Case Study: How are we ensuring a high quality curriculum during lockdown?

What lessons can we learn for the future?

Assistant Vice Principal

As part of the Big Leadership Adventure programme, Ed and I are working on a project exploring how we rethink accountability measures in schools. Rather than the top-down, heavy-handed approach to accountability which has been prevalent in many schools for many years, we want to explore ways of developing a collaborative model which empowers, rather than terrifies, teachers.

We began this project in February 2020 – then the first lockdown hit…

What should we be doing? How do we know we are doing it well?

The first lockdown was a period of crisis – there was very little support and schools were left scrambling to provide the best education possible in their context. Sites like Learning from Lockdown provided much needed support for teachers and leaders, but neither Ofsted nor the DfE gave any helpful guidance as to what provision schools should be offering.

The expectations of learning through this lockdown have undoubtedly, justifiably, increased. The DfE have released expectations for remote provision and teachers up and down the country have once again used their tenacity and expertise to adapt their curriculum and pedagogy accordingly. Schools have made their own decisions about the kind of approach they are taking to ensure they provide high quality remote education. There are certainly many more schools providing more ‘live teaching’ episodes than during the last lockdown. This provides fertile ground for reflecting on what really works for remote teaching and learning.

The recently released DfE framework to support schools consider their remote education provision suggests that  “The school has systems for checking daily whether pupils are engaging with their work, and informs parents and carers immediately where engagement is a concern.”  But what does engagement and participation really mean? Is it enough to sign in to Classroom or Teams? Is it satisfactory that students post comments in the chat or answer quizzes? What opportunities are there in our curriculum to provide children with the opportunity to complete work of value that has an authentic audience?  How as school leaders can we measure the impact of our offer, particularly given the removal of SATs, GCSE and A-Level exams this summer? How do we use this opportunity to put beautiful work created by our learners front and centre in any measurement or evaluation of quality?

How do we know what is best practice for remote learning?

In the classroom engagement is ‘easy’ (relatively speaking of course) to see. However, there has only been limited research on what works best for remote learning. Recent blogs have suggested that core principles for teaching are still crucial, such as clarity, review and prompt feedback. However, there is little evidence to suggest that a full timetable of live lessons works any better than a blended approach. What seems to matter is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning and whether pupils are given opportunities to interact with each other whilst learning.

There are also big questions for schools to answer about what works best for their pupils with SEND. During the last lockdown some teachers found that recording voice notes over powerpoint slides enabled pupils to listen to instructions repeatedly at their own pace so they could complete the lesson. Others found that these pupils did need one to one conversations about their learning often with parents to support and encourage their active participation virtually.

So, with this in mind, it is already a challenge for leaders to work to ensure high quality learning is happening across the curriculum and for all cohorts. However, we had an additional, enormous, challenge. We also wanted to ensure a high quality broader curriculum – a curriculum of the head, heart and hand.

Perhaps the most important question of all is what does remote learning look like if we value a Big Education?

Grappling with this question first will enable school leaders to ensure they’re focusing on the areas at the core of their mission and values. Measuring what we value, rather than valuing only what we can measure. In order to do this, we first outlined what we wanted to see in each aspect of our curriculum and then explored ways we might ‘see’ this during remote provision.

A small example is the table below:

What are schools doing?

How as leaders should we ‘measure quality’ now, and in the future?

Possibly the worst thing leaders could do at the moment is heap a lot of accountability and monitoring activities onto teachers shoulders, particularly when leaders themselves are probably the least experienced in remote teaching in the school.

There is an opportunity here to really involve staff in agreeing the standards for remote education. What does excellence look like in the remote teaching of Science? English or literacy? Geography? SEND support? Perhaps getting staff to start with a personal reflection on something in their practice they are particularly proud of or is going well would foster a sense of what excellence is within a particular aspect of remote education.  This is an excellent opportunity to ensure quality assurance starts with the staff, and a culture of openness and dialogue.

Our suggestion is you start from the bottom and work up. Including teachers and middle leaders in the design of the system will not only ensure buy-in it will be much more transparent. Lots of evidence suggests that increasing the diversity of voices involved ensures a higher quality system. Here is a protocol we would like to run as a starting point for our new quality assurance measures during this period of remote learning:

  1. What do we value? What do we want to get out of the remote curriculum?
  2. What are the things we are looking to QA?
  3. How important is attendance to live lessons?
  4. How do we think about the quality of interactions during lessons?
  5. How do we know how much knowledge is being retained?
  6. What is the role of parents during this time?

Once we have made these decisions as a community – we can then look at ways of measuring the effectiveness of our provision.

But, beyond the lockdown and when Covid-19 hopefully fades away, we will continue to work in this way – starting with our values, empowering staff and considering the broader curriculum offer, not just exams.

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