A blank canvas, Corridor conversations, and more. Ed Parkinson is back to share Attenborough School’s journey implementing the Maths — No Problem! programme. How did the change come about? What was it like getting everyone on board? Plus, Ed shares how the school cope with issues such as high pupil mobility.
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Hi. I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi. I'm Robin Potter.
Hi. I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Welcome back, everyone, to another episode of The School of School podcast. We've got Robin and we've got Adam here with us as per normal. Clearly I'm here as well. And we're really fortunate, we've got Ed Parkinson joining us to talk about his implementation of Maths -- No Problem! at his school. Ed, tell us about yourself. Tell us a little bit about your school.
Hi everyone. So my name's Ed and I work at a British school in Germany, called Attenborough School. And, yeah, we've been on quite a journey really with maths, and, yeah, I've come on to take you back to the beginning and trying to give you some sort of insight into where we were at the beginning of our journey with Maths -- No Problem! And almost like where we are now. So, I think I spoke to you guys on an earlier podcast about our context because for a number of years our school was actually a first school, which is a school that only goes up to year four. And it was about four years ago where there was a big changeover in our local area. The school changed from being a first school to a full primary school teaching children right to year six. And with that came the opportunity to redesign a lot of things in the school.
And maths was one of the things that we wanted to look at. We had quite a big turnover of staff and we were really fortunate actually, because we were in a position where we were almost like a blank canvas. Because almost nothing from the old school was going to come over unless it had to, we were in a position where we could kind of redesign things that may have been part and parcel of the fabric of a school.
So, yeah. So we were in this position where we had lots of experience with all the different colleagues that we work with and with all these things, there's schemes nowadays for lots of different curriculum areas and Maths -- No Problem! wasn't something that was new to us. We had seen the resources before, but I think to a lot of colleagues that had not necessarily had the experience of using them, they were just almost seen as resources, as additional resources that one could use to plan their provision. So yeah, we weren't apprehensive about it, but we wanted to see what was out there. We knew what we wanted for our learners. We knew we wanted to try and develop our children into becoming better mathematical reasoners.
I suppose when we looked at the children that we had at the time, there's often, I find in my experience, before we talked with Maths -- No Problem! there was often a kind of tendency to push through the idea of fluency-based learning, where you'd see the curriculum, you know what you needed to teach the children, and there'll be lots of teaching a methodology, but not necessarily digging deep into the why and getting the children to explain how they come to an answer kind of thing. So yeah, we knew we wanted that for our learners and we were saying, "Well, how can we get there?" So we were asking colleagues to bring forward their experiences and almost looking further afield. And one of the things about being out here and being a British school in a different country, we don't have any kind of network of schools around us.
We can't easily go and visit the local school down the road because they're obviously following a different curriculum in a different language. So with that, we had to look back to the UK and Maths -- No Problem! had been in the back of our minds. And it was only when we went to Three Bridges School in Southall in London and we visited them and we had our eyes opened really as to the potential of this scheme. And I remember I went back with another colleague at the time, and we were toured around the school by David, the maths leader there, and it was phenomenal. You had children right from year one all the way up to year six who were just so confident in their lessons. The teacher would ask them a question and straight away there was just a buzz in the classroom of talk.
And the teacher was almost standing back because the way that the sort of structure had ... It was embedded in the school, the children just knew exactly what was required of them at a given point in the lesson. And we were looking at every lesson and we were feeling excited. We were like, "This would be brilliant, this is what we would love for our school." But I think right from the very offset, we met with Jeremy and the head teacher there and he said, "You're not going to be able to implement this overnight. We've taken the time, it's taken us a long time to get to where we are now." And so that was in our minds going in and it was almost like, "Okay, we know where we want to get to, but it's small steps." So I think initially, and I'd say this to anyone considering not necessarily Maths -- No Problem!, but you can apply this to anything, couldn't you?
If you want to make a change, you have to think about what's the dream and how are you going to get there? And it's almost like thinking about the small steps of the implementation of it because it will be foolish to think that you're going to be able to come back to your school. And as a leader, this is one of the things I've learned. And if I were to come back and say, "We're doing this, this is how everyone's going to run this programme." It would never have had the success that it's had for us. So I think one of the things that was good is that I went back with a colleague. So I think, have you ever heard of the idea of having a first follower? There's a TED Talk about it. If anyone hasn't watched it, just Google it. But it's this idea of gaining your first follower and once you've got your first follower, it will spiral and it will become, like there'll be momentum and before long everyone's on board.
So I automatically had my colleague at the time, Jamie, he was the first follower. So we came back from Three Bridges and we're like, "Okay, let's try all this." So one of the things we started using were the resources, started trialling them out and he would be doing the same in his class, and then we would have corridor conversations, "Oh, how did that go with yours?" And he would say, "Oh, I've done this in my lesson. Have you tried that?"
And by having that, that was great because we could pitch it to the rest of our staff and say, "we've seen some brilliant maths learning in this school that we visited. We've been trialling it for a few weeks. We would love to share with you what we've done so far and see how everyone feels." And having that kind of open dialogue with the staff, we got the buy-in then and everyone was on board and they were willing to give it a go. So in the early stages of using Maths -- No Problem! it was like, "What do we want from everyone's lesson? What should we try and start first?" And so for us, we saw the idea of the anchor task and then ... So the anchor task in Maths -- No Problem! for people that don't know, it's a problem or a puzzle linked to the learning objective that is presented to the children in an open way that can sort of spark conversation and discussion.
And so in a typical lesson that we are teaching now, we would present that to the children initially. And sometimes obviously the resources online give you a structure of how you could introduce that. Sometimes there might need to be a little bit of pre-talk with the children, pre-discussion, before you show them the initial image. But I think the great thing about it is that the resource is there and then the professional can look at that and go, "What's the pedagogy? How am I going to deliver this with my children?"
But one of the things we wanted was, well, let's try and get the anchor task embedded across the school. Everyone can have a go at doing that. And then what we want to see is the teacher modelling how that problem could be solved with this help of the children and putting that onto a flip chart that we call an anchor chart. So we're taking the anchor task and we are modelling to the children. We're sort of showing them the way through the learning, but bringing them on board all the time. So that was step one for us, of how we got this implemented.
So for that year, that was our main focus. We'd ask people to bring their examples of their model charts to different sort of staff meetings and we'd have just an open dialogue. It was a no threat environment. It was like, "Yours looks different to this one, but tell us where your successes are, what have you done?" And from that, we could all pick up on little snippets of what maybe another colleague was doing. And I remember at the time, somebody else in our school, every time somebody like a child mentioned something, they all said, "Oh, I noticed this." They would capture that and write that on the anchor chart, the name of the child, notice, and then their comment as a bubble.
But the idea behind that is that we would take those once they were created in the whole class teaching input as it were, but we'd hang them up. And then you can see the progression of learning as couple of weeks has gone along and they just replace each other as new ones come along. But for the children, it's the way in which Maths -- No Problem! introduces concepts. It's so gradual. The steps are there so that every day there's a buildup of learning and by the end, the children can look back and see everything that they've been taught. And also it acts as a visual reminder to them. If you've introduced a method or if you're working on problem solving and you've been looking and exploring different ways of modelling, different bar models, they're up on the wall. So when the children are asked to apply that skill independently, they've got something to refer back to. So that was really key for us. That was one of the things that we were set on at the beginning. And then-
Can I just ask you a question of that beginning party, just to jump in. What you've described to me in terms of amalgamating two schools, bringing two schools together, implementing a new programme. It was lovely the way, blank canvas, but the reality of leadership is that can be really tough right?
Like, if you're bringing two groups of staff together, everyone comes with their own idea of how things will be taught and those sorts of things. Just jumping into something else, the way that you've described, just looking at one aspect at a time and almost giving people an opportunity to let that bed in, I think is lovely, because it's kind of safe, I guess, for people to come on board with that. Did you find using the programme, not just like the maths programme, but it gave a focus for staff that perhaps was coming together for the first time, just something that you could anchor that transition to a new whole staff to, did that help at all in that respect in implementing an overall change?
Yeah, no, I take what you're saying there. So the kind of historic context to our school is that there were lots of other schools in the environment and lots of these schools closed down. And so many of the staff that were working at the school at the time had either been here before or had come in. So it was like you described it, lots of people were bringing different experiences. And yeah, I think that the idea that we were redesigning things from the ground up, it did give people that sense of, it was new for everyone.
Yeah. We're coming together and I think one of the reasons it's been so successful is that it's the way that we've implemented the maths and the other kind of, I say schemes, but the way we teach other things in the school, we've designed it together and there's always a sense of, "Well, let's be honest about what doesn't work and share successes you've had. You might do something differently to somebody else."
And there has to come a point in school leadership where there is a degree of continuity and some things have always, maybe certain aspects might have to be the same and they're almost like the non-negotiable things. But I think there's always the chance for people to put their own pedagogy on the scheme. I think that's one of the things I'll say was the big buy-in initially when we were pitching this to staff and saying there is another way of teaching maths, is that this programme that we're following now is so comprehensive that a teacher in our school doesn't have to think and worry about what they're going to deliver in a week's time, in a month's time because it's all there for them.
Their whole effort can be put into how they're going to deliver that content to their children. And that for me as a leader and what I see around our school is so powerful because a teacher is not having to then spend their time finding resources, worrying about what's going to happen next week when they're onto the next unit and they're going to have to go and think of everything from scratch. It's all there. They're then able to go, "Okay, how am I going to teach this? How am I going to get this concept across to my learners?" And they're spending their time doing that as opposed to, I would say wasting time, just compiling resources from everywhere else. And that was one of the biggest buy-ins initially, because people could see that this was going to obviously free up a lot of their time and change the way that they worked.
I'm curious, Ed, how long did it take your team to be brought up to speed?
Yeah, that's a good question. I think so we are probably in our fourth year now using the programme. So if you think the first year was when, as I described earlier, that was kind of the infancy and then COVID came along. So that had its challenges and we're in now the fourth year. And then like Angie said on the other podcast, this is the first year that we'd brought the scheme down into FS. I think I go back to what I said at the beginning. We always knew this was going to be a long journey. And that's not to say that each year we haven't had successes. It's been successful, but we're coming to a point now where the scheme is embedded to a point where everyone's familiar with it. I think our biggest challenge is going to be when we have new members of staff join us.
And so for us as a school, we foresee that we might grow a little bit, which means we might need to recruit more teachers. And if that is the case, then it's going to be a case of bringing them on board. I suppose the other thing to say as well, which has been one of the challenges for us, is we have quite a high proportion of mobility. So a lot of our pupils will either join us maybe midway through a year. Pupils at our school typically tend to stay for about two years and then they'll move on. So that's one of the things we found is that when pupils come into our school, they're not necessarily used to the way in which we teach things and it's trying to get them to understand how we deliver the lesson and trying to get them confident to be able to explain themselves.
And it's not just about the answer. That's the thing with Maths -- No Problem! Finding an answer is important and finding a correct answer important. But we put a big emphasis on how did you find the answer? Is there another way? What was the most efficient way? And since doing that, we've got pupils that are just confident. There's never one method in the room. It's always one pupil might think of a completely different method to another, but sharing those ideas is key. It's been really good. Yeah.
So what were some of the biggest challenges you ran into trying to implement? I mean, obviously the pandemic was a challenge, but-
That's a big one.
Yeah, that's a big one. But I mean maybe with the teachers, with the culture of the teachers, with the thought processes that they had to go through maybe changing their mindsets or dealing with their mindsets, about what maths was about.
Yeah, that's a good question. I think if I touch on what I said before, I think, I mean, I know that I've had this in my experience where I find that sometimes teaching maths, for some people, you kind of go, this is the skill that they need to learn. There's an answer that they're going to get. There is one right answer, so what's the best way we need to teach them a method? And then when they're proficient at that method, they'll get the answer correct. I'd say, yeah, it was not a challenge, but it was something that we had to be aware of when we were implementing it. It was sort of changing colleagues' mindset as to what we're trying to do and what we want to achieve. It was almost like saying to them that when we teach a lesson, the most important thing for us, we feel, is that we want that dialogue with the children.
I mentioned about implementing this whole idea of an anchor chart where we're modelling that discussion, where we as practitioners are teaching the children how to think and how to express what's going on in their minds perhaps. Because for us, we find that if there's this really rich culture of talk, if the children are confident to be able to be flexible with their thinking, then they will get to an answer. You can teach them a method and they will pick that up, but then they might not always use the same thing, the same method twice, if that makes sense. There might be a way of working a problem out mentally. So for us, I think when we look at the scheme, you've obviously got the textbooks and the workbooks. Historically we might have taught lessons where there was a big emphasis on workbook completion.
Children have done well in the lesson if they've completed a lot of arithmetic questions and they've got them correct. Whereas now, we've really flipped that. The workbook plays a part in our lesson, but it really only comes in towards the last five, 10 minutes. And we find that if the children have had a really good diet of that discussion, that part of the lesson there where they're being taught to reason, when they get to that workbook, they should be able to complete those questions with little problem. And the way that it's scaffolded as well is great because our more able learners will be able to finish everything. Whereas those children that might need a little bit more support, they may only complete part of that work, but with where the models are there for them and the scaffolds are there, but that's their level. Yeah. So I think to answer your question, Andy, that was something to be mindful of going in. It was trying to change that teacher mindset from what they may have been used to before to this new way of thinking.
It's about mindset and it's about mindset. It's not just for the children, for the teachers, for the parents, everything. Right?
Yeah. Everyone involved and the school leadership too, of course, which is something you talked about. And I think that that's something that people often forget, is the principles of change management and school leadership and the leadership being behind that process of continuous improvement, knowing, "Look, it's going to look messy at first. It might not even look good. Might even be worse when we start than what we were doing before." Because the first version of the new thing is rarely better than the last version of the old thing. And that's something that a lot of people don't necessarily ... It's difficult to accept. When you start something new, it's probably going to be a little bit worse than what you were doing before.
But that's how progress works. Right? Well Ed, thanks so much for sharing with us. Right. It's really fascinating.
No problem. No problem.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.