As I gear up to leaving KEGS at the end of term, I’ve been thinking about ideas I’ll be taking with me when I move to Highbury Grove. Many of these things are aspects of the school that struck me when I arrived; it was during that time that I developed the ‘plantation to rainforest‘ analogy. That’s how it felt. Several other ideas have developed since – aspects of school life that I’d like to see in any school. Clearly, many of these things will be in place already; in fact I know that they are. I’m also under no illusions that any of these ideas will transfer easily where the context is so different. However, this post is an attempt to capture the essence of the aspects of life at KEGS that I think are important and are also potentially transferable to other non-selective contexts over time.
The virtuous circle of High Expectations.
KEGS is highly selective and the outcomes are extremely high – as you’d hope and expect. But the link from inputs to outputs isn’t an inevitable path we cruise along. From day one, expectations all round are fiercely high. Teachers have high expectations of the students; the students have high expectations of the teachers; parents have high expectations of teachers and their own children. There is a virtuous circle that is continually reinforced, deliberately and consistently. New teachers arriving into the school buy into the culture: they set high volumes of homework; they pitch their lessons very high; they expect students to meet high standards and insist that they do. Similarly, the students work incredibly hard; it’s part of the culture. I’d say that of all that follows below, the mindset around high expectations is the most important aspect of KEGS I want to export. It applies to student work, to the curriculum, uniform, behaviour, attitudes to learning and relationships.
As I’ve described in various posts, I like the way we do business at KEGS, from the way we conduct our meetings to the way we quality assure what goes on in classrooms:
- Rotating the chair at SLT meetings; a rotating Associate SLT member: See Leadership Lessons from Geese
- The Departmental Review system: a longitudinal view of teaching, learning and CPD including not grading lessons
- An intelligent pay and performance policy where there are safeguards and clear markers if significant concerns arise.
- A rigorous examination review focusing on specific curriculum factors. Our review isn’t build around outcome targets – it’s built on identifying specific actions in curriculum planning and pedagogy that will lead to improved outcomes; it’s that way around.
The CPD culture
The research-engaged culture at KEGS isn’t perfect by any means, but it permeates the school in lots of ways providing a strong vehicle for moving the school forward and motivating staff. There are lots of features to it I’d like to take with me:
- A shared teaching and learning statement – the KEGS Jigsaw, regenerated from scratch
- Every teacher involved in a research project of some form with allocated time to explore and share
- Some more in-depth studies as with the CamSTAR projects.
- A journal in paper or blog form. The KEGS Learning Lessons publication creates a superb focus of sharing our ideas about teaching.
- Involvement with the National Teacher Enquiry Network and development of Lesson Study
- An annual showcase of the enquiries teachers have been involved with.
- A CPD library and culture of sharing ideas from blogs, books and twitter.
- The general approach of tailored CPD, a culture of enquiry and systems to support it.
This is a defining feature of life at KEGS. We take it seriously and it helps to fuel the general culture of high expectations and aspirations.
- Multiple leadership opportunities. Leadership takes many forms: House officials, prefects, student council, subject mentors, leadership of clubs and societies, sports captains, orchestra leaders – and so on. There are lots of opportunities so that leadership is not confined to an elite.
- Vertical Modelling of aspirations standards: Through whole-school assemblies, as described in this post, House activities and mentoring, younger students learn from older students about values and standards. We make sure we model diversity and excellence for younger students to aspire to.
- Independent student newspaper: the KEGS Ambassador is totally student run, without censorship. This requires a strong trust culture but it gives a powerful message; the outcomes are great too.
- Culture of student run clubs and societies: KEGS students are continually setting up their own activities – they know that this is something they can do. This has included debating, philosophy, multi-gym, student-run choirs, chess, boxercise – all kinds of things. And, of course, KEGS Eggs – although I’m not suggesting that specific thing would translate!
- House Music and House Drama are two of the best school events I’ve ever seen – all student run. House Music involves each house putting on a programme of five acts including choirs, bands and ensembles – it’s a wonderful event as I describe in this post.
- Project 9 is one of my favourite KEGS initiatives. Students in Year 9 are taught modules in IT by students in Years 10-13. The spirit of this is fantastic- a small part of the curriculum entirely devised and delivered by students in an area of genuine expertise. Can we export this? I’d like to try.
Pedagogy and Curriculum
At KEGS, teaching and learning is characterised by a healthy blend of traditional knowledge-led rigour and scholarship with a range of student-led inputs, group tasks and creative activities. I’ve tried to capture this in my pedagogy tree analogy. We also try to view the curriculum in broad terms, with a high value placed on trips and visits. In terms of exporting ideas, here are some things I’d like to take with me:
- A Teach to the Top philosophy – as in the ‘total philosophy of G&T’ post.
- Emphasis on subject knowledge and teacher expertise; acceleration through depth, not speed.
- Emphasis on securing basic skills to support further development. In History, Art, Geography, English, DT, there is a strong trajectory leading from a focus on learning prescribed key skills in a rigorous manner early on, moving towards more open, synoptic or creative approaches branching out as students progress.
- We value students’ input into the process. If you have high expectations and allow the possibility, students from Y7 onwards can bring amazing insights into lessons. Even at KEGS co-construction is a niche activity but the spirit of it is powerful and aspects of this are used across the curriculum.
- A celebration of reading aloud and learning by heart in different curriculum areas.
- The idea of dialogic teaching
- A celebration of exceptional work through various means. The G&T Exhibition is one and the Foundation Prize is another. Students are given opportunities to engage in extended learning projects from the very start as in the British Museum transition project. The Foundation Prize winners last year were breath-taking – from poetry anthologies to musical compositions. They had the talent but needed an opportunity to express it.
- The languages curriculum at KEGS has several exciting features that I’d like to export. It is based on immersion and intensity through a focus on one language, generous curriculum time and very strong target language use. There is also the use of literature with Y7 units based on Candide and Faust and a superb ‘grammar detectives’ concept.
- I like the KEGS Sixth Form offer with EPQ and Pre-U Global Perspectives alongside a standard four A Level. It’s a match for the IB. We use a ‘3+1’ model to promote choices. 3 to fit typical combinations linked to UCAS offers and careers and 1 to give breadth and diversity. It’s a good model for the top end, if we can afford to sustain it.
- I like the fact that languages and history are prominent at KEGS. Cultural transmission is given plenty of room. EBacc for all? It’s a given at KEGS- I wonder if that can or should be exported and imposed? It’s a question at this stage.
- Trips and visits and residential experiences are integral to the curriculum. DofE, World challenge, overseas tours, field work and day trips are highly valued; every subject area supports this and we accept the trade-off with the impact on regular lessons.
I’m a firm believer that ethos is a key factor in school success and, therefore, needs to be nurtured explicitly and deliberately. At KEGS this takes many forms.
- Strong traditions are reinforced and celebrated. The routines and special moments that make up our traditions are held in high regard. Singing Jerusalem at the end of term and the School Captain’s speeches; gowns in assembly and ‘banging the book’ have meaning to the school community, building loyalty and fuelling the sense of belonging. Referencing history and tradition in the rituals also helps; it’s powerful to create a sense that the school is bigger than all of us – we are just the custodians with the privilege of being there.
- Developing “Principled global citizens” is my favourite element of the KEGS mission statement. We give prominence to MUN events in Y8, Y10 and Y12. We also seek out strong international partnerships. These things have significant symbolic value.
- We celebrate a wide range of achievements publicly and vertically in assemblies so that younger students witness successes being valued from the start: in academic achievement and progress, sport, music exams, Olympiads and competitions of various kinds.. The aspiration reinforcement is strong. Vertical assemblies also help to share what is going on and what is possible. When Y7s hear Sixth Form notices about the MedSoc meeting or the Philosophy Society debate, seeds are sown.
- Independent learning and personal responsibility are given high value. The volume of homework is high and we talk about not spoon-feeding. This has pitfalls but our most able students are expected to be highly self-managing. It sets them up really well for university life.
- We’ve recently set up an Equalities Group and have started to tackle homophobia head-on using excellent Stonewall resources.
- There is a lovely warm spirit of humour and camaraderie at KEGS. This is communicated through things like the witty match reports in assemblies, the annual charity Rag Week magazine (eg the hilarious assembly bingo), numerous assembly presentations, the student newspaper and their gentle mocking of school policy as well as many teacher-student interactions. Of course the boundaries need to be managed but I’d like to export the culture where students feel confident in expressing themselves in this way.
I’m very excited about the move to Highbury Grove but KEGS will always have a place in my heart; it’s a truly remarkable state school that I hope continues to thrive for centuries to come. It’s a genuine beacon and I’m happy to have played a part in its history.