As a head I want to do all that I can to enable a happy school and ensure that our children have the time of their lives, love learning, and are inspired and aspirational.
I rely on our teachers to make this happen. Recently I have found myself focusing on nurturing their wellbeing and asking how we enable teachers, as well as pupils, to ‘love learning, be inspired and aspirational’? How can we get the pride and passion back into the profession and use it to have a positive impact on teacher recruitment and retention? One of the aims of CPRT, wellbeing, can help here. Lately we have been prioritising this aim to help us to consider how to re-engage our learning communities with the benefits of a broad and rich curriculum.
Eighteen months ago Seabridge became the lead school for the Keele and North Staffordshire Primary SCITT (KNSPS) and as part of our recruitment drive we’ve been creating an advertisement with our children focusing on what makes a ‘marvellous’ teacher. We have used Neil Baldwin (Nello), who comes from Newcastle under Lyme, and is the subject of a BBC award winning film Marvellous as our inspiration. His story is inspiring and the film is a great tonic.
In its final report, the Cambridge Primary Review recounted (pp 147-50) what children told the review team they looked for from their teachers. Similarly, and inspired by Neil Baldwin, our children have come up with their own versions of the ‘marvellous’ teacher. When they think of Baldwin they speak of optimism and a ‘can do’ attitude. The staff at Seabridge have been moved by our children’s expectations of the profession. These have made us pause and take a moment to consider not only what makes for a marvellous teacher, but through the endeavours of such teachers what makes for a marvellous curriculum.
On reflection, and this should not be a surprise, Neil’s story and our children’s hopes have many connections with the aspirations of CPR and CPRT for an effective and purposeful primary education. The CPR/CPRT aim of wellbeing is about attending
… to children’s capabilities, needs, hopes and anxieties … and promoting their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and welfare … Caring for children’s wellbeing is about inducting them into a life where they will be wholeheartedly engaged in all kinds of worthwhile activities and relationships, defined generously rather than narrowly. It is about maximising children’s learning potential through good teaching and the proper application of evidence about how children develop and learn and how teachers most effectively teach … It requires us to attend to children’s future fulfilment as well as their present needs and capabilities. Wellbeing thus defined is both a precondition and an outcome of successful primary education.
As a CPRT Alliance School, we have developed links with Keele University and KNSPS. This has led to a series of research breakfasts for senior leaders. Both KNSPS and the research breakfasts have focused on the wellbeing of staff and children alike through a broad and balanced curriculum.The research breakfasts provide much needed time to sit and think, discuss and reflect. They have helped to rekindle my passion and confirm why I love teaching so much. At each breakfast we consider a research paper from CPRT. Our most recent event focused on the curriculum and assessment, with a discussion of Wynne Harlen’s CPRT research report on assessment, standards and quality of learning.
We considered how best to prioritise the time to deepen our subject expertise across the entire curriculum. Subject expertise has been recognised as an essential ingredient in being a good teacher by evidence from CPR and many other sources. (Children themselves told the Cambridge Primary Review team that ‘good teachers know a lot about their subject’). We agreed that teachers need time for reflective practice and opportunities to discuss pedagogy and share ideas practice as without this they cannot build professional resilience. The ‘culture of compliance’ criticised in the CPR final report (pp 495-6) has, for many, stripped away their informed creativity, so why don’t we apply to teachers those CPR-evidenced principles that we know are so very enabling for our children?
To achieve this we must invest time and energy in nurturing the well-being of our teachers, so that they can continually develop their professional knowledge and expertise across a curriculum informed by disciplined creativity, one that is broad and balanced while also mindful of teachers own wellbeing.
At Seabridge we have been focusing on fine tuning core subject planning and delivery and refining our marking and feedback to allow us to deliver a curriculum which is more relevant and engaging. We have been busy prioritising and taking the opportunity to highlight the aims and purposes for each subject in order to ensure we have a curriculum which pursues key strands rather than merely a busy curriculum ‘full of stuff’.
This won’t be a quick fix, but the evidence of CPR/CPRT helps us to base our work on informed evidence rather than simply a sense of what works.
After so many years of compliance teachers need to know that it’s acceptable to draw on their passion and pedagogic repertoire, not just the ring binder. Using the aims and principles of CPR and CPRT has encouraged us to move forward in our thinking. It has given us the language to use in order to enable and engage teachers, explore CPR aims such as pupil wellbeing, engagement, empowerment and exciting the imagination.
For school leaders, a culture of engagement and autonomy is needed alongside a level of trust based on professional dialogue. If we don’t allow time for this to happen our teachers might as well be programmed robots. We need to invest the time to build relationships between teachers, teachers and children, teachers and leaders and teachers and the curriculum: everyone needs to feel valued and relationships in a school are paramount if we want to foster a climate of trust. If we don’t get this right nothing will flourish. Children, curriculum and teachers all need nourishment.
Our research breakfasts give leaders in our locality the time and space for thinking , while reading and discussing CPR/CPRT evidence gives us collective energy and a license to explore, and being informed deepens our sense of well-being. If our teachers to grow and become those marvellous teachers that our children deserve they need such opportunities, living their conviction to support and justify a rich curriculum which provides the breadth and balance, inspiration and thirst for lifelong learning that our children need.
In this, school leaders must be the role models. Notwithstanding OFSTED grade descriptors on outstanding effectiveness of leadership and management, take heart from how one of our children put it: ‘a child’s mind only explores how far a teacher allows it!’ This is very close indeed to that famous Cambridge Primary Review quote (final report, p 296): ‘Pupils will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are expected merely to do as they are told.’
So come on leaders, let us lead with optimism and imagination to ensure our teachers have time to grow and flourish, develop their subject knowledge and cultivate their passion. We know that a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t deliver what children need. At Seabridge we started by making time for research and professional dialogue between teachers and school leaders, and made their wellbeing a priority in the school development plan. Teachers are the essential ingredient for ensuring our children succeed. Mind you, if Neil Baldwin has anything to do with it our school will have no teachers left! He has already signed one of our teachers up to play in his football team.
Sandra Mitchell is headteacher of Seabridge Primary School, Newcastle under Lyme, and a member of CPRT’s Schools Alliance. Seabridge Primary School is within CPRT’s West Midlands network. If you would like to support the development of the region’s activities please contact the coordinator, Branwen Bingle.