Friend or Foe? The science of empathy and relationships explained.

Social experience is as important to our wellbeing as physical environment. Research suggests that our innate neurological threat-reward systems are activated not only in response to basic physical stimuli such as food/hunger, pain/pleasure, etc. but in response to five basic social qualities:

4. Relatedness

We all know the feeling of meeting someone completely new. There’s a slight tension and greater alertness: the classic fight-of-flight response. In fact, our brain is programmed make a judgement about each new person we meet in order to assess the risk of the situation.

“The decision that someone is friend or foe happens quickly and impacts brain functioning (Carter & Pelphrey, 2008). For example, information from people perceived as ‘like us’ is processed using similar circuits for thinking one’s own thoughts. When someone is perceived as a foe, different circuits are used (Mitchell, 2006). Also, when treating someone as a competitor, the capacity to empathise drops significantly (Singer et al, 2006).”
(SCARF white paper)

If the initial interaction and conversation goes well then you get a sense that you are ‘warming’ to the other person. This feeling appears to relate to the release of oxytocin in the brain, a natural brain hormone associated with affiliative behaviour (Domes et al, 2007). It has been suggested that oxytocin not only allows us to bond with another person, but also helps us overcome existing preconceptions or stereotypes by easing the process of ‘unlearning’, an important point for conflict resolution. Oxytocin is known to be release in particularly large quantities at the start of new romantic relationships and when people become parents.

“Studies have shown far greater collaboration when people are given a shot of oxytocin, through a nasal spray. (Kosfield, 2005).”
(SCARF white paper)

Relatedness and its importance in in organisations and schools is not a new idea. ‘Team Building’ exercises are very common, although if these are implemented by simply throwing a group of people together at random then you’re not likely to get a great response. The key is to explore ways that people can see team members, colleagues and classmates as ‘like me’ in some way. This is important to counteract feelings of loneliness.

“the human threat response is aroused when people feel cut off from social interaction. Loneliness and isolation are profoundly stressful. John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick showed in 2008 that loneliness itself is  a threat response to lack of social contact, activating the same neurochemicals that flood the system when one is subjected to physical pain.”
(Managing with the brain in mind)

So what lessons can we draw from this for teaching and learning, school leadership and education policy?

Teaching and Learning

First and foremost this article should hopefully help to further dismiss the adage of ‘don’t smile before Christmas’. It is immensely important that students create a warm relationship with their teacher. When this happens then the empathy created will foster greater trust and better behaviour. The best teachers always take time to know and understand their students and try and relate to them.

It is also important that students relate to each other. In secondary schools in particular there are many different classes with different groupings, and teachers shouldn’t ignore the importance of relationships between students. Peer collaboration is a powerful learning tool, but won’t be possible until relationships have been properly established.

School Leadership

Professional development happens much more effectively when teachers collaborate, not only with performance managers, line managers and mentors, but with other members of their departments. The best school leaders encourage social activity within and outside the classroom, and give staff an opportunity to learn together. Teacher sports teams, yoga classes, choirs, etc. are all excellent to create useful relationships, but you may also like to experiment with a display of teacher photos with accompanying brief ‘biographies’ including interests. School leaders need to participate in this as well: a cold, aloof management team reduces trust, and means they are less likely to hear about problems until too late.

Education Policy

Politicians have left a trail of PR disasters as they attempt to wear baseball caps and proclaim ‘pop’ music tastes in an attempt to make voters think they are ‘like me’. When you’re in charge of such an enormously diverse group of people then the values and consistency demonstrated by your actions will be more important.

When management teams or ‘superheads’ are placed in schools then there needs to be serious time and effort put in to building relationships with existing staff, students and parents. New federations or chains cannot hope to pull together successfully unless they give time for staff to get out and visit colleagues in other establishments.


  • We are tense when we meet new people. Our fight-or-flight response kicks in.
  • ‘Warmth’ between people occurs when they find similarities, and this can help break down stereotypes and preconceptions.
  • Loneliness can be a severe problem, with mental repercussions similar to physical pain.
  • Effective organisations work on trust and empathy between staff, and it is worth spending time on relationships, although crass attempts at ‘team-building’ can be counterproductive.


  • Managing with the brain in mind, Strategy Business magazine issue 59, Autumn 2009.
  • SCARF360 white paper, David Rock, NeuroLeadership journal, issue one, 2008
  • Carter, E. J. & Pelphrey, K. A., (2008). Friend or foe?
    Brain systems involved in the perception of dynamic signals of menacing and friendly social approaches. Journal
    Social Neuroscience, Volume 3, Issue 2 June 2008 , pages 151-163.
  • Mitchell, J. P., Macrae, C. N., & Banaji, M. R. (2006). Dissociable Medial Prefrontal Contributions to Judgments of Similar and Dissimilar Others. Neuron, 50, 655-663.
  • Singer, T., Seymour, B., O’Doherty, J.P., Stephan, K.E., Dolan, R.J., Frith, C.D., 2006. Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature, 439, 466-469.
  • Domes , G., Heinrichs, M., Gläscher J., Büchel, C., Braus, D., Herpertz, S. (2007). Oxytocin Attenuates Amygdala Responses to Emotional Faces Regardless of Valence. Biological Psychiatry, 62(10), 1187-1190.
  • Kosfeld, M. Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673-676.
  • Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, B. (2008). Loneliness: human nature and the need for social connection. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

I Win, You Lose: Why Losing Status Hurts.

Social experience is as important to our wellbeing as physical environment. Research suggests that our innate neurological threat-reward systems are activated not only in response to basic physical stimuli such as food/hunger, pain/pleasure, etc. but in response to five basic social qualities:

1. Status

“As humans we are constantly assessing how social encounters either enhance or diminish our status. Research published by Hidehiko Takahashi et. al in 2009 shows that when people realise that they might compare unfavourably to someone else, the threat response kicks in, releasing cortisol and other stress-related hormones” (‘Managing with the brain in mind’, Strategy Business magazine issue 59, Autumn 2009).

Social status is something that we are all implicitly aware of at all times. Studies have shown that we use the same areas of the brain for evaluating social pecking-order or seniority as for mathematical calculation (Chaio, 2003) and that this area is activated whenever we are interacting with other people, constantly reassessing our position  (Zink, 2008). This isn’t merely a superficial self-aggrandising reaction, it really matters to our health and wellbeing. Our perceptions of relative social standing have been shown to correlate with our life-expectancy and health, even when controlling for factors such as education and income (Marmott, 2004). It has even been shown that experiencing social rejection causes the same brain activity as physical pain (Eisenberger et al., 2003)

This mental reaction is our evolutionary reward for developing behaviours that promote our superiority in our ‘pack’ and thereby achieve a level of safety and security in our lives. Increase in status can be incredibly rewarding. In fact one study showed that an improvement in social standing prompted the same reactions as a financial windfall (Izuma et. al, 2008).

So what lessons can we draw from this for teaching and learning, school leadership and education policy?

Teaching and Learning

Children are acutely aware of status as they establish their identity and position in the world, and teachers are masters of using status in the classroom. We have traditionally used status-based rewards when we use competitive behaviour in our lessons, and the mere thought of status-raising associated with sport and games make them particularly appealing. The downside of this is that we have sometimes reinforced feelings of failure and anxiety in students – a problem that has led to over-compensation in the form of ‘all must have prizes’.

However, the lessons from this research is that while we can’t (and shouldn’t) shield students from ‘real-world’ status-related issues, we can encourage a culture where we value improvement, effort and resilience. This will mean that, wherever possible, status in our classroom is gained through effort and not ingrained ‘talent’. We need to encourage classrooms where success is celebrated in a number of different forms. An obsession with publicising levels, for example, might reinforce status anxiety.

School Leadership

Given that most classroom teachers are on a relatively level status playing field, school leaders should realise that status anxiety can easily become heightened among staff. The mere thought of inspection judgements, classroom outcome data analysis, or student surveys about teachers can send staff in to a fearful state that results in anger, defensiveness, and closed-mindedness. The simple act of a colleague saying ‘may I give you some feedback about that?’ will probably be at least partly interpreted as ‘I know more than you, I am superior’. The much vaunted 360-degree review will have little beneficial effect when the recipient is sat anxiously expecting a wave of status-lowering criticism from their colleagues.

Of course, it would be ludicrous to conclude that you have to avoid all comparisons or any of the aforementioned quality-assurance methods. However a wise leader will ensure that all staff feel fully valued for their strengths and improvements, and that they begin appraisals, where possible, with self-evaluation.

Education Policy

League tables, inspections and exam systems vigorously reinforce the notion of status in education. Generally speaking successful political leaders, journalists and business-people will have been the recipient of the upside of these systems – if you succeeded in staying at the top of the success ladder at school then you will view competition as being very beneficial as it provided you with a huge amount of positive reinforcement.

On the flip-side, a system with a very narrow view of educational success/status will simply create anxiety and, eventually, disengagement, as only a small proportion of schools and students can ever be top of any specific pile. Of course, policy makers need to strive for success and would be in danger of a lack of focus if they attempted to consider too many metrics at once, but they should avoid denigrating the teaching profession or groups of schools as failures. This will simply make it more likely that staff in those schools spend more time in ‘fight-or-flight’ brain mode – exactly the wrong state to be in when attempting to improve teaching skill or find creative solutions to help difficult students.


  • Value a range of skills and talents. A narrow definition will encourage anxiety and ‘gaming’ in order to achieve status-based rewards.
  • Feedback should be handled carefully. When presented in a threatening way it could be worse than no feedback at all.
  • Status doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It is possible to raise status through praise and positive feedback, or by providing an alternative field in which to excel.

This is the first post in a series of five on lessons for education from SCARF.


  • Managing with the brain in mind, Strategy Business magazine issue 59, Autumn 2009.
  • SCARF360 white paper, David Rock, NeuroLeadership journal, issue one, 2008
  • Michael Marmot, The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, Times Books 2004
  • Eisenberger, N. i., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRi study of social exclusion. science, 302, 290-292
  • Chiao, J. Y., Bordeaux, A. R., Ambady, N. (2003). Mental representations of social status. Cognition, 93, 49-57.
  • Izuma, K., saito, D., sadato, N. (2008). Processing of social and Monetary Rewards in the Human striatum. Neuron, 58(2), 284-294
  • Zink, C. F., Tong, Y., Chen, Q., Bassett, D. s., stein, J. L., & MeyerLindenberg A. (2008). Know Your Place: Neural Processing of social Hierarchy in Humans. Neuron, 58, 273-283.


TDA announce CPD database closure

We’ve just received an email announcing that the TDA are closing their CPD database in March, as they feel the time is right for the education community to produce its own tools.

This is their email.

Teacher professional development is the principle key to improving an education system, and so the question to be asked is what will replace it?

Here at Informed Education we’re confident we have the answer. We’ve been working away developing our new site to be all that the TDA database is and more. We already have over 300 courses listed on our alpha website, and have signed up big names such as the Institute of Physics, Creative Education and the University of Hertfordshire to list their training opportunities on our new site, with many more on the way.

However, we will be offering much more than just a list of courses:

  • Consultancy services, including finding local ASTs and ex-LEA advisors
  • Podcasts and media clips
  • Books
  • Online courses and webinars
  • Reviews of courses provided by teachers, rating teaching, facilities and impact on their practice.
  • Education research summaries, written for teachers
  • Regular mailings to keep all school staff up to date with the latest training materials, opportunities, and research.
  • Reminders of key learning points from courses that teachers have attended, 10 days, 10 weeks, and 10 months after they attended.
  • Collaborative online areas for course attendees to share their ideas, learning points, and help each other implement their new ideas in the classroom.

We will be launching our public beta site in January, with a view to a full launch in March. We’re pleased to note that this timetable fits nicely in with the TDA’s plan to shut down in March, and we look forward to welcoming new teachers, schools and providers on board.

For more information contact Informed Education founder, and GoodCPDGuide developer, (Twitter – @informed_edu)

10 vital questions to ask before investing in classroom technology

There are so many new technologies and devices appearing on the education market every day now that it can become very difficult to determine where to spend your money, if indeed you should spend it at all. Before you make your next investment, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Would more students get involved in the learning? Too many students spend most lessons sat there listening, watching, or reading – i.e. being passive. Will your new device(s) give more students the opportunity to get actively involved in their learning? Be wary of technology where only one student can take part at any one time.
  2. Would the teacher be able to assess learning more easily? The best learning happens when the teacher can make quick assessments of understanding and feed back regularly, several times each lesson. Watch out for technology that encourages content creation without the opportunity to share, discuss and learn from it.
  3. Would it maintain or increase the challenge level? The best learning is cognitively challenging, which means that it cannot always be fun and easy. Some games and puzzles can help reinforce low-level factual recall but fail to stimulate higher-order thinking
  4. Would it allow the teacher to move around the classroom? If your new technology requires the teacher to stay stuck next to a device at the front of the classroom then you’re hugely diminishing the potential for effective assessment, feedback and classroom management.
  5. Would students be able to interact with their peers? Collaborative problem-solving and peer-feedback  is immensely powerful in the classroom. If your technology only enables communication between teacher and student then you could be wasting an opportunity.
  6. Would it encourage independent learning? If students are completely reliant on the teacher then they’re less likely to be motivated and more likely to give up when they encounter problems. The best technology enables students to keep on learning outside the classroom, and make choices about the way they learn.
  7. Have you budgeted for the relevant support? Any new device that will take centre-stage in the class must be super-reliable. If you spend all the money on the device and fail to put in place the relevant support and maintenance then you’ll end up with a cupboard full of expensive, broken equipment that teachers have become frustrated with.
  8. Have you budgeted time and money for teacher development? Don’t expect to just drop new technology in to the classroom and have it used effectively. Teachers need time away from the classroom to discuss it, develop ideas, observe each other using it, share resources, and work it in to their schemes of work. This is one of the most frequently neglected areas of education technology, and should be a key part of planning any new investment.
  9. Will it become obsolete? A tough question to answer, but one that has stung many schools.  Some decided it would be more convenient to buy a set of portable laptops only to discover that their lack of processing power means they become unusable for modern applications within a couple of years (as well as breaking more frequently than desktops).
  10. Would it be better to spend more on existing technology, maintenance and professional development? With well-meaning dedicated government grants for technology the temptation is to spend-spend-spend. Perhaps that grant would be better spent on replacement parts, upgrades, a new technician, better infrastructure, and taking staff off timetable to enable them to develop their expertise with existing resources? Perhaps you’d improve learning much more with an ultra-cheap but highly-effective set of mini-whiteboards?

Half term: some interesting articles and links

Twitter has provided me with a huge amount of food for thought this week. I thought I’d share some of those articles, links and tweets here:

and finally a bit of fun:

Some books that have inspired me

A whole load of books that have inspired me that I heartily recommend.

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 by @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 –

Making sense of predictions and targets

These days, schools are awash with targets, estimates, and predicted grades. Used well, they are a way to embed a common ambitious vision for each child. Used badly, they are a demotivating, self-fulfilling prophecy of underperformance.

It’s really important to understand the difference between these:

  • Target: “I would like you to aim for…” – a reasonably ambitious goal that stretches the student.
  • Prediction: “In my judgement you’re currently heading for…” – a professional opinion, based on evidence of assessment.
  • Estimate: “Similar students to you most commonly achieved…” – a statistically-generated grade based on previous exam results and/or developed ability (aka the current IQ score or similar).

It’s really important to be clear about the difference. Start telling a student that you are predicting them a B grade, and some will hear that you don’t think they can achieve an A grade. It’s a veritable mine-field, and one where you can easily push students in to labelling themselves: i.e. “this grade tells me how clever I am”.

Here’s an example of the sort of language you might use with students (in the English education system).

Teacher: “Sarah, most students who got the same levels as you in their Key Stage 2 SATs went on to get a B in GCSE Maths. Some of them worked harder and got an A, and a few of them worked really hard and even got an A*. However, the ones who gave up easily in lessons got lower grades. You and I don’t know how hard you’ll work yet, but we should set a target to aim for.”

Some schools like to use chances graphs to help them explain this information, like the following:

This is a great way of showing students the grades that similar students achieved. It also beautifully illustrates the fact that people with similar results went on to achieve a huge variety of results. It is worth having some good discussions with students to get them to think about what factors caused someone ‘like them’ to end up with a U-grade, and what made some of the students ‘like them’ to get A-grades.

This is really empowering language. It builds on Carol Dweck‘s excellent work on fixed and growth mindsets, and ensures students stay focused on how they are learning, not just what they are learning.

All this work can very easily be destroyed by reverting to “I predict you will get a B”. It sounds like a done deal, like the teacher is saying this will happen in spite of your efforts. Of course, some students are very resilient and will carry on working regardless, but for others it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is a danger with targets, however. If you constantly use positive “you can achieve anything” language without referring to current work-rate then students develop unrealistic attitudes – there can be a disconnect between their goals and their current actions.

As with any good process-management students need to constantly check their progress with robust assessment and appraisal, and they need to both learn the tools and develop the characteristics to deal with inevitable situations where they underachieve.

Here’s an example of language that uses all three concepts: estimates, predictions, and targets.

“Sarah, we know that most similar students to you end up with B at GCSE [estimate], but some of them got an A, and we agreed earlier this year that you would aim for an A-grade [target].

My worry is that if you carry on working at your current level, based on your last pieces of work, you might currently be on course for a C-grade [prediction]. Why do you think this is, and what do you think you need to do to get yourself back on track for the A-grade you wanted?

Some people may well wish to avoid the language of grades completely and focus more on specific skills, but the general principle is that this is:

  • realistic – based on current assessments
  • empowering – focuses on the student’s ability to improve and be in control of their success
  • optimistic – reinforcing the idea that people ‘like her’ have achieved their A-grade targets.
  • specific – the discussion will then focus on specific measures to improve the situation, ideally including ways that both student and teacher can use to check improvement is happening.

The language is the easy bit, of course, and by itself will achieve nothing. However it can keep the focus on the variously challenging, frustrating, and hopefully ultimately rewarding process of helping students improve.

I should add that, of course, not all classroom teaching and learning should be based around exams and grades – doing this exclusively will inevitably reduce motivation and engagement. However given the inevitable exam focus in most schools then this is quite a good way to approach it.

I’d be really interested to hear ideas of how to improve the above examples of dialogue, and for more ways to keep students pushing themselves.

Contact Informed Education if you would like a training session run at your school on using data and assessment for better teaching.

Afl, lesson objectives, and the 3-part lesson.

There was a fascinating debate on Twitter last night about what should be expected from a lesson. I kicked off after chatting to a colleague from another school who told me his lesson was deemed a failure as he only wrote up his lesson objectives after giving feedback on a homework.

@informed_edu: Heard about a school today who insist all lessons *must* be 3-part, *must* have objectives written up before tchr starts speaking! <Sigh>

Not everyone agreed, of course (and I very much respect the following person’s leadership and teaching opinions):

@LeeDonaghy: I’m currently trying to introduce the accelerated learning cycle at my school: what’s wrong with a structure & objectives?

Personally, I don’t believe in requiring teachers to do these things. I feel very strongly that doing so “puts the cart before the horse”, and I wasn’t the only one in last night’s debate to feel this way.

@kalinski1970: too prescriptive…teachers need to concentrate on three simple things…what do I want them to learn?… What activities will help them learn it? How will I know if they have learnt it? However structure helps weak teachers

Now of course there’s nothing wrong with saying that you want to use the first part of your lesson to jog students’ memories and brainstorm ideas, followed by a one or more activities to explore/extend, and then a dual-purpose assessment/revision plenary to help firm up the learning and give you information about strengths/weaknesses to help plan your next lesson. For that reason, your lesson may be 3-part, or 2-part, or 4-part. It probably won’t have a gimmicky “get them thinking about something random” 10-minute starter which (in my humble opinion) wastes some of the most fertile learning time of the lesson.

With lesson objectives, the opinions were still pretty one-sided:

@IRIS_behaviour: writing objectives on the board = starting a joke with the punch line!

@Davy_Parkin: there are several ‘musts’ that just aren’t realistic or are tokenistic, so they only happen when needed ie observations!

@LeahJames21: I believe children should tell me what they’ve learnt during the plenary. Usually this is a lot more than my plans 🙂

I said I objected to compulsion…

@informed_edu: Because “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” (with apologies to cat-lovers). Optional=good.

but not everyone agreed (and again this opinion from some who I very much respect):

@SusanDouglas70: but sharing your lesson objective doesn’t stop you skinning the cat anyway you want to in the lesson?

Now I do understand that the idea here is that kids take control of their own learning. You set a course for them, they steer, and they decide how well they did at the end of the lesson. However, I’ve heard so many times where schools insist on lesson objectives at the start, and insist on ‘how well have I understood these’ traffic-lighting sessions at the end, while missing out the vitally important part of giving the students the means and the training to take control.

If you tell kids “by the end of the lesson you will learn X”, and then you teach them energetically but at the end they say “but I don’t understand X” then it does both them and you very little good. Also, traffic lighting in their books is also remarkably inefficient way for the teacher to gather information to plan the next lesson.

I love the idea that you can supply differentiated support and materials to all students who can peer-support each other (with teacher intervention) to learn new topics. If you’re doing this, then by all means give them an extremely clear steer on what they should be focussed on, and let them carefully reflect on how much they’ve learned in order to inform their own homework-planning and home-study.

However, this isnt’ the best approach for all learning. In fact whole class teaching has been showing in many cases to have the largest effect sizes in learning (see Geoff Petty’s Evidence-Based-Teaching or Coben et. al.’s research into adult teaching). Whole-class discussion, assertive questionning, mini white-boards etc. are all excellent whole-class strategies in situations where totally student-led-learning may be less effective for promoting understanding, learning and engagement. In whole class methods the teacher is driving the lesson (and rightly so).

Why should the teacher be obliged to write up the lesson objective at the start here? Perhaps they’d like to begin by brainstorming things the students have previously learned, then verbally explain the aim of the lesson, and finally use creative ways to do some form of end-of-lesson formative assessment, without reference to any written outcome.

Perhaps an effective educator may, weekly, refer students to a syllabus where they can look together at how effectively they have been covering material? Perhaps students will construct ‘what we have learned’ wiki entries, or mind-maps, or question-materials?

I have no doubt that, in some cases, writing up a learning outcome/lesson objective can be valuable. But it is (in my opinion) a nonsense to suggest that every lesson must begin with one written up, and even more of a nonsense to accuse a teacher of being unprofessional if they refuse to do so.

To my horror, another tweet I saw was:

@Mallrat_uk: ours *must* be in 5 part and we also *must* have objectives!

I think this is a nonsense, and a gross misunderstanding of AfL. I am certain that Ofsted do not call for any such thing. No wonder imaginative, effective teachers end up leaving ‘troubled’ schools if management teams impose such measures on every member of staff in the race for better numbers and judgements.

I believe neither 3-part-lessons nor written learning objectives/outcomes/aims are a panacea for educational success…. but as always I am happy to be contradicted, and informed to the contrary. In fact I’d actively welcome dissenting opinions – best way to learn.

Gifted and Talented

Dear parent,

We would like to let you know that we have not included you daughter in our latest “Gifted & Talented” list. You may assume we feel she has no notable gifts, and no particular talents. We shall therefore exclude her from various clubs, trips and opportunities. We will make sure that every teacher who has her in their class sees a big, fat, “NO” in the “Gifted and Talented?” column on their class spreadsheet. These teachers will have to make no specific provision for her in their planning.

We will specially appoint a gifted and talented coordinator in our school to organise lots of extra stretch and exciting activities. This coordinator will ignore your daughter, and spend none of their time doing anything for her benefit.

You may also be interested to know that there used to be a National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth. They did wonderful work in providing support for talented young people. As your daughter is is neither gifted nor talented, she would have effectively been entirely invisible to this organisation… although they’ve closed now, which will make her feel better, I’m sure.

Incidentally you may be interested to know that the government defines gifted learners as those who have abilities in one or more academic subjects, like maths and English, and talented learners as those who have practical skills in areas like sport, music, design or creative and performing arts. Your daughter has none of the above.

Kindest regards,

Your school

Note: Just updated after being slapped on the wrist and reminded NAGTY was closed in 2007 (or possibly 2010, the wikipedia article is unclear). Oops. Apparently the replacement is either Warwick Uni’s IGGY or DfE’s YG&T. Incidentally I’d welcome someone writing an opposing view to this – always happy to be contradicted.

Edit: Fantastic opposing view (also in epistolary form!)  by @GiftedPhoenix