Archive for October, 2013


Now We Are Seven

October 30, 2013

Well……. apparently my blog has been going for 7 years.

It originally appeared on a couple of other websites, before finding its long-term home here in January 2009. Between the sites it has probably had in excess of 900 000 hits. That said it really only took off in the last year or so, as more teachers joined Twitter and certain posts became particularly highly visited. Prior to that I used to pride myself on being read only by a small elite of deep thinkers. The style has changed a fair bit, going from a frequent mix of anecdotal material and tedious essays to a less frequent, but less tedious, style of essay which verged on a cry for help, to its current emphasis on immediate & frequent reactions to whatever is annoying me, particularly topical issues.

My original inclination, after leaving a school I hated, was to catalogue some of the outrageous things I had seen in a couple of schools that would be considered fairly average and to share my own thoughts about the ideas that informed our education system, mainly focusing on behaviour. As time has gone on, I’ve become less interested (and more restricted) in how much I can write about personal experience, and more focused on policy, teaching methods and the broader teacher experience.

After being ignored, even in lists of teacher blogs, for most of those years this blog now gets a fair bit of publicity (see here) and has been name-checked by Michael Gove a few times. After years of being told that I was expressing the views of an insignificant and unrepresentative individual, I’m more often criticised nowadays for being the leader of a mob.

Through my blog, I’ve met a host of new people, including some such as Katharine Birbalsingh, Tom Bennett, Toby Young, Daisy Christodoulou and Daniel Willingham (yes really, how cool is that?) who I guess you would have to say count as celebrities in the strange parallel universe of the education debate.

During this time I have maintained my anonymity through carefully cultivating a career of such deep insignificance that if you arrived at my school’s reception and asked for me by my real name they wouldn’t be able to help. (I’m not joking, David Didau tried this.) At some point I will need to go public, but first I need to work somewhere that the opinions I express, and that thousands of teachers follow, aren’t going to be considered controversial or a liability when OFSTED visit. However, working in a school and seeing every day the things I’ve been describing for 7 years, continues to be my main source of inspiration.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with links to a few of the highlights of the last 7 years.

  • This, from my first month of blogging, is probably the one where I most often get people telling me that I nailed it (although this gets a pretty similar reaction)
  • This from 2007 is probably still my funniest post.
  • This, or at least the final part of it, had the most impact on political debate after prompting a controversial part of a speech by Michael Gove.
  • This from 2009 covers some ground that still comes up a lot.
  • People still ask about this on A.P.P., an initiative that apparently still hasn’t died in some schools:
  • This sums up my attitude to OFSTED, an organisation also mention in my two most read blogposts: here and here.
  • This sums up one of the debates that helped bring attention to this blog.
  • This still makes me angry.
  • The post that prompted the greatest number of hits in one day was this, from a few days ago.
  • And this has changed the lives of all who saw it.

Letter from a Professional Part 3: Teaching and Professionalism

October 27, 2013

In this post I will consider how the points from the previous 2 posts (here and here) relate to teaching. I have discussed professionalism in teaching before but my views have changed somewhat since then.

The extent to which teaching counts as a profession is something that is a source of some controversy. However, it tends to focus on professional qualifications and how the profession is regulated and not on professional ethics.

Recent controversy has centred on the freedoms given to free schools to hire teachers without QTS status. That controversy tends to centre on a central unresolved dilemma in education, namely the relative importance to teaching of subject knowledge and knowledge of teaching. Teachers do have professional qualifications, i.e. those that grant QTS status. However these are often short courses, mainly assessed in the workplace, without a clear body of professional knowledge to be learnt and no objective assessment of knowledge. The academic part of these qualifications is often of particularly low quality even in top universities. For a lot of secondary teachers it is the degree in their subject that is their true qualification, and their professional qualification was simply an opportunity to practise. This leaves primary teachers and those who don’t have a degree in the subject they teach (sometimes simply because the school subject e.g. ICT, P.E., R.E., design doesn’t easily map onto any particular degree level subject) in a strange situation. The only qualification that establishes their ability to teach is not valued by many of those who hold it. Personally, I think it right that teachers should require a teaching qualification, but a lot more thought needs to go into what teachers should know, and how they should be assessed in order to make that meaningful.

As for regulating the profession, the GTC was (rightly) unpopular and was (rightly) abolished. There is talk of setting up a Royal College of Teachers to do some similar tasks. Ultimately, however, a regulator can have no credibility when there is no agreed standard to which teachers should be held. For some in education teaching is about liking kids and making them happy by organising activities; for some it is about being a subject expert and being able to explain that subject to others. While there may be some agreement over what is completely beyond the pale there is little agreement over what the difference is between a competent and incompetent teacher. Once a professional body has decided where it stands on what a teacher should be doing, how can those who disagree have any confidence in that body? It seems like no professional body could gain the confidence of the whole profession.

However, it is in the area of professional ethics where teaching seems to differ most from other professions at the moment. A couple of the values listed here are familiar to teachers. We do have a concept of confidentiality. It’s not always terribly well-developed which is why anonymous blogging raises issues, but there is certainly a strong idea that certain information, particularly about students, should not be made public. I think there is some concept of professional behaviour, although it is often remarkable controversial. Without a strong sense of professional identity, I do think a lot of teachers see no reason why their own personal behaviour outside of school should be of concern to their employers or the rest of the profession and don’t appreciate that we all have an interest in establishing that teachers are trustworthy and responsible individuals.

I would argue that the concept of integrity is not promoted in teaching. I can think of no examples of explicit pressure to be honest. Anecdotally, I can think of countless examples where teachers boasted of their dishonesty, whether it’s threatening students with punishments which couldn’t be given, fixing school council elections or just fobbing off concerned parents or students.

As for objectivity, it was this, and in particular the concept of professional scepticism which got me started on this dialogue. With the possible exception of some attempts at moderating work, and the occasional warning not to have favourites among students, there is very talk of objectivity in teaching. Professional scepticism is a completely alien concept to me.

Far from being encouraged as professionals to seek the truth, teachers are, if anything, considered unprofessional for pointing out the truth. Don’t mention that the behaviour policy isn’t followed. Don’t point out that the last initiative didn’t work. Don’t observe that the new initiative is the same as the last one. Don’t tell the people running INSET what the research actually says. Don’t bother making reports or student data too accurate. Don’t use data to discover genuine problems. The truth is an inconvenience and exposing it is a negative act that can only limit one’s career opportunities. In teaching it is the duty of the professional to make sure parents, students and inspectors are kept in blissful ignorance.

For this reason a lot of the concepts related to independence are unfamiliar to me in the professional context. While there may be some idea of professional competence and due care it is not related to keeping up to date on relevant professional knowledge. Indeed, it is far more common for CPD to recycle decades old ideas under new names than to publicise new discoveries about learning or about one’s subject. Far from being discouraged to make judgements which could be affected by self-interest, teachers are repeatedly given perverse incentives to make inappropriate judgements. Whether that’s inflating grades, overlooking (or assisting with) cheating in coursework or hiding discipline problems, teachers are continually put in situations where their own interests are at odds with their professional judgement. Not only that, but there is no expectation that our own professionalism or professional ethics will prevent us from complying. Indeed, the phrase “play the game”, which roughly means “do want management want no matter how unreasonable or wrong” is a common piece of advice in teaching. In recent discussion of performance-related pay and performance management I was repeatedly told that teachers failed to comprehend that their job was to do whatever their managers wanted, but this is entirely at odds with the concept of professionalism, where professionals are expected to make their own judgements.

As for some of the next two aspects of professional ethics, self-review and advocacy are not avoided; they are encouraged. Indeed, far from making a professional judgement of the true interests of students we are expected to have a good personal relationship with them, and to make decisions according to whether it will make them happy or not. Intimidation of the sort described, i.e. threats of what will happen if we stand by our own judgements, is standard practice from managers and often from students. Bribery is less of an issue because there are’’t huge sums of money that can easily be siphoned off unless you are blatantly corrupt. However, there is no attempt to avoid the impression of personal interests. Teachers won’t refuse to make the decision to order a textbook because they helped write it. Managers won’t hesitate to provide opportunities for their friends (in or out of school) to make money. The murkiest area is that of consultancy services. It is entirely possible for people with powerful and responsible positions in education to sell advice to others as a private enterprise. The most blatantly disreputable example of this being those OFSTED inspectors being paid to advise schools on passing OFSTED inspections.

Too many of the issues raised by my accountant friend are simply not considered in teaching. There is little consideration of what the virtues of a teacher should be beyond compassion for students and a dedication to the job. Wider values are rarely spelt out, and routinely ignored. We are not, as a profession, expected to be committed to honesty, integrity, fairness, or even the value of the intellect. I have spelt out before the values which inform me as a teacher, but it is remarkably personal because there simply isn’t a shared professional ethos among teachers. To me, teacher professionalism is nowhere as developed as a concept as it is in other professions because there seem relatively few shared values among those who call themselves teachers.


Letter from a Professional Part 2: What are professional ethics?

October 26, 2013

This is the second post in which a friend of mine who is an accountant talks about what a profession is. I will respond to the points raised and their relevance to teaching in a subsequent post.


The ICAEW defines integrity as “to be straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships”; i.e. don’t lie. This relates to the public interest aspect of professions.  If the members of a professional body cannot be trusted to deal honestly in their business relationships then any work they produce cannot be relied upon by the public,



The ICAEW defines objectivity as “to not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence  of others to override professional or business judgements.” One of the key concepts associated with objectivity is independence.  It is not enough to be independent, a professional must not do anything which can construed as compromising their independence.  The test is typically, if an informed third party were aware of this situation would they consider the professional independent.

Another key concept here is professional scepticism.  From the ICAEW website “professional scepticism is an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions which may indicate possible misstatement due to error or fraud, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.” Moving away from the specifics of audit, this means not assuming information provided is always accurate and not being trusting of individuals that a professional deals with and the information they provide.


Professional competence and due care

The ICAEW defines this as “to maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level  required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional services based on current developments in practice, legislation and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standard.” Part of this involves undertaking continual professional development.  As a professional, there is a duty to ensure that you are up to date with the relevant facts in your profession and able to undertake your work correctly.



The ICAEW defines confidentiality as “to respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose nor use the information for the personal advantage of the professional accountant or third parties.” The duty of confidentiality allows companies to provide sensitive information on the understanding that the professional will not disclose it to any individual unless required by law to do so or with the company’s permission.

A rather unusual example here, is that if an individual or company were found not to be disclosing tax to HMRC, than an accountant is required to resign but cannot tell HMRC the reasons.  They still have a duty of confidentiality in relation to the individual / company concerned as there is no legal duty to disclose the information to HMRC.


Professional behaviour

The ICAEW defines this as “to comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any action that discredits the profession.” This is a very straightforward concept although “discrediting the profession” is not the most clearly defined concept.  For example, someone drink driving would count but having an affair would not.



This is defined as “the threat that a financial or other interest will inappropriately influence the professional accountant’s judgement or behaviour.” This translates as stating you can’t benefit from your professional work.  For example, an accountant could not receive a fee for auditing accounts which was only paid if he agreed with the company.



This is defined by the ICAEW as “the threat that a professional accountant will not appropriately evaluate the results of a previous judgement made or service performed, on which the accountant will rely when forming a judgement as part of providing a current service.” Essentially, you can’t review your own work as you are unlikely to own up to errors.



This is defined by the ICAEW as “the threat that a professional accountant will promote a client’s or employer’s position to the point that the professional accountant’s objectivity is compromised”. This has been derived from the legal sense of advocacy but applies more widely.  A professional should not endorse the opinion of his employer or client if they know it is incorrect or be seen to be doing so.



This is defined as “the threat that due to a long or close relationship with a client or employer, a professional accountant will be too sympathetic to their interests or too accepting of their work.” Personal relationships are not meant to influence a professional’s opinion.  For example, audit partners are required to be removed from an audit every ten years to guard against this risk.



The last of the threats is defined as “the threat that a professional accountant will be deterred from acting objectively because of actual or perceived pressures.” This is quite a clear concept and turns up more often than would be expected within a professional context.  I have seen this take place a number of times in my professional career with companies threatening to leave as clients unless they get the opinion they want.



In 2010, the UK Government brought the Bribery Act into law.  It created four new offences:

  • paying a bribe
  • receiving a bribe
  • bribing a foreign government official
  • corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery

A bribe is defined as a “financial advantage” and may include corporate hospitality (if excessive) and facilitation payments. The defence for companies involves having in place “adequate procedures” to prevent bribery.  This has lead to companies introducing detailed codes of conduct and ensuring that staff are adequately trained. The concept of excessive corporate hospitality is a grey area but as an example HMRC tax inspectors will typically avoid have lunch bought for them and will often avoid eating biscuits during meetings due to the negative perception.


Blogs for the Week Ending 25th October 2013

October 25, 2013

Letter from a Professional Part 1: What is a Profession?

October 24, 2013

Some years ago, I wrote about professionalism and ranted about how teaching seemed to have lost, or be losing, many of the distinguishing features of a profession. In this post and the next a friend of mine who is an accountant talks about what a profession is. I will respond to the points raised and their relevance to teaching in a subsequent post, but feel free to comment below about how much of this seems relevant to teaching.

I have agreed to assist Andrew Old in providing an overview of various professional concepts which he will then consider their application to the teaching profession.  As background, I am a chartered accountant and work for a Big 4 accountancy firm, so the examples given in the explanations will based on accountancy.

The first initial concept that I wish to explore is that of a profession.  The key features of a profession are the following:

  • Professional qualification;
  • Professional body; and
  • Professional ethics.

In addition to these, which I will expand on in later articles, a professional typically undertakes work which is in the public interest.  For example, accountants both help companies prepare and audit financial accounts.  The information in published financial accounts, for example, is relied upon by banks to provide finance and for shareholders to determine how successful a business is.  A systematic lack of confidence in published accounts would cause a global economic meltdown.

Professional Qualification

A professional qualification is a rigorous academic qualification which is designed to teach a professional everything they need to know to undertake the work required as part of the profession.  Within accountancy, the qualification covers not just bookkeeping and auditing but also business strategy and company law.

The concept of a professional qualification is a very traditional British concept, in most countries there is no professional qualification instead the relevant degree is studied, which gives an idea of how academically rigorous a professional qualification can be.  For example, the pass rates on the last set of ACA exams was between 70 – 90% depending on the paper and it is fairly unusual to have a “first time pass” for all of the exams (there are 15 in total).

Typically a professional qualification is completed after a university degree of any discipline.  I work with colleagues who have degrees in mathematics, chemistry and various foreign languages.  It is possible to take a professional qualification after A-level but this is not the norm although with changes to tuition fees this is becoming more popular.

In addition to the exams and academic side of the qualification, there is a large vocational proportion of the qualification.  This allows trainees to gain “on the job” experience away from the classroom.  Often there will be specific competencies that individuals are required to complete; e.g., write down the double entry (as in bookkeeping) for a specific adjustment to the accounts.

Professional Body

All members of a profession will belong to a professional body and the professional qualification is awarded by this body. A professional body acts as the regulator for the profession, enforcing the professional code of conduct and ensuring that its members act in the public interest.  In addition, it acts in the interest of its members and will often lobby for their positions.  Finally, it may, undertake academic research into the profession and its associated work.

A professional body can be considered analogous, in some ways, to a trade union in its role of supporting members.  They will typically provide legal advice and guidance to members on a number of matters such as resolving ethical dilemmas and represent them in employment tribunals.

Professional Ethics

All professions have a code of conduct which they require their members to abide by in order to practise.  The practice of adhering to this code of conduct is called professional ethics.  UK professional bodies typically tend, as in the legal system, to work on a “principles based approach” to code of conduct rather than a “rules based approach”. There is an important distinct between professional ethics and business ethics.  Professional ethics is based on the work undertaken by the individual and is not restricted to just their day-to-day working life.  Business ethics tends to be company focussed and do not apply outside of working hours.

There are a number of key concepts from the ICAEW code of conduct that will be explained in the next blogpost.  These are listed below:

  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Professional competence and due care
  • Confidentiality
  • Professional behaviour

In addition to providing the ethical concepts that must be demonstrated by individual members, the ICAEW also lists threats to the practice of these ethical concepts.

  • self-interest
  • self-review
  • advocacy
  • familiarity
  • intimidation

It is crucial to any professional code of conduct that it is enforced and professional bodies will typically have a series of tribunals / hearings which enforce the code of conduct. The ICAEW, the professional body for accounts in England and Wales, for example, regularly fines companies for errors in their audit opinions and strikes members off for offences such as drink driving.


A Solution to Poor Discipline in Challenging Schools

October 20, 2013

My latest blogpost, “How to be bad SMT” has broken all records for the number of hits to my blog. Almost 3000 for it, and 4000 for the whole blog, yesterday. It’s not the first time I have ranted about poor management, but the approach of just describing what’s bad and leaving it to others to decide who it applies to seems to have gone down well, both with reflective senior managers and with classroom teachers who have experienced “bad SMT”. Even the deputy leader of one of the major teaching unions tweeted a link to it.

Of course, there is a depressing side to this. It has been popular because so many people recognised it. What I described is undeniably commonplace. It might, and this is less certain, even be normal and that should be a concern at a time when the power and size of SMT seems to be being increased, without the same being done about their competence. Although there have been one or two criticisms of it, and demands for a description of what good SMT do (I did write about that here) the response has been great and it has been particularly good to hear SMT say they will use it as a “what not to do” guide. One response, emailed to me from a headteacher, particularly delighted me. Although they presumably did not know this, and will be finding it out for the first time now, they were somebody I briefly worked for and were so dedicated, supportive and able that working for them was one of the highlights of my career. Here is what they had to say about the solution to poor discipline in challenging schools: 


The failure of Senior Leadership Teams to deal with poor behaviour is a regular complaint made by classroom teachers. In particular, teachers in deprived areas often face a nigh on impossible task if they teach in a school where there is a weak discipline policy. It doesn’t have to be like this. As a Headteacher, I believe that the SLT must take overall responsibility for behaviour in classrooms. Individual teachers cannot do it on their own.

Here’s why.

Let’s take a typical school day, and a typical school discipline policy. Most schools have five lessons a day. That’s five opportunities for the most disengaged, challenging, disruptive pupils to ruin a lesson, stop other pupils learning, disrespect a teacher or refuse to work. Most discipline policies set out a series of consequences or warnings for poor behaviour. They usually end in the pupil being removed to another classroom or removal room. The teacher is then expected to arrange the detention and ensure the pupil attends.

It is just glaringly obvious that this can and never will work. Whilst it may deter some pupils from misbehaving, the most recalcitrant pupils quickly work out that you won’t be able to catch up with them. Why won’t you be able to catch up with them? Because they have the chance to earn 5 detentions every day- potentially 25 detentions a week.

So it’s Monday period 2. You teach year 8. Yet again Johnny has been rude, arrogant and dismissive of your authority. You issue warnings. You inform Johnny he is in detention tomorrow. He gleefully announces that he already has a detention for tomorrow. You arrange your detention for Wednesday. What happens if Johnny continues his disruptive behaviour in period 3,4 and 5? He is potentially booked into detentions until a week on Monday…. Will he attend every detention? What do you think? He knows he can get away with it. He knows you will struggle to catch up with him. Is he likely to behave better next time? I doubt it.

In this system, only the strongest teachers are able to make the system work for them. NQTs, supply teachers, new teachers, those who struggle with behaviour management – all are left to face difficult and challenging classes without a system to support them.

That’s why you need a whole school system which ensures disruption and poor behaviour are dealt with immediately. It’s really simple. This is how it works.

  • Agree a set of rules for behaviour in the classroom.
  • Display the rules in every classroom.
  • Agree the number of warnings pupils will receive before they ‘earn’ a detention.
  • Once the limit is reached – often 3 warnings – remove the pupil to a removal room.
  • Staff the room with behaviour managers.
  • Once in the room, text or call parents to inform them that their child is in detention that night.
  • Enter the detention into the MIS system.
  • Draw up a detention register.
  • If a pupil earns another detention, text or call parents to inform them that their child now owes 1 hour detention that night.
  • Rota SLT to lead detention every night.
  • Ensure SLT supervise pupils for unto one and a half hours after school if necessary.
  • Involve all teachers in detention – that’s how to support each other and take collective responsibility for detentions.
  • Follow up non-attendance with a day in Isolation.

Simple and effective. Every detention is served on the same day that it was given. It works with the most disruptive, belligerent and difficult pupils. They walk into the classroom knowing that the teacher has the power to put them in detention. They know that if they misbehave for this teacher, their parents will know within minutes. They know they have to attend the detention that night or face a day in isolation.

This system is powerful and effective. I have seen it work in a number of challenging white working class schools. Teachers find it incredibly supportive. Over time, they find that low level disruption can be virtually eradicated and soon just a look from a teacher is enough to stop disruption.

Pupils appreciate the system. They like the fact that those who seek to destroy their lessons are dealt with. They also appreciate the fact that the system is clear and fair. Everyone knows the rules – they are displayed in the classroom. The teacher cannot make it up as they go along. They cannot jump the consequences. Everyone knows where they stand, and this helps the pupils to make good choices about their behaviour.

We expect teachers to use the system consistently and fairly. We expect them to build strong, warm and positive relationships with their classes. We emphasise that some of our pupils come from difficult, troubled and violent homes and need patience and understanding. But we never tolerate disruption, defiance or rudeness.

This system allows us to analyse patterns of behaviour. We can see where a pupil is struggling in a number of lessons, hence suggesting that something is not right. We can work with this pupil to address the issues. We also can see if a teacher is struggling with a particular class – or a number of classes. We can then offer support and training.

Why do so few schools use a system like this? Many headteachers are concerned that it removes the responsibility for following up poor behaviour from the teacher. It means that teachers can abrogate their responsibility for securing good discipline to a central system. Others believe that good teaching will lead to good behaviour, so the teacher is at fault if behaviour is poor.

It may not be a popular view, but it is my belief that these arguments lead to the sort of appalling behaviour we see described in teacher blogs. Securing good discipline Is down to the Headteacher and Senior Leaders. Our role is to serve and support our staff, and to guarantee that they can teach their carefully prepared lessons without the stress of dealing with deliberate defiance and unruly behaviour.


How to be bad SMT

October 19, 2013

Are your school’s results not poor enough? Are your staff too happy? Do your students behave too well? Are there people in school who don’t think you are a complete arsehat? Here’s a short guide for all you office-jockeys and teacher-botherers telling you how to change all that.


How to wreck teaching and learning

1) Judge teaching only by what you think OFSTED want. Don’t feel obliged to tell anyone what that is.

2) Pressure staff to make lessons entertaining and to avoid anything that looks like deliberate prolonged practice.

3) Make observations as divorced from reality as possible, ensuring that nothing that is used in them could ever be used regularly. Requests for differentiated work and to show progress every 20 minutes should achieve this.

4) Turn everything into a checklist of activities, discourage thinking about how learning actually works.

5) Make observations as stressful as possible. Have them early in the year; require a lengthy lesson plan and don’t say what the focus will be.

6) Introduce a marking policy and a homework policy that no full-time teacher could ever hope to follow.

7) Promote people to “teaching and learning” positions whose classes do get poor results but who constantly go on about how great their lessons are.

8) Judge lessons by pupil enjoyment. Unless the kids enjoy hard work and learning.

9) Fail observation lessons at random by declaring “insufficient progress was shown”.

10) Use NC levels as the Bible for deciding whether lessons were at the right pitch, ignoring all common sense.


How to ruin behaviour

1) Stay in your office as much as possible, particularly during lesson changeover. Instead insist teachers monitor the corridors and settle their classes at the same time. If possible, arrange to be off-site during particularly stressful times of year.

2) Set rules that cannot be enforced. Uniform policy is a good area for this, as are rules about where students should be at break and lunchtime or routes students should take around the school.

3) Make excuses for poor behaviour, particularly based on poverty, SEN or blaming teachers.

4) Encourage teachers to ignore bad behaviour by the worst offenders.

5) Criticise teachers for enforcing the rules or enacting punishments. Tell them that if they are using sanctions then they must have a bad relationship with their students. Make them feel bad for telling you about poor behaviour they have encountered.

6) Make sure the rules are as confusing as possible. Particularly over things like mobile phones, taking off jumpers or whether you can drink in lessons. Rules should never be written down and certainly never displayed on signs.

7) Delegate all sanctions and punishments to people without the time or power to actually deliver them. Serious incidents should go to middle managers, removal from lessons to people who are teaching at that time, detentions and phone calls home left to classroom teachers.

8) Make sure all CPD on behaviour management is actually about relationship building, making lessons engaging and how kids will behave as long as you are nice to them.

9) Don’t ever permanently exclude. Try to dodge temporary exclusions or even internal exclusions. If possible ensure teachers cannot even remove students from their classroom.

10) Don’t have a clear set of sanctions. Instead improvise based on relative importance of the staff members involved and your prior relationships with students. make sure nobody knows when it is acceptable to shout, send kids out or refer an incident.


How to lower morale

1) Have favourites who you praise as often as possible. If possible, make sure they are poor teachers who are only interested in promotion or departments which actually under-perform.

2) Introduce new initiatives all the time, particularly those that add to workload and do no good to anybody. Never think through the workload consequences of any decision.

3) Abandon the initiatives without telling anyone.

4) Make sure performance management and threshold applications involve people being repeatedly judged, particularly by those less competent.

5) Show no interest in education, only in having an easy life and passing OFSTED.

6) Discourage the expressing of opinions. Make it clear that there is only one acceptable opinion about everything and only you know it. Generally it should be that every problem the school has is the result of lazy and incompetent classroom teachers, or outside events beyond your control.

7) Expect people to do things that you would never do yourself. This applies particularly to covers, duties, teaching methods, enforcing rules around the school site and putting up with poor behaviour.

8) Act as if your position implies that you are very clever and very good at teaching compared with those in the classroom.

9) Expect teachers to respond to emails while they are teaching.

10) Never praise teachers who get good results.


Please feel free to add further advice in the comments

P.S. I genuinely don’t think I have ever written a blogpost this quickly. It was like there was no end of inspiration.


Blogs for the Week Ending 18th October 2013

October 18, 2013

Performance Related Pay?

October 18, 2013

I hear Tristram Hunt backed Gove on performance related-pay last night. Just in case anybody’s forgotten why it won’t work, here’s an old video from Gove’s (and my) favourite cognitive psychologist.

Scenes From The Battleground

I think the following, the latest video from the great Dan Willingham, gives a pretty good summary of what’s wrong with trying to pay teachers by results:

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Denying the Debate

October 14, 2013

I recently read a couple of blogposts that, I think, both suffer from an excessive willingness to paper over genuine disagreements.

The first from Alex Quigley argues for a position “beyond constructivism vesus direct instruction” observing that:

…students who are novices require much more direct instruction, before reaching a stage of some expertise, at which point learner centred activities (such as assessment for learning strategies or constructivist methods, like co-construction) can be integrated into our teaching methods with success.

The second, from Tim Taylor, argues that “learning and having fun are not inimical” and confronts the argument about the role of fun in learning.

Learning, it seems, is a very serious business and teachers who look to make their lessons fun are committing the cardinal sin of putting their student’s enjoyment ahead of knowledge acquisition and skills development. When I first read this argument I was a little perplexed and it took me a while to unpick the different strands. In so doing, I came to the conclusion that the ‘anti-fun’ bloggers had a point, but that they were overstating their argument. This blog is an attempt to explain why.

Both posts, I think, take a similar approach in identifying a conflict and then suggesting that the arguments of one side can be accepted without actually acknowledging that this involves accepting their conclusions too and resolving the conflict in their favour. And both, I think, end up missing what is truly at issue. Alex Quigley maintains that, provided explicit instruction occurred first, in order to acquire knowledge, it is acceptable to move to “learner centred activities (such as assessment for learning strategies or constructivist methods, like co-construction)”. This would seem to be a more plausible argument than the idea that there is only ever a place for explicit instruction in classrooms. Except, is that actually an argument anyone makes? Possibly, yes. The fact that two advocates of explicit instruction like Hirsch and Engelmann can disagree over the extent to which it is required for vocabulary acquisition (in this article) would suggest that there is a spectrum of opinion that allows for differing degrees of reliance on explicit instruction, and so there may well be an extreme end. However, I don’t feel that this is where the debate is taking place in our schools.

The controversy tends not to be about what students do after they have acquired the knowledge (although occasionally it is, who can forget the Mr Men revision exercise?) but about how and whether knowledge is to be acquired. There are those who advocate discovery learning and those who suggest knowledge is no longer required. This is the heart of the debate over whether explicit instruction is required. What happens after knowledge acquisition takes place is less controversial. Formative assessment is largely uncontroversial, and it surprises me to even see it mentioned as “learner-centred”, and where there is debate over how students should apply the knowledge it tends to be over the degree of rigour involved in a particular activity, like the Mr Men activity, rather than over the principle of direct instruction. If Alex Quigley means to move beyond the debate over direct instruction and constructivism, he seems to have done it by accepting the argument for direct instruction, but without explicitly denouncing the opposing position.

This is taken to a more ridiculous extreme in the other blogpost. In the debate over fun, Tim Taylor accepts that “learning is always more important than having fun (in a classroom context)”, that “any strategy that distracts students from the genuine purpose of the lesson is a bad strategy” and that ” fun in the sense of ‘messing about’ or ‘showing off’ has no place in the classroom”. Note the following passage:

…there is no place for the ‘teacher as clown’. This is showing off of a different kind. It is not our role to entertain the students and if we adopt it we deny them opportunities to contribute and to develop effective learning strategies including dealing with difficult situations. Sometimes learning can be a hard slog and doing something worth doing takes time and effort: If we spend all our time thinking of ways to entertain our students we are doing them a disservice and misinterpreting our profession.

It leaves me wondering just who he is disagreeing with on the “anti-fun” side. Although he does at times seem to be addressing the straw man that lessons should be deliberately unenjoyable, or teachers deliberately unpleasant, he really does seem to be accepting the problems with “fun” as an aim in education. At this point he seems to have accepted completely one side of the argument while talking as if he has merely accepted some part of it, and refraining from condemning the opposing position. The debate over fun is more contentious than this. As teachers we are often encouraged to judge the quality of teaching by how enjoyable students found it, rather than how much they learnt. We are encouraged to talk of engagement as something brought about by the “engaging” (a description not clearly distinct from entertaining) properties of the teaching or activities rather than the choice of the students to learn. As teachers we are praised for promoting novelties rather than hard work, for delivery rather than content and for making activities seem as much like play as possible. We are meant to encourage the happiness of students in our lessons, and never question whether it is actually the best state for learning.  At this point, Tim Taylor appears, like Alex Quigley, to have endorsed one side without actually wanting to be seen to endorse it, until we read on and see that, unlike Alex Quigley, he then seems to undermine all that he has just accepted:

 This I think might be a misunderstanding of the way we think of play and work. For some people these are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but for those that become genuinely effective learners, play and work are dimensions of the same experience. They do not see them as separate, but as complimentary and equally important.

Having disowned fun for its own sake in the classroom, he now appears to be endorsing play. Yet what is play if it is not fun for its own sake? A purposeful activity is not play, no matter how much you enjoy it. Play is something which is undertaken for enjoyment – for fun – exactly what he has just accepted all the arguments against. A similar contradiction appears in the following passage:

Of course it is bad practice to make lessons vacuous or so distracting the students forget what they are learning. Just as much as it is bad practice to make lessons so tedious and boring they loose the will to live. But there is no reason at all not to try to make learning enjoyable, to make the context interesting and attractive to the learners, to offer them a way in and to give some opportunities to contribute and be heard. [my emphasis]

As I hope my highlighting makes clear, it is simultaneously accepted that learning, can be undermined by some ways of pursuing enjoyment, yet denied that there is any reason not to pursue enjoyment. Yet if pursuing enjoyment can harm learning, then that is reason to refrain from pursuing it, at least in some circumstances. Alex Quigley seemed reluctant to state where the arguments he had accepted would lead, i.e. that we would condemn discovery learning and defend the right of the teacher to act as the sole authority in their classroom. Tim Taylor seems willing to go further than just ignoring the obvious conclusion of the arguments he accepted, but seems to deny it. If you accept that learning is more important than fun, then there are definite reasons to, at times, refrain from the pursuit of fun and serious difficulties with accepting play as anything more than a marginal and unimportant activity in the classroom. Not for the first time in reading Tim Taylor’s blog, I am reminded of Mary Midgley’s description (applied to B.F. Skinner and Richard Dawkins) of “the useful art of open, manly self-contradiction, of freely admitting a point that destroys one’s whole position and then going on exactly as before”.

In both cases, we have genuine disagreements. There is no option where we hear the arguments and just move on. These are areas where teachers can effectively be told not to teach, and it is vital not only to state the case but to acknowledge quite explicitly where arguments lead us. Teachers are told not to use explicit instruction. They are told to avoid activities that might not be fun. Neither should be acceptable and we should emphasise the reasons why.

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