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3rd February 2020

Uncovering FOSIL ahead of the Tes Awards night

In the lead up to Friday’s Tes Awards evening, where FOSIL and the FOSIL Group have been shortlisted for the ‘Strategic Education Award Initiative’, this week we’ll be uncovering FOSIL for those who want to know more, as well as showcasing and celebrating its developments and successes that have led to this exciting award shortlisting.

What is inquiry-led learning & why is it important?

It is a well mooted point that children now, more than ever before, need to be prepared to live in an age of rapid change; for jobs that don’t exist, using technologies not yet invented, in a world characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Therefore, schools need to equip pupils with the skills and ability to ask meaningful, context-aware questions; to prepare them to handle the superabundant, often untrustworthy, and constantly changing information that they need to process and use in order to succeed, both within and beyond their formal education. 

There is much talk about helping pupils to become ‘independent learners’ and enabling them to be equipped for ‘lifelong learning’. There is, of course, no single ‘solution’ or ‘quick fix’ to encourage children towards these goals – success derives from a combination of many aspects both in and outside of the classroom. FOSIL, however, provides a scaffolding for educators to support pupils to take ownership of their studies, to develop the aptitude to research problems, ask good questions, assess the validity of evidence and craft a synthesis. In short, FOSIL equips children with the skills to learn anything by finding out for themselves with appropriate support.

What is FOSIL? FOSIL is a ‘Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning’ that enables children to learn by finding out for themselves. It is a cycle of inquiry that can be easily and consistently taught to, and learnt by, pupils, along with a detailed map (which sits behind the cycle) of the skills that are required to carry out each step (how they can be learned, practised and developed).


  • Connect: Knowledge builds on knowledge, so pausing to take stock of what you already know reveals more clearly what you do not yet know.
  • Wonder: Gaps in what you know give rise to questions, some more fruitful than others.
  • Investigate: These questions guide your investigation, which is aimed at sourcing reliable information that you can work with.
  • Construct: This is the point of learning by finding out for yourself – building knowledge and understanding from information in response to the questions that you have.
  • Express: Once you know what you are talking about, you need to be able to share it appropriately, effectively and ethically.
  • Reflect: Doug Engelbart said it best when he said that “the better we get at getting better, the faster we will get better”.

How has FOSIL been developed at Oakham?

FOSIL has been developed and honed over seven years of research and application, by Oakham’s Head of Library Darryl Toerien. For a detailed description of how it has come into being, the research and influences behind FOSIL, please read this:

E&L Memo 0 | Developing inquiring minds: a journey from information through knowledge to understanding

Oakhamians experience FOSIL in their curriculum – from Lower 1 (Yr 6, age 10) through to Form 7 (Yr13).  FOSIL-based inquiry approaches are embedded in many subjects including:

  • Computer Science, where circa 350 students per year (in F1-F3 or Yr7-9), learn the entire Computer Hardware schemes of work via FOSIL-based inquiries. For example, they learn about how to define a computer by investigating and answering the question ‘is my brain a computer?’
  • English – after being introduced to the FOSIL cycle, all of our Form 1 (Yr 7) pupils undertake an inquiry into Science Fictional futures where they investigate what is currently possible in the field of AI before embarking on a creative writing piece where they invent a future that we cohabit with AI.

FOSIL is also used in many other areas including:

  • The Inquiry Skills Project: where every Form 3 (Yr 9) pupil receives five lessons over a one-week period. The inquiry encourages pupils to consider the value of reading. Specifically, when given a thought-provoking book, they have to answer: ‘is it worth the effort to read this book?’ The FOSIL skills that are focused on here are academic writing (e.g. how to cite and reference etc.).
  • The Individual Project: where Form 3 pupils can pick any topic that interests them to investigate and write a 1,500-word essay. Whilst they are given some support during tutorial time – to discuss the inquiry question, or to help them to pace themselves – the challenge is to investigate their topic and write it up on their own. It is their first introduction to a substantial independent inquiry.
  • Form 6 (Yr 12) pupils actively use FOSIL for their Independent Research Task, IB Diploma Extended Essay and EPQ. All Form 6 (IB and A-level pupils) are (re)introduced to the FOSIL cycle in their first week and are challenged to identify an intellectually interesting topic, which is related to their subject choices, to investigate. It is a short task to familiarise them with the full range of scholarly resources available to them in and through the Library, while encouraging them to read around their subjects more widely.

Sharing & developing FOSIL: the creation of the FOSIL Group

Whilst on this journey of enabling and embedding inquiry-led approaches into Oakham’s curriculum, Darryl recognised that other schools were on a similar journey too. Over many years, Darryl spoke at conferences and welcomed teachers and librarians to Oakham to share FOSIL and to help them to develop their approaches to inquiry-led learning.

However, Darryl’s ability to share FOSIL with other schools (40+ visits to Oakham to date), was constrained by his available time. It also became clear to him that in the process of sharing FOSIL, the discussions that followed were advancing inquiry-led learning approaches both at Oakham and in the wider education community. The idea behind the FOSIL Group was therefore born – an open and communal space to share, reflect and develop effective inquiry-led learning, for the collective benefit of all pupils – including but not restricted to Oakhamians. 

In April 2019 the FOSIL Group was launched, centred on its professionally developed and easy to use website (www.fosil.org.uk). From the outset it was endorsed by the Information Literacy Group and School Libraries Group (of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), and the School Library Association.

Since its inception, the FOSIL Group has gone from strength to strength. There are currently 166 current members who are pro-actively engaging in the forum (over 200 posts across over 60 different topics of discussion). There is also a growing number of FOSIL-based resources (circa 50 to date) – all so far developed by Oakham’s teachers and librarians – which can be immediately used to support full inquiries or inquiry-led lessons in a range of subject areas for different year groups.

We look forward to showcasing and celebrating FOSIL’s developments and successes – both in Oakham School and beyond in the activities of the FOSIL Group – in more detail over the coming week, ahead of Friday’s Tes Awards.

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