Posted by: mrlock | March 13, 2015

No excuses

On Friday afternoons at my school all the Student Progress Leaders (Heads of Year), three senior staff including myself, our learning mentors, our child protection team, seclusion team, SENCO and attendance team sit down for an hour to meet. We’re often joined by a social worker, a police officer and various local youth workers.

We go through last week’s minutes, detailing what’s happened with each student that we’ve offered support to. These can be for crises at home, attendance issues, problems in the local area, issues to do with nutrition, or child protection. Every few of weeks or so we find solutions for a child hard to come by. But we do our very best and we have significant resources allocated to supporting our students to ensure they can meet our expectations.

Two and a half years ago, when local childrens’ services were faced with no home, we gave them one at our school. For us, this meant pupils and parents have easier access to that expert support. It meant we have access to expert advice and guidance on and from outside agencies, and indeed direct access to some of those agencies.

We support the students as much as we possibly can. We have a brilliant record of ‘keeping’ those students who are sent to us for a second chance after all chances at their school have expired (this is two way, we don’t just receive).

A part of that is we are inflexible on rules. You meet our expectations or you face the consequences – no exceptions.

Late to school – 20 minutes after school that day and an hour detention with me later in the week. Don’t complete your homework to a satisfactory standard – your parents know, you have a detention with your teacher, and you have an hour with me later in the week. Late to a lesson by a minute – that will cost you 20 minutes with your teacher and an hour with me as head of school. Late four times in a four week period, Saturday detention. All detentions in silence.

No excuses.

I have written about our behaviour policy before. While I know some people were and are upset that I was so brazen about upholding our standards to the point that pupils have to leave our school (and I think there is an issue system-wide with what happens to excluded children), the above meeting shows the other side of our work on behaviour and discipline, including preparing our pupils for the outside world.

If I could start a school from scratch, ‘no excuses’ would be one of my school’s founding principles. It’s something a number of schools I admire use as a mantra that works. It’s often set alongside hard work, or no shortcuts.

I think we’re getting closer to no excuses at my school. We still have some poorer behaviour, but we don’t make excuses for it. Here’s an email exchange (with names and details changed and explanatory brackets included) from a few weeks ago that I was copied into, and I was heartened by the message that colleagues are giving each other. I’ve obviously asked for permission to reproduce these edited versions.

From:T (English teacher)
To:J (Learning Mentor); G (Student Progress Leader);

Cc: P (tutor); N (head of department); Stuart LOCK

Subject: Max Smith

Dear Colleagues

Max arrived five minutes towards the end of my lesson today. He was absent on Friday so this was the first time I was able to speak with him regarding his behaviour last Thursday, period 5 for which he was sent to seclusion. When I had challenged him on home learning he became defensive and took offense to my implication that he was lying.

His body language became quite erratic and then he shouted at me before storming out of the room. This is not the first time this has happened with Max. I understand there are some serious issues at home and, upon speaking with J (Learning Mentor), that he has not been attending his mentoring meetings.

Today, I told him that we would need to address the issue of his behaviour and I was met with a response of ‘I don’t care. Do what you want.’

Can I please request a meeting (for example restorative justice?) be arranged with Max and another member of staff. The sooner the better please, if possible. I teach him period 4 tomorrow.

T (English teacher)

Some quite serious behaviour. In my old school (ie this school, three years ago), we’d have gone ahead with a restorative justice meeting – a meeting where both the teacher and pupil talk about how they felt and what they need from each other. It would have been one of hundreds of similar incidents and meetings.

In my view, this used to undermine the authority of the teacher.

In this case, this kind of behaviour is now rare because of our systems. And the following email came back:

From: G (Student Progress Leader)
To: T (English teacher); J (Learning mentor);
Cc: P (tutor); N (Head of Department); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith

I will be speaking with Max this afternoon.

I will not be organising a restorative justice meeting as from my understanding nothing needs to be resolved between you and Max. He simply needs to do his job and if he fails or refuses to do that then he suffers the consequences.

I will seclude him for the next lesson and we will have a re-entry meeting with him before he is allowed back in your class. The re-entry meeting will be used to reinforce your expectations.

Max’s issues are the same as a number of our pupils and are actually excuses and excuses don’t get results.


G (Student Progress Leader)

I should point out a re-entry meeting means parents are involved and have to come to the school.

Of course Max will be discussed by colleagues and we will support him to achieve good GCSEs. He’s had very serious sanctions that have stopped short of exclusion, but he’s been isolated in our seclusion unit. He’s actually very happy here because of the structure. Not allowing him to use anything outside of school as an excuse for not meeting our expectations means he can focus more on being here and shaking that off. That doesn’t mean outside circumstances don’t affect him – of course they do. But Max doesn’t have expectations that are differentiated downwards for him, either in terms of his conduct, or learning. He does have scaffolding – centred around the meeting above and provided in his lessons, to meet our expectations.

It occurred to me when reading these emails that we are now really clear on authority and expectations of behaviour.

From: T (English teacher)
To: G (SPL); J (Learning Mentor)
Cc: P (tutor); N (HOD); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith

Thank you for your support G. I’ll keep you all posted.

No excuses.

NB: Pupils who are excluded for more than 5 days have to have education provided somewhere – so called ‘day 6’ provision. We provide day 6 provision for the authority. We also provide satellite PRU provision when the PRU is full.

Posted by: mrlock | March 4, 2015

Updated Progress 8 guidance (Feb 2015)

It’s worth reading the background to this in a previous blog I wrote here. This broadly stands, and I won’t be repeating the detail here.

A week ago, the DFE published some new guidance. Not much has changed. From my understanding, the following aspects are additional or changes:

This explicitly says that Progress 8 will be the headline measure from 2017. Previously, there were 4 indicators, and though the indication was that Progress 8 would be important, this is now confirmed as the measure. The other 3 (attainment 8, percentage achieving grade C in both English and maths, and percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate) will continue to be published.

There is another fifth measure to be published. In this guide it’s intended. This is:

the percentage of pupils who went on to sustained education, employment or training during the year after they finished their Key Stage 4 qualifications

“Expected progress” as a measure will not exist from 2016.

It is confirmed that a Progress 8 score of -0.5 or below will indicate a school is below the floor standard.

It is back on the table that a Progress 8 score of 1.0 or more will mean a school is exempt from OFSTED. I was under the impression this would be up to OFSTED, but this is explicitly stated in this document.

Mathematics – If a pupil takes two maths qualifications that count (for example GCSE maths and AQA Cert in further maths), the first achieving qualification counts double. The other one does not count at all in Progress 8. If the two maths qualifications are linked (e.g. Methods in Mathematics and Applications of Mathematics) these both count in the double slot – the results are added together).

This is a bit complicated, because of discount codes (please note this is an example of technical jargon that school leaders have to become familiar with if they are not already) and so on, so if your school does more than one maths qualification, please check. However, if the two qualifications share a discount code (eg they have taken 2 GCSEs in mathematics) then the first entry rule applies as above.  The ‘better result’ rule applies where the two qualifications do not discount as in the example given of maths and further maths.  Even though they do not discount only one of them will be recognised.

My understanding is that GCSE Statistics, for the purposes of the above qualifications, is not a ‘maths qualification’ – ie it wouldn’t count in the top basket as double. It therefore does count in the open basket.

English is as per my previous blog. Briefly, the best of English or English Literature counts double assuming the pupil has taken both English and English Literature. The other one can count in the open slots for Progress 8.

AS qualifications can count in the appropriate slots.

From 2016, GCSE grades will count for the following points:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.33.57

This is as expected.

In 2017, when in English and maths pupils can get up to grade/ number 9 but other GCSEs will still be graded in letters, the transition will be different for these other GCSEs. The value will be as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.41.09

Pupils with no Key Stage 2 scores will not count. This sounds like it’s not a big deal, but in my current school this would be 23% of last year’s Year 11, so schools will have to be hot on their own data if they’re in circumstances like ours (which is, to be fair, true anyway).

In 2016, the estimated grade for pupils will not be known in advance. This is because they will be compared against the same cohort. So we won’t know the average for a pupil who starts with, for example, 5.1, until all the pupils who started on 5.1 have their results.

However, from 2019, this will be known, because these will be set from the 2016 cohort. The intention is that in 2020 the expected performance for a KS2 fine points score will be set from 2017 results and so on. This allows for the possibility of an improving system.

The guide ‘expires’ in March 2016 for the 2018 results so much of the above is intentional. I’m sure the detail will change. Have a read of the DFE document if you need more specifics.

Posted by: mrlock | December 2, 2014

Revision: Advice for parents

We’ve recently rewritten our (42 page) booklet giving advice to parents on how best to support their children in advance of examinations.

This booklet use to contain advice on post-it notes, making up songs, sticking posters to the ceiling above their bed, and hundreds of other strategies, many of dubious efficacy.

Alongside advice and guidance evenings, our booklet has been reduced to a leaflet, written by Mr K Smith (@KMSEducates on twitter). ie 42 pages has become 1.5 pages. Some reduction!

The main point is that ‘generic’ advice is not as powerful as subject specific advice, and that revision is actually just trying to learn better in order to change long term memory.

Have a look at Mr Smith’s first draft. Feel free to borrow anything, and of course we’d appreciate feedback:

Helping your child to revise.

As we enter the exam period parents and carers will be wondering what the best methods are to help their children revise. Below are some tips which based on research are some of the best ways to help students to revise effectively.

Our mantra for revision is to recap and practise.

1. Get them to self-test, a lot.

Research shows that testing in order to recall content is the best way of getting us to think hard. Thinking about and getting the answer is much better than re-reading notes. The more we recall information the better it sticks in our long term memory. This should be in the form of quizzing themselves where possible.

2. Encourage them to redo any past exam questions; however they must be sure of what the correct answers are, so get the mark scheme and help them with this.

Past papers can be found on any exam boards’ websites.

3. Get your child to tell you what they have learnt or are revising.

Then quiz them at random times. At breakfast, at the dinner table or even in the car. Ask them questions that relate to their studies and get them to think hard about the answer. Their books should be beautiful and hence a good source of quizzing information for you.

Get them to explain their answer. Adding reason to an answer helps to remember.

Only accept the right answer – no half marks.

4. Read around the subject.

Even if the content is not in the exam, understanding the subject area better helps to build links which may be valuable for those higher grade questions. Recommended documentaries, websites, exam board resources and places of interest to visit can also be beneficial.

5. Distribute their practice of different subjects or different areas of a subject.

By spacing out practice this aids memory.

Cramming will help for a short period and may be useful the night before an exam but this is not the most effective for long-term memory. A time table can help with this.

6. Learn keywords and definitions by heart.

Learning the correct definitions in some subjects will help gain a few extra marks, so long as they use them correctly. Produce memory cards with the key word and the definition on to test them regularly.

7. Mnemonics, such as “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to remember the colours of the rainbow.

These can be a good way to helping to store larger chunks of information. Write these on posters and stick them up around their room or the house.

8. Rereading and highlighting key points is not the best way to revise.

However if they are unsure on a subject this may help to learn a topic. Always get them to check with a teacher that they have understood properly what they have read.

9. Make sure they sleep, eat and stay hydrated.

Exercise can be beneficial for the mind and body and students should not ignore this. Exercise and all the above revision can lead to tiredness and learning is hard work, so the brain and body need plenty of fuel.

10. Ensure they have a balance of rest.

Even splitting up a study day in to small study and rest periods can be beneficial. Remove any distractions to rest such as computers and other media sources, especially mobile phones. These can be a reward for studying hard.

It is useful to have learning environment, a dedicated space that is clear and equipped for revising so there is no procrastinating.

11. Start now.

The December pre public examinations are a good indicator of where they are but with a balanced programme of study they can gain those few extra grades between now and the summer.

12. Subject specific is best.

The nature of revision varies from subject to subject. The subject content is the most important thing for them to learn, rather than examination technique.

Their job is to remember what we taught them in class. The whole purpose of revision should be to help with that.

Posted by: mrlock | October 19, 2014

The liberal arts and a liberal education

The Challenges of the Liberal Arts and Schools

On 14th October, I was delighted to be invited to speak on the above topic at Kings College London. The conference was an all-day one on the liberal arts featuring, amongst others, Frank Furedi, Jesse Norman MP, Dr John Taylor of Rugby School, Tony Sewell and many other academics and people who know a lot more than me.

In my session on schools were Eddie Playfair, Principal of Newham Sixth Form College, Hywel Jones, Headteacher of West London Free School, Martin Robinson (who organised it jointly with Aaron Rosen of Kings), chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas. Tom Sherrington, Headteacher of Highbury Grove school was also due to be there, but was unable to be. This was a shame, as I’d anticipate a level of disagreement between some of the ideas on the panel (including mine) and what I’d anticipate Tom would say.

Here is what I said:

It’s been a really interesting day, and I’m delighted to have been a part of it. In one of the previous sessions, someone said they felt a bit like an imposter. Well in this room of people with many letters, Drs, Professors, even MPs, I feel a lot like an imposter.

I’m just a teacher.

I grew up being told, and believing, that the sole reason I needed to be educated was to get a job. My Headteacher when I was aged 9 mentioned that I should try to get into university. I aspired to do that, just so that I could get a better job. And then having gone to university, I got a job as a teacher. That narrative was exactly the narrative ascribed to me by each of the eight schools I attended. Education is functional and to get a job.

I’m quite pleased about the outcome in one sense. I like teaching, and I like kids. I love my job.

Despite having a philosophy degree, I completed a mathematics PGCE. When I was participating in my PGCE, I recall having lectures on multiple intelligences and learning styles. I recall learning about differentiation for the least able and I wrote an essay on teaching a student with Aspergers. I remember being awake at 1am evaluating my lessons and again at 4am planning them in order to ensure they were “Blue Peter” like – i.e. that there were plenty of different activities to keep the children engaged. I don’t remember very much mathematics.

Then I got my first job teaching. I had QTS. I remember existing through a ‘skills focussed’ national curriculum, being told to prepare my pupils for the 21st century by ensuring they were creative thinkers, team workers at the same time as being independent enquirers, self-managers as well as effective participators, but reflective thinkers most of all, and my job as a teacher was to facilitate students’ engagement in these skills that underpin our curriculum because these are the type of skills that employers liked. This links with my opening – education is increasingly seen in this technocratic sense as a means to an end rather than end in itself, and I posit that this in part explains the skills focus over the last 30 years. As I moved into senior management I perpetuated this orthodoxy: it doesn’t matter what the content is as long as it develops their transferable skills.

In 2008 I embarked on the only piece of formal education in my life that hadn’t been functional, at least in my reason for it, and RS Peters, Michael Oakeshott, PH Hirst and the other liberal educators were a footnote in the Philosophy of Education MA. This interest led me ultimately to Martin’s book (Trivium 21st century) and to this conference.

So given this orthodoxy of the last 15 years and longer, why wouldn’t pupils, parents, schools and society at large not view education as training and nothing more? Why do we learn things that we might not use later in life? And what’s the point in getting smarter if it doesn’t mean we can earn more money or buy more stuff. And in any case, if we can work in groups or be prepared for jobs that don’t yet exist, we’re better off and richer than if we know lots of facts in lots of disciplines. Though it sounds ridiculous when said like this, this view has a lot of traction.

I despair that when asked about why they’re in school, many pupils refer to getting a good job. Similarly, colleagues presented with challenging students or students not motivated in class sometimes ask, rhetorically but not without damage: what do you think you’re going to do for a living when you leave school?

The idea of education for the sake of education often appears lost – and while I think schools should be a part of the solution, I think that currently they’re usually part of the problem. The orthodoxy of the curriculum of the last twenty years has left absent the idea that education allows one to be free. The idea that we can be inducted into mankind’s conversation in order that we might further that conversation, or even undermine that conversation is one that is wholly marginalised to the point that it is not recognised.

So is there any cause for optimism amongst this observation of dystopia?

Well, insights from cognitive science, including the requirement for a rich knowledge base – a schema of knowledge in order to ‘stick’ new knowledge and concepts to – demand that we teach pupils to know a lot about a lot. Of course, there is nothing necessarily liberal about some insights from cognitive science – such as direct instruction, regular quizzing and so on. These could be put to use to train pupils for employment or for a whole number of illiberal ends. At the same time, I maintain that those teachers and schools which are engaging in some of the lessons from cognitive science are correlated closely with those that recognise that for pupils to be culturally literate, we should expose them to the richest works of literature, chronology in history, and the rigour of grammar and language.

The insights of cognitive science also allow us to achieve the ends of a liberal education better (and perhaps challenge the notion that a liberal education is an education of elites). The idea that we must induct novice pupils, including and particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, with the basics in order that they can later as experts experience and participate in that rich cultural inheritance that has been handed down through the generations – in order that they may see the virtue and beauty in education. That education is its own reward. These are ideas I’ve heard more in the last few years (while still being marginalised) than I have in a decade or two before. Many of my teaching colleagues won’t thank me for saying I think a part of the reason for this is the previous secretary of state for education, Michael Gove.

On top of this, the accountability regime increasingly demands that pupils gain access to the best that has been thought and said. We’ve seen recent efforts to ‘clever up’ the curriculum and schools can no longer get away with farming pupils through BTECs worth 23 GCSE equivalents to climb the league tables. Though I think there is a pernicious effect of the accountability and assessment regime, I think recent moves should be welcomed by those that promote the liberal arts.

A small number of schools, like the one fellow panellist Hywel leads (West London Free School), have been opened with the explicit aim of giving young people access to the best humanity can offer in terms of what has been said, thought, written and performed, and my hope is that those schools can illuminate an alternative to the functionalism of the orthodoxy of current UK schools. The autonomy genie being let out of the bottle may allow us to not only debate an alternative, but to show one (and I’ve thought long and hard about whether I can afford to apply to open another school that might explore that as well) – an alternative that spearheads a revolution in our classrooms that allows our kids, my kids, to be educated for its own sake while facilitating freedom and liberty of thought. There’s space to recapture education and give our kids a rich cultural inheritance.

Of course this in itself presents a challenge. If schools are autonomous they are of course free to choose not to pursue the ends of a liberal education. And of course we may respond that the market-based argument that parents will prefer schools which do. But I wonder if that is true. The orthodoxy of ‘gaining a good job’ is one which is shared by many parents (though it’s not as prevalent as I thought – asking the philosophical question about being a pig satisfied or a human dissatisfied, an uneducated human satisfied or Socrates dissatisfied has meant that I have had productive conversations about education with parents who do see education as having intrinsic value). Parents certainly share an interest in results and exam success. Two strategies are open to us – work hard on parents to get them to see value in a liberal education and/ or reduce the autonomy of individual schools. My view is that autonomy allows us to do the first and hence we should resist the latter of these two strategies.

The challenges for the liberal arts are hence:

  • to ensure in an era of autonomy this conversation we are having here today is reflected in the planning of new schools and in the existing school curriculum
  • to oppose any retreat in the political priorities and the direction of travel
  • to create further and wider opportunities to open up this argument, exploring dissensus and challenging the orthodoxy in order that we might open up space for the development of the arts
  • ensure that lack of consensus does not mean paralysis – those that are in favour of a liberal arts curriculum may not agree on the specifics, but there is a long road to travel to get us to the paradigm of argument reflected at Kings today.
  • develop a suggested curriculum appropriate for schools to adapt, that considers what a rich education would be in the UK. I think Martin has done much of this. Earlier in the day Martin expressed a view that we are not here to create a manifesto. While I think his book is a part of a manifesto, I think we should have the aim of creating something that schools can take on, to prepare young people for broad academic study later in life.

I think schools are a part of the problem, but I can see how they might be part of the solution in the future. If we were in 2001 and I had the views I do, I think I’d be pessimistic to the point of defeatist, but both structures and elements of the debate that have crept into the mainstream have given some cause for cautious optimism.

Later in the questions I don’t recall the actual question, but I said that one of the problems with an ‘interdisciplinary approach’, which I had heard a lot about from undergraduate students and colleagues who are teaching at universities, is the same as the problem with talking of transferable skills. That is that schools hear the message that pupils need these skills and take the implications to a literal extent – they start teaching them. The problem is that to develop these skills we need to know a lot in a lot of different domains, and while I can accept it is possible that undergraduate students do so, I do not accept that school age pupils do.

Claire Fox, chairing, summarised my answer with “we hear universities saying schools need thinking skills so schools hear that and teach thinking skills”

There were a number of other questions I was (rudely, I have to say) told from the floor there wasn’t time for me to answer by the co-ordinator from the floor. This particularly irked as each of the other panellists had had time to reflect

I wanted to make six points in reply to questions:

  • In response to ‘what is knowledge?’ I’d come up with a quick definition – ‘a set of true facts that might connect together that have transferred to long term memory’. I could probably expand on this, but that’s what I was going to say that at the time.
  • Hence, a relative approach to truth is unhelpful in ascertaining what we want our pupils to know and experience. I recognise there is a philosophical debate, though I think it’s overstated and actually pretty ridiculous because the ‘debate’ rests on a problem with logic.
  • I think we overestimate what pupils know, because we find our knowledge fluent. So we’ve forgotten the struggle we had to get to know some of our essential core knowledge. Hence we instinctively think interdisciplinary approaches are useful at school. I think these instincts are mistaken.
  • In response to ‘what do you think of the decoupling of A-level, “good, perhaps there will be more time for study and practice of content. I can’t see that more exams at 17 are helpful, particularly when this means 3 months of exam preparation rather than proper teaching.
  • In response to contributions from Eddie Playfair and Martin Robinson, it’s not that I don’t think ‘learning by doing’ is wrong, per se, it’s more that I think we need to be careful when ‘learning by doing’ that the pupils are thinking of what we want them to be. It’s hence more challenging to anticipate what we are getting pupils to think about than, for example, planned sequential direct interaction. It’s easy to be dragged into the pupils thinking about something completely separate and a phrase Daniel Willingham popularised – memory is the residue of thought – comes to mind here. I think issues of ‘fun’ and ‘engagement’ are actually secondary here. The key issue is ‘what is the content that pupils are thinking about?’ The secondary point is that I’m not against doing! I think practice is essential to ensure pupils know what they have been taught, and persistent, spaced, repeated practice is a central technique. What is practice if not doing?
  • When listening to the undergraduate students (all of whom were studying for liberal arts degrees) speaking earlier in the day, it sounded like none were prepared for university study in the liberal arts. They were in some ways ‘lost’ (though most seemed comfortable with that). I heard a lot about ‘attracting the best students’. The issue here is twofold: can we prepare students better with a lot of background knowledge in order that they are less ‘lost’ when they are ‘lost’ and can find their way out, and does our curriculum prepare ALL students for broad academic study of the liberal arts (almost universally the answer is tragically ‘no’), hence ensuring the liberal arts is still, at the the moment, accessed by a select few or an elite (I’d guess largely consisting of those that go to private schools).

Afterwards, Claire Fox said to me she thought that the stuff on cognitive science was a distraction and “not the best way to win the argument”. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s given me pause for thought.

Eddie Playfair has written about his contribution here and further reflections here.

Michael Fordham assisted me by challenging my first draft of what I was going to say and I have included some of his comments in the final draft. Some of Katie Ashford’s words when I first drafted my thoughts about liberal education in May 2014 have also been included.

Introduction and a note on 2015:

From 2016, secondary schools will be held to account using four accountability measures: Attainment 8, Progress 8, the percentage of students who achieve the English Baccalaureate and the percentage of pupils who achieve a grade C in both English and mathematics GCSE.

On this final measure, rumour has it that before he left office Michael Gove had the intention to impose a 50% floor on schools. So having fewer than 50% of pupils achieve both maths and English at grade C will cause a school to be below the floor. This was not going to be announced in advance, so could easily still be the intention. Update: Tim Leunig has clarified below in the comments that this is not the case.

Of these four accountability measures, Progress 8 is going to be by far the most important. Everything I have heard suggests that it will dictate whether a school is subject to an Ofsted inspection (or not), and is likely to dictate the outcome of the achievement grade during an inspection.

Progress 8 has been developed largely by Tim Leunig of the LSE seconded to the DFE, who I’d like to commend on answering questions via twitter (@timleunig) in order to assist schools with understanding Progress 8.


Before I write about Progress 8, a word on 2015. Unless schools have opted in to Progress 8 (and I can see little benefit to a state school in doing so at this stage) the published accountability measures will be  the same as 2014. So we will be judged on the percentage of pupils who get 5 GCSEs including maths and English, the percentage of pupils who make expected and above expected progress in maths and English, the percentage of pupils who receive the English Baccalaureate, and the Best 8 value added measure. Nothing has changed for current Year 11.


Progress 8 comes in for all schools. We will have received an indicative Progress 8 score for 2015 via RAISE (I believe). Progress 8 comes from Attainment 8, so we should understand how to calculate that first. Before we do that, we need to understand the scoring system.

GCSE scores:

At the moment, a G grade is worth 16, an F is worth 22 and so on. I’m not quite clear on the reason for these numbers, which go up in 6s.

From 2016, the scores will be 1 for a G, 2 for an F, 3 for an E and so on right up to 8 for an A*.

This seems to make more sense to me. So in calculating Attainment 8, we must have in mind these scores.

I presume this will mean that the numbering systems for the new GCSEs in English and maths in 2017, and then the rest of the EBACC subjects a year later, can just fit in with the scores above.

For guidance on what non-GCSEs are worth, please see the technical guide.

Attainment 8:

Baskets: Baskets or buckets or whatever they’re called, I know people working in schools are sick of hearing about them. I think they’re the easiest way to understand this measure though.

Qualifications are in three baskets as follows.

Basket One: Two qualifications – Mathematics and English OR English Literature. These qualifications count double as long as pupils have sat both English and English Literature. Assuming the student has sat both qualifications, the stronger of the English/ English Literature subjects goes in this basket. The other one can go in basket three.

NB: Update October 2014 from ASCL briefing – hat-tip Amanda (@MakeMathsmatter): It is reported that some maths linked subjects will both count in basket one rather than maths counting double (eg ‘applications of maths’ and ‘methods in maths’)
Free standing maths, pure maths and statistics will not count in basket three if the student has maths in basket one. I will update this blog when this is confirmed for sure. UPDATE: This decision has now been reversed.

Basket Two: Three qualifications – English Baccalaureate. In this basket goes three of the other English Baccalaureate qualifications. These include History, Geography, Sciences, Computer Science and a very large selection of Modern Foreign Language qualifications.

If pupils are doing Biology, Chemistry and Physics, all three of these can go in here. There is one exception. If students are doing Core Science and Additional Science, both of these qualifications can count in this basket. However, if they are doing Further Additional Science, this does not count in this basket.

Each qualification in this basket counts single.

Basket Three: Three qualifications – Other ‘High Value’ qualifications.

Pretty much every qualification that isn’t Mickey Mouse (and some which are) counts in this basket. These can be three vocational qualifications, and can also include any qualifications that don’t fit into Basket One or Two because they’re full.

These count single.

Taking Baskets One, Two and Three together makes 8 subjects. Basket One counts double (English or English Literature as long as both have been taken). These are added together to obtain an Attainment 8 score for the student.

Examples: This is perhaps better shown by examples, so here are some.

These are the results attained by an actual student from my current school last year (2014) H.

Please ignore the curriculum. I’ve restructured that so no child follows a curriculum like this any more but that only kicked in with our new Year 11s as we did it two years ago. Anyway, H’s scores in 2013:

English D, English Lit C, Maths C, Psychology C, Art and Design D, History E, Science D, RS Short Course C, Citizenship Short Course D

Sticking these into the structure I’ve described and multiplying by the weighting:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.14.27

So H would have achieved an Attainment 8 score of 4.0 – or 40 if you prefer not to use the decimal point version of the weighting.

So what about fictional student Angela, who achieved these results: Art – B ,Maths – C ,English – B, Physics – B, Chemistry – D, Biology – B, Spanish – A, Music – C, Psychology – C:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.16.27

Angela’s Attainment 8 score is 5.1 (or 51), significantly affected by not doing English Literature (hence English only counts single).

School attainment 8 score:

To work out a school’s Attainment 8 score, add up the total for all students and divide by the number of students. This is what will be published.

Progress 8:

To work out a pupil’s Progress 8 score, we take their Attainment 8 score and subtract the expected Attainment 8 score based on KS2 fine levelled scores in English and mathematics.

The fine levels (4.1, 4.2, etc) are available online from Fischer Family Trust.

A model of the expected scores is available for 2013 from the technical guidance issued by the DFE. See page 17 but I’ve published it here:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 08.53.42

We should note that we will not know the expected attainment 8 scores for 2016 until 2016 results are out. They will not be the same as in 2013, because pupils have not followed a curriculum driven by this accountability measure.

So if Angela had an expected Attainment 8 score of 5.4, her Progress 8 score would be 5.1 -5.4 = -0.3

More examples: Let’s use another example. Fictional pupil Charlie achieved KS4 Level 4.0 average in English and maths. He is expected to achieve 34 Attainment 8 points. Here is his results set out in a different style table:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.17.45

Charlie’s progress 8 score is therefore 4.7 – 3.4 = +1.3. A real positive for the school.

At this stage, I have to anticipate a form of gaming I believe may become commonplace. If there is a school in difficult circumstances, and Charlie is in Year 11 with this curriculum, come March or April, what is to stop the school deciding to force Charlie to take an English Baccalaureate subject via cramming so that he can at least achieve an F, or an E, or even a D with a headwind?

It’s not in Charlie’s interests, I’d suggest. It is in the schools. If the school does this and he achieves a D, his profile looks like this suddenly:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.19.08

So now Charlie’s score is 5.1-3.4 = +1.7. I’m minded of Daisy Christodoulou’s talk at ResearchEd where she pointed out that when a measure becomes high stakes it ceases to be a measure that has as much validity and reliability, and I wonder if this is something that has been considered – the careful manipulation of the curriculum.

My final example is fictional student Barbara, who I designed to ensure that we learn the lessons of having an academic curriculum. Barbara got great KS2 results at average 5.5. Her expected attainment 8 score is hence 69 or 6.9.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.21.35

Despite achieving an A* in everything, Barbara’s Progress 8 score is 5.6-6.9 = -1.3.

Progress 8:Add up all the scores from the pupils and divide by the number of pupils. Here is a table that might help understand that:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 09.22.54

This school therefore has a progress 8 score of 36.5/142. This will be rounded to two decimal places and the published progress 8 score will be + 0.26 I believe this will be displayed publicly like this slide here so that parents, governors and the community can understand:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 08.49.08

Progress 8 in future years: The model is likely to become ex ante. This means that while the expected attainment 8 scores for 2016 will be based on 2016 results, beyond that the expected attainment 8 scores for each level will be based on prior year’s attainment.

So the targets for 2018 will be set in 2016, 2019 set in 2017 and so on.

My understanding is that this is partly to allow for a self-improving school systems model.

Consequences: I can’t remember where I heard this, so it may be out of date or nonsense. Having said that, it makes sense to be something like this: A Progress 8 score of -0.5 or worse for a school will mean they are inspected that year. A Progress 8 score of 1.0 or higher means they won’t be.

This narrative doesn’t fit in with what Ofsted are saying, but I would hazard a guess that something like that will happen.


All subjects count: We are moving on from the era of English and mathematics being everything. Nonetheless, not all subjects are equal. In my school, I’ve said that Subject Leaders will want to be on top of the predictions for every student at every grade boundary

All grades count: This is not about C grades. An improvement from A to A* or from U to G will count the same as an improvement from D to C.

Curriculum matters most: Schools with a ‘dumbed down’ or non-academic curriculum will really suffer from this measure. In my school I’ve said that 95% of students should study 8 qualifying subjects. Ideally I think it should be 100%. I think all pupils are entitled to an academic curriculum.

A part of this is that Progress 8 is the kind of accountability measure I would have designed myself if I wanted something to measure the curriculum I promote with our pupils.

Schools will need to decide how to track and ‘intervene’ without traditional ‘interventions’: So getting kids in to cram on Saturdays or after school like many schools do for maths and English now will have an effect, but nothing like the effect it’s had up until now. While 5A*-C including maths and English has been the benchmark measure, some schools have put incredible efforts into maths and English and assumed (usually correctly) that those students will achieve 3 other grade Cs. In addition, since progress in maths and English have been two of the other accountability measures, this has meant incredible focus on these two subjects. Should schools do this now, I’d imagine they’d suffer as all subjects and all grade boundaries are going to matter.

Our reaction has been to expand our Pupil Progress meetings, where Pupil Progress Leaders (Heads of Year) in Years 9,10 and 11 meet with representatives from faculties (in Year 11 these are usually Heads of Faculties) to talk about 6 pupils.

These meetings are twice per half term, in directed time, and the meetings are empowered to make decisions. Hence the colleagues in them have to have liaised with teachers and faculties about those 6 pupils.

This can drive ‘interventions’, but actually it’s resulted in problem solving or even problem anticipating and is starting to have effect beyond the 6 pupils identified. The agenda for this meeting is sent out at least a week in advance, and preferably two weeks, and is data driven.

There are no excuses tolerated, no blame attached, just solution focussed. Hence you have NQTs being a part of making decisions that impact on the Head of Faculty, and you have time, included in the time budget, for colleagues to actually liaise, chaired by the Pupil Progress Leaders.

I may write more about these in the future. We’ve done this for a year, but Progress 8 makes it even more important.

I’d really like to hear how other schools are reacting.

There is one note of caution (as well as the possible gaming I mention above). This measure seems right and fairly egalitarian to me. However, Headteacher Liam Collins (@kalinsky1970) reported that Suffolk LA had reported that in 2013, nationally only ONE grammar school would have had a negative Progress 8 score.

I hope that this will change as schools that are not grammar schools adapt their curriculum to Progress 8.

Please see the updated guidance here.

NB: See I highly recommend Tim Leunig’s comments below in order to assist with understanding, and for some clarification and corrections.

Disclaimer: I don’t think my blogpost is any easier to understand than just reading the DFE guidance below, but I have written it as several colleagues requested it. The documentation is below.

Links: Progress 8 school performance measure: information for school leaders

Progress 8 technical measure: a guide

Progress 8 early opt-in

Posted by: mrlock | September 5, 2014

Promoting pupils’ personal responsibility – one idea

Learning Ambassadors


I am not a huge fan of student voice. It’s not that I think there are no benefits, and I’ve seen a large number of case studies that claim to have used student voice to transformative effects – especially in the personalised learning era of a few years ago. It’s more that I see tremendous opportunity cost in student voice and its offshoots that give pupils increased responsibility for things that really should be decided or carried out by adults. At its extreme, this results in pupils observing and feeding back to teachers, or deciding the curriculum, or teaching themselves with no input from the teacher. 

This idea isn’t far away from student voice but I recommend it from my experience so far.

In December 2013 I visited Greenwich Free School, which serves an incredibly deprived estate between Woolwich and Eltham. It only had Years 7 and 8 at that time.

As it was still being built, it was basically a building site and a bunch of portacabins. Nonetheless I was incredibly impressed with the school. It’s hard for a school to feel particularly special in just an hour long visit. I realised that the reason I thought such good things about the school was, amongst many things, the conduct of the pupils.

It wasn’t that they were just compliant – our pupils are compliant here – it was that they were proactively welcoming and immediately talked about their learning. I compared it with my current school and how (sometimes) it can be hard to get pupils to talk about what they are learning. Partly, they aren’t practiced in it and don’t have the language to do so.

One thing that particularly impressed me was when I entered the first lesson. I was shown in by the Acting Headteacher. It was a Maths lesson and the teacher just carried on teaching, much as teachers at my school do. At my school I often wander round the back, peer at pupils’ work, and wait for an opportunity to ask the teacher “is everything to your satisfaction Madam/ Sir?”

However at GFS, one pupil stood up from the middle of the room and approached me.

He shook my hand and said “Welcome to our lesson. This is Maths. We are learning about sequences and looking for patterns. So far, we have learnt about x, y and z (I can’t remember everything he said). I have been working on x, but I got stuck, so I’m working through these problems. Have you got any questions?”

I was so stunned I grunted “no thanks” and then considered who the least articulate person in the room was at that point. Me. I wasn’t really prepared for the question or the information he launched at me. Nonetheless, it gave an immediate and brilliant impression.

I went into five other lessons and in each case the same thing happened. One Learning Ambassador stood up in each classroom and came to speak to me. At GFS I learnt that Learning Ambassadors rotate every week. The reason they do this is so that (nb any errors or omissions are due to my assumptions):

  • The teacher is not disturbed by visitors to the lesson at all and carries on teaching (the Maths teacher did not look over once)
  • The pupils have to be able to articulate what is going on in the lesson every lesson at any random moment.
  • The learning ambassador takes responsibility for whether to disturb the teacher (eg if there is a telephone call or if the person entering says “I need you to ask Mr/s X to talk to me as I need to disturb the lesson).
  • This discourages people from disturbing the lesson
  • Promotes a kind of active citizenship when people visit.

Back at school:

I wondered if we could do it at my school. I wrote a document to some of my colleagues and said I think our pupils would be amazing at this. Much of this blog post is taken from the papers I wrote for the staff proposing and reviewing the idea.

I proposed:

  • A pilot with Year 9
  • One Learning Ambassador for each class. Eg one nominated for Maths 9/1, one for Maths 9/2, one for English 9/1 etc for all classes.
  • Ambassadors nominated by subject teacher
  • Ambassadors then get “training” – basically expectations and a laminated script to have in their pupil planners (as they get experienced they won’t have to look at the script)
  • Ambassadors get “tested” eg tutors/ Heads of Year/ Leadership Group/ teachers/ Subject Leaders and anyone walk into lessons and see if the pupils remember to get up
  • Let it go for a term or so (in the end we went for two terms)
  • Ask teachers and pupils what they thought.

That’s it. I proposed it from the top of my head (i.e. without asking anyone at GFS what they did) and it came from the fact that I was so impressed when I saw it in action. I pointed out that there may be other benefits I couldn’t predict or other pitfalls I hadn’t predicted. 

I asked our staff what they thought, and almost unanimously, we said ‘go for it’.

On 21st January 2014 we went for it.

I asked staff to nominate their learning ambassadors for every year 9 lesson, including our EAL lesson where the pupils have recently arrived in the country. I explained the concept to these 50 pupils, and asked them if they were up for it. They were visibly energised at the thought. I gave them a crib sheet (the same as listed below in red) but told them they didn’t have to use it. It took about half an hour, and that was it. We then resolved to see what happened.

Over the next two terms, every time we walked into a Year 9 lesson, no matter who it was, the pupil Learning Ambassador would greet us and often answer some tough questions. This included parent or prospective parent visitors and our OFSTED inspection (it was mentioned as a positive in the verbal report, though nothing ended up in the written report).

At one point my counterpart, the Head of Lower School (in our school I have delegated responsibility for everything to do with Years 9, 10 and 11, and the other Deputy for Years 7 and 8 and transition) walked into a Year 9 lesson as a part of his walks through the school. I think it was an accident but his feedback in capitals said: “amazing experience being welcomed by pupils THIS MUST GO WHOLE SCHOOL”.

On 8th March 2014, I attended an event called Pedagoo London. I was late to see Jo Facer speak, though she was excellent. She exudes real authority on English teaching, yet in getting to know her over the last year she’s also incredibly humble. Two things that make a superb leader. Anyway, she talked about visiting Knowledge is Power Program schools in America and in one of her anecdotes she talked about “greeters” who had made such  strong impression on her at Gary Comer College Prep in Chicago. They sounded just like Learning Ambassadors (and I think are). It was reassuring to hear that others had had a great impression from them as well. 

I don’t think ‘greeters’ or Learning Ambassadors are as rare as I thought – but I’d never come across them prior to my visit to GFS. I’m pleased I did because…

July 2014 – feedback

Learning Ambassadors – Staff Feedback

Of those that replied:

20 staff said we should extend the use of learning ambassadors to the whole school for 2014/5.

The comments were as follows:

“It’s such a great idea and very rewarding”

“It is a good idea and should be used more regularly and with all year groups.”

“Really good idea – popular with the pupils and brilliant when it happens BUT there needs to be a commitment to visit classrooms fairly regularly to give them an opportunity to perform.  We don’t get enough visitors for this to happen naturally and most visitors at the moment are popping in to speak to a pupil- and do not expect to be greeted/approached by one of these learning ambassadors.  Perhaps we need to train the staff as well as the ambassadors.”

“I think the concept is great and would like to see it in action with my Year 10 class next year. I think it would be really useful if we were able to appoint new learning ambassadors on a termly basis.”

0 staff said we should not use learning ambassadors in 2014/5  

4 staff said we should continue to only use learning ambassadors in certain year groups in 2014/5 (eg Year 9)

The comments were:

Extend a little bit…….. yr 8 from Sept . Not year 10 or 11 and maybe year 7 in the summer term.

I’d like a longer trial with one group, maybe continuing with year 9 as they become year 10, before deciding to extend the concept to other year groups.

Worked well and year 9s seemed to be quite responsible in this role

 2 staff said I do not know what learning ambassadors are so can’t offer an opinion.

The comments were:

I am not confident that I could explain to someone else so ‘I do not know what learning ambassadors are so can’t offer an opinion.’ I do intend to find out though! (This colleague returned from maternity leave in July)

4 staff said “other” and offered the following comments:

I don’t know what impact it has had and therefore cannot comment one way or the other

Learning Ambassadors – pupil feedback

  • We should extend the use of learning ambassadors to the whole school for 2014/15 = 29
  • We should not use learning ambassadors in 2014/15 – 0
  • We should continue only to use learning ambassadors in certain year groups in 2014/15 (e.g. year 9) – 2
  • Other (Please explain below) – 0

Pupil comments included:

Learning ambassadors are a great way to give responsibility to pupils. It also ensures that the lesson continues to run seamlessly and the teacher gets to carry on teaching. I believe that we should extend the use of learning ambassadors to the whole school for 2014/15.

It boosts your confidence with talking to teachers. It is a good way to represent our school. It makes me feel professional. I think that the higher achievers in the class should be learning ambassadors.

I think we should extend the use of learning ambassadors to the whole school in year 2014/15. As I have enjoyed my experience of being a learning ambassador. When visitors came into my class, I welcomed them with respect and understanding of what we are doing. Overall, my experience of being a learning ambassador has been amazing.

It was fun and I would like the whole school to so it.

I am happy to be a learning ambassador because you can talk with adults to tell them our names and what we are doing in our classes.

My experience of being a learning ambassador has been great. We should extend the use of it because we don’t miss our lessons and teachers don’t have to cut their lessons and it makes it easier.

It was a great experience, and it gives us confidence. But teachers should be regular in coming into our lessons so that the learning ambassadors can stay in practice.

My experience of being an ambassador was really amazing and when two teachers came in, I proudly stood up and spoke about my class.

I think we need to practice a bit longer. I think the learning ambassadors help as our lessons are not interrupted as easily.

The experiment was fantastic. The teachers should come into classes more so the ambassadors can be used more.


We decided in July to extend the use of Learning Ambassadors to the whole school in 2014/5. The Head of Lower School, the Heads of Year and myself were to discuss how best to do this and train them in the first couple of weeks in September.


September 2014

I sent this email to all colleagues today (nb: Personal Responsibility is the thing we want to promote as a school to sit on top and complement our pupils’ compliant behaviour this year):

Dear All,

Following the excellent feedback on the pilot over two terms (see Appendix 2) on our Learning Ambassadors trial, we are going to make this a whole school initiative beginning Monday 22nd September.


During the week of Monday 15th September, the Head of Lower School and I will deliver year group assemblies outlining the expectations of learning ambassadors.


For each class that you teach, please can you nominate a Learning Ambassador. Please inform them that they are the learning ambassador for this class. This does not have to be the best or most articulate pupil in the class. There should be one per class.  All pupils can be learning ambassadors.


When you receive visitors to your lesson – be they external visitors, parents on a tour, Heads of Faculty or Subject Leaders, someone doing a Learning Walk, an OFSTED inspector or a member of the Leadership Group, please do not stop what you are doing. It will be the Learning Ambassador’s job to deal with the visitor. If you need to be disturbed, they will inform you.


If the learning ambassador is not present, pupils will be told that someone should realise and fill in. We will rotate learning ambassadors each half term so all pupils have the opportunity to take positive personal responsibility.


All pupils will be given this handout to keep in their planners. They do not have to use it, but can if they wish to:


Learning Ambassadors

Do this for ALL visitors, whether you know them or not. Meet them at the door or go and greet them as soon as you notice they are there.


Welcome to our lesson. My name is _____________. (Shake their hands). This is (insert subject). 


We are studying _____________. Our lesson objective is ___________________ (say if you’re not sure and you’re guessing). 


I find this topic interesting/ exciting/ difficult/ challenging/ say how you find it. The people who are doing really well are ____________.


Say anything else of note, for example what you just finished studying.

I really like (subject) because….


I find (subject) difficult because….


Have you got any questions or can I help you?


If the person wants to talk to the teacher or disturb the lesson, please say that you will do this for them. Stand to the side of the lesson with your hand up and wait for the teacher to stop and ask what’s up.


If there are any issues, please ask

Stuart Lock


I’d encourage you to consider it. We feel like it complements the great behaviour (“too compliant” according to OFSTED inspectors) of our school. If you’d like to visit, you’re more than welcome.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


PS: Greenwich Free School is an amazing school and if they still take visitors I strongly encourage all educators to go and visit.

Posted by: mrlock | September 3, 2014

Liberal Arts Conference. October 14th 2014

I’m delighted and very nervous to be speaking at this conference at Kings on 14th October.


THE logo TES logo black

TES and THE are proud to be media partners for this event and we are very proud that they are too!

The conference will take place at King’s College, The Strand, London from 1pm to 8.30 pm, October 14th 2014. The point of the event is to look at the current thinking about the liberal arts in universities and in schools, to find common ground and discuss ideas about how to develop the liberal arts’ place in the ongoing debate about the future of English education.

We hope that the conference will provoke, inspire, annoy, entertain and inform in equal measure. It will also be a great opportunity to articulate your own ideas and meet up with others who are thinking about education in similar ways to yourself, or at least in ways that can make you think at a deeper level about the issues involved.

The conference will be free to attend, we…

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Posted by: mrlock | July 17, 2014

The Civitas report on OFSTED – Playing the Game

Civitas report into Ofsted – Playing the Game

The Civitas report into OFSTED – titled Playing the Game – is a welcome addition to the current debate on the future of OFSTED. Together with significant contributors in the media, the Policy Exchange report Watching the Watchmen, and not least some of the more prolific teacher-bloggers, OFSTED are being challenged to up their game, and politicians challenged to ensure this happens or OFSTED be forced to reform or abolished. As I have outlined before, OFSTED is currently not fit for purpose. My recent experience of inspection did nothing to quell this feeling.

This report is not as wide-ranging as the Policy Exchange one. It has a more narrow focus, that being to address the judgements of teaching and their influence on common practices in schools. It complements the Policy Exchange report, rather than going over the same ground. It does reach different recommendations, however.

The Civitas report therefore continues this pressure and is welcome. In particular, the report spends the majority of its time tracing the historic and current trends on inspectors’ preferred teaching styles, and the pernicious effect of this on schools – an effect that I – and I suspect that Robert Peal (author of the report) believe is stark contrast to genuine school improvement.

I recently read Peal’s Progressively Worse, also published by Civitas. In fact, the speech given by Sir Michael Wilshaw at the Festival of Education this year seemed to reflect sequentially many of the chapters of Peal’s book. This report benefits from Peal’s engaging and accessible style, and his technique in writing about history that make his writing easy to read. It also means, as an aside, I highly recommend his book.

The report cites evidence that in 2013 (specifically between 10th September and 15th October 2013) OFSTED was still beholden to an ideology, and more specifically this could be traced as an explicitly progressive one. The report goes on to show that in 2014 (specifically between 7th January and 6th March 2014), following widely reported intervention from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, inspectors still had a preferred style, and that this style was still progressive. For want of a better word, this preference was now however implicit. Peal has done a good job of gathering evidence to support this view. The latter (implicit preferred style) is harder to ascertain than the former because, for example, inspectors have been banned from using certain phrases in the OFSTED reports, or because Wilshaw and Michael Cladingbowl have issued what is tantamount to threats to inspectors using a preferred language of progressivism in judging teaching and schools. OFSTED have suggested that they want to hear from schools if inspectors still promote a preferred style of teaching or don’t follow the framework.

This Civitas report makes the case that OFSTED continues to be influenced by a preferred teaching style, and goes to some lengths to expose the extent to which this influences practice in schools. There are references to Performance Management practices aping OFSTED inspections, correct references to invalid and unreliable observations of lessons that ape OFSTED practices, the guessing of preferences of OFSTED inspectors in relation to professional development, and indeed that this means that, as said in the report “Continual Professional Development is primarily directed towards OFSTED hoop jumping rather than genuine school improvement”.

The strongest part of the report is the section that details how OFSTED came to the situation it is in. The brief historical narrative, particularly damning of Christine Gilbert’s time leading OFSTED, is illuminating and it is worth reminding ourselves, as the report does, that Chris Woodhead (Her Majesties Chief Inspector of Schools from 1994-2000) was “unable to overcome the preference for child-centred teaching methods held by many inspectors” and later “my single biggest doubt about OFSTED stems from the fact that some inspectors are unable or unwilling to jettison their progressive educational views”.

At the Festival of Education this year, I asked Sir Michael Wilshaw if he had faced similar difficulties to Woodhead. His response was that some inspectors used to hold those views, but they had been rooted out. As he said that, a large number of people turned to look at me, sceptical, as Joe Kirby testifies in this post. I am pleased that this report points out that this “rooting out” is largely window-dressing and lacks substance.

In fact, the report goes to some lengths to show how the OFSTED ‘preferred style’ of teaching has become so prevalent. Peal illustrates how “the inspectorate’s mission has crept too far beyond this brief into new territories” and hence “OFSTED has become the main arbiter of what constitutes ‘good practice’ within English schools.

There is nothing in this report I disagree with. Nonetheless, there are several things that I think would improve the report, and significantly extend its impact. Some of the highlights are below, and I include some suggestions as well:

Implicit progressivism

As the report shows, there has been a dramatic reduction in the cases of progressive preferred ideology in the text of more recent reports. Nonetheless, as expressed in many of the responses to the Civitas call for evidence, inspectors maintain those prejudices. The change has been surface, hidden from the words in the OFSTED inspection reports. This means that inspectors can judge teaching in the same way they always have, but add the words “over time” to the end of their judgements, or just express their progressive ideologies verbally while sticking to the new OFSTED rubric in the reports (and avoiding banned words).

This is a more difficult case to make. Peal is suggesting these preferences still exist and that these preferences heavily weight the way that schools operate as a result of verbal feedback from inspectors, and yet we can’t find this in (as many) reports.

However, Peal correctly identifies that some reports published in January were taken down, amended, and put back onto the OFSTED website. To be clear, the language in the original reports showed a preference for progressive ideology. This presumably influenced the inspections and hence the gradings. OFSTED, by removing the reports and redacting them, have accepted this is invalid. Nonetheless, the gradings and the reports were republished, with the offending phrases removed.

If anything shows that OFSTED don’t mind inspectors having preferred teaching styles (as long as they aren’t mentioned in an OFSTED report) this rewriting of history is it. OFSTED are making it up.

This is further reinforced by the SERCO directive. SERCO are one of the contractors who carry out OFSTED inspections and provide OFSTED inspectors and training. Their directive, detailed in the report, simply lists phrases their inspectors should avoid. Note the guidance doesn’t suggest changing the criteria on which teaching is judged, but just the language used. SERCO in fact offered suggestions for alternatives. This indicates that there is sophistry going on in the writing and redrafting of reports.

If whole phrases have been removed, or in other cases highlighted in this report, copied from school to school verbatim, this must mean those schools, wrongly treated (perhaps even sometimes positively) require reinspection to be in any sense valid. Key areas that decided a judgement have been explicitly and obviously called invalid by OFSTED themselves. This Civitas report is correct to call for reinspection when inspectors have clearly got it wrong.

These inspection reports are surely invalid. And if these reports are invalid, any inspection carried out by inspectors who clearly have preferred styles but constrain their language is invalid. Since this appears to be a very large proportion of inspections, this means a very large proportion of OFSTED inspections are invalid. This is logically the case unless Wilshaw is right in his Festival of Education answer to my question and inspectors favouring progressive methods really have been purged from the organisation.

Training of inspectors

One of the things I think the report misses (and may be addressed by the bringing of all inspectors ‘in house’) is the training of inspectors. For example, Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Cladingbowl often write to inspectors to ask that they adjust practice, but this is unlikely to have widespread effect as it relies on all inspectors reading and processing these instructions on a fairly regular basis. The continual training of inspectors is a gap in practice that has allowed progressive preferences to flourish with inspectors.

In addition, on the (regular) occasions that the OFSTED framework changes, inspectors are not informed about these, or if they are it is by letter. An understanding of the implications for how inspections take place given the changes, and how judgements are made given the changes, is not disseminated in any other way to my knowledge.

For that reason, I think the structures of OFSTED, and the dissemination to inspectors who actually visit schools, is weak. As a result, I think the impact of Wilshaw, Cladingbowl and others is lessened and inspectors cling to the way things have always been done. Old habits die hard.

The grading of lessons

This part of the report makes it clear that:

  • Grading individual lessons or individual teachers on a scale of 1-4 is invalid, as shown by, for example, Professor Robert Coe – included in this excellent piece
  • Inspectors are still grading lessons (sometimes covering themselves by adding ‘over time’)
  • Wilshaw has not reigned in the ‘troops’ yet

If that’s the case, radical action must be needed to reverse the direction of travel. The training of inspectors can’t be adequate.

As it is, the report proposes that lessons are no longer graded, and teaching is no longer graded as part of an inspection. The reason behind this is that 97% of OFSTED inspections have matching Achievement and Teaching and Learning grades. I agree with this proposal.

The linking of pay to performance management

One of the most significant effects of OFSTED in recent months has been the explicit need to see that pay scales are subject to performance. Ie that schools are imposing performance related pay. The report makes the case, correctly, that the existence of OFSTED has a significant impact on teachers day to day through CPD and performance management. The fact that OFSTED inspectors have explicitly praised schools (in reports) or marked schools down (in reports) with reference to whether pay is related to performance management strengthens this case significantly. OFSTED have imposed this on schools and this hence makes the twin levers of CPD and performance management all the more pervasive and influential.

I saw Katharine Birbalsingh speak at a Policy Exchange conference recently on the way in which this influence means that her school (a free school opening in Wembley Park this September) is not truly free because of this influence (though Birbalsingh and the Governors of Michaela Community School appear set to ignore this pressure, and good on them) and I concur. I can’t imagine many schools choosing to not show inspectors how “pay is linked to performance” because of the potential influence on their inspection outcomes.

I think the report would have benefitted from an extended evidence base

The focus on exclusively secondary schools in the report is regrettable. Anecdotally, I believe the inspections of primary schools continue to feature more explicit promotion of progressive teaching styles than the secondary ones. In this case, the primary ones would have reinforced and extended the argument made in the report. If nothing else, I would like to see Civitas commission a complementary report focussed on primary schools.

I would like a think tank to write an equivalent report that is not so secondary centred. A primary version of this report would be powerful (and I think Ric Farrow would be an excellent author of such a report).

The other thing is that the immediate impression of the evidence base is that it could be extended in this report. While 130 inspection reports is relatively large, given the frequency of some of the comments and the recent downward trend in the frequency of some of the indicators Peal has chosen to represent a tendency towards progressivism in inspectors, an expanded evidence base would be useful to continue to make the case. This may have allowed more of the evidence to be quantified, strengthening Peal’s case and allowing an even more analytic and thorough destruction of current OFSTED inspection practices.


Not far enough

There is nothing I disagree with in this report. I think it could go further still. In the conclusion, I agree with the issues made of the grading system. The report itself points out that schools chase top OFSTED grades at the expense of real improvements (when Peal talks of the benefits of being Outstanding, for example). I agree with the report’s referencing of the possibility of OFSTED being, in the oft repeated analogy that it should be more like a health inspector (pass/ fail) and less like a food critic. Such a measure is, in my view, more likely to have impact on pupil achievement and the quality of schools in a positive way, and give the OFSTED regime and inspectors pause for thought.

I think the report should include that OFSTED should scrap the 1-4 system and move to a two-grade scale of Satisfactory or not Satisfactory. This would remove much of the arbitrary nonsense that comes from judging teaching – which this report is focussed on. As this report says:

“At its heart, Ofsted should be an accountability body, necessary for ensuring that failing schools are swiftly recognised and dealt with so that public money is not wasted”

So why not leave its function at that?

The report correctly identifies a multitude of cases of inspections done contrary to what is desirable or indeed what is guided by OFSTED. OFSTED have since (correctly in my view) stopped the outsourcing of inspections from 2016 to try to tackle this. Taken in combination with some of the evidence presented by Policy Exchange, I think this report should call for:

  • The scrapping of OFSTED in its current recognisable form

Or (less impactful)

  • A complete moratorium on inspections until it can be shown that the OFSTED framework is fit for purpose, that inspectors will be reliable and their inspections valid (the report does propose a moratorium, but I’m not clear on exactly how far this goes and the conditions for it stopping, and this moratorium does not make the executive summary)


  • Some kind of independent complaints procedure, with clear criteria for complaints (this would need more exploration in the report though)

I think the report might have considered recommending a higher level of expectation with regard to schools and other inspectors whistleblowing on those who can’t jettison their ideologies.

I think the report might have considered recommending that a robust system of dismissing inspectors who are not up to standard or display ideologies that are not in the OFSTED framework.

I agree with removing the quality of teaching judgement as it corresponds with the achievement judgement (so what’s the point?). The new judgement that amalgamates Quality of Teaching and Achievement might be called ‘impact of teaching’. However, if we changed the scales to pass/fail as above, this becomes a moot point.

I think the asides on data are excellent in the last few paragraphs – I agree that significant more accountability and training of inspectors is necessary.

Final comment:

The report is welcome and I hope it is listened to. Its recommendations are minimal and, as it recognises, a ‘first step’ – but I still question whether OFSTED can really be reformed.

However, I think parts of the report have been overtaken by recent events. OFSTED themselves have recognised the pressure they are under because of their counterproductive effect on schools. The situation in Birmingham is explicit evidence that inspectors often get it wrong (either with the outstanding grades or the more recent inadequate ones!) I think the report is mild in its recommendations and not hard hitting enough in its conclusions – though I see there are hints that Peal would like to say more if he had had the time.

I attended the Policy Exchange conference on What should political parties promise on education in 2015? There was remarkable agreement from left and right on the scrapping of OFSTED, with very little dissent. Of course there were differing reasons for that. While this report doesn’t agree with that emerging consensus, I think it is weaker for it and hence there is a risk it might be sidelined.

I note that the preface recommends the scrapping of OFSTED. While I agree with the thrust of that argument, and in fact have told Peal myself that I’d like this report to have gone further, I think it’s regrettable that this preface assumes some of the nonsense mainstream and OFSTED commentaries that have come out of the Trojan Horse affair this year are accurate and true. I don’t believe they are, most of the information coming from Birmingham is simply made up, and hence I think we should be careful of the conclusions we draw in these cases.

Nonetheless, this report is welcome. If OFSTED were to adopt the recommendations, this would signal the continuation of a shift away from managerial pressure in schools that can be traced to the OFSTED inspection regime.

I still doubt, however, that OFSTED can be reformed. I suspect, and my experience reinforces, that  whoever is chief inspector, OFSTED will be difficult to actually grasp control of, particularly in an era where inspectors have been trained and developed with an orthodoxy of progressivism. I maintain that even if this report’s recommendations are carried out in full (and there are hints that Peal would have liked to have gone further), it is very hard to see OFSTED becoming a force for positive change in the outcomes of pupils – I maintain that Wilshaw’s rhetoric in his speeches about addressing underperformance of the poorest and maintaining high academic standards for all is unlikely to be realised while this monolith exists in its current form. This report and its recommendations are spot on, but only up to a point.

Even more radical reform is required.



You may also like to read my take on the Policy Exchange report on OFSTED

David Didau’s take on the report is here

Posted by: mrlock | June 7, 2014

Michael Gove at Policy Exchange #PXEd15

I’ve edited this to say at the start that you could do worse than go and see these sessions for yourself – here’s the link.

Jonathan Simons (@PXEducation) started the day and introduced the session. When I was at the bloggers curry last weekend, we discussed how long Gove had been Secretary of State for education. This appears even longer, when putting it in days, as Jonathan did – Gove has been Secretary of State for education for 1488 days.

I’ve seen Gove speak before. He is an excellent politician, beginning on areas of agreement and moving seamlessly to areas of challenge.

Gove started by saying that the last couple of weeks have been fascinating. He amiably talked of an incident over the Of Mice and Men twitter furore when the foyer of Department for Education was occupied by a group reading passages from the Steinbeck novel. He then took a couple of cheap but effective shots (to laughter) at the group organising the sit in – Left Unity – first at their name: “a group named left unity are guaranteed to be a splitter group” and then at the irony of their accusation that Gove was not sufficiently open to American influence.

Gove started the substance of his talk by defending the academies program and the development of free schools as a higher bar, for example because free schools are twice as likely to be judged outstanding. I internally remarked at this stage that the sample is small, and that it’s probably possible to use the data on OFSTED reports on free schools to illustrate any conclusion, including far more negative ones.

Gove continued to list the achievements of his government, and the link with the hosts of the day – policy exchange – Pupil premium, the establishment of the education endowment foundation, more emphasis on accountability for the most disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes.

Gove claimed that all of the reforms carried out under his watch are part of a long term plan – shaped by long term focus.

He listed a vision for children. This included that every child has access to the best that has been written, thought and said, that children are prepared for world of work, strength of character, to appreciate art and culture, music, drama, to experience the competition of sport and games, and have a secure grounding in the academic basics.

He then said he wants that for every child, because he wants it for his own. This is superb stuff – and something any decent school leader asks themselves – is my school good enough for my own children (something I can answer affirmatively now, and am proud to do so).

This is a compelling case for increasing reform – as Gove says he won’t settle for any child going to a school where he wouldn’t be happy to send his own child – and nor should he.

Gove then says that 1/5 of pupils leave primary school not literate, 2/5th of pupils leave without a grade C in maths and English, and amongst the poorest this increases to a majority. I’d argue that we’ll always have pupils leaving school without a grade C in maths and English if we have norm-referenced assessment (something I’m coming to the view we should have).

As Gove says, no-one (including union leaders, headteachers or politicians) would accept illiteracy for their own child. Rescuing that has been his driving moral purpose.

This is a theme I’ve seen Gove speak to before, and it’s a compelling case that is hard to argue with. Gove goes on to say that some people do say in reforming education the DFE are being too demanding and driving too hard.

He listed, for example, the National Association for the Teaching of English, who suggest Dickens should not be read, or historians who defend the teaching of World War 1 through the showing of Blackadder or the oft referred to example of teaching Hitler through Mr Men cartoons.
Gove suggested that some argue that promoting the academic EBacc is claimed by some to be a barrier to success.

Gove then referred to his personal experience – he knows what barriers to success are really like – parents left school at 15, spent time in care.

He then listed real barriers to success prevalent in schools – sending working class children to poorer performing schools, setting expectations low, flimsy worksheets rather than rigorous textbooks (though I’d argue that many textbooks do not represent rigour and we need some work on this), lowering passmarks and dumbing down qualifications – sending children into adult world without knowledge and qualifications required to make something of their lives.

Gove then said some might think the guiding principles might be mistaken even if they agree with the vision.

He then went on to make the case that if you consider twitter, blogs, teachers in the staffroom, there is a debate. There is no such thing as a view of teachers because there is a real and live debate going on. As he says, John Blake takes a very different view from Mary Bousted.

What’s right, according to Gove, is what works. This is something Tristram Hunt said a bit later as well. And I think Gove is right when he says “We’ve been lucky to be in office at a time where research is showing us what works.”

For example, School autonomy and parental choice – the more the better. The more that Headteachers can spend money, hire and fire, and be captains of their ship – the more standards rise.

Gove continued that this goes alongside “Proper accountability – allowing accurate fair and timely intervention”. The strongest form is external data and judgement by inspectors. Given credit for progress of all pupils. I would argue that maybe inspectors are not as expert as we would want them to be. I have serious reservations by what appears to have happened in the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, and if you’ve read my blog you’ll know I have reservations over my own school’s inspection.

Gove said, however, that we’re (presumably the education system) better equipped to identify failure and deal with it.

Gove (and later Hunt) pointed out that an effective teacher can we worth a full year’s worth of learning. This is one of the things that I think Labour correctly challenge him on – the removal of the need for QTS (or to be working towards it) to teach contradicts this message. As Gove said, the quality of teaching is key – increased and improved trainees, and a higher professionalism of teacher standards, schools in centre.

Gove continued that there are two key areas for schools to consider – behaviour and the curriculum. I agreed with him that schools should be ordered, purposeful places, and that school that don’t eliminate backchat and disruption (and have lack of support from insufficently rigorous leadership teams) mean that those schools are ineffective.

Gove defended his record on ensuring behaviour can be great, including “ridiculous no touch rules abolished”, exclusion reform, strengthening alternative provision.

Every child must be in school benefitting from teaching every day, parents must play their part – Gove went on to suggest that parents have to play their part and outlines what sounds like a threat regarding parents being properly accountable for ensuring children behave. I look forward to seeing what this looks like.

A phone goes off, Gove glared at the offender and I felt sorry for them to be honest.

He continued, making the case that the number of children who leave primary school unable to read is indefensibly high – pupils need to be decoding fluently. Ensuring children are numerate and literate – is not a narrowing of the curriculum, it’s access to a rounded one. Fluency in reading and writing and mastery of maths are the keys to access to a stretching academic curriculum. I couldn’t agree more.

Gove then referenced one of my favourite papers by Cristina Ianelli – the role of the curriculum oin social mobility – which shows that the type of curriculum studied is more important that the type of school. Gove reinforced this by referencing achievement in Poland – improvements are down to a more academic curriculum studied for longer – and Germany, whose improvement Gove claims is down to a stronger emphasis on academic curriculum for all.

Gove then made a point that I wholeheartedly agree with – an academic focus is not downplaying vocational education, but academic study is a prelude to vocational education. This is the best way of stimulating critical thinking and creativity. I can’t help but wonder why UTCs exist then.

Gove then defended the new national curriculum and pointed is one of the first to include computing and coding. Microsoft and Eric Schmidt of Google have praised curriculum as world leading.

The Secretary of State is brilliant at heaping praise on school leaders who have done things well. He focused in on Burlington Danes Academy – and says people should observe Dame Sally Coates in action. At Burlington Danes every half term children are assessed across subject areas and told how well they’ve done that half term – every student and parent will see a ranking. This rank order system is hugely popular – parents assured in vague, airy and amiable terms now have hard data, and they know when they’re not meeting expectations. Students know which teachers are most likely to help them climb the ranking. Sally Coates has hence replaced competition over “whose backchat is the most fly” with competition over who is hardest working, most striving for success. Challenging intakes outperforming other schools. I’ve met Sally Coates and seen her in action – she’s an impressive woman I think all school leaders can learn from. I also agree with her systems of accountability by exposure with regard to pupil achievement.

The fact that Gove singles these schools out sometimes generates criticism, he said, in the form of why don’t more schools match them. He reported that he’d been challenged “Always ask why every school isn’t as good as this, and don’t worry if some say the question is fair. What’s fair is giving every child a chance.” I couldn’t agree more.

He said that demanding better for the next generation has generated some opposition, but that when he asks for the specifics for criticism, they don’t stand up.

For example funding – but education has been protected from funding slashes elsewhere.
On valuing teachers – he said thatteachers can never be valued highly enough, and that he takes every chance he can to emphasise how fortunate we are to have the best generation of heads and teachers – and he hasput teachers in key positions, including at the DFE and OFSTED.
On autonomy – but acads and FS are more accountable – more stringent than charities, for example. LA schools 191 cases of fraud. All FS scrutinised by OFSTED before opening, scrutinised early, and inspected 2 years in. He also pointed out that amongst LA schools – 2 are put into Special Measures every day – there are many who have been in SM for 18 months or more. Have taken 900 schools and given support of academy sponsor.

I’m not convinced on this structures debate to be honest – it seems like its skting around the edges.

Returning to criticisms, Gove referred to culture and creativity – and said that under him they have set up wholly new funded progs such as BFI film academy, or a dance academy, have given particular emphasis on drama, and refers to the Shakespeare schools festival (which I love). He referred to the Royal Shakespeare Company help actors get into the classroom and to RSC guide to teaching it is in all schools (though I don’t like this guide at all to be honest, and I’m not sure Gove would approve – my school was an RSC Learning and Performance Network Hub school, but I think the RSC is a bit wrong-headed in its methods while being great for giving pupils access to Shakespeare).

Gove continued on the criticisms – that he has neglected vocational/ technical education – he says they’ve stripped out qualifications that lack value, they have developed tech levels that lead to skilled occupation, reforming GCSEs so all students master the basics, and people at 16 will have to continue to master them if they haven’t reached a minimum standard – plus apprenticeships being developed.

On developing an atomised system that work against collaboration – open rather than forced collaboration can help and Gove referenced 450 alliances of teaching schools – 1/5th of schools working in this form of collaboration and increasing.

There have been mistakes – GCSE structures were a step to far (but this may need some reform to stop exam boards from competing by racing to the bottom) and Gove said some academy chains have expanded too fast (but poor schools in the wrong hands for too long). Gove uses Moseley as an example, referencing learning styles, innovation zone, kinaesthetic learners, there were no improvements. The £24m school closed after 2 years, and Moseley is the lowest performing authority – 43.7% got 5A-C grades including English and mathematics and 10% took the Ebacc. This figure doesn’t seem that bad to me for the lowest performing authority and is of credit that we no longer have areas where this figure is in the 20s, but I accept there is a job to do.

Gove continued – Referring to Nottingham – where half achieved 5A*-C inc EM – and in Nottingham a ‘challenge board’ was set up, but as yet Gove claimed there is no evidence it is further forward, and he then referred to Derby – an area vehemently opposed to academies, one of the worst performing LAs in the country. Again, I’m not convinced over this debate on structures, but anyway.

Gove claimed that “I would rather than we sought to intervene quickly than to assume defensive and defeatist postures. It is important to recognise the excellence in many state schools – fewer NEETs since records began – down by a third in this Govt. Fewer kids in underperforming schools (250,000 less), more studying maths, further maths, physics, chemistry.”

I think there was something of an own goal when he said “Teachers are better qualified” given he’s removed the necessity for teachers to be qualified. He continued with more defence of the government’s reforms.

He then pointed out that free schools and academies have sometimes only been open for a short period, and hence there is a lot more to come from free schools and academy sponsors who have had schools for a year. This is true. I guess there’s a range of good and less good stories to emerge as they have more impact.

Gove then provided the headlines – his conclusion – We must not retreat from reform, we must accelerate – other nations are accelerating, employing performance data better, stripping out bureaucracy, using technology in an innovative way.

We have to embrace reform and set standards higher than ever before, accountability should be sharper than ever before and that student or adult behaviour that compromises safeguarding must be dealt with. He said that teacher training needs to be better, which I think is true.

Gove defended subject knowledge, saying that we need more powerful incentives for mathematicians and scientists in the classroom, including at the end of Key Stage 1.

Gove concluded that “We want to ensure that disadvantage is not destiny”. This is ironic given the Trojan Horse case at the moment – Park View in Birmingham has this strapline as its explicit aim and it succeeds in getting great results for working class kids. Gove said he wants to make sure every child attends a school that is orderly, calm, with a positive learning environment and purpose.

He finished by saying that ensuring that every child has the chance to become authors of their own life story is his mission and moral purpose.

I reflect that he’s a brilliant politician who has exactly the right vision.

There were then questions:

Do you plan to give OFSTED the power to inspect Multi-academy trusts as a whole?
Gove’s view is that OFSTED have already successfully inspected groups of schools within MATs. If we are going to do that we must be clear on the framework. Open minded on whether to do this, but it must be focused and proportionate and with purpose. What works is what works.

What about improving teachers who are already there (Gove spoke about improving quality of recruitment)?
Yes – teaching schools as professional development. Refers to INSET days and death by powerpoint – people often feel better about practice, but rarely leads to great improvement. CPD associated with performance management – those schools can learn from outstanding schools.
Despite a robust answer, I feel like he probably hasn’t thought about this as much as he should have.

There was a schoolgirl error when the ITV news person asked the Theresa May question and referenced OFSTED of Birmingham schools and whether Gove has considered his position, plus whether this has damaged the government. She asked this as a closed question and allowed Gove a one word answer to appear assertive and end the session. He replied “no” to laughter and the session ended.

He certainly ‘beat’ Hunt, who I’ll blog about later.

Posted by: mrlock | June 6, 2014




noun: authority

  1. the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

“he had absolute authority over his subordinates”

o  the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another.

“military forces have the legal authority to arrest drug traffickers”

o  official permission; sanction.

“the money was spent without parliamentary authority”

  1. a person or organization having political or administrative power and control.

“health authorities issued a worldwide alert”

Authority has become known as a dirty word in education. In an era where teachers have been seen as the guide on the side, pupil voice took a hold over many schools, and pupils have been increasingly seen as consumers, authority of teachers, of the Headteacher, and of adults in schools has not been universally seen as desirable.

I think authority is essential in schools.

One of the things that attracted me to RS Peters’ writings is that they often just manifest themselves to me as common sense. And yet the concepts of ‘authority’, ‘responsibility’, ‘education’ and ‘morality’ can be confusing, causing bewilderment of those who look at education, and even of those who work in it.

Returning to Peters’ analysis of these concepts would be a good starting point. In Authority, Responsibility and Education, a collection of talks Peters gave in the 1950s and 1960s, Peters does exactly this, starting with authority.

As Peters argues, the concept of authority is unique to man. It is unlike anything that goes on in the physical or animal world (Peters points out that hens have a pecking order, but it would be nonsensical to talk of hens exercising authority, and talking of authority as a force is similarly nonsensical for it attributes to humans similar characteristics to iron filings drawn towards a magnet).

Humans follow rules. It is this that distinguishes them from animals, and hence it is the following of rules that means that humans form social systems. Social systems entail the conformity of standards of behaviour that are passed from generation to generation, largely through speech. Humans do things that are ‘right’ or ‘correct’ just because those things are correct to do.

What these standards actually are is arbitrary, and therefore we need systems for establishing what these are, where they come from, and who decides on their application. It is these systems that give certain people (Peters identifies majors and magistrates) the right to give orders.

I heard Martin Robinson here outline (35min) that when a child asks “why?” to any question, and then asks why to the answer, your knowledge falls apart because you don’t know. In many ways this is true of authority. One might object to any imposition of authority, asking ‘why?’ continually, and the basis might fall apart, but there’s a sense to me in which authority is bound up in the unique being of humanity.

As Peters says “authority is at hand where a rule is right or a decision must be obeyed or a pronouncement accepted simply because X says so”.

Peters points out that this idea of authority might be banal (perhaps because we are becoming clearer about what is implicit when we consider authority).

Authority can come from three areas – authority can come from a belief in the legality of the rules and the perception of those who are their arbiters, authority can come from tradition such as a handed down position, or authority can come from a particular person’s character – their heroism or exceptional characteristics. A person considered an authority in nuclear physics was not put into authority but is there because of his/ her status as a result of their training, qualifications and personal achievements.

This is where I think schools I’ve worked in have sometimes got it wrong. The pupil who is in trouble responds that they feel wronged by the teacher (who for example, sent them out without giving two warnings first), and hence the school sets about to be even-handed – that perception of the pupil becomes reality. This means that the pupil ends up having ‘a nice chat’ with a head of year, followed by some kind of restorative action to sort it out.

I think that people are equal, in the sense that they have a set of rights by virtue of being human. However, people don’t have equal status. The status of the teacher is ascertained by their qualifications, by their interview, and by the position they have earned. The status of the teacher is ‘above’ that of the pupil. The teacher is in a position of authority.

But because ‘authority’ has become known as a dirty word in education, schools can try to deny this, and this leads to issues that compromise an effective learning environment.

In order to facilitate a great learning environment, authority need not be shied away from, but embraced. Peters writes:

another necessary condition for the effective exercise of authority – the expectation of being believed, followed or obeyed. People will tend to accept the decisions and obey orders in proportion as the man who makes them expects that they will. Any successful schoolmaster knows this… it is not sufficient for a man to be in fact wise if he is to exercise authority. He must be known to be so.

I think authority is essential in schools because it is important that pupils conform, including on many occasions where they don’t want to (sitting down, writing long essays, being on time, not drinking sugary drinks, looking at the person talking, being silent, practising what they think they can already do, and so on). It’s essential pupils conform in schools.

We can though, produce conformity without authority.

There is also power. To use power is to get others to do what you want by force, by threats, by economic pressure, by propaganda, by suggestion, and other such non-rational means. Animals exert power; so do brigands and hypnotists. They produce conformity without being able to give orders or without having to do so.

It is only when a system of authority breaks down or when an individual loses his authority that there must be recourse to power if conformity is to be ensured.

the concept of ‘authority’ is necessary to pinpoint ways in which behaviour is regulated without recourse to power – to force, propaganda and threats.

Of course authority can be reinforced by power. As educators, behind our instructions to pupils may be the threat of physical power when we call parents (or in Peters’ time, directly via the cane), but this shouldn’t confuse us with what authority is.

In a social system, there must be authority. The only question is what sort of authority there should be. In schools, I make the case that a version of authority based on earned status is desirable, both in order that we have an orderly environment for pupils to learn, but also so that we have authorities in every classroom in the form of teachers.

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