What did we learn at SUPER in 2014-15? Looking back, looking forward . . .

Guest post: Jennie Richards

In our final meeting of the academic year 2014-15, a wide ranging discussion by our school Research Leads and the Faculty Staff enabled reflection on our joint learning from this year’s work and the recent annual conference. This summary is designed to stimulate further ideas and discussion as we look forward to deciding the future direction of the partnership this new academic year.

Impacts of the annual SUPER Conference 2015

  • Dr Frank Cornelissen’s keynote speech on leveraging the potential impact and value of schools university partnerships was universally well received. In particular, the impact of closing the gap between educational theory and the practice of teaching was regarded as crucial. His ideas on networking patterns enabled schools to reflect on teachers’ networks in their own schools as well as across the partnership.
  • The focus on networking led to agreement about the value of creating more informal opportunities for teachers to meet and discuss practice (preferably with food available). For example, one school has created a breakfast “bacon butty club” before school to facilitate such discussions.
  • Schools have also used information from Frank’s research to identify core people in their schools who are influential in promoting improved practice and enquiry, and also which teachers seem to be more on the periphery. The group discussed ways to use this information to improve engagement of all staff.
  • Communication and dissemination issues raised by the conference prompted ideas for embracing social media to encourage teachers to write more about their developing knowledge, research and reflections. Other written formats such as journals, updates, or brief papers similar to the BERA Insights series were mentioned, along with audio- visual products like podcasts, posters and DVDs. The real challenge for busy teachers was, as ever, the space and time to produce them. However, all recognised the need to raise the profile and impact of SUPER in these ways.

What have we learned about “Closing the Gap”? (between the performance of Pupil Premium Pupils compared to other pupils)

This has been the joint umbrella project for all schools in the partnership, with schools both exploring what the gap or gaps might be, as well as researching the impact of interventions designed to “close the gap”. As is often the case with research, as many questions were raised by the enquiries as distinct findings discovered.

  • Homework

How effective is the homework set in terms of improving learning?

If pupil premium pupils find homework more challenging than other pupils, how can it be changed to close rather than widen the gap?

Does the non- completion of homework lead to negative impacts on pupils’ relationships with teachers?

Why is homework set by teachers without more opportunities for student ownership and self- management?

How does a fear of “getting it wrong” impact on pupils’ homework and more general engagement with learning.

  • Parental and pupil engagement

Engaging parents of vulnerable pupils soon after school entry was considered key by schools researching in this area. One school had introduced a successful café culture style drop in coffee morning for parents, teachers and pupils to meet more informally to discuss learning.

Pupil premium pupils were generally found to be less engaged with the school, their learning and extra -curricular activities. There is a sense in which education is done to these pupils rather than them having an active and participatory voice. Engaging pupils as learning partners with other pupils is a successful technique, as is seeking their opinions on how they are taught. One school found that pupil premium pupils did not like being given model answers, because they did not seek to gain grade As, preferring to be just given what they needed to pass their exams.

  • Aspirations of pupils and parents

The importance of understanding and challenging the aspirations and expectations of both pupils and their families was seen as important for closing the gap. New ways to support vulnerable groups need to be found, in particular regarding their mindsets, building resilience and reducing their fear of failure. It should be noticed that teachers can learn as much from intervention that do not work as well as those that appear to do so.

  • Communication, not literacy

Schools working on interventions related to literacy highlighted the importance of leadership in this area. Projects which actively involve pupils working together worked well, as did projects which focused more generally on communication skills rather than purely literacy. It was evident that primary and secondary teachers have much to learn from each other in this area of teaching, with clustering teachers to share knowledge, projects and understanding being fostered in partnerships such as SUPER.

Where next?

SUPER is currently undertaking consultations between its partners regarding its future direction. There is a strong feeling of optimism and enthusiasm evident amongst the research leads and the Faculty staff. It is to be hoped that this new academic year, 2015-16 and the years to come in SUPER will be as interesting, vibrant and engaging as this one.

Jennie Richards, Emeritus TRL

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