You have an itch of dissatisfaction, things are not quite how you would like them to be. Teachers work hard, but many students are passive, dependent and risk averse. Teachers would like to do things differently, but they are not sure what to try – the need to chase examination success on behalf of their students is consuming their energies and creativity. You worry that your students are ill-equipped to deal with the complex demands of 21st century living and working.
Might Building Learning Power be a way of improving examination success and helping students to develop the learning behaviours that will sustain them throughout a lifetime of learning ?
Before making a start on this exciting and essential approach to education, leaders and teachers will want to explore principles, background research, and impact of learning power in schools. Our resources in this section are designed to help leaders and teachers explore questions such as:
Building Learning Power is an approach to helping young people to become better learners, both in school and out. It is about creating a culture in classrooms—and in the school more widely—that systematically cultivates habits and attitudes that enable young people to face difficulty and uncertainty calmly, confidently, and creatively. Students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better. They concentrate more, think harder, and find learning more enjoyable. They do better in their tests and external examinations. And they are easier and more satisfying to teach.
Today’s schools need to be educating not just for exam results but for lifelong learning; building their all important learning character. To thrive in the twenty-first century, it is not enough to leave school with a clutch of examination certificates. Students need to have learnt how to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self-regulating and self-aware, collaborative and inquisitive.
Why does education need to change?
There are many changes, pressures, dissatisfactions and opportunities that are leading thousands of people around the world to ask the kinds of hard questions out of which philosophies and approaches like BLP have sprung.
The economic imperative
Education is often justified – by governments and others – as an investment in national competitiveness and prosperity, producing a workforce that is highly skilled, creative and adaptable to compete in global markets. However, report after report show ‘a significant disconnection between education systems around the world and the needs of 21st century employers’. There are repeated calls for a curriculum which would be effective at cultivating a core set of ‘generic skills and attitudes, pre-eminently, the ability to learn’.
The personal imperative
In the complex currents of globalisation, young people find growing up in the 21st century hard. Exposure to multiple pressures and uncertainties concerning deep issues such as livelihood, sustainability, sexuality, loyalty and identity is driving young people to despair or more reckless behaviour. Whether young people flounder or flourish in the wider maelstrom of conflicting images and ideas depends on the resources they have at their disposal. To swim or sink demands a high level of mental and emotional development.
The social imperative
The UK government’s major Foresight project on ‘Mental capital and well being’ gathered a wide range of expert advice on foreseeable social and technological trends and the personal and material resources that will be needed to meet the likely challenges and opportunities.
The report included that human well being in a complex time will become increasingly dependent on the dispositions to be curious, inquisitive, experimental, reflective and sociable – in short to be lifelong and life-wide learners.
What students, teachers and schools do differently in Learning Powered schools.
Listen to Molly Coffey talking about herself as a learner and how Landau Forte school shaped her as a successful learning powered learner.
See our Core Model to learn more about how it all works
Uffculme School is an 11-16 comprehensive school serving a small town in east Devon. Highly regarded in the local community, it performs extremely well in public examinations. The Oftsed inspection of 2007 rated the school outstanding. Headteacher, Lorraine Heath, knew that she had a highly successful school but – in her commitment to continuous improvement – wanted a coherent whole-school approach that would commit to sustainable growth in learning and teaching. Her hard-working teachers would never be complacent about their achievements but she knew that their students were far too reliant on their teachers and less inclined to be the independent learners that she knew they would need to be in the future.
The school began to work with Building Learning Power in 2011 and adopted a rigorous programme:
- The school identified a team of lead practitioners: highly respected and experienced teachers who would act as champions to these radical approaches to learning and teaching.
- The lead practitioners reviewed the quality of learning in lessons, having been trained to know how to look at lessons through a Building Learning Power lens. Two days of intensive observations led to a full and detailed report that recognised the many strengths in current practice but also the missed opportunities on which the school could capitalise.
- This review led to a training course for the lead practitioners, followed by a staff development day in January 2012 – led by one of our BLP consultants, with follow-up workshops from team members. In response, deputy headteacher Alan Blackburn posted the following: ‘I can honestly say that we have not had a training day where so many people have sought me out afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it and valued it. Staff said they really enjoyed your keynote and also got a lot out of the workshops.’
- A second tranche of teachers were introduced to Building Learning Power in practice and linked to coaching partners from the initial team. This led to wider curriculum involvement and an infectious discourse about learning across departments.
- Training of the leadership team then followed to ensure that their quality assurance procedures were consistent with the approaches being taken – this involved joint classroom observations with the external consultant. A member of the SLT, who had been Ofsted trained, stated that outstanding teaching and learning would come from staying consistent to the coherent Building Learning Power approaches.
- Meanwhile, the lead practitioners adopted individual departments – not their own – and acted as mentors to nominated teachers in these curriculum areas.
The BLP consultant continued to provide bespoke support and challenge through:
- Focus work with individual departments
- One-to one work with heads of department or nominated leaders of learning
- Training of new teaching staff
- Formative reviews and reports on progress
After an Ofsted inspection in March 2014, Lorraine Heath emailed us:
“Thank you for all of your input and support over the last two and a bit years. I don’t know if you heard on the grapevine that we’ve just had our inspection, I’m delighted to say that it was outstanding in every category (and for every bullet point in the framework). As you would expect the students were fantastic and staff were too: 40% lessons judged outstanding and 52% good. Your work with Alan and our lead practitioners has clearly had a significant impact and I know it’s not finished yet (as such things never are) but I want to thank you really sincerely for the manner in which you have helped and supported us.”
- The bringing together of disparate teachers and students from two schools
- The scant training and development that many teachers had previously received
- The inflexible nature of the temporary accommodation
- The limited leadership experience of many who were adopting key roles
- Rapid turnover of teaching staff
- The numbers of new and inexperienced teachers who were starting their careers in less than ideal circumstances
Nevertheless, the school did adopt a coherent programme of training, classroom observation and resource development of which Building Learning Power was a part. It soon became apparent that the levels of competence that existed needed radical attention. This led to a bespoke programme of support for individual teachers who required careful mentoring and guidance to enable them to arrive at consistent standards before they could adopt coherent approaches to develop students’ deeper learning habits.
Ofsted recognised that the school – unsurprisingly – required improvement. Work on Building Learning Power continued to be an integral and coherent part of this improvement process. Under the experienced leadership of a new Principal, Bill Jordon, the school made rapid and sustainable progress. Clear expectations and consistent approaches to teaching and learning have seen the school improve markedly and to be featured nationally as an example of how a focus on aspirational learning approaches can impact on outcomes for white working class males.
Regular involvement by one of our consultants has meant that the focus on Building Learning Power has been maintained – as a consistent element during challenging and changing times – through:
- Regular twilight training sessions for the whole staff on the development of specific learning habits
- Focus work with individual departments linked to the coaching of subject leaders
- Continuous classroom observation and review of the impact of teaching on students’ learning
- Mentoring of individual teachers through a critical friend programme
- Development of student leaders as observers of classroom practice and teachers’ coaches
The move into a state-of-the-art building in a fresh location with a clear community outreach commitment has contributed much to the impressive change in attitudes within the school. Equally important has been the assured focus on learning and the adoption of consistent approaches that ensure that students are
- Clear about the intended outcomes from lessons
- Aware of the progress that they will make collectively and individually
- Conscious of the learning habits they will be using in lessons
- Trained in routines that build independence and personal responsibility
- Purposefully engaged and moved through a range of cumulative learning experiences at a pace that is varied and appropriate
As Ofsted have noted: “The quality of teaching has come a long way on its journey from special measures. Inadequate teaching has been eliminated and the improved skills teachers have acquired are leading to many students making accelerated progress in their learning.”
The products below will also assist in helping you to answer your own starter questions about learning power.
Book list for leaders
The essential BLP books that every school leader should read, one copy of each.
Learning Habits: At a Glance cards
Timescale: Up to one year
Objectives: Twelve double-sided A3 cards, available as a digital download (pdf), to help teachers infuse the learning power habits into their teaching.
The Learning Quality Framework
Guides the long-term learning journey of a school that aspires to make world-class learning its prime educational goal. It captures the essence of what a learning school does to ensure that all its people – staff and students – become better learners.