Blog archive

/Blog archive/

Is love the most important thing?

Yesterday, I wrote a post explaining that important as the quality of teaching in a school is, there are other, more important things on which to concentrate. In response, Katharine Birbalsingh, head mistress of Michaela School tweeted this: I agree with lots of this but @DavidDidau misses a, if not THE most important thing: kids need to love their teacher. They need to be inspired. When a kid loves their teacher, they’ll work & work for them both inside & outside the classroom. And hard work is what counts. — Katharine Birbalsingh (@Miss_Snuffy) July 8, 2018 Did I miss a [...]

Is love the most important thing? 2018-07-09T11:07:59+00:00

Teaching matters, but there are more important things to get right

As John Tomsett says in his latest blog, "It is generally accepted that the quality of teaching is the most influential factor in determining the rate at which pupils make progress in their learning – broadly speaking, the better the teaching, the more progress pupils make over time." Here, I want to argue that teaching, important as it is, only comes third (or maybe fourth) on the list of things I think make the most difference "in determining the rate at which children make progress in their learning." A bold claim? Let's see. My contention is that the single most important [...]

Teaching matters, but there are more important things to get right 2018-07-08T12:33:42+00:00

A broad and balanced approach to English teaching and the curriculum

Having launched a stream of invective against the use of 'balance' as a weasel word in my last post, I want to offer a more nuanced take on what I think balance ought to mean. I see the purpose of a curriculum as being to introduce students to that knowledge which will be of most use to them in academic contexts and to allow them to have the maximum amount of choice in what goals they choose to pursue in life. All skills are activated by knowledge and - if we want students to be creative, intellectually curious and productive - [...]

A broad and balanced approach to English teaching and the curriculum 2018-06-29T18:30:54+00:00

When “balance” goes bad

Balance is an obviously good thing, isn't it? After all, who wants to be unbalanced? "What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration?" asked the mathematician Henri Poincaré. "It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details." Lovely.  A lack of balance implies disunity, disharmony and, maybe, disorder. But is balance always good? In education, those who are made uncomfortable [...]

When “balance” goes bad 2018-06-28T15:41:10+00:00

Are the new GCSE exams causing mental health problems?

Sitting an exam is, for most people, an inherently stressful situation. People have been sitting exams since at least the Sui dynasty in China (581-618 CE) when prospective entrants to the Imperial civil service took a series of examinations of their knowledge of classic Confucian texts and commentaries. Those who passed the imperial palace examinations at the highest level would go on to become some of the most important and influential bureaucrats in the Imperial palace complex. These exams were intended to be entirely meritocratic in order to ensure that the only the most talented, rather than the wealthiest rose to the top. [...]

Are the new GCSE exams causing mental health problems? 2018-06-24T07:56:36+00:00

Teaching knowledge is teaching skill

We can call everything stored in our long-term memories knowledge. All knowledge is biological - stored in the organic substance of our brains - and everything stored biologically is knowledge. If you call some of the stuff that occupies our minds anything other than knowledge then you have to explain how it would be stored. This is hard to do without getting into debates about 'ether' or some other insubstantial stuff. Occam's razor assures us that pursuing such a line of reasoning is both unnecessary and likely to be counter-productive. But then, what of the common sense observation that knowledge and [...]

Teaching knowledge is teaching skill 2018-06-17T08:10:01+00:00

The trouble with troublesome knowledge

A recent blog post made some interesting assertions about knowledge. In doing so it presented a series of opinions as facts. That is not a criticism - we all have a tendency to do this. But in order to confront the troublesome nature of knowledge we should address these claims head on and to do so I will treat them as if they were factual. Fact claim 1: we can teach children [about the world using a globe] as a set of facts to recall, but it just won’t go in like it does later on – they simply cannot place it [...]

The trouble with troublesome knowledge 2018-06-16T07:32:11+00:00

The best books I've read so far this year…

I normally round up my favourite reads at the end of the year but I've read so many really excellent books so far this year that I decided to put them out there now. Who knows? Maybe you'll consider picking one of them up to peruse over the summer. In no particular order... Factfulness: 10 reasons we're wrong about the world - and why things are better than you think, Hans Rosling Sadly, Hans Rosling died last year. If you've never heard of him before have a look at some of his videos. The Swedish statistician and epidemiologist was an expert communicator [...]

The best books I've read so far this year… 2018-06-12T18:28:02+00:00

The problem with dead white men – a reply to Mary Bousted

Apparently, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union has announced that England is “hurtling forward to a rosy past” with its emphasis on knowledge. She is reported as having said the following: As an English teacher, I have no problem with Shakespeare, with Pope, with Dryden, with Shelley. ... But I knew in a school where there are 38 first languages taught other than English that I had to have Afro-Caribbean writers in that curriculum, I had to have Indian writers, I had to have Chinese writers to enable pupils to foreshadow their lives in the curriculum.” If a [...]

The problem with dead white men – a reply to Mary Bousted 2018-06-09T01:08:56+00:00

The illusion of leadership

Everyone knows what's needed to turn around a struggling school: strong leadership. In order for it to be deemed necessary for school to be consigned to 'special measures,' something has to have gone badly wrong. It's more than likely true that poor leadership will be at the heart of the problem. So, the school is taken over and a new 'strong leader' is parachuted in to turn it around. This tends to be fairly straightforward. Very bad (and very good) schools conform to the Anna Karenina principle: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” [...]

The illusion of leadership 2018-06-08T13:39:58+00:00

Should Ofsted observe lessons?

As you may have seen, Ofsted have published a report which lays the ground work on how they might start observing lessons once more: Six models of lesson observation: an international perspective. Most people will probably accept that if Ofsted are going to inspect schools then should almost certainly observe lessons as part of the inspection process. And, as someone who spends a fair bit of time visiting schools around the country, it’s clear that you can learn a lot about a school from seeing how lessons unfold. But when I observe lessons, I do so informally. I’m not attempting to make [...]

Should Ofsted observe lessons? 2018-05-31T16:33:03+00:00

Lessons from the dojo

Struck with the inescapable knowledge that I'm not getting younger and, therefore, am unlikely to stay fit and healthy without some investment in exercise, I've struggled over the past few years to find a form of physical activity that I don't actively dread. In January I made the decision to try out my local karate club and, thus far at least, I love it. I've been going two, sometimes three, times a week and I increasingly find myself looking forward to it. Without really knowing why or how, I've suddenly become highly motivated to take regular exercise. That said, I'm rubbish [...]

Lessons from the dojo 2018-07-23T09:04:44+00:00