Applying your professional curiosity to influence academic progress in students

Posted by John Ubsdell

Applying your professional curiosity to influence academic progress in students


Worcestershire defines ‘professional curiosity’ as ‘looking, listening, asking direct questions, checking out and reflecting on information whether from data, verbal communication or observational.’ In other words, it's about triangulating information from different sources to get a better understanding of it, rather than taking a single source of information and accepting it at face value.

In schools, we can often rely upon the next ‘data drop’ to give us a picture of our pupils’ progress. By the time the data arrives, poor performance, slow progress and reduced pupil energy has become the norm.   

Dialling into our professional curiosity helps us to effectively safeguard and protect our young people and influence academic and behavioural progress. To really get the most from it, knowledge of our class profile and understanding the key characteristics of each pupil is vital. We might ask ourselves questions such as:

  • Where and who are your S.E.N.D. pupils and what are their identified needs? 
  • How should a pupil with A.S.D. be engaged in class?
  • Which environment meets their needs? 
  • How will differentiation and verbal communication engage and build upon their command of language? 
  • Who has arrived with very little data; how are they settling in? 

Combining this knowledge through professional curiosity, answers many questions and builds a profile to ensure we put in the most impactful provision for individual needs.  

Imagine the scene… 

You’re scrutinising work in a lesson observation. You notice some work which has been marked with request to repeat the work, finish the questions or reattempt the work because it is untidy 

You observe that as time passes less and less is being completed. You sit next to the pupil and ask why they have stopped responding to the teacher’s requests - leaving much of the work un-attempted. The pupil turns to you and says, very quietly, ‘What’s the point? She doesn’t mark it!’ You check and find the pupil is right and to triangulate, you check other pupils’ books and find the same pattern.  

Your professional curiosity now starts a line of research, starting with the teacher, expanding into the other classes they teach.   

The pupil in question is in 4 / 4 geography set but you find out that in set 1 / 4 (top set of higher attainers) their work is marked BUT this line of investigation reflects that staff do not ‘retro mark’; they do not look back on the previous marked work to check requests for ‘reattempts’ or spellings and there may be a demarcation between higher sets and those with demanding learning needs.

How to approach a professional curiosity pathway to ensure an effective approach

  • Question your own assumption about expectations and guard against optimism i.e it will get better or it's not that bad.
  • Recognise your own feelings or prejudice such as 'well, she is from a dysfunctional family and has problems; we can help but...'
  • Demonstrate a willingness to have a less-than-comfortable interaction with your pupil(s) if standards do not improve, work becomes untidy, homework is absent - you need to engage in a 1:1 with your pupil, talking it through. Perhaps research your concerns via discussion with the pastoral lead or class teacher, but you must become proactive.
  • Address professional anxiety. So, if a pupil shares with you that homework is a problem, tease out the reasons and direct them, but also check attendance to the homework club.
  • Diligence - you may resolve a situation, finding reason for 'x' and 'y' but professional curiosity aims to stop any recurrence or resurgence. 
  • Style and tone of conversing with your pupil. Ensure your questions are not accusatory but constructive. Ask non-prejudicial questions. 'This isn't your best work, I've seen better; would you agree it was rushed and is untidy?'
  • Listen and give an outcome - after having the conversation, say what you plan to do and seek the pupil's agreement e.g 'ok, I will tell you what I shall do now. I will speak to your German teacher and ask him to help with ..... And I'll check with you how it's going in a week's time. How does that sound? Happy? Have I missed anything?' 

Quality Mark, the nationally recognised accreditation for continuous quality improvement for English and mathematics, encourages and examines a variety of teaching approaches to support learning.  

See how the use of professional curiosity techniques could contribute towards your school’s accreditation. Download the Quality Mark audit tool extract:

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