Informed education in the media

A good media day here at Informed Education. David has been quoted in BBC News Online’s article on digital text books┬áby @GaryEason, plus Radio Verulam have published their podcast of his interview with their Parents’ Show on the theme of “starting back at secondary school” – select the Back to School podcast from the 1st of September 2011 from iTunes.

If you’d like any comments or interviews on all things school, education policy, teacher training, and performance data, then don’t hesitate to get in touch –

Behaviour, for better or for worse?

Many teachers wish that all students would arrive at school ready to learn, respectful and mild-mannered. Of course, that’s not the reality, and there is a regular cycle of hand-wringing as people claim that behaviour is much worse than it used to be.

The debate is, quite necessarily, full to the rafters with anecdote. After all, there is no standardised scale of classroom behaviour, and certainly no measurements that can be used to compare things accurately. Memory is also entirely unreliable in these matters. I suspect the lessons that will really stick out in any student or teacher’s mind would be where great learning took place, where something funny happened, or total chaos reigned. supreme. The day-to-day level of disorder is unlikely to be remembered well.

Another problem is that people reconstruct their memories to suit their narrative. A teacher who rose through the ranks and ended up consulting on behaviour is more likely to remember how they improved behaviour against the odds, whereas someone who struggled and eventually quit teaching is going to justify this as being due to kids’ bad behaviour rather than any of their own deficiency.

So what evidence do we have? @OldAndrewUK pointed out a few interesting books from the 50s and 60s which talk about life in ‘tough schools’ where the worst behaviour mentioned was certainly mild compared to stories that circulate these days. A recent ATL survey claims most teachers think behaviour has deteriorated, and another report suggests that schools are going to extreme lengths to hide problems from inspectors. Certainly there has been emphasis from the new government on problems in schools.

However, on the other side of the fence we have evidence that Ofsted, PISA, and the British Crime Survey all suggest behaviour problems are decreasing.

So is the “behaviour was better in my day” something that can be dismissed as nostalgic rose-coloured-spectacled nonsense for those with a penchant for moral panic? Perhaps the idealistically smug “well *I* don’t have a problem, I just love the kids” brigade are wilfully ignoring a deterioration in behaviour in order to self-justify their careers? Perhaps both are true, in parts.

The truth is, we shall never know, we can’t possibly measure it, and there isn’t anything that remotely resembles hard evidence – it’s layer upon layer of anecdote. What is undoubtedly true is that where schools provide clear leadership, high expectations, engaging lessons, and rigorous, caring discipline, there is good and improving behaviour.

The big behaviour debate serves very little purpose. It becomes a destructive pawn in political games that do the education sector a disservice. You can’t win this argument, and there is little benefit from taking one side or another. I strongly believe people should just focus on what works, share good practice among teachers and parents, and expect nothing but the best from every child, and for every child.


Jamie’s Dream School

I loved this TV programme. Jamie completely gets these kids. He knows just how they were turned off by their school experiences, how they have low self-esteem, and how they lack self-discipline. You could see that he really related to them, that it made him think deeply about his own school experiences.

I was relieved that, unlike Monday’s Panorama, he didn’t go over the top and cherry pick very rare examples of classroom violence and claim it was the normal everyday experience for British students. In fact, he just bluntly stated the facts, and then expressed a wish to do something for kids, as he wished someone had done for him.

These kids were fantastic people. They didn’t need, or appreciate, anyone lecturing them with what their problems were (as David Starkey discovered). Quite the opposite – they could recite their problems to each other, and were totally self-aware. What we heard were endless stories of lack of respect, lack of discipline for them leading to lack of self-discipline, and a terrible lack of aspiration, hope, and engagement.

They were given amazing people to learn from, but none of them were teachers. What you saw were fairly unruly kids being engaged but not self-disciplined. It clearly showed how these celebrity teachers lacked the understanding of classroom management, planning, and psychology, but that they did their best with genuine enthusiasm, respect (in most cases), and fantastic resources.

Of course, the average teacher has more than one hour of lessons per week. They have one twentieth of the time to reflect on each lesson, adjust their plans for the next, and recoup their energy. They have more paperwork, more assessment, massively prescribed curriculums that ensure they rarely get to follow the students’ own interests, and far fewer resources to work with.

This programme clearly shows what heroes teachers are, day in, day out. Resilient professionals, caring and engaging, raising aspirations. When David Starkey got angry and disappointed he lashed out at students, blamed others, and expected someone else to fix it. As a real teacher you just can’t do that. You have to take it all, work tirelessly to raise standards, with every child, every day.

Jamie’s Dream School has inspired me to keep challenging and engaging my students, to keep reminding them how much potential they have, and to be disciplined with them so that they can learn to discipline themselves. It’s given me a stark reminder that belittling students achieves nothing, and that they will only respond well to people who believe in them.

I look forward to the rest of the series. Well done Jamie.

PS A mini quote from me, on this subject, was published in The Guardian on Tuesday 8th March.