‘At first Opening Minds was an alien concept but once you have got it, that’s it, you wouldn’t want to go back’
‘Before Opening Minds I was getting bored of the repetition of teaching, I was considering leaving the profession but now I love teaching Opening Minds.’
‘The Opening Minds students are a different breed; they are articulate, independent and confident in expressing themselves.’
The RSA Academy sees a broad spectrum of teachers from those newly recruited through the Teach First scheme to teachers who have worked there for over 30 years. They all face the same challenge of getting to grips with incorporating the Opening Minds approach into their lessons. Whilst Opening Minds is currently implemented throughout Key Stage 3 it is only beginning to be used more widely in Key Stage 4 and 5. This need to incorporate Opening Minds across year groups is the focal point of the transition for teachers, but it is not always fully embraced.
The transition for teachers to the Opening Minds approach appears to be a much bigger change for them than it is for the students. However, once teachers have adapted and embraced the change it seems to work very well. During our week at the RSA Academy it appeared that the real key to the Opening Minds approach at Key Stage 3, was finding the equilibrium between being too content driven or too competency driven. This stability seemed to have been found but the challenge of finding this same balance at Key Stage 4 and 5 is a work in progress
From the week we spent observing and talking to teachers at the RSA Academy the following positives were raised about the implementation of Opening Minds:
- The Opening Minds programme has created a ‘different breed’ of pupils who are more independent, mature and reflexive learners.
- Students have been equipped with the tools to learn effectively, these skills will also be useful in the workplace e.g. research, team work.
- The use of 3 hour lessons allows staff to get into their subject material and form better relationships with their students.
- Teachers find the Opening Minds style of teaching far more interesting and creative.
The following concerns were also raised:
- At first Opening Minds is overwhelming for teachers as they have to get to grips with a very different approach.
- Teachers who had trained in a specific subject now found they were expected to teach a broad spectrum of subjects. This was sometimes daunting.
- Opening Minds does not lend itself so easily to more exam dominated qualifications such as GCSEs and A Levels.
- Opening Minds does not provide enough fundamental content knowledge for some core subjects e.g. Maths.
Continuity between Opening Minds and Key Stage 4
‘I embrace the transition from teaching Opening Minds to Key Stage 4, I still teach in the same style which works well’
‘I struggled to adapt to teaching Opening Minds, I don’t think it prepares them enough for Key Stage 4’
The transition from Opening Minds to Key Stage 4 is generally not seen as a problem by the pupils. This is largely due the fact that many aspects of their education experience remain the same, such as 3 hour lessons and the spaces in which they are taught. From the pupils we spoke to it was apparent that the transition was not a problem, and initial fears had largely dissipated. Although it must be recognised that they have only just started Key Stage 4 and follow up research would be needed to confirm this was the case. From our initial observation problems only seemed to arise when they encountered teaching styles that did not embrace the Opening Minds approach.
Many of the students we spoke to expressed that they preferred being in Year 9. The reasons for this were often the same; more choice of subject coupled with being taught specific subjects by specialist teachers. It was also apparent that they felt school was more important now as they were preparing for specific qualifications.
From observation it is clear that the following aspects of teaching remain at Key Stage 4 and work well:
- Highly structured and disciplined day including 3 hour lessons, students know what is expected of them during the school day and therefore the transition runs smoothly.
- The space is used in an effective way, with tables frequently moved to the side of classrooms to participate in more active learning.
- Teachers who have experience of Opening Minds continuing to teach in a varied and engaging way.
We also observed that problems arose with the transition to Key Stage 4 in the following ways:
- Children are now placed in sets for core subjects and amongst those in the lower attaining sets there is often frustration. Some students said they felt more challenged in Opening Minds and now they feel they are seen as a failure. Equally some students stated that it didn’t bother them that they had been placed in sets. This is an area that would require more investigation.
- Discipline and engagement issues arise when a teacher tries to use a traditional pedagogy. The students are intolerant of working in silence, they expect to be able to talk and learn from each other.
- Teachers who hadn’t previously taught Opening Minds were clearly still trying to come to terms with its implication in their lessons. Some didn’t seem to fully understand the purpose of the Opening Minds competencies. However this will be alleviated with time, experience and more staff training.