Tune-in to Talking Phase 2

September 28, 2015 in Current Projects, Uncategorized

The Phase 1 research is complete, and we are now confidently extending the project to settings across Oldhamtuneinlogo.

You can read the full report on Phase 1 and its impact here. It shows the progress made in Speech, Language and Communication by vulnerable cohorts of children, and the growth in practitioner knowledge and confidence using musical approaches to develop it.

Our EY consultant and colleagues from Oldham Music Service have now shaped the resources into a one-term-long package that will be taken up by nine settings in the academic year 2015-16.

A cluster of settings in Watersheddings has already made an enthusiastic start with a training session attended by 25 of their staff and the first of our music consultant’s practical sessions for children. The work will continue this term with sessions for parents so that they and their children can benefit from the enjoyment of our exciting resources.

The Oldham Network of Independent Childminders (OPIC) welcomed us for another evening of training in September, this time focused on early phonics. They have taken away activity packs to help them build sounds and songs into everyday activities around snack time and outdoor play.


Tune-in to Talking for Early Years

September 3, 2015 in Current Projects

Practitioners in Phase 1 made a fantastic contribution to our research by wholeheartedly putting the activities into practice in their settings. Read more here about what we did and its impact presentation slides 9th. Phase two starts next week with a programme for three settings which includes training, resources and music sessions for children and families.

Year 7 Maths Project: End of year review

July 17, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects, R and D

The first year of this project is nearly complete and we have made some significant changes to the way we teach year 7:

  • Students are now taught about 50% of the content from previous years and spend time mastering this and applying their knowledge through intelligent practice.
  • The classes work in groups according to ability and are supported by either the class teacher or a Teaching Assistant.
  • There is an established ‘numeracy starter’ to develop mathematical fluency with core number skills
  • Bespoke assessments have been written to reflect the content taught and which give (Blue Coat) Levels.

RAD EoY Review

Over the course of the year the project has influenced other areas of the department and a similar approach has now been adopted in year 8 and 9. Most significantly, the principles of the Shanghai Mastery approach seem to reflect what we have been doing in the project and has added to the evidence base that encouraged us to start this up in the first place. The year 7 project has effectively acted as a ‘trial’ of this approach and evidence so far suggests that it has been effective – I will return to this later.

There are still things we need to work on – students are following a different curriculum plan to other students which makes set changes difficult throughout the year and puts pressure on getting the group ‘right’ at the start and making any changes in the first few weeks. Fortunately, we have re-hashed the curriculum plan for the whole of year 7 to develop the mastery approach and allow time for students to develop a deeper conceptual understanding and so next year we will be able to follow this with the weakest sets, still allowing for set changes. We also need to carefully manage how to slowly introduce the content that has been missed – students will cover everything but concepts will be introduced slowly and in relatively small increments to allow it to embed, developing fluency and allowing time for intelligent practise.

When I asked the staff who have been most closely associated with these groups – the class teacher, another member of the department and the teaching assistants – what the successes have been for this year, this was their response (in no particular order):

  • Increased enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Thanks to the reduced curriculum, the students don’t feel overwhelmed with the workload.
  • The routine and established practices that have been put into place has led to skills which have been developed more and more throughout the year. Particularly with so many feeder primary schools providing students for our Year 7 cohort, this has meant that students have had a chance to appreciate a variety of methods of tackling certain problems.
  • The number work of these students has improved significantly.
  • The pace of the lessons and the curriculum feels much less rushed for the teacher. Topics can be planned out in detail rather than steamrolled through as it has been previously. Extra flexibility means that it doesn’t matter if another lesson is required in order for students to master something.


  • I also asked the same staff for areas that we needed to develop, these were the areas they highlighted:
  • Students at present are not following the same scheme as those not involved in the project. They will therefore have missed out on certain topics which others will have seen. This also makes universal tests etc difficult to set.
  • Although the project is currently running with the lower attaining students, are the top end of these students being sufficiently stretched?
  • Careful thought will need to go into the planning of the next phase in which students will be introduced to algebra. We will need to be critical as to whether or not this has been successful.
  • Some of the weakest students found the numeracy booklets too difficult – in future they could spend this time working on gaps highlighted in their PIVATs.


  • Ultimately, will this project be considered a success? We now have a year’s worth of data that we have analysed, here are a few headlines:
  • One group significantly out-performed the other. Compared to target, one group was nearly a ‘Blue Coat’ sub-level better.
  • Boys and girls performed similarly compared to target and in terms of progress from the start of the year. Boys were marginally better – comparatively, last year’s equivalent groups also saw similar boy/girl performance with girls slightly better.
  • Pupil Premium students results were marginally better than the whole class compared to target which is similar to equivalent groups last year.

It’s difficult to do a fair case match with last year’s groups as the levels have changed (old levels to new ‘Blue Coat’ levels) reflecting new harder content at GCSE and targets this year are marginally inflated. However, we have sufficient evidence to suggest we are “doing no harm” compared to regular methods and so the trial can be continued. Next year’s results at year 8 will be more telling. However, the objectives of this project were more than just student attainment, qualitative feedback suggests there have been gains:

  • Student feedback reveals that students enjoy maths at the end of year 7.
  • Feedback also reveals that students feel confident in maths.
  • Teaching assistants feel empowered by the small group work.
  • The class teacher has developed a model for not leading from the front and can differentiate more effectively for a class that has students with targets ranging over 7 sub-levels.

So where do we go from here?  Jane Jones HMI, Ofsted’s lead inspector for Maths supports the mastery approach, Charlie Stripp of the NCETM sums this up nicely:

There can now be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ofsted is fully supportive of schools changing the way they teach maths, to reflect a mastery approach. We are very grateful to Jane Jones for spelling out so clearly how the mastery approach is completely consistent with the aims of the new maths National Curriculum, and for the immensely helpful advice she gave to headteachers preparing for Ofsted inspections. We hope this will give schools more confidence to take a mastery approach to maths teaching, which, evidence suggests, helps all pupils to improve their understanding of maths.

So the plan for 2015-2016 looks like this:

  1. The current year 7 teacher for the groups that have run the trial will continue with the equivalent groups in the new year 7.
  2. The teacher who has supported and has got to know these pupils is taking them on in year 8.
  3. The mastery curriculum that we have adopted here has been extrapolated more widely across KS3 and KS4.


Phase 1 Findings Tune-In to Talking Early Years Project

July 8, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects

Please see the attached presentation which documents the findings from Phase 1: Closing the Gap Research Project with selected school and PVI providers in Oldham in partnership with The Blue Coat School.

phase 1 presentation

Year 7 Maths Project: Parents’ Support Evening

April 30, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects, R and D

If we were going to be successful with this project we would have to engage parents.  We are lucky to be well supported in general by parents but often parents struggle to know how to help their sons and daughters in maths.

“We didn’t do it like this when I was at school”

“I tried to help John with his homework but I’ve no idea how to do it myself!”

“Could you tell me with revision guide/text book to buy or tutor to employ so John can work on his maths at home?”

Parents are willing but as a department we need to support them in supporting their children.  I’ve been running an evening for parents for the last few years – twice a year (October and March) where I share some simple methods for the four operations and solving equations for example before giving parents a chance to work on some maths with their children.  It’s a simple idea but it’s something I feel really passionate about – as a parent myself it’s something I would really appreciate.  Parents can meet a member of the department, they go away with resources to work on at home, but most importantly they sit and do maths together.  I’d love to think that students go home and sit at the dining room table doing their homework – maybe Mum comes and sits next to them and helps them when they’re stuck before the whole family sit down to dinner.  Life’s not always like that these days and creating a chance to sit and work together is something I want to model because it’s not always possible due to people’s busy lives.  It gives parents the chance to see their son/daughter working in a school environment and they can see where they’re struggling and praise them when they see where they excel.


This year followed a similar structure but it also afforded us the chance to share the aims of the project with parents and the philosophy of what we were doing was met with universal approval.  Parents got involved in the maths and had a chance to meet not just me but the class teacher; it was a really fun and purposeful  evening.  As with the majority of this project there’s nothing fancy here, but sharing the principle of mastery with parents and encouraging families to work together on maths problems is vital if these students are going to be successful.  As teachers we assume that parents know what goes on day-to-day in school, probably because we all went to school but this isn’t the case.  Feedback is that parents really appreciate this chance to come in and do some work. Tapping into parents’ willingness to help and support their students will hopefully pay dividends in the long run – in the short run we’re hoping homework is done a little bit better!

Tune-in to Talking Project Update

March 16, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects




Since the enthusiastically attended launch training day, the project has taken off with a real buzz in all our partner settings.

Participants have returned the Service Level Agreements to secure their share of the funding towards staff cover and for research grants. Seven settings will track children and provide data for our research report, and what makes this particularly interesting is that they represent very different types of provider, from the tiny Krafty Kids pre-school to much larger day nurseries and schools. A further two settings will join the training and use the resources, so coverage for children in Medlock Vale will be almost complete.

Our consultants, Kay and Angela, have started their support visits. They have been impressed with practitioners’ commitment and the insights they have shown into the specific needs of children in their settings.

Already, the boxes have been put to good use with lycra, snakes and kitchen equipment much in evidence in both continuous provision and adult-led activities. The Ding Dong Bag has become a favourite book, in one case even leading to the idea of making book bags to accompany it.  Several colleagues reported the effectiveness, and fun, that they had found in using musical approaches in daily routines. The ‘Hello Song’  has been widely used and adapted!

Four settings have already set up ways of sharing the training and good practice with colleagues, making really effective use of staff meetings and modelling in shared sessions. Well done to all who overcame their inhibitions to make music with children and adults!

The focus on family learning and engagement is very clear already where parents have been invited to attend drop-in events with a focus on singing.

An especially impressive aspect of this shared self-improvement project is the confidence and flexibility that colleagues have brought to it. They have shared some excellent suggestions for developing the resources which we will incorporate into Box 2. Also, they are using the consultants’ visits to meet their specific needs. For example, the music consultant will lead a session for all staff during her visit to one setting, whereas in another she will model activities for a group of parents.

Looking ahead, we will be taking the training to the Oldham Childminders’ Network on 30th March. Our colleagues in the Oldham Library Service are getting ready to support Box 2.

Watch this space, and contact us to find out more!

Narrowing the Gap: Using Mental Toughness & Aspirational Target Setting

February 6, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects, R and D

Sarah is researching the effect of MT and target setting on Pupil Premium students

Sarah is researching the effect of MT and target setting on Pupil Premium students

Sarah Coleman in Social Science is researching the effect Mental Toughness training and target setting can have on Pupil Premium students:

Pupil premium students have been identified nationally as one of the groups that are underachieving in schools. The research will include an initial analysis of the differences (if any) in home support in particular- when students encounter problems with their homework or classwork- how do they deal with / overcome this?

This is an important area to explore using a randomised controlled trial design because there is a notable difference in the students that are from non-pupil premium backgrounds and those that are identified pupil premium in terms of their levels of progress and overall achievement (the intervention is one which would allow measurement of students mental toughness, both from a sample of Pupil Premium students and random students that would be from a non pupil premium sample).

The research has 2 aims.

  1. To use the Mental Toughness Initiative in order to enhance and encourage students from both PP and non-PP backgrounds to deal with setbacks and problems more effectively.
  2. To use aspirational methods of target setting, university visits combined with the mental toughness programme to measure whether achievement is raised by these interventions.

The Mental Toughness questionnaire- which will be used to measure impact of the intervention will be used before and after the coaching and interventions. These would evidence whether students have become more resilient and ‘mentally tough’ in their attitudes- leading to them dealing more effectively with setbacks / problems with home and school work and in general life events.

The second point will be measured by a pre and post questionnaire establishing whether their aspirations have been raised e.g. staying on at 6th form, planning on going to university.

I have designed a questionnaire which will reveal information about study habits, how they cope when they encounter a problem with school work in class or at home. This will also reveal any possible barriers to learning- e.g. financial or aspirational.

The questionnaires will be distributed at the start of the project and then followed up with a group interview. The mental toughness intervention will also involve a measurable standardized questionnaire and post intervention questionnaire which will be able to show whether an improvement or change has occurred.

In order to achieve these aims, the research will seek to answer the following research questions.

  • Do pupil premium students deal with problems they encounter differently to students that are from non-pupil premium backgrounds?
  • Is so, what are the main differences and how can the school support or intervene in allowing these students to deal more effectively with this? Null hypothesis: There will be no significant difference in student responses from pupil premium and non-pupil premium backgrounds following the mental toughness training.



Tune-in to Talking – A training and research project for Early Years practitioners

February 3, 2015 in Current Projects, R and D, Uncategorized


We are delighted to have been awarded funding for this Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) improvement project starting later this month.

Our focus is on improving provision for disadvantaged children in Oldham by providing high quality training for practitioners to help them accelerate children’s speech language and communication through creative means and music.

The project will focus initially on the Medlock Vale ward of Oldham, engaging all providers of EYFS there. Phase 2 will spread the work more widely across Oldham and beyond.

Workforce development is a key aim, especially at a time when EY provision in the area is expanding with the opening of new PVI Early Years centres.

EYFS Practitioners in the project will have five learning aims:

  • Increased knowledge and understanding of the theory of children’s speech, language, communication and social development;
  • Pedagogy, strategies and resources to promote language and communication development;
  • Knowledge, understanding and confidence in using  music in creative ways to support language development;
  • Knowledge and practical strategies to develop parent and carer participation in their children’s learning
  • Increased ability to influence others people’s practice in their own contexts and beyond

We will:

  • Train 30 practitioners from Medlock Vale and adjacent wards in children’s speech, language and communication development and practical strategies for 3 year olds based on sounds and music.
  • Provide rich resources for practitioners to use and adapt with children and families in their settings
  • Use a co-constructive approach with parents and carers to develop resources that they find useful.
  • Collect evidence and data to report our research to the ORIM network.

Follow our progress here and on Twitter, and do get in touch if you are interested in our work.

Randomised Control Trials

January 9, 2015 in Current Projects, R and D

“This is not about telling teachers what to do. It is in fact quite the opposite. This is about empowering teachers to make independent, informed decisions about what works, by generating good quality evidence, and using it thoughtfully.”

“The gains here are potentially huge. Medicine has leapt forward with evidence-based practice. Teachers have the same opportunity to leap forwards and become a truly evidence-based profession. This is a huge prize, waiting to be claimed by teachers.”

Ben Goldacre


4 projects in school have won grants from the National College for Teaching & Leadership to implement small-scale classroom-based randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to investigate what might help close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils.  The four projects are:

  • Steve Oakes: Improving the Mental Toughness of Y11 Pupil Premium Students
  • Sarah Coleman: To narrow the gap between pupil premium and non pupil premium using mental toughness and aspirational target setting.
  • Paul Briggs: What impact does context-based learning have on effort and achievement within extended writing?
  • Laurie Luscombe: To what extent is motivation towards homework a factor in the success of a pupil studying mathematics?

Ben Goldacre, an academic made famous for his criticism of ‘bad science’ in his book as well as his policy work with government,  has written about the project here.


Context-based learning in STEM

January 9, 2015 in Current Projects, R and D, Uncategorized

Paul Briggs in Design Technology is investigating What impact does context-based learning have on effort and achievement within extended writing?

As STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) co-ordinator for the school it will be interesting to see if applying a specific STEM context to a piece of extending writing will result in pupils achieving a higher level than if a context isn’t applied to their work. Does working with topics that interest pupils and are relatively controversial have an impact on achievement.  Alongside this will be research into the perception by students of STEM subjects and their importance – will this change over the course of a context-based project?

This is an important area to explore using a randomised controlled trial design because this method will help to explore the impact of the context on achievement. It will enable results to be explored at all current levels of achievement to discover if there is a level where the project has a greater or lesser impact.  Banks and Barlex touched upon the use of contexts within Science and Technology in their book “Teaching STEM in the Secondary School,” (2014) also pointing out how some pupils, particularly girls, can be distracted by realistic ‘technological’ contexts. This project will move to assess whether t

The research has 2 aims: these are…

1.  To establish whether context-based learning impacts upon achievement. The findings from this work are in line with this conclusion.

2.  To discover if researching into a STEM-based context    helps to change perceptions.

In order to achieve these aims, the research will seek to answer the following research questions. . .

  • Do context-based projects help to improve achievement in extended-writing for students?
  •  Do context-based projects help to change initial perceptions of STEM subjects?