Archive for the ‘Of Interest’ Category


Attachment Myths

October 24, 2020

There seems to be a sudden upsurge in talk about attachment lately, so I thought I’d let you know about a book chapter on this topic I wrote a year ago. It can be found in The REsearchED Guide to Education Myths, edited by Craig Barton and published by John Catt.

My chapter is entitled Attachment Myths and reviews some of the strange ideas about attachment teachers are often led to believe. Details and references can be found in the book, but I thought I’d give you a short preview of the content here.

At the time of writing, the importance of attachment and “attachment disorder” had recently been mentioned in the Timpson Review of School Exclusions as a significant issue relating to behaviour in schools. Yet it has been disputed whether attachment has any predictive power for behaviour at all; there is no single condition called “attachment disorder”, and significant concern has been raised about the popularity of incorrect ideas about attachment.

Attachment is an infant’s deep emotional bond to a primary care giver. The two big names in the study of it are John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, whose work spans several decades. Many of their ideas have since been challenged and revised within mainstream psychology, but their ideas have also been developed in quite disturbing and even dangerous ways by those outside the mainstream, which means teachers need to be careful not to be misled by fringe thinkers.

Most importantly, there are pseudo-scientific “controversial attachment therapies” that have been implicated in the deaths of several children and the abuse of many others. Advocating little more than deliberate cruelty to make a child feel powerless, these ideas are often promoted to the worried parents of adopted children. While I have not heard of these ideas being used in schools, teachers should be aware that they need to be careful to avoid these dangerous cranks if they search online, or ask on social media, for information about attachment.

More common in schools, but still very misguided, is a belief in a single condition called “attachment disorder” that is common in adopted or fostered children that results in challenging behaviour. While there is a condition called “Reactive Attachment Disorder” (and in some diagnostic manuals another condition called “Disinhibited Attachment Disorder”) this is relatively rare and should not be assumed to underlie the difficulties maltreated children may have. Even where children have a history of maltreatment there are many other associated conditions that might underlie behaviour problems. Additionally, there is no real consensus on treatment for RAD, and teachers should be aware that many who claim RAD is an important cause of bad behaviour, and that they have a treatment for it, will be the advocates of “controversial attachment therapies”.

Finally, there are claims that attachment theory itself may be useful to teachers. While this may be true, teachers should be sceptical about unsupported claims. There is not a strong body of evidence for applying the insights of attachment theory to older children. Additionally, anthropologists have come to doubt whether attachment theory describes universal behaviours of human beings, rather than western cultural norms of child rearing. Do not be blinded by claims to scientific authority which go beyond the evidence. Teachers have every reason to ask questions when any claims are made to them about attachment.

As well as my chapter on attachment myths, The researchED Guide to Education Myths, although short, also contains chapters by Clare Sealey, Doug Lemov, Greg Ashman and many others on a wide variety of topics.


Two Podcasts Featuring Me

June 19, 2020

I was interviewed for a couple of podcasts last week.

You can find the relevant episode of Greg Ashman’s Filling The Pail podcast here.

You can find the relevant episode of Naylor’s Natter in association with TDT podcast here.


5 blogposts about 5 things

May 7, 2017

For some reason bloggers have started writing posts that list 5 things this weekend. So here’s my list of 5 blogposts that do that.

1) 5 principles of education by @greg_ashman

2) Five Things I Wish I knew When I started Teaching by @C_Hendrick

3) The 5 worst education arguments by graphics by @JamesTheo

4) Practice vs. talent: Five principles for effective teaching by @DavidDidau

5) 5 education ideas applied to alternative contexts by @greg_ashman


Untruths in teacher training

December 6, 2016

There was an event at Michaela School the weekend before last. You can watch videos of it here. One of the points that stuck out for me was when Deputy Headteacher, Barry Smith, complained about the “lies” he was told when he was being trained to teach. I thought this was interesting because, even though we should expect teacher trainers to be experienced classroom practitioners who have also had every opportunity to study education, we tend to assume that when they tell us things that aren’t true then they are being sincere. We don’t question whether they actually believe it.

This lead to a bit of a discussion on Twitter which, with the help of @5N_Afzal, I present below. The general consensus was that teachers are told a lot of untruths by those training them, (I didn’t specify initial teacher training so this could also include INSET) but that we should give those that pass on the misinformation the benefit of the doubt about it being an honest mistake.


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

August 18, 2016

Apologies for getting a bit behind with these. In MaySchools Week published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Andrew Old’s Top Blogs of the Week 2 May 2016

Purple praise: a spoon full of sugar helps the marking go down

By @Xris32

We all know that praise in marking is a good thing, don’t we? Many marking policies assure us that children need a “what went well” or “two stars” to encourage them. Not true, says the English teacher who wrote this post…


Is Inclusion Working? | Debate from #educationfest

June 25, 2016

I took part in a discussion on inclusion on Friday.

I think what I most noticed was how little disagreement there was. 10 years ago this was probably the hottest issue in education and the types of views I’m expressing would have been seen as outrageous and I would have been told I needed to be sacked or retrained. Amazing to see how things have moved on.


12 Blogposts About Engagement

March 18, 2016

According to this post, it was recently claimed on Twitter that “neo-trads” ignore the issue of engagement. I can’t claim to know who is or is not a “neo-trad”, but there have been plenty of blogposts about engagement written from a broadly traditionalist perspective (although I make that as a claim about the posts rather than individual authors). Here are 12 of them:

  1. Weasel Words #1: Engage by me, from February 2012
  2. Must lessons be entertaining to be engaging? by @Bigkid4 from January 2014
  3. On engagement (again) by @Bigkid4 from February 2014
  4. Engagement – is it a matter of definition? by @ManYanaEd from February 2014
  5. “The students were engaged” – a meaningless phrase by @mfordhamhistory from October 2014
  6. Engagement. Teach children how to engage. by @ManYanaEd from November 2014
  7. Engagement – too many meanings! by @ManYanaEd from November 2014
  8. Engagement: Just because they’re busy, doesn’t mean they’re learning anything. by @C_Hendrick from March 2015
  9. Does engagement actually matter? by @LearningSpy from March 2015
  10. Dipsticks: It all depends on what you mean by ‘engagement’ by @LearningSpy from April 2015
  11. Who is responsible for engagement in learning? by @ManYanaEd from August 2015
  12. As mentioned earlier: “Engagement” is not a useful concept by @greg_ashman from a few days ago.

If one were to plough through all these, one would find a lot of similar points. In particular:

  • The word “engagement” is not used consistently. For example, it can be used to mean being occupied, interested or entertained. Definitions often change mid-conversation. More precision is needed to discuss what mental states and attitudes are most conducive to learning.
  • General statements about what does or does not engage (by any definition) have a habit of not being true for all students, or all classes, making it hard to justify any type of pedagogy on the basis of engagement, even if, for some definition of “engagement” there were grounds to adopt it as an aim.

I’m happy to conclude that the issue of engagement is not some kind of blind spot for traditionalists. Please let me know if I’ve missed any posts or any important arguments.


The #OFSTEDMyths Videos

January 21, 2016

A post to the OFSTED blog about myths yesterday, included three videos in which OFSTED luminaries sought to set the record straight about inspections. I thought I’d publicise them and, just in case you can’t be bothered to watch them, or your school blocks Youtube but not my blog (what are you thinking?), there is a transcript below each one.

London Director of Schools, Mike Sheridan on preparing for inspections:

When we go into great schools, we tend to see that they are focused on the young people that they serve. They’re not looking to see what Ofsted wants. They’re looking to see what their children need and this is really refreshing and inspectors are very capable of really recognising the difference that those processes and systems make for the young. It’s rare that we go into a school and we find that superficial and so we don’t want schools to be worrying about the process of want schools to be going through ‘Mocksteds’. Of course you want schools to understand where they are. We want them to be able to evaluate where they are. We want them to be able to use this evaluation to be able to improve further. There’s no one way of doing things and it’s really important that teachers and leaders find the best way for the communities that they serve.

Deputy Director for Schools, Joanna Hall on feedback:

There’s no particular expectation about seeing written records from oral feedback. The most important thing is, do the pupils understand the feedback, do they act on the feedback, and how does that have an impact on their learning?

Deputy Director for Schools, Joanna Hall on grades:

Ofsted doesn’t grade lessons anymore. We might visit a whole range of lessons, talk to leaders about the quality of teaching, talk to staff and talk to pupils. The most important thing is: what’s the impact of teaching, learning and assessment on pupils’ progress.

The blog post and youtube pages also link to the updated OFSTED myth-busting document.

I think most of this is stuff that schools need to get the message about. There’s still too much nonsense imposed on schools on the basis that OFSTED will want to see it (some recent examples here and here). However, there is one bit of these videos that worries me: the part in the second video where Joanna Hall asks “do they [students] act on the feedback…?”. While, technically, students improving and not repeating mistakes is evidence of acting on feedback, schools now seem utterly convinced that the only way to demonstrate student response to feedback is to have “interactive” marking policies that involve students responding to teachers. I don’t think that OFSTED require this sort of “triple marking” or the multi-coloured pens it so often involves (see here) but that comment in the video is only going to encourage schools to introduce such policies. I think greater clarity about how OFSTED will look for evidence of students acting on feedback would be useful.


A twitter response from OFSTED national director, Sean Harford, which will hopefully come as a relief to a lot of teachers:

Screenshot 2016-01-21 at 18.32.44


Vote For Me in the Edublog Awards

December 10, 2015

I don’t have a particularly good track record for this sort of thing, and there’s often something of a hidden agenda behind awards for blogging of any description, but I’d be silly not to at least ask people to vote in the online poll for the Edublog Awards.

The voting form is here.

You can vote once a day per IP address (hmmmm… can anyone see a flaw in this?). You should be able to find me under “Best Tweeter” (as @oldandrewuk) and “Best Individual blog” (as You may also want to consider the Labour Teachers blog I edit as best group blog. Also, in a spirit of patriotism, I should probably point out some other British entries listed. and are available to vote for under “Best New Blog”., and are under “Best Teacher Blog”. is listed under “Best Administrator Blog”. Let me know if there are any other British bloggers included in categories where they are not up against me and I’ll add them to this list. You do not have to vote in every category.

Thanks for your support.


The Mixed Ability Debate

December 5, 2015

My debate from the event a couple of weeks ago at Michaela School is now up.

The posts I wrote about it can be found here and here.

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