…for allowing me to come and see a splendid school in all of its glory.

Before I go any further, this whole post comes with a huge caveat – this will not do the day justice. You must try and arrange to see the school if time allows.

After meeting Dani Quinn (@danicquinn), a couple of months ago, I was keen to see how maths is taught at Michaela and have a look at their ethos which some may feel is a direct opposite to Wellington. The day started with the students enjoying lunch time and I was immediately struck by the level of interaction of students and staff. Students were happy to converse and allow staff to join conversations freely. At the end of the play time came the first real sign of the expectations set. A member of staff quickly had the students lining up in silence and all were clear on the rules and what was expected of them. This preceded a silent walk into the lunch hall where I sat with a group of students at a university-labelled table (a great way of inspiring children, I think). I was amazed that these year 7 pupils knew about universities and had great ideas about which universities they wanted to go to and which subject they may consider studying. From just twenty minutes at school, I was stunned by the levels expected from the pupils. This expectation can only have a positive effect on the school.

During lunch, a member of staff read out merits and demerits from the last day in a no-nonsense fashion. These students have been rewarded and these students have not met our expectation. After this, we were told the topic for the day and that is what our table was to discuss while eating. Five year 7 and 8 pupils plus myself went on to talk about punctuality and why it was important not to be late and what we can do to stop ourselves. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the students should be applauded on their welcoming and challenging conversational skills. After a donut for dessert, students were invited to show their appreciation for anyone in their life – mainly teachers or others in the school. The duty staff would then offer very specific feedback on how this was done e.g. “that is worthy of reward because you projected very well and it was meaningful” or “if you want a reward next time, make sure to annunciate every word”. Clear, specific feedback throughout the school. Everyone is on message.

Two students greeted us and took us around the school where we were allowed in and out of lessons freely without students or staff batting an eyelid. It was here that I was struck by the quality of teaching at this school. I saw about 5 minutes of a French lesson, some of a Physics lesson, some Art and some maths. In all classrooms, students work was put first. The school may well believe in teacher at front, student at desk but there is also a clear ethos that students must be doing work to learn. The behaviour culture allows for clear boundaries and allows teachers to positively reward great learning habits e.g. sitting up and following a solution very well or tackling a problem straight away. It does also allow for negatives to be enforced quickly e.g. turning around but across my afternoon, there was far more specific, positive praise than negativity.

Each teacher ensured pupil participation was high and there were lots of questions asked across all the classrooms. Teachers involved each student and if something was not quite right, time was taken to correct before moving forward. There is a clear expectation academically as well as behaviourally. I was thoroughly impressed by the level shown by all students. All activities used were activities that students wanted to engage with. Students could see that the teacher wanted them to know what to do so they trust that there is a purpose in what they are doing.

After popping in and out of random lessons, I watched a full lesson with Dani to finish the day. This followed a similar pattern: lots of pupil involvement; great questioning from the teacher; constant assessment of and for learning as well as a chance for lots of success. I did not see Dani using a drill but I got to see a little into her teaching philosophy which will certainly have an impact on my own practice. I found that students did a lot of practice of specific questions and anyone who needed more got that opportunity too. Dani (and the other teachers) kept up the idea of specific feedback on all activities too. In maths, the feedback was even more specific owing quite a lot to the nature of the activities. All of them allowed Dani to quickly work out what the misconception was and then address that. This is certainly something I will be taking into my own lessons – particularly during revision time.

Unfortunately I had to rush off before talking to Dani at the end but I would like to thank her very much for the chat we had and for allowing me to see into her lesson. I had a brilliant afternoon and I very much look forward to going back to see some in the future in the maths department. I also hope to get Dani over to Wellington to have a look at how we do maths and where the similarities may lie even if the surface looks/sounds very different.

Overall, I think that Michaela are doing brilliant things. Students enjoy school, they want to succeed and everybody takes pride in themselves and their school. This is a great achievement by all involved. Expecting the best (“double the minimum”) and reenforcing this message means that students push themselves and have a positive attitude towards this test. I would like to look more into the effect that extrinsically motivating young children can bring about intrinsic motivation as this is something I had an opinion on before but after yesterday, I wonder whether all students can actually generate their own high standards after being held to them by punishments and rewards for a number of years. Certainly, all students I met in an informal setting (lunch, after school) were very polite, interesting and proud. All values that Michaela School has.

I would like to appreciate Michaela for letting me in for the afternoon, for showing me that great teaching relies on a great attitude to teaching and for setting a high expectation of all students.