Month: October 2014


This post is going to be a short but fairly self indulgent one. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

About eight months ago I attended my first ResearchEd conference in the West Midlands. The event was something of a watershed moment for me for two reasons. Firstly, I discovered that evidence based practice in education is more or less non-existent. I was pretty shocked that getting evidence into education is – 300 years after the enlightenment – still waiting to take off.

The second reason was that I met a huge community of intelligent, reflective and open-minded practitioners. And they were all more than happy to throw hundreds of hours of their spare time at learning how to improve and sharing with others their thoughts, successes and failures. I discovered an orgy of blogs covering everything from philosophical critiques to top tips and successful literacy starters. People who I had no right to be conversing with spent time explaining the ins and outs of the bizniz we’re all rocking around in.

The precise problems with educational research are well trodden on these insightful and balanced blogs. I hated the idea that these problems were fatal, and that the profession that I’d just started out in was going to resign itself to feeling its way through blindly whilst shouting at every corner “We don’t really know what we’re doing!”

This prompted me to apply for an MEd, specialising in educational research. Is seemed very odd to be able to specialise in education research whilst undertaking an education masters. Clearly, if you were undertaking a Masters in Science, you wouldn’t be able to specialise in ‘Science Research’. The fact that this is the case in education shows just how far we have to go.

ResearchEd 2014, in London, gave me hope that we are hurtling along that journey, though. It seemed less evangelical than the previous event, more humble and tentative. But I left feeling no less optimistic for the future of this ‘movement’ as it is now being called.

I used to use this blog to post my thoughts on educational policy and practice. It was a fairly haphazard approach, and because I’m not anonymous I couldn’t write about anything that happened in my classroom or school, except in very general terms.

In an act of astonishing recklessness, the Times Education Supplement have agreed to publish some of my thunks on schools and the small people within them. My first article, on behaviour, will be published in a couple of weeks.

As a result of this, I’m going to more or less wind up pouring the vegetable soup that slops inside my skull onto this blog.

Instead, I’m going to use this as a critically reflective tool for my Masters. Each week, I’ll post about what we discussed and my thoughts thereon. We are usually assigned a paper or three to read, and I’ll try and critique those as well, if I have the time.

Hopefully listening to me try and hamfist my way through writing that is too difficult for me to really understand will be helpful, and perhaps a few of you will be charitable enough to explain where I’m going wrong when I make a mess of contemplating it.



Shadow education meeting minutes 27/9/2014

“Singapore seem to be doing well in all of those PISA tests. Shall we go there and see if we can work out what the secret is?”
“No need, I can save you the trouble. Their secret ingredient – which we’ve really been missing here in the uk all of this time – is that they get their teachers to say that they really are definitely going to teach when they start teaching.”
“Right. But… I mean I’m not sure how that would really help children, you know, learn more effectively?”
“Oh yeah it does. Because now the teachers really are properly going to teach them. Because they remember that they told everyone that they promised to teach all of the children, years previously.”
“Teachers seem to be talking a lot about workload and not having the time to be effective with their children.”
“Don’t worry. The oath will help with that.”
“So, we don’t need to go to Singapore after all? We don’t need to watch what their behaviour management is like, or how teachers question, or whether they differentiate differently, or how management is structured, or what career progression looks like, or how their assessment system works?”

“Nah. It’s all just the oath.”

Books and knowledge.

Kris Boulton recently published a transcript of a speech that he gave at some conference that I didn’t go to. The gist of the speech was that other professions have a minimum body of core knowledge that they have to remember to successfully enter that profession, and teaching doesn’t. It’s a great debate because the premisses are undeniable and the implications almost endless.

The subtext was that the profession of teaching doesn’t take subject knowledge seriously. A sub-debate opened up about subject knowledge in primary, which I’ll write about at some point. In primary education, the old adage “We don’t teach subjects, we teach children,” is beginning to become scrutinised and challenged. Kris, in his usual pithiness, pointed out, “Of course you’re teaching children, but what are you teaching them?

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I later got a bit of stick for publishing one Michael Tidd’s KS2 history cheat sheets, and asking if parents would be happy if this was the extent of their child’s teacher’s knowledge on the subject. I questioned how often the teacher’s knowledge on a subject limits the amount that a student can learn about it; it was as much a personal reflection as an open question. Some were happy with the amount of knowledge in the cheat-sheets, but most weren’t, including Michael.

Of course, the problem with primary education is that you teach ALL of the subjects (unless your school has specialists in).

It is a very tall order to expect you to have advanced knowledge of all of these subjects, especially if the topics keep changing (Sumerian civilisation in Ancient Mesopotamia, anyone?)

So what’s the solution?

I don’t know. This is hard. There are many obstacles and problems with most of the attempts to solve this problem. But I think that the first step is admitting that it is a problem.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards subject specialists in UKS2. If, like me, you are lucky enough to have a specialist music teacher in your school, you know that the provision the children get is FAR higher than anything you could provide. There will be primary schools across the country which have teachers with history degrees not teaching history to 90% of the children. This seems like a huge waste of an expert resource.

So my very fledgling solution is this:

All teachers in primary have to develop a high subject knowledge of certain core areas (e.g. SPAG, early maths, phonics). QTS is subject to passing an exam on this.

Training would continue throughout the first 3 years of a teacher’s career, but it would be expected that teachers ‘specialise’ in one subject during this time. Schools then recruit to ensure they have a broad and balanced teaching force, with multiple specialisms. Subject specialists would have responsibility for coordinating and managing the teaching of their subject, and would teach it to UKS2 pupils.

I’m still thinking about it and my mind is far from made up. Anyway, this is all preamble…


Fast forward a couple of days and the discussion was still rumbling on. Sue Cowley suggested that one of the most important elements of a primary school’s subject knowledge is having read a number of children’s books. Kris (and me) agreed with this, and I pointed out that part of my compulsory pre-training work for Teach First was to read a selection of children’s books and annotate the bibliography.

Some on twitter were uneasy about mandating a list, whereas others thought that it was not possible. I flatly disagree with those taking the former stance, and what follows is my attempt to solve the latter problem.

Sue Cowley has already put together a list of 100 great books for early years children, which you can read here.

Mike Watson has also polled teachers for what they think are the best books across the key stages, which you can read here.

My project is slightly different. I want to have a go at putting together a list that all teachers in every primary school should have read. I think that reading these books should be a compulsory part of primary ITT.

I’m going to break it into six categories, with 10 books in each category. The categories are: EYFS, KS1; LKS2; UKS2; non-narrative; and seminal works. This is entirely unscientific; it will be informed by my own prejudices and ignorances, tempered only slightly by furious googling. I may decide to leave a space blank rather than fill it with something that I haven’t read. Please do leave your suggestions in the comments box. Ultimately, the list should be democratic.

I think that it would be very manageable to complete this reading list over the course of ITT.

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I’m not happy with the list, but it’s a start. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts…