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Following last week’s excitement, it was interesting to see the latest consultation document from Ofsted. Its introduction states that ‘short inspections that immediately convert to full inspections have proven to be challenging for inspectors…’ One of Ofsted’s new proposals is that school’s that are thought to perhaps be outstanding are graded ‘Good’, and then re-inspected at some point in the future. I’m not sure what the real agenda is, but it looks to me like ‘Outstanding’ is going to remain elusive for some time to come!

So it’s back to business as usual and at the start of the year the School Development Plan is starting to take shape. This is the document written by school leaders in collaboration with governors, that drives school improvement. The plan highlights key areas for school development, one of which this year is to support our children’s ability to communicate with confidence in all areas of life.

This fits in well with a recent report from the Confederation of British Industry that identifies the skills most valued by industry. It’s probably not a surprise to note that right up there are communication skills, self-management and teamwork. I was particularly drawn to the line ‘communication is not all about talking – the best employees will be able to listen to what people are saying, process it and act on it’.

With this in mind, the school is taking part in a research project with the Institute of Education, to trial an approach to promoting effective collaborative group work. It seems that in schools children spend plenty of time listening to teachers, responding to their questions and working independently, however, although children will often sit in groups, the effectiveness of group work can be limited.

The course leader had our Year 5 teachers and me working on various collaborative tasks, such as coming up with 10 rules for effective group work, then selecting just four from the original list. This was quite easy as some on our original list were slightly off task (no running, no bombing, no smoking…). But this was not the point. It was more to consider how it feels to work collaboratively. We concluded that everyone needs a voice, everyone’s ideas are valid, the group responds constructively to each other’s contributions – and the outcome will be something that could not have been achieved individually.

We spent time thinking about the importance of the make up of groups. It seems that working in threes or fours is the optimum size for primary aged children – and that groups need time to become effective, working through initial difficulties. The course leader was very clear that arguments within the group are not a reason to change them – although this can be tempting for school leaders. The next step is to explicitly teach these skills, something we’ll be trialling in Year 5, and find opportunities for children to apply them within lessons.

The research suggests that effective group work leads to raised levels of pupil achievement and a doubling of sustained, active engagement in learning. But not only that, our children will have the skills that will support them to be successful in life. After all, isn’t that what education should be about?