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Sir John Dunford: Why the time is right for a whole education

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Sir John Dunford is the government's National Pupil Premium Champion and chair of Whole Education – a dynamic network of schools, organisations and partners dedicated to redefining today’s educational offering.

Whole Education’s 5th Annual Conference with John Hattie is taking place on 18 and 19 November

All new secretaries of state have their own priorities. They know that, since 1944, the average length of their predecessors’ terms of office has been just over two years, so they need to move fast if they are to make an impact.

They may even reflect on how many secretaries of state for education have not made a lasting impression and have been forgotten as soon as they moved to another ministry or to the backbenches.

With the general election so close, Nicky Morgan will be more than aware that she needs to move fast and be remembered.

The early signs are that Ms. Morgan has a particular interest in the development of resilience and character in young people. She believes, as does Whole Education, that it is the job of schools to develop the skills and personal qualities of young people in order to equip them for life, for work, and for further learning.

Not only are resilience and character development part of a fully rounded education, of the sort that is taken for granted at major independent schools, but they are key components of the work that schools can do to narrow the attainment gap between pupils from poorer backgrounds and their more fortunate peers.

Ensuring that young people have access to experiences that can help them to develop skills and personal qualities can mean offering a wider range of cultural, arts, sports and outdoor activities. It can mean spending pupil premium funding on subsidizing structured learning away from school for those who would not otherwise be able to afford such opportunities.

To schools in the Whole Education Network, this highlights what they have long been arguing for, an explicit commitment to helping to develop a wider range of skills and qualities in young people, while at the same time raising attainment. The schools in the Network are showing that this can be done in many different ways.

What happens in the classroom is important too. Excellent teaching is essential to narrowing the gap (and we know that poor teaching widens it).

Perhaps the best-known highly effective practice to help narrow the gap in Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit is feedback, which an important component of excellent teaching.

Also near the top of the EEF toolkit list of effective strategies are ‘whole education' approaches such as collaborative learning, meta-cognition and self-regulation, social and emotional learning, peer tutoring, and mastery learning.

But the toolkit is just a start. Engaging teams of staff in better understanding the challenges facing pupil premium students and in learning about how these practices can help, perhaps through enquiry-based approaches with a clear focus on impact is needed too.

The EEF toolkit also highlights the positive impact of outdoor adventure learning, sports and arts participation. While these practices show less impact on attainment than those above, they still demonstrate two to three months of additional progress.

All these improvements however, are dependent on the nature of the implementation of the policy in each individual school. What the research does not show is the impact these experiences have on developing wider skills and qualities like leadership and resilience.

A methodology for implementing an effective pupil premium strategy can be found here.

As a profession we have spent too long being told what to do in increasing detail by the government, but there are plenty of schools – many of them in the Whole Education Network – that are taking a broad view of the school curriculum and devising ways in which all young people, especially those eligible for pupil premium, can have the sort of fully rounded education that prepares them properly for the next stage of their lives.

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