When BLP is adopted across the school, with support from leadership, quite the opposite is true. When pupils are helped to become more confident and independent as learners, their results go up, not down. Under test conditions, they are less likely to ‘go to pieces’: they are more resilient in the face of difficulty – they don’t give up so easily; they are more resourceful – if it doesn’t work one way, they are better at finding other strategies to try. And so they do better. BLP depends on this ‘AND’ philosophy: better preparation for life AND better examination performance. Even schools which show well-established high performance – including selective schools – have seen results enhanced.
Overwhelmingly, we find that inspectors love BLP when they see it. From the reports we have gathered from inspections of BLP schools, their reaction is to congratulate schools where they find pupils are self-aware about their learning, happy to take on responsibility for their own learning, good at collaborating, and so on. Most of our Learning Powered schools improve upon their Ofsted ratings after adopting BLP. We are now pleased to see that the benefits of BLP maintain their impact under the new assessment system, with several Learning Powered schools rated as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ in recent months. But the benefits of BLP are not limited to those at the top of the Ofsted spectrum: many schools in challenging circumstances have moved from ‘requires improvement’ when BLP has been part of their coherent plan to enhance learning and achievement. Of the four key areas against which schools are assessed by Ofsted, Building Learning Power directly addresses three – quality of teaching, pupil behaviour, and quality of leadership and management – and naturally impacts on the fourth – pupil achievement.
Yes, BLP takes time to embed in a school, and effort by individual teachers before it becomes second nature. It isn’t a quick fix or a glossy veneer, but the gradual, long-haul nature of BLP means you can take it slowly and by degrees. The guiding principles translate into a smorgasbord of small suggestions and possibilities, each one of which is not too demanding, and which build cumulatively into a significant shift in atmosphere and focus. The size and immediacy of this shift depends upon one key element: strategic leadership from the top of the organisation underpinned with a clear plan of action, with success criteria and regular check points to monitor progress.
4. Isn’t BLP just ‘good teaching’ wrapped up in fancy words? It looks like what good teachers have always done.
Well, that depends on your definition of ‘good teaching’, and the outcomes by which you judge it. There is plenty of evidence that some schools and teachers consistently get good exam results, but they do it by spoon-feeding, and their students do not develop high levels of emotional resilience, cognitive resourcefulness, sociability, and self-awareness along the way. A good many of these students become anxious and lost during subsequent phases of their learning, particularly so their first year at university. You could call that ‘good teaching’, but we don’t. Many schools adopt an in-between position – ‘We make our students think and stretch their minds’, they say, and they do. But it is a rare school that, without the benefit of BLP has thought through exactly what learning habits they are trying to develop, and how, systematically they are going about it.
The trouble with stand-alone courses in Thinking Skills or Learning to Learn is that they don’t have much impact beyond the particular setting in which they happen. Evaluations of such courses tend to find that any benefits don’t last, and they don’t generalise to other contexts. Transferable benefits are much more likely to result from an ‘infusion’ approach, as used in BLP, in which the cultivation of thinking and learning habits is addressed across the curriculum and beyond.
It is true that students who are already confident learners catch on to the BLP language more readily than those whose learning confidence and capacity have been limited. Students who have more or less given up on learning may be harder to enthuse with the idea that, with effort, they can build their confidence and capacity back up. But not impossible. You may have to start at a lower level than you had hoped, or cajole them more persistently, but lower-achieving students soon latch on to BLP and find it useful. We have noticed that lower attaining students are often given experiences in lessons that are well within their capabilities. They are not challenged by what they are given to do, and do not yet know how to make it more challenging, and therefore interesting, for themselves. But when provided with an intriguing and well-orchestrated learning stretch, and encouraged to take more control of their learning, such students very often show greater engagement.
Some schools think that their ‘high-fliers’ are fine as they are: they must already be powerful learners, or they wouldn’t be high achievers, right? But BLP draws a sharp distinction between students who have mastered a narrow set of learning techniques that they have found to deliver examination success, and students who have developed a broader, deeper capacity for learning in all its forms, in school and out.
‘One who sleeps on the floor need not fear falling out of bed.’ There are students who prefer to be passengers rather than active ‘crew’ as far as their education is concerned, because that way they do not have to take any risks or be held responsible. We should not be surprised – and certainly not defeated – if at first some of them resist our efforts to get them to think for themselves. But we have found that, for the vast majority of pupils, this is just a habit that, with a bit of persistence and persuasion, they can get over; and when they do, they discover that school is more engaging and more rewarding.
The adoption of these approaches needs to be whole-school and led by school leaders. All school stakeholders – from pupils to governors, leadership to support staff, and most importantly teachers – need to be brought on board for the full impact of Building Learning Power to be felt. The embedding of these approaches falls short when it is sidelined by staff who see it as ‘another initiative that will go away’. Head teachers need to give it high profile approval, and give leadership to influential and tenacious staff who can champion these ways forward. A single immersion at a staff development day is never enough – a strategic plan for long-term development, rooted in the school as a whole learning its way forward together, is the only way of ensuring impact.
In our experience, these approaches lie at the heart of good learning and teaching in every curriculum area. The impact could be seen recently – during recent monitoring visits – in areas as diverse as Literacy, Numeracy, P.E., and Project Work in the primary sector, and in Mathematics, P.E., Modern Foreign Languages, Child Care, Science, Art and English in the secondary sector.
11. This sounds all well and good with younger pupils, but how do you maintain this during the 'examination' years?
If you see the first years of education as the ‘learning foundation years’ and adapt your curriculum and pedagogy accordingly then you will have prepared students to learn in ways that will both gain them excellent examination results and equip them with the habits of mind for future success. Stop thinking ‘dare I try this with my year 6 students (if you teach in a primary school)’ ?, or ‘dare I try this with my year 11 students (secondary) ? – rather think how much easier it will be to be helping to prepare confident, thoughtful, resilient, independent, self-motivated learners for examination success.
We regularly run showcases so that visiting teachers can experience what life is like in a learning powered school. We also run conferences and courses to introduce BLP to interested teachers and leaders. Take a look at our Events page or contact one of our team so that we can assess your specific requirements and advise you which of our current events or courses would suit your current and future needs.
At a seminar run by one of our principal consultants, a member of the audience with a business background said: ‘What you are talking about makes such good sense – I’ve been thinking all the time about the applications of what you say to the world in which I operate. These habits are what we use all the time and what we need our people to demonstrate in the way they work. I’ve been worried for some time about what I’m looking for beyond good qualifications and this is helping me articulate what we – as employers – need now and in the future.’
Get in touch with us to talk about where your school is at the moment and what you want to achieve. Our programmes are often bespoke, but generally have a blend of the following elements: initial SLT awareness so that leaders present a united front about these developments; training of learning champions whose own practice can be enhanced as a precursor to their coaching of other colleagues within a professional learning community; awareness training days for the full staff; all supported by ongoing online support to ensure that the school’s efforts to build better learners remains on track and becomes, over time, a reality. Additional support in terms of a learning review, or The Learning Quality Framework, offer further external support to ensure that progress is sustained.
Our costs can be tailored to meet your budgetary constraints by trimming some of our programmes so that you can make a start before committing to long-term investment. All of our key programmes are supported by online materials that maintain momentum and act as a stimulus to teachers to adapt their practice with learning in mind. Because these materials are online and can be accessed over an extended period of time, schools are finding them a cost effective means of supporting the development of Building Learning Power. The fact that many schools have continued to engage us over a number of years and written us into their school improvement plan, is a sign that you will get value for money from what we will do together.