Insights with Oliver Blagden, English Consultant for the Federation
In order to continue supporting academies, the English Consultant Team have been working with departments across the Federation to develop an arsenal of resources for use in classroom and remote settings. In Part One of our sit down with Federation English Consultant Oliver Blagden, we talk about what it is to be a subject specialist, the delivery of support on an academy level, and some of the work the English Consultant Team has done to aid the transition to remote learning.
Oliver Blagden is an English Consultant; part of a fantastic team of English specialists with a primary role in working closely with various Federation English departments to support their continual development. The English Consultant Team’s work involves dissecting, reviewing, and helping to build - or rebuild - a department’s curriculum, and spending time in classrooms working with and coaching teachers in order to develop the quality of teaching and learning. Outside of school-specific work, Oliver’s time is spread across a number of projects, which include carrying out and sharing pedagogical research with colleagues across the Federation, creating new and exciting learning resources for Harris’ outward-facing Learning Hub, and producing a Teaching & Learning podcast, ‘Harris in Conversation,’ specifically for teachers and learning providers.
Diving straight into his role, Oliver talks through what it is to be a consultant and the subject specialist work entailed both on an academy level, and across the Fed.:
OB: Consulting is a varied, diverse and versatile job, and I’ve found that it’s fundamentally challenged me to consider what sort of leader I am – and want to be – on a daily basis. Although our schools are rightly interconnected by a shared vision and ethos, they are also autonomous and individual in so many exciting ways.
Our support varies from school to school and depends greatly on the context. Support can include, but is not limited to, driving improvements and raising attainment, HOD leadership development, curriculum development, teaching and learning reviews, delivering department training, creating and sourcing high-quality teaching resources … and whatever else pops up in between!
Outside of our work in specific schools, our responsibilities also vary; projects include writing assessments and creating assessment standardisation material for all departments, providing moderation for mock cycles, researching and sharing the latest pedagogical approaches, and – in the past year, of course – dedicating a significant amount of our time to developing remote learning resources that can be used by pupils and teachers across all of our schools.
Speaking to Oliver about some of the adaptations made in order to continue providing support and working together, he talks us through the journey so far and how and where the team has needed to adapt:
OB: In a word… Teams! Microsoft Teams has been essential in us still being able to ‘meet’ with our schools virtually, check-in, fact-find, and offer general support. It has also allowed us to join live lessons to witness some of the amazing teaching that is being delivered by teachers across the academy - and, of course, it has meant that we have been able to teach too.
Outside of teaching, Teams has enabled us to host CPD sessions and academic lectures with guest speakers which have been well-attended by pupils and teachers both in and out of lockdown. We have also continued to organise and hold our monthly ‘Strand’ meeting virtually in which we present research, curriculum updates, and key information to all English HODs from across the Federation. Thankfully, much of what we do has been able to continue virtually, and where possible, we have found new ways of working to be as efficient and effective as possible.
Right now, aside from providing as much consultative support as possible to our schools virtually, we are focusing a large amount of attention on creating high-quality, remote learning resources for our pupils and teachers. This is something we started last Spring, has continued throughout this year, and we envisage will be an important long-term project.
Alongside work on an academy level, the English Consultant Team has worked on accessible and enriching online resources to share with students so that learning at home continues in a fun and creative way. Oliver walks us through the process and why it is important for students:
OB: Casting our minds back to last Spring: lockdown was imminent, and schools were closed for the first time. More than ever before, it was vital that we worked on multi-modal strategies to ensure pupils were able to access learning and not fall behind in their personal and academic development.
This train of thought is what led to the creation of the Harris Home Learning Hub – a public facing website – designed not only with lockdown in mind, but which would also have the longevity to tie-in with our curriculum and SoWs for future years. The content we design for this website is supplementary to the content studied by pupils on the specification. The Consultant Team is fortunate enough to have insight into 29 different English departments, which coupled with an evolving relationship we have nurtured with AQA and Edexcel, has meant that we have learned about what schools need in this current climate.
All resources are free, differentiated, and accompany the national curriculum, and the curricula of different subjects bespoke to each academy. The resources act as a model for teachers to replicate and build on: setting the standard and tools needed for successful home study. Vitally, we as consultants make time to use our resources in our own teaching so we can subsequently self-critique, hone and improve them wherever possible. The Learning Hub is now live, and we are uploading new content on a weekly basis.
Breaking it down, Oliver builds on where they started and how it has become what it is now: a multi-modal online resource centre:
OB: One of our first areas of focus as a team was the creation of interactive podcasts, videos, and PowerPoints for our GCSE Poetry unit. We weren’t necessarily reinventing the wheel through these mediums, but as subject specialists we were able to develop and refine exactly how these should be produced. We knew that due to the pandemic, content needed to reach pupils in new and varied ways, to engage learners but also to make sure their progress was as protected as possible. Podcasts are excellent for learning on the move: they are quick, easy, pupils can listen to them on the bus, or walking into school – or, if necessary – at home alongside additional learning material. Our team would write the scripts to podcasts in which we guided learners through each of the 15 poems on the specification, helping them to explore the text and analyse some of the rich language and big ideas.
These scripts would be quality-assured by our team and then recorded before being posted to our online podcast channel, Anchor, as-well-as the Learning Hub. In addition to the podcasts, pupils could work through a series of PowerPoints which we created with recorded voiceovers to guide pupils through activities independently. The final strand to the poetry project was a series of YouTube videos which are knowledge based and an excellent introduction to each of the poems. These videos combine that important sense of teacher delivery with animations, designs, and dual coding, to help scaffold and unlock learning for pupils watching them.
Building a hub for resources that can be used in various modes of learning, and at any point in time, was important for the team. Putting inclusivity and accessibility at the forefront of the online resources, has helped to build the learning community which continues to grow by the day.
OB: As-well-as our poetry project, we branched out into various other remote pupil learning initiatives, which included the creation of a virtual Y11 to Y12 transition unit [featuring, amongst other activities, virtual theatre and art gallery ‘trips’] and a remote KS3 SoW, entitled ‘Times of Change,’ which, through the use of carefully recorded audio and video instructions, enables pupils to learn completely independently. The universality of this SoW, coupled with our attempts to make it virtually accessible, make it one of most popular resources, having been accessed upwards of 4000 times on the Home Learning Hub, as of January.
Just as exciting is the fact that it isn’t just our Harris family who are accessing these resources: data shows that pupils and teachers from all over the country (and in some cases - the world) are logging-on to make use of our resources. We are proud to be an open-facing family, and to share our work with the wider teaching community.
However, we were also conscious of digital poverty, which as we know, has been such a nuanced and at times, understated challenge this past year. To help to combat this, we looked at our KS4 Literature texts and decided to write our own Text Guides to accompany them. These guides include the full texts (‘An Inspector Calls’, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’), alongside research-informed, scaffolded activities for pupils which are designed so that learners can learn and revise independently where possible, and even reflect on their learning at points, to ensure metacognition: ‘learning to learn.’ It’s been a real pleasure to see schools using these as both a classroom learning tool but also for pupils to take away and work through when at home.
The team at Harris is continuing to produce and share fantastic aides in the way of remote learning as well as to maintain a fluid and engaging conversation of teaching and learning through their podcasts and CPD sessions. As we move onto a new year, the team has shown great promise in their new, creative, ventures of delivering remote support to our schools. Be sure to connect with us and check in the next couple weeks where we drop Part Two of our fantastic Q&A with Oliver. In the mean-time, you can learn more about the resources available, as-well-as the consultant team’s work via the links below!
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