Things Michaela School may wish to think about

In my previous post I described my visit to Michaela School. The visit was very positive and I was very impressed with the school.

I’m not so arrogant that I think I could run the school (or maths department for that matter) better than they are being run but I do have a few issues and suggestions the school may wish to consider. Many of them the school may have already considered and almost certainly are already aware of but I’m going to offer my unsolicited advice anyway.

Having met some of the staff of the school I’m confident this will be taken in the spirit it is meant.


In my experience routines that work with a small number of pupils can fall down or require amending when the number of pupils increases. This is particularly true of routines involving a lot of staff members. The end of break time and lunch time routines may need changing as it may be difficult to make them work with fewer staff members per pupil. SLT are likely to be spread thinner as the school grows.

The narrow corridors are likely to result in bottle necks even if all pupils observe the rule about walking on the left because the stair cases are fairly wide so when pupils go from the wide stair case to the narrow corridor the school may find it quite slow going. There are various way of addressing this. A one way system for the staircases might help but having a slightly (2-5 minutes) staggered end to lessons so Year 7 can get to their next lesson and line up outside before the larger children are let out of their lesson would probably have more impact. This is unlikely to be a significant issue next year but might start to become a problem as the school grows.

It’s worth considering whether a routine that works well with 120 pupils will still be practical when you have 600 or more and planning how the routines will evolve as the school grows. This can help avoid persisting with a system that is unlikely to continue working and pre-empt problems that are fairly predictable.

The Curriculum:

While I agree with and have long been an advocate of a knowledge based mastery curriculum it is not without it’s issues. One of those issues is the difficulty of curriculum mapping.

The idea that pupils do not move on from a topic until they understand it, can reliably do it and have retained it makes mapping out the curriculum significantly more challenging.

By mapping out the curriculum I mean having a detailed plan for which students are going to have covered what and by when. One of the advantages Michaela School has is that Schemes of work and curricula are being devised from scratch or incorporating existing work elsewhere that they perceive as excellent. This means a lot of work for the people creating the schemes of work as there are a lot of one person departments. It also means there is no need for compromises or disagreements between department members about how it all should work.

I think it would be worth each subject looking at the entire GCSE curriculum and deciding for each topic which ability groups will study that topic and when. This has several elements to it.

  1. What did the pupils arrive with us knowing or being able to?
  2. What grade/number/letter in the new assessment system de jour do we want pupils of each ability group to get at the end of Year 11 (or 13)?
  3. What do they need to know or be able to do to get that grade/number?
  4. What are they going to learn and when that will get them from one to the other?

Obviously in a system where the class does not move on until they have mastered something different pupils and different classes will get through topics and different speeds but a good scheme of work can allow for that.

Having this progression pathway mapped out would go some way to addressing one of my concerns about assessment that I will come on to later. Levels have been scrapped but the new system for assessing pupils at the end of Year 6 will if anything leave us even less informed about what pupils can and can’t do (and that is quite an achievement in my opinion) and who knows what “3 levels of progress” will turn into? Either way having the progression pathway that ensures pupils can jump through whatever hoops are placed in their path (and the path of the school) can only make life easier for everyone.

While I understand the schools view about doing things because OFSTED want to see them the fact is that in the absence of much data the schemes of work are going to come under closer scrutiny than they otherwise would. That being the case it wouldn’t hurt for the scheme of work to show clear rigour and differentiated progression pathways for the pupils of different abilities.

I also think it’s a good idea anyway and something I have long wanted to do myself. Having always been frustrated by working in schools with separate KS3 and KS4 schemes of work that don’t necessarily join up very well and aren’t always coherent I would love to have the opportunity to write a better one. I’ve considered doing one but it wouldn’t get used in my school so while I’ve started making one many times it usually gets abandoned. Every school I have worked in has had some topics that are not covered enough, some too much, some topics are taught too soon (with low ability pupils particularly) and we often discover knowledge gaps once we start the GCSE. It ought to be possible to avoid these issues. I would also recommend that as much planning of the schemes of work for future years happens this year as possible. As more pupils arrive nobody is likely to wind up with more free time. More management responsibilities will, if anything, reduce HoDs time available to get this sort of thing done.

Bodil has already decided what she wants pupils to know by the end of year 7. I would do the same for Year 8-11 as well but have different ones for each level of ability in each year group starting from Year 11 and working backwards. That gives a framework on which to build a scheme of work.

I would also spend a fair bit of time teaching exam technique in all subjects. Every year we have pupils (especially pupils that are EAL or have poor literacy) that fail because they struggle to decode the questions or struggle to understand what the question is asking for despite having the maths knowledge needed to pass. If they were taught how to do this from year 7 their chances would be significantly better in my opinion.


I like the self-quizzing and I like the end of unit online tests that I saw when I visited the school. The school may well be complimenting these with many other forms of assessment but I did not see those. As such some of these questions may be redundant. The school may well have the answers to these questions but the following occurred to me:

  1. End of topic tests may tell you whether pupils have learned the topic but do you know 2 weeks, a month or 6 months later whether they have retained it?
  2. Will pupils, parents or an inspection team understand that a pupil who gets 80% one week and 30% the next might have made progress. They like their numbers to go ever upwards…
  3. If pupils can retake tests in the computer lab or at home then how do you know it is their work and the result a true reflection of their ability.
  4. How do you judge using the percentages whether a pupil is heading towards the grade/number you want them to get?
  5. How will the assessment system feed into target or predicted grades (numbers?)?
  6. Would it be possible for a pupil to get good marks on all their end of unit tests (after retakes?) for 5 years and then get a bad grade (with no causal disaster or extenuating circumstances)?
  7. Would it be possible for a pupil to appear to making progress when they were not?
  8. Would it be possible for a pupil that is making progress to appear as though they are not?
  9. How will you generate the big picture of what each pupils knows at the moment in each subject?

The biggest issue for me is how do you know whether pupils are making the expected progress or not? With the demise of levels there will be a new system of judging expected progress. It is highly likely to be as ridiculous as the last but we will all be judged against it. A way will have to be found to marry up your system with that system. That could be tricky.

This is where having an evolving over time curriculum map would be a massive help as it would be much easier to see and much easier to show where pupils are and where they are headed in relation to whatever the new “3 levels of progress” might be.

SLT and Middle Leaders

One of the better managers I have worked with once told me that when considering introducing a new policy think about the following:

  1. What difference will it make?
  2. How much better is it than the existing system?
  3. Is that worth the extra work?
  4. When will you evaluate it?
  5. How will you know if it is successful?

When evaluating a new policy consider:

  1. You have introduced your policy…so what?
  2. What impact has it made?
  3. How do you know?

I have found thinking about these questions helpful in the past and recommend considering these questions regularly.

I wish the staff and pupils of Michaela school every success and will be following their progress with interest


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