Earned autonomy and shared responsibility

2024-01-06T09:24:14+00:00January 5th, 2024|Featured, leadership|

Having just gotten around to reading Matthew Evans' blog, The Earned Autonomy Trap, I feel moved to break my blogging silence of the past few months. In my book, Intelligent Accountability, I present earned autonomy as one of the principles required to balance trust and accountability and help create the conditions for teachers to thrive. In it, I argue the following: What if, no matter how hard a teacher works, no matter how successful their efforts are, they are still expected to follow the same constraints designed to support the least effective teachers? These problems are avoided if teachers are [...]

In defence of accountability

2023-04-06T09:18:45+01:00March 19th, 2023|leadership|

This weekend saw Joe Kirby publish a thoughtful blog in which he calls for an end to Quality Assurance. I agree with Joe's analysis of the causes of poor accountability - or QA - but not his suggested solutions. In his blog, Joe says that "QA warps time, trust, thinking, teaching, leadership and learning." There's no doubt that this can  sometimes be true, but it runs the risk of becoming a straw man argument in which poor QA is attacked in order to justify getting rid of all QA. In order to see if Joe's arguments are true, we ought [...]

School rules

2023-01-29T08:18:26+00:00July 4th, 2021|behaviour, leadership|

Should schools have rules? Obviously, yes. No one - I think - disputes the necessity of having rules that keep people safe and make life easier and more pleasant for everyone involved. So, a rule setting out acceptable behaviour in a science lab or DT workshop are clearly important and sensible. Rules governing minimum expectations of how students should behave in classrooms and social spaces are also desirable, as are rules about how teachers should and should not interact with children. So far, so good. But the sorts of school rules that tend to get the commentariat aerated are those [...]

Schools and the Tyranny of Merit

2021-05-30T10:30:46+01:00May 27th, 2021|leadership|

One of the books I read last year that has most stayed with me is Michael Sandel's The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? In it, Sandel argues that meritocracy is inherently harmful to society and has brought about the huge divides in politics across the western world we've witnessed in recent years. The divide between 'winner's and 'losers' gets ever deeper and, while Sandel acknowledges that this is, in large part, due to inequality, he identifies the attitudes to 'winning' and 'losing' engendered by meritocracy as the unacknowledged catalyst that has prompted the breakdown of civic life.  [...]


2020-11-07T09:15:57+00:00November 7th, 2020|leadership|

The following is a summary of Chapter 4 of my new book, Intelligent Accountability. What stops us from taking the risk and trusting teachers is, in part, the very real fear that some will cut corners, take shortcuts and slack off. But it is also a product of the deficit model: misguided approaches to enforcing ‘best practice’ and the perceived need to hold teachers and schools to account for meeting key performance indicators. To mediate against these pressures, we put accountability systems in place. The point of accountability is to increase trust: the more information we have on what teachers are [...]


2020-11-03T13:45:38+00:00November 3rd, 2020|leadership|

The following is taken from chapter 3 of my new book, Intelligent Accountability. Confucius believed that three things were needed for a ruler to govern: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler is unable to hold on to all of these he should give up the weapons first, followed by the food. Trust, he thought, should be guarded to the last. This is true for everyone and every institution. It may be difficult to govern without a standing army to enforce your will or when people are hungry, but if there’s no trust, there’s no hope at all. In the context [...]

The surplus model of school improvement

2020-11-02T13:04:52+00:00November 2nd, 2020|leadership|

In chapter 2 of Intelligent Accountability I suggest that schools can operate either a surplus or deficit model of school improvement. Schools often seem to be run on a deficit model whereby any deficiencies or failings are attributed to a lack of understanding, information, effort or good will. The efforts of ‘experts’ (school leaders, inspectors, consultants, senior teachers, etc.) who understand what needs to be done are stymied by the actions (or inaction) of non-experts (classroom teachers) who do not. In a deficit model, failings are attributed to the inability of non-experts to understand or enact “realistic budgets, plans and targets”. [...]

Why we need to embrace ignorance and learn to love uncertainty

2020-11-01T15:13:43+00:00November 1st, 2020|leadership|

The opening chapter of my book Intelligent Accountability is an attempt to clear the way of objections and obstacles in order to create the conditions for teachers to thrive. As such, I argue that schools are incredibly complex institutions where it is impossible for school leaders to have certain knowledge of the best courses of action or the results of the decisions they make. This being the case, I suggest that the only reasonable alternative is to act with tentativity and humility. For all school leaders, one of the following option will be true: You believe you know everything you need [...]

Intelligent Accountability: An overview

2020-11-07T12:23:08+00:00October 24th, 2020|leadership|

My new book, Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive is out now. The argument I make is that while accountability is wholly necessary for teachers to thrive it is too often applied unintelligently and so backfires. I discuss a set of principles designed to get the best out of teachers, thereby getting the best from your students. And when I say ‘best’, I categorically do not mean piling stress onto teachers in the hope of gaming exam results. By creating the conditions for teachers to thrive, we are likely to get much more of what we want: better exam [...]

Five things new school leaders need to know

2023-03-28T09:51:15+01:00June 22nd, 2020|leadership|

1. The primary role of school leadership is to remove extraneous demands on teachers so that they can focus on planning and teaching the very best curriculum possible. If you're doing anything that interferes with this primary responsibility take a long, hard look at yourself. For clarity, this includes behaviour. While teachers have a responsibility to both uphold the standards you've set and to hold students to account, behaviour is, primarily, your responsibility. If you find yourself blaming teachers for poor student behaviour you are part of the problem. Of course, some teachers will need more support than others but [...]

Why interview feedback is a waste of time

2020-02-27T20:58:27+00:00February 27th, 2020|leadership|

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts on the subject of improving the interview process in schools: Part 1: A brief review of the evidence Part 2: Intuition vs. statistical prediction (in which I made suggestions for improving structured interviews) Part 3: The interview lesson I thought I'd said all I needed to say of the subject of school interviews. Then a few days ago I responded to a tweet about providing unsuccessful candidates with post-interview feedback suggesting it was a waste of time: Feedback on unsuccessful interviews is valueless. It’s all polite variants rationalising why your face [...]

Can observation pro formas be used well?

2020-02-09T18:37:56+00:00February 9th, 2020|leadership|

Should observers waltz into lessons armed with a clipboard full of hoops they hope to see teachers jump through? No, probably not. Some years ago I wrote about my preference for how lessons should be observed: The point of a lesson observation should not be to see whether a teacher is slavishly following a checklist, rather it should be to tease out how effectively they are teaching the students in front of them to master specific curriculum goals. Who cares if there’s ‘evidence of differentiation’ but the quality of students’ work is rubbish? Why would it matter if a ‘plenary takes place’ if students [...]

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