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Isolation Booths

January 2, 2020

I won’t name names, as people shouldn’t be pointed out for being misled, but a few days ago somebody I follow on Twitter who isn’t a teacher tweeted the following:

I had never heard of or seen an ‘isolation booth’ until they cropped up this year on Twitter. What the hell is going on in our schools that this is some kind of normal practice?

Like most people, I also hadn’t heard of isolation booths before the “Ban the Booths” campaign began in late 2018. I had repeatedly worked in schools that used “internal exclusion”, i.e. where students may be removed from their scheduled lessons to work in silence under adult supervisions. Some even referred to this as “isolation”. I think some even have had dividers between desks, like in this picture here, although perhaps not ones that go all the way to the ceiling or stick out so far. But none had ever referred to “isolation booths”.

I looked at the debate that happened at the time, and saw that it was a familiar selection of people who tend to be against punishing the badly behaved, calling for:

The regulation and reporting of all children isolated for more than half a day.

This policy was explicit in the letter template they encouraged people to send to MPs and in much of what I read. However, the rhetoric and propaganda did refer repeatedly to “booths” and there were claims, such as “In a recent FOI by the BBC of 600 schools a third had isolation booths” which indicated that no clear distinction was being made between internal exclusion rooms in general and “booths”.

There are obvious problems here. The practice that the campaigners are pushing to obstruct is internal exclusion which is common. The practice they claim to object to is “isolation booths” which is not something most of us have ever heard of before they started to campaign against it and is not clearly defined in most discussions. These should be two entirely separate issues but by mixing them up, people who have a long history of campaigning against discipline can push their agenda without making it explicit.

So what is an “isolation booth”? As far as I can tell it refers to a wide variety of structures designed to insulate against noise. So, for instance, Advanced Acoustics, advertises temporary soundproof booths, known as “isolation booths” among other soundproofing products and mentions studios, cinemas and listening rooms as potential uses, but also offers “office acoustic treatments” and mentions classrooms and sports halls in this context. Office furniture companies also offer isolation booths, for instance, for call centres:

This particular company offers products for schools. One type of booth (with lower dividers between desks) is sold as a “school isolation booth” although it would appear an identical product is sold as an “office isolation booth”. There is no suggestion that isolation booths for schools are for internal exclusion rooms (even though in some schools these rooms are called “isolation”) as opposed to say, school libraries or sixth form study areas. An isolation booth is just furniture, not in itself a punishment.

What we appear to have is people who object to punishing kids trying to demonise the use of internal exclusion, by calling it “booths” implying that internal exclusion facilities are extremely confined and austere and certain media outlets going along with this for the sake of a story. The graphics used in reporting about “booths” can be remarkably dishonest. For instance, the first image above appears in this cropped form on the Independent website:

Even the image used above to advertise call centre booths is used by the BBC to illustrate a story about internal exclusion.

Does it matter if people who are proposing to regulate internal exclusion keep talking about “booths”? It does if people in policy-making positions join in. We have seen MPs and the Children’s Commissioner back campaigns against “booths”. We need an end to talk of “booths”. Either school leaders have the right to internally exclude or they don’t. If you aren’t backing that right, any attempt to make the issue about the furniture, is just misleading.

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Top rated posts in 2019

January 1, 2020

The following posts got the most views in 2019. Many of them weren’t actually written in 2019, so do check the date before reading.

  1. The silliest feedback from work scrutinies
  2. Definitions of Progressive and Traditionalist
  3. Why I’m leaving the NEU
  4. Year Zero
  5. Noise
  6. The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression
  7. How to Destroy NQTs
  8. Good Year Heads
  9. A Brief History of Education Part 2: The 1944 Education Act
  10. How To Find Out If Your Teacher Is Gay
  11. Tough questions about behaviour
  12. The Top Five Lies About Behaviour
  13. Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers
  14. What happens when a school listens to campaigners against internal exclusion?
  15. The Worst Behaviour In School Corridors
  16. Academic and non-academic subjects
  17. More on School Chain Shaming
  18. The campaign against discipline
  19. School Chain Shaming
  20. More popular than “Ban The Booths”

Happy new year.

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Another look at exclusions and race

November 17, 2019

About a year ago I wrote this post looking at the data on permanent exclusions and ethnicity.

I had often seen it claimed that the differing rates of permanent exclusions in different ethnic groups were evidence of racism and grounds to reduce, restrict or stop exclusions.

In that post I observed the following:

  • The numbers involved are actually tiny. This means that a) no ethnic group is affected massively by permanent exclusions, and b) if somebody claims there is racism driving these figures, they are talking about the actions of far less than 1% of heads, which could be individually scrutinised, not “institutional racism” or “unconscious bias” throughout the system.
  • While individuals should always be judged as individuals, there is absolutely no reason to assume that the extreme behaviours that result in exclusion will be constant across different demographics. Different ethnic groups do not have the same history, social class, religion, geographical location, type of school attended and so on. To assume the same behaviours from all demographics would be wishful thinking.
  • The differences between ethnic groups above, conform to no obvious pattern of widely held prejudices. Does anyone believe that black African children experience far less racial prejudice than black Caribbean children? Or that Pakistani Muslim children are subjected to less racial prejudice than white children?

Since then I’ve had a few more things to think about.

The first is that anecdotally, at least one teacher has told me of their experience of exclusions being affected by prejudice. This does not mean that it is common, but it is something that should not be dismissed even if it is unlikely to be affecting the averages. However, if it is the case that some school leaders let prejudice affect their decisions on exclusions, then this is not necessarily a case to make all heads less able to exclude. It would be a reason to make grounds for exclusion clearer and more objective. It should be possible to say, “Well, you didn’t exclude a white child for the same thing.”. However, if schools did set clearer grounds for exclusions, it is likely to drive exclusions up, not down. It is easy to make exceptions to keep kids in school, far harder to push them out with no good reason. Greater consistency in the use of exclusions would be a “no excuses” approach, not an “a lot more excuses” approach. There is also no reason to assume a reduction in exclusions would change relative rates of exclusions.

A further development is that the Timpson Review tried controlling for all other factors when looking at the different rates of exclusion between different ethnic groups.

The discrepancies between ethnic groups were massively reduced, with only 3 groups being more likely to be excluded than white children. This suggests my argument from the previous post was correct, it also reduces still further the number of heads whose decisions might have contributed to the disparities from a few hundred (out of tens of thousands) to a few dozen, making talk of “institutional racism” even less plausible.

Does the remaining disparity provide good evidence of racism? Not really. We still wouldn’t expect total uniformity of exclusion rates after controlling for all those other factors, even in the complete absence of prejudice. This research controlled for the data schools keep, but not for all possible factors. It won’t control for peer group or for crime in the local area, or any other factor schools don’t keep records on. Any imperfections in the data will also have an effect as controlling for other factors requires accurate data.  We still cannot assume racism is the explanation for the remaining disparities. What we do know from this, is that prejudice can, at worst, only be a marginal factor in permanent exclusions and cannot be a reason to restrict or reduce exclusions.

And finally, there is the issue of just how subjective attempts to prove prejudice from data can be. In a completely different context (football), research by Silberzahn and Uhlmann looked at how the same data can lead to drastically different conclusions.

Twenty-nine teams involving 61 analysts used the same data set to address the same research question: whether soccer referees are more likely to give red cards to dark-skin-toned players than to light-skin-toned players. Analytic approaches varied widely across the teams, and the estimated effect sizes ranged from 0.89 to 2.93 (Mdn = 1.31) in odds-ratio units. Twenty teams (69%) found a statistically significant positive effect, and 9 teams (31%) did not observe a significant relationship. Overall, the 29 different analyses used 21 unique combinations of covariates. Neither analysts’ prior beliefs about the effect of interest nor their level of expertise readily explained the variation in the outcomes of the analyses. Peer ratings of the quality of the analyses also did not account for the variability. These findings suggest that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid, even by experts with honest intentions.

How could teams of researchers differ in their conclusions, when looking at the same set of data? A lot came down to what controls were considered relevant and what statistical tests seemed appropriate. I don’t suggest that this makes it impossible to ever demonstrate prejudice. But if professional statisticians can differ as to what data shows, we should perhaps be more sceptical at the certainty with which the politically motivated draw simple conclusions about racism from raw figures. And that applies whether the conclusions are being reached about school exclusions, the level of diversity of speakers at a conference or in arguments about whether people’s lists of favourite tweeters are representative or not.

If people wish to believe that exclusions are evil, or that schools are institutionally racist, they will. But the evidence is simply not there in the figures for permanent exclusions, and there is absolutely no reason to think reducing, restricting or banning permanent exclusions will address any injustice.

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The Difference – An education charity that gets it very wrong about exclusions

November 10, 2019

As you may know, I have delivered a talk at some researchED events about the evidence that permanent exclusions are necessary and, if anything, they are a bit rarer than they should be. After the national researchED conference, my attention was drawn to the charity The Difference. Their Twitter bio now says:

Bringing the best in education to those children who need it most. Training specialist leaders in Yorkshire, North West, London & South England.

However, their original emphasis seems to have been on exclusions, and their bio used to say:

Fighting to break the link between social exclusion and school exclusion. Our mission: to place excellent teachers in alternative provision schools.

In July, the NAHT made it clear The Difference are trying to reduce exclusions.

The podcast describes “exclusions” as “top of the government’s agenda” and explains that the charity gives school leaders a placement in AP with, “the ultimate aim of reducing school exclusion”. (It also claims that, “every cohort of excluded kids costs the state an extra £2.1 billion” which is around £300 000 per child, something I’d love to see the source for). It is assumed throughout that permanent exclusion is something that happens to, “the most vulnerable students”, rather than in order to protect the vulnerable, and that exclusions should be reduced.

As a school teacher, I have experienced what happens when schools try to avoid excluding – teachers and students are abused, attacked and intimidated while those in charge congratulate themselves for not excluding.  I shared what other teachers experienced in this post “What happens when schools don’t permanently exclude?”. It makes terrifying reading.

The Difference website is even clearer about what they are up to. Their one and only blogpost is an article originally from the TES entitled “How to teach challenging pupils and never exclude them” and it quotes David Whitaker, who is the director of learning at a trust that doesn’t exclude, and who supports the work of The Difference:

He recalls how at both his first placement at the Priory School in Barnsley and his first job at Kingstone School in the same South Yorkshire town that he had found his calling.

“When I had that job in Kingstone, I was teaching 30 kids in a class. You very rarely had a teaching assistant and there was no behaviour structure or system that was there to rescue you. When the door closed behind you you were on your own. You didn’t have a behaviour structure to support you.

“What I had to do is earn the respect of the class, teach really, really well. And if those kids were running around on the desks I had to get them down on my own with my personality and they needed to want to get down off the desks.”

He describes the experience as being daunting but he also believes it is where he learned what he considers is essential to managing behaviour – building up relationships with the pupils. And he worries that some of this is being lost in mainstream education.

“What happens now is that if a kid runs around on the desk there is a button you can press and someone comes and takes the kid out.  At the risk of sounding controversial I think we are at risk of deskilling.”

Incredible as it seems that anyone could suggest that it is, “deskilling” to support teachers faced with a attempted riot, I am not surprised as I had previously read a Guardian article about Whitaker; in it he described the approach he used (not at a mainstream school) to his staff being repeatedly abused:

One 11-year-old girl, Whitaker recalls, responded with a curt “Fuck off!” every single morning for a year. That particular response would be met with instant isolation, detention or expulsion in many schools – but not at [this school]…

Instead of disciplining her, teachers paid the girl more positive attention in an attempt to understand the angst she was bringing from home. Within a year, she had stopped her morning outburst and got along with school staff….

….[the school’s] teachers vow to approach every child with what they call, “unconditional positive regard” – or in Whitaker’s words they, “batter the children with kindness”. It’s in sharp contrast to the “no excuses” approach used in a growing number of schools…

At [this school], Whitaker says, it means rewarding children for the smallest things – like being kind to fellow pupils – and not punishing bad behaviour. “I could have a kid that spits in my face today and tomorrow I’ll be OK with them,” he says. And if a pupils throws over a table and swears at the teacher? “The teacher would be really nice to them, talk nicely….

Now, I realise that in AP teachers have to accept there may be more challenging behaviour than at a mainstream school  But The Difference exists to take approaches from AP and apply them in mainstream schools in order to reduce exclusions. It matters if any AP providers are tolerating abusive behaviour, refusing to punish and then mainstream SLT are meant to learn from this and apply it. As a teacher who does not want to be told to accept abuse and disruption, I am concerned about which approaches from AP The Difference may be promoting in mainstream education.

Worse though, it has been accepted that The Difference are experts. Kiran Gill, the Chief Executive of The Difference was part of the Timpson Review of Schools Exclusions and gave evidence to the Education Select Committee. She made her beliefs clear to the committee.

Thelma Walker: Would you suggest then that, if the curriculum in mainstream were inclusive and met the needs of children in mainstream, there would be fewer children in AP? Obviously, if it was more inclusive and the staff were appropriately trained, then that early intervention in mainstream would avoid the high numbers that are going into AP.

Kiran Gill: I think that is ideal. …. if we know exclusion levels were lower, then we know we can return to lower exclusion levels.

Thelma Walker: If you have senior leaders that buy into inclusivity, the holistic whole-child curriculum and positive behaviour management, then that will prevent—

Kiran Gill: Absolutely. That is our theory of change. As David said, we need to attract people and there need to be incentives. The Difference programme seeks to recruit existing mainstream teachers who are committed to becoming specialists, to upskill them in a placement in alternative provision, and also to broker them for future leadership opportunities back in the mainstream sector. It is that leadership that is an incentive.

Now, there is no reason progressives who believe that we should stop excluding should be silenced, but we need to stop treating people with this ideology as “experts” rather than campaigners. This blogpost was prompted by the fact that there was a conference run by The Difference yesterday, and there were a couple of things claimed at the conference and then shared by their Twitter account.

 

This was later deleted

Fuller context, to the second tweet was given by the TES:

Obviously, neither of these claims are true. (If anyone disagrees I’m happy to discuss it in the comments.) I am going to suggest that schools, policy makers and politicians simply stop listening to groups like The Difference. They are willing to spread information that I think most school leaders would dispute. This serves a clear ideological commitment to reducing exclusions. They should be free to disseminate their political opinions as an ideological campaign, but we need to move on from letting this anti-teacher, anti-discipline agenda be promoted in schools.

 

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13th Blogaversary

November 9, 2019

I haven’t been blogging as much lately, and I do hope to get back to more regular blogging. However, I don’t want to miss marking the fact that this blog has now existed for more than 13 years.

My last “birthday” post is here: 12 years a blogger.

Since then, the education debate seems to have focused more and more on behaviour. As traditionalist ideas on pedagogy and curriculum have become mainstream, progressives have focused on a campaign against discipline, arguing that everything secondary schools do to keep order is cruel or selfish and should be banned or regulated. My posts of the last 12 months reflect that shift.

These two posts covered the debate about exclusions.

These two posts covered the campaign against internal exclusion (called “booths” by those who wish to ban or regulate it) which has gained the support of a host of politicians, bureaucrats and charities, but has staggeringly little public support.

These posts cover the ideology and values behind this anti-discipline campaign.

These two posts discussed other aspects of behaviour:

As well as behaviour, I’ve also written about the bullying behaviour that MATs, schools or individuals receive, particularly for enforcing rules or arguing against educational progressivism. One notable event of the year was that I left the NEU, having been a member of it or its predecessor, the NUT, for 17 years, because when it comes down to supporting their members or advancing their ideology, they consistently chose the latter, even if it means supporting hate campaigns against schools and teachers.

For most of the last 12 months, I worked at a school that was subjected to a shaming, and saw first hand the effect it has on teachers and how unrelated to reality the accusations can be. I will probably wait a bit longer before I blog about this, but it confirmed exactly how little outsiders, or in some cases a tiny number of hostile parents, actually know about the schools they criticise and how vile the behaviour is that teachers can be subjected to as a result of a hate campaign.

I’ve also written a few posts about ideology in education.

Then there were two posts about teacher autonomy:

And finally, in a class of its own, this is what teachers told me about work scrutinies:

In other news:

  • the level of abuse on edutwitter is probably at a all time high, so I’m aiming to adjust the balance towards spending more time on blogging and less on tweeting.
  • I have prepared a talk on the exclusions issue which I have now given three times at researchED events, and am keen to repeat elsewhere if you want to invite me.
  • I wrote a chapter about “attachment myths” in the researchED book on Education Myths, available here.
  • I got engaged.
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Teacher autonomy is the most difficult issue in the education debate. Part 2

October 27, 2019

When should teachers not be allowed to do their own thing?

I recently wrote a blogpost which summed up most of what I’d previously said about teacher autonomy, which emphasised how teachers should not be obstructed by their managers. When I had finished, I thought about what needed to be added and realised that I could probably continue writing any number of additional circumstances in which it was best to leave teachers alone. However, the tricky part of this issue, for me, is the extent to which teachers should have their freedom limited and be told what to do or how to teach.

The most obvious constraints are those that arise from a teacher’s duties. Teachers are contractually obliged to keep their students safe, turn up to teach them and so on. In matters of pedagogy and curriculum, practices that are so flawed that they amount to a failure to do the job of teaching effectively should be stopped. While I’ve no time for performance related pay, student outcomes that show a marked failure to learn are a justification for finding out what a teacher is doing, and if the cause of those outcomes is clear, to ask them to stop doing it. If a lack of assessment, or a lack of time, means there is no evidence of student outcomes, managers may need to intervene where the teaching methods themselves seem likely to be ineffective. However, it is probably worth noticing that managers are not necessarily good judges of this, and intervention in the absence of evidence of student outcomes should only take place where this is good reason to believe teaching is ineffective, i.e. where methods are obviously flawed, or where there is solid research evidence to show how something should be taught (e.g. use of systematic phonics for early reading) rather than where a manager simply has a different opinion to a teacher. Even then, it would help if both evaluation of student outcomes and judgements about ineffective teaching methods were open to debate.

The limited nature of this grounds for constraining teachers, and all the arguments for autonomy in my previous post, might suggest that I see little role for leaders in shaping what teachers do outside of extreme cases. However, while I do favour a lot of autonomy for teachers, this is not the end of the story. In schools, leadership is necessary to establish what is normal. By this, I don’t mean that there should be a list of “non-negotiables” that are forced on every teacher. I mean there should be default behaviours that would be expected from staff (and students) whenever there is no specific and explicit reason to do something different.

So while I don’t think managers should say, “All desks should be in rows.”. I think it’s fine for managers to say, “All desks should be in rows unless there is a specific reason for them not to be.” While I don’t think managers should say, “No groupwork”, I think it’s fine for managers to say, “You must have a reason for doing groupwork”. While I don’t think managers should say, “All classrooms should be silent”, I think it’s fine for managers to say, “Only let students talk in lessons if there is a reason for them to be talking”. It is fine for school leaders to set out what is normal in their school in this way. INSET and CPD should be based around how best to do things in that normal way. All staff will be informed of what the default way to do things is. School rules and routines will be based on enabling teachers to teach in the way that is normal for the school.

These defaults should be more of a help to teachers than an imposition; they should make it easier to make decisions about what to do in the absence of strong reasons either way and they should ensure that students have a clearer idea of what to expect from lesson to lesson. If anything, I would argue that school leaders should be more explicit about these defaults than they might otherwise be. It is absolutely fine to teach all staff some shared routines (“This is a good way to give out books.”; “This is a good way to dismiss your class.”; “This is a good way to assess learning.”; “This is a good thing to remind students of when they are using worksheets.”) and shared language to describe classroom practice (“Do nows”; “Check for understanding”, “Modelling”). This kind of detail does not have to be enforced on staff, just so long as it is well known enough to teachers that they will find these ways of doing things to be obvious options to take on board, and to use when needed. So, for instance, there is more than one way to ask a class to stop and pay attention, but if a teacher is torn between saying “SLANT” or “Pens down, eyes on me” or “Excuse me”, they should know which option is normal for the school.

This gives rise to the greatest necessary limit to teacher autonomy: teachers should not be doing things that give rise to new defaults for the school. You may allow your own class to talk when you say so, but you shouldn’t give the impression that it is generally okay for students to chat in lessons, unless that is the chosen default for the school. You may allow students to hand their books in at the end of every lesson, but you shouldn’t give them the expectation that they don’t need a school bag, unless that is the chosen default for the school. You may show a video relevant to what you are teaching; you may not given the impression that you just watch movies in the last lesson of term, unless that is the default for the school. Most of all, you might not have quite the same rules in a drama lesson as in a maths lesson, but you don’t get to pick and choose which school rules are to be enforced and which are to be ignored for an easy life.

School leaders make a huge difference, not because they can control everything that happens in every classroom, but because they set the culture in the school. I am all for teacher autonomy, but teachers should not have the freedom to create a different culture for the school, particularly not if it’s one of lower expectations.

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Teacher autonomy is the most difficult issue in the education debate. Part 1

September 28, 2019

How much freedom should teachers be given to do their own thing?

Few things are more irritating to educators than knowing what needs to be done, and being stopped from doing it by those in charge of you. Whether that’s the actions necessary to keep order in the classroom, or keep students safe from each other, or the way of teaching that will make the most difference. At times, one is tempted to ask for complete autonomy. Freedom to make whatever decision one wants to. However, this principle becomes less appealing when one realises that what happens in other classrooms affects expectations of behaviour and effort in one’s own. It also becomes less appealing when one considers the consequences for children of the worst classroom practices, both educationally and with regards to their safety and well-being. A related issue is workload. An assumption that every teacher plans their own lessons, may undermine collaboration in the production of resources, leaving teachers to duplicate work their colleagues have already done. Conversely, decisions imposed on teachers by those less familiar with their classes or year group, may have adverse workload consequences for teachers who find they constantly have to make adjustments for a poorly sequenced curriculum or to prepare for badly designed assessments.

It’s easy to make rhetorical arguments in favour of teacher autonomy. Teachers should be trusted. Teachers are professionals. Teachers know their classes best. It’s easy to make rhetorical arguments against teacher autonomy. Teachers must be required to teach effectively. All teachers should have high expectations. All teaching should be based on how students actually learn. Students need consistency. Once you accept that all these arguments are sometimes true, the debate becomes about where you draw the line, and that’s tricky.

In this post I will summarise my past posts on the topic, which can be found here:

In those posts I concluded a number of things.

Managers should try to avoid giving any of the following:

  • Instructions contradicted by other instructions.
  • Completely idiotic instructions.
  • Instructions that no manager would ever subsequently admit to giving.
  • Instructions which, if followed, will be used against the teacher following them.

Some of this might seem obvious, but none of these things are uncommon. Dysfunctional management is by all reasonable accounts a problem in teaching and it is worth considering where managers should definitely leave well enough alone. However, attending to this only narrowly restricts the places where the line can be drawn.

Moving on from the day to day decisions of managers to the systems used to manage teachers, I suggested the following should be avoided in any system of holding teachers to account.

  1. Trying to achieve multiple aims simultaneously and without a clear indication of priority;
  2. Holding teachers accountable for methods and outcomes simultaneously;
  3. Enforcing, and creating paperwork for things that would happen anyway;
  4. Creating work that does not have to be done;
  5. Measuring and judging things that don’t matter;
  6. Measuring and judging things unreliably;
  7. Encouraging behaviour that is actually counter-productive;
  8. Wasting money, particularly on management salaries.

Again, this stuff might seem obvious, but it is all incredibly common. I believe almost every large school would gain from applying these principles to all of its rules and systems for holding teachers to account.

The point about the problem of trying to achieve multiple aims simultaneously is one that applies at many levels and across the public services. The philosopher Onora O’Neill, when talking about accountability described the following problem:

Traditionally, the public sector exercised control by process. We often call it bureaucratic process. The private sector allegedly exercised control by targets. When the target setting was imposed on the public sector, the process controls were not removed, hence the problem of having to be responsive to and responsible for two completely different sets of controls whose coincidence is not guaranteed.

Teachers should never be held accountable for outcomes if they were not given the freedom to affect them. In this era of workload concerns, I would add that if they can affect those outcomes, but only by taking on more work, that should also be considered unreasonable.

One helpful way of looking at restrictions on autonomy can be found in this blogpost by Doug Lemov which appeals to the concept of “positive and negative variance”.

… one of the strongest ways a school can make a difference in student achievement is to have a coherent approach to teaching, one that outlines a shared understanding of “how we do it”—things that comprise a schools core approach that everyone is expected to do. The school should name the things that are part of “how we do it” and then provide training  so predictable implementation errors are reduced. That’s a way of both aligning and implementing a philosophy but also of reducing negative variance.

But it’s super-important to balance that reduction of negative variance with an understanding of the benefits of “positive variance”… the idea that people who have achieved proficiency with a skill should have the freedom to personalize and adapt.

The example he gives is centralised lesson planning. Preparing lessons centrally will reduce negative variation in that it will make it harder for teachers to be under prepared. However, in order to encourage positive variation, teachers will need to be allowed to adapt the lessons and be progressively given decision rights that can include dropping the centrally prepared lesson entirely.

I suggested the following principles might help with ensuring there is less negative variance and more positive variance.

  1. Outcomes must be considered before processes.
  2. Schools should be upfront about what they want.
  3. If you can’t write down clearly, concisely and objectively what you want, you have no right to ask for it.
  4. The best justification for restricting autonomy is where a teacher’s behaviour will undermine colleagues. e.g. differing expectations for behaviour across the school.
  5.  Don’t take the piss. i.e. don’t have systems that can be harmful to teachers in themselves by adding to stress or encouraging bullying.

That’s about 1000 words summarising what I’ve already said on this topic. I am fully aware that everything I’ve said only suggests some constraints on where to draw the line, and doesn’t give any easy answers to the question of teacher autonomy. In my next blogpost I hope to add a few more considerations that I haven’t covered previously.

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