I was delighted to attend the Schools Apprenticeship Engagement Event earlier this week, along with Cllr Mason and Cllr Hai who provided the introductions and setting the scene.  Apprenticeships are fast becoming a key part of Camden, and the apprenticeship levy presents a huge opportunity to offer training in Schools in a cost effective way.  In my closing comments, I acknowledged that we need to be making better use of the apprenticeship levy to provide further opportunities and that the Camden Apprenticeships team are there to help in terms of contact and process.

I was delighted to join Martin Pratt and Pete Dudley when we visited Jonathan Slater, the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education, where we were invited into talk to him about Camden Learning.  He was very curious about how the Camden Schools Led Partnership came about and transitioned into Camden Learning and a school led system.  He was clearly very interested in the model, the strands of work we undertake with schools and the impact it is having.  We most certainly made the most of our hour with Jonathan and left him with plenty to think about as he considers the wider education landscape.

On Friday morning, I spent an insightful couple of hours with Dr Kate Chhatwal, the CEO at Challenge Partners (CP).  It was valuable for me to understand the wider work of Challenge Partners and their goal of ‘upwards convergence’-the concept of spreading the combined knowledge to improve and accelerate improvement.  Our discussions also enabled me to explore how Challenge Partners function as a small organisation, appreciating their infrastructure and business plan priorities.  I know a number of our Camden schools work closely with CP and the various initiatives they lead on, we discussed the peer review model that is well embedded and can demonstrate impact successfully.  The meeting was a very good learning experience for me, as I considered Camden Learning and the direction of travel for us as we revise our own strategic direction and business plan.

It was good to see so many Head teachers and leaders from primary schools attend the briefing on place planning on Friday.  A number of actions were shared at the end of the meeting, which did include Camden Learning and LBC forming a Head teachers group to think quickly ahead to the strategy and actions needed going forward.  Please find attached the slides from the session.

Camden Children’s Services were notified of an inspection of Camden’s services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).  Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will arrive at 5 Pancras Square on Monday, 11 March and stay here for the whole week.  The five-day joint Ofsted and CQC inspection will focus on council services and support for children and young people with SEND, including provision by local schools and health services.  We have a good story to tell about our schools, services, support in Camden for children and families with SEND, and wish everyone involved the very best for next week.

Finally, a reminder that if you would like to contribute to the Camden Learning response to the  Ofsted consultation, we have planned two open sessions for heads and governors to come together.  A session for Primary Heads and governors will be held on Tuesday 12th March at 5:15pm 11th floor, 5PS and on Thursday 14th March for Secondary Heads and governors at 5pm Conference room, Crowndale Centre. Special Heads and governors can join either of the sessions and if you cannot attend one of the dates, we can always accommodate you at the other.

This week, the Head of Research at EPI, said that the attainment gap between the wealthiest and most disadvantaged pupils almost disappears by the end of primary school, before reappearing at age 16. Analysis by data site SchoolDash shows that pupils from poorer areas draw level with their more socially advantaged peers by the end of KS2, but the gap widens again by GCSEs. This was one of the topics that I discussed with Chairs of Governors on Thursday evening, whilst looking at the Camden data, where the same pattern exists. There could be a number of responses to this conundrum, and a working group is currently looking at gender and disadvantage in Camden and considering a position statement and theory of change.

I am currently reading Poverty Safari-Understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass, by Darren McGarvey, where he shares his experience of poverty and the devastating effects first hand. In one chapter, he shares his experience of being a reader, recognising that he was not a habitual reader, though a regular consumer of words. The author found it difficult to ingratiate books; light weight books being deceptively small, hard backs books off-putting due to their bulk and weight, depending more on listening to other people discuss and debate as a way of grasping what might have been learned in books. The new Ofsted framework explicitly recognises the importance of reading as the key to accessing the knowledge and skills for the wider curriculum. However, our challenge in schools is how we provide the structure to early language acquisition and promote a love of reading, so that it is seen as a leisure activity and not a necessary evil!

The other poignant moment was at the beginning of the week where we welcomed Jean Gross CBE to Camden, to speak to early year’s teachers and phase leaders. Jean is steeped in research, early years practice and was the government’s communication champion for children. Jean outlined the concept of the word gap that has emerged over the last ten years for children, capturing the research with more than 1,300 teachers in the UK. Over half of those surveyed reported that at least 40% of their pupils lacked the vocabulary needed to access their learning. Worryingly, 69% of primary school teachers and 60% of secondary school teachers believe the gap is increasing. In schools, language underpins progress, impacts on attainment throughout primary and secondary years, affects self-esteem and behaviour and plays a huge role in a child’s future life chances. Without enough language – a word gap – a child is seriously limited in their enjoyment of school and success beyond. There is always plenty for us all to consider and incorporate, which includes using the learning and strategies from the oracy work that has taken place over the last two years, the takeaways being:

  1. Continuing to bring vocabulary practice into mainstream class teaching
  2. Focusing on key subject vocabulary, and learning language in the context of use
  3. The importance of conversations and wider reading in the classroom and at home

Finally, just to say a huge thank you to all of those schools that were visited and engaged with the SEND inspection over this last week. It has been an intensive period of time and we really appreciate how schools and colleagues have responded, provided information, attended meetings and pulled together parent/ carers groups at short notice. Once we have the outcome and findings from the inspection, we will of course share these with you all. Thank you.

Jon Abbey

Managing Director, Camden Learning

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