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The Perils of Back Seat Drivers!

This week in school I was visited by a company representative and her area manager. They had made an appointment to show me some new resources they had been developing. The rep was very interested to hear about the programmes we were using in school to deliver literacy and numeracy learning. I pointed out that I wasn't that interested in programmes 'as we preferred to focus on learning and teaching.' 'Oh, I haven't heard of that one,' was her response. I stopped myself from bursting out laughing and explained how our focus was on the learning and teaching experiences going on in each classroom, and with each teacher. I explained that I want, and have, teachers who know exactly where children are in terms of their learning and understanding. They then use this knowledge, their baseline, to help them plan for new learning that builds on this. These plans identify learning outcomes, agreed with the pupils, and would help them choose from a range of resources to deliver the intended learning outcomes. It was interesting to see the glances they exchanged with each other as I explained.

This encounter did set me thinking, as the rep and her manager were obviously a little taken aback by my reaction. It made me consider, how many schools and teachers were there out there who were still letting learning and teaching be driven by resources and programmes? These two company reps really made me think there were still many practitioners out there who thought this way. Teachers, and I, in the schools I work in firmly believe that learning and understanding should be the driver planning learning activities. I suppose, like a lot of schools and teachers, it is easy to be seduced into thinking what goes on in your school, and your classroom, is what goes on in all schools and classrooms, but I really thought that we had moved on from resource driven approaches in Education.

The rep also enquired about difficulties we might be facing with assessment of learning in various core curricular areas. Her company had produced a whole host of new summative materials, 'in response to numerous requests from schools and teachers.' Again, I struggled to understand what they were telling me. Of course I recognise that they had an agenda, but I was still surprised by what they were saying. I pressed them for a little more information and they informed me that their company, well known and national, had been told by by many schools and teachers that they lacked confidence in assessing learning in key areas, and they would welcome any resources to help with this. The area manager said that she would find some assessments very difficult to do. I offered the thought that that no matter what resource was being used, or what the activities were, any competent teacher should be able to devise suitable assessment activities that would allow pupils to demonstrate whether desired learning had taken place.

In my experience, when teachers really understand the learning process, and are supported and encouraged to do this,they can identify exactly where pupils are with their learning and understanding. This then becomes the starting point for the planning process which will identify the activities and experiences that will take their pupils forward with their learning. As part of this planning process, they will consider how to use both formative and summative assessment activities to support the teaching and learning process. They will also be able to identify the activities and resources that will also support the intended learning. So we have activities, assessment and resources being identified to help support and deliver the intended learning, rather than any of these driving or dictating the learning.

When this happens successfully, with skilled and reflective practitioners, learning is enhanced and deepened, and is recognised aspartame of a continuum of development for learners, and teachers. Possible reasons why such an approach might not be as widespread as I would like to think my centre around how demanding and difficult this approach is coated to just letting the resource, or the programme, or the activity or the assessment dictate the learning. This is not a quick and easy approach. It requires deep pedagogical understanding and subject knowledge, and more time. However, I would argue that such an approach is a key component of our professional responsibilities. Taking this approach does take time and headteachers and managers need to recognise the importance of this. If we are serious about deepening and improving the experiences our pupils have in school, I think it is an effort we all need to make.

Perhaps when we are all doing this we will be more likely for companies and reps coming into our schools and be talking about how they might be able to support us and our teachers  with the learning and teaching experiences we are planning for our pupils, in order to deepen their learning and understanding!

Then we really will be letting the learning be the driver of our practice, and consign everything else to the back seat.

By the way,  the two company reps left they said they would mark my record as 'Difficult.' And there's me thinking I was being helpful!

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