Margaret Luck “Before the introduction of this handbook the County's service for adults lacked a real focus on learning. We needed a shift in emphasis from the teacher's role to individuals learning - what could we do to make their journey easier? While our tutors had good subject knowledge, we recognised that teaching strategies was an area in which many needed further development.

We wanted to see them taking into account the different ways in which learners learn; understanding how to make learning a planned and personal journey; showing that their schemes of work and lessons plans ensured open access to all learners; using useful websites to help in planning, preparing resources and delivery; responding to individual needs with a basic understanding of equality and diversity.

All of this comes under the umbrella of differentiation, and it is all embraced by our manual - which tutors have made extensive use of, because it's practical and makes it's easy to understand what is expected. And it's helped us achieve our aim of embedding the facilitation of learning into our service.”

Advice to others? “Producing the manual isn't enough on its own to make differentiation happen. Encourage teacher training staff to use it. Integrate it into the observation moderation process. Management has to be fully committed to it and it must be updated regularly.”

Margaret Luck, Senior Manager, Adult Learning & Leisure

The good practice in detail

We are all different: we have different needs; we learn in different ways. But too many teachers forget this when planning their learning sessions and often just teach to the middle ground. Results? Bored high-flyers and under-achievers. While 'differentiation' may not trip off the tongue, it is a helpful word for describing how a teacher can set up a learning session in which every learner is engaged and challenged at an level appropriate to their abilities.

“Excellent support material to meet individual learning needs.” In Somerset County Council's last inspection report, inspectors noted that SCC's 'differentiation manual, covering provision for learners with different ability levels, gives all tutors some excellent support material to meet individual learning needs'. The manual has the virtue of combining theory and practice in its aim of demonstrating how an understanding of differentiation can make the most of the learner's experience. In format it is much more attractive than one might expect for something labelled a 'manual' - clearly presented and bulging with information, tips, guidance and resources. A comprehensive list of useful websites completes the package.

Why not download the Q-box Action Plan for this example and make notes as you read.

Q-BOXHow do you ensure that all your tutors have easily accessible information and guidance on how to plan and respond appropriately to the different ways in which their learners learn? Are tutors provided with resources, materials and information that are relevant and useful for differentiation? Can they be developed or adapted to meet learners' needs?

The authority has already revised the original manual to produce a second edition. The foreword sets out the reasons for keeping the contents up to date and user-friendly. As explained in the section entitled using the manual, each part is designed to stand alone. A contents list signposts users to particular areas of interest. Tutor Ronnele Jonat confirms its usefulness:

“Because it is visually accessible it becomes mentally accessible.”“I think the differentiation manual is wonderful. The layout is very good and you can find things easily; because it is visually accessible it becomes mentally accessible. To start with, it gave me an open door to resources; now I adapt them to suit my learners. The manual has been a good step forward for tutors, as you don't necessarily have your curriculum manager on site to ask for guidance.”

Q-BOXHow, and how often, do you review your teachers' differentiation strategies? How often do you update your staff with new information and/or good practice?

There are five main parts to the differentiation manual:

Part 1 What is differentiation? explains the role of differentiation - practical help for tutors to make the most of opportunities to learn for all learners. It also gives useful links to the Common Inspection Framework.

Part 2 The reflective tutor explains that a willingness to reflect is the first step in becoming a tutor skilled in differentiation. It looks at attitudes, the art of active listening and teaching and learning styles.

Q-BOXWhat information and guidance on differentiation do you give to your new tutors?

Part 3 Diverse learners considers the factors that combine to create a differentiated approach to the teaching and learning of adults. It covers andragogy (the art of teaching adults), learning styles of adult learners, equality of opportunity, diversity, widening participation and multiple intelligence (giving the 10 kinds which employers should be nurturing, such as linguistic, environmental, spiritual).

Part 4 Getting organised covers approaches to differentiation in teaching and learning, and the matching of activities to individual learners' ability. It covers schemes of work and lesson plans, individual learning plans, long- and short-term goals, ground rules and the use of language.

Q-BOXHow do you know that your approach to differentiation is effective? Do you use feedback from your learners? From your tutors? From observations of teaching and learning?

Part 5 Differentiated activities in learning looks at a range of activities to support differentiation. These include listening activities, flexible grouping, tiered teaching, idea-generation, mnemonics, mind-mapping, task cards, learning conversations and evaluation activity. This part of the manual also includes appendices with a wide range of useful contacts and links to Information Learning Technology (ICT) websites.
“It has helped to totally and utterly embed equality.”
Penny Gibbons, Disability Project Worker, celebrates the positive effect the differentiation manual has had on the service:

“It has helped to totally and utterly embed equality. It's full of useful information and is an easy way for tutors to find out what is expected them. Because of it, all tutors have the same resource to help with differentiation. It's really good for new tutors as it breaks down the jargon and it's quick and easy to get to grips with. And it's now standard in lesson plans to show differentiation.”

Q-BOXHow do you take account of differentiation in your quality improvement activities? What aspects of this case study could you use to improve your provision?

Uploaded - April 2008

What could you do next to improve your provision?

Answering all of the italicised questions in the Q boxes above will help you begin to health-check your current practice. Download all of the linked documents, compare them with your own or adapt them for your own use. Write a short action plan to get you from where you are now (what is good and what needs improving) to where you want to be.

The Building Better Practice (BBP) web resource is a great place to start if you want to benchmark yourself against other providers. It will show you the most common inspection strengths and weaknesses for each issue or topic, an analysis of the good practice found on inspection and a series of health-check questions to help you establish how you compare to others. Look specifically at how you could use BBP to improve your staff development, off-the-job training and sharing good practice.

Actions for Quality Improvement (AQI) is a set of activities with resources around which you can run staff development sessions with your teams. The activities cover all aspects of the learner's journey and will help your staff embed quality improvement in the heart of your provision. Look specifically at how you could use AQI to improve your teaching and learning.

If you need more help, ideas and resources for the process of self assessment then look at the Learner-Centred Self Assessment (LCSA) materials. This is a web-based or hard-copy resource to help you generate a rich source of evidence for your self-assessment report through professional discussion rather than the completion of lengthy forms.

9 Data Projects to Improve Your Provision is a set of projects which help you use data to explore all aspects of the learner's journey for improvement themes.

The Self-Assessment Surgery Projects have proved very popular at the Preparing for Inspection events. They will help you determine whether or not your SAR is fit for purpose.

Interpreting the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) is essential guidance on how to interpret the CIF for your remit and is now contained in the appendices of the Ofsted inspection handbook for work-related and adult and community learning.

The Inspection Toolkit contains step-by-step guidance on how to prepare for inspection and covers such topics as choosing the right person to be nominee, using data and self assessment.