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Teaching and Learning Blog

By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher

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  • December Blog 2021

    Published 07/01/22, by James Collins

    This month the guest editor is Vicci Masson, who has written our teaching and learning blog on the advantages of using dual coding to support all students, but in particular our SEN students. I know the Humanities departments have been trialling this and have found it extremely useful, and the student feedback has also been very positive. Vicci has focussed this blog on supporting revision, as we are now in the run-up to the summer exams, I think this is good timing for us to consider how we can use this to support our students. Over to you Vicci…

    In History this year we have had a bit of a revelation.  While we want to stretch and challenge all our students, so they can make the greatest progress we don’t want to hamper our athletes before they have even started the race by giving them tools that will not help them get to their end goal.  With a very high percentage of our Year 11 students with SEN support this year, this is a very important time for us to review our practice and improve our provision for revision.

    Knowledge organisers

    Our existing knowledge organisers were content heavy and while they would support our level 7-9 students and challenge our level 5-6 students, they would not be helpful for our students in the low attaining band. Those with a target grade of a 4 or below would struggle with the level of literacy (example below)

    Having attended an Eduqas webinar in October that focused on a school in a similar setting to Crookhorn, I was interested to see how they used knowledge organisers differently. 

    They advised designing knowledge organisers following the principles of dual coding.  These were not to then be filed away or sent home with students to never again see the light of day! Each knowledge organiser was handed out at the start of the topic and stuck into the student book.  The images used in the knowledge organiser were then used in every ‘Do Now’ activity, so that students became used to using them as an information source.   


    Research by Mayer and Anderson in 1991 found that when verbal information was presented alongside relevant images, it became much more memorable.  Therefore, having the images shown on the board or in the student’s book while they complete a piece of work mean that the cognitive load facing the student is reduced, allowing them to more easily complete the task in hand.

    If our brains work best when information comes in more than one format, then the repeated use of these simplistic images over a series of lessons should aid working memory and ultimately lead to greater progress being made.

    We have used these in our revision programme and already this year there has been a pleasing response from year 11.  Students are using the resources in a meaningful way.  The use of a visual representation gives them something to hook their learning to but more so, the over learning and repetition of using the knowledge organiser each lesson has afforded students a new-found confidence to respond to targeted questioning and cold calling. 

    This is a tactic that we plan to cascade down to KS3.  Not only will this prepare our students to work similarly at GCSE, it would seem foolish to not use current research in our pedagogy for KS3 as well as KS4. In year 8 will be trialling the use of knowledge organisers that use black and white images from the noun project. 

    This website is a useful resource that is a one-stop shop for simplistic black and white images.

    Please find below another example that we have recently used.


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  • November Blog 2021

    Published 09/12/21, by James Collins

    Checking that our students have understood what we are teaching a is a key part of our Assessment policy. Doing so regularly, in a meaningful way, will then inform a teacher of how to adapt future planning to address misconceptions.

    As classroom teachers we have many techniques we can use to check understanding. In the next few pages, we will refresh our thoughts on the most common of these and look at how we can extend the use of technology to get a true understanding of what our students have learnt, rather than what we have taught them.

    Mini Whiteboards

    A staple of some classrooms and used in many ways. Writing an answer and holding it up is probably the most obvious use, but how can we go beyond this?

    A while back I found this article:

    Although a few years old, Miller’s comments are still valid for our lessons today.

    Whiteboards are a way of getting immediate feedback about student understanding, with an effective sequence always starting with a well-designed task or question. Rather than just waiting as students write, this time can be used to seek the most useful responses. Do most students get it or not? Where are the great examples that can be used as models? Where are the examples of common errors that students can learn from? Which students are making the same errors?

    …One of the issues that we have, as I am sure many schools do, is the use of unnecessary fillers in spoken responses. [Due to a] lack of confidence in what they are saying. Or that they don’t know what they are going to say before they start saying it. The few seconds it takes to write a couple of ideas down on a whiteboard can help to eliminate both of these. 

    Miller talks about this well question. These are an integral part of our planning on itslearning, and we should see this in the key question's section of the plan.

    Miller goes on to discuss what can then be done with the responses seen and how lessons can be adapted accordingly.

    Going beyond this, rather than just letting whiteboard responses be one-off instant feedback to you, you can record general perceptions and misconceptions in the review notes of the plan for development when reviewing the topic before the next time you deliver. This idea of recording general thoughts can apply to our questioning of the students too.


    Self-marking tests

    Whichever platform we use, self-marking tests have huge benefits on teacher workload and meaningful analysis of results.

    Some of the best tests I have seen staff use are the simplest. Succinct questions with multi choice answers. Really think about what it is you need the students to understand and focus down to that. When used for homework, there is no need to fill a particular time frame with extra questions – if you can gauge understanding in 10 questions taking less than a minute each, then why add anything else

    There are currently two test versions in itslearning.  The itslearning development team have released the new version, however this still has some limitations, and some staff prefer using the older version.  There are no plans yet to remove the older version, and old tests can be easily converted to a new once it is functioning fully:

    When creating self-marking tests, please consider the following questions as options:

    Fill in the blanks – take a section of text (copy for an electronic resource or type in yourself), highlight the keywords to demonstrate understanding – done!

    This type of question has variations:

    • Just selecting the word means the students have to get the correct spelling, there are options for adding in common misspellings, so the students get the marks if they spell it a different way.
    • There is also the option for marks to be awarded if students use the correct capitalisation.

    Select from a list – very similar to the above, but students will be offered a list to choose from, as well as the words highlighted in the text, you can add in extra words to make the students think harder.

    Differentiation opportunity – please consider the option of creating two versions of the above.  If you create one homework with the ‘Fill in the blanks’ and one ‘Select from a list’ then you can allocate accordingly to the class.

    Spelling tests – for those subjects that need keywords spelt correctly, we can use a self-marking test as a tool for independent practice (Yes, I know we have no control over them googling the answers, but we never do with homework.)  Building the opportunity for them to independently try is always good.  You will obviously need to design a way that you can ask them to type a particular work without typing it yourself so do consider the option for recording audio files in the questions.

    Support sheets:

    Setting up
    Selecting from a link and fill in the blanks


    Examples seen recently:

    English – 10 questions

    Science – A CFU test set, with support videos if needed.  This test has been left open for as many attempts as they want, so students can independently aim for improved scores.  With a test open like this, you could attach the same test to a revision plan later in the year.

    • Currently, only old tests can be accessed after the deadline.  The workaround for this on the new test would be to keep the original deadline and then change to a later date in the year for the revision session.

    Differentiation opportunities – could the videos be in a ‘support’ CFU that is targeted at key students through the permission settings?  Could you ‘copy’ this test having created it, and add in some challenge questions at the end and then target to you higher attaining students. 


    Matrix (survey question)

    We’ve all had students in our classes that just don’t seem to get it: even though they are getting the answer right, they can’t tell you why.  It is therefore key that we know what level the students believe their own understanding is at.

    A matrix question is a grid question where students can rate their confidence options for various questions.  The below example is set up with RAG options for five photography techniques.  These questions can be completely tailored to you – there are various other options, as well as how the results will come out to you on the support sheet.

    Support sheet:

    Matrix questions

    There are many more ways that itslearning can support our checking for students understanding.  Kate Humby is now fully training on how to create resources and support your curriculum.  Through the Spring term she will be working with Heads of Subject offering her support.  Please do contact her if you’d like her to create a resource for you, or you would like some specific training, so you can create these resources for yourself.

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  • October 2021 Blog

    Published 09/12/21, by James Collins

    Our Literacy plan is a simple three strand approach based on what we consider to be Crookhorn’s biggest areas of need: increasing the engagement with and enjoyment of reading, oracy and the mechanics of writing.

    DEAR Time and why it counts.

    DEAR Time allows us to expose the lower years to a range of texts, to give them space to share their ideas verbally as well as to listen to the opinions of others. By asking open questions we encourage the students to think and, more importantly, respond by explaining their thinking using because/but/so sentences.

    Example question: ‘What do you think we could do to help plastic pollution?’
    Student response: I think we could reduce plastic pollution by recycling because it is better to reuse than to make new.
    I think we could reduce plastic pollution by recycling but we need to stop buying it in the first place.
    I think we could reduce plastic pollution by recycling so we can all help do our bit.

    From Autumn 2 we will be starting the class reads during DEAR Time where teachers follow the schedule and read the allocated pages. The updated versions can be found on the Literacy page in Staff Resources:

    • Year 7 – Pax
    • Year 8 – Cirque du Freak
    • Year 9 – The Extinction Files

    Oracy – the importance of dialogue.

    Oracy is a term first coined in the 1960s by Andrew Wilkinson and focuses on the ability to express yourself fluently in speech. We want to use dialogue to help students develop their understanding through consistent and meaningful dialogue; listening and responding appropriately, sharing opinions and demonstrating their knowledge.

    The 5 step method, Robin Alexander (2008)

    1. Rote – transmit knowledge to students by repeating ideas.
    2. Recitation – targeted questions to test knowledge, progress and recall.
    3. Instruction – tell students what to do and explain key ideas.
    4. Discussion – encourage exchange of ideas and information.
    5. Dialogue – structured questions and discussion to deepen understanding.

    Oral rehearsal builds confidence and helps remove the fear of committing the wrong thing to paper which can be an obstacle to writing. Think-Pair-Share can be an excellent tool as it encourages students to listen to teacher input and then discuss their answers with a partner before group/class feedback to check for misunderstanding or writing down their rehearsed answer. Once students are confident and adept at doing this, we can then introduce this in a wider classroom setting. Sentence stems can be a helpful way to scaffold this structured discussion:






    Allowing students the time and freedom to talk to one another can feel uncomfortable at first as it puts the onus on them to stay on task and focused but if we circulate and transition into the role of facilitator, we promote oracy and independence.

    The Mechanics of Writing

    These are the building blocks of success. Historically, our students have struggled with longer answer questions that require them to organise their ideas in a coherent and concise way with focus on the keywords of the question.

    For many subjects, students are expected to support or justify their ideas which is where conjunctions become an important tool. Please look at the example from Technology:



    Using conjunctions

    Because     –    But     -      So


    Conjunctions like ‘because’, ‘but’ and ‘so’ let you explain your ideas in more detail to help you get the higher marks by showing what you know.

    Stainless steel grade 304 is used for the pivot screw because it is naturally corrosion resistant so will not rust.

    Stainless steel grade 304 is used for the pivot screw but if it was a marine environment, we would use 316 as this resists corrosion in salt water.

    We use stainless steel in the manufacture of pivot bolts so that we do not need an additional surface finish.




    Alongside promoting conjunctions to explore ideas, we are continuing to focus on the basics for punctuation – capital letters and full stops – to instil the importance of accuracy and proof-reading. Consistency is key to success and can be a simple addition to your marking; capital letters for names or starts of sentences are easy to spot and highlight during live marking. I will be undertaking several learning walks this half-term to monitor the impact of our marking focus. Please find the help sheet attached.

    Thank you to the staff who have started to embed Literacy in their practice. If you would like further guidance or have any queries or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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  • September 2021 BLOG

    Published 04/10/21, by James Collins

    It’s certainly been a busy start to the new academic year, and it has been fantastic to get back to some sort of normality in terms of teaching and learning. I think we have all been yearning to return to the classroom and teach like we did pre-March 2020, and it has certainly been exciting for us all to be back doing what we got into the job for, which is to engage students in our subject area and light fires inside them to give them the passion to learn. In my very privileged position of being able to drop into some lessons, I have been delighted to see the high quality of teaching that our students receive on a lesson-by-lesson basis, and let’s hope this continuity of being in College and learning in a classroom from our expert teachers continues to be the case in the coming months.

    We have learnt a huge amount about pedagogy from our enforced time away from the College classrooms and the importance of taking this learning forward into our day-to-day practice cannot be underestimated. The vision Sarah outlined on our first day back in regards to our Blended Learning philosophy is clear, and we must all play our part in fulfilling this vision for what learning should look like in the coming years if we are to support the College in this vital area.

    Pre-Covid, we were really making huge strides with our coaching, and without a doubt, we were all making progress in improving on our delivery in the classroom. On our recent disaggregated training, we had 3 sessions for teaching staff that focussed on the following;

    1. Feedback and marking
    2. Blended learning
    3. Improving the quality of student’s literacy

    There have been some wonderful examples from each area that I wanted to share with you from the last couple of weeks that really highlight excellent practice from within the staff.

    Feedback and marking

    In our training session, I highlighted to you some key steps to making sure you are giving good feedback. If you reflect, are you following these steps, and are you doing them well?

    • Look at your itslearning planner- when is the most effective time for you to give students feedback? Plan this into your planner
    • Work out how you will regularly ‘CFU’ and how this ties in with your more formative feedback.
    • Plan for students to have time to respond
    • Plan for how you will check that response
    • Consider what you have learnt from the students' responses to help with future planning. This should go in your review notes.

    We then discussed the benefits of live marking, and some steps to put in place to make sure this is successful and thus reduce the amount you are having to mark outside the classroom.

    1. Put in place a rota- a row at a time, a group of students each lesson
    2. Plan for it – independent study time when students do not need whole class input
    3. Put in place measures to support students who need help during this independent work– BYOT, research materials etc..

    The last part of the training was looking at the use of the visualiser. A visualiser allows teachers to show all students what is expected and can give the whole group some instant feedback. I have seen teachers use this to great effect, taking a piece of work that is of a good standard, showing students where it could be improved, and allowing students time to check their own work and make corrections/additions.

    In your pigeonhole with this blog are great examples of feedback and marking which we have either seen in exercise books or screenshots of how people are using itslearning to support their feedback to students.  

    Blended learning

    There is no doubt that the quality of our planning is in a far better position now compared to pre-covid. Staff are working much more collaboratively, and the plans are much more accessible to both students and staff alike. Adam ran a session during our training about a couple of key points we must all remember when developing our Blended Learning pedagogy.

    To provide a true blended learning experience, additional resources can over time be built into the plans that allow students to pursue aspects of their learning on a topic to greater depth or resources that might help students master their understanding of the knowledge connected to a topic that they have struggled with. We should be getting into the practice of setting differentiated homework targeted and assigned to groups or individuals, especially when we have mixed attaining groups.

    Putting the revision planners up for GCSE courses enables this additional aspect specifically if supported with complementary resources from GCSE Pod etc.

    Teaching through the plan

    We must all get into the habit of familiarising students with activities and resources that we are using. Students will need to access these when it comes to independent study and by going through this with students, it makes them understand what they can use in the future. I have recently used the tactic of having their do now task on the board ready for them, take the register whilst they are doing this and once the task is completed, show them the plan for the day, all the resources, and any homework set. I then click on the resources as and when I need them. I also encourage the students to have the plan open on their phones as we are working. I have found that this really helps certain students who might need to go back to certain resources or slides that are not up on my main teaching board.

    Review notes

    I have had a few conversations about review notes recently and the purpose of these. These are an expectation of the College and should be done at the end of each ‘big question/application’ of your plans. I believe that good practice would mean you reflect on the learning at the end of each lesson, and if there are identifiable points that will help you with your next lesson, they should be made in the review notes section. When I am writing my review notes, I concentrate on a few points.

    1. What have I learned from that plan that I can take forward in my future planning?
    2. Which students have I highlighted as struggling and need CFU and live marking as a priority? What students have I checked in with today, which books have I checked today?
    3. Use of review notes to summarise the understanding or struggles identified in the live marking session.
    4. Where I am up to with my plans- what’s my pace like, what do I need to revisit in future lessons.

    Once I got in the habit of writing these quick notes at the end of the lesson or day, it really helped me with my future planning.

    Literacy focus

    Katy King went through the key points of the main foci for this academic year during her session. We have now streamlined our literacy action points to the following 3 main strands.

    • Quality of reading and developing the reading strategy across the College 
    • Oracy work and how this is built into the literacy strategy
    • Mechanics of writing (sentences structure, appropriate vocabulary, appropriate punctuation, and paragraph structures)

    Katy will be writing the October blog to really develop our understanding further in these three areas and give us examples of what is happening in colleagues’ classes to help us with our teaching. I have seen some great examples of a couple of key strategies from the ‘The Writing Revolution’ that staff are using regularly. Attached are some scanned pages from the ‘TWR’ that are important for us to read before we use these ideas.

    The Single Paragraph Outline (SPO) is used extensively, and if used correctly, can be superb for students to use. The SPO is used to plan a paragraph and is not a writing structure/frame. Staff can use this to help students with a road map that they can follow to plan the beginning, middle, and end of a unified, coherent paragraph. I have also included the process of turning this planning of using an SPO into writing a coherent paragraph. The TWR sheets I have scanned show you a clear route for how to use this in the classroom which you will also find in your pigeonhole.

    Because, But and So is an activity that is simple yet requires students to think analytically. It’s also the first conjunction activity you should give to your students. It will prod them to think critically and deeply about the content they are studying and allow you to check their comprehension. Have a look at the examples and talk to your coach about how you could implement these into your teaching.

    Thank you all for the time, effort, and commitment you are showing to improving your teaching. It’s hard to change habits, it takes time and patience, but it is all worth it if it helps our students achieve the very best they can. Any questions or feedback, please do send them to me or your coach, and we will be happy to help.

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  • June 2021 BLOG

    Published 05/07/21, by James Collins
    Blended Planning We continue to see great developments in blended planning across the College, with many exemplary examples across all subjects. From our work and experiences this year, we have adapted the wording of our Blended learning Protoc
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  • May 2021 BLOG

    Published 18/05/21, by James Collins
    How do we engage students successfully back into learning in the classroom? A good place to start is the first chapter of Boys Don’t Try, which many of you have borrowed from the staff library as part of your professional development. One of th
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  • April 2021 BLOG

    Published 19/04/21, by James Collins

    It was in February 2020 when we last had a teaching and learning blog about behaviour management, when Chris Watson shared with us some useful tips from staff about the setting of routines and dealing with behaviour situations that are common to us all. Dave and I thought it would be a good time to return to this as we approach a new term and to continue to make sure we are all playing our part to make sure standards in the classroom remain at a very high level.

    Tom Bennett recently said that if we get behaviour right, everything else is possible. He stated that behaviour is the beginning of safety, equity, dignity, curriculum, opportunity and learning, not an afterthought or something that only matters when students misbehave. We also know as professionals that when our teaching is of the very highest quality, this helps our students remain on track and enjoy being in the classroom.

    Since the students have returned to us full time before Easter, it was clear that some students have partially or entirely lost the learning and behaviour habits that we had instilled in them whilst at College previously. It was also clear that students with less privileged backgrounds struggled from going from few or no boundaries to the structure and routine of being back in the classroom. This proved a challenge for some students who pushed boundaries with staff at times.

    There are some points that Chris mentioned in his blog that Dave and I believe support all teachers and ultimately help the students in the classroom to become better learners. If all teachers consider these at the start of term and we, as staff remain consistent with these principles, this will lead to a successful term for us all.

    1. Planning

    Chris talked about the importance of planning and strongly recommended us to read page 57 of PLAN, MARK, TEACH. This is vitally important when dealing with challenging groups. Chris described how important a ‘Do Now’ task was for the students, to settle them down straight away. The pace of the lesson is crucial, and the differentiation to make sure all students are challenged in the right way will keep students on track. Really consider your planning, have you supported the students who need guidance so they don’t feel disengaged or disheartened and can make progress? Is there challenge and rigour for the more and most able students so they can stretch themselves with their learning? As professionals, we understand that when this level of planning is absent, this can often lead to the most challenging of behaviours.

     2. Bring it back to learning

    Whenever I ask students why they come to Crookhorn and what the point of turning up everyday is, they generally always say ‘to learn’. We drum this into them during transition and in SLT and pastoral assemblies. Refer the students to our OPEN MIND and Cornerstones philosophies, this is really important. Are they showing respect for their teachers and classmates, are they taking responsibility for their own learning, how can they prove they are committed to the learning and ultimately, are the achieving their potential? Use these terms with them, remind them what it takes to be a Crookhorn learner.

    3. Define what you mean by good behaviour

    There is an opportunity here at the start of term for you in your classroom to re-evaluate what you want behaviour to look like. We as teachers should define what behaviour is ideal in our classrooms, be concrete with your rules. Vagueness is the enemy here. If you are vague, you’ll barely be aware of when behaviour goes wrong; and students will not grasp what is expected of them. What does fantastic behaviour actually look like in an assessment or when students are coming into your classroom?

    4. Good behaviour must be taught, not told

    The best teachers actively teach the behaviour they want to see, as if it were a curriculum. Do you want students to be kind, or work hard, or listen hard in assemblies if you are their tutor? Teach them to do so, don’t just tell them. Set the example, highlight when students have done something well and share. Chris mentioned in his blog about praising students when you notice good behaviour, so other students know what this looks like.

    5. Build routines, habits and norms

    When dealing with students you should consider these questions:

    1. What behaviour do you want them to think is normal? Then, tell them what it is and teach them what normal means in many circumstances. Challenge them when it is not met. Show them how to do it. Correct them every time they can’t or won’t do it. Never let it slide. Define the new normal by bringing it to life.
    2.  What habits do you want them to develop? If you want them to be punctual, clarify what punctuality means. Insist upon it. The more a behaviour is demanded, and challenged by its absence, the more practice students get performing it, until it starts to feel habitual. We seek, ultimately, to change their behaviour habits, not just their behaviour. 
    3. What routines do they need to learn in order to succeed as learners and human beings? This is crucial. In order for it to be as easy as possible to behave, students should be taught the specific sequences of behaviour they are expected to demonstrate.
    4. Build the habit of phoning home, and not just when things are difficult. We know the positive phone call when a student has done well is so important when building a relationship with parents, so when things aren’t going so well you have a relationship in place and parents are more likely to support.

    6. Make boundaries meaningful. 

    Students need to know that deliberately misbehaving will result in consequences. When behaviour is poor, or fails to meet the standard, it must be challenged. Students need to know a line has been crossed. These lines can be managed by many means. Sanctions can act as a deterrent but only if consistently and fairly applied, and when there is a high expectation that they will occur. Rewards too can have a small, short-term motivating effect. Both sanctions and rewards are an essential part of our system- please use them consistently.

    We know that a well-planned out lesson delivered by an enthusiastic and motivating teacher in a classroom is the best way students learn, of this there is no doubt after what we have been through. I honestly believe the vast majority of our students believe this too now (which is a silver lining in these difficult times!). I have attached Chris’ blog again if you want to refer back to the top tips.

     If you would like any further support within this area, please contact myself, Dave or Chris and we will be delighted to help.

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  • February 2021 BLOG

    Published 22/02/21, by James Collins
    In this month’s teaching and learning blog, we are going to focus on the world of differentiation and how we can use blended learning tools to assist in preparing resources to use inside and outside of the classroom to support all learners. Ada
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  • January 2021 BLOG

    Published 20/01/21, by James Collins
    ‘My journey on itslearning’ In hindsight, the lockdown in March made me realise that although I had been using itslearning for the past 6 months, I was still a complete rookie and had no idea how to use the online format to its full po
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  • December 2020 BLOG

    Published 16/12/20, by James Collins
    ‘My journey on itslearning’ In hindsight, the lockdown in March made me realise that although I had been using itslearning for the past 6 months, I was still a complete rookie and had no idea how to use the online format to its full po
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  • November 2020 BLOG

    Published 02/12/20, by James Collins
    Teaching from home into the classroom Teaching from home into the classroom is a daunting thought. Even the most experienced classroom practitioners may struggle when pulled out of their comfort zone and thrust into the world of talking to a webca
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  • October 2020 BLOG

    Published 06/11/20, by James Collins
    Tweaking for a better Blend As we move forward in the coming weeks, through the dark cold months of November and December, I very quickly wanted to reflect on the journey we have been on with our blended learning policy at Crookhorn before I pass
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