A guide to this blog

I write about teaching, research, the curriculum and assessment, as well as teacher training, leadership and the wider education system.


Here’s what I think would improve our teaching:

















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Secular Pantheon: what can schools learn from religions?

‘Spirituality is nothing more than the ancient and abiding quest

for something greater than ourselves – something greater than our own egos.’

Crucible Court 

JUDGE DANFORTH: A person is either with this court or against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time – we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.


PROCTOR, his mind wild, breathless: I say — I say — God is dead!

Watching The Crucible at the Old Vic theatre in London this week, the parallels with English education were striking. Arthur Miller’s indictment of the lunacy of the 17th century Salem Witch Trials is an allegory of 20th century America’s anti-communist interrogations. But it also speaks to a modern fear of theology, and it could have been written as an allegory of an Islamaphobic inquisition in 21st century England, as Lee Donaghy and Park View school, defiant in the face of unevidenced accusations, will attest.


Propaganda Posters

I do not practise a religion, but fundamentalist atheist crusades against religion strike me as hypocritical.

Alain de Botton is changing the way many atheists and agnostics think about religion – in his own words, ‘we have secularized badly’ – instead, he looks to ‘inaugurate a new way of being an atheist’.

In a sentence, his argument is this:

“Religions are repositories of myriad lessons which can be useful for secular organisations like schools, but which have been over-hastily sacrificed and unfairly forgotten by secular minds repelled by theological doctrines.“

His TED talk is well worth a watch whenever you have 19 spare minutes:

A core idea for education that resonated with me is akrasia:a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance to actually do it, through weakness of will or absent-mindedness. We all possess wisdom that we lack the strength to properly enact in our lives.’  

“We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it. Religions are cultures of repetition. They circle the great truths again and again and again. Religions arrange time. All the major religions give us calendars. We need to structure time, we need to synchronize encounters.”

My friend and colleague Jonathan Porter, who studied Theology at Cambridge, says this line is the crux of it for him: We need institutions to foster and protect those emotions to which we are sincerely inclined but which, without a supporting structure and a system of active reminders, we will be too undisciplined to make time for.”

Many schools, especially the best non-secular schools, already apply some of the lessons from religions, such as values, didacticism, calendars, assemblies, meals, trips and ceremonies.

What lessons can schools learn from religions more broadly? What religions provide is wisdom and guidance.


“We need reminding about what matters because we are so forgetful – many of our most important ideas get overlooked in everyday life. We know intellectually that we should be kind and empathetic – things which are easiest to forget and most life-enhancing to remember.”

“The secular world is not well versed in the art of gratitude: we no longer offer up thanks for harvests, meals, sunsets, bees.”

“To be human is to partake in the dilemmas of childhood, family, work, love, ageing and dying; a common vulnerability to misfortune, disease, violence and suffering, anxiety and self-pity, disappointment, troubles, disasters and eventual annihilation, the incomprehensible and morally obscure tragedies that every life entails. Spirituality consoles us that existence is inherently frustrating.”

Religions teach, honour and remind us of the virtues of patience, generosity, gratitude, courage, temperance, hope, forgiveness and charity; and of the vices of envy, anger, pride, vanity, greed and lust.


I asked a friend and colleague, Imad Ahmed, who is a Muslim, what he thought schools could learn from religions. He distilled it beautifully: ‘the single thing that schools can learn from religions is the teachings of values: selflessness in an egocentric world, generosity in an age where the differences between rich and poor are so stark, and to be clear-minded, courageous and just in the face of injustice, when it is hard to tell right from wrong, as it is in Trojan Horse”. The five pillars of Islam form a foundation of values for living.

Exploring the wisdom literature of Buddhism has been a revelation for me. The ideas of impermanence and transience put egotism in perspective. The four truths that our minds are agitated; that this stems from the delusions of the ego; that agitation can be cleared, and that the path to clear this agitation is mindfulness, struck me as very clear-sighted.

As De Botton says, wisdom ‘reminds us what matters for our souls – why love lies at the core of our humanity’.


Here are five guiding ideas that might help both children and adults in schools connect with the enduring wisdom of the ages. ‘Many of these methods, though remote from contemporary notions of education, could to render ideas more effective in our porous minds,’ says de Botton.

1. Paragons

A pantheon compendium would be scheduled of the lives of great role models, their virtues and a calendar of deathdays of those like William Shakespeare, William Wilberforce, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Abraham Lincoln, Sophie Scholl, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Benazir Bhutto, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

2. Parables

The greatest secular and non-secular texts and their morals would be revisited with scheduled sermons and re-readings, such as the Testing of Job, the Good Samaritan, Aesop’s Fables, Confucius’ Analects, the teachings of the Buddha, Cicero’s On The Republic, Shakespeare on power or The Seven Ages of Man, Mills’ On Liberty, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Hesse’s Siddartha, The Dalai Lama’s Art of Living, Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and many, many others.

3. Service

Communal meals with predefined thoughts for the day would have choreographed rotas and thanksgiving mechanisms: 

“We have no mechanisms for the expression of gratitude, shifting us fractionally off our accustomed egocentric axes. Meals would direct diners to speak to one another for prescribed lengths on predefined topics: what do you regret? Who can you not forgive? What do you fear?

“To ensure that profound and dignified personal bonds can be forged, a tightly choreographed agenda of activities may be more effective than leaving a group to mingle aimlessly on its own and the arrangements into which we commonly segregate ourselves.”

4. Sermons

Enduring truths and redemptive or consoling images would be on permanent display in themed galleries, and assemblies would be less like lectures and more like sermons:

“We bridle at the thought of hearing a sermon. What’s the difference between a sermon and our modern, secular mode of delivery, the lecture? Well a sermon wants to change your life and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information. And I think we need to get back to that sermon tradition. The tradition of sermonizing is hugely valuable, because we are in need of guidance, morality and consolation — and religions know that.”

5. Pilgrimages

‘Architecture places us for a time in thoughtfully structured space to educate and rebalance our souls’. Trips would be structured encounters with and thoughtful journeys to monuments, memorials, museums, theatres, architecture and art galleries, as well as spiritual trips such as star-gazing or an annual Zen nightfall moon-watching ceremony, or to places of worship like churches, cathedrals, temples, synagogues and mosques.


There is much that De Botton omits from his book. Shockingly, a digital search for the word ‘Muslim’ shows ‘no results’; for an American and English audience, a search for the word ‘christian’ produces ‘108 results’. Counterposed with Simon Sebag Montefiure’s book Jerusalem, which I’ve just read, an anthology of fundamentalist crusades and atrocities, and juxtaposed with religious conflict in Ireland, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, silence on the violent schismatic divisiveness of religion seems surprising. But atheist regimes in Germany, Russia and China turned brutally murderous. Violence is not the monopoly of religion. Nor is social change the preserve of atheists: Wilberforce, King, Teresa and countless other reformers were preachers. Neither is wisdom the monopoly of religion: atheist writers like Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus and countless others have much to offer. But let’s not let the wisdom and guidance of the religions get lost in the evangelical atheist zeitgeist.

As de Botton says, “the wisdom of the faiths belongs to all humankind.”

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England, Champions of the World


I was 18 when England won the Rugby World Cup. Watching Jonny Wilkinson’s tournament-winning drop goal in extra time in the final at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, from 4am in the morning in London, with 50 school friends leaving school that year, was one of the most exciting and memorable moments of my life.

Recently, my Dad gave me Sir Clive Woodward’s autobiography, Winning. It tells the story of England Rugby’s long-suffering underachievement and historic World Cup victory in 2003: 

“England hadn’t managed to field a consistently world-beating team in more than a century. England hadn’t managed to win any significant team sporting challenge for thirty-seven years. In the players’ lifetimes, England rugby had never won a major series against the southern hemisphere teams…


“By 2003, England had won the World Cup, and put together a run of twenty-one consecutive home victories and ten straight wins over southern hemisphere teams, a feat never before accomplished by any England team.”

How did they do it?


Why We Were Losing

“Why was rugby so far behind? Why were we so ridiculously amateur? Why couldn’t the European teams pull it together to convincingly beat the Antipodeans?

“The England set up was more about maintaining the status quo than anything else.

“Over the years, I’ve encountered many different version of inherited thinking, in business, sport and government. The symptoms are always the same: blind faith in ‘the way’, a culture that heavily discourages, even punishes, any questioning of authority, and where change is anathema; a diseased organizational culture.

“Over 130 years, the Corinthian spirit of talented amateurism prevailed, and the social aspects of participating in the game came first and foremost, rather than winning.”


Why We Won

“England won the World Cup in 2003 because for the first time in our history we had the most intense preparation, the most exhaustive analysis, the strongest process for nurturing a powerful team spirit and a strong, dynamic organizational culture. My aim was to set up the most professional coaching team in ANY sport.

“The confrontation of new and old, radical and conventional was pivotal to our success. By having to fight so hard for the smallest of changes, we were forced to question, scrutinize and vigorously defend everything we did. Although seemingly not helpful at the time, it was actually the greatest catalyst for innovation we could have had.

“We have had devastating setbacks, trials and tribulations; how these are handled is the mark of a great team. The first rule of coaching is that it really helps to have the raw material: quality players. No matter how tough things would get over the next couple of years, there was always someone to keep everything in perspective and keep enjoyment high.

“The training in business was second-to-none. They employed *video analysis* as a daily training tool, which is becoming commonplace in professional sport, but still in its infancy in business. In our daily meetings managers would video role-play exercises right in front of our team. Then they’d instantly play it back with instant feedback. The sales calls in real life were nowhere near as intimidating.

“Ok, I’ve got to get these boys thinking differently. Thinking like winners. How am I going to do that? One of the toughest skills to teach any athlete is how to think. How do we build on our strengths when we win and learn from our mistakes when we lose? How do I get my team’s commitment to doing what it takes to win? We’ll leave no stone unturned in our search for excellence.


What Woodward told the team


“Nothing you’ve ever done before can prepare you for what lies ahead. From this day on, it’s vital that we all start to think differently about how we train.

“We’ve got to rebuild all that we’ve ever done from the ground up with a new way of thinking. My job is to create a world-class team. My objective is to play the fastest rugby in the world. It will demand the utmost fitness and skill levels. It won’t be easy. You’ll be driven harder than you ever dreamed possible. But I can tell you this: it will be fun. If we are successful in dominating world rugby, you will consider your time with England as the pinnacle of your careers, the most exciting days of your lives.

“The All Blacks and Wallabies have fundamental flaws. If we’re to be the best, we have to learn to think and plan better than anyone else. From now on, we’ll spend more time thinking and planning than we will on the pitch.”

“What makes the difference between the winning team and the team that comes fifth? I believe that the team that wins the World Cup will be the team that has the best mindset and that encompasses new ideas and change. So we will spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what it will take to forge a winning side. The only way we are going to be successful as a team is if we all completely understand what we’re trying to achieve and our roles in making it happen.


How Woodward got England winning

“I examined my scarce resources. First, time with the players. I had 51 days in the next year – one a week – to train and prepare the best rugby players in the country to play against the best teams in the world. The pressure was to win, with one year to prove myself. The pressures of time meant there was considerable motivation to achieve more with less. For that we had to think differently.

Seven Elements of Winning

  • More points on the scoreboard
  • World-class performance standards in core areas of the game, all measurable.
  • A team that clicks in the heat of the match – not measurable
  • Enjoyable, inspiring off-the-pitch experience
  • Beating teams you know can beat you
  • 75,000 supporters going wild
  • Knowing you can do it consistently

I began to prepare a planning document for how I would achieve our long-term goals. I believe England subsequently became the best team in the world because of one critical factor: we asked the right questions. Instead of asking: ‘how can we be victorious with what we’ve got?’ I asked: ‘’what would our organization need to have in place in order to succeed consistently?’

Seven Core Components:

  • Coaching the basic skills
  • Fitness/Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Medical/Recovery
  • Analysis/IT
  • Management
  • Leadership

“They weren’t thinking like elite rugby players yet. I had to come up with a way to get them thinking differently. But how?


Thinking differently, thinking detail

“We have to change the way we do things. We have to learn to think differently about every aspect of what we do, and look at it in a way others fail to notice.

“Unfortunately, inherited thinking is a curse. It’s the biggest impediment to innovation in any organisation. So before we do anything, we have to change the way we think. There are two parts to this: thinking differently, and thinking detail.

“What do you think we might be missing about the way we play, coach and manage rugby? What are we taking for granted in the way we play our game that might actually be the one thing that could give us an advantage on the pitch?”

“Our fitness coach had a simple brief: we must be the fittest and most powerful team in world rugby. Bringing good people and new ideas together with spectacular results is incredibly satisfying, yet I’m sure there was more opportunity for innovation than we had time to explore.


“Success can be attributed to how the team worked under pressure, how they understood the importance of teamwork and loyalty, and how they were willing to do a hundred things just 1 percent better.

“We’ll identify every aspect of the player experience, provide an elite environment and involve the players themselves in the process.

“We’re going to rebuild the England squad from the ground up with a new way of thinking. Imagine if you were to empty all your possessions, your entire house, onto the front lawn, then question the need for everything as you brought it back in the door. We have before us a unique opportunity to reinvent completely what it means to be a part of the England international rugby side.

“I wanted them to free their thinking.


The Black Book

“We began writing a book detailing everything a player would need to know about the England set up. We started canvassing the players for their ideas about playing for England, a living document that evolved over eight months and several versions to come together in its final form, known as our Black Book. We’d created the blueprint for the elite professional sports experience that would support our overarching goal of winning.

“That tour, we lost 76-0 in Brisbane, 64-22 in New Zealand, England’s worst ever defeat to these sides, and my father passed away.

“The struggle for every innovation forced us to be even more resourceful and creative in our thinking. Our Black Book is fundamental to leadership: if I started again in business or sport, it’s the first thing I’d create with a new team.


“New players didn’t know how things worked, and having to spend so much time telling everyone was causing serious problems. A black book would sort that out. It became a cornerstone of the elite culture, with months of work on design, layout and artwork. The very first page summarised everything we wanted the players to take to heart. Set out in print, my hope was that these words would be imprinted on everyone’s mind. It became their bible.”

This is England


Welcome to the Elite England Squad

“We are in the business of inspiration. Our goal is to inspire all those we work with and all those who support us: to inspire the whole country. This document sets outs what we need to aspire to in the build up to the World Cup.

Our vision: to transform England rugby into the world leader by 2003

Our philosophy: to be the best in everything we do

Our goal: to win the World Cup in 2003

How do you want to be remembered?

How does this team want to be remembered?”


“By the World Cup in 2003, it covered every aspect of what it meant to be a player in the England squad. It had 7 categories, 35 sections, 240 rules and 10,000 words of text. New squad players spent a long time digesting every fact so they wouldn’t let anyone down. It was a powerful tool to reset standards.


Set the standard


“England won the World Cup partly because we had the best defence in the tournament. We had been exhaustively analysing performance in all areas, setting standards for world-class performance behaviours broken down into 135 measurable key performance indicators. We expanded this list into posters and they form the basis of our coaching.

  • Defence
  • Contact
  • Pressure
  • Kicking
  • Attack
  • Self-Control
  • Tactics
  • Leadership

“The posters comprise a full and flexible summary of England’s approach to the game. When combined with our Black Book, it makes a simple yet formidable coaching combination. Although there is a complex level of detail contained within each poster, they are simple and easy coaching tools to understand, which makes communicating with new players far simpler than it ever was before.

“Prozone was one of the most advanced sorting analysis programs in the world. We had to install twenty specialised cameras around Twickenham stadium. When you look at the game through Prozone, it completely changes how you think about rugby.


Steps to Success


“In summary, there are seven steps we followed:

  1. Set the vision to inspire the team
  2. Design the experience that supports your goal
  3. Build the infrastructure of effective systems
  4. Cultivate a strong elite team culture
  5. Shape the mindset by thinking different and in detail
  6. Implement new ideas and initiatives carefully and drop them if they don’t support your aims
  7. Coach and analyse to achieve world-class standards of measurable performance

“I’ve always believed that the most important job of any elite coach is to provide his players with every chance of being successful – nothing else.”


Daily video analysis, elite team culture, thinking differently and thinking detail: I think there’s a lot that school leaders and teachers can learn from the success of England Rugby.

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Bloggers lead the campaign to reform Ofsted



At its best, social media can influence education policy – and spearhead reform. It is teacher bloggers who have led the campaign to reform Ofsted’s inspection regime.

Over the last year, we have seen massive, protracted and unrelenting pressure from teachers online to change how inspections work.


And it’s working.


Ofsted have agreed to stop grading lesson observations in all inspections from September. Their handbook now explicitly states that inspectors do not expect to see any records of graded lesson observations from schools.

Here is a collection of hundreds of blogs from over 40 teachers, school leaders and researchers in the education blogosphere who are putting pressure on OFSTED to accelerate reform.


Old Andrew


David Didau


Tom Bennett




Harry Fletcher Wood


Stuart Lock


Jack Marwood


Pragmatic Reform


Solo contra tutti


Alex Quigley


Daisy Christodoulou


Robert Peal


Tom Sherrington


Rob Coe


Miss Cox


Ross Morrison McGill


The Guardian’s Secret Teacher


Sam Freedman


Andy Lewis


Shena Lewington


Kit Andrew


Jonathan Simons


Jo Facer


Loic Menzies


Stephen Tierney


Angry ex-teacher


Dave Harris


Micon Metcalfe


The Primary Head


Steve Philp


L. Mason


Heather Lett


Data Fiend


Martin Robinson


Michael Tidd


Ritchie Gale


Joanna Williams


Mark Melaney


Gethyn Jones


Michael Fordham


Harry Webb


William Lau


Heather F


Unseen Flirtations


Clare Collins


Now, above all, is the time to keep up the pressure. The education blogosphere is organising. We, the teachers, are reclaiming our profession. The momentum is rising. The next campaign target is to stop Ofsted grading teaching altogether.


If we sustain it, radical reform of the inspection regime is within reach.

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Lead like an All Black


Taringa whakarongo!

Let your ears listen!

Kapa o Pango kia whakawhenua au i ahau!

All Blacks, let me become one with the land!

Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei!

This is our land that rumbles!

Au, au, aue hā!

It’s our time! It’s our moment!

The All Blacks have been the best rugby team in the world for more than a century, the most successful sporting culture in human history. Their sustained competitive advantage comes through cultural cohesion.

Stuart Lock pointed me in the direction of James Kerr’s book, Legacy, on how the All Blacks succeed. This blogpost summarises what leaders can learn about cultivating a strong culture.


Humility: sweep the sheds 

Humility allows us to ask simple questions: ‘how can we do this better? what do you think? . . . how can we make this better, how can we improve this?’ Excellence begins with humility; with a humble willingness to ‘sweep the sheds’.

Like all good teachers, the All Blacks love to learn.

Focus on the team culture: not how each person performs, but how well they work together. Collective character is vital to success. Focus on getting the culture right; the results will follow.

Leaders are storytellers. All great organisations are born from a compelling story. This central organizing thought helps people understand what they stand for and why.



Train like a champion

Implement a set of high, non-negotiable standards. These standards identify the expectations and set the ethos, the culture of the team.

Practise with intensity: the training, decision-making wise, should be harder than the game; throwing problems at them – unexpected events – forcing them to solve the problems. Replicate playing conditions. Effective training is intense, regular and repetitious. For world-class results, it should be central to the culture. 


Ritual: your own haka

Rituals are key for reinforcing the emotional glue. Inspiring leaders establish rituals to connect their team to its core narrative, using them to reflect, remind, reinforce and reignite their collective identity and purpose. Rituals, symbols and mottos are the welt and weave of elite teams and organizations – the fabric that binds people together. Though the individuals change, the rituals remain, and these rituals are the structure that maintains belief. Rituals make beliefs real and tangible. Rituals tell your story, involve your people, create a legacy. Rituals make the intangible real. By inculcating rituals into a culture, leaders can bottle its essential spirit, capturing it for future generations. Ritual represents a pre-verbal language, physicalising experience. In combination with values and vocabulary, mantras and mottos, narratives and metaphors, signs and symbols, rituals achieve a literal embodiment through repetition of our central story. By creating their own equivalent of the haka, leaders can attach a sense of personal meaning and belonging to the organization’s overall purpose. Wise leaders look for ways to ‘ritualize their enterprise’, to find vivid, visceral process that bring their ethos to life.

Richie McCaw

The current All Black captain, Richie McCaw, has 127 New Zealand caps, 105 points, is the first rugby player to win 100 tests, has an unbelievable 87% win record, won the World Cup, and is the most capped All Black Captain of all time.


“Over time, the All Blacks have been the best team in rugby, setting the standard for the world. There’ve been some great men who made sacrifices, spilt blood for this jersey. You won’t last in this jersey if you’re not prepared to do the things you need to do to fill it.

“I wanted to be captain because I enjoy having an influence on how the team operates and performs; I like the pressure and responsibility that comes with the captaincy; I believe I can improve with experience; I care about how the team goes and want to help set high standards.

“I began breaking my game down into four key roles: tackling, clearing rucks, pressuring the opposition ball, and carrying the ball. I look at the video of breakdowns and ask really specific questions: about the decision to be at that breakdown; whether my technique and timing were right; whether my positioning was good.”


Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick played 128 matches for the All Blacks, 50 as captain, won the World Cup, and holds the record for the most matches undefeated. His book Winning Matters is a great insight into All Black leadership.



“To be truly successful you have to set the standards as high as possible, and then expect everybody to consistently achieve them. Having a clear view on where you want to get to as a team – a clear view that everyone understands and that everyone buys into – is critical to its success. You have to be absolutely persistent and obsessive about what you are doing, so everyone knows the plan and is totally committed to getting there.

“Success is all about modest improvements consistently done. All of them can achieve outstanding things if they focus on being the best that they can be, and if they are in a good environment, with a good team. Success is about identifying small specific areas of improvement or cohesion that will make the difference. Put your heart and soul into it.


“Think of your team as a family. If a team feels like a family, it performs like a family, and that is a powerful, powerful thing … families rally round when it gets tough. Families help each other out. Families give straight counsel, and honest feedback. It is the best model I know for a successful team. The more that you can think of your team as your family and act (and demand that they act) as such, the more powerful I believe your team will be.

“Acknowledge them. Understand the value that they have already brought in terms of how they’ve helped and supported you, and let them know that you see it and value it. Then take the next step – think about how to use their talents and support to even better effect. What could they do more of or less of? What changes would you need to make in order to allow them to do that? Look around the team and the group of players and continually be asking myself, ‘How can this team become the best that it can be?’


Lead from the front

“I spent every minute of every waking hour focusing in on the task in hand.

Leading from the front distils down into a simple truth against which you should measure yourself and judge your own performance. Did you do your best? you have to be self-critical and honest.

“You can’t be at your best until you are passionate about what you are doing. What are your passions, your traditions? Seek them out. What are the rituals and symbols that have a positive part to play in your life and your world? They give meaning and motivation to what you’re doing.


“Leading from the front isn’t a part-time role that you can pick up and set down as and when it suits. You have to do it all the time and every time. Doing the basics well matters, whoever you are, and whatever you do. Make no mistake, if you are leading from the front, everybody is watching – so take pride, and do it right.


“You have to do things to the very best of your ability all the time. Everything that you do and say (and those things that you don’t do or don’t say) will impact upon the collective whole and you need to be acutely aware of that. Make sure that personally, you model the excellence you are searching for collectively. You need to be what you want the team to be, and if everyone is doing the same thing as you, then the team becomes stronger.

Front up

“Talk directly, not behind their backs. Put it on the table, sort it out.

“If you are going to be the best that you can be, you are going to have to front up, and get it sorted. Knowing what you want, and being prepared to fight for it puts you at the front of the pack. Fronting up becomes more important precisely as it becomes harder … that is what makes you successful. You have to decide whether to take the easy option or take the tough, sometimes painful road. My choice? Front up. Every time. This is me, and this is who I am. This is what I stand for, and this is my life. I will front up. You have a simple choice. You have to decide. Do you stand up or step aside? To be the best that you can be, front up.”

Sweep the sheds; train like a champion; set your own rituals; see your team as a family, lead from the front; front up – these are the lessons to be learned from the enduring success of the All Blacks.

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Stop OFSTED grading teaching

What’s the one thing in education that unions, teachers, headteachers, bloggers and think-tanks all agree on? OFSTED must change. 

Social media is a spearhead of the campaign to reform inspection. The irrepressible teacher-blogger Old Andrew has catalogued OFSTED’s contortions since 2006. Bloggers David Didau, Tom Bennett and Stuart Lock, amongst others, have kept the pressure high. Daisy Christodoulou has published analysis of 228 reports on the web. Teachers’ online outpouring of frustration is beginning to influence national policy.

The cross-political convergence at the Policy Exchange event in May on the 2015 education manifestos was striking: OFSTED must be reformed. When the Anti-Academies Alliance agree with Free School trust founders, the tremors reach Whitehall. 


Policy Exchange called for an overhaul of OFSTED in March. The unions have too: the NAHT have a reform petition, and the ATL say OFSTED are ‘riddled with problems’ and call for it to be ‘radically and completely transformed’. Now Civitas add their voice: ‘the era of imperious central direction should be brought to an end.’


End the OFSTED orthodoxy


Robert Peal, the report’s author, makes two major recommendations:

• remove the teaching judgement from inspections 

• remove graded lesson observations from inspections 


Stop judging teaching

The report gives three main reasons for this:


1. Inspections rate the achievement category so similarly as to make the quality of teaching category redundant. In97% of inspections, the achievement and teaching grades are identical.


2. OFSTED inspections have shown a persistently enduring preference for one teaching style, and criticism of teacher-led teaching. Prior to 2014, praise of teacher-led lessons is entirely absent, but three-quarters of reports praise child-centred methods. After 2014, cosmetic report-editing and verbal feedback shows that this preference remains ingrained. This is from analysis of 260 reports. OFSTED has become the main arbiter of what an orthodox ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ teaching style in schools is.


3. High-stakes OFSTED inspections influence schools’ teaching culture through performance management (PM) and CPD. An inadequate grade results in budget strains as pupil roll falls, recruitment pressures as NQTs are no longer allowed to be employed and salary premiums are needed to recruit and retain staff. An outstanding grade is required for exemption for inspection, becoming a teaching school and running initial teacher training. Inspectionsexertahigh influence on schools.


PM in schools mimics OFSTED four-point gradings and criteria.

“Teachers now face a situation where if we teach using direct instruction for observations we will be graded as requiring improvement and then threatened or placed onto capability proceedings unless we change to progressive methods.”

CPD is often linked to OFSTED grades and criteria. The UK’s leading training provider Osiris offers 32 courses for becoming OFSTED-outstanding, claiming to be ‘proven to improve all teaching by at least one OFSTED level.’


Stop grading observations

Rob Peal gives a double rationale for this:


1. Graded lesson observations are ineffective, invalid and unreliable. Professor Rob Coe has shown that in the best-case scenario, two inspectors would agree on an inadequate grade only 38% of the time. Sutton Trust research corroborates this.


2. Teachers in England resent observations, and world-class school systems use observations far less than England does. Whereas 99% of 2,500 English teachers from 150 schools surveyed by the OECD had annual observations, only 81% of teachers surveyed highest-performing countries had. Of all 34 countries surveyed, English teachers were the least likely to say this resulted in positive change. I have catalogued around 50 anecdotes of teacher resentment.


I whole-heartedly agree with this report’s recommendations. I believe we should go even further and end 1-4 OFSTED grading altogether. Why grade schools out of 4 at all? The cult of outstanding is impossible to combat whilst schools are chasing OFSTED ratings. Set our effective schools free to innovate however they see fit, rather than condemning them to perpetual agonising over the latest OFSTED-outstanding criteria.




In Denial

In response, OFTSED has dismissed Civitas’ report, claiming it does not have a preferred teaching style. A spokesman told the TES: “The arguments put forward in this report are largely reheated ones. Our judgements on teaching are predicated on whether children are learning, progressing and achieving good outcomes.”

In January, Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was ‘spitting blood’ when Civitas accused OFSTED in The Times of enforcing an educationally harmful orthodoxy. When questioned by Stuart Lock about rogue inspectors at the Festival of Education in June, he said ‘We have had inspectors in the past who’ve disagreed with the ideas I’ve set out but they have been rooted out.’


Above all, what this shows is that OFSTED are in denial.


Mass Action


We, the teachers, must hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire. There is a critical mass of campaigners, and we have momentum. We need to keep up the unrelenting pressure on those in power to change OFSTED irrevocably, and for the better. In the run-up to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s promised redesign of the inspectorate from September, we should this summer mount an uncompromising online campaign for reform.


Teaching unions, education think-tanks and teacher-bloggers unite: we have nothing to lose but our chains.




There are excellent reviews of the Civitas report from David Didau and from Stuart Lock. Like me, Stuart would go further than the report and abolish 1-4 grading.



Robert Peal’s history of English education, Progressively Worse, is here. I have reviewed it here, and there are excellent reviews from David Didau and Stuart Lock.

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All the world its stage: The Globe Theatre


You buy your ticket and enter The Globe. It’s a startling theatre space. Straight off, you’re not given a seat – you stand to watch the play, literally up to your neck in the stage. Look up, and you’ll notice it’s open-air, outdoor and in broad daylight. Three trumpets pulsate the play into life. Twisting fast round twin pillars, the actors are within touching distance, making eye contact, provoking you – ‘Who calls me villain?’

Seeing a play here today is perhaps as striking as seeing it four centuries ago, still fresh from its openings in 1599 and 1997. How does The Globe perform its role of entertaining and enthralling its audience? A potent mix of theatricality, versatility, violence, interactivity, outreach, adventure and irreverence make The Globe unique.


Theatricality: all the world’s a stage


Above its entrance, you see its motto: ‘Totet mundus agit histrionem’ – ‘All the world’s a stage’. Uniquely amongst theatres, The Globe ties its colours to the mast of theatricality. In this world, those who improvise are the most exciting characters to watch: Hamlet, Prospero, Falstaff, Mercutio. Those who orchestrate evil often stage-manage plots-within-plays: Richard III, Edmund, Iago. Those who cross-dress are playing roles-upon-roles: Portia, Viola and Rosalind would have been boy-actors playing girls acting as boys. Those who disguise themselves, such as Edgar, Henry V, and Angelo, are commoners playing monarchs acting as commoners. Chaotic characters unlock discoveries in the story through their chaos: think Bottom, Caliban and Dogberry. The pulse of the play is in its playfulness.


Versatility: this our scene


On its unusually empty stage, versatility is the name of the game. The plays transport you into a vast variety of spaces and times. You spin through ancient pagan Britain, Verona at civil war, turbulent Lancaster and York’s War of The Roses, merchant Venice, Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Norwegian-invaded Denmark, and regicidal Scotland, all the way to the Forest of Ardennes, the Dukedom of Naples, the island of Sicily, an embryonic Athenian democracy, and the republican Roman empire. The past plays out as your imaginative landscape for the present: ‘how many times will this our scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown?’ William Shakespeare placed the Latin words of a first-century BC Roman on a seventeenth-century London stage in English; that his words still play in Japanese at Tokyo’s Globe Theatre in the twenty-first century, seems prophetic.


Violence: or else were this a savage spectacle…


The thrust platform reminds you of an execution scaffold, and violence enacts many of the most powerful visual scenes at The Globe. In Othello, we witness suffocation and a suicide. Macbeth displays a decapitated tyrant’s head to its onlookers. In King Lear, we see an old man tortured and his eyes gouged out; blinded, he later tries to throw himself off a cliff. Julius Caesar enacts assassination and martial suicide, when the conspirators fall on their swords. The fencing match in Hamlet kills a King with his nephew’s sword, while the Prince and the Queen die of the King’s poison. The spectacle of death always attracted spectators. Perhaps the plays could only enthral insofar as they could appal? Cruelty was good box office.


Interactivity: the original instrument


Looking around, you’re in a spherical amphitheatre, ‘in the round’, encircled in 360 degree surround-sound, radically interactive. The Globe today sees itself as a laboratory to experiment and rediscover how Shakespeare’s theatre worked. The modern Globe’s first Artistic Director, Mark Rylance explains:

“In my mind, it’s a bit like someone discovering the original cello, and saying, ‘He wrote for this instrument, not for the modern one we’re using. Who will take up the challenge to try and play on his instrument?’

The building seems to inspire a wild spirit in the audience. Its crude, chaotic energy is visceral, and it becomes paramount to say to the actors, ‘don’t speak to them, play with them’. Anything they do is like another player on stage doing something.”

As a spectator, you experience how it animates the audience as army on the battlefield, mobilises you as mob in the city, and exploits your ability to play many different roles, from best friend to stern parent. It invites you into the limelight to become the most versatile actor.


Outreach: lively action


Bankside of the River Thames, based near areas of deprivation, The Globe roots itself in the local Southwark community, stealing the stage as an educational force for social change. It gives 14,000 free tickets to performances, 2,000 pupils from London schools receive free workshops, and 90,000 students visit the exhibition on site each year. On the website, which attracts 1 million virtual visitors a year, Globe Education’s Head of Learning, Fiona Banks, provocatively asks: ‘Why do young people feel culturally entitled to go to the cinema but only one in three feels that they can go to see a play?’ Through its practical school program, Lively Action, The Globe recasts Shakespeare from elite intellectual artist to popular working playwright.


Commerce: business venture


In asking you to pay for your ticket, The Globe recaptures the territory of the original Elizabethan playhouse. For the original was a business enterprise, a joint-stock company. Its profits were distributed among core actors who invested as shareholders, who shouldered the risk and who took a slice of the reward. Taking a percentage of the box office was unprecedented; Shakespeare was the most incentivised playwright in English literary history. The modern counterpart re-enacts this groundbreaking commercial venture. Unlike the state-funded National Theatre or crown-licensed Royal Shakespeare Company, The Globe receives no annual subsidy from government. Instead, it counts only on ticket sales. Much like its original: among the first permanent (rather than touring) playhouses, it relied on a repeat audience of thousands of Londoners willing to pay day-in, day-out to see performances. It required habitual playgoing: from 1599, 15,000 Londoners paid to see a play every week, and a third of the 200,000 population saw one a month. Shakespeare was writing for the most experienced playgoers in history. Today, London takes centre-stage as the world capital of theatre; you can’t walk through her streets without hearing about a play. The Globe, now as then, could depend on an unusually discriminating commercial audience.


Irreverence: these roarers…


Look up a last time, and you’re reminded the playhouse is open-air; it has started to rain. This uncovers how unpredictable and irreverent The Globe is. Open to the elements, it is egalitarian in asking its audience to ‘answer to the extremity of the skies’ with the provocation: ‘What cares these roarers for the name of King?’ Some of the most dramatic scenes played here pit King Lear against the storm and wreck a Duke’s ship in The Tempest. Weather is a great social leveller, and so is The Globe. Historically, it subjected nobles and courtiers along with tailors and tinkers to its unpredictability. Today, The Globe reconstructs this irreverence and enacts the part of embattled underdog. Its iconoclasm pits itself in a David and Goliath battle of wills against the RSC’s traditionalism. Its maverick spirit challenges more than it conforms to the heritage industry.


As you leave, you wonder: if The Globe was an actor on the London stage, what role would it play? It casts itself in the starring role of theatrical trailblazer. Would it be more like Puck or Prospero? Certainly, having stood you in the yard, The Globe always earned your standing ovation.

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‘Teachers hit out at teacher training’… or do they?

An article in the Sunday Times quotes Katie Ashford and my thoughts on Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in the UK. This follows a speech that we gave at Wellington Festival of Education in June, in which we argued that it is the ideas in education that contribute to the attainment gap.

We are disappointed with the article because it fails to recognise the many positive things that Katie and I think and have said about Teach First. Both of us believe that Teach First is an excellent organisation. As I have said before, evidence suggests that Teach First is working, and that it has contributed to a shift in the perception of the teaching profession among graduates. And we are not alone in thinking that. In 2011, Ofsted rated Teach First training as outstanding in 44 categories out of 44.

Nevertheless, Katie and I think teacher training can still improve. I could do a lot improve my teaching. Katie could do a lot to improve hers. Both of us are focused on getting better. Teach First shares our desire to learn, and is always willing to listen to and act on feedback from participants and ambassadors.

One of the things that Katie and I find most refreshing about Teach First is the willingness to have a dialogue about what it could do to improve as a training provider. We, and many other Teach First ambassadors, often have the opportunity to express our opinions and offer constructive suggestions. Teach First are continually making changes to the programme, aiming to prepare participants as well as possible to start in teaching.

For our part, we will continue to work towards closing the research-practice gap in ITT.

You can read more about my thoughts on Teach First here:


and here:


You can read more about Katie Ashford’s thoughts on Teach First here:


and here:


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