A number of local primary schools, led by the head teacher of Falconbrook Primary School, in Wandsworth, SW London, have been involved in the initial stages of developing this ‘action learning’ model for maths professional development. The Headteacher has refined and developed the model in her own school and is now supporting three other primary schools to implement the model.
Falconbrook Primary School is an inner city primary school set in challenging circumstances and is currently ranked as one of the most deprived schools in the local authority. It has between 270 and 300 pupils although numbers fluctuate termly due to starter housing for asylum seekers and refugees. It is situated in an area of high-rise social housing wedged between considerably more affluent areas. Over 80% of the school’s intake has English as an Additional Language (EAL), and there are currently over 36 languages spoken in the school.
Since embarking on its journey of action learning in 2006, when the school maths results had been in the 99th percentile (2004), the results have improved substantially. This is partly as a result of the collaborative and reflective nature of the process. In 2010, 100% of pupils achieved level 4 in maths SATS, placing the school in the 1st percentile for mathematics. The school was highly commended in the 2010 TES Awards for an Outstanding Numeracy Initiative. Ofsted’s recent monitoring visit in June 2010 described progress in the school: ‘Attainment in mathematics was above the national average. These results represent outstanding progress in mathematics where provision is now particularly strong.’
Schools involved with Falconbrook’s project
Involved in the initial development:
Falconbrook Primary School
Fircroft Primary School
High View Primary School
Hotham Primary School
Sir James Barrie Primary School
Involved in the current activity:
Albemarle Primary School
Falconbrook Primary School
St George’s CE Primary School
One more primary is waiting to join.
The Headteacher, Lin Philips, was seeking ways to address the school’s maths results. Her research led her to undertake a doctorate and through this to develop an ‘action learning’ model for mathematics professional development, based on an American Business model. The school has trialled its action learning programme with four other local schools.
The aim of the initial research was to identify an approach to professional development in mathematics that would work for this type of school, the staff and the children. The requirements were:
- for teachers to work collaboratively
- for ‘in situ’ professional development
- to expose teachers to a deeper and richer mathematical dialogue
- to create time and space for teachers to be able to reflect critically about maths
Having embedded the processes in Falconbrook, the Headteacher is now trialling the approach with other schools and developing a transferable model.
Leadership and management
Falconbrook School takes the lead on this initiative. Meetings are initially arranged by the Headteachers of the participating schools, as early experience shows that the Headteachers are the power brokers and essential to the implementation of any new initiative. Meetings are chaired in the first instance by the head of Falconbrook.
Development activities and their impact
Action learning is a process that involves learning through collaboration. It can be summarised as group learning with an emphasis on dialogue through reflection on action and reflection in action. It is based on Socratic questioning techniques. A mathematical issue is presented, which the group focuses on for approximately 45 minutes. There are three distinct roles in the group: the presenter of the issues, the facilitator, and the other members of the group. The aim is to help the presenter deconstruct the issues, challenge the preconceptions, and help them reformulate mathematical ideas. It is not a comfortable process for the presenter as they are forced to reflect on their mathematical knowledge, identifying and understanding how children learn. It is focused on the presenter reaching a resolution as opposed to the giving of advice.
The process used by Falconbrook has evolved over a three year period: evaluating the needs of the school and staff, research in mathematical theory and practice, leading to the development of action learning model for the school and local partners. The Education Department at Sussex University provided major support in developing the model.
In the first instance, the senior management team at Falconbrook School and Headteachers from four other schools worked together on the project which focused on developing maths subject content and curriculum knowledge. This was then embedded in the professional development at Falconbrook School. During this time Lin worked on the role descriptions for the presenter and facilitator and ‘the rules of engagement’ for the group.
Staff are now skilled in the use of ‘open questioning’. They find the process stimulating, challenging and helpful and are confident and motivated about teaching maths - and this is reflected in the huge improvement in results. Managers also report that they find the techniques professionally useful and that it gives them insight into the professional development needs of the staff. They have identified key features of the process as:
- Finding time and space to reflect on what we teach mathematically and how we teach it
- Understanding the crucial steps that happen in earlier year groups for the successful teaching of maths
- Asking open ended questions in lessons
- Making mathematical connections in teaching
- Sharing ideas
- Practising using mathematical dialogue and developing listening skills as a means of learning.
- Appreciating how important dialogue is in the classroom
- Its reflective nature is a valuable opportunity (not often found in a busy day) for teachers to think holistically about what they are teaching and to whom
Follow up activities
Lin is now working with three local schools to train them in using the action learning model. She is working with the Headteacher and the maths co-ordinator in each school and in the first instance chairs the meetings. As the schools take on responsibility for the process, the Headteacher of that school takes over as chair. Already two schools have gone through the process and Lin has handed over the reins to them. She is now setting up the process with a third school.
Falconbrook Primary School has funded the development from its professional development budget, along with a small amount of funding from NCETM.
The Headteacher has been invited to speak at a conference in Sussex as well as an NCETM conference.
Key Influential factors:
- Strong leadership by the lead Headteacher, with a passion to improve teaching and learning in mathematics
- Strong desire to drive up maths results and provide children with a good learning experience
- Rigorous research in identifying a model, based on learning theory and relevant to the needs of the school
- Clear descriptors for the different roles in the process
- Professional development model which creates time and space for teachers to be able to reflect critically about maths
- Involvment of other schools in the early stage of development, bringing a wider perspective
- Schools in the initiative soon take over responsibility for the process
For further information contact Lin Philips firstname.lastname@example.org