Archive for February, 2016


The 7 Deadly Sins Of Workload

February 29, 2016

I think there are 7 things that schools I worked in (when I was full time) have done that made my workload excessive. I think they are all pretty common too. I would suggest any manager avoid forcing any of these on teachers.

  1. Detentions run by the teachers who set them. The difference a centrally run detention system makes is enormous. For all the excuses about “building a relationship” with kids that have behaved badly, schools that make teachers run their own detentions leave many teachers choosing between not enforcing the rules and doing hours of unpaid overtime. In my experience, these schools have very patchy discipline as a result.
  2. Excessive Meetings. Yes, things have to be decided, and CPD has to take place, but some schools actively find things to do to fill the time available for meetings up to the maximum. Why? Meetings should only happen when they serve a clear purpose and there should be an attempt to achieve that purpose in as little time as possible.
  3. Inflexible marking policies. Marking of one sort or another is always going to be a burden for teachers. But in the last few years these have gone insane. No longer is it something a teacher can do in dribs and drabs in order to maximise coverage. No longer can teachers decide what feedback (if any) would actually benefit their students based on their professional judgement. Marking has become something done 30 books at a time, in a variety of colours, for the sake of managers, not learning.
  4. Ill-timed assessments. Another one that can’t really be avoided, but can be made worse. Some schools seem to assess all year groups in the same week, leaving teachers with hundreds of tests to mark simultaneously, and often data entry to do at the same time. Often the data is barely used, because the school had no reason to collect it and the teachers were too busy to plan how to use it.
  5. Catch Up/Revision Sessions. The pressure on teachers to do unpaid lessons after school, often for students who haven’t worked in their regular lessons can often be impossible to resist. I don’t mind if this is in exchange for extra pay, or is in lieu of other lessons, or if managers who don’t teach a full timetable do this as a way to support their department. But in some schools teachers are just expected to do these as unpaid overtime every week.
  6. Inflexible homework policy. It’s good that students have work to do at home. But I’ve worked in schools where there were a maximum number of online homeworks allowed per half term, or a maximum number of homeworks that students marked themselves permitted. Homework is something where teachers should be free to be as ingenious as possible in finding ways that support learning, but don’t generate workload. And don’t get me started on schools that insist that every homework in every subject is marked with useful feedback every time.
  7. No textbooks. Not every subject has decent textbooks, but a textbook that fits the scheme of work can really save time. It used to be normal to start with the textbook and then plan for what could be done to improve on it with other resources and activities. Now, it is far more common to see teachers searching for resources for every single part of the lesson, none of which are actually more effective than a good set of questions from an old textbook. I know the anti-textbook attitudes in English schools have been criticised a lot lately, and I know there is not always a good textbook available, or within the budget, but I know of schools where new managers came in and actually binned textbooks that were being used effectively. Searching for resources online and spending hours photocopying is really not any better.

Is promoting women really the issue? (From @LabourTeachers)

February 27, 2016

As is often the case in the first week back after the holidays, I ran out of posts on Labour Teachers this week and had to write one myself in a bit of a hurry. (If you are a Labour supporting teacher and would like to write for Labour Teachers, details are here.)

As it’s about education, I’ll represent the post below, and as it was short and written in a hurry, I’ll add a few additional points at the end.

Earlier this week, Jules Darby wrote a post about #WomenED. The agenda of #WomenED is to suggest that women working in education are losing out and need more support. I’ve expressed my own doubt about this narrative on my own blog, partly because the statistics show women are very well represented in the sector, partly because claims made by those supporting #WomenED are often contradicted by the statistics, and partly because the statistics are open to more plausible interpretations.

At the heart of the issue is that, while women make up the overwhelming majority of heads and an even bigger majority among senior leaders, they are even better represented among unpromoted classroom teachers. It might be that this is seen as a problem because it is believed leaders are meant to represent the profession, although this would be hard to square with their responsibilities to all the other stakeholders. But it is more likely that the difference in proportions is seen as a problem, because it is believed that it represents a difference in opportunity. If it were as easy for women to be promoted as men, then the proportions would be identical in promoted and unpromoted posts.

It is this second explanation I want to consider here. I think that this assumes that promotion is something teachers generally want. Even though women are far more likely to enter the classroom than men, it is assumed that they will seek to leave the classroom, or seek to spend less time in the classroom, in order to take on management responsibilities at the same rate as men. It is not considered plausible that anyone would become a teacher and want to stay teaching, not managing. It is not considered plausible that wanting to become a teacher is different to wanting to become a headteacher. It is not considered plausible that staying in the classroom could be anything other than the result of discrimination, or a lack of ambition that needs correcting.

It is hardly rare to find people in schools who think that promotion will prove their worth. It is also common to find arrangements for performance management, or observations that assume that managers are the experts about teaching. Worst of all, it is sometimes all too easy to find people in teaching focused on the next rung of the ladder rather than their classes. We have something of a promotion fetish in our schools. There are too many managers, moving from post to post too quickly without proving themselves, and too often engaging in initiatives that obstruct rather than support what happens in the classroom. Too often, teachers are encouraged to become bureaucrats.

We should be thinking about what would be best for the profession and for our students, not whether we can make a failing system even more female. Instead of trying to push more women up the promotion ladder – whether they want to climb it or not – let us flatten the hierarchy in schools. Let us not assume that those who avoid promotion are losing out. Let us make sure that time spent in a classroom is not seen as the least prestigious part of the job. Let us reward people for making a difference where it counts. Let’s not complain that there are too many women in schools spending time in the classroom that could be spent in an office. Let us just make sure that they (and men in the same position) are not losing out for making teaching their priority.

My past experience is that to doubt the narrative that women are missing out on promotion in schools is to invite offence. The fact that there are almost twice as many female heads as male is seen as deeply inconvenient by some. Pointing out that people are being misinformed by those who either contradict that fact, or ignore it in favour of cherry-picked alternatives, is seen as either a personal insult or an accusation of lying. Or it seen as some mere irrelevance compared with the fact that the proportion of female classroom teachers is greater than the proportion of female heads.

But it does matter. If this statistic is a “discrepancy” to be explained, rather than what might be expected when the population of teachers is so skewed, then we do end up with a couple of theories which would, if correct, suggest that others (often women) are blameworthy.

The first theory is that those appointing to promoted posts are biased against women. In some versions of the argument it is simply assumed that those appointing are males, and they appoint people who are like them. However, as a large majority of heads and SLT are women, and a smaller majority of governors are, this seems unlikely. But, of course, women can also be biased against women. And are they? Unfortunately, the data on applications, which would be necessary to investigate this, is limited. If there is bias against women applicants, we would expect them to have to apply more times, and go to more interviews, before being appointed. This was not the case NASUWT did a survey a few years back.

Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 06.55.33 Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 06.53.37

The second theory, is that women are not applying enough for promotion. Any claim that more women should apply for promotion assumes that seeking promotion is a good thing to do. It assumes that a teacher who decides to put their effort into teaching instead of managing is missing out. Women who do not want to be promoted are seen as either deficient (perhaps they lack confidence, or they are failing to advance the interests of their gender) or as victims of a system that has deterred them. It is then the job of those campaigning for more women heads to either”correct” or “rescue” these poor women.

This second theory has the advantage that it cannot be contradicted by the facts. It is a value judgement that people like me, who are not seeking promotion, are inferior and that if women are overrepresented among us then this shows they are either colluding in, or forced into, inferiority.  But to me, this judgement is the manifestation of one of the worst aspects of our education system: the greater respect given to managing rather than teaching. Instead of setting up campaigns and organisations to advance the careers of ambitious women, how about we start looking to advance the interests and status of unpromoted classroom teachers, most of whom happen to be women? This should help narrow some of the gender gaps that do exist, but it might also help rebalance our schools, by encouraging less micromanagement, less bureaucracy and better teamwork.


Denying the debate between progressive and traditional education (Part 2)

February 19, 2016

Last time I looked at the attempts to deny that there is a debate about progressive and traditional education.

Those who wish to deny the debate have one advantage: “progressive education” is not a coherent ideology. There is no checklist of doctrine, only a loose series of themes which are sometimes contradictory. There is no progressive catechism to be recited. Identifying a “progressive” by referring only to discrete items of belief rather than values or themes is as impractical as identifying a “liberal” or “conservative”. For that reason, it is usually possible for any progressive to find something in a description of progressive education they disagree with, and then claim not to be a progressive, even if such an argument relies on redefining words, or an implausible claim to be more moderate than “true” progressives.

However, this is hardly an insoluble problem. We can still identify progressive values. Also, traditionalism is more consistent and we can recognise departures from it. Somebody is heir to the progressives if they endorse any of the key disagreements between traditionalists and progressives, rather than all of them. There are three main areas of dispute.

Content. Traditionalists believe that there is a body of knowledge and belief – a tradition – to be passed on and that the benefits of this to one’s intellect provide the rationale for education systems. Progressives can deny this in a number of different ways (or not at all) but to argue in any of those ways marks one out as a progressive.

Some of the most common are:

  • Denying a shared tradition on grounds of individualism (eg. “all children are different and need or want to know different things”);
  • Presenting the teaching of a tradition as oppressive or tedious;
  • Denying a shared tradition on the basis of an exclusive identity (“my students are EAL/working class/muslim/revolutionaries and, therefore, do not, or should not, value that knowledge);
  • Identifying alternative non-academic aims for educational institutions, eg. happiness, employability, political consciousness, socialisation, or anything that is actually more to do with parenting than teaching;
  • Identifying academic aims for education that are too generic to require specific knowledge, eg.: critical thinking, creativity, independence or resilience;
  • Claiming that children or parents do not want this sort of education and, therefore, it should not be taught;
  • Denying the importance of recall or memorisation in learning;
  • Claiming that social, economic or technological change will render the traditional knowledge obsolete;
  • Valuing only knowledge that has been sought out by students on their own initiative;
  • Denying that anyone has the authority to identify the tradition to be taught (“Who are you to decide what my students need to know?”).

Authority: The last point brings us to another major branch of the debate, that of teacher authority. Traditionalists believe that teachers should be in a position of authority over students. This means both that their professional decisions are legitimate ones that are binding on students, and that they should have the means to enforce those decisions. Many (but not all) progressives have disputed one or both aspects of this. The key themes are:

  • Autonomy. The progressive tradition has emphasised the importance of the decisions of the child. Activities that children have chosen for themselves are valued over those chosen by the teachers. Often progressives have seek to make schools less structured, advocating open plan classrooms or non-traditional lessons. The rhetoric of “factory schools” is entirely progressive, as is talk of “independent learning”.
  • Motivation. Those activities that children want to do, such as playing or talking to friends, are given additional value. Those activities that more clearly serve the purpose of the teacher, are considered less worthwhile. Obviously, there are compromise positions here, but an emphasis on fun and engagement at the expense of academic rigour is a key progressive theme.
  • Discipline. This is probably the key dividing line between progressives and traditionalists today. Traditionalists have no problem with the idea that children should obey or conform, as long as it serves the educational purpose. Teachers have the right to be in control and to make moral judgements about the good of their students. Progressives often fear that teacher control is too coercive or even cruel. Progressives are far more likely to object to punishments, and sometimes even rewards, and see them only as a mechanism for control and to deny the relevance of desert. They are far more likely to endorse the idea that rules should be flexible and that children should be negotiated with, appeased or persuaded rather than expected to comply. They are more likely to argue that rules should be about vague values (eg.: “respect each other”) than required behaviours with a practical benefit (eg.: “walk on the left side in the corridor”).
  • Student opinion. Progressives often favour both formal attempts to collect and respond to student opinion, and informal attempts to encourage students to give opinions. Teachers are expected to justify their decisions to students, and often to persuade them rather than exercise their authority. Students are encouraged to question their teachers and challenge their decisions and defiance can be seen as normal or acceptable on this basis. It may be decided that getting the student’s side of the story is crucial even in disciplinary matters. At times, progressives can seem very hostile to teachers getting their way when students obstruct them. Teacher’s moral judgements are seen as suspect and identifying difficult students or challenging behaviour can be seen as “labelling”. Some progressives are uncomfortable with the idea of children being required to be quiet.
  • Status. Progressives will often want to remove outward signs of the difference in status between students and teachers. So they are less likely to favour school uniforms, and more likely to favour calling teachers by their first name.

Methods. Teaching methods differ between progressives and traditionalists. Teaching methods are often seen by those who want to deny the debate as all there is to the argument.  The straw man version of this is simply to state “traditionalists do X, progressives do Y” and then to argue that if you do both X and Y then the debate is irrelevant to you. However, it is what you value that is more important than what you do. And even when people deny the relevance of any of the debates I described in the previous two sections, their preferred methods may reveal otherwise. Roughly speaking, traditionalism values explicit instruction, memorisation and practice. Progressivism favours group work, discussion between students, discovery learning and learning which is relevant to (or mimics) “real life”. Values do matter more than precise methods and teaching methods are only really the decider in the case of the teacher who claims to be uninfluenced by ideology but shows a marked preference for one type of teaching. Many progressives will simply claim that the progressive methods they use work and refuse to acknowledge the philosophy that informed that judgement.

Right, so those are the dividing lines. They are complicated and messy, but should also be familiar to all but the most blinkered. Remembering that I have not claimed that progressives will endorse all the progressive beliefs I have described, just some of them, does anyone want to claim that there are no traditionalist versus progressive debates in schools today?


Denying the debate about progressive and traditional education (Part 1)

February 18, 2016

For over a hundred years it would have been considered insane to deny that there was a big ideological debate in education. At times the debate might have seemed centred on university education departments, or teacher training colleges. At times it might have mainly affected private schools or primary schools. At times it might have seemed something that was more of a debate in the US than here. But to say there wasn’t a debate between a “progressive” (or “child centred”) approach and a “traditional” one would have been to deny the obvious. It would have been to ignore, not just contemporary disputes, but history. It would have been to show ignorance of both the academic and philosophical literature of education. It would also reveal that one was oblivious to the fiction inspired by schooling, from Hard Times to The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. Even Goodbye, Mr Chips has a scene where Chips is subjected to unwelcome pedagogical demands from an advocate of the latest trends in Latin teaching. When Melanie Phillips’ book All Must Have Prizes came out in the late 90s, or when Chris Woodhead became HMCI, nobody would have dared to say that nobody disagreed with them. Teachers were often given the impression that those who argued the traditional case were likely to be right-wing politicians or journalists, not teachers, or that the “evidence” favoured progressive education, but there could be no doubting that there was an argument.

However, in the first decade of the twenty first century, the progressives took total control of education in the UK. In England, OFSTED enforced progressive lessons and the GTC(E) told teachers that professionals must believe progressive dogma and struck off those who tried to expose what was happening in our schools. An army of local authority advisors told teachers in state schools the “correct” way to teach. As social media expanded, teachers who took the opportunity to argue against the progressive consensus were told they were “unprofessional” and had no right to hold such opinions. Education became merged with children’s social services, and the explicit aims of the system became less and less academic, as shown by Every Child Matters and the 2007 National Curriculum.

The high tide of progressivism has now receded. A mixture of teachers being given a voice on social media to expose what is happening in schools, and the influence on the English education system by a number of Conservative politicians who, unlike their predecessors, believed in both comprehensive education and an academic curriculum, has seen things changed. The argument between progressives and traditionalists has broken out again. However, many progressives, who still seem to hold the greatest share of power in education, do not appreciate this change. And one of the most common tactics is to deny the existence of that debate. There are 3 main forms of denial:

  1. We all agree. According to this form of denial, nobody ever really denied any of the beliefs of traditionalists. There was never really any dispute over teacher authority, the content of the curriculum or the methods of teaching. All the options were actually just along a spectrum and everyone sits in the middle of that spectrum, mixing and matching, with nobody actually being traditional or progressive.
  2. Where did these labels come from? This line of argument can only really be seen as an attempt to exploit the ignorance of many who have entered the teaching profession and their unwillingness to doubt authority. The idea is that if you have managed to choose to become a teacher without reading of the debates in education, gone through teacher training without being aware that your were being trained in progressive education, and taught in schools without ever having been told you were a progressive, then these labels cannot matter. They must be some trick invented recently, probably by teachers on social media.
  3. The debate doesn’t actually happen in schools. This is not dissimilar to the older idea that all teachers agree and the traditionalists are outsiders. But it goes further in seeking to marginalise those who dare express their opinion in school. Apparently nobody in schools has an ideological disagreement about the behaviour system or the methods of judging teachers. Nobody in schools has to deal with a scheme of work, or a system of assessment that is designed by teachers who disagree with them over the purposes of education and the nature of learning.

In my next post I will outline the main areas of disagreement, and draw your attention to the many ways in which these debates are happening in schools right now.


In case you are interested in any of the books mentioned above, further details can be found below.

Hard Times (Penguin Classics)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics)
Goodbye Mr Chips
All Must Have Prizes by Melanie Phillips (5-Feb-1998) Paperback


Top Blogs of the Week : Schools Week (February 2016)

February 12, 2016

Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 8 February 2016


This post is the account by a primary Senco of the large number of parents she had to speak to in a day. All of these parents raised concerns or problems that she had to deal with…

Continued in:
Andrew Old's top blogs of the week 8 February 2016
Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 8 February 2016


Kids Company shows us why truth is important

February 6, 2016

There was a disturbing documentary on during the week (currently available here)  about Camila Batmanghelidjh and her charity Kids Company which collapsed in disgrace last year after allegations of failing to safeguard young people and massive financial mismanagement.  I regret that, despite planning to, I never got round to blogging about Kids Company before it collapsed but I did tweet quite a bit over the years.

The ideology behind Kids Company was the familiar one that those who do bad things, just need more compassion, but this was combined with a remarkable ability to get money out of government. Back in 2010, I had read and shared on Twitter an incredible Guardian story about an “Urban Academy” set up by Kids Company, which, inbetween reporting sympathetically on Batmanghelidjh efforts to beg for public money, reported that:

Batmanghelidjh thinks that up to one in five children in mainstream education should be in specialist schools for those with emotional and behavioural issues.

The story is also, now, notable for quoting headteacher Jo Shuter as another advocate for “more holistic care”. Shuter, you may recall, was another self-publicist who has since been banned from teaching for her habit of spending school money on herself.

However, it was in 2012 when I tweeted, but unfortunately didn’t blog,  my big concerns about Kids Company.

The Guardian article link showed how good Kids Company were at using brinkmanship to get money out of government. The other link was to this video which shows the extent to which Camila would make up pseudo-scientific justifications for cosying up to  young criminals:

…we assume that a 10 year old holds sufficient levels of control and responsibility to be held criminally responsible. If you actually look at what neuroscience is telling us about the way children’s brains develop, it is absolutely evident that the frontal lobe which is the area responsible for prosocial behaviour and assessing the consequences of your actions doesn’t develop robustly in males until they’re 27 and in females until they’re 25. Neuroscience is saying the quality of the attachment relationship that is provided for you sculpts your ability to control your behaviour, plan and be prosocial.

She goes on to claim that rape victims should consider that believing that for “any child who commits a crime, there is a legacy of crimes committed against that crime prior to the time that they got to be a perpetrator” because it might be “a better narrative” than “I happened to be picked on and happened to be raped because these children are evil”.

These two links had made me realise that millions of pounds of public money were going to a woman in fancy dress who thinks that rapists can’t help themselves if they are under 27. Is it any wonder this ended up with brown envelopes of cash being paid to an arbitrary selection of youths, often to buy drugs, and stories of vulnerable kids being left unsupervised with adult criminals?

And apart from the scandal itself, let’s not forget the wider influence this pernicious denial, of responsibility might have.  As a respected expert on difficult children, Camila would get to work with schools. This blogpost from a SENCO describes a local authority governors conference with Camilla:

She talked about parts of the brain, she talked about cell memories and gene memories and things I had never heard of, but what she said made sense.

She talked about how our children in our schools respond. She described the child who absconds from the classroom every time she is asked to pick up a pencil and write. Not only did she describe her actions she described what made her do it. She talked about how the brain structure in children who were malnourished, mistreated, abused could change. She also talked about the care routine needed in school to try and overcome some of these difficulties.

I had had an idea based on nothing a few weeks ago that perhaps when some of our children “made the wrong choices” (which have now been explained as not really a choice) we should take them out and run them round the field (with me standing in the middle, not actually running obviously) until they were exhausted…

…Camila with great eloquence explained the cycle of stress hormones that give the fight/ flight reflex and then the come down after. She explained how for some of these children that it has become muddled – the waiting, the quiet is actually stressful – once there is violence that is the comedown, it is over. These children need that physical exertion to reduce stress and how a good way to do this is to make them run – she suggested up and down stairs until they were breathless. This way we offer them an opportunity in a controlled way to get the aggression out and let them get to a calm place – without the need to thump someone. We have a brilliant teacher at school who has always promoted exercise and has set up early morning and lunchtime running clubs – he had it right, perhaps we just need to encourage more children to attend.

Camila explained how memories can be frozen in people’s brains to be retriggered when 3 or 4 factors, seemingly unrelated, come together and the “child’s” response is to fight, although the victim is not appropriate. How if as a baby they were beaten/ abused by a man who had purple hair this could trigger the following series of events seventeen years later on a crowded bus:-

  1. “Child” is sitting down
  2. Innocent man with purple hair gets on (Part of memory 1 – physical)
  3. Innocent man approaches and stands next to “child” (Part of memory 2 – proximity)
  4. Innocent man is standing, “child” is sitting (Part of memory 3 – height difference)
  5. “Child” switches to fight mode and beats innocent man

The “child” won’t be able to explain the sudden switch, the sudden rage, it just happened. It explained how some (not all) of the frenzied attacks we hear about in the news can happen.

It was fascinating. I shall go back to school with a totally new awareness of how and why these children might react.

There were no shortage of progressive educators who believed Camila Batmanghelidjh was an unimpeachable authority on children’s behaviour. In particular there had been a long queue of people who had tweeted to tell Tom Bennett, who is overseeing a report on behaviour in ITT, that Camila was the person who really understood poor behaviour. When I used to tweet about the problems with Kids Company I used to get a lot of disagreement. But despite that I was willing to be a critic. I’m particularly proud of this tweet from just before the scandal broke:

So what should we learn from the debate (and lack of debate) about Kids Company before the scandal broke? I think there are two lessons.

  1. Be suspicious of those who, without being accused of not caring, tell everyone they care more than you about children. People like Camila and Jo Shuter tell everyone how much they care, so as to suggest those who would question or scrutinise them were uncaring or cruel. Claims to be on the same side of the argument as those who are “thinking of the children” are now widely recognised as a rhetorical device but I still see arguments about education on Twitter where somebody claims that the person they disagree with didn’t mention children often enough.
  2. When “respected” or apparently well-intentioned people are saying things that are either factually incorrect or just ridiculous we should challenge them. All too often pointing out that people have spread something that isn’t true is treated as a personal attack. When I write posts like thisthis or this, it gets treated as a personal attack on whoever is saying something not true (even in the cases where it is probably accidental and I have not suggested they were lying). Now this does not mean that somebody who gets something wrong (we all do that) or even somebody who is caught lying, is going to be the next Camila, but we should never be ashamed about seeking to establish very early on whether people are being honest with us or not. If people tell us things which aren’t true, or which are true but clearly misleading, we should be able to point it out without being told we’re being offensive. Honest people want to know when they are wrong. Only dishonest people are insulted by it. Being challenged when making claims is the mildest possible sort of accountability, but I think if more people in government had thought this important, then the Kids Company debacle could have been prevented.



Lies, Damned Lies and #WomenED Statistics Part 2

February 3, 2016

Last time I discussed how, despite 66% of headteachers being women, it was claimed that there were too few female heads. In this post I will deal with a couple of cherry picked statistics used to justify this claim. Both of these statistics tend to be accurate, but misleading.

The first statistic is the difference between the proportion of women teachers and the proportion of women headteachers. 75% of classroom teachers are women, so why 66%, not 75%, of heads? My immediate response has always been to ask “why would they be?” Heads are not a random sample of teachers; headship is not a universal aspiration for all teachers. Many factors could explain the difference without any women losing out just because they are women, not least an acceptance that wanting a career in management is not necessarily a good thing, and that those without this ambition are not “failures” or being deprived by not having this ambition.

However, before I go too far down this route of explaining the alleged “discrepancy” in terms of human behaviour, I should point out there is no need for this sort of explanation. Statisticians are familiar with the rule of “regression to the mean”. I should be careful here, “regression to the mean” is defined in different ways, some of which may not apply here. However, the basic principle is that when you measure something and get an extreme value, then further measurements (even if related to the first measurement) are likely to be less extreme. This is why, if you look at the students who did best in one test, they are likely to do less well in the next test, and those who did worst in the first test are likely to do better in the next test. This is why the children of very tall parents are, on average, less tall than their parents and the children of very short parents are likely to be taller than their parents. (This also came up here.) Extreme measurements are not easily repeated, even when the first measurement is likely to be correlated to the second. Whether or not what I have been describing here can be labelled as “regression to the mean”, there is definitely a similar problem here. Because the population of classroom teachers is so skewed towards being women, it is highly unlikely that the population of heads would be skewed to the same degree.

Without any need for discrimination against women, or a prejudice against women leaders, or a reason for some women not becoming heads, we would expect the population of headteachers to be skewed towards being women, but not to the same degree as classroom teachers. And that’s what we’ve got, a large majority of heads are women, but not in the same proportions as classroom teachers. This is not unfairness or inequality; this is just how statistics work. We should be very careful to watch out for attempts to obscure this. A number of people have referred to the ratio of female heads to female teachers as a measure of the “likelihood of promotion” or “the prospects of promotion” as if it measured opportunities for advancement. To assume that an individual’s opportunities are measured by the statistics for their gender is to assume that appointments are made on the basis of gender, the very claim that is at issue here. What we have here are two connected, but distinct populations, and while the number of women classroom teachers is likely to affect the number of women heads, it was never likely to determine it and, given the extreme gender imbalance among classroom teachers, it would have been highly unlikely that there would have been the same imbalance among heads.

The second figure used to suggest a shortage of women is that for secondary heads. According to the workforce survey, only 37% of secondary heads are female (it might be 36%, as my figures are rounded and I have heard that figure quoted a lot). This is probably the best evidence of an actual discrepancy between men and women in educational leadership, although why the dominance of men in secondary is more of a problem than the even greater dominance of women in primary is not usually explained. But, again, we should hesitate, and remind ourselves how statistics work. Secondary heads account for only a sixth of heads, and we can expect at least some subsets of any population to depart from the rest of the population just by chance. This is why statisticians warn about “subgroup analysis”. There are bound to be anomalous subsets, and if it hadn’t been found by subdividing by sector, could we have found one by subdividing by region? Age? Race? Type of school? Without knowing what else would have been considered a cause for concern it’s hard to judge whether this should be. All we do know is, it is unreasonable to assume that all possible subsets of headteachers would have as many (or more) women as men. That’s not to say there is nothing to be explained here. The “regression to the mean” argument I used earlier does not apply in the secondary sector and the problems of subgroup analysis may not be enough to explain why the proportions in secondary are so different to the proportions in primary, but the mere fact that there is a subset of schools with more men than women as heads should not, in itself, be of concern.

Even after all this, I cannot rule out that there are no issues relating to gender that affect women’s opportunities to become school leaders. All I can say is that we are yet to have reliable evidence for this. I’m happy to endorse any (rigorous) effort to acquire that evidence, and research into application rates and differences in ambition would be a good place to start. But until that evidence is found, then #WomenEd remains a campaign against a problem that may not even exist and the question of why people want to convince others that the problem exists should be asked.


Lies, Damned Lies and #WomenED Statistics Part 1

February 2, 2016

People seem aware that I don’t like fallacious arguments. Bad logic winds me up. But that’s not what really gets my goat. If you want to annoy me, get statistics wrong. It’s like the sound of nails scratching a blackboard. And in recent months one movement on education social media has gone all out to get the stats wrong: #WomenED. The organisation is mainly concerned with helping women into leadership positions in education. However, the problem with this aim is that women are already in leadership positions in education. A few months back I took the mickey out of this in a post called What have women ever been allowed to do in the education system? pointing out all the roles in education in which women outnumber men, from headteachers, to secretary of state. Although I haven’t got hold of the data, I have been told by reliable people since then that I could have added school governors and school business managers to the list. So having been set up to deal with a problem that may not exist, those involved in #WomenED have set about the task of either denying or reinterpreting the stats.

Let me start with denial. The following are all from blogs reacting to #WomenED. Please remember that according to the 2014 workforce survey. in state schools 66% of heads and 68% of deputy and assistant heads are women.

We should be shaping the educational agenda and bringing people along with us so that they see that a more representative educational leadership brings about better outcomes for all.


But… educational leadership would be more representative of society if there were fewer women.

Some of our collective goals:… * To achieve equal representation in all areas of education and advance equality for all.


But… equal representation would mean fewer women.

The group’s vision is that headteacher and senior leadership positions should reflect their school’s student and staff bodies.

But… leadership teams would, on average, need fewer women to represent the gender balance of their student body.

But so too does male heavy decision makers in the Department of Education and other influential educational bodies.


But… the secretary of state is a woman. The senior civil servants in the DfE are 48% women, (although that’s 44% for top management posts) which is hardly overwhelmingly male. The main teaching unions and Ofqual are lead by women.

But now I need to take the next step to headship.  And to do that I need to find the feminist Governing Body that is prepared to defy the statistics.


But… the statistics show that 66% of appointments are women.

At WomenEd, we’re committed to being the change we want to see so that educational leadership can be more equal and representative of the profession’s diversity.


But… leadership is already more diverse than the profession in terms of gender, and increasing the number of women would make it even less diverse.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating a reduction in the number of women in educational leadership. I don’t think women are being forced into educational work at gunpoint, or even due to financial insecurity (young women now earn more than young men), so I’m not offended at the profession being female dominated. I’m merely pointing out that educational leadership is already overwhelmingly female and the inevitable result of any attempt to make school leadership more diverse, more representative of society or more equal would be a reduction, not an increase, in the number of women in school leadership.

What usually happens when you point this out to #WomenED partisans (after they thank you profusely for correcting their error) is that some statistics are cherry picked to prove that there is, nevertheless, a shortage of women in school leadership. I will discuss these next time.

%d bloggers like this: