About the author…

Vishal Soni is a Regional Lead Practitioner and supports schools across the OAT west region.

Teachers are the builders of nations

By Vishal Soni

  22 May, 2020

Across our Trust, it was agreed some 18 months ago, after reviewing what had worked successfully in some OAT schools already, that regional lead practitioners (RLP) would be recruited and placed in our schools to support and develop provision in core subject areas, where the need is greater.

The team of ten RLPs is led by Tuesday Humby, Director of Teaching and Training, and they currently work across all four OAT regions. These subject experts add capacity by teaching pupils, coaching teachers and supporting middle and senior leaders. They also bring subject networks together promoting best practice to drive up standards.

In this post, we would like you to meet Vishal Soni, where he discusses his experiences and journey so far in education, and the role he plays as an RLP for the Trust. He will provide an insight into how crucial the role is within schools, now and in the future.

I have had the absolute privilege of working in the education sector for 17 years, specialising in 2003 as a teacher of science (with biology as my specialist discipline). One thing that stands true for us all is that learning never stops and this is especially true in science. I continue to be fascinated by the subject and find myself constantly researching to keep up with the dizzying array of new developments going on. It is the field of epigenetics and nutrition that has captured my attention of late and particularly how this is revolutionising our understanding of health and physiology. Of course, with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic this has triggered a new-found interest in both immunology and virology for many of us. We are living in an unprecedented time in history, the gravity of which we have never seen in our lifetimes and it is important for all of us to absorb the rich knowledge it brings. Certainly, my teaching of microbiology will be forever changed as a result.

Teaching has the power to shape a pupil’s character, to build their resilience, improve their life chances, weaving a tapestry of knowledge and skills to enable them to build a better future for themselves. When you also take account of the wide-ranging and lasting impact this has on multiple generations of families, this puts into perspective the vital importance of this wonderful profession. Teachers are the builders of nations, impacting on economic growth, facilitating emotional prosperity and infusing the very morals, ethics and values necessary for a high functioning, resilient, kind and dexterous society. As RLPs we ensure that these important, core ideas are never forgotten in the drive for school improvement, always cognisant of these when working with pupils and staff alike.

In my career I have worked within and across schools to lead on multiple strategies for higher attaining pupils and those classed as pupil premium. As well as teaching of course, my additional remit was to improve ‘challenge’ across the school and support multiple faculties to embed key findings from education research (Sutton Trust) into the curriculum. I have occupied many leadership positions in my time in teaching, most notably as a Head of Faculty for Science in two schools, a Lead Advanced Skills Teacher leading on a team of ASTs across the school and most recently in the position of Regional Lead Practitioner for Ormiston Academies Trust in the west region. Having this role has been a superb opportunity to have a wider scale impact on pupils across the region; working with eight schools previously (now nine in the region) has allowed for a greater breadth of impact than I would have had being based in the one school.

I joined Ormiston Academies Trust in January 2019 and was warmly welcomed by the most inclusive, driven and supportive body of staff I have ever met. It is a Trust where difference, individuality and success are all celebrated under an overarching umbrella of care, kindness and respect. An establishment with a clear direction and focus, pupil-centred at its heart and one which wholly acknowledges that whilst we all have challenges of varying degrees within our schools, there is a common thread that binds all OAT schools – the holistic success of our pupils.

All supported schools in the west region have seen the great value RLPs hold, and indeed this pattern has been seen across the Trust. The impact has been clear to see, with teaching standards in the region having undoubtedly improved. Whilst external outcomes are difficult to quantify within this current climate, historically one of the schools supported in the west demonstrated the most improved science outcomes in the Trust (Ormiston Shelfield Community Academy) showing the clear impact that a quality working relationship between schools and RLPs can have.

As RLPs we focus on all aspects of school improvement within the remit of our subject areas, including:

  • Developing the curriculum
  • Building effective proportional and accurate assessments
  • Data analysis and subsequent strategic planning
  • Leading on CPD for staff
  • Supporting quality assurance procedures
  • Action planning and self-evaluation support for middle/aspiring middle leaders
  • Leading on intervention for key groups of students
  • Training future OAT leaders through the NPQML/SL programmes

RLPs also have a key role in supporting pedagogy in schools through:

  • Coaching/mentoring
  • Developmental observations and providing constructive, detailed guidance/advice
  • Modelling Teaching and Learning through the delivery of high-quality lessons
  • Joint planning
  • Team teaching
  • Resource development
  • Conducting ‘Walking, Talking Mocks’ for large student groups

In the west region specifically, we have challenges directly related to the circumstantial demography of our schools, namely the socio-economic deprivation that breeds an unfortunate culture of low aspiration, leading to poor motivation and drive – if left, this could remain ingrained for generations. It is therefore of paramount importance that through strong, inspiring, dynamic teaching, our students re-engage in the learning process to create the lasting foundational knowledge they need to thrive academically. This is of course what the RLP team deeply focuses on in schools. In time the role will evolve as new staff join the Trust and indeed as more RLPs join the team to provide a greater web of support as the national coverage expands. In the future, this will be of even greater benefit to staff and pupils alike as our team expands. RLPs work symbiotically with schools to support pupils in the best possible way, and this support is always bespoke and tailored to the needs of each establishment.

Covid-19 has presented us all with the deepest challenges and I am absolutely sure of one thing – it has certainly helped to realign ideas of the things we deem ‘important’ as a society. It has served as a strong reminder that without our health, we have nothing. As a society we have learned once again to spend quality time with our immediate families where we can, whilst simultaneously the virus has deprived many of us of the chance to do this. When this whole torrid situation is over, I am sure we will be able to learn to appreciate all the things we once took for granted and each embrace will hold more value with our closest friends and family, when it comes. I have coped well during the crisis because I am privileged to live in a comfortable home, surrounded and supported by the things and people I hold dear. Not everyone of course has had this privilege, and with every day that goes by the academic gap widens between our children who are living in poverty and those that are not. It will be our greatest challenge and highest priority to close that gap on return to our ‘new normal’ in schools. It will be the role of the RLP that will be more necessary than ever to help our most vulnerable pupils to catch up with all learning time lost. As a team we have been working extremely hard to make sure a system of support is in place to help learners back into education and to ensure that a strong curriculum is in place to bridge the knowledge gap that has emerged through the advent of this pandemic. Most vitally we must also ensure that staff are empowered to deliver this well.

Despite the challenges ahead, I know I speak for all RLPs and colleagues across Ormiston Academies Trust, when I say that I’m very much looking forward to the day when pupils can safely return to school so that we can continue to engage, connect and inspire them to be the best they can be.

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About the author…

Vishal Soni is a Regional Lead Practitioner and supports schools across the OAT west region.