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Homework in the time of Corona

2020-04-04T10:55:51+01:00April 3rd, 2020|Featured|

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of uncompleted homework. Gabriel Garcia Marquez I've never been much of fan of homework, not as a child, not as a teacher and nor as a parent. It's always seemed a quite unnecessary imposition. As a child, the 'dog' got to homework with unconvincing regularity. As a teacher I hated having even more marking to do. And as a parent, I just wanted to spend time with my children without papier mache art projects intruding. That was certainly the case when they were younger, anyway. After a [...]

Exam season and COVID19: What should we do?

2020-03-16T11:53:52+00:00March 16th, 2020|Featured|

In the current climate, worrying about whether this year's GCSE and A level exams are going to go ahead as scheduled may seem like small beans but it's a big deal to those directly affected. My eldest is due to sit her GCSEs and is, understandably, frustrated with the uncertainty. The likelihood that schools will carry on as normal over the exam period is looking more and more remote. Something has to give. Everyone working in education is expected an imminent announcement, but no one knows anything for sure. As ever, we have to hope for the best and plan for [...]

The dangers of hierarchy: a recommendation for improving Ofsted inspections

2020-03-07T08:10:05+00:00March 7th, 2020|Featured|

One of the many hard lessons learned by the aviation industry is that distributing responsibility and challenging hierarchical authority saves lives. From examining flight recorders and listening to cockpit recordings, crash investigators know that otherwise avoidable accidents have been caused by dysfunctional relationships between airline crew. The traditional model was the captain was in absolute authority and that questioning his actions was unthinkable. This led copilots and cabin crew to keeping silents when they noticed the captain making a mistake. There are clear dangers in leaving people to organise themselves because our natural inclination is to defer to those in authority [...]

What I learned from visiting schools in Uganda

2020-02-27T18:09:27+00:00February 26th, 2020|Featured|

Some months ago I was asked to be part of an advisory panel on a project to improve primary education in Uganda. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. What, I wondered, would I have to offer? The project, SESIL (Strengthening Education Systems for Improved Leadership) is funded by the Department for International Development and managed by Cambridge Education. The basic premise is that by introducing systems for collecting, analysing and using data to make decisions, school leaders will be better placed to improve children's outcomes by the end of primary school. Before heading out to Uganda, I was [...]

This is what I do

2020-02-03T18:57:27+00:00January 31st, 2020|Featured|

For the past seven years I've been working as a freelance training provider and consultant. Most of the work I get comes either from word-of-mouth recommendations, or because someone has seen me speak or read something I've written. The majority of the work I do is in English schools - both primary and secondary (although I also seem to get a fair bit of work in Sweden and the Netherlands) and it tends to take two distinct forms; I either spend a day speaking to teachers about some aspect of education, or I spend a longer period working with teachers to [...]

Are things so good that normal seems bad?

2020-01-24T15:26:50+00:00January 24th, 2020|Featured|

Former Irish president Mary Robinson has been doing the rounds warning the world it needs to wake up as the hands of the Doomsday Clock are moved to 100 seconds to midnight. Apparently things are so bleak that the world is closer catastrophe than at any point in history. Not only is climate change about to wash away most of the world's coastline, but the threat of nuclear annihilation is greater than at the peak of the Cold War. Basically, we're doomed. It's common currency to believe that the world is in truly awful shape, but is it really? If you [...]

My most viewed posts of 2019

2019-12-31T16:18:24+00:00December 31st, 2019|Featured|

For those of you who are interested, here are the top 10 most viewed posts on my blog during 2019 Closing the language gap: Building vocabulary (16th November 2014) It's a bit of a puzzler why a post written 5 years ago is proving so popular but I can only imagine anxious teachers are looking for Alex Quigley's wildly popular book are are somehow stumbling onto this post. How do we know pupils are making progress? Part 1 The madness of flightpaths (23rd March) The first of a four part series about how we might go about stating with any degree [...]

The importance of play (and why it’s better to avoid bullshit)

2019-12-11T14:29:47+00:00December 10th, 2019|Featured|

Play is an essential part of learning. The young of many species play in order to test their physical limits, form bonds with others, explore the environment, practice hunting behaviours and generally mimic their elders. Human children are no different in this respect: we play in order to learn about ourselves and our environment. It's probably true to say that the instinct to play is 'hardwired' into us and, short of locking children in a box, there's no way to prevent them from playing. Social learning is the basis for the transmission of human culture and play is an unavoidable component [...]

My favourite reads this year

2019-12-09T16:58:19+00:00December 9th, 2019|Featured|

In no particular order, these are the books I have most enjoyed reading during 2019. Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, Tom Holland As a long-time admirer of Holland's brand of history, I was very much looking forward to this. In this he retreads some of the basic territory covered in Millennium and In the Shadow of the Sword, but takes it in a new and startling direction. His basic thesis is that all every aspect of modern Western culture has been shaped by our Christian roots. He begins by addressing the cultural norms of late antiquity and the struggle [...]

The distorting lens of perspective (and why teachers need to be professionally sceptical)

2019-11-26T19:24:32+00:00November 26th, 2019|Featured|

We view the world from our own stance. Our view is unique which means we have unique insights and observations to offer, but it also means other people, viewing from different perspectives, see something different. I was interested to read Tom Sherrington's recent blog levelling the blame for substandard teaching at the feet of teachers he describes as 'Bad Trads': The teacher is up there, trying to teach in an instructional manner but finding it hard.  They’re struggling to marshall [sic] the material and control behaviour; they’re not explaining well; their questioning is weak; their resources are poorly designed to support [...]

The road to hell

2019-11-29T23:01:34+00:00November 24th, 2019|Featured|

My default assumption is that everyone working in education has good intentions. We all want children to be happier, healthier, safer, more creative and better problem solvers. But, good intentions are never enough. Over the past eight years I have used this blog to campaign against the nonsense that used to pervade the system. In the bad old days, Ofsted was the ‘child-centred inquisition’ burning teachers who talked for too long at the stake. Group work, ‘active’ and ‘self-directed’ learning were held up as unquestioned good things and all dissent was crushed with inadequate judgements. We can look back with a [...]

What works best for children with SEND works best for all children

2019-11-18T16:58:14+00:00November 17th, 2019|Featured|

What works best for children with SEND? That, of course, depends upon the precise nature of children's particular needs. That said, we can draw some generalisable conclusions by thinking about some of the more common areas of special educational need. For instance, a child with a working memory deficit is likely to benefit from having information carefully sequenced and instruction broken into manageable chunks. But all children have limited working memory capacity. Dyslexic children have the best possible chance of learning to read fluently if they are given carefully sequenced systematic synthetic phonics instruction. This is equally true of children who are [...]