A Visit to Mill Hill and St Chad Schools

The professionalism, passion and intellectual clarity that underpinned the two schools, Mill Hill and St. Chad’s Primary, was inspiring and motivating.

More information on Mills Hill and St Chad schools can be gained by clicking on the following links:

The contexts of the two schools:

Mills Hill is a primary school in Manchester. It specializes in special needs. It is situated in an economically mixed zone. Primarily the students zoned are from financially disadvantaged areas.

St. Chad’s is a Church of England school situated in Chester. It draws on the local rural community.

Building capacity

Through the moral foundation, ‘that they have a moral and social responsibility’ for the education of every child in their community, all schools that are members of the “Schools with Schools” at Mill Hill or seek to network with St.Chad’s Sanctuary are recognizing the intrinsic and extrinsic growth of skill and practice that comes with purposeful study, reflection, and implementation of structural support. At both schools, and those that they have coached, the benefits are evident in the engagement of students (the tangible buzz of excited learners) and in the data gleaned formally and informally

The concept of the teaching school is a formal status that comes with the attainment of the award of ‘outstanding’. Both schools have taken this status seriously, acknowledging the role of coaching as a powerful medium to effect change in their own school and in those they sit along side.

The National College of Leadership has been a cornerstone in the support and training of upcoming leaders and experienced principal staff. The participation in these programmes has, without doubt, built capacity and developed a professional standard that has enabled the educators to develop their personal (and school) capacity to grow others.

Views and values classroom practice:

Mill Hill: with a study on the way the brain responds to events, the staff began a journey to examine how they may best respond to behavioral challenges. Conscious Behaviour became the approach that acknowledged how the brain responds to conflict. By understanding the three levels ( am I safe?, am I loved?, what can I learn from this?) the adult ( teacher or parent) can manage the situation to create a learning opportunity. Guided by Dr. Becky Bailey and her book “Creating the school family” The Mill Hill Primary School set out to change the language they used, to offer choices when managing behaviour, and to give everyone a role to play in the classroom (chores like greeter or data projector manager). Through calm, clear expectations and respectful interaction the situations have been dramatically reduced and the social environment bettered.

Alongside this, Mill Hill also sought to improve teaching pedagogy and practice in a practical manner. They have adopted the Dr. Spencer Kagan approach which has become a school wide structure. This is a collaborative and team focused learning framework upon which the teacher hangs the fabric of his/ her lesson. From the seating and academic groupings to the set ‘play’ of the group tasks, everything has a purpose. The purpose is to engage, build learning skills and colleagial finesse. In the classroom observations we witnessed the table groupings of mixed ability, which enabled coaching at each table, the structure of a learning session ( I, we, you: direct instruction, having a go together, refining the skill on my own), and we witnessed the use of Spencer Kagan’s use of co-operative learning with an emphasis on all being contributers and accountable for learning.The notion of ‘hogs and logs’ students taking the limelight and others sitting back and ‘free loading’, participation of all. Kagan’s approach has all students contributing in learning. structured play in a number of classes. We could see the immense value of this in creating consistency in teacher instruction and confidence in the students, gained from the regular use of the collaborative tasks. This could be used in a primary and secondary setting.

At St. Chad’s Church of England Primary they too had researched their own needs and developed their own learning structures: a blend of TASC and Blooms’ Taxonomy. This reflected their values and educational belief that a child learns best through investigation, questioning and reflection. Underpinning this inquiry approach was the belief that children need to play and experiment in a natural setting, and with nature itself. The school is a Forest School in which students learn skill sets for the outdoors and develop their inquiry senses organically, children learning through their senses, this approach has shown improvement particularly in boys.These are then built upon in the classroom setting

We ran out of time to visit the classrooms. This would have been helpful in realizing how the ideals that drove the change are realized at ‘ground’ level. In particular it would have been great to see how they designed learning spaces.

Implementing change

In both schools the journey to becoming a leader in pedagogy and practice has been a carefully charted and strategically implemented process. It is clear that training leaders has been instrumental. Like a new fabric being woven across the body of the school (as the training refined and built skills in key people) they were enabling others in their teams to learn from them in several areas: planning lessons, auditing programmes, managing budgets, interpreting feedback, and the importance of professional reading and conversations.

The training has been provided by the National College and through the individual school’s  particular pedagogy.

In all schools so far we have been impressed by the professionalism. From the way they present ( business dress) to the ability to discuss best practice within education globally and locally. By investing in our own staff through purposeful training, the capacity is there to see this be further enhanced by allowing the teacher to then become a qualified trainer to others.

We see huge advantages to this and are envious of such opportunities!

Approaches to being a Teaching School:

There are clear financial benefits to being a Teaching School. In an entrepreneurially motivated structure the teaching school can market the expertise of outstanding staff. As such talents are valued in a market sense the more the school stands to gain. In both schools the funds derived from the teaching of others was ploughed back into facilities and      programme development. There are clear and tangible benefits for the teaching school. So what are the benefits for the others? Does this model discourage open sharing? Should there be open sharing?

Comparing this to Hart Alliance who through an agreed memorandum have acts of kindness and agreed paid services, it challenges one to consider what might be lost in a system that does not encourage compassionate acts of assistance. In the alliance a real effort had been made to create a democratic and trusted relationship. By trying to eliminate a top down approach those at the alliance seemed to be empowered to share, to ask and to reflect. We were left wondering if in an entrepreneurial model can facilitate this as well.

Mills Hill did embed the university into the physical space and into the teaching school model. This was impressive. It certainly highlighted the value the school placed on training and on further study. A relationship that schools could, with purposeful planning, glean much from.

Comments on teaching spaces/ layout

Mill Hill: Space and use of it was a considered and planned aspect of the curriculum and learning experience. There was a specific emphasis on using both indoor and outdoor play areas alike, regardless of weather. The learning areas in the junior area were  based around a specific learning emphasis, such as animals and from there the children developed the questions and inquires.

Whilst the classrooms evolved as the students matured, it did strike us that the rooms became harder to negotiate. This is because the physical space stayed the same whilst the tables became larger. This is a real challenge that we in the secondary/ upper primary system face. To create collaborative spaces the rooms must allow for easy movement or uptake. This comes back to design. Perhaps the rectangle of tradition restricts pedagogy and the vision of collaboration- ‘my classroom’ still existed in this structure.