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

March 25, 2016

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

Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 14 March 2016

Attachment theory: why teachers shouldn’t get too excited about it

By @Nick_J_Rose

Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency for people to try to explain poor classroom behaviour in terms of attachment theory, or even by speculating about attachment disorder. This post explains the theory and the disorder(s). It also explains why poor behaviour in the classroom is unlikely to indicate an attachment disorder and cautions teachers against making amateur diagnoses.

Continued in:
Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 14 March 2016

Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 14 March 2016


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 College Of Teaching Claims Your Cash

March 17, 2016

I have to admit that I haven’t read the new education White Paper yet. But I’ve read this on the Claim Your College website:

The College of Teaching, the new independent and voluntary professional body for the teaching profession, has welcomed the announcement of support and up to £5 million staged seed funding outlined within the Department for Education’s Educational Excellence, Everywhere white paper, presented to parliament today by the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP.

The College of Teaching is determined that the teaching profession should take this opportunity to establish a professional body matching the best that exists in medicine, law, engineering, accountancy and all the other professions in our country. This pledge provides the seed funding required to establish the College of Teaching as an authoritative voice of professionalism over the next five years.

You can search for “College Of Teaching” on this blog and read the full shameful story. The main background is this:

  • The education select committee suggested there could be a new professional body for teachers a few weeks before the last one, the GTC, was shut down.
  • This was then supported by a conference of headteachers organised by the Princes Trust.
  • A group consisting of CPD providers of one sort or another was formed (including at least one private company) and began plans for setting up the organisation.
  • Meetings announcing this new organisation for teachers took place on school days when teachers could not easily attend.
  • A proposal that included membership for “anyone interested in education” was put forward.
  • A board of trustees, that was half non-teachers, was formed. Of those who were teachers: 3 were heads; 3 were middle or senior managers, and only 2 were unpromoted teachers.
  • An attempt to crowdfund £250 000 to get the organisation started began. It raised less than a tenth of that, and most of the money raised wasn’t from teachers. The big donations were from existing educational bodies. A fair few consultants appeared on the list.

This organisation has been set up by the CPD industry, and according to the White Paper its main task will be to “accredit professional development to ensure that it is high quality” which sounds a lot like a way to regulate the CPD industry. Many industries do self-regulate, so that may not be a bad idea in itself, although it is outrageous that the taxpayer should fund it. However, if it is allowed to present itself as a professional body for teachers two problems arise. Firstly, it will be able to claim to speak for teachers despite having no mandate from us and having been set up by organisations whose main source of income is from being paid to tell us what to do. Secondly, there is a real danger that it will seek to accredit teachers too, something which has been proposed previously and which can be used to regulate teachers. It will be another organisation funded by the government, run by the education establishment, and exercising power over teachers, just like the GTC.

Imagine what could have been done with that money? Imagine the difference ResearchED could have made with that kind of funding. Or imagine, as I suggested in a previous blogpost, if there was an organisation representing and supporting unpromoted teachers. Even if the money had gone to a professional body for teachers, actually set up by teachers and supported by teachers rather than vested interests, it could have done some good.

The CPD industry, and all the lovely consultants who work for it, have just swiped £5 million that should have been spent on helping teachers. Don’t expect to hear much about this in the press though, or hear ministers being quizzed about this on TV. After all it’s only teachers being ripped off, and who listens to teachers?


Shutting Teachers Up

March 11, 2016

Sometimes ministers (and their advisors) read blogs written by teachers. We know this. My chapter in Changing Schools presented a lot of evidence for this.

Some people really don’t like that.

Francis Gilbert, currently an education lecturer at Goldsmiths, wrote the following in a blogpost interview with Tom Sherrington:

Sherrington enjoys blogging and tweeting in his spare time; he doesn’t see it as work. He’s aware though that in recent years that a “tweetocracy” amongst teachers has emerged; a number of tweeting and blogging teachers like him, many of him [sic] are listed on the homepage of his blog, have assumed  dominance power over the educational debate. This Tweetocracy get invited to all the prestigious educational events – conferences, launches, policy discussions etc – while others are left out. My worry here is that educational academics have become so marginalized.

An editorial in the Journal Of Philosophy of Education by Robert Davis, who I believe is a professor of education in Glasgow, complained of:

Loose associations of teachers, parents, activists, lobbyists etc, communicating ideas and discoveries fashioned and formulated often beyond the academy (or at least beyond its orthodox educational wings) and shaped from out of the interactions of cyberspace itself. This new style of knowledge production is commonly (and sometimes intemperately) at odds with established educational opinion––exasperated by what it sees as habits of elite exclusion, protectionism and detachment from the ‘real world’ of chalkface educational concerns and challenges. It routinely berates the supposedly special interests controlling education faculties, peer-reviewed journals and learned societies, accusing them of obstructing change and stifling or invalidating popular and ‘evidence-based’ folk-wisdom insights into what actually works in the teaching of children, young people and adults…

…Several of the leading commentators and critics who have emerged through these new media now command significant and energetic followings numerically much larger than the memberships of many learned societies or the subscribers to academic journals. Their timelines and followers, moreover, routinely include the officers of influential think tanks, spokesmen for ambitious publishers and policy-makers by no means passive in their association with the informing concepts and objectives….

Andrew Davis, who is a research fellow in education at Durham and writer of the phonics denialist pamphlet “To Read Or Not To Read”, wrote in the newsletter of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain wrote the following about me (he didn’t actually think to contact me to say he had done so):

A well-known education blogger (who, I believe is a former secondary physics teacher) styled ‘OldAndrew’ (OA) developed a series of attacks on To Read or Not to Read. Many read his postings and some responded. I would never have given OA more than a moment’s attention, had I not learnt that he actually might be influencing education policy and was sometimes mentioned in Parliament….

He continued:

Anyhow, if people such as OA are actually influencing policy and media, then ‘real’ philosophers need to be out there even more than they are already, or so I believe, attempting to engage with intelligence, humour and restraint. It is far from easy, partly because what Bob Davis called ‘blogocrats’ have spent some years sharpening their skills in the kinds of interactions to which I am drawing attention.

The consistent theme here is one of educationalists, who consider themselves to be the experts, bemoaning that anyone would listen to teachers on social media rather than them.

But, of course, there are many reasons why teachers on social media might be worth listening to. Teachers work in actual schools, not theoretical ones. Some educationalists have not tried to teach a child in decades (sometimes never) and their ideas about how it should be done are pure fantasy. Teachers don’t have to follow an ideological line. Educationalists, by contrast, have a habit of signing up to doctrinal statements like this one. Teachers on social media are often actually trying to communicate a clear message. Educationalists are often just trying to prove how clever they are, even if it means saying things that are not understood. But most of all, teachers on social media have little reason to lie about educational issues. They are speaking to other teachers about things both they, and their audiences, encounter. By contrast, educationalists don’t even unanimously agree that telling the truth is a good thing even in principle. And don’t get me started on educationalists who claim to speak for teachers, claim that criticism of them is criticism of teachers, or who insist that they should have a place in a professional body for teachers.

Now I am sure I have offended loads of perfectly decent people in university education departments with all that, despite all the times I’ve added the words “some” or “often” or other qualifiers to suggest that what I have described above doesn’t apply to everyone. I do appreciate people in education departments who talk sense, listen to teachers and do good work. I am not actually suggesting that we ignore every educationalist. Everyone should be welcome to the debate. Everyone should be able to put forward arguments. Everyone should be able to put forward evidence. Everyone should be listened to. But it should always be the content of the argument, the quality of the evidence and the willingness to answer criticisms that counts. If Andrew Davis really wants to know why my arguments often persuade people, it’s because I’ll happily answer anyone who disagrees. I’ll happily listen to their argument and consider it and, if necessary, answer it. I’ll have the debate. Often I continue having the debate long after any sensible person would have called it a day. Perhaps if Andrew Davis tried answering his critics, rather than slagging them off behind their backs in a newsletter, he might manage to persuade people too. The real lesson here is not that educationalists are being sidelined by “blogocrats”, but that too many educationalists gave up listening to teachers a long time ago and are appalled to learn that we might still have a voice.


Could You Nominate a Teacher Blogger Of The Year?

March 5, 2016

The TES school awards once again have an award for “Blogger Of The Year”. The voting is all done by a panel of judges, so don’t worry, I’m not begging for support. Any practising teacher who blogs (please remember this, don’t waste time nominating those who are who not eligible) could be nominated and I’m trying to ensure that as many of my favourite blogs as possible are put forward for consideration. Fortunately, you can nominate yourself, and I’m led to believe this won’t count against you. However, there is a real risk that some great blogs could be missed, so please, please help with nominating. The deadline is Sunday 13th March, so time is short. It all looks more complicated than last time, and the rules are not terribly clear (for instance, I can’t work out if uploaded posts have to be from the 2014-2015 academic year or not) so give yourself time to sort it properly.

I think that there are a number of people who write really great blogs who are far too modest to realise how great they are. They are probably not even thinking about getting themselves nominated. So, if you can nominate any of the following, or talk them into nominating themselves, please do so. Crossed out entries are ones where I’ve been told a nomination has already been submitted. These are in no particular order, and I may even edit this post to change the order in the days ahead.

Finally, if you write a blog but I haven’t mentioned you above, please don’t take it personally, I have probably just assumed that you can get yourself nominated without my help. If you are having difficulties, please ask for help in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do. Be aware that it is for practising teachers only. I’ve also assumed (perhaps wrongly) that blogs dedicated to teaching one particular subject are unlikely to win (sorry, Mel, Chris, Sporticus, Jo etc.) and that blogs that started since September 2015 aren’t eligible (sorry, Rory and Mr Pink).

Anyway, let me know when you’ve nominated yourself, or somebody on the list so I can cross them out.



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.


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