With a more creative and flexible secondary curriculum on the horizon, Rebecca Patterson and Debra Kidd explore what it could mean for CPD
At the launch of the new secondary curriculum in 2007, Dr Ken Boston, head of QCA, declared: ‘The traditional approach to covering the syllabus has been exhausted, it has delivered all it can. It can do no more.’ But with the new curriculum opening up more creative possibilities, what could a new approach to CPD look like? The Chrysalis project, which has been running in Wakefield for several years, may point the way.
The importance of collaboration
How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top
, published in September 2007 and also known as the McKinsey report, presents a seemingly obvious conclusion: ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.’ When presented this simply, the response can only be, in the words of Homer Simpson, ‘doh!’. But the writers of the report are fully aware of the apparent simplicity of the conclusion and they cannily present us with some key follow-up questions: ‘What is a good teacher?’ and ‘What can governments do to recruit, train and retain these teachers?’ While not fully addressing the former question, the report’s authors did manage to outline some interesting models for the second. They pointed to Finland and Japan, both which invest in planning time for teachers, focusing on collaboration and building into timetabling shared sessions for joint planning and reflection. As the report quotes, kenkyuu jugyou, or ‘lesson study’ in Japan informs CPD to the extent that ‘when a brilliant American teacher retires, almost all the lesson plans and practices that she has developed also retire. When a Japanese teacher retires, she leaves a legacy.’ This process of collaboration, of observing each other, of planning lessons together, of team teaching, and, crucially, of reflecting on experiences and adapting practice in response, sits at the heart of purposeful CPD and, interestingly, at the heart of pedagogical thinking. This is the thinking that is underpinning assessment for learning, the new secondary curriculum and the emphasis on creativity in the classroom; it is a logical extension that it should form part of the rationale of teachers as learners in this fast moving educational landscape. From 2008 all secondary teachers will be delivering the new secondary curriculum which will give them more flexibility to organise learning, and, excitingly, to pursued cross-curricular links. There will be a significant shift away from knowledge-based assessment models to skills-based learning, embodied in the personal learning and thinking skills framework. There is little doubt that the ideological and pedagogical foundation stone of the education system has shifted and this is a global picture, but where does that leave the classroom teacher? And where does current CPD provision sit within this landscape? What opportunities currently exist for teachers to work in this collaborative and very personal way? How is a school’s CPD budget best spent to develop excellent classroom practice?
McKinsey and Company are not the only ones advocating a practical collaborative approach. In October 2007, the House of Commons select committee on education and skills reported back its findings on the role Creative Partnerships (CP) had played in developing and promoting excellent teaching in schools. CP has been criticised in some quarters for its early work, which involved parachuting artists into schools for project work, which, while enjoyable for children, had no lasting impact on teachers and in some instances deskilled teachers who were left feeling that creativity was something best left to ‘experts’. Professor Guy Claxton, eminent academic and author, describes this kind of experience as ‘tinsel in the curriculum’ (2005). In its latter years, however, CP has undergone a key shift in thinking, linking the work of artists and teachers in a much more collaborative and sustainable model; one in which each draws on the other’s expertise and builds into the curriculum sustainable plans and schemes of work which can be led and developed independently within, and by, the school. This best practise was praised by the select committee as ‘valuable’ and they recommended that:
‘Creative Partnerships should consider ways in which mentoring of teachers by creative professionals, and of creative professionals by teachers, could be further encouraged – for example, through the introduction of short, structured sabbaticals for teachers’ (2007).
Creative Partnerships itself was set up partly as a response to the Ken Robinson report All Our Futures as long ago as 1998 and there have been many well documented collaborations aimed at developing creativity since then. One such initiative was the DfES regional partnerships programme, set up in 2005 to embed the best elements of Creative Partnerships practice into non CP regions.
The birth of Chrysalis
One of the successful bidders for this work was Wakefield local authority, which already had strong creative credentials. It was one of the few local authorities to have embedded creativity into its children plan. There already existed a thriving network of schools working in a creativity cluster and the authority had a policy of appointing advanced skills teachers for creativity in its primary sector. (Intentions to extend this to secondary were hampered by a lack of candidates.) After it was chosen as a pilot authority for the regional partnership programme, Wakefield decided to appoint an external project manager to oversee and develop the work. Integrate Education had experience of working with CP and its directors were trained teachers, offering an empathy with schools and staff in earmarking and developing CPD opportunities which would be purposeful and realistic in terms of time constraints and other pressures. With these issues in mind, the Chrysalis project was born.
A non-traditional approach
Senior managers and teachers in secondaries sit within a particularly rigid framework of curriculum constraints and are very time poor. The new secondary curriculum could offer a way out of this situation, but if it is to be embraced, teachers must have time to reflect, respond, plan and crucially, to take risks. Dr Ken Boston said that the traditional approach to the curriculum could deliver no more. The Chrysalis programme aimed to look at what a non-traditional approach might look like; to address issues surrounding time out of the classroom and the impact this form of CPD had on pupil experience, and to place CPD within the classroom, delivered to real students in real time, in real rooms, with real teachers and artists working together to explore the impact of a more creative pedagogical approach (see case studies). As the project draws to a close, the results are overwhelmingly positive. There are the predictable gains of increased levels of engagement, of confidence and of self esteem. But there have also been gains in achievement, particularly in the areas of writing, speaking and listening and particularly in the cases of boy’s writing. In addition, teachers have noted their own gains – in their capacity to take risks in their planning, slowing content down in order to allow deeper learning to take place; in building cross curricular links; in developing more creative approaches and in working more collaboratively. Many schools have graded this impact as radical. All have at least noted a significant impact. The case studies given here offer just a taster of this work in action.
Drama in education
What sat at the heart of the pedagogy at Kingstone School (see box above right) was a belief that learning takes place within an emotional, social and human context. It turned to the world of drama in education as a pedagogy for teachers to frame and drive the learning inherent in all these disparate subjects. It was interesting in the Chrysalis project that the vast majority of schools also chose drama as their focal point for collaborative planning. Using drama to optimise learning is not a new concept. For centuries, educators have used dramatic activities to deepen conceptual understanding by ‘living through’ the experience. While the general drama objectives have been honed into the theoretical package of ‘drama in education’, many current theories of teaching and learning, combined with an increased awareness of social diversity, corroborate the need for embedding drama practice in general education. Many would argue that these essential skills should have always been at the heart of good teaching but we are now in a situation where this sits within not only the National Curriculum but as a key strand in the Literacy Strategy at primary level. This has fuelled an unprecedented demand for CPD in drama in education. As we can see from the Chrysalis project, the emphasis is on the creation of a coherent and integrated curriculum that allows children to experience meaningful, connected learning with the arts as a central framing device.
Creative practice in your school
In all of the case studies we see contrasting examples of one-off projects and systematic change within a school. Where your school sits will depend very much on culture and capacity, on the attitudes of managers and staff, on time and on budgets. What all the schools in the project have realised though, is that the effort pays dividends. Chrysalis is not the only project that encourages the development of collaborative and creative practice. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust have also, for some time, been promoting similar approaches through its Creative Lead Practitioner programme which can be accessed on their website. If you are interested in developing similar work in your school, the following tips may be useful:
1. You need a strong senior management team commitment to providing the space and time to plan effectively.
You need good quality support if you want to work with an outside partner. Organisations like Creative Partnerships, Integrate Education and Artists in Schools can provide useful links to tried and tested practitioners (see useful links below).
3. Try to find a common theme or link to bring subjects together. We’ve found that issues of global significance like ‘climate change’, ‘child labour’ and ‘poverty’ create rich pickings, as do topics centred around conflict and issues of social identity. Think carefully about spaces, encouraging a flexible environment both within and without the classroom.
5. Pay attention to the significance and the creation of resources – build a bank of what initially might appear to be random items which can be adapted in creative exploration into a number of props. Similarly, build a knowledge bank of resources and let the students find the information they need for themselves.
|Case study: Kingstone School, Barnsley, 11-16 Community Arts College Kingstone school in Barnsley formed the inspiration for Chrysalis. In 2005 the school piloted a new curriculum for Year 7 which merged the subjects of English, drama, PSHE, RE, history and geography, into one topic based subject called cultural studies. Initially the course was trialled with half of the year group and when the evaluations found significant gains in student’s confidence, oracy, attendance, engagement, levels of achievement and thinking skills, it was rolled out across the whole year group. Teachers were given opportunities to attend external training events. However, the key investment was in employing Integrate Education to come in and work alongside teachers in their normal working day, planning, teaching and reflecting together for two days a week over the first two years. Matthew Milburn, the headteacher stated:
‘There is no other form of CPD which will offer such a significant impact on teacher’s confidence and ability to effect change, because they see it happening in their classroom, with their students and within the same context that they have to work in. It’s been the best value for money the school has had.'
He qualifies this, adding: ‘You have to choose your mentor really carefully. They need phenomenal pedagogical understanding, they need strong interpersonal skills – to recognise that this is a partnership and not a didactic process. Getting the right person was crucial.’
|Case study: Kettlethorpe and Kings Secondary Schools, Wakefield Both Kettlethorpe and Kings schools in Wakefield decided to target Year 9 in the period following SATs tests, where many schools find it difficult to motivate and challenge students. It is common practice in schools to begin GCSE work as a way of engaging the students but this leaves problems for those subjects which don’t sit in the core curriculum. Both schools, therefore, devised projects which would integrate subjects, allow for a creative experience and collaborative learning and which would allow students to feel that school was a valuable experience outside of the examination system.
Kings was allocated an artist to work in partnership with the maths, MFL, media/English, history and drama departments. The artist, Ben Willets, a lighting and sound designer from Q Light, set up a learning environment in the drama studio and worked with staff to plan and devise an integrated approach which would allow students to experience a ‘felt understanding’ on the theme. The generation of the theme formed the basis for the first meeting. It had to resonate and have relevance for all departments while having scope for flexibility. After some discussion, ‘The Second World War’ was chosen. The meeting allowed staff from different subject areas to share their own approaches and it became clear that there were many overlaps between the skills demanded of children in their own subjects – particularly for example, empathy, working together, problem solving and research. Pulling these commonalities together, and brainstorming possibilities with the artist formed a key CPD opportunity to create meaningful links that still met the learning objectives inherent within the separate subject areas. This introductory planning process fulfilled the key scaffold structure of National Curriculum planning – namely to start with an engaging and relevant activity (in role, this can be almost any situation), to support the activity by reinforcing existing and essential new knowledge (vocabulary), being presented with a problem to be solved which forces students to organise their thinking and then taking on board the activity and subsequent reflection. Staff reflected on the benefits that working with other teams brought in terms of developing this thinking and the insights of other staff based on their own subject knowledge and experience. They then planned that after a debrief, the students would enter the main learning environment – the drama studio, where the artist and their maths teachers worked together with the students to construct air raid shelters in semi darkness, using the knowledge and understanding they had of angles. The drama team supported in constructing role and situation, bringing the two subjects together. Once these were constructed, teams were given supplies of food and asked to organise rations which would last a prescribed amount of time, and feed a certain number of people. Tensions were high – the calculations had to be done within the impending threat of attack and there were many constraints – there simply wasn’t enough food. The students found this a frustrating experience and this was contextualised by discussion about how it would feel in reality. They were able to connect their frustrations with the situation rather than the task after this contextualised discussion – a key reflective element of the learning. Staff observing this commented on how the artist used the environment, particularly the light, to add extra tension and constraints into the task, developing a sense of urgency in students which went beyond a simple time limit. This was something they felt might be valuable in developing ordinary single subject lesson plans too.
Rebecca Lunn, the school’s Chrysalis coordinator said ‘All staff commented on how they enjoyed working in other subject areas. Strategies have since been adopted in lessons- maths for example – using strategies to open up more classroom discussion.’
The team of teachers decided to allocate each other clear roles in the process, with the artist pulling the outcomes together to shape a presentation. At daily brief meetings, staff would get together and share the progress in their sessions so that others could pick up on and develop ideas generated elsewhere, so the family trees became incorporated into the design of the notebooks and into the writing and into the final performance work. Teachers involved spoke of the importance again of being able to share ideas and draw on each other’s experiences and skills which were much more varied than in individual departments, but most of all they spoke of feeling ‘re-energised’, ‘connected’, ‘creative’ and ‘inspired’ by each other and by the students. It was as if this were a symbiotic process with the learning taking place as a shared journey and staff felt much more confident in saying to students ‘I didn’t expect that – it’s changed what we were going to do – what would you suggest?’. The process became negotiated.
As one member of staff said: ‘I feel so tired but invigorated at the same time. When we started I thought I’d made a mistake – it’s hard to motivate yourself when it’s the end of a long year and you think that you’re doing something extra while others are starting to wind down – but in reality no one winds down and this has left me feeling more positive about myself, my relationships with students and more confident in my ability to for plan creatively in the future, that it’s worth being tired.’
Useful web links
Rebecca Patterson and Debra Kidd are senior lecturers in education at Manchester Metropolitan University