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Vice Principal of Lightcliffe Academy in Yorkshire. Some time blogger, all time thinker. Father, husband, cyclist, geek & Evertonian.

Daniel Stucke

Numbers are not enough - Sir William Atkinson

2 min read

I had the pleasure of seeing Sir William Atkinson close the GL-Assessment Conference on Friday. He's an incredible character, responsible for turning around 'the worst school in England'. He regaled that tale to us, reflecting on the 10 years it took to do so - would anyone be given 10 years in this day and age?

He then shared the common traits of the failing schools he has worked with over recent years, all were 40-80% FSM and getting 80%+ 5A-C incl E&M.

What did they have in common?

  • Adults believed that the pupils could learn. Pupils believed that they could learn. Parents could believe that the school could help their students learn.
  • Schools went to great lengths to ensure students could see how the curriculum related to their futures.
  • They had very effective careers guidance education that was implemented from the very start including active engagement with parents.
  • Teaching was consistently good and more often than not outstanding.
  • Schools used every opportunity to bring the outside in and to take the learning outside.
  • Extra work was done at breakfast, break, lunch and after school. But all was done specifically on the areas of need for each individual learner and they were tenacious in ensuring students turn up.
  • As a matter of routine staff continually went the extra mile.
  • Activities were joined up.
  • Backgrounds of students were always taken into account. But when you can convince parents and pupils that they are capable of incredible things then they will succeed.

Daniel Stucke

A positive Ofsted school improvement experience - credit where it's due

4 min read

A positive Ofsted experience

There have been enough Ofsted scare stories to last a lifetime, and the perverse effect they can have on schools are well known. But sometimes credit should be given where it's due, so here is a tale of a supportive and constructive Ofsted visit under the new framework.


Our school is in Special Measures, has been for nearly 18 months. This September I joined the school alongside over thirty other teaching staff. Five sevenths of the leadership team are new to the school. On Tuesday we received 'the call', the long awaited Autumn term monitoring visit would take place Wednesday and Thursday.

The monitoring visit

The HMI who led previous inspections had actually retired as HMI, so we were delighted to see he had returned in the team as an additional inspector. The school has been on a difficult journey over the past 18 months, ensuring some continuity on the inspection team was a great start.

Inspectors conducted approximately 40 observations, with the majority joint observations with the SLT team. There was not a hint of grading in sight, each observation was based around strengths and areas for development. For joint observations we discussed and agreed these afterwards (there were no significant differences of opinion), SLT did the feedback for these with staff, the inspectors fed back where they had observed alone.

I wasn't privy to any discussions about percentages of good & better lessons / teachers at any point.

Meetings focussed on a number of areas including: leadership and school development; outcomes; teaching and learning; pastoral care; safeguarding; PSHE; off site provision; SEND provision amongst other areas. I think it fair to say these were focussed on checking the presence of key things from the inspection framework combined with checking that our own judgements of the quality of provision in each area were accurate. Meetings were professional and challenging. But they were also open and fair. The inspector would challenge in a number of areas, then they would always recap, summarise any possible comments that would come out of that discussion for the main report and ask if there was any more supporting evidence that we had not discussed that we would like to mention at that point and if their recap was a fair reflection of discussions and of the school's position.

It's November, so obviously the exam outcomes from the Summer were discussed, and rightly so, but the focus was definitely on the progress of all existing students, in all year groups and all subjects. Equally the lesson observations were clearly aimed at the broadest possible age/subject coverage. The accuracy of your progress data for all subjects and ages will be key to successful judgements under the new framework.

I think it's fair to say that the inspection team kept in line with the Ofsted Myths document: Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools throughout.

Myself, the Principal and Executive Principal were invited into the end of day debriefs where the three inspectors shared their findings with each other and agreed on the content of the report. This was fascinating to see the team in action quickly reviewing all the evidence they had collected, and again our input was welcomed whether it was to agree or disagree with discussions.

Moving forward

Whilst I don't want to pre-empt an unwritten Ofsted report I'm hopeful and confident it will be a fair document that is written in a way to support and challenge our next steps. As it should be. We were offered clear guidance and challenge of what to expect from our next monitoring visit in the Spring, and importantly, offered clear instructions of what it would take to convert that monitoring visit into a full Section 5 inspection at the end of the first day.

This is what you would hope and expect from a Special Measures monitoring visit, I hope it will become the norm as Ofsted mould how they work under the new framework.

Does Ofsted still distort work in many schools? Yes, of course. Should we be moving to a system of peer led accountability and support? Quite possibly. But I have more confidence after this week that Ofsted are trying to move in the right direction. They are trying to support schools that have underperformed in the past. They are validating the schools own self evaluation of their position. They are not showing preference to certain teaching styles. They're not grading lessons. They seem to be working openly and collaboratively. I hope it continues this was and that we hear some more positive stories, and less negative stories as the year goes on.

Daniel Stucke

Strong Positions, Weakly Held

2 min read

Starting a new job as Vice Principal at a new school, doing my NPQH, reading profusely and collating 9 years of blog posts into this one site have made me realise how my views on education have changed over recent years. Without blowing my own trumpet this post struck a chord. I've always tried to stand firmly by my beliefs but been open to challenge and open to changing my outlook. Some views I've changed over the past 9 years:

  • Technology is no panacea for education. It sure has a place in 2015, it is frequently used badly, the culture of a school has to be just right for successful widespread adoption.
  • Teaching does not need a paradigm shift in pedagogy (I actually wrote that in a job application a few years ago - cringeworthy!), 'traditional' methods often work and work well. My own classes frequently take the form of model > practice > stretch > repeat. It works.
  • Excellent teaching can not cure school behaviour issues on it's own. Schools need robust systems and support teams (leadership and associate staff) that work to allow teachers to teach (whilst still owning their own classrooms).
  • Teacher talk is no bad thing. Some of the best lessons I've taught and observed have involved a subject expert being a sage on the stage. If the passion and enthusiasm is there then students will lap up the learning.

Have I become more traditional and less progressive? Maybe, but it's a silly dichotomy. More than anything I've reflected on my own practice and realised that some of the more progressive propaganda that I was fed throughout the early years of my teaching was a little over the top and never took root in my own classroom.

I'll continue to stand by what I believe in, but reserve the right to be proved wrong and change my tune in the future.

Daniel Stucke


1 min read

Starting a new job is always a good point for reflection. I realised today I've been writing online for nearly 9 years, with that writing strewn across three websites, some self hosted, some on other platforms. Time to bring it all together, and to start writing again. I've learned a lot over recent years, none more so than the last 5 years of senior leadership, ironically I've written less and less in that time. 

So all my writing (2007-2008), (2008-2011) and (2011-2015) are now hosted here for posterity (although the old sites are up for record and to preserve the conversations that once floursihed in blog comments).

This site is published on Known. They offer a fantastic service at free and paid levels, with discounts for educators. Your writing is your data and is always available for you to download. You can blog from Known and also post to your favourite social networks whilst retaining ownership of that data. Their platform could make a fantastic platform for use in schools - do check it out.

Daniel Stucke

Assessing without levels - Milestones

7 min read

Assessing without levels - Milestones

At our school we took the decision last Summer to embrace the opportunities available to move away from National Curriculum levels. Our approach isn’t revolutionary, but I think it’s worth sharing.


I personally felt that there were numerous issues with the old NC levels. They were not as well understood by parents / pupils / parents as everybody thought. A false sense of accuracy had been developed as levels morphed into sub-levels, did anyone really know the difference between a 5c and a 5b? At a whole school level far too many schools, ourselves included were chasing sub-levels around in circles looking for ‘rapid and sustained progress’. They also lost so much detail, everyone would hang their hat on that one level. But a 5b could hide a myriad of important information. A student might have real strength in Shape and Data in Maths but be struggling with their Number and Algebra skills. We were also in the process of re-writing schemes for learning so it made sense to tackle the two jobs together.

Desired outcomes

Initial work was done between myself and our school improvement partner. We looked at the core outcomes we wanted from our assessment systems. Primarily we wanted to refocus assessment in the classroom on the learning. All assessment should help teachers and students understand which key concepts they had grasped and which they had not. Secondly we wanted a system that could report as efficiently and simply as possible to governors, leadership, teachers, students and parents which students were making expected progress in which subjects. On reflection that’s what all school wide level analysis looked at. And when it involved chasing 2-3 sub levels per year it was a nightmare.

Expected Progress

The National Curriculum and the GCSE programmes of study set in stone expected learning at the end of KS2, KS3 and KS4. School performance measures set 'expected’ progress from KS2-4. Whilst measures are changing at both KS2 and KS4 we felt confident that learners would still join us banded into High/Middle/Low 5+/4/3- attainment bands. And expected progress will still be around the equivalent of three levels of progress.

With this in mind our model takes each subject, splits this into three bands, and maps out the expected learning in each year to ensure that middle level learners join us and progress to at least a grade C+ equivalence. High level attainers to B+ etc.

We asked each academic subject to map out the learning for each of their three bands. Pasting in the GCSE PoS outcomes into Y11, and any NC outcomes into Y8 (we have moved to a 2 year KS3). Then shuffling these around to form their high level scheme of work.


Anyone who has read the NC or GCSE PoS’s will know that the language used therein is not great for use with pupils and parents. We asked our teams to cut these down to the key 'milestones’ that were crucial for progress in the subject. And we asked them to re-write these in language that pupils and parents would understand, without dumbing them down too much, I do think we should avoid hiding away from subject specific terminology. Staff were encouraged to use blooms and SOLO taxonomy language and structures as a guide in this process. This gave us a roadmap for each subject detailing exactly what we expected a student to learn each year, and it gave us a framework of expected knowledge and skills to assess learning against.

As an example the Computing roadmap is below:

Computing Roadmap

Reporting on progress

Each assessment window (we have four a year) we ask staff to report on each student’s progress. They simply report on whether students are making Significantly Above / Above / On / Below / Significantly Below expected progress. This judgment is made by taking a range of formative and summative assessment information and judging whether a student is on track to learn what is expected of them according to the milestone pathways.

Needless to say this makes reporting at class/subject/year group level incredibly easy, a simple tally and percentage of each grade allows us to monitor progress at this level.

Staff also record the next two key milestones that a student needs to master in order to make maximum progress. This might be a key skill that they should have mastered by now but are struggling with, or it might be an important topic that will be covered in coming weeks. Parents get a quarterly report detailing the SA/A/O/B/SA progress measures along with a pair of key milestones for each subject.

Reflections two terms in

I’m pleased with how things have gone so far. Staff worked incredibly hard over the Summer to write the frameworks for this to work. I do believe we have a system that has fulfilled our original aims. More assessment is focussed on specific areas of progress, the entire data collection and analysis system is far simpler, freeing our middle and senior leaders and reporting to governors et al is simplified.

I worry we may have set our expectations too low. 'Expected progress’ was set at the old equivalent of three levels of progress form KS2-4. We took the measure of 'expected’ as per performance tables and mapped it to individuals, sometimes individual expectations need to be different to those we 'expect’ of classes or year groups. The more work I’ve done in successful schools during my NPQH the more I’ve realised that setting an 'expectation’ high than that can lead to higher expectations from staff, parents and pupils of what progress is possible, and in turn leads to better progress. This was always planned as a flexible model that we could tweak as expectations and measures at KS2 and KS4 change and as the new PoS’s come into force. We will review formally at the end of the year and if we have to slide milestones around to raise expectations then so be it.

We have been through a brief spell of ’re-calibration’. Analysing the data showed that more students than should have been were making 'expected progress’ and less than should have been were making 'above expected progress’. On discussion with middle leaders and teachers it was clear that staff had set the bar a little too low when making judgements of 'expected progress’. And conversely too high for 'above expected’. Also staff were forgetting where students had started their journey. Those who joined us as level 4 learners and had worked hard for several years were being judged as making 'expected progress’ because that’s what staff had come to expect from them. When in fact, in terms of KS2-now measures they were working well 'above expected’. Much as it pained me a little to talk levels again, the diagram below helped staff to re-calibrate in their minds our progress statements.

Milestones mapped to levels and grades

In part two I’ll explain the implementation strategy we used to lead this change.