Innovations in AfL

Written by: John Goodey | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The outstanding St John Baptist Primary School in Lewisham has some innovative approaches to Assessment for Learning. Fiona Aubrey-Smith met headteacher John Goodey to find out more

One of the themes found in innovative schools across the country is the focus on prioritising learning skills, behaviours and aptitudes. The work of Professors Carol Dweck, Guy Claxton and John Hattie, among others, has triggered fresh perspectives on learning and rightly demanded that we reframe our approaches to teaching, learning and leadership. I spoke to John Goodey, the pioneering headteacher at St John Baptist Primary School in Lewisham, about the approaches used to Assessment for Learning in his outstanding school.

Start with what you know: Reflect on this lesson – this day and this week

Every Friday afternoon the classroom teacher will do a recap of all the learning that week with the whole class. This acts as a catalyst for the children as they go through their books and any other artefact of learning that they have produced. Both individually and in pairs, the children will re-read teachers’ marking and feedback, revisit peer feedback and their own reflections and then complete a proforma for their “Friday Learning Review”. The review includes:

  • How they have used the monthly value word.
  • How they have used their “Learning Powers”.
  • When they have used a growth or fixed mindset.

Children then record targets that they have reached and also make “Learning Requests” to their teacher which informs the teacher’s planning for the following week. Examples of this might be:

  • “I am still struggling with subordinate clauses.”
  • “My handwriting still becomes untidy when I’m focusing on the content and I want to be able to write neater and faster.”
  • “I am struggling with addition of fractions and I need more practice.”

The Learning Requests usually relate to specific “Learning Intentions” from the week that has just been completed so that children are focusing on the school’s “Language of Learning”.

Mr Goodey explained: “The whole purpose of this is that they are reflecting and taking responsibility for their learning. It’s ‘their’ learning. It’s not passive. They are in charge of it. Significantly, if they take on board the advice that they are given they will be able to achieve well – it builds up their self efficacy.”

Connect your short-term to your long-term

Each half-term the children collate all the information from their Friday Learning Reviews. This enables them to review learning over a period of time and how learning has developed in relation to longer term goals, targets and aspirations. The collated Learning Review then forms the basis of a presentation which children make to their parents – sharing pieces of work which exemplify the things that they have achieved and also which represent their next steps in learning. The children decide with their teacher where they need to go next.

Mr Goodey continued: “One of the more important features of this kind of learning strategy is that there is a constant, and positive, gaps analysis – facilitated by the Learning Ladders in the back of children’s books. This means that every single child is engaged with their personal journey of learning, and that they are constantly practising the underpinning lifelong learning skills that they need as a foundation to everything else that they will achieve.”

Celebrate progress: Key messages and concepts

Towards their end of the year the children write their own reports – these are their own reflections and are validated by the teacher, and the end product becomes their end of year report. There is a lot of teaching, learning, preparation and reflection that goes into this. Its accuracy and authenticity depends on children deeply understanding their own learning and being able to speak the language of learning fluently.

Parents have been overwhelmingly supportive as this work has evolved, and to start with there was a range of expectations and interpretations which this year have become much more consistent.

Within the reports the children will reflect on the breadth and depth of curriculum areas, not just English and maths, but also on their attitudes to learning, behaviour and social skills. Clearly for some children there is a need for greater support in some specific areas, but the process of reflection always starts with the child. It’s all about the children leading their learning.

Greater understanding, greater responsibility

It is important that as children become more articulate and confident in their meta learning, they are challenged to take increasing ownership. This is supported through the use of the Learning Ladders. As the children go through the school they are more and more able to engage with these and take more ownership of the targets and their next steps.

By children taking ownership of the targets, teachers are empowered to add increasing layers of value to the dialogue – constantly unpicking children’s understanding to be able to exemplify the next steps, model and lead them. The children are then in turn empowered to take on board the subject language and vocabulary as well as the overarching learning processes themselves.
Children then have a meaningful understanding when they achieve something; they can genuinely see how it links to previous learning and how it will lead to their next stage of learning. This tangibly extends learning opportunities.

Staff designing learning

Mr Goodey summarises his view on leading innovation in light of the current landscape: “It’s up to us – in our school – to decide how we do things. There are a lot of hoops that you have to jump through but there is still scope for you to do things that you really believe in. You have to find time. You have to find space to shape your school in a way that is congruent with your beliefs, values and what you know about teaching and learning.

“If you’re a reflective practitioner, then learning – professionally – at a school leadership level also requires an understanding of pedagogy, and to be engaged in the process of deciding what the most important priorities are. As a headteacher, when your leaders articulate what’s most important to them, and they do that collaboratively with colleagues, you are unlocking their creativity. You are providing a space for people to be able to develop their own ideas about what those aspirations might look like in the classroom.

“If leaders just do a bit of research to find out what the most effective maths scheme is and then just give it to teachers, then your teachers are not going to be responding to the needs of the children as individuals. They are not going to be designing the learning. Moreover, they not going to be developing that sense of what is most important. Over time this de-skills teaching professionals because what they are doing is just delivering – following other people’s recipes, importing other people’s thinking. It will never be their own.

“We want teachers to feel that they can freely design the learning in their own classrooms. Remember, there is a parallel between children leading their own learning and thinking – becoming empowered, self-initiated, self-motivated learners producing their own knowledge artefacts independently), and the way in which we enable staff to do the same thing. Teachers should be designing learning based on the identified shared principles and values of the school that they are in.”

  • Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning, sits on the board of a number of MATs, and is vice-chair of governors for a maintained primary school. Email her via

Further information

John Goodey speaks regularly nationally, supporting leaders and learners alike. John is available to support schools in developing child-led learning and other areas of school improvement. Visit

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