4 Things Sir Michael Wilshaw would never have said

April 23, 2016


Today, the Guardian reported that the hunt for Sir Michael Wilshaw’s replacement has reached its final stages. If the story is accurate, the shortlist is:

Amanda Spielman, the chair of exam regulator Ofqual and a senior figure at the Ark academy chain, is a frontrunner in a field that also includes Toby Salt, the chief executive of the Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT), Dame Alison Peacock, an experienced educator and primary school head, and Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

I have quite strong views on which one of these should get the job, but for once I’m going to keep them to myself in case I jinx it. But what really struck me is how different from Sir Michael Wilshaw all the candidates are. The following are all from interviews with, or writing by, the candidates. Can you imagine Wilshaw saying any of the following?

Amanda Spielman interviewed in Schools Week:

“I knit for pleasure,” she says. “It doesn’t require you to wrestle with abstract concepts, and because I’m a fidgety person, I find it very settling. In another universe, I would knit in a lot of meetings as I find it easier to pay attention to what people are saying.”

Toby Salt, mentioned in a story in the Independent about children choosing their own headteacher:

Toby Salt, the college’s deputy chief executive, says: “It’s vital that the pupil’s perspective is heard in appointing the leader of their school but, of course, the final word rests with the governing body. This is not about turning headship appointments into an X-factor style audition, but input from students can be a valuable addition to the decision-making process.”

Alison Peacock, in an interview published by the ATL:

The school often goes to unusual lengths to help children who are struggling. When one boy, with a very difficult home life, was going round threatening other pupils and shouting at teachers, a teaching assistant working with him discovered that his mother bred guinea pigs, and the school invested in some and made him the keeper of the guinea pigs. “He was very kind to the guinea pigs and so he went from being someone scary in a hood to being the guinea pig-stroker,” explains Alison. “You can’t get those things from a toolkit. It’s about being creative, having empathy, being prepared to do something different, taking risks.”

Russell Hobby, in a blogpost that has since disappeared from the NAHT website:

There is evidence coming in, for example, that demand in the workplace for “routine cognitive skills” – based on easily digestible knowledge (like lists of kings and queens) – is in decline, as these tasks are automated and outsourced. Of course knowledge matters, but the future lies in problem solving and interpersonal skills. Unfortunately our testing regime is strongly biased towards knowledge that is easy to measure; not necessarily the skills that our children will need to make sense of the modern world…

They used to say that generals always prepared to fight the last war. Thanks to our assessment regime and fantasies of traditional teaching, we may be educating our children for the last century.

Or perhaps I’m wrong and actually Sir Michael Wilshaw does say this sort of thing all the time. I’ll buy a pint for anyone who can find a picture of him knitting.

Or stroking a guinea pig.

Update 23/4/2016: Picture from @jamestheo added.


A quick note on the TES teacher blogger of the year award

April 15, 2016

I do my best to help promote education bloggers. For this reason, I tend to be more positive about blogging awards than most. Recently, I did my best to encourage nominations for the TES award for teacher bloggers. I then took it all back when I saw from her Twitter feed that shortlisting was being done by Natasha Devon, who had a history of being insulting to bloggers in tweets and blogs and who appeared to have no understanding or familiarity with teacher blogs beyond being offended by them. The sense that the awards were not taking blogging seriously was made worse by a nomination process that involved uploading 3 articles from blogs, as if the judges would not even be bothering to browse through the blogs that were nominated.

The editor of the TES then jumped in to say that actually there was another shortlister, and although they weren’t named, the implication was that they might know what they are doing. And sure enough, the final shortlist of 8 does indeed consist of 4 blogs that I cannot imagine Natasha Devon choosing, and 4 blogs which I can imagine her choosing. And I’d probably just leave it there, but I can’t resist pointing out what happens when somebody who is unfamiliar with blogging is given this sort of responsibility. At least one of the shortlisters failed to notice that some of the nominations don’t seem to comply with the entry guidelines.

The entry guidelines state the following:

  • These awards celebrate achievements during the 2014-2015 academic year and are open to all state and independent primary and secondary schools in the UK
  • We will accept submissions based on projects, initiatives or endeavours that commenced prior to the 2014-2015 academic year, provided that core achievements have taken place during this main period of focus. We will also accept any evidence that has come to light after the close of the 2014-2015 academic year if this further underlines success

And yet, when I look at the list of bloggers nominated I see that there is one blogger whose blog has no posts from before October 2015, and another whose only “blog” I can find is actually made up of unsyndicated articles on the TES website with no posts from before January 2016.

Of course, these bloggers may have been active somewhere else, (I think one of them had a site that is now defunct that was around from May 2015) but it does seem a little odd that anyone could be nominated as the best teacher blogger for their achievements in the 2014-2015 academic year, and even I cannot find a regular blog with any posts dated from that period. Could it possibly be the case that there was a shortlister who doesn’t understand how blogs work?

Update 15/4/2016: I’ve now heard from a couple of nominees that this year they are expected to pay £180 just to attend. Last year we were, as you’d expect, invited to attend for free. I do hope this is a mistake as this would make the whole thing seem like an utter rip-off.

Update 15/4/2016 but slightly later: In a not altogether surprising turn of events, and following a few hours of Twitter ridicule, the TES have now said that this was all a misunderstanding and the nominated bloggers will go for free.

Congratulations, to you all, and have fun.



Denying the debate about progressive and traditional education (Part 3)

April 1, 2016

I wrote a couple of posts previously here and here about claims that there was no debate between progressive and traditional education. I hope the second one was particularly useful, in that it pointed out disagreements that were clearly happening in schools right now, and how they were part of the debate about progressive and traditional education. Nobody actually tried claiming that those debates weren’t happening, though a few people seemed to think that I was wrong to frame the debates in that way. None actually seemed to identify an alternative framing.

I was going to leave it there, but I’ve started to notice that the ideology of progressive education is often at its most influential when it is not stated explicitly as a belief. It is at its most influential when it is simply assumed to be true that traditional classroom teaching is not as good. A lot of the time this is shown by people’s choice of lessons, resources or practice to share or publicise. When was the last time you heard somebody say “I’m going to be observed, I’d better make sure I give my best explanation and use my best textbook”? When was the last Teach Meet where there were more talks about giving a good explanation than about using technology? When was the last time anybody at an interview said “I became a teacher because I’m good at explaining my subject?”.

But it also goes the other way. People will talk about a lesson without obviously progressive elements as if they are embarrassed by it, or it was deficient. Here are two examples.

In this blogpost, a teacher describes how they dealt with a class with poor behaviour:

The rest of the lessons that week were much better. I went for zero tolerance on poor behaviour and set my expectations to the class very clearly. The structure of the lessons were very traditional – chalk and talk – and the pupils were expected to work on their questions individually.

Were these lessons successful? On some levels YES. I was able to spend lots of time helping and encouraging all my pupils. There was a lot of progress made with their algebra skills and there was a much calmer atmosphere in the class.

Here’s my problem – the lessons were boring and not overly engaging. I don’t like teaching classes this way. I want pupils to have discussions, work together, investigate and enjoy their lessons. But do the pupils learn more when working independently in peace and quiet?

Here’s where I need help – how can I teach the type of lessons I know my pupils need without letting the minority take over? If I can’t figure it out I worry that these pupils, who behave and want to learn, will get discouraged and not enjoy learning maths.

Here’s an example from this podcast featuring Vic Goddard:

You know, I know that I teach maths in quite a dull way. You know I haven’t progressed in my maths teaching, because it hasn’t been a priority if I’m honest, and I know that I go in and I demonstrate on the board; I show an example; you do a worked example; they have a couple of goes on their own, and they may have an exercise to do. That’s what they do; that’s what I do, and actually I’m actually probably quite scared to do anything else because it will take me longer to prepare. It will take me longer to get organized and, actually, have I got the time? And I need to be empowered as well and force myself to go: “well if I taught it in a different way, it would save me time in the long run and they’d understand it better”.

In these examples we have teachers talking about secondary maths lessons in which the teacher explains the maths and sets work. In both cases, they mention clear advantages to this approach. But the assumption is in both cases is that they would, ideally, be doing something different. Of course all lessons can be improved. Perhaps better explanations can be given, perhaps other elements could be added here and there, maybe some AfL, but here the teachers suggest that understanding and enjoyment require something different. Yet there’s no shortage of evidence that teacher explanations and worked examples can be really effective (some good references for this can be found here). It’s not something any teacher should be ashamed of doing, or even doing every lesson.

Obviously, it could be claimed that such examples are unusual. But they certainly chime with my experience of educational discourse. OFSTED may claim that they no longer require less teacher talk and compulsory group work, but plenty of teachers still assume that there is something wrong with chalk and talk. There’s a passage from Keynes that, in recent years, traditionalists in education have often quoted:

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

Sometimes the influence of progressive education is there without us even being aware of it. Those who explicitly deny the debate in education are one thing, but perhaps, more worrying, is the extent to which teachers assume the progressives were right without even realising there is a debate to be had. This can happen even when they are teaching traditionally, and even when it seems to be working. We’ll know things have changed in education when a lesson where you explain something and set work is considered something to be proud of, rather than something to confess and apologise for.


Sorry for wasting your time with the TES awards

March 26, 2016

Apologies. I was wrong.

Last year, the shortlist for the TES award for teacher bloggers was drawn up by a teacher blogger. The final shortlist was pretty impressive, including blogs like Evidence into Practice and Cazzypotsblog that had really moved on the debate. So for that reason I encouraged a lot of people to nominate great blogs for the award this year. I should have been suspicious when, instead of asking for a link to people’s blogs, they asked for people to cut and paste individual posts, which would suggest that they were going to be evaluated by somebody unfamiliar with the concept of blogging.

And now I know why. According to her Twitter feed the shortlister this year is Natasha Devon. Not a teacher. Not a blogger. But she is somebody who has:

That last tweet did get deleted after teachers on social media started telling her that this was beyond the pale.

None of this behaviour is particularly surprising. Since teachers started being active on social media we have been routinely dismissed by “experts” with official recognition, a media presence, and no evidence. When people have this sort of platform they rarely want to engage in actual debate. Let’s face it, the last time the charity sector provided us with high profile “expert” on children with an honour and government backing it was Camilla Batmanghelidjh. But it is a shame that TES, who, in the days before Twitter, provided the best social media forums for teacher,s have decided that this is a suitable person to identify the best in teacher blogging.

So I am sorry that I wasted the time of people by recommending they nominate for the TES award for teacher blogger. Thanks for doing so, but obviously, I now want nothing to do with it. Whoever wins now will have done so only by winning over somebody who has no interest in the kind of debate that teacher bloggers, at their best, contribute.

Update 26/3/2016: After the post, this tweet appeared:

I suppose this is an improvement on what the situation appeared to be, although one wonders how familiar with teacher blogging the teacher judge would be if they need a non-teacher to help them during the Easter holidays. However, this still means some really good bloggers could miss the shortlist because they were only evaluated by somebody whose main experience of teacher bloggers seems to be based around insulting them for, you know, blogging.

Natasha Devon has also replied in the form of a blogpost on a newly minted blog. She seems to have thought that Labour Teachers was a group organising a political campaign – rather than a blog giving a platform to individual teachers – and that she thought her TES column was a blog. It’s almost as if she is completely unfamiliar with the education blogosphere.


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?


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