Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

March 2, 2014
by Pete Jones

A Manifesto for Excellence: Work in Progress

A key part of my new role is to help develop ‘A curriculum of excellence’ at Key Stage 3. When I think of excellence, I think of the most successful examples of excellence I can think of. Being a bit of a food snob, I wrote (albeit superficially) about Heston Blumenthal’s Manifesto for excellence at the Fat Duck restaurant. Being a lover of great football, excellence also makes me think about the Tika-Taka mastery of Barcelona FC. It makes me think about the culture that these giants of the food and football world respectively have worked tirelessly to develop, which has seen them held up as the very best in their fields. Then I look at our school system. The opportunities within our curriculum for excellence, our school day, the expectations of the teachers, the parents and the students. What is it we are here to deliver? What are we here to create? And what should be the experiences of our 10 plus years of schooling? These views differ from school to school, from teacher to teacher, and from student to student.  The national curriculum has little consistent impact once it is delivered into every classroom. We all read it differently; we all have our passions and our beliefs on how it should be taught. There is a big difference between the achieved curriculum and the actual curriculum dictated by the government as Dylan William stated here. There is a mismatch amongst us all. That will never change.


The opportunities the curriculum offers is something I care deeply about. I want students to have the opportunity to deeply explore content. To get truly immersed. I want students to be used to redrafting, critique and mastery. I want students to develop an ethic of excellence through the design of the curriculum.


This means creating learning which truly involves the students. A curriculum of excellence to me means deepness, responsibility and value. Students should have the opportunity to do something more with the deepness of their learning than just answer questions in their exercise books or making a poster. I want students to be able to create truly valuable products from their learning and this should be recognised further than giving a level or a grade. I want that learning to be celebrated, judged by experts, reflected upon by their communities. I want that learning to be something that is carried by that student for the rest of their lives. A personal trophy cabinet of hard work which reflects their constant struggle for excellence.


What do we do with so much of what we learn? The exercise books stashed at the bottom of the school bag, or fester under uneaten sandwiches in lockers. It’s not good enough! We are all so passionate about learning, and getting students to value our subjects as much as we do, but why would we value what seems redundant at the end each year, each term, each topic. You only have to look at the start of a new exercise book and then the last page to see how much value students place on learning in your subject!


So what can we do to ensure the curriculum has greater value? Having started to read Ron Berger’s latest book; ‘Leaders of their own learning’, one thing that really struck me as a beautiful idea were ‘Passage Presentations’. Ok so the link to that clip is very ‘Americany’, and I know we cant keep student’s back a year, but the idea of presenting your achievements at school, how you’ve grown as a learner really struck a cord with me. Building a portfolio of beautiful work as we grow through school, talking about our work in front of teachers, members of the community and parents as we pass through the end of an important school age. It just makes so much sense to me. This is what I would like to see happening at my school.



Passage Presentations


  • Collate a portfolio of best work from all subjects to publicly present
  • Students present a narrative of their progress over a particular schooling period
  • Students discuss both academic and personal growth
  • Present to community body; made up of staff, students, their parents and members of the local community
  • The presentation should explain why students are ready to move onwards and upwards, reflecting on their learning achievements
  • Students should pass or have to retry after feedback from the members of the panel


Recognising and rewarding an ‘Ethic of Excellence’


We have been toying with ideas to replace our ageing reward system at my school. The ‘Q’point has been going for years and seems to be rewarded for the most predictable of reasons. It became a race to be the first to get 50. The novelty soon wears off and students and staff alike tire of having their planners signed for ‘good work’.

My loyalty and excellence cards as requested by Y11

The other week, in consultation with my Y11 class, we came up with this- rewarding true excellence, a star would be gained every time a student produced work of excellence from a starting point of something which may seem impossible. If no more could be done to improve it or that the student had shown a excellence when it came to their work ethic, then students would receive the star. Rewarding the process and approach as well as the content ties in well with Dweck’s Mindset work and reinforces what we should value as learners.


the new prototype for departments

the new prototype for departments

Rewarding Excellence:


  • Departments/School provide students with an ‘Ethic of Excellence’ card to be stamped or signed at any time a student produces work of excellence or has demonstrated an exceptional work ethic despite level of difficulty
  • Student’s work, which is awarded this ‘stamp’, is automatically recorded in student’s portfolios
  • Students can receive junior and senior ‘Learning Excellence’ awards
  • All students should expect to receive this award by the end of KS3 and 4 respectively
  • Students can request work to be awarded an ethic if excellence
  • Any work which is recognised will have a letter sent home and a copy will be placed in the student’s portfolio


This still provides a dilemma. How do we value an ethic of excellence in subjects where there appears little opportunity to develop work of excellence? My answer is simple- we must provide opportunities for students to create work of excellence in all subjects. Developing mastery, depth and real challenge. I do feel that this is something which can be developed through nurturing the culture of excellence with all stakeholders (I hate that word too). Each department needs to question what an ethic of excellence would look like in their subject area. What would students be doing? How might they be learning? What would the expectations be?  Once this has been agreed, departments will need to address how the curriculum will enable this to be delivered. They will need to pass on what excellence is to their students and design learning which helps develop the content and skills needed for excellence. It is a change in culture, and a change which will be quite a challenge for many, students included.


Designing opportunities for students to pursue excellence within the curriculum


  • All departments/projects should design learning opportunities, which allow students to pursue work of excellence
  • The curriculum should be defined by this, using clear criteria
  • Certain projects or elements of the curriculum should be specifically designed to develop excellence and mastery further than the everyday
  • Work should be expected to be as perfect as the student can create and be publicly displayed
  • Multiple drafts of learning or heavily critiqued work should be the norm


One thing which I am hoping will be ready by Easter is the creation of a ‘Corridor of Excellence’. You may have seen the pictures I tweeted a while back with the idea. It sparked a good deal of interest at the time and I know some other schools are taking up the idea too, which is wonderful. If a culture of excellence is to permeate the school, we need to surround ourselves in our best examples of excellence. We also need to display this as inspirationally as we can. Celebrating excellence with excellence in display. No curvy corrugated borders here! The frames came from a Framers in town, which would have been chucked out. A bit of spit, spray can and polish and they look great. The students in my class are buzzing to see this is really going to happen after I mentioned it in an assembly.

IMG_0452 IMG_0450

The ‘Corridor of Excellence’


  • Will be somewhere where work of excellence can be displayed by all subject areas
  • It should be a source of inspiration for both students and teachers
  • Departments could bid to use the space to display what excellence looks like in their subject area


Imagine what the school would be like if we surrounded ourselves in excellence in everything we strive for. We all say we do it, just look at our mission statements, but what if it really permeated the daily lives of us all. What kind of students would leave us after this kind of experience? The ideas above are the beginnings of my manifesto towards this happening at my school. Some things are happening as I write, some things may take a while, but I for one am determined to create a curriculum of excellence at my school. Fancy joining me?

January 27, 2014
by Pete Jones

Using Critique to develop an ethic of excellence

Quite a few twitter followers have been asking me about how do we get such beautiful work from our students and others have been asking me to share ideas about critique. I have to say, there is a multitude of great blogs and useful videos on this subject, but here is some advice which I live by.

Success Criteria.

Establishing a really clear, co-constructed success criteria for ongoing work is absolutely essential for students to have a platform for effective critique and a view of excellence.

This can be effectively done in two ways.

Exemplar work of excellence.

By using exemplar work of excellence from previous students, you can pick out the key criteria for work of excellence. Address the hallmarks of excellence in the work. What is it that makes this work so very special? How might this help devise a success criteria?



First timers, make sure you know what excellence looks like. I remember reading David Didau explaining how he would often write the same essays as the students in his class, often at the same time to get a feel for the level of challenge, where the pitfalls might be and how to write the essay successfully, I also remember him writing about PBL a while back and recognising the importance of doing the work yourself first.

If it is a new project, then the teacher should create all the elements of the learning themselves to provide a benchmark from which to agree the criteria. Exemplar work from similar projects can also be used to help create a meaningful success criteria.

 Learning on the Job.

As teachers, we are, or at least we should be the greatest exponents of this. We reflect on the quality of our teaching and provide meaningful success criteria for ourselves to judge whether we are doing a good enough job of teaching the little blighters.

For students and the teacher to build the success criteria as the project develops, there is a need to highlight learning excellence as the students develop their work and building a more robust criteria on the work as the lessons develop.

SOLO Taxonomy

The questions are for the teacher to ask the students to help build an agreed format of assessment.

The questions are for the teacher to ask the students to help build an agreed format of assessment.


Rather than just critiquing the physical outcomes of learning, we are now using SOLO to critique and question the depth of learning; whether concepts have been explored and understood. Does the work combine elements of understanding together? Does the work demonstrate a more complex analysis of the project concepts? Has the student developed their own conceptual understanding through the project?


The importance of talking, demonstrating and exploring nothing more than excellence.


I loath Must, Should, Could. The laziest and most pointless way of differentiating a task I can think of. If you want to give kids a get out clause for challenging work; this is it.

I’m really not keen breaking down work of excellence into level descriptors, but this is something my school will not get rid of. So as you will sadly see, this is something we still do.


rarely speak about anything below a 6. Always believing they can all reach this.

rarely speak about anything below a 6. Always believing they can all reach this.

Each student has these, armed with their success criteria, look for excellence


Never diverting from describing the work of excellence; what are the skills, aptitudes and work ethic for this to happen, what is the language of excellence expected is absolutely essential to accomplish greatness, or at least to understand the path to greatness.

Talk of excellence in your subject; use the language of excellence in your subject, surround your students with excellence, create clear pathways for excellence to flourish, provide the climate and culture for excellence to permeate your students beliefs and expectations. Through building a learning environment which addresses this learning culture, it’s more than likely that students will give critique which allows excellence to be the norm.


Gallery Critique.


I picked this idea up from a HTH video I watched a couple of years ago and have since tweaked to fit in with how we work at my school.

Each student has these, armed with their success criteria, look for excellence.


During a project, where we have developed a success criteria, we ask students to decide on the 3 pieces of work which they feel are closest to excellence. I remind students of the success criteria, and we discuss examples of what each strand of the criteria looks like to ensure they understand. From this discussion, work is displayed around the room; you could use pegs or pins on the wall. I have set up my classroom and played This track (amazing how many kids know what it is) to get the process going. Through careful scrutiny of each piece of work, students decide on their top three; three stars to their 3rd favourite, 2 to their second and one to the piece where they feel excellence is closest. The work of students who have the most commendations from students are then assessed as a group to find why these pieces of work are closest to excellence, what we as a group can learn from them and how even the best work can be even better. This is a great opportunity to use Apps such as explain everything to record the dialogue of assessment. Another string to the success criteria bow. This dialogue allows everyone to see what are the key traits which are creating such excellent work, but also allows the very best to see what they can do to improve further.

 Critique Protocol

I know many people have written about this before and really, you don’t need to go much further than watching Austin’s butterfly to get the idea, but there are other great examples of great critique out there. I often show them clips from ‘Masterchef, The Professionals’ as great examples of giving critique which moves the expectations of the chef closer to excellence. There is often a place for giving examples of bad critique- X Factor style to show how not to do it. Critique needs to be developmental. It needs to be accessible to the learner and grounded in the criteria of what is being learnt or practiced.

Year 10 Critique

So. That’s us. How my department look to explore, understand and make the leap towards excellence with as many students as we possibly can.




October 5, 2013
by Pete Jones

A School in Transition

beachcombing front pageIn my application for the AHT post at my school, I mentioned that despite the best efforts of the head of year 7, our transition program was a bit of a mess, well for me it was anyway. The two days, where the Year 6’s come in to get a feeling for life in a secondary school should be seen as one of the most outstanding opportunities for you to set out your stall as a school; this is what we will give you, and this is what we expect you to be, and there is no better place for you to be than here. This school is a place where we can take your learning to new places, greater heights and open new doors to where your life might lead.

In previous years, whichever teachers had free lessons in lieu of Year 11 leaving, were expected to teach a lesson. No joined up experience, no real point apart from ‘This is French, this is Art, This is Maths’, closely followed by ‘Get used to it’ I would watch students sitting in our gym, feeling just a bit uncomfortable, whilst teachers would arrive, pick the classes up one by one, to give them a 45 minute spiel about  their subject. There was a huge amount of listening involved in some curriculum areas, and not a great deal of inspiring learning happening.  I would look at some rather drawn faces at the end of the day, perhaps with some of their dreams a little tainted by 3pm on Friday. This just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t fair to them; they have just spent the last 6 years of their lives at primary school, just building up to this crucial moment. We as a school have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set out a clear path of expectations and possibilities. Teachers have a chance to grab their new learning customers and get them to buy everything in the shop, but this just wasn’t happening. Not one little bit.


I decided to come up with a project based on the theme of ‘beachcombing’ inspired by that amazing grains of sand picture under a microscope. I held a meeting with the head of geography, design tech, second in English, head of Year 7, and two budding young Science teachers to try and set out a plan of action. Now, this was about three or four weeks before the Year 6 cohort were to arrive, so the time was very tight. I gave some examples of how we could approach this from these subjects’ perspectives and explained my worries about how we have always done it. Each department was to have a 2 hour lesson, so that they could make the experience worthwhile, and had to design a memorable learning experience around the theme, with an attached optional homework, for students to explore their learning further over the holidays.

Within a week, I had 4 really interesting proposals of how students would spend their two hour slots, what they would be learning about and how they could further their learning over the summer break. It looked really good, it really did. I put together a homework document for students to take home and discuss with their parents and worked closely with the head of DT to create a fantastic learning experience for them.

English focused on a range of poetry styles; analysing some famous poetry about the shoreline, exploring a sensory carousel, listening to the sounds of the sea and creating some brilliant poetry at the end of the two hours.

Geography investigated why Jersey is the shape it is, how different rocks are formed and were taken on to the dunes to learn how to create a field sketch of St Ouens Bay. In the fog. I kid you not.

If you look hard enough, you may just notice the sea!

If you look hard enough, you may just notice the sea!

In Science, they had a smorgasbord of learning experiences such as ‘how do wetsuits work’ a rockpool mystery’ and a look at cell structure of seaweed and what an individual grain of sand looks like under the microscope.

A who dunnit rock pool mystery!

A who dunnit rock pool mystery!

Not quite an electron microscope, but very cool all the same.

Not quite an electron microscope, but very cool all the same.


In design, students were given an impassioned lecture on design classics and explored and commented on a whole range of design movements, from art deco, to Memphis, to natural forms which would then inspire their beach hut panels which were to go on the beautiful Miami lifeguard towers.

    50 kids, one Mr Booth explaining why that red box with a thing called a telephone is such a thing of beauty.

50 kids, one Mr Booth explaining why that red box with a thing called a telephone is such a thing of beauty.

analysing design periods

analysing design periods

Memphis inspired beach hut panels

Memphis inspired beach hut panels


I helped teach the design one and managed to get round to see all the other experiences. The students LOVED IT! Being taught by teachers who were passionate about their subject, committed to improving the transition experience and loving the opportunity to spend more than a fleeting lesson to ensure they really learnt something.

At the end of the two days, I had several lovely emails and letters from parents to say what a buzz their children had had, and how they came home full of excitement about learning and doing great things.

Over the holidays, I kept open a forum for students to speak to each other about their homework task and ask me any questions. One student in particular really caught me with her comments about doing too much! I wondered how much students would do. Would they have lost that excitement over the holidays? Would their enthusiasm have waned over the 6 week break? Only time would tell.

We had an exhibition day, where, in unparalleled chaos, we took three hours to put up an exhibition of over 150 students work, with all the kids helping, whilst lessons went on around us. It was a bloody nightmare to be honest, but the children beamed and sparkled with pride as their work went up around us. More and more tables had to be brought in to display umpteen beach huts, scaled models of geographical features, huge posters filled with different types of carefully labelled seaweeds and food chains, books and books of stunning poetry,  and much, much more. My favourite was a hand built website, with links to videos of a student performing his poetry on loads of different beaches around the island and this blog with Design, English and Science work expertly displayed. It brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat  that so many kids wanted to make such an extraordinary effort to produce something of such wonderful value.

Parents enjoyed being able to comment on the work.

Parents enjoyed being able to comment on the work.

Hand made glass panel made from beach glass, with lots of comments!

Hand made glass panel made from beach glass, with lots of comments!


A huge variety of homework explorations were on display, including a painted garden shed!

A great use of ICT by some students.

A great use of ICT by some students.


There was some unrivalled rubbish in there, but that was a very small minority; I could count them on one hand. Each student had to put a comment sheet next to their work with a ‘Statement of Intent’ where students had to explain what they had done and how they did it.

students loved giving feedback to their peers

students loved giving feedback to their peers

This was just the most beautifully crafted poem, carefully placed onto the lobster pot ball

This was just the most beautifully crafted poem, carefully placed onto the lobster pot ball


In the afternoon, I took three groups at a time to critique the work. This they loved, giving delicate, but affirming feedback to students on their comment sheets.  After school, parents came in to look at the exhibition and their teachers had a chance to critique and award a range of particular certificates to reflect the range of skills and understanding on display.

Rock pools in a jar!

Rock pools in a jar!


Just the coolest beach hut EVER!!


I’m sure this sounds great, but it could have been better. It was crammed and it was difficult to give everyone the display their hard work deserved. Many students had explained to me that they had never tried so hard to create something of value, but I’m sure many students didn’t get the feedback their hard work deserved because there were so many outstanding pieces to take the eye away from the everyday. One student lost his work  which he placed in his form room. That was unforgivable.

We had a great deal of parents in and invited in all our feeder primary schools to look round too.

We had a great deal of parents in and invited in all our feeder primary schools to look round too.

Parents were really happy with the start their kids had made. In my heart, this felt a little worrying, because now is when we really have to raise our game. The buzz which the project and subsequent exhibition provided was intoxicating for those children and their parents. But how will this translate into classroom expectations? I guess time will tell, but it won’t be enough. Students will switch off, be disappointed, get bored, feel frustrated and tune out. We are a work in progress, needing a great deal of critique to get us to the excellence our students deserve.

The curriculum and the teachers who teach it need to remember just how brilliant our young people can be when we set the right conditions for learning and expectations. As I said at the new headteachers ‘vision’ talk later that week;  there are three sets of people who don’t realise the potential of young minds; their parents, their teachers and the children themselves. My new job as a director of learning at key stage 3 is to do something about that. The transition project was a small nudge in the right direction.


September 29, 2013
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

This is not a classroom


beautifulFollowing the beginnings of our PBL course (Pebble-throw a pebble into a pond, watch the ripples etc) I decided to get my students to change the end of the ‘Why are we doing Pebble intro’ and go for something a little more ethereal. I attach some of the results. The one above I read out to parents as an example of what students said they wanted to happen in the classroom this year. There were a few stunned parents, mouthing ‘wow’ to themselves. I also added jokingly, “No pressure then” to a ripple of chuckles. I have a whole bank of these, written by every member of the class. Something incredibly powerful to remind me and them, what we want our classroom, our education to be about and how we will have to act to ensure we reach were we think we want to go.

They were inspired by @Sparky teaching’s wonderful ‘This is not a classroom’ posters and this video as an example of slam poetry. Their poems, which summed up their feelings of what they would get from the Pebble course had to have rhythm (try speaking them with a South London accent, works for me) and some rhyming words to help it flow. There were a couple of kids who tried to get away with ‘You need skills, to pay the bills’, but they were very quickly put in their place and we ended up with a book-full of these beauties. Each student read them out with as much ‘Street’ passion as kids from Jersey can muster, me MCing between each one. Huge respeck. (oh dear god).

Okay, I’m no English teacher, far from it, but their sentiment, their passion for learning exudes out of every syllable. This for me, is my benchmark. Our expectations for learning. Our mantra. What a beautiful start to the term this has created.

I tweeted the poem above last weekend and it was swallowed up and retweeted by educators across the world. When I told the unassuming young Year 8 girl who wrote this poem, her face literally sparkled. Following on from the ‘To praise or not to praise’ debate of recent days, a recognition and celebration of the passion for learning of our young people, I hope is acceptable. What a set of values to hold dear as we embark on a wonderful new mission for learning this year. Better than ‘The Class Rules’?

Most definitely.

Here are a few more to keep you going.

base of operation

this isnt a classroom


in this classroom

And I know this one isn’t quite as glossy(she made it on my iPad), but I love what Gina says about believing in yourself and being supportive.


April 14, 2013
by Pete Jones

Who’s ever happy with just reaching base camp? The problem with levels

If the view from the top is so spectacular, why would you leave anyone behind?

When you show students the summit, the top of the mountain, you explain how to get there, what skills and knowledge will be needed, how difficult certain terrain will be, they may get lost along the way. Some may find the going too tough and may reach their peak for whatever reason, but one thing we do know is that with belief, resilience and the right understanding, most of those on the path will manage to get there if they so desire.

Time to call it a day or do we aim for the summit?

According to this report, “A universal feature of high performing jurisdictions is a pervasive belief that all students can learn, and to high standards.” but commenting that “ We are concerned by the ways in which England’s current assessment system encourages a process of differentiating learners through the award of ‘levels’, to the extent that pupils come to label themselves in these terms. Although this system is predicated on a commitment to evaluating individual pupil performance, we believe it actually has a significant effect of exacerbating social differentiation, rather than promoting a more inclusive approach that strives for secure learning of key curricular elements by all. It also distorts pupil learning, for instance creating the tragedy that some pupils become more concerned for ‘what level they are’ than for the substance of what they know, can do and understand. This is an unintended consequence of an over-prescriptive framework for curriculum and assessment. It should be possible to do better, particularly in primary education where there is significant emphasis on establishing the foundations for later learning. By the end of secondary education pupil attainments are necessarily differentiated and will be certificated accordingly through the examination system. However, we believe strongly that before the end of compulsory schooling, the structures for assessing and reporting achievement on the National Curriculum should foster the possibility of high achievement for all, rather than constrain it.”

Amen to that Dylan Wiliam and chums. I have spent a fair bit of my Easter holiday and before that, trying to make levels work for my subject, Art and for project based learning. After some research, some excellent conversations on twitter and a look at what various schools are doing in the UK (thank you all) I have realised that levels, levelling and especially target setting using levels can go take a long walk of a short plank in the middle of a small lake infested with ravenous great white sharks who eat levels for breakfast, very slowly, with blunt teeth, and poor digestion, but with no chance of escape. In other words, I’m not that keen on them.

Not quite the Sarlacc Pit, but you get the idea

Giving a level to a piece of standalone artwork is, to be honest a thankless task. Looking at even the most simplified of level descriptors can still make the judgement very difficult to justify. For example. “I can explore ideas in different ways, collecting information and practical resources in order to make informed choices about my work.” Is a level 3 for the exploring section of the Art and Design levels. Whereas for a level 8, it says “I can develop, express and realise ideas, confidently exploiting what I have learnt from taking risks and from my understanding of the creative process.” So realistically, an average to weak Year 7 should be getting a level 3, an exceptional Year 9 should be achieving a Level 8. But if you think about these statements, they really are just saying the same thing. This is where the problem comes with generic statements for grading work. I see no reason why a Year 3 student couldn’t achieve a level 8. I would expect anyone, especially younger students to “express and realise ideas” and “confidently exploit what they have learnt from taking risks.”

It’s just a load of wishy-washy flim-flam. I think I would give myself a level 8 for technical use of words there too.


Dr Dylan Wiliam liked our obsession with levels to drug addiction. “Children are hooked on them like addicts, the teachers are the pushers and the parents are the co-dependants.” He explains further, “like any addiction, it absorbs attention, temporarily gives gratification, artificially inflates self-esteem and exacerbates the problem and seeks attention.” Williams concludes that “constantly giving grades actually lowers achievement. Not only that, but when comments are given alongside grades, children are so busy comparing what level they got, the use of and importance of quality feedback is completely lost.”


Quality feedback, Hattie states, is one of the most valuable ways for students to improve as learners. The ability for teachers to focus their attention on giving effective feedback and for students to do something about the feedback they are given will be lost. Indeed, at a time where many schools are looking for viable alternatives, or have already come up with more appropriate models of assessment, it seems the attention for my own patch of pedagogical land is being primed for genetically modified levels. Perfect rows of well organised crops, ready to be labelled for identification. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Surely our greatest concerns within schools should be the quality of teaching, the quality of learning and the design of our curriculum. Levels can and will take away these foci from departments and schools who may well become preoccupied with how and when to assess,how this will fit into the curriculum and learning will become a series of ‘hoop jumping’ activities which are determined by making progress from one level to the next and not about stretching students, not about delivering profound learning experiences and not about qualitative feedback that gives students the next steps towards greatness in your subject.

Excellence for all?

Some schools are now looking at a whole variety of more productive, useful ways of assessing work, which focuses on high expectations for all, rather than vacuous prescribed levels of achievement. I was really inspired by this article by the legend that is Mr Ron Berger. I want every child I teach to know that with the right mindset and the right support, that excellence can be achieved, no matter what their social background or previous school experience is. You don’t have to settle for a target of a 4b by the end of Year 8. Who would want that? Why do students not care to question why this is their target? If one student can achieve excellence through the sheer character of that student, then why not all? Or at least more than that one. Why not spend that time we devolve to levels and target setting to get students to think and act like intrepid explorers, all capable of reaching a particularly spectacular summit, rather than just labelling them with an expectation of where they should end up. Students just need to be shown the summit of excellence. As Berger describes, “The student work in my giant black suitcase is exemplary — beautiful and accurate, representative of strong content knowledge and critical thinking skills — but it’s not from “exceptional” students. It does not come from gifted and talented classrooms or from high-powered private schools. It’s the work of regular students in typical schools around the country. The difference is that these students’ teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm.”

 As Dweck puts it so well. If we believe this, why don’t we give every sudent a level 8?

So where to go from here…

Co-construction of success criteria

For students to fully understand the process of assessment, they need to be involved in the construction of what achievement might mean dependant on their approach and learning outcomes. At the beginning, or indeed during a project, a success criteria should be developed with the students. A rubric which focuses on the standards of learning driven by consultation. Giving students the understanding of what would be an outstanding outcome for a project, will always drive higher expectations in students. They need to see what this is, how they will have to work, what they might do to exceed it, and what would fall short of this.

This standard needs to be incredibly high. The problem with levels is that if you dissolve this criteria into so many levels and sub levels, you dissolve the understanding of excellence. Hattie’s work on ‘Visible Learning’ could not make this more apparent. He states that students should be made incredibly clear what the success criteria are for a lesson/project/subject. There should be discussion about this among peers and that the learning objectivesshould be explicit and above all, just out of reach of the learner. This is pretty much thereverse of the cumbersome, vague criteria which we are supposed to be working with.


This is something we already do for Pebble. It works really well. It motivates students to achieve as high as they can. I always ask students who is aiming for the top grade, time after time, students will put their hand up for the top level. Funnily enough, many of them get there, they understand fully what’s expected, how much effort will needed to be put in and they just do it. And, funnily enough, I don’t predict if they will achieve a pass, merit or distinction. It’s their choice what they achieve. For some, it may be twice as hard as others, but they will have learnt twice as much for how to get their next time and make understand how to make further progress.

After a lot of deliberation, this is the template I have come up with to help my department co-construct a meaningful, valid and accessible assessment tool. This would be done at a point in the year, where students are ready to develop an ambitious criteria for successfullearning, using their understanding of a subject, exemplar work and obviously a rigorous input from the teacher. The questions in the boxes are for teachers to use to instigate the rightdescriptions for each level. I have given a separate column for the ‘learner description’ as a nod to the PLTS or 5Rs etc, to help students understand the dispositions needed to succeed.What they should ‘see’ in themselves or in others to achieve the highest possible learning outcomes. So, I make no apologies for its simplicity, I am an Art teacher after all, but this is my contribution to how to assess progress, without making a mountain out of a mole hill (see what I did there).

It would be easy, as I have seen in other schools, to create a simple rubric of achievement; making each level a tick box of achievements; how many colours have been mixed? How many artists have been referred to? To me this is how we dumb down the curriculum. Students need to understand excellence in our subjects. They need to know how hard it is to get there. They need to know about the depth of thinking, the challenge, the journey. They need to know as precisely as we can demonstrate, what is excellence in our subjects, what is excellence in our schools and what is excellence in learning. For me, and a growing number of teachers and schools, the concept of levelling inhibits learning, fragments the challenge of an ambitious, demanding curriculum and undermines the ability of the young people in our schools. Every student is capable of excellence. It’s up to us to find a way of nurturing the very best character out of each of our students to enable this to happen. This is one thing which might help them reach their summit, rather than settle for the view from half way up. I would love to hear your thoughts!


March 21, 2013
by Pete Jones

Blog Sync Post: Wasted investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?

Why would you want to leave here? It’s not just the beaches like this! 

The school playing fields


I have been teaching in Jersey for 14 years. When I came to the Island, I was amazed at the bright, healthy young kids put before me for indoctrination in the ‘Jones school of Art’. I was then, and I hope always will be a hardworking, hopefully inspiring and highly motivated teacher.

As soon as I started working here, I was inspired by the ‘no fear’ attitude of the Head teacher, who always encouraged and cajoled me into trying new things to deepen the students learning. Inset was regularly provided to question best practise and develop thinking. I was coming to school, constantly searching to improve and develop the best experiences I could for the students I was teaching. That freedom to nurture the very best learning experiences I could muster was so liberating.

As a school, we clung onto Hargreaves deeper learning experiences and used this to develop where the school was going along with regular visits from the demi god that is Paul Ginnis. It was and still is a really inspiring place to teach. And at the end of the day, I can walk on a beautiful, relatively deserted beach. I have a fairly good standard of living, though my mortgage would make most people choke on their cornflakes. So yes, life as a Jersey teacher is pretty fab.

School sizes are relatively small, especially primary, as are class sizes. There is a real sense of community and understanding of the children in our care.

There is no doubt that the curriculum and expectations of teaching and learning are fare less prescriptive than England. We can have direct access to the Minister for Education and the Director of ESC (Education, Sport & Culture). In fact, we are positively encouraged to have our say in shaping the islands educational future; all teachers had the opportunity to contribute to a green paper about the future direction of educational policy.

Teachers and schools are free to adapt any UK policy to suit the requirements of learners. And what tops this off? What allows the autonomous approach to developing teaching and learning in our schools? Well.. There is NO OFSTED. No threat of inspections, judging my teaching in a twenty minute toe dip experience. No number slapped on me for the pedagogically empty shop window.

This allows me to benchmark my teaching against my ever growing knowledge of teaching and learning. It allows me to develop schemes of work which are slow, about real learning, not shallow performance. But it does also leaves the profession over here in some kind of limbo. Who is there to judge us? For the committed teacher, our own self-critical ability to reflect and ‘keep, grow, change’ what is needed, through being professional, it’s a wonderfully positive environment. But we know that we are not all like this don’t we?

There are times where I wish there was a more professional layer of accountability, because I think it would help some teachers question whether this is the right job for them, or at least further question their teaching ability. I cannot go into too much detail here, for threat of undermining what is essentially a very positive, trusting environment to work in.

 I also read so many outstanding blog posts about learning, but there is almost always a veneer of ‘Ofsted speak’ encroaching on the most eloquent and inspiring reads. It is, however you lot look at it, a huge influence on decision making, lesson design and ‘progress’ in English schools. I read the horror of Ofsted ‘gone wrong’, of potentially great teachers crumbling under the weight of it all. And it’s all down to levels. Levels everywhere. Levels of teaching, levels of health and safety, levels of leadership, levels of value for money, levels of bloody progress. Somewhere in there, learning is poking its head out screaming for recognition, but often it’s lost. The stifling accountability bus is knocking out the Helsinki attitude for so many teachers whom enter the profession, often with such high aspirations.

 The Ofsted regime has lead to some schools adopting a culture of seeking approval, rather than seeking what is really needed for that school, that community of learners. It has also, clearly lead to high levels of pointless stress and worry for some. I read constantly of effervescent young teachers being subjected to over-bearing levels of stress. I guess one of the main reasons teachers don’t leave here is that they know they have the potential to find their own path, not trudge down the well worn path of Ofsted expectations.

The staff car park

But what about exam results, they must be awful without all those strict measures put in place by the government? Well, as an Island, we are usually above the national average. Not by much. And that is a whole other story, which I won’t go into now.

 So, the unavoidable conclusion to the teaching community being a happy place? A relative lack of overbearing stress provided by a local government which trusts teachers to be professional. We are trusted to be the best people to ensure that the children of Jersey are receiving an education which is the best it can be. Of course we are all about that banal phrase ‘Raising Standards’, but we are entrusted to do this through our own development of our pedagogical ideals. Countless, pointless levels of accountability, initiatives and the ‘What Ofsted want’ mentality could not be further from my mind.

Why do teachers NOT leave Jersey? It’s not just the beaches. It’s the lack of pointless pressure and an acceptance that teachers are professionals. Lucky me.


February 24, 2013
by Pete Jones

The Creative Timeline

Ok, so we have just finished the third major project for Pebble, ‘The Creative Timeline’ asks students to delve into their own memories of their lives so far and use this as a stimulus for creating some brilliant conceptual artwork. As ever, the week before the project starts proper, the students unpick, explore and understand the PLTS we are focusing in for the next project. Funnily enough, it was ‘Creative Thinker’. We used Ben Keeling’s book as way in for students to look at some of the skills needed to be an effective creative thinker. (Link for the resources for this skills week project here.) Here are my classes results.

3 post-it notes to improve learning at our school


I guess the most important part of a skills week is to agree on a common language for that skill. This is individual to each group and is assessed in their passports, which I spoke about here. The Friday session, where we learn from the actual activity helps students begin to understand their strenghts and weaknesses in each PLTS.

Students started the process of exploring how to create something of real value by looking at descriptive writing. Students investigated an excerpt from Dickens and analysed the imagery used to ‘paint the picture’ of the scene. They were brilliant at this. It really helped with the next stage. Students were then shown a range of visually rich images, such as a fairground, a haunted house, you know the sort of thing. Then they had to fill in the box below to start to describe what they could see.

Things you can see Things you can hear Things you can smell
Things you can touch Things you can taste How does it make you feel?

Then students used their list to create a short descriptive story about what they thought was going on in this scene. From this, students were then asked to explore one of their earliest memories, using their understanding. End of the first session.

Carousel  Activity.

Onomatopoeia writing about journey on the boat to come and live in Jersey

Differentiated worksheets, here looking at calligrams and visual story telling

every 20 minutes, we moved tables and shared our writing

On the Friday, students were then asked to explore a range of different writing styles, which might suit particular memories better than others. Folders of differentiated resources were placed on tables and students moved onto different writing and artistic tables to begin to build up their understanding of the different approaches open to them.



Over the next two sessions, students developed their writing, created a simple timeline of their most profound memories and begun to think about what they might create for their own timeline. Then, with a great deal of freedom and some examples of beautiful work from last years students, and my own monster version (I am quite a lot older than them=more memories) and the co-constructed rubric of what would achieve a Pass, Merit and Distinction, off they jolly well went. They had two weeks of lessons (10 hours) to create their marvelous (or not) final products. Some students set themsleves incredibly challenging ideas, which, due to extraordinary dilligence and clearly countless hours outside of the lesson came to fruition. To be able to judge their work, students had to have a deep explanation into their decision making process. Colour, texture, writing style, font, size, material, everything had to be considered. Throughout the process, students explored the skill of the creative thinker. The ability to have divergent ideas, to play with ideas, to be inspired by others, to create work of depth and value, to take risks and to find new ways of solving problems. This project certainly delivered on this. As for the results, well, for Year 8, it’s pretty good, some were excpetional.

This students dad recently died after a long battle with cancer. He cricled words to create a very moving, personal obituary to his dad.

He included a copy of Ziggy Stardust, to be played whilst reading the newspaper. He included a box stuffed with obituaries from the local paper and a concrete poem entitled, Dad.

A student came up with the idea of creating a magical staircase to a bedroom of wonderful memories, at the bottom, locked away, were her sad memories, in the cupboard under the stairs.

complete with bunk bed and carpet. An amazing use of different writing styles on this one.

Detail of the veins in the heart of the day her mother suffered a heart attack

There were many more truly brilliant pieces of work, but my computer is taking a STUPID amount of time to upload images at the moment. Students were invited into each others classrooms to comment on their work. This was done with great respect. Students were moved by each others profound events and inspired by the creative efforts of their peers. The best work from each class was then selected for exhibition.

the lost cat! Poem wrapped around the body.

complex idea, full of emotive writing

holiday of a lifetime in Mexico, using jam jars

exhibition coming together

a mish mash of marvelous memories!

catching memories

The resources for this project, if you are interested in adapting for your own school are here. Thanks for reading.

January 23, 2013
by Pete Jones

Living up to your vision statement. The Universal Panacea.

These ring any bells?

“a place of excellence where children can achieve full potential in their academic, creative, personal, physical, moral and spiritual development”

“We will equip children for the demands and opportunities of the twenty-first century by offering a differentiated, effective and rigorous curriculum as an entitlement to all.”

“A professional and highly motivated staff, in partnership with parents, will encourage each child to achieve his full potential.”

“A disciplined and caring environment, based on mutual respect, each boy will be valued as an individual in his own right and his moral and spiritual development encouraged.”

We all have them. The good old vision statement. So much promise. So much positivity. So much potential to move a school forward. A vision which has at some point on an inset day a year or two ago, had been ‘written’ by the whole staff, maybe the students had their say too.

On the day, we all feel pretty good to have some say in the vision of our school. But it doesn’t take long for that vision to become a bit clouded. Usually after 9C Thursday period 5, or after a stressful break duty. Before you know it, the vision is long forgotten and when we revisit it in a year or twos time, well, it’s time to write it again isn’t it?

So my question is; do YOU know what your schools vision statement is? No, I don’t mean your one sentence strap line, I mean the meaty bit which we all invested so much thought and energy on that inset day back in September? No? Me neither.

So if the teachers who day in, day out work in that school can’t remember, let alone buy into our shared vision, what is the point?

I am a believer in having a shared vision. As a teacher, I feel like someone with vision. I think you have to. You have to see how you can get the very best out of every child. You have to think about how you will guide them to being the best they can be that year. You have beliefs. You have a holistic view on the purpose of school. Don’t you? Good.

A school can be a very different experience for every child. It can be a very different experience for every teacher. The Vision statement should help develop a shared sense of purpose and belief in what our schools should be. I think you could look at any vision statement every written; they pretty much all hold aims and values which we wouldn’t sniff at. Ok maybe the ‘21st century learner’ would get a few of us thinking fingernails on the chalkboard, but they are often full of stuff which we would find it difficult to disagree with.

But what should we do with these statements which hold such promise? Well let’s start by adopting them wholeheartedly shall we? If we really, really agree with them? A vision held by all of us, including parents and children will fundamentally influence the direction of the school. But how do we do this? How do we all live up to the vision?

Firstly, don’t put anything in there, you cannot live up to! ‘Where every child will reach their potential’ is a classic non-starter. The last thing I want the students I teach is to reach their potential by the time they are 16!

Don’t get me wrong. I am the most idealistic teacher I know. Well, knew before I joined the twittersphere and realised there’s a whole heap of outrageously optimistic teachers out there. But I want my vision statement to be realistic, to be achievable, to be held dear to all who work and learn at my school. And every day, I want that vision to be seen and experienced by the students and staff at my school.

It is up to all of us to ensure this vision is met. We all have to do our bit. So my Panacea is to live up to our vision statements. And let’s make those statements incredibly idealistic, but let’s make sure we really do live by them. And where we fall short, let’s ensure the right support is there to fix it. A vision statement, if it is to have any worth, should be something we are challenged to live up to every single day. Otherwise, what’s the point?

So.. For what it’s worth,  here’s my idealistic, achievable mission statement for me. Let me know what you think.

  • I want every student I teach to be known by me; what makes them tick, what I can do to motivate, support and encourage them to be the very best they can be today and tomorrow.
  • I want every student I teach to feel incredibly inspired and challenged by what they are learning in my classroom.
  • I want every student I teach to see effort as the path to mastery. Nothing will be gained without a lot of hard work.
  • I want every student I teach to understand what beautiful work looks like and what they need to give to produce it.
  • I want every student I teach to talk passionately about their learning to their friends and parents.
  •  I want every child I teach to know what they are doing is really valuable and important.
  • I want every child I teach to learn to be resilient enough to keep going when things get tough.
  • I want every student I teach to leave my classroom wanting more.
  • I want every student I teach to know they can become truly brilliant.

Idealistic? Yup. Achieveable? I bloody hope so.

So, a vision statement should hold us to account. It should make us question our teaching, our relationships in the classroom. It should make us question our values and it should allow our students, our parents and our community to be inspired and excited by the purpose of our institution. And maybe, just maybe, we should ALL know what it is!

You can read more Panacea posts here





January 6, 2013
by Pete Jones

Learning from the Fat Duck. Developing a manifesto for excellence in schools.

It’s been a long time since I first started thinking about writing this blog post. In fact, it was the final week of Masterchef the Professionals, which was mid-December, but you know what it’s like. Things get in the way, namely 11 for Christmas and all the cooking, drinking and eating that involves. So it’s new year, but this post is really important to me so I didn’t want to rush into it.

Zoe Elder and Alex Quigley among a hatful of others, including my outgoing head teacher have spent a lot of the academic year analysing the extraordinary success of our British Cycling Team and more importantly, the thinking of Dave Brailsford and his Marginal Gains work. The way that the very best thinking has been utilised has been incredibly inspiring and I recommend you soak up their ideas here and here.

I have often looked at Masterchef and felt a real affinity with the approach to learning the young chefs and amateurs always demonstrate. At the start of the programme, they always have quotes from the contestants saying such things as; “I’ve learnt so much, this has been an incredible experience, I don’t want to leave now, I just feel I’m beginning to find myself on this incredible journey.” You know the sort of thing. I have long felt that this is the exact response I want students to have in the school I work in. This is MY holy grail. Gulp.

Anyway, back to the episode in question. It was the semi-final of Masterchef. The three remaining contestants were about to get their first taste of working in one of the best restaurants in the world, the restaurant which has changed the face of gastronomy; The Fat Duck in Bray.

What grabbed me straight away, was how extraordinary, exciting, creative and beautiful each of the dishes shown at the start of the programme as the narrator introduced the new challenge.

As James “Jocky” Petrie explains, “ We want to try and take our guests away from an average, run of the mill experience meal. We’re taking them out of their comfort zone, places that they’ve never been before or places that they want to revisit and these dishes hopefully conjure up that experience.”

The chefs created some of the dishes in front of the budding Masterchef finalists and were taken around the different parts of the restaurant. It was just so inspiring. I kept thinking. This is what I want my school to be like. Creating work of quite exceptional brilliance, through many levels of exploration, analysis, critique and always searching for absolute perfection in an environment which encourages everyone working there to stretch what they think is possible. I was completely immersed in my holy grail. Except this was a three Michelin star restaurant, not a local comprehensive. So readers, you may ask where this is going…

Well just like Zoe and Alex have with marginal gains, I wanted to see what schools can learn from the best.

Heston’s Cooking Statement (available on the Fat Duck Website) gave me all I needed to begin to put my own manifesto together.

Three basic principles guide our cooking:
excellence, openness, and integrity.


“We are motivated above all by an aspiration to excellence. We wish to work with ingredients of the finest quality, and to realize the full potential of the food we choose to prepare, whether it is a single shot of espresso or a multicourse tasting menu.”

Now as soon as I read this, my affinity bell rang loud and clear. This is how I would take this for my school:

We are motivated above all by an aspiration to excellence. YES! We wish to work with a curriculum of the finest quality and realise the full potential of each child we work with, whether a high flying polymath or a child who needs all the help and encouragement needed to flourish. And, with more than a nod to marginal gains, from the ground up, we need to analyse the potential impact on learning that every experience gives the children in our care. From the subjects we teach, to use of lesson starters, to the canteen experience.

“We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet’s ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating. This is not a new idea, but a new opportunity. Nearly two centuries ago, Brillat-Savarin wrote that ‘the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.”

Paramount in everything we do is integrity. Our beliefs and commitments are sincere and do not follow the latest trend.”

You can see where this is heading can’t you. A commitment to excellence requires us all to continually scour the world, for what we can discover to improve our practise to ensure that what we are doing is giving the very best experience to every child who enters our school everyday. In the past, lessons were constrained by the limited understanding of how we learn best, the facilities we had to deliver our lessons and a profession that was isolated from sharing the very best of what we do. Today, there is tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can develop our pedagogical thinking from every corner of the world. We can draw upon all the expert knowledge needed to develop teaching and learning to create a curriculum  which gives every child an extraordinary experience of what learning can be.


Our cooking values tradition, builds on it, and along with tradition is part of the ongoing evolution of our craft.

“The world’s culinary traditions are collective, cumulative inventions, a heritage created by hundreds of generations of cooks. Tradition is the base which all cooks who aspire to excellence must know and master. Our open approach builds on the best that tradition has to offer.

As with everything in life, our craft evolves, and has done so from the moment when man first realized the powers of fire. We embrace this natural process of evolution and aspire to influence it. We respect our rich history and at the same time attempt to play a small part in the history of tomorrow.”

Hello? Sound good or what? Yes we must endorse the very best from the past and use the techniques and models of knowledge which have served us very well. But, as the world continually evolves, so must we. We must all attempt to play a part in developing what we value as exceptional learning experiences. We all have a stake in becoming the history of tomorrow so it’s up to us to help write the future in our own classrooms.

We embrace innovation – new ingredients, techniques, appliances, information, and ideas – whenever it can make a real contribution to our cooking.

“We do not pursue novelty for its own sake. We may use modern thickeners, sugar substitutes, enzymes, liquid nitrogen, sous-vide, dehydration, and other non-traditional means, but these do not define our cooking. They are a few of the many tools that we are fortunate to have available as we strive to make delicious and stimulating dishes.

Similarly, the disciplines of food chemistry and food technology are valuable sources of information and ideas for all cooks. Even the most straightforward traditional preparation can be strengthened by an understanding of its ingredients and methods, and chemists have been helping cooks for hundreds of years. The fashionable term “molecular gastronomy” was introduced relatively recently, in 1992, to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our approach, and the term “molecular gastronomy” does not describe our cooking, or indeed any style of cooking.”

Uh huh. You are getting on board now aren’t you? We won’t pursue every ‘Learning Bicycle’ that gets thrown our way, but anything which can make a real contribution to improving the learning experiences of the children we teach, we must, if we are striving for perfection, investigate, learn from, adopt and reflect upon. A continual cycle of improvement. The(once) fashionable term, personalising learning was coined in the mid 90’s to describe an approach away from mass education to a more bespoke curriculum and pedagogy. This should not define our approach. Like Heston, I prefer a curriculum in search of perfection.

We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential.

“The act of eating engages all the senses as well as the mind. Preparing and serving food could therefore be the most complex and comprehensive of the performing arts. To explore the full expressive potential of food and cooking, we collaborate with scientists, from food chemists to psychologists, with artisans and artists (from all walks of the performing arts), architects, designers, industrial engineers. We also believe in the importance of collaboration and generosity among cooks: a readiness to share ideas and information, together with full acknowledgment of those who invent new techniques and dishes.”

Need I say anything? If I was to write a manifesto for what I want learning to look like in my school or any school, I think the very best, most successful organisations and institutions in the world would be a very sensible place to start. So that, instead of a dog’s dinner of a curriculum we seem to be heading towards with Gove levels, we head toward unforgettable learning experiences which challenge, excite and leave the children in our care desperate for more. So just like those Masterchef finalists, I want the experience of learning to feel like a journey that you never want to stop being part of.

So what is it that we want our children  to be digesting every day?

The future is always ours to shape. It doesn’t matter wether Gove gives us the 50’s or not. Our classrooms can be our own 3 star Michelin restaurant if we so desire. It would certainly help if we are given the best ingredients and conditions to work with, but amazing things can be created from the most humble of ingredients.

So next up… Skills development at Barcelona FC? Or Teamwork at PIXAR? A Manifesto for excellence in schools is beginning taking shape. In my head anyway.




December 2, 2012
by Pete Jones

Meet the Ancestors!

It had been coming for a long time. The Pebble course, which we have been running for several years had always been missing public scrutiny- something which all good PBL aficionados have been banging on about for years. Berger, Fuller et al.


It was during the Summer holidays, I first thought about using this amazing empty shop front in Jersey’s newest, swanky shopping centre; a beautifully rennovated old abbatoir. And here I am now, writing up my blog post in the shop on the first Sunday Christmas shopping weekend, whilst Boney M, Chris De Berg and… for my sins, Cliff bloody Richard is being piped out down the frozen walkway. There is no heating and it’s 5 degrees outside and the same inside. Has it all been worth it? The organising, the fret, the panic, the bone numbing chill? Hell Yes!

On Friday night, after a long week….

Hang on… Oh God….. George Michael’s unmistakable wail. Last Christmas. AAAAAAAAAAAAARGHH!

Sorry as I was saying, after a long week, we put up the exhibition of incredible family trees, beautiful, painstakingly made memory books and diary entries. It looked amazing. The huge glass window had some great group photos of our students dressed up as their ancestors, A1 exhibition posters and ‘Pebble’ shop signs. It looked absolutely stunning as darkness fell and the spotlights glowed on the fabulous work.


It was all ready for our big launch the next day. We had done our bit. Now… Would anyone turn up? Would the students performing their ancestral monologues give Alan Bennett a run for his money? Would my feet turn to ice? The answer to all was a resoundingly affirmative YES!

From the moment we opened the doors, parents, visitors and shoppers came flooding in to see the exhibition and at 10.30, with the ring of an old school bell, the monologues began. 30 students performed their little hearts out for an hour and a half of nostalgic drama of the very highest order. We heard of stunt drivers from the 1950s, a wife whose husband was in jail for owning a radio during the occupation, a famous Chinese writer and illustrator living in Edinburgh in the 1940’s, an hilarious chef on board a warship in WW2, even Scott of the Antarctic was brought back just to tell us that Amundsen had got their first. The audience were stunned by the quality and confidence these young people had brought to their performances. The huge empty shop was full of an incredible buzz which had been shaped by their learning experiences at school. This day, if I ever needed proof that what we were doing has helped shape keen, young learners into highly skilled, highly motivated, passionate learners, this was the day.

So as David Essex waxes lyrically about a winter’s tale and I have lost all feeling in the tips of my fingers, people are still pouring in to marvel at our little geniuses.

Our young people spend an extraordinary amount of time at our institutions, often not getting the recognition for their hard work, not getting a voice for their achievements and not being able to shout about the brilliant creations of exceptional value our students are capable of.

Public exhibitions of students work certainly stops teachers ‘accepting’ work as what students are capable of. Every student in Year 8 had a piece of work at the exhibition. Spelling, punctuation, presentation from every student was near perfect. It’s funny how teachers look at these things with a more critical eye when there is more at stake than a level, a tick and a shelf to put it on.



We now have moved on to ‘Pan Pipe Christmas Moods’ album. Thankfully a mother and child are taking it in turns to read out some of the diaries on display. That… And only that is giving me a warm feeling inside as the ice block formally known as my nose starts to drip.

So what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that students are far more passionate about learning when we design meaningful ‘joined-up’  projects which encourage students to shine and stretch their thinking. Projects which question rather than accepts a student’s ability. Projects which explore, nurture and develop the fundamental skills needed to be successful learners. And finally, projects which give students a chance to publicly show what they are capable of.

There have never been so many empty shops in towns and cities across our nation. Adopt a shop. Fill it with what’s great learning in your neighbourhood and just see what happens to the public perception of your school. See what happens to the faces of the students you teach when you show them just how much their learning means to you. The profit you make will be priceless. Just make sure your shop has heating. And no bloody Christmas music.

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