This much I know about…treating teachers well and helping them manage their workload

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about treating teachers well and helping them manage their workload.

My last post about our Outstanding OFSTED judgement began with this important quotation which encapsulates how we try to run Huntington School:

Too much of sport operates under the tyranny of the result…the core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievably hard. That is it. Everything else – winning or losing matches, winning or losing Cups – are just outcomes. They are not the primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.

– Edward Griffiths, CEO, Saracens RFC

Headteachers need to trust their colleagues more than ever. Seneca said, “The first step towards making people trustworthy is to trust them.” At our school we teach over 3,360 lessons each fortnight; I cannot teach them all, so what I have to do is develop my colleagues in a safe school environment which allows them to thrive professionally and personally.

Workload…Two members of the DfE Delivery Unit visited us in September to explore workload issues. They met with me and I told them what we have been trying to do here for the past decade. For the rest of the day they met numerous colleagues without me and then we spoke at the end of the day whilst their taxi waited patiently outside. They asked how they could bottle-up the culture we have developed at Huntington and spread it across the system? They reflected that, whilst hours worked is an important metric, another is job satisfaction and that teachers here felt intellectually challenged and interested in their job. We train teachers really well whilst insisting they accept the professional obligation to improve their practice. A few weeks ago I shared the summary notes I gave the colleagues from the DfE Delivery Unit with Sean Harford. This afternoon, the following Twitter conversation sparked this post:

So, here are those summary notes:

DfE Delivery Unit Visit to Huntington School

Teacher Workload

Wednesday 20 September 2017

  1. Trust…Respect, Honesty and Kindness.
  2. Culture is hugely important.
  3. Supportive yet challenging governance, which understands that teachers are our most valuable resource.
  4. Marking and Feedback policy designed from the bottom up, based upon a set of principles, different according to department. We base a lot of what we do on the ideas of Daisy Christodolou.
  5. Data capture is measured – we report progress twice a year and attainment at the end of the year.
  6. Minimal written reports.
  7. Lesson Maps are flexible and relatively non-prescriptive; full/daily/class-by-class.
  8. Most policy is designed by the middle-leaders with minimal SLT input, because they know what works best.
  9. E-Comms technician to set up IRIS observation cameras and to run the website etc etc.;
  10. HR, Finance, Premises – expert operational SLT who are liberated to just get on with it.
  11. Minimise admin so meeting time is dedicated to T&L – on alternate Mondays we combine the one hour of meeting time with an hour when the students go home early at 2.30 pm so that teachers can work on T&L in what we call Teaching and Learning Forums (TLFs) from 2.45-4.45 pm. We have 19 TLFs a year. We have less than 25 hours a week contact time with students and we have better results.
  12. When we had all the curriculum change 3 years ago we took two extra training days.
  13. We have c.35 part-time staff. Flexibility keeps good teachers in the school.
  14. Central admin staff are excellent and they drive improvements – changing MIS systems was down to them.
  15. One Family Day a year, fully paid.
  16. Work scrutiny is designed by SLs and departmentally-based and developmental, rather than penal QA.
  17. All funeral requests granted without question.
  18. Meetings finish on time. SLT meeting does not go beyond 5pm. No prizes for looking busy – work in a way that suits you. All staff can go home if they are not teaching last period of the day.
  19. 44/50 Periods of teaching per fortnight maximum.
  20. “No lesson judgements” policy came in three or four years ago. We discuss how to get better.
  21. We develop leadership positions and undertake shadow-staffing/succession planning exercises to see who we need to retain.
  22. Departmental Administration Support across departments.
  23. PM is called Performance Development and everyone completes an Inquiry Question which they have loved, with support from the Research School.
  24. We begin from the assumption that everybody will get a pay rise unless their students’ outcomes are poor and we use our wisdom when making that call, with utter transparency.
  25. Training is planned across the whole year, so people know what is happening.
  26. Class size and funding…we would have £800,000 p.a. more in our budget if we had just kept up with inflation since 2010.

Ultimately, the DfE can do very little to reduce workload – it is up to school leaders to set a culture where staff are cared for, well-trained and valued and policies are based on common sense and the principle that we shouldn’t be doing things unless they clearly help improve student outcomes.

And here is what the OFSTED report said about our CPD:

Click on the image below for more details about our Leading Learning CPD course.


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This much I know about…our Outstanding OFSTED judgement

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about our Outstanding OFSTED judgement.

Too much of sport operates under the tyranny of the result…the core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievably hard. That is it. Everything else – winning or losing matches, winning or losing Cups – are just outcomes. They are not the primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.

Edward Griffiths, CEO, Saracens RFC


So, an Outstanding judgement. Three days, eleven inspectors, one report. It was a triumph for values-driven education, for holding one’s nerve, for getting a small number of key things absolutely spot on.

The inspectors saw the school as it is, day-in, day-out. We did nothing extraordinary to prepare for inspection. One seasoned art teacher said to me, “The first time I thought about OFSTED this term was when you said they were coming in tomorrow”. We just kept working hard to teach good lessons, every lesson, every day, every week of the year.

Our data isn’t remarkable. It is above average – but not well above average – at GCSE and A level every year, year-in, year-out. But, like teaching good lessons, every lesson, every day, securing above average outcomes consistently over time is outstanding.

There are four features of our school which form recurrent themes throughout the report:

  • genuinely high expectations of ourselves and our students;
  • putting the improvement of teaching at the centre of the school’s activities;
  • underpinning our work with an intelligent, evidence-based  approach to all our work;
  • and a focus upon the golden thread from how we teach to the impact on students’ learning and outcomes.

It is reassuring that the report recognises these four themes, especially the impact of our Research School, which I think has made a huge difference.

Two cultural aspects of our school support those four strands. Firstly, there’s our moral purpose. I tweeted out my favourite paragraph in the report two days ago and it clearly struck a nerve:

Secondly, as Fullan says, the single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, things get better. If they remain the same or get worse, ground is lost. Inspectors found that, Relationships between teachers and pupils are harmonious and positive, creating an environment in which pupils make rapid gains in their learning. In our experience, great teaching grows great relationships. Our young people will do anything for you, as long as they know you can teach well and that you care.

You can read the full report below. It is a document which gets our school exactly right and it says some things about a school which is refreshing to read from OFSTED. We’re not faultless and never claim to be; we can always be better. Importantly for me it acknowledges the success of our hard working staff and students. We think we have developed a truly great school, a school which gets on, works hard, has fun and keeps things in perspective. Above all else we try to look after people. Huntington is a school where the students’ outcomes are almost a by-product of the culture we have established over the past decade, a culture where love conquers fear every time, a culture for truly great teaching.

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 This much I know about…the golden thread made real in a moment of pedagogic magic!

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about the golden thread made real in a moment of pedagogic magic!

Re-presenting a moment in time using words alone is difficult, but what I saw for a couple of minutes in a science classroom one morning earlier this week, when I popped in unannounced, is worth attempting to capture.

We have been training our teachers about teaching to improve students’ vocabulary – not the usual “key words list” stuff, but how to teach students of all prior attainment how to interrogate the language they use so that they can understand words they have never encountered before in order to deepen their understanding of the subject they are learning.

The passage below is an example of how an evidence-based CPD session a month ago impacted upon students’ learning. It’s the elusive golden thread from intervention to outcomes, witnessed by chance on a wet Tuesday morning in November…


Alistair, a young teacher in the early stages of his career, is introducing his Year 7 class of thirty mixed attainment students to the concept of “diffusion”. He is halfway through exploring the meaning of the scientific term in question…

Alistair: (He has written the word “Diffusion” in large letters on the whiteboard with a number of annotations surrounding it) ‘So, from the second half of the word you get the word “fuse”. Well done James. Now, what does the word “fuse” mean?’

Tom: ‘Like a fuse on a bomb?’

Alistair: ‘Yes, that is one meaning of the word Tom, but we don’t want any bombs going off in here, do we?! Can anyone else think of a different meaning of the word “fuse”? Yes, Olivia…’

Olivia: ‘What about when things fuse together? They melt and get stuck.’

Alistair: ‘Yes, so “fuse” in the second half of the word “diffusion” relates to the idea of things joining closely together…so, what about the first half of the word, the prefix “di”?’

Leon: ‘It’s a bit like “dis”, if you “dis” someone.’

Alistair: ‘Good. So which other words use “dis” as a prefix?’

Leon: ‘“Dislike” and…um, “disappear”’

Alistair: ‘So, what does the “dis” mean Leon?’

Leon: ‘That you don’t do something, if you dislike something, you don’t like it.’

Alistair: ‘So, if you put those two things together, “dis” and “fuse” what you get is “don’t join together”. If you “don’t join together” what do you do?’

Chloe: (Spreading her arms out wide) ‘You spread out.’

Alistair: ‘And that is what diffusion means in science, when the molecules spread out. Now, in pairs, I want you to think about a smell you have smelt when you have been in your house but you haven’t been near the source of the smell. You have thirty seconds to chat with a partner. Go!’

After thirty seconds of chatter…

Alistair: ‘Amy, tell us about Darren’s example of when he smelt something in his house but he wasn’t near the source of the smell.’

Amy: ‘Well, his mum was cooking his tea and he could smell it even when he was in his bedroom.’

Alistair: ‘Darren, what was your mum cooking for your tea?’

Darren: ‘Pizza.’

Alistair: ‘So where were the molecules you smelt, most concentrated Darren?’

Darren: ‘In the oven where the pizza is cooking.’

Alistair: ‘And where are they least concentrated? Olivia?’

Olivia: ‘In his bedroom.’

Alistair: ‘So what has happened to those molecules?’

Amy: ‘Diffusion has made them spread out from the oven to the bedroom.’

Alistair: ‘Exactly.’

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This much I know about…how research evidence stopped me judging individual lessons

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about how research evidence stopped me judging individual lessons.

Becoming a school which bases its practice on a combination of common sense wisdom and what the evidence says works has been transformative, especially when it comes to lesson observations.

Looking back over the years, the forces of external accountability drove me, at times, to do some stupid things. One of the dumbest was to observe a perfectly good teacher and then assign an OFSTED grade to the lesson. The teacher put on a show-lesson, I ticked lots of boxes and we had some meaningless data which supposedly judged the quality of teaching.

I then gave governors and inspectors the percentage of Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory and Inadequate lessons judged against the criteria for the four OFSTED judgements, all in the name of rigour. I was judging individual lessons, not the quality of teaching. Everyone was happy but no-one was improving their teaching.

If I had thought harder about what we were doing I would have realised the pointlessness of it all.

The Centre for Evaluation and Management at Durham University defines great teaching as that which leads to improved student progress, a startlingly obvious truth. The thing is, there’s no point in teaching that doesn’t result in learning. My old-school lesson observation regime never determined the impact of the teaching upon the students’ learning.

The next sentence is shocking but true. It took me a long time to realise that a Headteacher’s most important priority is improving students’ progress. Once I did appreciate this nugget of common sense, the common sense spread. It became clear that improving the quality of teaching was the key driver to increasing students’ progress.

It then dawned on me that leading our teachers’ learning was the best thing I could do, day-in-day out.

Writing this down is embarrassing, it’s so obvious.

Then Professor Rob Coe’s paper on how difficult it is to be precise when assigning a grade to a lesson was a game-changer.

Once I did comprehend the truth of the matter, I changed most things. Out went graded observations. Instead I asked colleagues a simple question, How would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching? I gave my teaching colleagues control over the observation process and changed its purpose from accountability to development.

The thing is, I help develop directly the performance of thirty teachers. I have a commitment to watch each one of those colleagues teach at least once a year. That requires planning time, observation time and debrief time. I calculate I can spend up to 200 hours a year undertaking observation-related activities.

Those 200 hours are precious and if, as a result of those 200 hours, the quality of teaching improves, I have done my job properly. So now, when it comes to seasoned teachers whose classroom management is a competent given, we co-plan small, but very targeted, evidence-based modifications to their teaching and then focus on the impact of those modifications upon students’ outcomes.

These changes to the lesson observation process have profound consequences. I now spend significant amounts of time with teachers planning lessons. I ask lots of questions about their pedagogy tweaks and the intended impact on their students’ learning.

Counter to popular wisdom, seeing teachers teach is not an essential part of the “observation” process. Often, with the securely good teachers, I don’t need to observe the lesson at all! With the help of the IRIS video system, those colleagues will film their lesson and choose whether we need to watch how they delivered the modification to their teaching. I trust their judgement.

With younger, more inexperienced teachers, I may watch a full lesson on video, or be in the lesson like some doddery old teaching assistant, flitting in and out of camera as I try to be as helpful as I can. But I do not make judgements, just help the teachers improve their classroom practice.

For all teachers, the most important part of our revised observation process can happen two or three weeks after the lesson when we look at the students’ work, or the outcomes of a test, to see if we can discern whether the pedagogic tweaks we planned together have had an impact on students’ progress.

If the students’ learning suggests a teaching technique has worked, we replicate it; if not, we work out why it hasn’t worked and either modify it or stop doing it. Whenever possible we try to trace the golden thread from teaching through to students’ outcomes.

Our Assistant Director of Research School, Jane Elsworth, was faced with yet another change to the GCSE specification. She talked me through the tweaks to how she taught the extreme weather unit and taped the lesson for herself. Two weeks later we looked at her students’ responses to an eight mark exam question on the topic. There was overwhelming evidence of an improvement in literacy levels, with one student with a C grade target gaining the full 8 marks.

We are creating a culture where colleagues accept the professional obligation to improve their teaching. When I met with several teachers this autumn to finish their 2016-17 Professional Development cycle, they had all analysed forensically their students’ examination results. The question level analysis allowed them to trace their deliberate practice through to the students’ ultimate outcomes.

One of our mathematicians was able to point out that the metacognition lesson we planned for her Year 11s on histograms seemed to have done the trick. She taught the lesson in the week between the final practice paper and the real exam. The class had gained 7% of the possible marks on the histograms question on the practice paper; in the real exam they gained 70% of the possible marks. Go figure.

With both teachers there was no need to observe them teach formally – I know they can teach. Instead we spent time planning the lessons together; they were then motivated to trace the impact of the tweaks to their teaching upon their students’ learning.

If you remove the fear from observations you can make them developmental. Judging the quality of teaching in your school does not depend upon lesson observations; rather, the quality of teaching can only be assessed over time, with wisdom, tracing the golden thread through to your students’ outcomes.

We have to stop doing the stupid things.

If you would like a place on our ‘Building Confident Research-leads’ programme you can sign up by clicking on the image below:



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This much I know about…teaching students how to write a paragraph with deliberate precision

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about teaching students how to write a paragraph with deliberate precision.

Teaching students how to write with deliberate precision is, arguably, the most important thing I teach. In order to write an effective essay, a student needs to be able to write an effective paragraph. Recently my Year 13 Economics group discussed the essay title: “Evaluate the relationship between economic growth and economic development” and we came up with a reasonable essay plan. As a formative assessment of their writing skills, I asked each one of them to send me his or her own version of the second paragraph. I collated the paragraphs so that they were anonymous and then we chose the longest one to focus upon:

Economic growth increases the labour force which increases the employment in a country, this results in an increase in real disposable income which would then increase consumption as their spending power rises. The increases in real GDP per capita will result in an improvement in a country’s Human Development Index, as real GNI per capita in PPP $ is one of the components of HDI. This would create development as more real disposable income allows people inhabitants to purchase higher quality goods and services which will improve their material standards of living. Furthermore, an increase in consumption would increase tax generated on both, indirect tax e.g. VAT on the increase in goods consumed, and direct tax e.g. income tax as people are now earning more due to economic growth. This increase in taxation would increase the government spending of a country, assuming the increase in taxation is spent wisely and a country has strong political will. However if, like mentioned in the case study, there is current policy failings and lack of political will, this mean not lead to economic growth as the increase in taxation may be spent on war, an example of this is in the case study, Peru. They have a high relative growth rate, 6.7%, yet high homeless rate, 72%, and low HDI value. However if economic growth increases the taxation with good decision, for example China spends theirs on housing, it can improve the living conditions, thus result in economic development, this therefore suggests there is a positive relationship between economic growth and economic development, as long as strong fiscal policies are present. (8 sentences/268 words; average sentence length – 34 words)

On the face of it, a pretty decent paragraph; however, I pointed out to the students that, under timed conditions, it would be impossible to cover all the content required for an A grade answer if every paragraph was over 250 words long. Subsequently, as a group we spent the whole of the hour long lesson painstakingly reducing the paragraph to 125 words or fewer, with me operating the keyboard for them as we worked on a single projector screen copy of the paragraph. The final version omits no important content, is utterly precise and, at 123 words, is less than half the length of the original:

Economic growth increases employment which usually results in an increase in real disposable income which would increase consumption. More real disposable income enables people to purchase higher quality goods and services which improves their living conditions. Furthermore, an increase in employment would increase the direct and indirect tax generated. This increase is likely to increase government spending. If, as mentioned in the case study, there are policy failings and a lack of political will, the increase in tax revenues may be squandered. For instance, Peru has a relatively high growth rate of 6.7%, yet a high homeless rate of 72% and low HDI. In Chile, however, the increased tax revenue is probably spent on housing, which improves living conditions, resulting in economic development. (7 sentences/123 words; average sentence length – 18 words)

It was achingly hard work. Yet, with such a disciplined approach to writing and a great deal of practice, every A level student can become a better writer. Teaching students the thinking processes involved in expert writing helps equip them with some of the skills required to write with deliberate precision. Tomorrow, they will be sitting down in timed conditions to write their full first essay of term…a summative assessment of their learning to date.

Reference: Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.) Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Draft version available at:

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This much I know about…what the new GCSEs tell us about our students’ attainment

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about what the new GCSEs tell us about our students’ attainment.

Before you read any further, I would like to make it clear that I welcome the increased academic challenge of the new GCSEs…

I might have missed it, but…why has there not been more discussion about the grade boundaries in this summer’s GCSE mathematics examinations? The examinations were made harder, the students found it more difficult and so the grade boundaries were reduced by about 15%. Here is the EDEXCEL Higher raw grade boundaries for 2017 and 2016:

June 2017 Raw mark (out of 240) June 2016 Raw mark (out of 200)
9 190 (79%)
8 157 (65%) A* 170 (85%)
7 124 (52%) A 140 (70%)
6 96 (40%) B 105 (53%)
5 68 (28%)
4 41 (17%) C 65 (33%)
3 27 (11%) D 35 (17%)

What does securing a grade 4 pass in the new GCSE tell us about a student’s mathematical capabilities? What does a student know, understand and apply in mathematics if he or she has been assigned a grade 4 pass in the EDEXCEL mathematics GCSE in 2017? Well, a grade 4 student will have been awarded an average of 14 marks out of the 80 marks available on each of the three examination papers. He or she will have got 83% of each examination paper wrong. A strong pass student assigned a grade 5 will have been awarded an average of 23 marks out of the 80 marks available on each paper and got 72% of the paper wrong. Standards do not seem to have risen. Can a grade 8 mathematics GCSE student solve simultaneous equations comfortably but find exponential curves difficult? I am not sure we know what the grades mean as labels for attainment quite yet. What does it mean for potential A level students?  Should a grade 6 student, who failed 60% of the questions on the GCSE, follow an A level mathematics course, a course which has also been made academically more challenging?

It’s all down to Michael…The decision by Michael Gove to change everything at once was rooted in the thinking of Schmidt and Prawat, cited by Tim Oates in his paper, Could Do Better. In the seeming incoherence was buried a desire for coherence to be achieved through changing everything at once in some kind of blitzkrieg approach to curriculum reform. What that has meant is that several cohorts of students have been chronically unprepared for the more academically challenging examinations.

Standards have been maintained?! When Tim Leunig casually remarked that only one or two pupils will get straight top grades in the new GCSEs, he was, at that moment in time, telling the truth. In the end it was over 2,000 pupils who gained 999, three of whom were from Huntington alone. To have retained the grade boundaries in mathematics GCSE from 2016 to 2017 would have been disastrous for the 2017ers, one of whom was my son. Imagine the wrath of tens of thousands of parents whose children would have seemed to have failed miserably, parents who are also voters.

Don’t panic. As all GCSE subjects move to the 9-1 scale, all we can do is teach brilliantly and prepare students for the new examinations as well as we possibly can. Forget worrying about things you cannot control and just teach. The statisticians will sort out who gets which grade.

It’s the “Saw Tooth Effect”, stupid! As OFQUAL explore in their Saw Tooth Effect paper, it takes several years for teachers and students to become familiar with post-reform examination specifications before we can judge whether our students are actually being educated more effectively and are, consequently, attaining higher educational standards. In the meantime they will have to continue to massage the grade boundaries.

Let’s base what we do in schools on what we know works. If you would like to know more about Research Schools and want to hear some influential speakers discuss how evidence-informed approaches can aid school improvement, then why not attend the forthcoming Evidence In Education: Northern Networks Making It Work conference at the University of York. You can find more details and book a place here.




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This much I know about…the importance of teaching students the skills to broaden their vocabulary

I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about the importance of teaching students the skills to broaden their vocabulary.

Words matter more than ever. How can you meet the academic challenge of the new GCSEs and A levels if you do not have the vocabulary to understand the content? At Huntington we are obsessing with helping students broaden their vocabulary. How to unpick the possible meaning of a word can be taught to students. Yesterday I was teaching the Human Development Index and using this slide from the Tutor2U website:

Model the process. We are much more alert to the gaps in our students’ vocabularies than we have ever been before thanks to the training we are receiving from our in-house expert Marcus Jones. Discussing point 2 on the slide, I asked one of my students what “inequitable” meant and she replied, without thinking, that she did not know. I covered up the “in” and the “itable” and asked her where she usually found “equ” in the language. She was still confused. I asked her to write down “equ” and, as she wrote it down, to see what letters she would naturally write next; she began writing and automatically wrote “equ-a-l”. “Aaah” she exclaimed, “equal”.

“So, if something is inequitable what do you think it means?”

“That it’s not equal, maybe that it’s not fair”, she concluded.

What I had done in that micro-moment of pedagogy is lead the student through the process of unearthing a word’s meaning, a process she will need to become expert at if she is going to broaden her vocabulary and be successful in her A level Economics examinations next summer.

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