The headteacher column with Jonathan Britton

Jonathan Britton, headteacher at Woldgate School and Sixth Form.
Jonathan Britton, headteacher at Woldgate School and Sixth Form.

As time progresses, we can easily forget how important the foundation can be in building the house.

It is often unseen and easily overlooked as we emerge from the ground and start to build.

Woldgate School and Sixth Form College.

Woldgate School and Sixth Form College.

In education too it is critical, for without a strong foundation, knowledge can easily be recited, but is often quickly forgotten, without being truly understood.

Over the last month, I’ve been learning Italian, spending 20 minutes each day electronically learning new words through an application on my iPad.

The learning seems relentless and for someone who is apparently 6% fluent in Italian (I’m informed by the application), I’d still struggle to make conversation over a cappuccino. I’m fortunate as my learning is solely focused on one subject; for some of our pupils they will learn at least nine subjects in a week.

I wonder, as an adult, if we don’t forget as time passes, the challenge of learning and I wonder how we’d manage as adults, should we be asked to learn nine new languages every week for the next five years.

I feel that my Italian is progressing well though.

Through regular feedback, my mistakes are being rapidly identified, whilst my successes are also being celebrated. As my learning is analysed, every mistake and success is recorded, the application ensures.

By the start of my next session, all of my misunderstandings are corrected.

Currently, I feel that I’m spending a lot of time correcting where my understanding is not sufficient and where the foundation is poor.

Ultimately though, I’m growing in confidence and learning seems more natural as I surprise myself with my level of understanding.

I don’t expect to be speaking fluent Italian any time soon, but as a pastime it is very enjoyable and I’m loving learning something new and the reward points I’m accruing, and the rather poor trumpet call the application plays to celebrate my success.

Although worthless, it is somehow motivating me.

Great teaching and learning is, therefore, more than simply learning new concepts; it’s about ensuring we have sufficiently understood the knowledge or concept we have been taught.

The skill of any great teacher is not in simply delivering new information in an engaging manner but in ensuring through our marking that we provide feedback and tailor our lessons to ensure that nobody is left behind.

Similarly, accomplishments, however small, must be recognised, and work must be appreciated and celebrated.

Within our classrooms, we have sought to maintain smaller class sizes to ensure colleagues can invest the time needed as pupils progress through our school, to know every child in their care and ensure through our planning, teaching and marking, we allow our pupils to make the very best progress.

Tailoring, or differentiation as it is known, through planning, teaching and marking ensures pupils are supported in their learning.

It is a vital part of ensuring our pupils understand the information they are being taught, before teaching progresses onto more complex and, ultimately, harder concepts. In building a strong foundation, we plan for future success.

Every week, as I walk into classrooms I leave feeling very humble. My colleagues have, through their craft within the classroom, become experts within their profession.

In classrooms their love of their subject shines through vibrant work displays in an environment that shouts of their pride in the accomplishments of their pupils.

In these classrooms learning seems so easy and fluid, but as we all know, it is underpinned by true mastery and an absolute understanding of the needs of each and every pupil.

These are the teachers whose lessons will be remembered, not for an exam, but for a lifetime.