unusual for a child to start at Raynham perhaps aged 8 having neither attended a school before, nor with any English language.  Yet last year Raynham was in the top 10% of school nationally for their KS2 attainment, and top 3% for progress, and that has risen in 2014 with over 99% of children achieving or exceeding expected levels in Maths, and over 92% in English. This is a school which is humbling and inspiring in equal measure, and from which every school across the country – whatever the context – can learn.

Marva Rollins, Headteacher of Raynham Primary School explains the journey to this school’s success; “21, 275 of Enfield’s children are in families who are in receipt of out of work benefits, and there are 3,501 children in Enfield who have at least one parent in work yet are still living in poverty. But, whilst these are indicators of poverty, this doesn’t mean that the school should adopt a deficit model”.

“We are always looking for what we can do – what is the one thing that we can do that will make a difference?”

“We are always, always, striving those 1% gains – in absolutely every single thing that we do. It means finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything that you do”.

“We are a team that says; What would happen if… What would we need to do to get to….  What else can we do? We are very much a team of great thinkers. Our children need us to do this for them so that they can succeed”.

“Think about the reality of our position in our society. People don’t have high expectations of the children in Edmonton – no one is waiting for them to help them run the country.  But, they deserve us to believe in them. And we do. Think what a difference we can make if we do succeed. We can change the futures, the aspirations of these children and their families”.

For the team at Raynham, their passion and commitment to raising standards of attainment and aspirations for their children is rooted deeply in their understanding of the community and context of the school. Visiting the school, the vocabulary used to describe children, families and the school’s activities is consistent and is loaded with a sense of equality and togetherness. It is often difficult to determine where the school ends and the community begins, and this deep knowledge of the myriad of factors affecting children’s ability to learn is used powerfully and effectively.

It is a powerful lesson to us all to reflect on how deeply we really understand the communities within which our children live. Do we articulate our understanding through the language of RAISE or the language of the community? How do we act on our understanding in such a way that makes a real, tangible, and positive impact on the children and their families?

The enabling power of language

“For us, for our children, our journey starts with language. Our children, when they arrive with us – at whatever age – have to learn;

  • English as a means to communicate
  • English as used by the community – so that they are choosing and using appropriate language for their home lives
  • English of learning in the classroom – so that they can access the curriculum”

“We know it takes 9-10 years to reach the final stages of learning a new language and that this is in parallel to the 7 years in a primary school, so we have to think deeply about how we give each child the language that they need to succeed, despite the challenges that they face outside of school”.

Given these challenges, Marva’s view about the role of the school is simple and clear; “If you choose to come to Raynham Primary School, then you deserve to have a good day in school. Even children from the most challenging of circumstances embrace the environment that we provide for them. Because they know we care, because we love them. They don’t feel safe on the streets but they feel safe here”.

This feeling of safety, of knowing that the teachers and school community really and deeply care for each and every child at Raynham makes such a huge difference to what can then be achieved. Recently, a visiting group of headteachers from across SSAT’s Primary Network, witnessed what the Raynham team refer to as ‘Grammar Seminars’ (see photo below), which consist of 120 year 6 children, all in the hall together for 30 minutes, absolutely captivated by a single teacher who was resourced with no more than a paper flipchart and a pen.


Every single one of those 120 children were fully engaged, fully participating, and fully able to access the learning underway. Every single child was making progress with their language development, and every single child behaved impeccably. But even more remarkable is when you think about the catchment and context that all this takes place within.

It has taken great dedication and perseverance by staff to introduce Grammar Seminars not just to Year 6 children, but throughout the school, every week, and the impact that this has had on the children is profound, not least that the school are well above the national average in their results.

Marva explains her view of the role of the school as being absolutely central to the community, and that belief being at the heart of making such a huge difference to so many lives; “We can’t sit around wondering why our parents will not help their children. If they could then they would. Those who can do. So we need to help our children. They’re in a tough little environment but we can make a difference”.

“For example, we have breakfast booster classes where children eat and learn; not just Year 6, but many children, every day from 8:15am. These children then get the right kind of start to their day”.

“Every child in the school has fruit, and every child has a water bottle. We keep bread and food on site so that if a child is not getting fed at home we can feed them. We have families who need to access food banks, but sometimes pride can be a barrier, or the time it takes to access the food bank means that these children are hungry, so we keep food at school so that they are cared for straight away. We have a charity that supports us with funds enough to be able to do this, for which we are so grateful”.

Leadership: of the School or the Community?

Raynham is also a hub for community support that extends far beyond education which Marva explains “Community Services come here, into our school and our pastoral team close the gaps; we have midwives, library service and classes for parents amongst others. The staff leading these have responsibility to identify the neediest families, and to help parents to help their children to learn– so that the families are supported in helping their children”.

One of the things that is so striking about the gentle, and unassuming yet powerful leadership which Marva provides to the community is the dedication and commitment to solution-finding. Marva does not see problems. She sees situations that need a solution, and this belief has permeated throughout the school at every level, and has transcended the belief into a culture where ‘anything is possible’. Significantly, the schools leadership team recognise that to lead the school, they also play a significant role in leading the community.

Consistency and sharing: vocabulary, data and solution-finding

Put simply, you wouldn’t hear the staff of Raynham talk about problem children, targets or Ofsted. There is a shared, consistent and powerful vocabulary that gently focuses on the expectation that for Raynham children, solutions need to be found – through a shared responsibility for seeking them out. Marva explains “We have had to learn all kinds of things to enable these children to succeed; ranging from restraint training to learning support to social intervention and pastoral programmes. It is the responsibility of the year group to ensure that the children attain well, and the responsibility of the leadership team to enable them to receive the support that they need to make sure that this happens – whatever that takes. The earlier we close the gaps the better it is for the children – that’s why we use teachers for interventions. We spend a lot of time looking at the huge range of data that we collect – what is the gap that means that child has not succeeded in a particular area, and then we spend a lot of time talking through with the child to understand what it is that has led to the problem, or misunderstanding or gap, so that we know exactly what intervention they will need, and how best to make that happen”.


For more about Raynham Primary School, visit

Why together we are greater than the sum of our parts – The Brindishe family of schools

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine April 2015]

Beyond Outstanding: Why together we are greater than the sum of our parts



Led by the remarkable Executive Headteacher Dame Vicki Paterson DBE, each school has its own personality, community and staffing including its own very able Headteacher, but there is a very distinct set of values which bring the schools together to serve their local and shared community of children and families. Each of the individual schools; Brindishe Lee, Brindishe Green and Brindishe Manor have blossomed into Outstanding schools from very different starting points, and significantly, each school has a very different ‘feel’ to it; one being very close-knit community school, one a traditional local family school and one an exciting global village school.


There is something very unique about the ways in which the schools work together; attributing their individual and combined success to a strong set of values and shared beliefs which keep a clear focus on children and their learning, working non-hierarchically in close partnership and collaboration, building creativity and securing a rich and engaging curriculum, and recognising that strength can be found in diversity and difference.


“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”

As well as the practical benefits that scale brings such as shared resourcing and bulk ordering, the mindset of all staff is of working across all 3 schools and this permeates both professional and practical activity – sharing knowledge, skills and capacity – not just through leadership and teaching but through premise, business and support staff. Professional development, training and INSET includes all staff across the schools with many moving between the schools as they develop their careers.


A relentless focus on Children and their Learning

Teachers are empowered to focus on teaching and constantly and consistently focus on key questions – how does this child in my class learn, why do they need to learn this, what’s the best way for them to do that, how will I know when they have, how can I make that sharper/better. The wider team from Headteacher to housekeepers, technicians, attendance staff and support staff play clear and powerful roles in allowing teachers to focus on teaching, and children to focus on learning.


A curriculum for life, not just for the school

Brindishe Schools share a curriculum that they designed and wrote forthemselves. It is one which recognises that the children across the schools are a very diverse group of learners, and that communities can learn to live and share with each other. Linking this from local specifics to their mantra that ‘The world is my classroom’ has been intelligently and diligently planned and enabled. Introducing the curriculum the schools explain that ‘in order to learn what we need to learn we must look beyond the classroom and our own school and take responsibility not only for ourselves but for the progress and well-being of others’, and this can be clearly seen in both the organisation and delivery of the curriculum itself.


From year 1 through to year 6 the Brindishe curriculum is organised into six areas of learning – building on the strengths of Early Years – and the inference of each curriculum area shows how vitally the Brindishe community see the links between the classroom and the wider world;


  • Communication, Languages and Literacy
  • Maths, Economics and Enterprise
  • Scientific and Technological Understandings
  • Creative and Expressive Arts
  • Historical, Global, Social and Spiritual Understanding
  • Physical, Wellbeing, Health and Lifestyles


These areas of learning each have their own focus which clearly link the area of learning with the impact it will have on children’s learning and lives, and each area then has a set of ambitions that will be achieved for every child over the course of their time at Brindishe, and clearly identified content through which these ambitions will be enabled.


What is striking about the Brindishe curriculum is that it incorporates both local, national and international curricula and mindedness, but also that it is relentlessly focused on children developing the skills, knowledge and understanding that they will need for their lifelong journey – of which only a small part relates to national assessments and expectation.


 “Its all about the children and their learning”


Seeing this curriculum in practice is insightful, inspirational and invigorating. Staff have very clear beliefs about how to best enable children to learn, for example;


  • Creativity is seen through every day experiences in everyday learning – not just in specific areas of learning – through outdoor activities, bringing nature’s materials into the classroom, vocabulary, questioning or sensory stimuli.


  • Collaboration is an expectation – with cross class partnerships, students supporting students, parents being supported through home learning, the use of space for small groups as well as the myriad of staff collaboration and children’s group activities such as play and arts leaders, young interpreters, tea parties and team building work.


  • Environment is understood as a tool – with intelligent use of physical spaces within, around and outside of the schools, as well as robust and powerful uses of display ranging from working learning walls, positive postcards, modelling and learning tools. The schools have unique ways of using every available space for learning, ranging from gardens and forest school spaces, shared open plan learning zones and atria to rooftop astroturfed games areas. They create different kinds of learning areas for different kinds of learning. The schools are beautifully resourced and have adopted the William Morris sentiment that everything in the classrooms “should be either useful or beautiful”.


  • Consistency is critical – and this underpins both the curriculum, expectations of children and staff, precision of the learning environment and interaction between people across all of the schools.


  • Everyone matters, and together we are more – there is a deeply embedded culture of respect and responsibility within both children and adults across the schools, with children given significant responsibilities and staff working non-hierarchically within and beyond the classroom.


The significance of relationships in the ways that Brindishe Schools have grown together is not to be underestimated. For example, the shared curriculum was developed by a group of 30 staff from across all 3 schools, first establishing shared values and then what to evolve to suit the very diverse range of needs and backgrounds of children from across the family. Parents and governors were part of the review process, and teams rather than coordinators then led specific aspects. The approach to developing the detail of the curriculum was diligent and innovative – identifying the tasks that needed to be undertaken and identifying who wanted to help and who could support the task in part or full. This non-hierarchical approach has made a huge impact on the mindsets, sense of community and consequent learning, and is reflected also in the Governing Body who meet for tea and eat together before meetings and then work across all three schools with shared roles and responsibilities focusing on tasks and outcomes.


Lessons for us all

There are key messages here for us all in whatever role or context – and what is striking about Brindishe is the way that across 3 very different schools, the same success journey has been undertaken carefully and sustainably. With Brindishe featuring in the top 10% of schools nationally it is clearly a formula that works for children, staff, parents and the broader community.


Perhaps take a moment to reflect on some of the words which underpin activity at Brindishe – Collaboration, Consistency, Relationships, Environment and Creativity – to what extent can we enable and empower these in every child, every colleague and every moment in our own schools?


Fiona Aubrey-Smith


Improving Writing: The vital role of Values

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine February 2017]

Improving Writing: The vital role of Values


When in discussion with headteachers across the country about practical school improvement actions, the challenges around improving boys writing are frequently cited. There are many ideas and strategies now in place that are addressing the gender imbalance, but there are some which go far deeper and probe the very origins and foundations that underpin writing for all children. Here, Fiona Aubrey-Smith shares some practical ideas from headteachers and class teachers, as well as a look at the deeper approach of one school.


Simple ideas

One of the most important prerequisites to writing is of course language; both the ability to articulate orally thoughts and ideas, but also having a wide and varied vocabulary – specifically, a palette of words which relate to the subject matter.

Gathered from a range of schools across the country, you might like to try some of these creative and imaginative ways to broaden vocabulary;

  • In every day conversation with children, aim to explicitly use one new word in each interaction – even children entering Foundation Stage love to hear and then use new words; the more unusual the word is the more likely they are to reuse it themselves! It’s also a great exercise as a teacher to expand our conversational vocabulary. Often the additional words that we use relate to topic or foundation subject areas rather than conversational lexicography. You might share a school wide wordlist or staff-word-of-the-day to get started with this. Some schools use online word of the day resources such as and as prompts (you can even sign up for free emails sending you the word of the day as a reminder).
  • When starting a session or transitioning to an activity, try using photographs of profound or inspirational images, or unusual artifacts from nature (shells and nests are great for this kind of activity) and ask children simply to share a word relating to it, or a word to describe how they feel when they see or hold it. From this initial wordbank expand to include a broader vocabulary by using a thesaurus, and leave these enhanced wordlists on a display. Such an activity only needs to take a minute or two and can be a great one when photos are displayed on the board whilst children change for PE for example. The wordbanks are often remembered by children as they are not limited to a single lesson, and can build up as a great display over time (this links brilliantly with Philosophy for Children –
  • Bearing in mind that children can only use the words they have seen or heard before, the key is to introduce new words to the group as well as sharing words within the group. For children who are put off by the scribing of new vocabulary and the handwriting and spelling difficulties it can bring, try using voice recognition thesaurus tools. Some schools that use iPads and iPods have been using the voice activated tool Siri – children can just ask Siri to ‘give me another word for …’
  • For EAL children, particularly those who are more able but face the barrier of EAL, try exploring ideas in their first language and then undertaking literal translations of what they have said or written. This can be very helpful as a tool for expanding English vocabulary because in many languages translations are more of a ‘best fit’ approach to matching words. By translating the child’s original ideas the sense of imagination and sophistication remains, and the process of translation opens up a superb opportunity to identify, through conversation or with the help of a thesaurus, an additional palette of words which could be used.


Going Deeper 

At St John Baptist (Southend) CE Primary School in Lewisham, around 80% of children are from minority backgrounds and over 46% of children speak English as an additional language, which are unfortunately often contexts that give boys (and girls) an even greater challenge to achievement in writing. However, led by the inspirational John Goodey, executive headteacher, this outstanding school bucks that trend and consistently empowers children through accelerated progress and high attainment. Consistently in the top 10% of schools for writing attainment nationally, and with higher attaining children nearly three times the national average last year alone, the leadership team believe that this is largely about their approach to the building blocks of learning.

Relationships are at the heart of the ethos at St John’s with children and staff talking deeply together and establishing a shared vocabulary prompted by values. John believes that by focusing first on values, and then by building an irresistible educational experience on top of these foundations, children grow both a breadth and depth of vocabulary to use in their writing, as well as the skills and attributes that they will need to become resilient and successful learners for life. John passionately believes in this values centric approach;

“In our society boys are (wrongly) often not expected to communicate as much as girls, and compounding this challenge is that boys generally acquire language at a slower rate than girls. This places boys at a disadvantage from the start, so we need to find creative and irresistible ways to break down those barriers and enable every child; boys and girls, to become articulate.

In order for boys to experience early communication success that will then shape and inspire their engagement in learning, it is important to fill them with language. Specifically, they need language that will help them to make sense of the world around them. Once they have this environmental and sensory wordbank they will be able to expand their ideas and consequently their understanding grows exponentially”.

St John’s is now working in partnership with St Mary’s Primary school, also in Lewisham. This values-based approach has now been implemented at St Mary’s and has been fundamental to the raising of standards there.

So what are the practical steps that John recommends? How can other schools achieve this ambitious vision?

  • At St John’s and St Mary’s our children are immersed in our twenty-two values. Each value is explored in depth for a month which ensures exposure to a huge range of related vocabulary and the ideas that are connected with it. With value words such as Respect, Friendship, Kindness and Perseverance acting as starting points for discussion and deep thinking, links are easily made to other related values and to other aspects of language. By monthly immersion in each value we also ensure that the language is not just used in isolated discussion, but that the vocabulary and its meanings and practice are embedded through sustained repetition across school life, and through a range of voices; both children and adults. It’s vitally important that building vocabulary doesn’t just happen in isolated subject areas.
  • The learning that takes place across our schools is real and multi-sensory and we use reading, writing, art, drama, music, RE and the broader curriculum to explore our values in meaningful ways. Consequently, values are seen as multi-sensory and multi-disciplinary, and this ensures that every child has the opportunity to find a way to access the meaning of each value in a way that is familiar, engaging, challenging, inspiring and comfortable to them.
  • As children move through the school, they explore each value word every two years; broadening and deepening their personal understanding of each value and developing their own moral compass along the way. It’s easy to think of progression in-year but meaningful progression for children will be more sustained and applicable when its embedded over a longer period.
  • As with any area of learning, children will make greatest and most sustainable progress if they understand and own their own learning journey. We found the use of Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power great for developing children’s meta-language for learning. If you haven’t already explored this, look up the four learning powers; resilience, problem-solving, collaboration and reflection.
  • We further add to this through a raft of ‘learning muscles’, and related words and phrases. This meta-language is used as a constant resource when reflecting on learning and teachers continually exemplify these words in the course of their teaching.
  • We encourage children and focus on developing their confidence in the use of meta language and in the process of reflecting on their learning.  Over time they take ownership of their learning and invest self-belief and effort when engaged in new learning.

We believe that this structured approach to developing values and learning about learning helps boys – and girls – to become confident learners.

John has written and spoken extensively about his pioneering Values led Education work, and recommends a headteacher reading list including;

  • Berger, R, 2003. An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Heinemann.
  • Berger, R, Leah Rugen, L., Wooden, L. 2014. Leaders of their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment, Jossey-Bass.
  • Claxton, G. 2002. Building Learning Power: Helping Young People Become Better Learners, TLOL.
  • Dweck, C. 2012. Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential
  • Hattie, J, 2012. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Routledge, 2012
  • Hawkes, N, 2013. From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values, Independent Thinking Press.
  • Wiliam, D, 2011. Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press.



Fiona Aubrey-Smith is Director of One Life Learning, sits on the board of a number of MATs, and is Vice Chair of Governors for a maintained primary school.