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Seizing the Agenda | From Raising the Floor to Raising the Ceiling

September 2, 2015

David Crossley



David Crossley, Executive Director, Whole Education


Whole Education’s 6th Annual Conference at Kings Place, London on the 12th and 13th of November seeks to enable school leaders and educators to share and develop their thinking in order to ‘seize the agenda’. The first day will explore how schools can raise attainment and meet national accountability measures, whilst developing learners who are both work and life-ready.  The second will involve employers, industry experts, school leaders and other stakeholders in exploring how we can best equip the learners of today to thrive in the World of tomorrow

The first day of the conference, facilitated by Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, will provide an opportunity for primary and secondary school leaders to establish a shared vision for school improvement that will enable your school to thrive, sustain and build on its achievements to date whilst focusing on medium and longer term goals too. Our aim in ‘seizing the agenda’ is to help us to sustain, build on and direct the movement of change towards what we value in order to enable both our schools and our system from “good to great”. Contributors include: Sir David Carter, Regional Schools Commissioner for South West England; Toby Greany, Professor of Leadership and Innovation, Institute of Education; Drs Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert from British Columbia; plus school leaders and students from our network.

The second day, facilitated by Lord Jim Knight former Schools and Employment Minister seeks to contribute and inform the debate about the skills and knowledge that young people need so they can leave education with “dignity, purpose and options”(Drs L. Kaser and J. Halbert). The day will progress to explore and discuss how we can collectively best deliver these requirements. We will endeavour to respond to recent warnings of a skills shortage and reflect on how we can productively cater to the ends of 50% of student who will not go to university.

Overall, the conference will explore how we can collectively approach leadership, change and accountability; learning and pedagogy; curriculum and assessment; and in a time  when schools feel under increasing financial pressure, with school budgets no longer growing in real terms to explore how we are and can make best use of the professional skills, capacity and wider resources we have.

The conference is open to members and non-members of the network. Delegates have rated the conference as one of the most inspiring and important events in their annual calendar.

“To describe my two days on your conference as life-changing does not even begin to give you the sense of enthusiasm and delight I experienced.” – Feedback on 5th Annual Conference

If you would like more information, please view the conference flyer here or visit the conference website. You can also follow us on Twitter for the latest updates @WholeEducation #Seizingtheagenda

To book your place(s) fill in our booking form here, alternatively, please contact Chloe at or call 0207 250 8423.

We are pleased to offer a 10% Early Bird discount for all bookings received before Wednesday 16th September 2015.

Going above and beyond | The Martin Bacon Memorial Headteacher of the Year Award

July 14, 2015
Andy Sprakes receiving his award

Andy Sprakes receiving his award

This year, as Andy Sprakes stepped up to receive his award he gave a little speech.

“I don’t believe in awards”, he began. Uh oh.

“It’s not me who has made any of this happen, is it? It’s the students and their families, the staff and the governors, it’s everyone”.

This tells me Andy is a perfect candidate for our Martin Bacon Memorial Headteacher of the Year Award.

I never had the privilege of meeting Martin Bacon, but he is credited with great success: turning Swavesey Village College into the best performing secondary school in Cambridgeshire, with a national reputation for excellence and a steadfast focus on delivering a whole education; establishing the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust as a lasting legacy, turning around Nene Park Academy, beginning the process at Manor School, and paving the way for the new build at Northstowe; and all the while still finding time to value individual young people in the school, many of whom remember sitting down for a cup of tea in Mr. Bacon’s office.

When asked about the secret of his success, Martin replied with the words Andy echoed last week: the praise wasn’t due to him; it was the students, the staff, the whole team who made a school successful. Perhaps he would have been embarrassed to learn we named our award after him.

Andy Sprakes has a similar track record of school improvement, as the Head at Campsmount Academy in Doncaster where he had everyone back in a learning environment the same week that the school burnt to the ground in an electrical fire, and led the school to its best ever results and a glowing Ofsted report despite working out of Portacabins.

This year, still not satisfied with the success he was having, Andy co-founded and took on the headship at a new flagship school, XP, working from Ron Berger’s expeditionary learning principles and with a supportive culture at its heart. At XP, students work in crews to produce beautiful work as part of expeditions that have end products with real value and real audiences. Andy has been in temporary accommodation again, but this time an adapted room in Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium. We took 25 visitors over there this term and were astounded at the students’ enthusiasm and eloquence in speaking about their unique curriculum. As a free school, the team at XP didn’t have to follow the National Curriculum, but their vision is to see what they are doing replicated, so they’re making it as easy as possible for other schools to follow in their footsteps.

So should we be rebranding our Headteacher of the Year award? Our previous winners, Sally Lees at Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre, Wendy Heslop at Cramlington Learning Village and Karine George at Westfields Junior school, are very different leaders but share the same emphasis on developing staff and students and a culture of experimenting and achieving. Modesty and a genuinely empowered team might make any of these great leaders feel awkward about accepting an award for the achievements of their schools, but perhaps this makes it more important that we blow a trumpet for them.

By Iggy Rhodes
Whole Education Network Facilitator

Developing a curriculum that meets the needs of all young people, whilst making the most of the choices we have

February 16, 2015

An Education worth Having | Whole Education Curriculum Conference March 5th London

Developing a curriculum that meets the needs of all young people, whilst making the most of the choices we have

David Crossley Executive Director Whole Education Network

The Whole Education Network champions and shares practice that supports the development of a curriculum offer that is “real, relevant and engaging” that not only will meet the conventional system demands, but also develop wider skills and attributes too. We argue that the offer of an entitlement to a whole education is the only way to truly narrow the gap and genuinely meet the needs and aspirations children and young people.

Together we can build our confidence to really make a difference

Our annual curriculum conference on 5th March seeks to explore how we can offer a curriculum that meets the needs of all of our learners, whilst at the same time meeting the demands, challenges and changes to our system; including GCSE and AS Levels examinations, changing accountability measures and life after levels. To help us to navigate this territory we have contributions from; our Partner organisations and supporters, an examination board (OCR), and expertise on data analysis including use of Progress 8. Most importantly, successful schools in our network will share what they are doing in their schools, and what’s working. Contributing schools include; Passmores Academy, Cramlington Learning Village, Shireland Collegiate Academy, Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust and School 21. We genuinely believe that together we can build our confidence, share our knowledge and understand how best to achieve these goals.

The potential of the profession to harness evidence to drive improved outcomes for children

This year, in the innovative surroundings of The UCL Academy at Swiss Cottage, London the conference will open a keynote talk from Dr. Kevan Collins, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation, which will both challenge and inform our thinking. He will explore the potential of the profession to harness evidence to drive improved outcomes for children and inform the design of the curriculum they are offered. We hope the conference will act as catalyst for your schools, and mark the beginning of some important on-going development work across the Whole Education Network, with a particular focus on assessment and measuring what we value.

Isn’t there a case for a more balanced approach to assessment in general?

What exactly are we assessing in a three-hour handwritten terminal examination, and are these the things we really value? Why not include something really radical – teacher assessment. Teachers see students’ work every day and can formally assess a far wider range of skills than is currently asked of them. When combined with an examination element, would we not get a better and more balanced assessment, and a more professional profession too? We live in a digital age: high levels of competence in oracy, presentation, problem-solving, creativity, interpersonal engagement and teamwork are now expectations rather than desirables. Surely it is time to move forward from just assessing what students can write in a test?

Unleashing the Curriculum designer in us all and making the most of the choices we have

Demonstrating what works, being bold, and showing that radical approaches do not just develop wider skills but also deliver in conventional ways too, is surely the best way forward. In England, we have one almost unique advantage – the bulk of the resource is in our hands in our schools. This gives schools choices and options, but only if they choose to use them. This isn’t really about new money. Rather, it is about abandoning things and redeploying the resources we already have. As Sir John Dunford, Chair of Whole Education, Pupil Premium Champion and former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who will close the conference often remarks – this is the time for us to stop looking up and to start looking out.

All schools have more choices than they often think or feel. Some are understandably fearful in a context of accountability pressures, floor targets and changes in examinations requirements. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Whole Education Network is to help us be bold and to give us the confidence to take the risk out of innovation. Whole Education offers schools a call to action, a safe space in which to experiment, and a range of contact with others who are on the same journey, maybe even trying the same things. There is a world of lessons out there for us to draw on as we seek to do the very best for all young people. 

David Crossley is Executive Director of the Whole Education Network and a former school leader. His book, Sustainable School Transformation: There is another way, was be published by Bloomsbury in 2013.

Further information

Both members and non-members are welcome to join us on March 5th – for details of the conference visit the conference website here or, e mail

Whole Education is a non-profit organisation committed to ensuring that all young people have access to a broad, rounded education. It works with, supports and enables collaboration between schools that are experimenting with effective and engaging curricula.

Student observations!

February 9, 2015

At our school the Learning Leaders (the student voice group we all attend) do observations of teachers (with their permission of course!). However we decided to design our own observation grid, this includes all the things we think make a great lesson. The ideas are a mix of those we thought of on our own and the school observation grid. We changed the wording however so it made sense to us. We like the grid because it is our way of showing teachers what matters to us.









The Student Leaders at Shenley Brook End School @SBElearninglead #Studentsreport

Our Teachers are fun!

February 9, 2015

Loads of our lessons are fun, this means we work well without trying to disrupt others otherwise the fun disappears. We are often out of our seats, whether it be to act stuff out or in Science we did an experiment where we were able to throw stuff of the balcony (safely of course). We sometime revise through playing scrabble, which seems more like fun than learning. Not every lesson is fun and games but I usually get to do something fun every day in at least one of my lessons which I think is good.

The Student Leaders at Shenley Brook End School @SBElearninglead #Studentsreport

Tensile at Shenley Brook End School

February 9, 2015

During our school day we use TENSILE!

Teamwork, Expression, Numeracy, Solving Problems, Independence, Literacy, Enquiry

Tensile is used in classes to help us focus on the skills being used in lessons and around school. At the start of a lesson a teacher might say which skill is going to be used. Or at the end of the lesson we have to say which skills we have used. This means we are not just learning information but how to do things. Most classrooms have a Tensile display (like the one below). The acronym is bright and displayed around school so it stands out. When we get our reports it also focuses on skills as well as knowledge which is really useful as we are year 10, so we’re off on Experience of Work soon!










The Student Leaders at Shenley Brook End School @SBElearninglead #Studentsreport

Teaching character and resilience: learning from the best to make Britain a global leader

December 22, 2014

Sir John Dunford OBE, Chair, Whole Education

We warmly welcome Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s latest £3.5 million fund for developing character in schools. And it is far from a one-off. Just last week, Morgan awarded £4.8 million to character-building military schemes for schools, the same day as Tristram Hunt announced that “stronger character equals higher standards” at a conference on character run by Demos. There is clear evidence of cross-party consensus, and with the EEF funding-based seal of approval, character looks set to be more than just the House of Commons’ latest buzzword; it is developing an impact evidence base. So whether you talk about grit or resilience, independence or emotional intelligence, the message is clear: it is no longer okay for schools to just be ‘exam factories’ – the definition of success has broadened – and about time too.

If national progress on developing student character has been hampered in the past by nervousness about how tangible and teachable ‘character’ is, that has not stopped schools making great strides. We agree with Nicky Morgan that, “excellent teachers already produce well-rounded pupils”. Whole Education schools have been doing this for years, and we have long advocated the ‘with/and approach’: with the right skills, students will achieve academically and be ready to face challenges beyond their GCSEs.

School 21 was mentioned in the recent government press release – this character framework and wellbeing curriculum form strong foundations for reflective conversations throughout every school day, linked to classroom learning objectives as well as to the behaviour and rewards system. At Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes, discussion is around skills rather than character: the TENSILE framework identifies seven skills (teamwork, expression, numeracy, solving problems, independence, literacy and enquiry) that are embedded in lessons and given curriculum time to ensure they are expressed meaningfully to students. At Sawston Village College in Cambridgeshire, the ASPIRE framework identifies core habits and behaviours that students and staff have agreed they want to practise (being achieving, self-motivated, positive, independent, respectful, engaged).

In these – and other – Whole Education schools, the impact on students comes through these frameworks being understood and regarded with the same seriousness as academic achievement. It doesn’t matter if your language fits that of other schools. Whether you call it developing character, skills or useful habits, and whatever your framework looks like, what matters is that you have a shared language within the school community, so that teachers and students can discuss progress on what are often hard-to-measure outcomes.

But if ‘character’ outcomes are difficult to measure (and they notoriously are), what’s the incentive for staff and students to put their attention in this area? With its rise in importance will come an inevitable attempt to quantify progress – and we need to be proactive to make sure this is done well, rather than it becoming another meaningless, time-wasting exercise for teachers and students alike to resent.

Advances have already been made in measuring the progress in character-related areas. Swavesey Village College has a well-established ‘pledges’ scheme – all students are expected to reach at least a bronze award for fulfilling pledges in seven areas (participation, leadership, environment, diversity, giving, excellence, service). These achievements are often achieved outside lesson time, but are recorded and monitored with tutors, and discussed alongside academic achievements in termly monitoring meetings. Taking this approach and applying it to primary, All Saints Junior School in Fleet has developed its own pledges scheme, and a framework whereby each student has to complete eight ‘Steps to Awesomeness’ (appreciation, courage, exercise, goals, kindness, participation, positivity and service) in order to achieve their bronze, silver or gold award. As there are clear actions that Swavesey and All Saints students can carry out in order to achieve their pledges, they can monitor and discuss their progress towards their goals easily.

We might also look outside schools for ways to monitor achievements. One of Whole Education’s partner organisations, Makewaves, has been working with mental health specialists to accredit young people’s character development with digital badges: over a thousand students have gained NHS School Nurse badges, earned by showing awareness of a range of mental and physical health issues, from how to reduce stress to the way flu spreads.

At Whole Education, we are really excited to have character education at the forefront of the national agenda and look forward to working with our network schools and partners to find ways of cementing impact in this area.