New head, fresh eyes; a critical outsider’s look at Cooperative Learning

At the start of this term, Mr Glenn Russell was appointed permanent head of Stalham Academy by Rightforsuccess Trust. In the week before summer holidays, Mr Russell gave a critical and qualified appraisal of Cooperative Learning at Stalham Academy.

Please scroll to bottom of page to see a list of one-minute extracts.

Since the school converted to academy status after going into special measures in May 2014, deputy head Mr Andrew Howard had been acting headteacher. As followers of this blog are aware, Mr Howard’s first decision as leader was to adopt Cooperative Learning in accordance with Sutton Trust advice.

I was contacted by Mr Howard, and we decided the best path ahead was the Skills & Mastery course, which downplays  theory and social skills to focus on quick and easy tools to boost attainment & progress and to close achievement gaps.


“…national average for level fours combined for Pupil Premium is 67%. Well this year, we achieved 75% level fours…”

See video

Skills & Mastery comprises six hours of CPD, in Stalham’s case delivered in blocks of two hour twilights on September 24, December 3, and February 11. Each twilight presented three content-void CLIPs (Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns), which define step by step how pupils interact with materials and peers.

The tight structure secures full teacher control and real-time assessment, along with the high individual accountability, positive interdependence and continuous  full class engagement that should be the hallmark of any good lesson.


Glenn Russell video

“…it’s their ability to get on socially, in unstructured time, to converse with adults, in clubs after school…”

 Though Skills & Mastery is nominally an off-the-shelf course, it should be seen only as a basis from which I tailor an experience unique to each school’s needs. In Stalham’s case, the ubiquitous Catch1Partner* and  Word-Round would provide a versatile, yet effective, base for class and team interaction, with the third CLIP being focused on the problematic area of reading with understanding.  All CLIPs are scalable, content-void and work across all subjects.

Impact on teaching & learning was almost instantaneous; no further coaching was needed by myself between sessions to achieve the results school leadership had been hoping for. In fact, a few hours of CPD with handouts combined with management support enabled the majority of teachers to tailor the CLIPs to their lesson plans, materials and individual learning styles. No further investments were made beyond the six hours of CPD, paid for with pupil premium money.

One of the greatest  challenges with CPD is the buy-in, as outlined by Ms Brosnan of the Teacher Development Trust. However, the combination of management support, simplicity, overall positive response from pupils and the cost/efficiency ratio in relation to teachers’ workload, ensured an overall smooth transition to Cooperative Learning as a dominant teaching style.

But one thing is a positive experience by those already invested and involved. The acid test is the objective assessment of a capable, critical outsider who is fully embedded in every level of a school’s day-to-day workings. No-one has more reason to be critical than the new headteacher, now accountable for the schools success or failure.

Enter Mr Russell.


New head, fresh eyes

From starting out as a PE teacher, Glenn Russell (NPQH) was put on a fast-track course run by National College for Teaching & Leadership, and was identified as one of the top 5 per cent in the country.  He has worked with high deprivation inner city schools, help set up  IES Breckland free school in Suffolk and been a leader in  Norfolk’s first four-school federation.

In this string of short videos, Mr Russell describes his reflections of arriving to what was, in effect, the first full Cooperative Learning school in the UK.


 Glenn Russell on…

…first impressions of Cooperative Learning at Stalham Academy

“…A wonderful surprise…”

… the cost-effectiveness of Cooperative Learning

how much is a good school ethos worth?

…and differentiation

“…this is something no worksheet will give you….”

…and teachers’ workload

“…seeing some of the teachers’ plans, it’s really trimmed down.” 

… Cooperative Learning in relation to pupil premium and SAT results

“…national average for level fours combined for Pupil Premium is 67%. Well this year, we achieved 75% level fours…”

…. management and the new Ofsted framework

“Because the Ofsted framework is about the leadership’s effect on the other areas, [Cooperative Learning] makes a big impact on the new framework.”

* For practical examples of Catch1Partner in relation to rote learning, please see Scenario Two; why drill when you can frack? in Deconstructing the Progressive-Traditional Dichotomy; a note to Mr Peal.
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