The council where all eyes are on `Visible Learning'

28th August 2015 at 01:00
John Hattie's research is now template for CPD in Midlothian

Improving professional practice is central to the work of many teachers across Scotland, but one local authority is adopting a whole new approach to CPD - by using the world's largest-ever education research project.

Midlothian Council is taking the methodology explored in John Hattie's 2008 book Visible Learning and rolling it out across the entire local authority.

Believed to be the biggest and most ambitious analysis of education ever completed, the meta-analysis by Professor Hattie, pictured below, includes data associated with more than 80 million students and took 15 years to complete. It concludes that the most effective way of improving education is to boost the quality of the interaction between pupils and their teacher.

Professor Hattie's work also provides a framework for schools to evaluate teaching and learning, and to identify successful practices. Following this lead, Midlothian began to organise professional learning sessions showing teachers how to use these methods in their own schools. A year on, the council's head of education believes that every school has had some exposure to the research.

`Creating change'

Midlothian's principal educational psychologist, Sarah Philp, who helped to bring Professor Hattie's ideas to the local authority, told TESS that although a number of schools in England used Visible Learning, Midlothian's whole-council approach was unique.

Ms Philp explained that the council had decided to use Visible Learning when it began to consider ways of raising attainment, adding that it was not just Professor Hattie's research that appealed but also his methodology. "It is focused on creating change," she said. "So we looked at what it could offer us, and what it could help us achieve. To me, it is about Curriculum for Excellence, and what we are doing to deliver that."

Ms Philp said that the Visible Learning ideas had made staff in Midlothian "focus and really look at what we are doing". She added that effective evidence-gathering was crucial, allowing teachers to track progress. Pupil voice was also important, she said.

The council-wide policy was allowing "collaborative expertise" to develop, she added. "There are a number of schools using it, but they don't have that collaborative and professional dialogue. This is about the small things that we do every day to contribute to this approach."

Last week, a conference held by the council to help embed the ideas further attracted more than 500 teachers, including 150 learning assistants and support staff.

The council's head of education, Grace Vickers, said: "It is down to us realising that if we want to improve education, it is about the teacher in the classroom. We are focused on CPD."

She said the move had allowed teachers to "see the work they are doing and how much pupils are progressing".

In context

Cuiken Primary is one of the schools in Midlothian that has adopted Visible Learning. Headteacher Joanne Taylor said the research was embedded in the school's improvement plans for the next session.

"We have taken the Visible Learning approach and have made it fit our school, which might look different from another school. We use it to suit our context," she said.

Getting the feedback of pupils was important, Ms Taylor added, as was developing a "language of progression". She said that teachers had canvassed the views of students, and that there had been a marked shift in the three areas the school had focused on in the first year.

She added: "Children are also much more aware now of where they are in their learning and where they are going next. But there is still more to do on that."

Gathering evidence was one of the essential aspects of the approach, Ms Taylor concluded, and helped teachers to understand "whether what we are doing is making a difference".

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