Tag Archives: Stalham Academy

How to NOT benefit from a visit to Stalham Academy; a warning to desperate heads

I am very happy that so many have taken an interest in the success of schools I have worked with. I am less happy to find that some visitors have disregarded the context of that success.

Stalham Academy has recently issued a disclaimer email to schools whose staff have visited them following the Regional Schools Commissioner’s endorsement.

The upshot of that correspondence is that, while they welcome observers, under no circumstances will Stalham Academy accept responsibility for haphazard attempts to replicate “Cooperative Learning” in schools following such a 2-hour visit.

While Andrew and Glenn have made every effort to demonstrate how they have deployed my original 2014 Skills & Mastery CPD course to improve their school, I know that they do not advise randomly dumping Cooperative Learning into classrooms without proper training, any deep understanding of its application, context or, indeed, of its aims. (Some of the requirements of leadership may be found in this series of articles).



Warning do not try this at home



On the contrary, they have clarified to visitors that success depends on SLT systematically connecting Cooperative Learning to all areas of the SIDP, including assessment systems, as well as the overall vision for the school’s ethos as a safe and collaborative community of pupils, parents, and staff.

Furthermore, precisely because my CPD always reflects the needs of each specific school, it may well be that Stalham Academy’s use of Cooperative Learning is not even best practice for your school. Bear in mind that Stalham had just gone into special measures, lost their headteacher, and converted to academy status when the acting head and I planned their CPD.

Thus, Stalham Academy’s results are absolutely not the sole result of my CPD provision, but of an ongoing and systematic and responsible effort by all staff to operationalise my training to meet their needs and achieve their vision.


” Jakob’s training leaves nothing to chance, is focussed, thorough, reflective and takes good account of the real development needs of the team.” 

-Tony Hull, CEO of Evolution Academy Trust, on “The Real Value of TAs” tailored Cooperative Learning programme,  July 2017. 

To write off their hard work because one chooses to blatantly disregard their advice in search of a free magic bullet is unfair. To repay their hospitality by speaking ill of them to one’s colleagues and to denigrate Cooperative Learning as a “fad” simply to cover one’s own shortfalls is the height of ingratitude.

Cooperative Learning is a cost-effective solution, but any solution must be applied correctly. I therefore strongly urge past and future visitors to Stalham and other schools to not to write off Cooperative Learning with the comment “We tried it out when we came back and it didn’t work.”

Should you hear such talk, please urge the concerned individual to contact me for a meaningful dialogue about the requirements of their situation.


“We found working with Jakob really effective, he …  listened to us and adapted his programme specifically for our teachers and our children.”

 Ben Rogers, Vice Principal at Norwich Primary Academy, 2015.
(Watch Vice Principal Ben Rogers and Year 3 teacher Ms Shane Horne discuss their experiences with Cooperative Learning in these short video interviews) .

My training has come a long way since 2014, as it continuously evolves to integrate changes to statutory requirements and DfE recommendations, relevant research (such as best use of TAs), and include a host of ancillary objectives, ideas and experiences from working with a number of schools and training providers.

I, therefore, trust that such a conversation seems a fair proposition?



1 Comment

Filed under Cooperative Learning, get started with CL, Leadership advice

Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#2: Dive in Head first.

This is the second instalment of the Stalham Academy series, which investigates how a reeling Norfolk primary in special measures could reach UK top-500 in two years – for a £900 CPD investment.

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of knowing what you want. This second post examines the steps from the first CPD session to effective deployment of Cooperative Learning in the classrooms.

The Skills & Mastery course was delivered in three blocks of two hours after school, rather than one big, mind-numbing 6-hour inset. Not only does this mean there is no cost for cover, the bite-size format helps ensure no-one chokes.

It also distributes the cost over several months. At Stalham Academy, we did three CLIPs per session, 24 September 2014, 3 December 2014 and 11 February 2015, starting with the more versatile and working towards the more targeted, complex  CLIPs as teachers found their footing between sessions. My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day.

My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day. Because Andrew Howard had a vision for his school, and had taken the time to attentively go through the “instruction manual” with me, he was way ahead of the curve on this.

Mr Howard had, and has, a fundamental understanding that the Teaching & Learning is the core product of any school and that nice buildings, interactive whiteboards, intelligent assessment and budget systems, etc. are mere ancillaries to this.

Rather than sit in his office meeting out orders like some Lord Kitchener he did what real leaders do. They lead from the front. He actively used the CLIPs in his own teaching, working with Ms Gillespie and other SLT to quickly establish the best practice that would drive the vision he had already outlined to staff. He used what he learned from his own classes, and based on experiences he and his team demonstrated and observed lessons, coached, advised, and supported teachers, creating not only an engaged and excited shared learning environment, but a ditto teaching environment. And don’t teachers deserve that?

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are comprised of very simple steps, but precisely therein lies their complexity. Consider Think-Pair-Share, often attributed to Frank Lyman. Many, many teachers use it all the time – but most could massively improve the outcome of this activity by being aware of their timing of the stages, their modelling of specific outcomes, written evidence, and language, their use of sub-tasks, etc.

180 seconds of well-executed, targeted Think-Pair-Share – 30 seconds to think in absolute silence, jotting down 2-3 key terms, 60 seconds to discuss in pairs and 90 seconds minutes to share, directly with one partner only to secure accountability – will get you more than fifteen minutes of the sloppy, slippery and nebulous  version of the exact same activity.

This is why the more experienced members of senior leadership need to be in the classrooms. Not to micro-manage, judge and spy, but to give brief feedback that is practical and applicable.

Because Cooperative Learning is “instant coffee” outstanding teaching (just add pupils and stir) it does not take complex feedback to get really amazing results from teachers – even those who were on the verge of leaving the profession.

Essentially, observing SLT members simply draw attention to the checklist issued to everyone during the CPD – in 95% of the cases, the reason things are not optimal is because the simple basics were ignored, e.g.  the task is unsuitable for the CLIP, such as asking a closed question in a Think-Pair-Share: “What is the answer to the first task on your paper; 45 minus 56? Just turn to your (A partners) when you are done, and then to your (B partners)” 

Try this instead:

“You have one minute to work out as many of the tasks as you can on your worksheet, then you have 30 seconds to compare your method and results with your (A partners) and 30 seconds to share with your (B partners). Resolve any disagreements. If your team has resolved any and all differences when we finish, the whole team puts your hands up. I will time you. Go!”

Differentiation, because HAPs can keep working in Think stage – with written evidence. Then compare results, to promote language, higher level thinking, peer learning. Same result, good, next one. Not same, why?! Your partner didn’t do a single one? Help him work it out as best you can, or help each other (“Bob, the negative number is the larger of the two, you see? So the answer should be negative”) generating automatic, personalised and highly differentiated peer learning and feedback -across the whole class simultaneously.

The higher ability especially benefits from the metacognitive element, as s/he reflects on her own understanding to make it accessible to struggling peers, but in order to ask a relevant question, the lower ability pupils need to formulate what precisely they don’t understand. Feedback and Metacognition give 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit.

The “hands-up” add a sometimes beneficial competitive element. In the end, the teams that have their hands down are the ones you need to support. (But then you already knew that because you were monitoring, weren’t you?)

That took about 30 seconds to stage, and two minutes to execute. And all the observer needs to say is: “Always let Think-Pair-Share task volume be open-ended, and make sure they investigate why there is sometimes a difference between results. Otherwise good.” 

Quoting the Toolkit, “…it is important to get the details right.” And this is where SLT and the (acting) head stepped up at Stalham Academy in the weeks following the CPD.

Coming up: Ordered deployment or everything at once?  Stay updated on Twitter.

Interviews with Stalham Academy staff here. Reflections from senior leadership from Stalham and elsewhere here.


werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.



1 Comment

Filed under Cooperative Learning, CPD, get started with CL, Tips & tricks

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.
Get notifications of related posts on twitter.
werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.




Filed under Cooperative Learning, CPD, get started with CL, Ofsted, videos