5 Things We Learnt At Learning First


By Andy Moor, NLE, Executive Headteacher of St Bernard’s Catholic Primary and Ignite Teaching School Alliance in Cheshire

1. There is hope

Everyone who left Chester uni last Saturday had a smile on their face. It was day of laughter, learning & inspiration but equally of hope. The #LearningFirst movement, now a year on, has truly led to some amazing things with national policy changed and conversation now so open with Sean Harford and other key professionals at the forefront of change. The aim to ‘put assessment back in its box’ has made great strides with many learning ‘firsters’ so inspired that they now never miss a conference.

Ros Wilson had us all laughing in the aisles last Saturday but she started with a sentiment that I would echo. ‘This is the most exciting time to be in education’. With the energy of Julie Lilly @Beyond levels, and the brave work of @AlisonPeacock and the Chartered College for Teaching, we have an opportunity to change our schools & learning for the better. Who wouldn’t want that?

Thanks to @MendoncaPen for this wonderful summary!

2. There is talent

Learning First gave folk another amazing opportunity to hear from the mercurial Pie CorbettMary MyattJamie PembrokeJames BowenRussell Hobby and Stephen TierneyMichael Tidd gave us his insightful and hilarious view on a post SATs world. Such educational amusement made me laugh as if I was at the Comedy Store on a Saturday night not Chester Uni in the afternoon!

Just as joyful though was the grass root talent that exists in our schools. The feedback from @EdFinch session was incredible as he shared his story telling curriculum across the school. At the request of my staff he’ll be coming back to the NW very soon! We also had our own Emily Reid from St Bernard’s who shared a superb session on how effective feedback and assessment using Balance has made a massive difference to the staff and children, as marking has been stopped across KS2. The impact on workload has been huge! Equally great feedback was taken from Tom Wallace as he shared his journey into doing things differently to get great results. Megan Dixon demonstrated the ace work that Aspirer is doing at the moment and @Smithsmm showed colleagues the reason why so many respect him on twitter circles. So much sense again embodied in his slide that describes the very essence of Balance.

“If our assessment isn’t honest the only losers are children”.

3. There’s still work to do.

People engaging with the Learning First movement and the Chartered College are still a fraction of the profession. I think many are too busy and under pressure to look above the parapet but they would get so much energy and inspiration if they did.

The sense that @jpembroke spoke on Saturday was simple as he said, “I can’t believe we’re still talking about levels”. His rampage through trackers and a reminder of why levels were removed in the first place helped us to see with clarity the flawed stability that still remains in the system for many. Equally, @MaryMyatt despaired as she said, “I can’t believe we’re still talking about ability groups”. This resounded across networks with her slide retweeted over and over again. It’s crazy to see that so many ignore the research to see the harm that this does as 88% of pupils never break free from groups they are first set in!

I think colleagues are often caught in the frantic nature of their school’s current world and don’t have time to see beyond this. We must therefore do all we can to introduce them to the good news of #LearningFirst.

4. Everyone should follow the rules

@simonkidwell opened the conference with a call to action as he asked us all to follow the rule of #LearningFirst. The first rule is to talk about Learning First. The 230 people in the room on Saturday shared the same energy but many times people talked of those colleagues not there to share the joy.

The second rule told us to tweet. I still haven’t met a colleague who, once starting to tweet has stopped and will shout from the hill tops the benefits of their new professional twitter network. I still encourage colleagues to get onto twitter but still find many don’t take the time. I really wish they would — they’d never look back. Simon’s excitement was at peak since the line-up of Band Aid in 1985 but I have to take exception to my likening to ‘The BoomTown Rats’. I actually quite like Mondays after all!

5. Leadership matters

In Tom Wallace’s workshop, Mick Walker said that one of the major issues at the moment is that leaders aren’t all seeing the opportunity that is given to them today. This links to the last point as people are so often corralled by fear. As Emily Reid changed policy at St Bernard’s to reduce markingassess in the moment and reduce workload, too many others will respond, ‘what would Ofsted say?’ Angela Spielman referred to this at the ASCL conference in March as she says,

“Ofsted can only go so far in mitigating the impact of inspection. School leaders need to justify your policies on marking, lesson planning and teacher evaluation on their own merits, rather than erroneously citing Ofsted ‘expectations’.This has to be a 2-way relationship. When we bust myths, we need you, as school leaders, to consign them to history.”

This is so true and the message at Learning First was clear to hear. Leaders no longer need to be brave to change things for the staff — just do it! They need to look above the parapet, look at the research, choose principled assessment approaches to make the change that will keep the best staff, hungry, fulfilled and ultimately in remain in teaching. What we’re doing at St Bernard’s demonstrates this.

The Chartered College will continue to grow and Learning First will continue to bang the drum. Next time bring a new colleague along to hear the good news and be part of the future. I guarantee it’ll be worth it for your children and staff.