Do you Possess a Protected Characteristic?

In the last academic year I have supported people into,

1 CEO role

2 Executive Headteachers

4 Headteachers


12 AHT

Too many middle leaders

I love you all.

If you have a protected characteristic I will coach you for free. If you don’t I’ll send you my rate card.


A Different Way

July 11th 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the mass murder of 8000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica and January 27th 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. 2020 is a critical year for remembrance, but equally, it has to be a year of action.

We must resist hate from the global to the local level. Together with the amazing @behaviourleader, I am collecting words, your words, stories, academic literature and views. These contributions will culminate in a book, which will include proposal from all over the world. If you feel you have something to share please do fill in the form below:

How to Stop Marking from Taking Over Your Life

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

The idea that written feedback is the best and only kind needs to be put to rest. Not only will this help children learn, it’ll reduce teacher workload, says Jeremy Hannay…

It’s the end of the match. The underdogs are in a tough battle to the finish. The players are tired. Can they hold on?

All of a sudden, the coach calls for a time-out. He’s spotted a potential weakness in the other team. There is a tactical advantage they could exploit, a move that could change the game. Can they cause a late upset…?

The team hustles round, kneeling in anticipation. A confused look comes over their faces. The coach is writing down what he’d like to say. “I’m almost done!” he shouts, “This is going to be great!”.

The whistle blows and the time-out is over. The team, bewildered by their coach’s odd behaviour, makes its way back onto the pitch. They haven’t been given the information in time. The other team rallies and scores again. The game ends with a devastating loss.

Back in the changing room, the weary, dejected players find a note with ‘Feedback’ written on it. The team captain opens it up. It was the strategy to win the game. Frustrated, they question the coach about his behaviour.

“Keep calm,” he says. “We can work on it tomorrow.”

The team, understandably annoyed, tell the coach that they needed to know right away, not the next day.

Feedback myths

The school bell may not have the same immediacy as a final whistle, but this sort of thing happens every day, to the detriment of children’s learning. Somehow, stemming from a bad combination of old Ofsted policy and poorly interpreted research, schools have been driven to adopt widely unsubstantiated (and sometimes outright wrong) ideas:

1. That written feedback is the most valuable type
2. That the best written feedback is a conversation between pupil and teacher
3. That feedback must be evidenced in a book to ‘count’

Let’s be clear – written is not always the best, or most appropriate way of critically commenting on children’s work.

Coming from Ontario, Canada, I was immediately shocked by the inordinate amount of marking that was taking place here. When I asked why everyone was spending so much time putting comments in books, I was received a range of answers –‘That’s the policy here’; ‘How else will they know what to fix or how to improve?’; ‘We need evidence in the books’, ‘It’s what we do’; and sometimes, ‘I have no idea’. Once in a while I would also hear something like, “It’s what research says is best practice”.

When people mention this ‘research’, they are often referring to one of two documents – The Teaching and Learning Toolkit, originally commissioned by the Sutton Trust, and John Hattie’s Visible Learning, which places feedback in the top five teaching influences on student achievement.

Neither publication, however, suggests that written feedback is crucial. In fact, in both reports specifically mention other modalities (pupil-to-teacher feedback or metacognitive strategies, such as Assessment for Learning).

Cut it out

At my school we have drastically reduced the amount of written feedback we expect of our teachers. All told, however, feedback is sharply on the rise (over 20%). More importantly, the decrease in the marking and extensive pro forma-based planning we do has been mirrored by an increase in attainment.

So what does our approach include?

• We’ve developed an ethos in which teachers can focus on both their own professional learning and that of the pupils
• We’ve created an environment where teachers can spend their working time dedicated to developing technological feedback strategies and pedagogical practices that promote pupil-to-pupil feedback
• We’ve introduced approaches that foster targeted talk about process and that promote self-regulation
• We encourage pupils to think about where they’re going, how well they are getting on and what’s next

Having read Alex Quigley’s work on Hunting English and a review of international research and practice, we decided that oral formative feedback and questioning would form the basis for our pedagogical advancements and teaching and learning strategy.

We started by implementing the new system into our English programme in 2013, and then our maths programme in 2014. They are built upon high levels of focused discussion and explicit modelling of thinking and learning, by both the adults and children. We have since introduced the use of technology as a valued approach to enhancing more traditional methods.

In our English programme we’ve combined Talk for Writing – which involves pupils learning extensively about a genre of writing in order to increase their capacity to self-reflect, co-construct and feedback on their own and each other’s work – with Transactional Strategies Instruction. Our reading programme involves teachers modelling their use of comprehension strategies to demonstrate when and how to apply those strategies in different problem-solving situations. Teachers share the responsibility of conducting a thoughtful discussion about a common text with pupils, who are also expected to explain their use of strategies and to communicate reflective responses to what they have read.

In maths, our adopted approach is similar to the Singaporean style, and includes thoughtful questioning of the pupils by the teacher, of the teacher by the pupils and the pupils of each other. The feedback and questioning are based on quality-first methods, framed using formative assessment and lots of talk about process, encouraging high levels of self-regulation.

Last year we introduced iPads, and focused on the use of ‘animated thinking’. The pupils are able to explain themselves using video, voice-over animations and photography. It allows them to access the feedback of the teacher and other experts, including classmates, at their own pace.

This means every child can confidently integrate technology into his or her learning in a meaningful and engaging way. When the feedback is visible, it is exceptional.

Speak openly

In addition to programme and pedagogical changes, we also support the use of oral formative feedback strategies and targeted questioning embedded across the curriculum, such as these:

Our Accountability-Heavy Education System is NOT Leading to School Improvement

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

When I was younger I used to work in a video store. I loved how busy the store would get on Friday and Saturday nights, the relationships we developed with people in the local community, the free bags of out-of-date crisps we’d get when the stock was changed – but, most of all, I enjoyed recommending movies to customers who weren’t sure what they wanted to watch.

Back then, one of my go-to recommendations was The Matrix. I was very taken with the film’s premise, and still think of it often when leading my little school in London and working with other teachers and leaders across the country. The premise in question is that the everyday world we perceive as real is, in fact, an all-encompassing simulation created by a race of sentient machines that have subdued the human race.

In one of the film’s best scenes, our protagonist Neo is offered a stark choice by Morpeheus, leader of a small group of human resistance fighters who know what’s actually going on:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember; all I’m offering is the truth.”

Why do I bring this up? It’s because we school leaders in England have been living in our own simulated reality for years. One we’ve always known was somehow ‘off’, and one we shouldn’t have to live with any more.

The Blue Pill

This is the world we’ve always known. It’s a world where recruitment and retention crises are commonplace, where strategies aimed at addressing them merely fumble with the symptoms rather than fix any underlying problem.

In this world we’ve been led to believe that an ‘inspection culture’ is synonymous with a ‘development culture’; that in order for schools, leaders, teachers and pupils to improve, they must be constantly measured and monitored. This surveillance takes many forms – frequent high stakes observation, regular and robust scrutiny, coupled with top-down accountability regimes.

We see this culture at every level. It’s there between the system and schools in the form of Ofsted ratings and league tables. It’s manifested between one school and the next via audits, reviews and mocksteds. You can even see it in leaders’ interactions with their teachers and between fellow colleagues during lesson observations and ‘routine’ book planning, subject scrutiny and miscellaneous monitoring.

This is the world we’ve been told is real. Most schools you’ll visit and talk to will likely be operating in this way, and chances are your local authority or MAT will be actively promoting all of the above as the sure-fire route to gaining an ‘Outstanding’ rating. Except there’s just one problem.

It’s not real.

Oh, it all seems real enough – but just like the simulated reality of The Matrix, it’s a system built on a fallacious understanding of what education actually is, and what we can do to get better at it. It’s a system that benefits impersonal ‘machines’ – data-crunching software, private companies, financial markets, accountancy firms – while subduing our growth, development, creativity and innovation.

There is another way.

The Red Pill

In terms of what will actively help us as leaders and educators, here’s what’s real. Schools where there are no shortfalls in recruitment or retention, Teachers who are able to grow professionally over time, and help others to do the same. Everyone in a given setting aligned to a deep moral purpose.

In these schools, development isn’t centred on professional inspections, but rather professional collaboration. These schools won’t perform regular observations and monitoring, or fire out overly prescriptive performance policies. Instead, they’ll discuss and design pedagogy, engage in action research and regularly perform learning and lesson study.

Under this system, teacher development is seen as an important leadership responsibility. To that end, school leaders care deeply about their staff, and understand that growing great educators involves both moments of brilliance and moments of mayhem.

These are schools that build in time for reflection, research and collaboration – both within the school itself and with partnering settings elsewhere. Moreover, these are schools that consistently achieve top results. How? Through collective efficacy and well-developed core programmes. The teachers have autonomy and are trusted to make decisions concerning their classroom instruction. There’s little need for marking policies or planning scrutinies, because their learning programmes are collaboratively designed and collectively refined.

Nor is workload an issue. Why would it be? Under this system, the work teachers carry out at their schools is meaningful for them, and impacts directly and clearly upon their pupils.

And yet, in England right now, this type of thinking is distinctly unconventional. Taking the red pill isn’t easy – it takes courage and conviction. It requires us to rethink what we’ve always been told is true, and ask deeper questions about our own roles in the system’s broader failures.

Defy the machines

When looking at some of the most acclaimed education systems across the world, it’s easy to pick up on surface-level reasons as to why they’re more effective than ours. In Singapore, we point to the parental culture there around education. In Canada, we flag up the relative lack of income inequality. In Finland, some point to the lower levels of immigration.

The truth, however, is that it’s the culture around professionals, learning and development that allow those nations to succeed. Schools in Ontario only perform teacher observations once every five years, but make a point of organising and maintaining mutually supportive communities focussed on learners and learning. Singapore schools regularly perform lesson study to develop professional skills in lesson design and learning. In Finland, research and reflection is prioritised over basic practice.

What these nations don’t do is overburden their teachers with prescription and policy. They instead create conditions under which every teacher is able to flourish.

As school leaders, we face a choice – take the blue pill or the red pill. We can take the blue pill and continue to live in the world created by machines. That’s the easy way, the way we’ve always known. Some of us might even feel that we’re prospering under the system we have.

Alternatively, we can take the red pill and start designing our own future. It will be difficult. We’ll need to think unconventionally and be ready to embrace a series of tough challenges.

But if we succeed, that world will be real. And it’ll be ours.

Nourish to Flourish

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

In October last year I spent some time in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of Canada’s leading wine regions. One of the processes I was interested in finding out about was that of making ice wine. The grapes, having already reached full ripeness in October, are left untouched on the vines under a cloak of protective netting until the first deep freeze of the Canadian winter. The harvest then takes place between December and January, when temperatures are between -9 to -13°C. This is where my inspiration for school improvement comes from.

After harvesting, the grapes are pressed while still frozen. The water in the juice remains as ice crystals during the pressing, and only a few drops of sweet concentrated juice are obtained from each grape. What’s important to note here is that specific conditions are required for ice wine to flourish – and incredible schools are no different. The conditions we create as school leaders in a climate of change is critical to how the school moves forward and sustains that forward momentum.

Case studies of exceptional schools indicate that school leaders primarily influence learning by galvanising effort around ambitious goals, and by establishing conditions that support teachers and help pupils succeed. At our school, Three Bridges Primary, we’ve focussed our energies on developing a culture built upon collaborative processes, intellectual stimulation, individualised support and leading by example.


Successful school leaders will actively facilitate the participation of staff in school development. We make use of targeted professional learning communities, research-driven lesson study, teacher-led open lessons and other processes to interrogate learning, support teaching practices, achieve shared goals and develop key priorities. These are characterised by hightrust and honest, open feedback from all participants in a relatively flat leadership structure.


Stimulate the conversation with readings or visuals that promote reflection and support teachers in examining their assumptions about pedagogy and practice. Allow teachers to identify current areas of excellent practice, and shape the path towards new ones through facilitated group discourse. Allocate time for trying out new ideas without management interference.


It’s critical that we show our teachers respect by providing appropriate incentives, and structure opportunities for individual and small group development outside of larger staff development meetings. Learning opportunities for staff must support the development of teacher skill; our own optimism, evidence base and enthusiasm should be aimed at encouraging their will.


As school leaders, we must be living examples of our values and ethos. Our own personal leadership resources permeate every area of the school, from the classroom to the playground. When we smile and acknowledge how lucky we are to have the best job in the world, our teachers, pupils, parents and school community do the same.

Free FT for Students and Teachers.

This is a great opportunity for teachers and educators to get their students reading.

The FT is now offering free online subscriptions to students aged 16-19, their teachers and schools around the world.

We believe reading the FT will help in study, essay writing, exams and broadening knowledge to improve performance in interviews for university and employment. It can also support those studying English including through audio articles.

Teachers and staff can click here to register for the service, allowing them to read the FT on school premises.

They and their students can use the same link to see if their institution is already signed up and request an individual account, allowing access online and to download the app for use from home and on mobile devices. They will also receive weekly email newsletter updates.

We encourage teachers and students to follow us on Twitter @FT4S, share articles and explain the reasons you like them. You can also comment beneath articles.

We have specific articles with suggested questions and classroom discussion points picked by teachers in subjects including economicsbusiness, geography and politics. We have mapped FT articles and sample questions to the A level economics curriculum with Core. We regularly host competitions for students, including a schools economics challenge with Core to make a video. We run Young Economist of the Year with the Royal Economic Society, and other writing competitions with the Bank of England, the Political Studies Association, the Royal Geographical SocietyChatham House and the World Bank.

We welcome teacher and student advisers. You can email us at for more information and with queries and suggestions.

The articles on this page provide a selection that is useful for schools, but any student or teacher who is registered can read the full range of FT content.

Our resources include economic dashboards with graphics showing recent data from the UK economy, the USChinaJapan and Russia, and a searchable graphics hub.

As well as news, analysis and comment, you can read our explainerswatch video and listen to podcasts. You can see a collection of FT videos useful for schools on Youtube.

Once signed up, you can register here for email newsletters or tailor your own selection of articles using myFT. Download our free guide or take the tour. Browse our Lexicon of financial terms.

Empowering the Young People.

What is the purpose of education? Many people would cite examples which include banking (the transference of knowledge from teacher to student) to achieve employment status. This is echoed by the world bank, “creating workers for today’s workforce’, Educators today are tasked with developing lifelong learners who can survive and thrive in a global knowledge economy – learners who have the capability to effectively and creatively apply skills and competencies to new situations in an ever-changing, complex world” (The World Bank, 2003; Kuit & Fell, 2010 in Blaschke 2012).

Employment may be a part of some teacher’s visions. However, this is not the only view for purpose. Education should empower pupils and teachers to promote or resist the political systems around them. Remember, the act of teaching is an act of politics in itself.

“Education is politicity, it is never neutral, when we try to remain neutral, like Pilate, we support the dominant ideology.”

“For me education is simultaneously and act of knowing, a political act, and an artistic act.”

If we are to fulfil all three parts of Freire’s description of teaching, democratic resistance is so important. This will no doubt turn into a longer piece in due course.

Here I would like to amplify the voices of these young people from south London. @ICFreeUK is where you can contact the group, last month they staged the following protest outside Brixton tube station.




With that final video, as some of you know those isolation booths are an issue close to my heart. The #losethebooth event on January 25th please do apply for a ticket here.

I know the team are negotiating extra spaces and that tickets are in high demand.



Change Leadership – Critical, Tame and Wicked Problems.

Most change leadership models fall under the following ten commandments:

  1. An accepted need to change
  2. A viable vision/alternative state
  3. Change agents in place
  4. Sponsorship from above
  5. Realistic scale & pace change
  6. An integrated transition programme
  7. A symbolic end to the status quo
  8. A plan for likely resistance
  9. Constant advocacy
  10. A locally owned benefits plan

(Grint, 2008, p11).


There are examples and is evident in my reading and blogs, e.g. my action plan for change, and Kotter model here.


Grint, 2008, described two types of problems:

1) Tame or Critical

2) Wicked

Critical Problem, eg a ‘crisis’, is presented as self-evident in nature, as encapsulating very little time for decision- making and action, and it is often associated with authoritarianism – Command (Howieson and Kahn, 2002; Cf. Watters, 2004 in Grint 2008). These are problems that require a decision at a point of crisis.

Where Tame problems are ‘complicated but resolvable through unilinear acts’ with definite answers the uncertainty is limited and known. Wicked problems are complex; the issue can not be differentiated from the environment; the difference between tame and wicked may also be dependent on the available resources.(Grint, 2008)

Examples in Schools

Critical There is a gas leak, and the boiler is out.
Tame A timetabling issue – a member of staff has requested to part-time hours.
Wicked Staff resistance due to a move to academisation to create more leadership autonomy.

Wallace 2004 refers to management as the tasks which maintain the daily status quo and leadership as visionary strategic thinking. Wallace describes the meta task of ‘orchestration’, where leaders step into the role of management in times of crisis until systems and structures are replaced, then leaders step back into their ideological positions. The management role is the solving of Tame problems and leadership the wicked ones.

Problem Realm
Critical Command
Tame Management
Wicked Leadership


Critical situations need a decision, which may require an authoritarian response, I am aware of the negative connotations of such. However, as a school leader, I have encountered various examples of people who come solely to for an answer, for a decision, to be led. There is nothing inherently wrong with authoritarianism in the circumstance. 

Tame problems should be solved through management, supported through structures. Leaders may have to step into these roles, as mentioned earlier. Wicked problems require questions rather than answers; these issues cannot be solved without the environment as a whole; therefore, the environment and the people in it must be included in the solution (through the questioning).

Problems are rarely discrete. However, recognising that problems will move between the three types may be helpful in determining future actions as a leader. (Grint 2008)

‘it is often the case that the same individual or group with authority will switch between the Command, Management, and Leadership roles as they perceive – and constitute – the problem as Critical, Tame or Wicked, or even as a single problem that itself shifts across these boundaries. Indeed, this movement – often perceived as ‘inconsistency’ by the decision maker’s opponents – is crucial to success as the situation, or at least our perception of it, changes.’ (Grint, 2008, p14)


Wallace, M. Journal of Educational Change (2004) 5: 57.

Leadership – Raising Aspirations

This guest piece is from Executive Headteacher Stever Baker

Kilgarth and Gilbrook Schools are a hard federation of under-funded, maintained SEMH schools for children who are often coping with complex learning difficulties and distressing personal circumstances, in an area among the most deprived in the country.

In order to break the cycle of aspirational deprivation we often have to contend with, we set out on an ambitious project; we wrote to inspirational figureheads from around the globe, asking them to send us a signed photograph and some words of wisdom. We hoped to show our pupils that they do not need to face the challenges of the future alone and that they should aspire to achieve great things.  With the support of some local companies we collated the remarkable responses that we received and created a book; a copy was given to each student, with the hope that it would raise their personal aspirations.  Staff and governors were also given copies, recognising the important role that they play in developing better outcomes for our school family and wider community.  Our award-winning ‘Aspire’ project became the inspiration behind the naming of our new federation of schools.

Taking the learning from our project, my top five tips to raise aspirations, and promote well-being, amongst young people would be:

  1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision

We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families, governors, psychologists, and members of the local community.  The result of our efforts can be seen in our mission statements.

1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families,… Click To Tweet
  1. Develop students’ resilience

Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood.  To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we have a number of positive quotes adorning the walls in our school, one of which is: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  The design of the displays was produced with the help of the students so they ‘bought into’ these values.

2. Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood. To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we… Click To Tweet
  1. Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance

Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance.  When challenging behaviour is displayed we should be very careful not to label children; we should not be asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ rather we should be asking ‘what happened to you?’ and ‘how can we help you overcome these challenges?’

Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance. When challenging behaviour is… Click To Tweet
  1. Promote solution focused conversations

A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health.  They reviewed gender differences and their findings suggested that increased testing and academic pressure in schools are likely to have a negative impact on mental health (particularly in girls).  Their report also indicated that children’s experience of school may be critical to the onset of mental health problems.  To promote a positive outlook, staff at both schools have embraced a coaching culture. This was originally introduced to support the emotional resilience of staff working in challenging environments, but we have also researched the positive impact that coaching has had on pedagogy.  Professor Walter Mischel, creator of the famous marshmallow test, suggested that using goal oriented thoughts helps us to develop levels of self-control which also further develops our resilience.

4. Promote solution focused conversations A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health. They reviewed gender differences and… Click To Tweet
  1. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all

Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences.  During these times of high stakes accountability, I believe that we should focus on delivering as many positive experiences for young people as possible. The latest research into neuroplasticity shows that the brain remains plastic throughout our entire lives and that by explicitly rewarding specific, positive behaviours we want to encourage, we are able to ‘hard-wire’ them into the young people we work with. Psychologists call this ‘The Matthew effect’ and it is based on accumulated advantage, namely the happier you are, the happier you will become and that by sharing happiness, you will be able to boost others’ well-being.

5. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. During these times of high stakes… Click To Tweet

We absolutely must commit ourselves to raising children’s aspirations but should also be mindful that with a reported ‘child mental health crisis’, emotional well-being should also be at the front of our minds; it should not be an optional extra.  I will leave you with the quote from the inspirational Liverpool boxer, Natasha Jonas, who personally handed out the books to our boys, following a series of boxing masterclasses she led for them:

“You have three names in life.  One you are given, one you inherit…and the other you make for yourself.”

Leading Change: Kubler Ross Curve

Kubler Ross is commonly used to describe the five stages of grief; however, the same process is mirrored by stakeholders in most organisational changes. All reticent to change and consequent resistance is due to a fear of loss, losses of the norm and other possible options.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross describes the stages as standard defensive mechanisms that humans move through to manage change. She states that progression to the acceptance/decision is unique, is not linear in terms of time or even consequential.

Some people in your schools may spend longer than others in certain stages and even some that regress back to a phase they have already visited.  A skill of leadership is to recognise and act accordingly to where the organisation is and to where individuals lie.

DenialCreate Alignment
FrustrationMaximise Communication
ExperimentDevelop Capacity 
DecisionShare Knowledge.

Denial: If I don’t say it out allowed, it will not happen — a completely natural phase where the vision and alignment must be set.

Frustration: I believe this is misplaced fear, a telltale sign is that the anger is typically misplaced.

Depression: This is the critical stage as followers will bounce back to frustration f they are motivated to experiment.

Experiment: This stage involves the most hand-holding. Leaders should give followers the resources and time to progress, no matter how tentatively.

Decision: Once followers have bought in, use their participation to recruit and support others on their journey.