Keep your eye on the ball

When the Met Office forecasts the weather, its Cray XC40 supercomputer looks out of the window and draws down billions of similar data points from previous weather patterns to predict the most likely sequence of events over the next day, week or month. The more data it has, the more accurate its predictions.

down angle photography of red clouds and blue sky

When a frisbee flies through the air, its path is guided by a combination of influences that someone catching a frisbee for the first time will not have seen before. The speed, spin, tilt, air pressure and wind patterns all combine to ensure that while an expert catcher will predict its path, he won’t always be correct but the number of previous experiences he has of similar flights will help with his judgement.

In education, this means that familiarity with a concept or fact will improve our understanding of it. Not that we catch the same frisbee, thrown the same way, in still air a thousand times, but that each nuance and variation of flight which emerges over a thousand experiences is noted and stored, so that we can confidently catch the next one. We study today so that tomorrow is better.

As Tom Rees and Matthew Evans have explained well, leadership is the same. We might be experts in the field but we cannot truly lead that field until we have led that field. An event needs a decision, and we might make the best decision we can at the time, but further experience of similar events will help us make a better, or at least more informed, decision next time.

So when a football coach tells a player to keep their eye on the ball, or a cricketer “watches the ball to the bat” it’s not to improve today’s shot, but each and every shot that comes after.



Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

Gap analysis

Like many schools, we are struggling to close the gap between our vulnerable groups and the rest. Also like many schools, we use flight paths based on KS2 attainment for tracking student progress and as an inspiring guest speaker said last week, we are planning for this gap right from the start!

As a Head of Maths, I read a lot and remember some of it, and I wanted to turn the maelstrom of ideas and opinion into something our Department could actually act upon in a cohesive way. What follows is my first ever (short) blog post which might go some way to helping me formulate a plan of action. Credit to this series of posts from Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner), which helped a lot.

I envisage this being used as a discussion document in a forthcoming meeting, leading to some actions we can all commit to taking, but I’m pretty sure there are some big ideas I have missed out. Comments very welcome.

All students, regardless of their background or educational need, might be faced with the issues below and it is important for all students that we provide the responses indicated. However, disadvantaged and students with SEND will be affected more significantly by these issues and will therefore benefit more from this attention.

Attendance means that missed lessons are unlikely to be caught up because the support at home doesn’t exist to help them.

  • Add tasks for a week’s or topic’s lessons to Hegarty Maths either as a class or individually. Can we develop a school-wide system to support this via tutors?

Gaps in learning are more prevalent for disadvantaged due to home support, attendance and other factors, leading to further misunderstandings and a widening gap.

  • Focus our assessment on the curriculum and closing gaps in learning, and be confident that working-at grades will flow from this information.
  • Explicitly examine, test and re-teach the pre-requisites for each unit.

Behaviour and expectations tend to slip at times. It is tempting to be over-sensitive to a student’s predicament.

  • Ensure expectations of behaviour, work and homework are the same, high standard for all
  • Support students in maintaining them where necessary.

Belonging. Many students feel like outsiders in school, as if the aspirations and discourse in the classroom is not for them. There is some mindset research showing that a sense of belonging spawns resilience and reduces fear of failure.

  • Be explicit about how to conduct a discussion and group work.
  • Do not assume language and knowledge of context is already understood.
  • Help students to feel they fit in – ambassadors, invitations to Study Group, phone calls and postcards home.

Destinations and careers. Do our disadvantaged students know what they need to do in order to get into college – apprenticeships – sixth form – university? Who tells them what is important and why – it needs to be someone whose advice they can trust rather than an add-on to a lesson or a motivational speech where all they perceive is some notion of the future being used to make them complete their work.

  • Avoid “you need maths to get a good job” and teach the subject for its own sake.
  • Instead, discuss the school’s (or independent) careers advice in Year 9 to ensure they have at least two years to focus on where they want to be.

I’m keen to avoid the predictable cries of “mark their books first!”, or “seat them at the front!” and am mindful of Alex Quigley’s Penalty Paradox, but would love for this to spawn some suggestions of things that work in your school.

Tell me what you think: go to town. It’s my first blog and I need to learn quick.