SINCE the beginning of my career, I have been very conscious of the word ‘differentiation’ when used in the educational context.

To those non-educationalists out there reading this column, differentiation is simply a philosophy for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning according to their needs and abilities.

Adapting teaching to respond to the needs of children isn’t a choice, but a duty and under the Equality Act.

It is a lawful requirement for teachers and schools to make such reasonable adjustments to their teaching.

However, interpretations of how to do this are subject to much debate among educationalists and the approach has certainly evolved over time.

As a headmaster, I feel it is important that I am able to provide clarity on how we actually differentiate in the classroom and what children and parents should expect from a well-differentiated lesson, but I would not suggest my philosophy is the only one that works effectively.

It is true that a good number of years ago differentiation involved providing different tasks which often came down very often to three different worksheets for the most able, middle ability and least-able pupils.

I think it is probably true to say that educational thinking has moved on from this approach and is a little more sophisticated these days.

The question I ask when observing teaching and when teaching myself, is are all pupils making progress and what is the teacher doing to facilitate this progress?

As teachers, we prepare an environment in which pupils can learn.

We consider displays, layout and behaviour. When we are met with a sea of blank faces we change our explanations, we add context, pictures and diagrams and we quickly alter our questioning.

We use effective questioning as a real tool to assess understanding, not just to confirm that the usual few have got it.

Most crucially, I look to see that the teacher is communicating effectively with pupils when they are working independently.

I want to see individual and personalised questioning to enable every pupil to be stretched and where difficulties persist, I look to see if the teacher is providing scaffolding to enable each learner to make progress.

This approach is very much about relationships and trust between pupil and teacher and the teacher taking a real effort to know the pupils and the way in which they learn and make progress.

This means having high expectations of all pupils and a real belief that progress and attainment are limited by effort only.

The best teachers do this intuitively because they care — they know their pupils well and the pupils trust them as being excellent educators.