What IS a Big Education? What Really Matters About School?

2nd October 2019

For me, one of the most important parts of what makes a ‘big’ education is the way we teach and model the social and emotional skills that are so critical to success and happiness in life. My own leadership as the head at Surrey Square Primary School was epitomised by this focus, through the development of a set of values as the underpinning of a culture, curriculum and pedagogy. It is an aspect of school life that can, all too often, feel squeezed and under-valued; something that is undoubtedly the ‘glue’ that holds things together, but too often invisible.

Putting this front and centre of our work at Surrey Square, equally balanced with our high expectations of academic learning (personal AND academic excellence; everyone, every day). It was a big statement to make – especially back over 10 years ago. It remains a profound articulation of our intent and commitment to teaching, supporting and nurturing every child to develop as fully rounded young people. As a part of Big Education, we call this the ‘heart’, as a part of the head/heart/hand model.

As such, I was delighted to see the publication of the EEF guidance on SEL (Social and Emotional Learning), along with an audit tool for schools to use. I had the opportunity to be part of the expert panel developing this guidance and the tool, which was hugely valuable in my professional learning. I have been disappointed in the past at the narrow focus on literacy and numeracy adopted by the EEF, and so was naturally delighted to support them in this endeavour. Having this guidance, with the confidence and reputation of EEF behind it, is an important milestone. I very much hope that this will give school leaders the legitimacy and tools to embrace many practices which are often instinctive, but under-developed or resourced.

The guidance shows how schools can think about their SEL practice at a number of levels – and shows the importance of intention, training and planning in delivering the very best learning. I love the fact that the guidance gives both practical recommendations and ‘off the shelf’ solutions, as well as the framework that schools can use to build their own. I am pleased that the final report feels clear, practical and convincing.

One of the concerns we had was that many primary schools would see the guidance and think ‘oh, we do that’, and not get further than the headlines. The audit tool is designed to be invitational and ‘dialogic’ – not another tick box to judge yourselves against! Rather, a set of questions to get you talking, asking yourselves how your practice fits, and what you could be thinking about as next steps. Great SEL practice is often close to our core motivation as primary school teachers and leaders – this research shows us how to do this really critical work really, really well.

We would love to hear how schools are using the tools – do stay in touch!

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