The challenge to be outstanding

The bar has been raised – as the school just up the road from us found out on Monday afternoon when ‘the call’ came in and the next day, an inspector (or four) called.

The new buzz word is ‘progress’.

80% is the new percentage.

To be outstanding under the new framework requires 80% of lessons to be good or better.Not only this but 80% of students need to make 3 or more levels progress whilst in your care.

These are ‘hugely aspirational’ (the phrase used when trying to paint this picture in its most positive light) and even as a ‘good’ school, it can seem that this particular summit is out of reach.

There are resources out there to help respond to this new challenge …


… but there is no substitute for sitting down as a team and pulling together your own response to it.

This is what we did as a faculty last week. The only way that I felt I could sell this was as an initial response and that the outcomes would only ever be small steps in the right direction. We split into small mixed subject groups of no more than four and discussed what we could do to make the move to outstanding and how we could better share the examples of outstanding practice that we know exist.

What we emerged with at the end of our meeting was, I believe, an excellent starting point for our journey.

Clearly the points here are specific to our own situation and not necessarily immediately transferrable.

However, this is the first sketch of the map that we hope will lead us towards outstanding.






The 30 year affair – me and #HMV

Now would appear the right time to come clean.

For far too long, my nearest and dearest have been competing for my affections with another.

I have spent hours in their company and hundreds if not thousands of pounds on them. It seems however, that the other party is about to end the relationship first.

The announcement last week that the administrators had been called in at HMV came as a shock. Although more optimistic noises have been made ( in recent days, it would seem that the music store chain will not survive in its current form.

I think back to my first music purchase. It was Genesis Live on LP in 1983. Back then of course, sources of music were few and similar. A journey was involved. In fact often I would find myself taking the train into Birmingham to visit the larger record stores to browse the wider selection on offer. Then, following any purchases, the journey home would be full of anticipation. On my return, you would find me carefully slicing the cellophane covering the LP sleeve to remove the record itself, studying the artwork, examining the vinyl itself, noting the number of tracks, their width, information on the label etc etc (maybe this was just me …) It was all part of the experience …

I was in there today and (just for old times sake) went to the Genesis CD section and found Genesis Live. £6 and in the blue cross sale, so yours for £4.50. In 1983, I paid £2.99 for it – so relatively speaking, a real bargain.  And herein lies the well-publicised issue – price. Music is available so cheaply and in more instant formats, that the art of browsing the real physical item is a dying one. I even find myself going to our local HMV, seeing what I want, but then returning home to see if the download version from Amazon is any cheaper. In 1983, I didn’t have this choice.

The question may soon arise: where will I flee for refuge during the clothes shopping outing?

I hope not. If it does, one of the last audiophile High Street pleasures will be denied and my affair will officially be over.



The 20 year MFL journey

I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m now entering my third decade of language teaching. There’s something quite edifying to say that I’ve been in the profession for over 20 years. I thought that it was only ever ‘other people’ who had long teaching careers, but now my growing realisation is that I am one of ‘them’.

So, as we welcome another set of student teachers into our midst at school for their next term of teaching ‘practice’, it made me reflect a little on what changes I have seen in my own teaching over the last 20 years (and perhaps what I’d wished I’d known back in September 1992 as I took those fledgling steps towards the chalk face)

1) Smile, laugh and (yes folks) enjoy!

I was very much brought up in the ‘don’t smile before Christmas’ era. I’ve come to discover that you get the most out of kids when they realise that you enjoy being with them. It puts them at their ease and they are much more likely to respond positively to what you present to them if there is a smile adorning your face rather than a scowl.

2) Routine

Whatever your routines are, develop them and then stick to them. They will see you through the difficult classes, because even they will realise what you expect them to do at certain times. Lesson start: Boys / girls line up separately outside. One line comes in, then the other. Individual greeting for each student / checking uniform. Stand behind chairs in silence. Greet each other in target language. Sit down / register / lesson objectives written into books/ starter. Train them, train them well.

3) Expect the best

Always assume that the students will be able to complete the tasks you have prepared for them. Praise often, encourage when failure arrives and then always give a second redeeming chance.

4) Fun and games

I never did games at the outset. I was far more interested in ‘running a tight ship’. However, I’ve learnt that (correctly used) games can trick students into learning without realising it. Pass the Pigs is the perennial favourite ( and used in practically every class – students demand it. Played boys vs girls, we keep score for the entire academic year.

5) Creativity

The sky really is the limit. With languages, there are no boundaries. Give students the language manipulation skills and let them do the rest. Again, I used to strait-jacket them into using set phrases with little freedom. Now the challenge for them is to give me a sentence / sketch that ‘makes me smile / laugh etc.

6) Pace / Preparation

Non-MFL teachers who happen upon my lessons are often left wondering how we can keep up the pace for a full day of teaching. It’s what we do though. I feel that no activity should last more than 10 minutes and with quick speaking exercises / listening / sentence creation / pair work / group work / presentations / role plays / sketches / miming / actions etc, there are often more than 15 activities in any given lesson. It all sits on my desktop, prepared and ready to go ….

7) Technology

…which leads me on to the last one. ActivInspire software for Promethean is my main tool. All the links and resources sit within these flipcharts and the next activity is only a click away. I would be all at sea without my IWB. A long way from the roll-round blackboard and chalk of my probationary year …

There you go then. None of this is rocket science, but then again, one thing you can say for  MFL teaching is that it really is a case of the simple things being the most effective.