Agreeing with Ofsted!

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When teaching full-time in secondary education I always wondered what it would be like to be part of a school where all staff shared a common view on how best to help their pupils reach their potential. Indeed, as a parent you see the potential in your own children from the moment of birth, and recently having had a daughter leave school at 18 I am beginning to appreciate what it’s like for an individual. But a whole school community …

Well on the 25th April I had the great privilege to visit just such an institution. My colleague Sarah Seleznyov, had recommended that Hugh Myddleton Primary in Islington, was committed enough to be accredited as a Let’s Think School for their work in mathematics. What I did not know at the time was Ofsted inspectors would call after me. So with the benefit of hindsight I will include some of the extracts from their inspection report to give you a flavor of what I encountered that day.

The school’s emphasis on pupils mastering key mathematical concepts and thinking deeply is having a very positive impact. It enables pupils, including the most able, to question, talk about their learning, work together and solve problems. Throughout the school, pupils grapple with mathematical concepts and problems that require them to think deeply and articulate their ideas. Well-founded approaches are used in every classroom, supported very effectively by the mathematics leader, to ensure that all pupils have the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to succeed. Leaders have worked exceptionally hard to emphasise and develop pupils’ thinking skills. This has been particularly successful in mathematics, where teachers plan very effectively to develop pupils’ problem-solving skills. The school has recently been recognised and received national accreditation for its work in this field. Teachers and teaching assistants are skilled at asking questions that extend pupils’ learning, giving pupils time to think for themselves and respond.

The above is inspirational, with the school thoroughly deserving its ‘Outstanding’ judgment but what I saw that April day can best be described as a family; a collection of people all keen to share their learning with me. Over the years I have had the pleasure of visiting and teaching in many ‘Outstanding’ schools but at every level this community was striving to challenge themselves to be the best they could be. From the dining hall to the staff room, staff shared the importance of their Let’s Think Maths lessons. The walls were full of displays from lessons I love such as ‘Jelly Babies’ and the children I spoke to were keenly aware of how the Let’s Think lessons are just one, essential, part of their educational diet. Although I had a sort a script to focus on, our discussion diverged as the pupils shared their thinking experiences with me. One child spoke passionately about a lesson that had made them think in Year 2, despite now being two years older!

At every level, from the Head to the support staff, this school is using the Let’s Think approach to develop a thinking dialogue that ensures learning is spoken about thought the day. They have found a professional tool that enables them to respond to the needs of their pupils as they all seek to reach out towards higher levels of attainment.

For me it was so lovely to find, in Islington that day, what I had been looking for (sorry U2) but also not to get trapped into the circular argument of ‘We just do not have the time to allow them to think as there is too much content to teach’. In Hugh Myddleton they are focusing upon getting the conditions for learning right and with such a foundation in place everything else, as you can see for the inspection report, will fall into place.