St Andrew's Cathedral School

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Priorities for new Head of School


Since 2017, Dr Julie McGonigle has been a member of the School’s senior leadership team and played a major role in the development of a strong teaching and learning framework across the School. Now, as our new Head of School, we ask her about some of her key priorities in 2022 and beyond.

Our ‘Language of Learning’ project is about creating a student-friendly version of our Teaching and Learning model so that students understand how classroom processes and what behaviours they can habituate so that learning is most effective.

– Dr McGonigle

What projects and initiatives have you been involved in over the past few years at the School?

When I returned to the UK in 2018, I took up a post as Director of Teaching School across a group of six schools. I also did some work remotely for St Andrew’s Cathedral School. During 2017, we had established a new executive structure here and therefore, in the first instance my remote role was to support some of the members of staff who were new in their posts. These staff members were carrying on some of the work that I had started in 2017 in areas such as teaching and learning, staff appraisal and student target setting. Therefore, my role was to provide them with documentation, training materials and mentoring to sustain and embed that work. In 2019, we began the process of developing a new Strategic Plan, which I then became involved in. Out of that process grew my new strategic foci, which were to lead a review of curriculum and assessment and to develop a Teaching and Learning Model and a Leadership Framework.

You have been developing a Leadership Framework for upper and middle leaders. Can you please explain why this is important?

We lead out of who we are and that is a good thing. However, school leadership is not individualistic, it is a team sport. Therefore, it requires a shared framework within which the whole team can prioritise, develop and align together. Without that, leadership can be too personality driven. This can lead to fragmentation, unsustainable practices and the false narrative of a “Hero Head”.

The Leadership Framework that we have created aims to mitigate this possibility. It aims to create shared reasoning, behaviours and practices that those whom we lead recognise, as core in all of our leaders.

Whilst we all bring our own personalities and particular expertise to our positions, we need to stand on the same principles and enact the same values.

Please tell us about the “Language of Learning” project you are driving and what role Professor John Hattie has had, and what impact you believe this project will have on student learning.

Professor John Hattie’s main thesis is that the learning process should be visible to students. Hence all of his books and courses are titled “Visible Learning”. Up until relatively recently, the specialist language that teachers use about the craft of the classroom has been used by teachers with other teachers. Hattie’s point is that if students are to be truly empowered in the learning process, they too need to understand what is happening in the classroom. They need to understand the process so that they can own it and have agency within it. It is important that they also understand the evidence base for what enables the best learning, as well as the teacher.

Our “Language of Learning” project is just that. It is about creating a student-friendly version of our Teaching and Learning model so that students understand the classroom processes and what behaviours they can habituate so that learning is most effective.

You were a key instigator of the student Data Dashboards, to feed back to students and their parents on a student’s progress at school. How effective has this project been?

The evidence repeatedly shows that students have performed better in the subjects where they have had a set goal, as opposed to those where they haven’t. For me, this has been such an interesting project. The dashboards enable students to see how far they need to move to get to the next grade or the next level. Invariably, when you speak to students, they set goals far beyond that; and teachers have often needed to mediate these student expectations. Again, the evidence shows that those who perform the best set small achievable goals often, as opposed to large unobtainable goals less frequently. We are trying to habituate the former and not the latter of those two behaviours for our students.

Is there a next step in data management to improve student learning outcomes?

The next step is for staff to use them for goal setting, as well as students. At present we have very good individual dashboards for students that we would like to mirror with staff. We will also pull the individual dashboards together to give us a whole school summary of all the various bits of data that we can cross-reference.