I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about what I learnt at the Sutton Trust-Gates Summit this week.
I still get excited like a child. On 8 January 1980 the Clash played The Brighton Top Rank and my 15 year old self was there.
Two decades later, when the venue was dubbed The Event II and hosted discos, I made a point of dancing on stage at the very spot where Strummer had belted out London’s Calling all those years before. At the Omni-Shoreham hotel in Washington DC below, venue for the Sutton Trust-Gates Teacher Improvement Summit, I delivered my talk from the Blue Room stage, the very same stage on which the The Beatles warmed up for their first ever concert in the US.


The Omni-Shoreham even had the set-list on display, written in biro by John Lennon on hotel notepaper. Legend has it JFK would take Jackie to the Blue Room on dance dates. It was a very special event. I do know how lucky I am.
How do we improve teaching? Rob Coe has co-authored the Sutton Trust’s What is great teaching? which proved a touchstone for the conference. Tom Sherrington has written a superb and extensive post on what he learnt from participating in the Summit, which I cannot begin to rival; I’ve already written a short post about what I learnt on the first day. What became obvious, however, from our discussions with colleagues from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, France and the UK is that the strategies we discussed to improve the quality of teaching can only be implemented effectively if the school culture is right. We didn’t need evidence-based research to tell us; it was a global truth we all knew.
Dr Paul D Browning was the star of the Summit. I’ve already mentioned him in my first summit post; Tom wrote about him too. His extensive work on Trust in schools led him to produce the Rubric for assessing trust and transformational leadership practices below:
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The potential uses of Paul’s rubric are numerous. I think, in time, we will use it at Huntington to gauge the leadership effectiveness of the SLT. Beyond that, who knows?
So, how do you measure school culture? Today I hosted a consultation event on the new OFSTED Framework, led by Nick Hudson, our Regional Director, and his colleagues. The weather was foul. The fire alarm sounded and the OFSTED team and the participants – all successful Heads – stood there whilst 1,700 Huntington students and staff evacuated the building. The students and staff stood in impeccable silence for seven or eight minutes. All you could hear was the consultation event attendees chattering away! When we resumed the consultation, I received compliments aplenty for the school’s conduct during the evacuation. That was a measure of school culture, I think, but not measurable.
What is worth measuring is often hard to measure. Ani Magill made an insightful comment on the second day of the summit when she said, The level of discretionary effort is a great indicator of school culture; it may be a great indicator, but it’s damned hard to measure! This issue particularly struck Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation. Within the UK delegation we pursued it further. Professor Rob Coe suggested that a research project which evaluated the effectiveness of all the tools which exist which purport to measure school culture would be worthwhile. He wanted to establish a set of tools which were mirrors which Headteachers could hold up and see a true reflection of their schools. Ani said that she wanted to know whether the culture of the school as she intended was embedded throughout the school like the letters in a stick of rock. Furthermore, when she had helped other schools improve, many times she would be told that all the cultural features of successful schools were already established, despite the student outcome evidence pointing starkly to the contrary. An objective tool for measuring school culture in those circumstances would be invaluable.
Sometimes when you work with great people the energy is infectious. As a result of our discussions I went on to co-host with Tom Sherrington an impromptu session entitled Taking the Cultural Temperature of Your School. In 30 minutes we gathered a number of ideas from our international colleagues. The Principal of Stonefields School, Sarah Martin, suggested several established processes which measured culture, some home grown, but most commercial products costing thousands of Pounds/Dollars/Euros. If Rob Coe’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) or the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) or The Institute for Effective Education (IEE), or the Institute of Education (IoE) could commission research into the most effective way of measuring school culture, wouldn’t that prove useful. The most effective of Rob Coe’s mirror-tools could be identified. We could gain, in a cost effective way, a measure of the environmental health of the schools we lead. Then we could take steps to make improvements based on good evidence. Then we could implement the great ideas we had for improving the quality of teaching in our schools more effectively, because, as we all agreed, the practitioners are the intervention. If colleagues are committed to what they are charged with doing, the greater the chance they will be doing what they are doing with fidelity to its intention.
You must read Being Mortal. Anul Gawande’s latest book is revelatory. It should be depressing but I am finding it uplifting. Earlier this year, two hospital appointments on the same Spring morning left me facing a new knee at sixty and requiring a replacement lead for my pacemaker! Thing is, I feel more energised than ever. Despite falling to bits and feeling horribly jet-lagged, I’ve been doing some work on collating these culture tools. And I haven’t had to look very far. Below is the fruit of my initial labours. The first five are my own, adapted from a talk by Ani at a Leading Edge conference some years ago.
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These two are home grown by us at Huntington – the student version derived from some work we did years ago with John Corrigan from the Australian firm Group 8 Education. The staff version is yet untried, but designed to help evaluate us as Performance Development Reviewers.
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I have used the Student 360 and was disappointed at some of the disparity between my perception of myself as a teacher and my students’ perception of me as their teacher. It has  helped me tweak aspects of my practice since.
The next batch derive from my initial web-search.
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And here’s a review of the efficacy of culture tools for measuring Principal impact by the American Institutes for Research.
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Contribute! I’ll be widening my search. If you know of a mechanism for measuring school culture please leave a comment.
It’s all about the culture, stupid! I have always said, to anyone who’ll listen, that my job as Headteacher is to get the conditions for growth right for staff and students. Truly great schools are grown oak tree-like over years, not overnight like mushrooms.
Postscript: When I was waiting at Newark for the flight back to Manchester I had an idea, inspired by the need to support our weakest readers and Gawande’s book. I sat in Departures at Gate 128 and wrote the Elevator Pitch and the Rationale:

The Elevator Pitch: We train a number of our Link Group Senior Citizens how to become experts in teaching phonics and delivering the on-line Accelerate Reader programme, and then set up a systematic intervention programme for our weakest Year 7 readers where the Senior Citizens use their training to teach them how to read.

The Rationale: There is good evidence that senior citizens enjoy a better quality of life if they have a reason for living which is focused upon helping others. Our cohorts of Year 7 students are coming to us with increasingly unequal academic prior attainment; the literacy gap is wider than it has ever been. We have no-one trained either to teach phonics or to use Accelerate Reader which the EEF think is emerging as one of the most effective tools for improving students’ reading skills. It makes logical sense to enrich the lives of both our Senior Citizens and our weakest youngest learners through the Inter-generational Reading Initiative.

I read it again when I landed in Manchester and have run it by a few people, including our Chair of Governors and a Professor of ICT. It still stands up. Watch this space!

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This post has 14 Comments

  1. Like The Elevator Pitch….needs to be a national training scheme for pensioners who volunteer to do this.

  2. Hi John
    Maybe take a read of Karen Barad’s ‘Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement o f matter’ (2007). I think it could give you a different perspective on measurement, objectivity and teaching!
    Best wishes

  3. Very thought-provoking blog John, thanks for all the links. Like the Elevator Pitch idea as well. I am working on something similar using 6th formers to help Y7s with reading and based on a set of 12 sports based short stories that we have commissioned Tom Palmer (from Todmorden) to write for us and set in Guernsey, with groups of students helping him with editing and local details. I have written about 30 short tasks designed to develop the areas that the EEF report Reading at the Transition identifies – word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension and each team of 4 Y7s will get a point once each of them has completed a task on a story. We will then have an island-wide league with each team supported by a local sports star (local sport is higher profile here). However, could change to pensioners instead, or a mix with 6th formers, which might be good socially. Interested in people’s thoughts.
    Interested too in all the culture material. I am in the early stages of trying to get Guernsey schools and other institutions to sign up to Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, the result of her TED Wish. The website is impressive http://youtu.be/7oFmRN0oadI but not many UK schools seem to have got involved. I think it could provide a supportive backdrop for huge areas of work in schools, stitching together PSHE, ethical discussions in English, history etc, care and guidance programmes, assemblies, anti-discrimination work, anti-bullying etc. The fact that it was put together by senior representatives of all the major faiths but is not ethical rather than religious gives it considerable power. It incorporates a toolkit that schools could use to both measure and, more importantly enhance their culture of compassion – not a trendy word but a quality that good schools should surely be striving to develop. Again, interested in thoughts.

  4. “It’s all about the culture, stupid! I have always said, to anyone who’ll listen, that my job as Headteacher is to get the conditions for growth right for staff and students. Truly great schools are grown oak tree-like over years, not overnight like mushrooms.” THAT, A thousand times that. Shout louder at your colleagues and their overlords that. Thanks.

  5. You could offer your Link Group Senior Citizens the opportunity to be tutored by the same Y7s in use of the Internet/email/Skype/Facebook or how to get more from their mobile phones. Co-tutoring. All experts in something. Just a thought. (You may do this already)

  6. Just a thought – could it be an approach to make the teaching of your Y7 reading group by your Link Group Senior Citizens reciprocal? The younger students are helped to read; and they help the Senior Citizens with use of computers, email, skype, facebook – or making use of all those ‘hidden gadgets’ on their mobile phones? Both groups – mutual teachers and learners, and empoowering both in value & purpose. (You may well be doing this already)

  7. Fantastic and inspiring piece. Thank you for sharing all this wonderful food for thought.

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