Rejecting catch-up: Recalibrating and responding beyond the pandemic

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
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How many pupils want to be told – repeatedly – that they are behind? It’s not about ‘catch-up’, but ‘recalibration’ says Sean Harris. He reports on what this looks like at Bede Academy in Northumberland and what our priorities should be, both this term and next academic year


We are probably now familiar with the routine of translating muffled verbal responses through face-masks in classrooms, although some of us are still to master the art of the self-test swab without invoking the gag reflex. Recalibration to this new normal will take time.

What should our priorities be moving forward this summer term and into the next academic year from September?


Priority 1: Recalibrating together

“How many children want to know that they are behind or that they have missed vital segments of learning?” asks Rachel Scott, Bede Academy’s assistant vice-principal for professional development.

“The priority for all teachers at Bede is about supporting pupils to recalibrate to classrooms and recalibrate their love for learning in the physical classroom.”

The leadership team has worked with staff across the school to consider what a responsive approach to teaching and curriculum delivery looks like. They were uncompromising in their language – it’s not a recovery, it is about responsiveness.

Back in March, staff were given two days of CPD before phasing all pupils back into the school site; working independently and alongside colleagues to think about the actionable steps that adults would take to ensure classrooms are inviting and that lessons engage learners.

Curriculum leaders are continuing to work closely in their teams each week as part of designated collaborative planning time (CPT) to consider what it means to have a responsive teaching approach, responsive curriculum and responsive culture in their specific subjects.

Principal at Bede Academy (secondary), Andrew Thelwell, added: “Our community is important to us. The wellbeing of children is paramount, but so too is the wellbeing of every staff member.”

Andrew and the team have given weekly reminders to staff for free counselling via an Employee Assistance Programme, drop-in sessions with wellbeing team members, and regular feedback surveys to discern the pain points for staff.

Leaders are aware of how hard staff have worked and the resilience shown throughout the pandemic. This makes listening to staff all the more important.

He continued: “Listening has to be a core priority for us moving forward. In addition, leaders have considered carefully the flow of information and email traffic; being mindful not to overwhelm staff, pupils and members of the community.”

A weekly ebulletin is sent with a short video outlining the key messages for the week that will help the school community recalibrate together. A weekly reflection is also offered that captures both the Christian values of the school while providing space for pupils and staff to consider their wellbeing and to think together as a learning community.


Priority 2: Talking about teaching

The pandemic gave us face masks and hand sanitiser, but it may have also presented new opportunities to reconsider what happens in our classroom and beyond.

Leaders are open to change. Andrew Gendler-Watson, Bede’s assistant vice-principal for teaching and learning quality assurance, wants the school to consider the legacy of learning beyond the pandemic.

He explained: “We want our curriculum leaders to think bolder than simply resetting their curriculum. We don’t want our curriculum to just consider gaps in learning and how to address these in classrooms.”

Andrew and Rachel are uncompromising in their desire to see all teachers adopt a responsive teaching model in classrooms. Rachel continued: “We want all adults at Bede Academy talking about teaching and thinking about teaching.”

Instead of orthodox approaches to lesson observations and book trawls, leaders and teachers have used developmental observations carried out in Google Classrooms to share best practice.

“This has allowed for teachers to work more collaboratively on their practice and to have a robust dialogue about how to get better,” Andrew continued.

Teacher education is a key priority for the school moving forward. Middle and senior leaders have been working collaboratively to adopt the Early Career Teachers programme (with Ambition Institute) to support the development of NQTs and mentors.

In some subject areas, NQTs have been working alongside mentors to share insights into their learning with other team members to sense-check what the learning means in relation to specific subjects too.

Instructional coaching approaches have also started to be developed to help inform teacher discussions about teacher education in curriculum teams. Staff have been given dedicated CPD time to practise scripting teacher exposition, inviting constructive feedback from colleagues and refining the classroom readiness of their teacher explanations.

“We are not doing this in response to a global pandemic,” Rachel said, “we are doing this because we want our ‘talking about teaching’ to have a bigger impact than talk of a pandemic in education”.


Priority 3: Gifted for a purpose

Andrew Thelwell is passionate about the development of the people that make up the community of Bede Academy. Working closely with other colleagues, he has started to consider the research about talent-mapping and how this can be used to identify and deploy talent at all levels in the school in the coming years.

Talent-mapping can vary according to the organisation and context in which it is adopted, but generally it is considered as the “systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement/retention and deployment of those individuals with high potential who are of particular value to an organisation” (CIPD, 2006).

He explained: “Our people are our best resource, and we want to support every adult in realising their gift as a practitioner.

The theme of gifts is a thread that has underpinned CPD, INSET days and regular meetings with teachers at Bede: “Our conviction is that adults came into this profession to make a difference, to the best that they can be and it’s important we support individuals in both realising and recalibrating their gifts as educators.”

According to the Hay Group (2015): “In increasingly dynamic environments, to be truly successful (organisations) need to stay one step ahead of the game and predict who will be the key drivers of future successes in that organisation.” Talent-mapping arguably can help tackle a number of recruitment and retention challenges facing schools on the back of the pandemic.

Leaders are working with regional and national networks to identify which pathways will be available to staff (at all levels) for further development over the coming year, linking this to a range of formal qualifications and informal opportunities for staff to develop in the wider trust and through these networks. The timely announcements of the revised NPQ suites, the national roll-out of the Early Career Framework and the recently unveiled Teaching School Hubs are also part of this narrative.


Priority 4: Pupils talking about teaching

“Listening to children is part of the Bede way,” stressed Andrew Thelwell, “we are a community and a family; we actively listen to what pupils think and are involving them in this process too.”

Regular learning and welfare surveys are carried out each half-term to ensure that all children and adults are given a voice and an opportunity to share their thoughts.

Pupils are enthusiastic when it comes to talking about teaching too. They had the following to share about what is helping pupils to recalibrate and what should continue to inform classroom practice over the coming year in classrooms.

  • Alyssa, year 10: “I’ve appreciated teachers encouraging us and telling us it will be okay. This is helping us to not worry about catching up. Instead, we can focus on the here and now and what we can do to support our learning from this point on.”
  • Owen, year 10: “In English lessons, my teacher has worked hard to provide worked through examples of analysis and this has helped me to work through lessons step-by-step. It is helping me to grow in confidence. If you’re a teacher, don’t underestimate how valuable a step-by-step approach to learning can be for us.”
  • Reese, year 8: “School has been providing discussion groups at lunch times through Youth for Christ (a charity) and this is helping us to meet with people again, have good discussions and think about big questions.”
  • Lily, year 8: “Homework is much better when it is set in reasonable amounts for us and when you use recap quizzes to help us think about the learning we’ve covered. It makes it more memorable”
  • Ellie, year 11: “In history and RE, teachers uses exam questions every week in lessons; by the time we then do face exam questions you feel confident and can break the question down.”
  • Katie, year 11: “In maths, we do a mini-exam each week to help us practise exam conditions and build up confidence in tackling exam questions. It’s important to make lessons fun and engaging, but don’t do it at the expense of content and good exam habits. We really benefit from this.”

  • Sean Harris is a doctoral researcher with Teesside University investigating the ways in which system leaders can help to address poverty and educational inequality in schools. He is also a teacher and middle leader at Bede Academy in Northumberland and writes regularly for SecEd. You can follow him @SeanHarris_NE. Read his previous best practice articles for SecEd via http://bit.ly/2KlDQqc


Further information & resources

  • Ambition Institute: Early Career Teachers programme and resources: www.ambition.org.uk/ecf/
  • CIPD: Talent Management: Understanding the dimensions, 2006.
  • Hay Group: Talent Management: What the best organisations actually do, 2005.


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