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So, Just What Are The Benefits of Adopting Enquiry Approaches to Individual and School Development?

In my last post I wrote about some of the key steps to consider when undertaking enquiry approaches to individual and school development. In this, I wish to share the benefits of such approaches as identified by ourselves and others. We have been using this approach for over four years now, and the reason we are so committed to the continuation of this is because of the benefits brought to our learners, each teacher and the schools in which we work. We also think there are benefits for the system of education and other schools and I touch on some of these at the end of this piece.

Attainment and achievement has risen for all our pupils. They have greater understanding of their learning and this is deeper than we were previously able to evidence. Pupils are more informed and engaged in their learning and have clearer insights into their strengths and development needs. They are more able to articulate where they are in their learning and where they are heading next. They are becoming more and more active participants, helping to shape and determine their own learning with the support of their teachers. Their ability to transfer learning across different contexts has improved as they are more able to identify and make connection in their learning. We have stronger performances across literacy and numeracy as we have created 'space' so that learning and understanding have been given more time to become deep and embedded.

We have begun to see evidence, from our school screening activities, of improved benefits for our lowest 20% of attainers. Five years ago we struggled to get many of these pupils to make even one or two month's progress in terms of reading and spelling ages. Now many of them are making five,six and more month's progress over a school year. It's probably still too early to definitely attribute this to teachers becoming enquirers into their practice, but it does mirror findings of Helen Timperley and colleagues working in New Zealand, and potentially very exciting.

The learning and teaching experiences have improved for all our learners. They are matched to where they are in their learning and they reflect the seven characteristics of curriculum design articulated within Curriculum for Excellence. Every child gets quality teaching time and input from their teacher and this is focused on developing their understanding and improving their learning. These experiences are progressive, yet remain responsive and flexible to how the learners respond within different learning activities. Learning is engaging, allows for personalisation and choice and promotes dialogue and collaboration. Learning remains exciting for our pupils and they have more confidence and resilience in their attitude and abilities.

Every teacher has developed their practice, and deepened their understanding on how they impact on learning in the classroom. They are more able to identify individual pupil learning needs and barriers they may be facing with their learning, and are now more able to address these. They are able to make the connections between aspects of learning visible to learners and link classroom learning to the real world. They also see how better to connect and manage all the important facets of school development. They see collaboration as an essential part of their practice, and professional dialogue as the currency of their own development. They recognise the importance of using data and evidence to inform their practice, and how to collect and analyse this from within their own classrooms and elsewhere. They now see leadership in its widest sense and are adaptive and reflective in all their work. Some very much have 'inquiry as stance' as articulated by Marilyn Cochran-Smith. They have a different attitude to career-long professional learning, understanding how this is best when seen as a disposition and just part of 'what we do.' They understand that the best CPD is something identified by themselves and addressed collectively, done by them not to them. As Knudd Illeris would say, 'their learning has become truly transformative, because their identities have changed.' They have changed personally and professionally.

The two schools I lead have developed greatly from where they were five years ago. We have improved our curriculum. We have developed our pedagogies. Our planning is more focused, more flexible and is seen as a collaborative activity. We use a range of assessments to support the learning of our learners, and we very much do this in a proportionate and manageable way. The amount of paperwork we use has actually reduced. We are able to report to a range of different audiences and use a variety ways to demonstrate the progress we have been making. Our School Improvement Plan is also smaller, but it connects all the areas we need to focus on and allows us to deal with these in a holistic and managed way. Learning and teaching have very much become the main drivers for what we do and we understand how everyone needs to be involved in the continuous process of growth. We see how most of the issues we face we can best deal with ourselves, through collaboration and co-operation. When that may not be enough, we know how to go about collaborating with others to further our growth. We no longer search for 'silver bullets' or panaceas but recognise that it is the relentless focus on improving everything to do around learning and teaching that is the only strategy that really makes a difference for all our pupils.

So, we have benefits from our approach for learners, teachers and the individual schools, what about the system? My experiences, and my reading and engagement around this, for over four years now convinces me that there can be, and should be, benefits to the system as a whole from wider adoption of enquiry approaches. This is also recognised by Graham Donaldson's 'Teaching Scotland's Future', the GTCS Professional Standards for Registration, Career Long Professional Learning and Leadership and Management, and by Education Scotland. It is supported by research from around the world and by academics across the globe. If we are really serious about 'closing the gap' and 'getting it right for every child' then I feel we all need more reflective, adaptive and enquiring professionals throughout the system. Then we really might have systemic change that will have positive impacts for all our learners.

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