The school leadership bubble

2018-09-24T21:43:59+01:00September 24th, 2018|leadership|

Some years ago the English faculty I led was subject to a week-long leadership review. Knowing that every member of the department was to be observed and that we would be expected to showcase loads of 'student centred learning' I made sure everyone had planned plenty of group work and taken steps to minimise whole class instruction. At the end of the week the headteacher congratulated me on the quality of all of the lessons he'd seen and how student centred they had been. Despite this, I could see he looked a bit troubled and asked whether anything was wrong. He cleared [...]

Put down your crystal balls

2017-07-04T09:32:36+01:00July 3rd, 2017|assessment, leadership|

Many of the schools I visit and work with feel under enormous pressure to predict what their students are likely to achieve in their next set of GCSEs. In the past, this approach sort of made sense. Of course there was always a margin for error, but most experienced teachers just knew what a C grade looked like in their subject. Also, when at least half of students' results were based on 'banked' modular results, the pressure to predict became ever more enticing. Sadly, the certainties we may have relied on have gone. Not only have Ofqual have worked hard to [...]

The secret of successful schools: the Anna Karenina Principle

2017-06-14T07:12:21+01:00June 14th, 2017|leadership|

For men are good in but one way, but bad in many. Aristotle Tolstoy's great novel, Anna Karenina, opens with the famous line, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy's point is that a happy marriage depends on a long lists of variables: mutual attraction, agreement about finances, parenting, religion, in-laws and many other crucial respects. You might have everything else in your favour, but if any one of these vital ingredients is missing, or out of kilter, happiness is doomed. This is the Anna Karenina Principle: A deficiency in any one of a [...]

Should teachers do what children want?

2018-01-05T23:32:17+01:00May 19th, 2017|behaviour, leadership|

Every weekday morning, my daughters both moan about having to get up for school. They moan about their teachers and they moan about homework. Given free rein, they would spend all day every day watching BuzzFeed video channels, making Spotify playlists, watching Netflix and taking online quizzes. It's not that they're lazy, it's just that they'd really rather not have to learn maths, science and geography. They're both moderately conscientious, reasonably hardworking girls who never put a foot wrong in school. On parents' evenings, we're regaled with tales of how good their attitude to school is and how much progress they're [...]

Can we improve school interviews? Part 1: A brief review of the research

2017-05-21T08:53:20+01:00May 9th, 2017|leadership|

Recruitment for most employers is straightforward: you advertise, read through applications, invite the people you like in for an interview, think about it for a bit and then enter into negotiations with whoever you most want to employ. In education it's different. Schools are weird. When I was told how school recruitment work on my PGCE I couldn't believe it, "They do what?" For any non teachers, school recruitment works like this: All candidates for the job are invited in to the school on the same day. Candidates have to plan a lesson for a class they know almost nothing about beyond year group [...]

Should we give teachers the ‘benefit of the doubt’?

2017-03-03T13:41:16+01:00March 3rd, 2017|leadership|

Earlier in the week, Schools Minister, Lord Nash announced that schools should be more like businesses and jettison underperforming staff. According to this TES report he's reported to have said, "“I think one of the things that it’s easy to say ... is that sometimes in education there is a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt too often.” The consequence of this well meaning woolliness is that we consign children to a sub-standard education. Much better for school leaders to be like business leaders. The “best leaders in education” are “tough”, “have a real sense of pace”, and “realise the clock is [...]

How can school inspection get what it wants?

2017-02-11T07:33:17+01:00February 10th, 2017|leadership|

I read a great piece by Dr Becky Allen in Schools Week this morning on inherent unreliability of school inspections. In it she makes the point that human beings are incapable of making reliable, high stakes judgements due to our adaptive reliance on heuristics and our inability to adequately introspect about our biases  and preferences. But despite the dangers, she says, "This is not to say that school inspection should not have a role in our system. It is possible that the threat of inspection, day-in-day-out, leads to better practice in schools that outweighs the obvious dysfunctional behaviours it creates." I [...]

Less marking, more feedback: A challenge and a proposal

2016-12-01T16:18:59+01:00December 1st, 2016|leadership|

I've been arguing for some time that if teachers spent less time marking (by which I mean writing comments on students' work) then they might have a lot more time for giving meaningful feedback which actually helps develop more flexible, durable learning. This is a message that tends to play well with harried, over burdened teachers but often fills school leaders with horror. The fear is that because some teachers are lazy, good-for-nothing loafers they'll simply take this as an opportunity to shuttle off to the pub every evening and their students will be even more neglected. I can certainly understand [...]

Marking is an act of folly

2016-12-04T17:26:15+01:00November 30th, 2016|leadership|

Contrary to popular belief, marking and feedback are not the same thing. Clearly they're connected - and, ideally most marking has the intention of giving feedback - but the process of marking or giving marks does not, in and of itself, equate with feedback. Those who see marking as an essential component of a teachers' role should wonder why, in many parts of the world - particularly east Asian countries which seem to do very well in international comparisons - teachers do not routinely mark students' work. If it were essential this would not be possible. Anglophone countries - and the UK [...]

School improvement: Can you buck the trend?

2016-12-31T16:26:22+01:00July 4th, 2016|Featured, leadership|

In my last post I discussed the natural volatility of GCSE results and the predictably random nature of results over the long-term. I ended by saying, "The agenda for school improvement has to move away from endlessly pouring over data looking for patterns that don’t exist. We need to find new – better – ways to hold schools to account and come up with new definitions of what school improvement means." Interestingly, two readers got in touch to cite the example of Michaela School as a potential outlier. Obviously, Michaela's first cohort are still a number of years away from sitting [...]

7 habits of genuinely expert teachers

2016-03-09T22:44:13+01:00March 9th, 2016|leadership|

Science is not 'organized common sense'; at its most exciting, it reformulates our view of the world by imposing powerful theories against the ancient, anthropocentric prejudices that we call intuition. Stephen J. Gould Being a teacher is a tough job. The quantity and the complexity of the decisions and responses we make in the course of a day is daunting. Useful as it would be to think deeply about and reflect thoroughly on each of these interactions, there isn't time to stop and stare. In order to function we have to rely on our intuition. Most of what we do in [...]

The rise of the unscrupulous optimist

2016-03-05T16:33:51+01:00March 5th, 2016|leadership|

"Optimism, n.: The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary Education is a project filled with hope. We stand, framed heroically against the setting sun and scan the horizon for new stuff to transform the tired, outmoded, factory clamour of the past and hope - oh, how we hope - that everything will be better. But our forward-looking, progressive stance means we can all too easily miss seeing a landscape littered with failed ideas and the scorched ruins of unscrupulous optimism. Here are a couple of recent examples for your consideration: The College of Teaching Tom [...]