Last week, Teachers and Learning Coaches from across XP Trust schools started their 5 week induction programme based at XP East.

Unlike other schools, we employ new staff before the new academic year begins in order to ensure they immerse themselves into learning about ‘how we XP’. The first week focused on building a sense of Staff Crew, just like our students do, by taking part in challenges within an expedition of their own.

In different groups, staff took part in long hikes, abseiled off a bridge, learned about different aspects of expeditionary learning, planned and took part in their own incredible micro-adventures (more on that another time), and began to reflect on who they are as a person and educator.

The level of person challenge throughout the week was considerable both physically and emotionally, and they had to pull together as a Crew in order to get through the week! At this early stage, there’s no doubt that we have recruited some very special people.

Check out the video of Group B abseiling down a bridge at the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire.

Imagine doing this in the first week of your new job!


‘How We XP… during Lockdown’ (Crew)

Sharing our stories as we go is an important part of what we do at XP as having a wider audience helps us to be accountable to our students, parents, community and to each other. It’s also one of a number of different reasons that help to explain why we have Presentations of Learning, Student Led Conferences, ‘Passage’ in Y9 and so on. Therefore, the story of Crew during Lockdown has to be told.

As parents will be aware, Crew acts as the cornerstone of our work at XP. Each student belongs to a Crew of no more than 12 or 13 students, and an adult acts as their Crew Leader. Unlike other schools, every school day begins with a 45 minute Crew session. Within our online provision preparations for Lockdown 3, the first point was ‘whatever happens, Crew continues…’ and yesterday during my walk around the in-school provision highlighted just how special Crew is.

As I stood in the middle of the Y7 and Y8 double classroom I saw about 20 students, all with their earphones in, sat with their iPads or devices – all engaged in their Crew session (remotely via Google Hangout). I saw students laughing, Crew Leaders laughing, students checking in on their reflections from the previous day’s work, and students sharing their own stories on what they were finding difficult during the first week of Lockdown. Unbelievably, I was literally in the middle of 20 crew sessions and it was amazing!

When I explain the concept of Crew to other teachers, it’s clear that they don’t quite get it, and that’s understandable because you have to see it, hear it and feel it. I’ve experienced Crew sessions where a student’s apology to their Crew for their poor behaviour as been so sincere that it left some students and Crew Leader in tears. I’ve seen other Crew sessions where students have articulated the daily challenges that they face as a result of being autistic, struggling with dyslexia or the difficulties associated with a family bereavement. Yes, Crew is a place to reflect on academic performance and learn about connecting with the world via our Crew curriculum, but more importantly Crew is a place where we reflect on who we are, who we want to be and where we want to go.

Yesterday, I overheard one lad talking about his Mum. He explained that she was working in Doncaster Royal Infirmary hospital, and how he was a bit worried about her. The student went on to talk about how proud he was of her work, about the hours she puts in, and how she was going to get the vaccine. I saw another Crew giving a student a round of applause because his HOWLs had recently improved in nearly every category as seen within the recent performance snapshot.

Sharing students’ own stories as they go might seem insignificant to some… but having a safe and personal space to talk about their situations, achievements, worries, challenges, successes, ambitions and goals means that all of our students have that reassurance that Crew is always there for them – even during Lockdowns, and even during pandemics.

‘Checking for understanding’ is where it’s at!

I’ve stumbled upon 3 incidental moments over the first 3 days of this week that act as a reminder about the importance of checking for understanding at our schools.

I was going to use the term ‘assessment’… I suppose I should, and probably will do further on in this blog post, but the word assessment has lost its way in secondary schools in the UK. I think that it’s because of the multi-million pound industry that has arisen from educational experts (people who don’t work with or teach kids anymore). Assessment has become far too complicated, what with expensive software systems and algorithmic silliness. For me, it’s become the bore-buzz-word of education, but it shouldn’t be this way.

For me, ‘checking for understanding’ is the bread and butter of great teachers. The 3 instances that I’ve stumbled upon this week revolve around FIX, low energy protocols, and whole class feedback.

Firstly, FIX – Formal Interventions at XP’. This basically means: if kids don’t achieve what they could or should do in a test – they FIX it! In Harriet Hickson’s lesson on Tuesday I wandered in to see her providing feedback on her findings from their assessment on The Peasant’s Revolt in order to support students’ efforts for FIXing misconceptions. Nothing complicated, just clarity of explanation accompanied with high expectations of her students. Harriet’s learning environment was brilliant: she commanded every student’s attention and they were totally focused on the task at hand. Harriet has since explained that this process will go into Y7 student’s portfolios – great practice!

Next door, Jack Cudine’s Y7 Science students were using the whiteboards protocol of ‘Show Me’ to check students’ understanding of elements and compounds. This is a very low energy teacher strategy to check who gets it, and who doesn’t. I liked how Jack followed up students’ choices with additional questioning as this probed an individual’s understanding even further. I followed this up with Jack after the lesson in order to encourage the use of other protocols: ‘Popcorn’ and ‘Whiparound’ in order to add variety to ‘Cold Call’. Let me know how you get on with this Jack. 

Finally, I popped into the Science Team’s meeting after school yesterday. They were critiquing each other’s use of their mark books which recorded assessment results against each learning target for the current expedition. Mark Lovatt raised the importance of getting ‘more bang for your buck’ when considering the amount of energy that a teacher puts into marking more formal assessments. He spoke about the need to ‘share common mistakes’ with the class. The breadth and depth of his understanding in Science reveals that students benefit from an understanding of ‘where people get it wrong’ as opposed to just talking about where it went well. It reminded me of Zoe Elder’s blog post on ‘error seeking’ where she states ‘Frequently, quality learning and thinking opportunities are missed when students’ misconceptions are overlooked or not recognised.’ How can we ensure all of our teachers do this?

So let’s ignore the bore-buzz-word connotations around the lost terminology of ‘assessment’. Checking for understanding in all of its simplest forms is where it’s at. I hope the 3 examples that I’ve highlighted help to remind us about how easy it can be.

A family’s guide to online learning at XP.

Dear parent / guardian,

We have created ‘A family’s guide to online learning at XP’ which can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink, or the image below.

Part of our strategy revolves around helping students and families to structure their days in order to establish routine. Where possible, we would like students to follow their normal timetable and complete the work that has been set by their teachers. A ‘weekly planner’ will be available for each year group and published on our website on a weekly basis. This will provide a very brief overview of the week in order to highlight what students should be working on.

Whilst the weekly planner will provide an overview of the week, Google Classroom will be used to provide specific details for tasks. Staff will be able to set work, provide resources, and even create videos in some instances which will go some way in ensuring that families are supported.

As mentioned, following the normal timetable is only a suggestion but establishing a routine at home may help families to ensure that students can focus on their learning.

We are also setting up a ‘Parents support centre’ which will be released as soon as possible. This will contain useful resources, a contact list for teachers and staff, and other information to support parents during this time.

Best wishes,

Jamie Portman (Principal of XP and XP East )


Update 19/03/20

We will keep our schools open for as long as possible, whilst ensuring that we keep our students / children safe. This is our top priority.

* Updated on 20.03.20 due to the recently released Government guidance on key workers.

As you are aware the Government has announced the closure of all schools from the end of the day tomorrow, Friday 20th March 2020.

We will be keeping the school open for those children whose parents/carers work as key workers and those who are open to social services, support agencies or have an Education, Health and Care Plan. Key Workers that we are aware of include:

  • Health and social care
  • Education and childcare
  • Key public services
  • Local and national government
  • Food and other necessary goods
  • Public safety and national security
  • Transport
  • Utilities, communication and financial services

I am sure you will appreciate, a plan needs to be prepared urgently and therefore we would really appreciate a response to the following request:

  1. Please contact the school offices as soon as possible should you believe you fall into one of the categories listed above. We appreciate the phone lines may be busy, therefore please also use our admin email if you need to which is [email protected]
  2. Please state your child’s name and your reason you request your child to remain in school during these difficult times.

We are continuing to look at supporting our families who are entitled to free school meals and will provide updates as soon as we can. Please keep checking the website daily for updates.

Best wishes,

Jamie Portman (Principal of XP and XP East)

Accessing our curriculum online

The video below provides parents and students with instructions on how to access our curriculum online.

All of our students are familiar with Google Docs and Google Classroom, and each of them have an email address which will contain updates on what they should / will be doing.

Please bear in mind that our staff are still teaching lessons, and some of them are in self isolation because they have symptoms of the virus.

However, you will see that our expedition and subject websites have been part of our practice for some time now and we are in a strong position to continue our work remotely.

Coronavirus update from the Trust: 17/03/20

Good Morning,

The leaders of the XP School Trust would like to update and clarify our action plan on the Coronavirus situation.

We will confirm that we will support our school community by:
-Keeping our schools open for as long as possible, whilst ensuring that we keep our students / children safe. This is our top priority.
-Place our curriculum online for all children / students to access online in school and at home.
-We would like all of our adults in our schools to follow the ongoing / updated guidance from the government.

Please could you support the schools by ensuring:
-Your children / students wash their hands before they come to school and when then get home
-You keep the communication between home and schools open via email, websites and phone calls
-Follow the government guidance on household self isolation

In all our schools today we are preparing our children / students to be able to access our curriculum online. You will be receiving communication from our schools on how to access and get involved in this process.

We will continue to send out updates where the situation changes and for your reassurance and information.

As always the usual lines of communication to schools will be open if you have any specific concerns related to your child or circumstances.

Thank you for your support at this time,

Coronavirus update: 15/03/20


Please read the following and share with others. I’ve written this in the hope that this will alleviate some of your concerns, at what is proving to be a testing time for all of us.

Firstly, I want you to be reassured that staff and I have been extremely busy over the recent week preparing for students to come back to school.

Our plan – to support the challenges currently surrounding the coronavirus pandemic – are to maintain calm by carrying on with normal school life and routines (where possible), to help our students develop habits around hand hygiene and to concentrate our efforts into making learning accessible online.

Underpinning the points above are a large number of practicalities and procedures that will support our efforts, and these have already been shared with staff. I should also state at this point that our plans are guided by the Government’s Public Health England agency, and that we are also in regular contact with Doncaster Local Authority’s Public Health department.

My final Google Hangout (online video chat) with 10 members of staff who have leadership and management responsibilities was very constructive this morning. We have common strategies that have already been shared with the wider staff, and which I will outline in a meeting at 8am tomorrow morning.

However, we do need your help.

Firstly, as instructed by the Government, it is imperative that if your child has a new continuous cough and / or a high temperature (37.8 degrees or higher) that you keep your child at home and away from school and make sure they self isolate for the necessary period of 7 days. If this develops at school we will contact parents and carers in order to collect them. Staff will also be sent home should they too develop these symptoms.

Secondly, whilst we do have plenty of soap in our schools (the preferred method for washing hands as suggested by Public Health England) unfortunately we have not been able to secure large amounts of antibacterial agents, or boxes of tissues as I’m sure you will understand (although we are obviously working on this.) Therefore, we would appreciate it if parents could send their children into school with these items in order to support the wider national campaign if you have them and can spare them to help us.

(However, if Doncaster’s shops are anything like the shops near me in Barnsley, I understand that this may not be possible due to the national shortage.)

Overall, we must maintain calm despite the challenges that we face and I’m confident that as always we will pull together as a community to make this happen.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us during this worrying time should you have any questions. Also, please be aware that things may change as the days and weeks go by.

Jamie Portman (Principal of XP and XP East)

XP East: HQ for the British Army

We were delighted to be able to host 200 soldiers from the British Army this week to help out with the Doncaster flood campaign.

Despite only getting the phone call late on Tuesday evening, our school was able to act as a base in which to conduct briefings on Wednesday morning due to the effects of the last week’s heavy rain.

Many of our staff volunteered their support from well before 7am in order to ensure that the soldiers had hot cups of tea and coffee, and everything else that they needed to move on into areas like Bentley and Fishlake.

It was a special moment when Mrs Poncia (whose own home has been devastated from the floods) was able to personally address and thank the soldiers for helping out. Despite lots of excitement, our students’ conduct was superb and it was great to see the spontaneous rounds of applause when the soldiers walked through the school yard!


Wales updates

We’ve arrived at Aberdovey after a 5 hour drive, and students are currently preparing to go out on expedition. This will involve crews camping or staying in wooden cabins. Everyone is happy and there are no issues to report.

Parents can stay tuned by clicking on the following link which will take you to our Twitter home page. We will be using #XPEOB2019.

I will update this as quickly and as often as possible.

DAYS 3 & 4:

DAY 2:

DAY 1: