In the first of our NEW ‘In Conversation with…’ articles, we hear from Leanne Mee, our Curriculum CPD Design and Technology lead. Here she shares her thoughts, observations and tips on her passion, D&T.


What drives you to keep going and advocate Design and Technology education?

For me, it’s all about making sure that children have those core skills that they’ll need to succeed in life. Skills such as creativity and problem-solving which are so vital. It’s about raising children’s aspirations.


What are some of the key issues you think we are currently facing in D&T education?

It’s always time and budget. Then the lack of either knowledge or confidence in class teachers when teaching D&T with their children. There’s a huge recruitment crisis in engineering and manufacturing and the place to start addressing this is in Primary schools. It needs to start here.


In your experience, what are the challenges faced by teachers with Design & Technology?

This goes back to teacher confidence I think – having the necessary knowledge and understanding. My experience suggests that the Design and Technology leaders have the buy in, but are all class teachers? It’s also interesting how very little time is spent on Design and Technology as part of Initial Teacher Training – it just doesn’t feel like the subject is as high profile as English or Maths and yet D&T provides such a great context for both English and Maths learning.


What would be your three Top Tips to overcome these challenges?

  1.  Develop units around the notion of ‘Something for somebody for some purpose’.
  2.  Network with other D&T leads and enthusiasts: events like today with Gateway provide such a wonderful opportunity for this. I’ve lots to offer at The STEM Workshop for both Primary and Secondary Schools.
  3.  Beg, steal and borrow!! (well, not the steal!) But do ask local companies, universities, local secondary schools to support with resources or expertise. There is so much out there!


If you could encourage all Primary school teachers to consistently do ONE thing in D&T, what would it be?

Make it real and relevant. Give children a problem to solve and watch them innovate. Just like today with the D&T leaders ‘Build a mechanical system to move a ball’ A great opportunity to explore how products are manufactured.  And the key is to ensure you assess all the risks and put measures in place through your risk assessments to mitigate against these.



Leanne leads the Gateway Alliance Curriculum CPD – Design and Technology events with the most recent receiving fantastic feedback:

‘Really informative and useful to have practicals to embed skills and what we are asking of the children and staff delivering D&T in school.’

‘Opportunity to make, think, collaborative working and to ask questions.’

‘Practical engaging session showing DT skills in action. Really good to focus on structures and mechanisms.’

‘Really interactive and gave lots of ideas to use in school. Assessment info was also helpful.’


Leanne Mee founded The STEM Workshop in 2018 as a direct result of the decline of Design and Technology within schools. She is an experienced leader and teacher having previously led various subjects to include Design and Technology, Science and Maths. Leanne secured a National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership for bringing about sustainable changes across STEM within her previous role. In the work Leanne has done in supporting the work across several organisations and schools she was awarded an Excellence Award in 2021 from the Design and Technology Association for the Development of STEM Learning Opportunities Award.


If you would like to find out more about Leanne and her work with The STEM Workshop, contact her on: or call 07402 528947

You can find Leanne on X (Twitter) @theSTEMworkshop


Click here to find out more about our other Curriculum CPD events this year at Gateway Alliance.

Finding out about your new class is one of the most exciting times of the school year – and what better way than through getting to know them as readers.

1) What do they enjoy/not enjoy reading?

2) What books would they like to read this year?

3) What books would they choose for you to read to them?


Time spent reading and talking about books is never time wasted and will tell you so much about the personalities of your students, their wants and desires, their understanding of the world and how they communicate with others.


The National Literacy Trust have a few ideas to get you started with effective book talk and engendering an interest in, and desire to read, for children aged 5-14. You need to be a member to download these resources but with so many other great materials at your finger tips, signing-up to the National Literacy trust website is a great idea (and a fantastic charity to support).


For other transition RfP activities, there is also Teresa Cremin and the Open Universities Reading for Pleasure Website which is also packed with ideas that would be perfect for the first week back to school.  Here is a link to their book talk page which has many examples of  good practice from their partner schools, which will inspire you to plan effective book talk in your own classroom.


Finally, hopefully you have had a chance to read (and enjoy) the DfEs NEW Reading Framework (including a revision of the Early Years Reading Framework – 2021).  This is an important and comprehensive document that is a blue print for a successful reading curriculum.  You may not agree with it all but it will be a reference point for organisations such as the DfE and Ofsted moving forward.  If you have read it then pass on the information to other leaders in your school and if you want an insight into the implications of the document, Ruth is holding a Leadership Briefing on 29th September at Becketts Farm in Whythall with English experts Abigail Steel and Rebecca Kennedy. This is not a Gateway event but all are welcome.


Ruth Baker-Leask leads the English Network at Gateway Alliance and is an experienced consultant, leading successful English CPD for 20 years, and former primary Head Teacher. Ruth is the chair of the National Association of Advisers in English (NAAE) and as such works regularly with the country’s leading researchers and experts in the field of Primary English.

Ruth is an associate teacher for the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) and an associate consultant with the National Literacy Trust. Ruth is a member of the United Kingdom Literacy Association Awards and Members Panel.

Ruth also regularly leads CPD on behalf of the Little Sutton English Hub as well as developing resources alongside the hub team.


If you are interested in finding out more about our English Network events and our many CPD Subscriptions, do take a look and contact us on


“When we go in forest school, my tummy and all of me feels like the sunshine.”  Imogen, aged 4.

In this blog, Sarah Watkins explores ways that outdoor experiences can support children to settle in, build relationships, and develop resilience and strong wellbeing.

Nurturing the Roots of Well-being

Wild green spaces are shrinking and children are spending less time outdoors, but research shows that ‘green time’ is crucial for emotional well-being and cognitive development. Dr. Ann Masten, whose research focuses on factors that enhance resilience, talks about the concept of ‘ordinary magic.’ By this, she means that children develop resilience through their interactions with the environment and relationships with competent, caring adults.  Therefore our role is to enable children access to powerful environmental experiences, particularly outdoors.


The Five Ways to Well-being

The five ways to well-being are: connect, take notice, be active, give, and learn. The outdoors effortlessly lends itself to addressing these in Early Years. Children need a sense of connection to the land as well as to significant people. Nature-themed scavenger hunts can be a great way to build the connection to the natural world. The design of the outdoor environment is also key. Mud kitchens stimulate great communication, and the ‘cooking’ – chopping grass, stirring water, kneading mud, adding herbs – is a mindful process.

Psychologist Evan Kidd’s research shows that pretend play between adults and children elicits increased conversational turn taking and longer episodes of joint attention. Outdoor loose parts such as planks, crates, and guttering prompt children to problem solve collaboratively and ask more complex questions, and adults begin to use less directive language.

Moving in the right way

Occupational therapists talk about the ‘just right challenge’ where the adult observes the child in order to support them to move out of the comfort zone into the growth zone, whilst being careful not to venture too far into the danger zone. However, the danger zone does have its benefits! Professor Helen Dodd stresses the importance of the role of adventurous play in teaching children about uncertainty, fear, arousal, and coping. When children get to repeatedly play in this way, they are better prepared to deal with anxiety and fear-provoking situations. Even watching other children tackle these challenges helps. Climbing, for example, is instinctive behaviour for children. Children instinctively want to climb, and often seek the highest point they can access. Even babies have climbing skills – how those skills develop depends very much on whether children get the opportunity to practise. Children need to practise climbing, and every opportunity helps children learn more about body awareness and balance.

Taking Notice

Activities such as ‘meet a tree’ can further build the nature connection. One child wears a blindfold and another guides them to a tree.  The blindfolded person ‘meets’ the tree, putting their arms around it, feeling the bark, reaching up as high as they can and as low as they can. They then both move away and the blindfold is removed. Can the child guess which tree it was?

Scavenger stories are another good way to support children to take notice of what is around them – ask the children to find 3 different things outside such as leaves and twigs. Can they put these in a story, connecting the objects in some way?

The sit spot activity helps a child to really get to know a little area of nature. First, the children find their own special spot. This might be on a patch of grass, or on a log or on a bench. They get comfortable and think about what they can see, feel, hear and smell. Revisiting the sit spot in different seasons builds nature connection.

Giving back

Supporting children to be nature stewards is a great way to give back. Studying local habitats will help children understand how they can help support wildlife. For example, helping children get to know a piece of local land and care for it, or creating a hedgehog home.  One way to prompt discussions about sharing is to re-enact the stone soup story outside. I was recently in a restaurant and the waitress said “you used to teach me in Reception! I always remember when we made stone soup over the campfire. You’ll be impressed – I talked to my boss recently and now we donate our excess food to a local charity. It’s all about giving back, isn’t it, Mrs. Watkins?”


Sarah Watkins led our Early Years Inspiration Day last year at Gateway Alliance. Initially a Primary School teacher and Head Teacher, she then moved to higher education to teach the next generation of teachers. Sarah is the author of two books published by Routledge: Outdoor Play for Healthy Little Minds and 99 Eco-Activities for Your Primary School which focuses on practical ways to ensure sustainability in primary settings. Sarah is a regular columnist for Teach Early Years and Teach Primary and presents at national events including the Nursery World conference in London. Sarah is a Forest School leader and runs an outdoor play company called Dandy Lions. To learn more from Sarah, follow her @mini_lebowski

What Does This Look Like In Practice? 

Top Tips and Key Lessons learned Along the Way:

  1. Get staff “on board”

In order for this approach to work, it is vital that your staff are invested and take ownership of the process. When we introduced the concept, there were a range of reactions, ranging from enthusiasm and excitement to, “Here’s another thing we have to do!” (Along with the inevitable eye roll!) We found it helpful to explain in detail the thinking behind this shift in approach and the aim of making staff development as meaningful and personalised as possible, in order to improve outcomes for our children. Reassuring staff that as a school we would invest in the time needed to make this work and not expect it to be done in their own time helped. Involving staff at the planning stage enabled them to feel part of the process, rather than it being viewed as something that was “done to them.” In addition, reassuring them that this was very much a self-evaluative and collaborative process, not linked to performance management in any way, put minds at rest and helped to create buy-in.

  1. Find a self-audit tool so teachers can evaluate their current practice.

We used materials from The Great Teacher Toolkit and adapted these to create a self-reflection document that was split into 4 key areas of teaching:


  1. Match staff into triads.

Using the analysis from the staff audits, we matched staff into triads, considering their identified areas for improvement. We also ensured each triad included staff with a range of experience and who worked in different phases.

  1. Develop staff confidence and skills in coaching approaches.

Some of the initial hesitation we observed seemed to be due to the confidence of individual staff, so training them in coaching skills was integral to the process. We used “Walk Thrus” as our main resource for upskilling our teachers. In addition, we have several staff currently undertaking NPQs, and we asked them to share the approaches they had looked at through this training. One model our staff found especially useful was the “GROW” approach to coaching conversations.

  1. Decide on the training materials you will use.

During our first coaching cycle, we trialled two different sets of training resources, then asked staff to evaluate these and selected one to use moving forwards. We found the “Walk Thrus” were unanimously preferred, being succinct, visual and easy to understand. In order to support staff, we signposted them to the relevant section of the resources for their chosen development area.

  1. Consider how coaching sessions will be facilitated and if these will include the chance to observe each other teach in triads.

During our first coaching cycle, we decided to complete the process without observations, as our staff were still learning the process and developing coaching skills. By the second cycle, when staff confidence had grown, we added in teaching observations where triads observed each other through the “lens” of the strategy they had been applying. This led to coaching conversations being driven by the evidence-based approaches, rather than them feeling targeted on the individual. Each triad had a dedicated coaching day out of class, which meant that staff had the time to delve deeper into the process, making it more meaningful. It’s important to consider how you can free time up for staff so that this does not feel like an “add on” to workload. If we do not show that we are investing time and resources into the process, it will never have the impact we intend it to.

  1. Consider how triads will share their new expertise – how can we filter this through in order to have more impact across school?

With coaching triads comprised of staff from different year groups, we naturally found that the approaches being explored by different triads were shared between teaching teams and there was a “buzz” across school, with staff talking about and experimenting with new strategies. In addition to this, we held an informal staff meeting at the end of the coaching cycle, where each triad had 10 minutes to present their top tips and key take-aways from the process. This allowed all staff to be exposed to the learning each triad had delved into, with just the key information and tried/tested approaches shared. As teachers, we are far more likely to try out something that has been recommended to us, is easy to implement and has been proven to have a positive effect on our pupils.

  1. How will you measure the impact of the coaching cycle?

This was a tricky question to consider and will depend on your particular context. Obviously the ongoing records of coaching sessions and evaluations provided qualitative information. In addition, measures such as staff/pupil voice, learning walks and pupil data can provide impact measures. By the end of our third coaching cycle, triads will also have produced a one-page case study of a group of pupils, looking at their barriers to learning, strategies applied and how these impacted on their learning. We will also have used the self-audit tool to re-evaluate, which will give quantitative data about the impact on teacher proficiencies. Above all, try not to make any records or impact measures onerous or time consuming. The essence of this process is to move teaching and learning forwards, not to create additional workload or paperwork! The simple fact that in the vast majority of performance management reviews, our staff have openly discussed the various ways in which our coaching cycles have helped them to improve their teaching practice and used this as evidence towards meeting their targets speaks volumes! In our staff voice, 94% of teachers voiced that the coaching cycle had had “a significant impact on teaching and the outcomes for pupils.”

It is important to recognise that this journey towards improving professional development is an evolving process. This is entirely dependent on your school context and the staff body you are working with. It is vital to listen, take notice and be ready to adapt as things progress, whilst maintaining a focus on your key priorities and the impact on pupil outcomes. We are now within our third coaching cycle and have learned many lessons and adapted along the way.

Our aim in a nutshell was to “develop a CPD programme which is based on evidence-informed strategies, yet relevant to our context and personalised to the individual needs of staff.”

As a school, we are now much closer to achieving this. Our staff are involved in directing their own learning. Our teachers have developed more reflective practice and feel empowered by this approach. Are we yet having a lasting impact on pupil outcomes and make a difference for the children? It looks positive and we are starting to see evidence of this! We now need to keep the momentum going, continually reviewing and adapting as needed in the ever-evolving process of improving teaching and learning; a process which firmly has the pupils (and staff) at the heart of it.

References / further reading:

Huge thanks to Caroline Colledge from Rugby Free Primary School for her useful insights in creating this blog for us at Gateway!

There is no improvement for pupils without improvement in teaching, and no improvement in teaching without the best professional development for teachers.

“Knowledge-building: School improvement at scale” – Confederation of School Trusts


Teacher development should be at the heart of driving improvement in schools. But what is effective PD and how do we achieve this in our own setting?

In September 2022, I was appointed as Assistant Head Teacher for Professional Development; an area which was high on the agenda in our Trust’s Improvement Strategy. Here I recount the journey we have undergone as a school and some key lessons we have learned along the way.

Our aim in a nutshell… to develop a PD programme which was based on evidence-informed strategies, yet relevant to our context and personalised to the individual needs of staff. We wanted staff to be involved in directing their own learning; developing reflective practice and empowering them. Above all, teacher development had to have lasting impact and make a difference for the children.

In addition to traditional training methods, we decided to use an instructional coaching approach, where staff worked in triads to access evidence-based research, tailored to their chosen area of pedagogy.  They then applied this within their own context, adapting strategies for their pupils.

To ensure that our teacher development is based on approaches which are proven to have impact (the “best bet” for making a difference) our PD is based on evidence-informed practice. In order to make this work within our setting, we must take account of several factors:

In order to make the coaching approach to PD work, it is vital to develop a whole-school culture of learning, where staff feel able to make mistakes and all participants are open to trying out new approaches and learning from each other. It was also imperative to involve staff in identifying their own areas for development and give dedicated time in order for the improvement process to happen.

Essential ingredients for developing professional learning


To find out more about the Coaching Cycle and what this all looks like in practice (with Top Tips), take a look at Part Two of Caroline Colledge’s Blog (Rugby Free Primary School)

Following another successful CPD Programme in 2022-23 and the incredible feedback with 99% of our events rated as Good or Excellent over the previous 6 years, we are delighted to launch our NEW 2023-24 CPD Programme.

At Gateway Alliance, we strive to ensure our professional development and training reflects the latest educational thinking and research and make  it easy  to access and engage with a broad range of evidence-informed training and development programmes that make a real difference where it matters…in the classroom.

Our 2023-24 CPD Programme sees the continuation of our Networks for  Maths, EnglishSENCo and School Business Managers and the further development of our Early Years Network led by Ruth Swailes to align with other networks. We will continue to provide options for face-to-face and online to suit the needs of all colleagues in addition to access to resources, recordings and a closed FaceBook group and the opportunity to come together as whole group at each of our inspirational Spring Conference events.

For any Senior Leaders: The combination of face-to-face and online ‘Think Piece’ webinars is sure to appeal to Senior Leaders with more inspirational speakers including Dylan Wiliam, Alison Kriel and Dan Fitzpatrick.  Our Summer Senior Leader Conference promises to be another Gateway hit as we welcome Doug Lemov (Teach like a Champion) all the way from the US and the inspirational Kriss Akabusi.

At Gateway Alliance, we pride ourselves on being responsive to feedback and have designed our Curriculum CPD to ensure that we are at the forefront of professional learning whilst reflecting the needs and developing priorities of our subject leaders and schools.

Following their great appeal last year, we are continuing to offer our Subscription Bundles where Curriculum+ subscribing schools can access all 10 of the Curriculum CPD sessions on offer throughout the year. For those schools wishing to drive improvement throughout all aspects of their school, our Whole School Subscription Bundle provides tremendous value at just £2,700. If you are keen to offer professional learning for your Governors, our NEW Governor Development Programme (consisting of 6 x twilight sessions) can be purchased as a subscription or as part of the NEW ‘Whole School + Governors’ Subscription Bundle for only £2,999.

We pride ourselves on the relationships and partnerships forged with our schools, Teaching School Hubs and organisations across the locality and are excited to be welcoming new schools from further afield to our programmes and networks. Our full CPD programme can now be explored in our Training and Development Brochure 2023-24. It looks like it is set to be another incredible year at Gateway Alliance where we strive to maintain our excellent track record in providing high quality professional learning for all of our schools and the children that they serve.

If your school, MAT or consortia wishes to learn more about how we can best support you and your school priorities for 2023-24, please contact us on 02476 347697 or email us