Packed to revitalise

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Materials from the KS3 strategy have the benefit of being based on teachers' practical ideas. Gerald Haigh strongly recommends them

A large pack of training materials - 3.5kg, since you ask - is arriving in secondary schools. A product of the key stage 3 strategy, it's called Pedagogy and Practice: teaching and learning in secondary schools. Your response may be "Not something else!". We all know that teachers have been worn down by initiatives.

But this one is different. Many years ago, I was an indifferent teacher - and, briefly, a middle manager - in a secondary school, left alone to make my own mistakes. And, boy, did I make them. Had someone given me this pack then, and - this bit is important - led me through it, relating it to our school and to my place in it, and to our boys and girls, then I would have become a different, more effective sort of professional.

The KS3 strategy tried out this pack around the country. In Coventry, for example, all 19 secondaries took part. Each had a school improvement group - a cross-section of interested volunteers. Each group focused on a particular aspect of pedagogy as set out in the pack, and then produced its own practical materials based on their work.

The result was a huge schools-produced resource that shows how the pack itself has been put into action in classrooms by teachers. This material - booklets and video - proves fascinating . The written report from President Kennedy school, where staff were concentrating on the modules "active engagement strategies" and "improving the climate for learning", includes a description of a teacher training day where staff taught lessons to colleagues, practising engagement techniques and lesson structure. Another report, from Barrs Hill school, gives lots of experience-based advice on "starters and plenaries".

Andy Fisher, co-ordinator of the Coventry project, is full of enthusiasm.

"It's been revitalising," he says, "And it's created a new relationship between the schools. So although the schools are naturally in competition, they're also collaborating now on teaching and learning. It's changed a lot of the traditional perceptions."

For him, and others doing support work, there's clearly a presentational challenge. "We started this dialogue with teachers, saying we want your input - but at the same time we seem to be saying 'We want you to do it this way'," he says.

The materials, he emphasises, are advisory: to be taken into ownership by schools and teachers and used in ways that suit them. It's not the intention to produce a state of affairs described by a head in another authority as "one where children go through the day having every lesson delivered to the same formula". As Andy Fisher says: "You can teach hanging from a chandelier - the test is to do with the learning that's taking place. What we're saying is this framework is here for you."

At Sidney Stringer school in Coventry, the pilot has changed the way that management works, says acting deputy Jane Flynn. "Faculty meetings are not filled up with administrative business now," she says. "There's always a focus on pedagogy, so we had one last year on questioning, for example, and the school improvement group was involved in that."

The pilot clearly went well. The risk is that when the packs arrive in other busy schools they may not receive the attention they deserve. That would be a pity, because there's material here that can be of direct benefit to those who are struggling. The trick is to get from the wealth of material the appropriate strands and ideas - ordering and organising them to meet school priorities. The key, as always, is the engagement of senior management. The pilot has gone best in schools where management has been supportive and directly involved.

"The structure of the booklets is that they can be self-supported study," says Mr Fisher, "but actually the need is for a member of the senior management team who can say 'This is where it fits in with our school's needs right now'."

Mike Evans, who led the project for the key stage 3 strategy, is aware of the issue and explains that there's a strong commitment to supporting its implementation, with courses for local authority managers and advisers this month, and then to school KS3 consultants in the new year. "Schools could take this on as a major project, with planned support over the next year," he says.

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