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Education Exposed – Leading a school in a time of uncertainty

Short Summary by Dan Buckley

This book is more an opinion piece than research, drawing heavily on only a handful of educators. Despite this it provides an excellent, well written 92 page summary of the principles that have guided Sam as Headteacher of a highly successful school that rose to success under his leadership avoiding the ‘fad driven approach to education that has engulfed our profession’.  Sam was tutored by Christine Council and he praises her guidance, particularly her championing of professional reading, subject expertise, moral purpose, strong routines, belief in communities and social justice.

Chapter 1 – Leadership.  ‘The very best leaders are authentic, humble, flexible, willing to learn from others… never forgetting what it is like to be one of the troops… deep understanding of themselves in terms of values, belief, moral purpose and vision’.  Cites Boyatzis, R. (2002) stating importance of leaders first knowing who they are now, their strengths and the ‘ideal self’ they aspire to be.

Reflect to learn from mistakes, ‘turn negatives into positives and always be solution focussed’.  Admit when wrong, adapting to new information and criticism is a sign of strength.  Be cautious of people claiming to know lots, they frequently know very little and will drain you.  Your team must be capable of positively questioning you.  Create a wide network and vary rarely ‘write someone off’.  Actively encourage your team to feel they are the best but avoid the arrogance that comes with this.

‘The key is to have the strength of character to sit tight and believe in your plan and your approach. Ensure you hit your key milestones when you intended and stay tactical in your approach’.

Chapter 2 – Vision for Leading.   Lots of high speed, short term changes isn’t being successful.  Prior planning prevents poor performance.  Take your time. ‘Read, read and read some more’.  ‘Immerse yourself in the latest thinking, in the long-standing theories, in the differing ends of the spectrum’. ‘Be highly visible’, ‘Repeat your messages, vision and values over and over.  Do not underestimate the power of over-communication.’ Also states ‘Your leadership of your senior team is critical’.

Chapter 3 – Behaviour.  Lists common misconceptions including: ‘Poor behaviour is the teacher’s fault’; ‘Good planning leads to good behaviour’; ‘Telling people what your policies and expectations are is enough’. He later describes these as ‘senior staff seeking to absolve their responsibility for behaviour’.  Behaviour is the embodiment of the school ethos and culture.  Never undermine staff.

‘They behave fine for me’ harmful, unprofessional useless statement of bravado: Poor behaviour is ‘kryptonite to a school’.  Low socio-economic and low prior attainment suffer most.  ‘If you truly want to support staff… deal with and resolve behaviour as an institutional issue’.  ‘Teaching behaviour is the no.1 priority for any school. Over and above other school improvement priorities… greatest impact’.

‘We permit what we promote and promote what we permit’.  There are no silver bullets, dealing with challenging behaviour is complex and takes time, effort and relentless follow through.  ‘The narrative that teachers are to blame is one that needs quashing’. ‘All children need rules, routines and boundaries’, so consistent they become what is not permissible at school.  Positive behaviour should be the status quo. 

Argues for the smallest number of universally applied rules.  His are: 1. Whole class respect with teacher as expert.  2.  Do not distract others, silence means silence.  3.  Arrive on time and fully equipped. 

To teach behaviour, first decide what you want your school culture to be. How this is enacted in every detail then actively train staff and students in these routines.  Continuous cycle of ‘Model à Practice à Repeat’.  Prevention comes from routine.  ‘Routines are behaviours standardised by you and carried out by staff and students habitually’.  Behaviour is driven and trained from the very top.

Chapter 4 – Values and reality.  Fan of ‘Warm-strict’ – emphasis on proactively teaching good behaviour and accepting everyone gets it wrong, so the key is helping to support both staff and students.

 Advocate of a centralised model, allowing teachers to focus on teaching and ensuring children who need support are less likely to slip through the net. Please and thankyou are reasonable expectations within the contexts of ‘automatic respect for your teachers, peers and fellow pupils’. Without structure, children feel unsafe. ‘Certainty and consistency frees everyone to flourish’.  Red lines for schools (p42-44) listed here: Explicit swearing at staff, fighting, bullying, persistent oppositional defiance, persistent truancy, smoking, drugs alcohol and trafficking drugs, bringing weapons into school, upskirting/filming or photographing staff or students against their will, purposefully assaulting a member of staff.

Chapter 5 – The importance of knowledge.  Argues, powerful knowledge is required by all but is critical of ‘exam factories’ and those teaching skills divorced of any context.  He concludes learning is non- linear, challenging and hard. ‘The seductive nature of excitement often does not lead to deep-rooted learning’.

Chapter 6 – The curriculum is a progression model.  ‘Ultimately, does the curriculum promote pupils to search for the truth… high ambition for all students…broad and balanced…logical sequencing…’  Quotes the Sutton Trust ‘great teaching comes from a teachers’ content knowledge, including the ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions’.  He sets out his view of what a knowledge organiser should contain and how it should be used during teaching.  He is a fan of memorisation homeworks which are then tested in low stakes tests in class.

Chapter 7 – Teaching, teaching, teaching.  Is critical without evidence about a wide range of teaching methods before more helpfully describing what he values:  Teachers with good subject knowledge and those who can ‘expertly scaffold’ learning.  He believes all lessons should have: teacher greeting at the door, retrieval quiz (do it now?), big question which they use as a title (shorter than a learning objective), teacher framing the lesson around carefully crafted higher order questions.  Advocate for teacher freedom and time to help pupils comprehend meaning.

Chapter 8 – Keeping it simple.  Advocates same content and same expectations for all learners focussed around a ‘Big Question’ which draws on what is already in the child’s schema, employing effective questioning to present, scaffold and model deeper learning.  He quotes Ian Luff ‘In answering an enquiry question pupils necessarily demonstrate their understanding of substantive concepts as they construct increasingly sophisticated arguments to justify their claims’.

Chapter 9 – Protecting staff.  ‘Responsibility of senior leaders… to rationalise staff workload’.  Avoid and resist fads, ‘If it is not in the SIP (school improvement plan), if it has not been communicated out in a timely fashion, then do not do it.’  Support staff to co-develop schemes of work, face to face should replace any email longer than two paragraphs, no all staff emails and SLT to restrict themselves to one or two a week, email embargoes at weekends or holidays.  Schedule meetings to space out regular subject and year meetings, reduce to 2 to 3 data drops and one exam a year.  Make revision cycles 10 weeks not 10 months!  Whole class marking and feedback on key misconceptions is favoured above DIRT or personalised comments.  Avoid like the plague new directives without adequate training, clarity thought or direction. Signpost staff in Jan what is coming in Sept.  Lions share then to go to subject leaders.

Chapter 10 – All aboard the training bus.  ‘you are dead in the water if you do not invest in training your staff.’ Leaders must consider what they want from their teachers and how to support them to achieve this. He sets out his view that teachers require a commitment to continuous learning, strong professional vocabulary, expertise, skill and developing specialist knowledge.  Middle leaders’ role in enabling team learning is key to success hence the training of middle leaders is critical.  Staff coaching and mentoring particularly induction for new staff is vital.  Termly staff consultative forums with the Head highlight common concerns.  The Head should equally aim to meet all NQTs regularly as a forum to discuss how they are being supported.  ‘There needs to be a strong emphasis on modelling and sharing good practice’. Through subject communities, ‘develop a common set of threshold concepts and powerful knowledge that underpins your curriculum area.’  ‘construct reading lists for staff professional development and then discuss these texts.’