Lessons Learned: Putting experience to work

Ark recently hosted a policy discussion with King’s College London to debate their experience of education reform over the past decade. It was the culmination of a joint research project which resulted in the publication of a report entitled ‘Lessons Learned’ bringing together a range of essays on unlocking educational potential.

Among the report’s recommendations was a call for teachers to be given weekly one-to-one football-style coaching sessions to improve the quality of what happens in the classroom. It also recommended an expansion of school-based nurseries led by graduate qualified staff.

The event was chaired by Lucy Heller, CEO of Ark, and featured Becky Francis, Professor of Education at King’s College London, Brian Sims, Director of Education at Ark and Sam Freedman, Director of Research & Evaluation at Teach First.

Whilst commending the work that Ark has done in closing the attainment gap, Becky Francis acknowledged that ‘the gap is still too wide, especially at secondary school, and more needs to be done to address this’. She argued that it is vital that Pupil Premium is expanded and schools are supplied with evidence of what works whilst tightening accountability.

She also argued for a research-grounded approach with all pupils having equal access to a broad and balanced curriculum.

There was discussion about the role of research vs practice, and whilst it was agreed that both of these elements are necessary, Brian Sims emphasised Ark’s commitment to a practice based approach to teaching and the importance of building a bridge between research and practice in the classroom, as ‘it is in the classroom that the magic happens’. He said that while the blueprint for school improvement was different in each school, there are certain core beliefs at Ark, specifically: a mastery based curriculum, developing classroom practitioners and focussing on the early years.

A recurring theme running through the debate was how to get the best people into the profession and encourage them to stay. Sam Freedman spoke about a ‘perfect storm’ for teacher recruitment with a booming economy, rising pupil numbers and falling graduate numbers. One of the challenges illustrated by graduate surveys conducted by Teach First is the perception that it can be a tough job because of behaviour issues.

Brian Sims drew a comparison with air traffic controllers – there is only one profession which takes more decisions per day over and above teachers. He said that while air traffic controllers have the chance “to go and lie in a room with cushions and relax” the same opportunity is not available to teachers.

Lucy Heller concluded the discussion by acknowledging that one of the real challenges for academy networks is how to codify good practice and ensure that the Department for Education and others are actively sharing that as widely as possible.

You can download the full Lessons Learned report here. Covering subjects from early years to post-16 education, and with chapters on mastery, teacher coaching, digital technology and closing the attainment gap, we hope this report provides some suggestions of how to secure those gains and unlock every child’s potential.