If you don’t know what a good one looks like….


..then how can you know what it takes to make one?

Grab a  pen and paper. Follow these instructions:

  1. Draw a horizontal line and mark each side with a dot.
  2. Draw a vertical line across the horizontal line you had drawn earlier. Connect each end of the vertical line to the vanishing point. This will end up looking like a diamond.
  3. Add another vertical line on each side of the first vertical line you have drawn.
  4. Using the lines as outline, draw a box.
  5. On the front of the box, draw a vertical line on the center all the way up. Add two slanted lines on each side.
  6. Make adjustments to the slanted line a little bit farther to the left. Darken the top lines on the top.
  7. Darken the whole outline
  8. Draw a rectangle and two squares.
  9. Color your drawing

Taken and amended from Wikihow


How did you get on? Do you know what it’s supposed to be? How could you not get it right, you had the instructions?

This blog isn’t about AfL where this is often used to highlight the issue of not giving students a model answer or finished product, but about school leadership and what makes a good* school.


#SLTChat this week was about supporting teachers to become leaders. Whilst I don’t have any stats I think that #SLTChat isn’t fully representative of school leadership across the country. Most participants sound like humane, professional, great leaders. This really isn’t the case of all school leaders.

My issue is, in a school where there are no/few leadership positive role models, how will teachers know what a good leader is?

Many teachers don’t want to go into leadership because their only reference point is not positive. “I don’t want to sit in meetings after school every day” or “I want to have a good work/life balance” is the kind of thing you’ll hear from teachers who are, day-to-day,seeing leaders who really aren’t being good leaders.

Teachers that become leaders in one school with no/few role models and don’t experience any good leadership seriously risk repeating the same behaviours they’ve seen throughout their career; they think it’s how a leader should behave.

Making a good school

If I told you to draw the picture above, I could claim I had told you how to draw the picture. You should be able to draw it with those instructions?

There are many criteria/models that schools can follow to try and make the school a better place. Some models are sold to schools. However, without an exemplar of what it might look like there are so many ways that things can go wrong in the process or the criteria being misinterpreted. Schools can grasp onto the models but without seeing how they live and feel in a real context, things can go seriously wrong. It becomes a treadmill of contiguous new criteria/models that don’t work so leaders move to the next one.

The best schools see what good schools and leaders are doing and decide whether it might work in their context. They don’t just copy it because it’s good.

What can be done?

  • Teachers & leaders need to get out. They need to see how others are doing things. Not just one school. Several. One size doesn’t fit all. One of the best things I ever did was do the SSAT Outstanding schools programme. For the first time I saw what ‘outstanding’ schools looked like. Remember, there isn’t just one way to draw a house.
  • Leaders need to be wary of wholesale buying into criteria/models that work elsewhere, especially if paying for it.  Schools don’t work like that. Those set of instructions don’t draw a house from all cultures; it’s one interpretation of a house.
  • If you’re still grading lessons (most importantly, why?!) do all your staff know what your definition of ‘outstanding’ looks like? Not a check list. We know that doesn’t work. If you can’t show them examples, many examples of what you’re calling ‘outstanding’ then maybe you need to reconsider.
  • If we expect teachers to use AfL with students, ensure all practices that require a desired output have plenty of good examples. What makes a good tutor time? A good parent’s evening? A good report? A good classroom set up? Show teachers what it looks like, don’t assume they know.


By the way,your picture should’ve looked like this:

But of course, there are many ways to draw a house….


*I’m using the word good in the sense of an efficient, effective, successful school not specifically Ofsted ‘good’.

My perfect job: middle leader management (MLM)


I have seen many different ways of combining what is needed in a school into job specs, but I’ve never seen it done this way. 

I believe that line management and the support and accountable that it holds is possibly one of the most important things in a school. If we all know what our job is then a clear,effective system of line management is the thing that ensures that the things that move a school forward are being done. Unfortunately, in many cases either a school’s system is minimal or where it’s supposed to exist, consistency is poor and quality of meetings is variable, if not non-existent.

The job- middle leader manager (MLM)

One person line manages all middle leaders. They have a timetabled, unmovable, prioritised meeting once a fortnight (possibly more frequent if core).A spare meeting is also timetabled, where the first isn’t possible (bank holiday,illness etc) then the second meeting is assumed. They are never missed or cancelled. These meetings have a fixed starting agenda (no particular order):

  1. Things coming up in the calendar
  2. Monitoring – results from, data, progress etc
  3. Things to take back to SLT/Head
  4. Successes 
  5. Staff updates  incl. wellbeing
  6. CPD
  7. Development plan update
  8. PM update
  9. AOB

The meeting can be anything up to 50 minutes but should be efficient and keep to time. In rare times where more time is needed the second meeting time can be used.

The ML comes to the meeting knowing the agenda, ready with updates and any paperwork needed. 

In the last 10 minutes of the period, the MLM types up the minutes. These are on one live document that the MLM and middle leader share. It is one long record of the dialogue with actions and reflections. 

Whilst the meeting is formal in sharing important developments it is also a coaching and/mentoring role. New middle leaders get the support they need from this person. They can get advice on how they might handle new situations or who they need to go to to resolve an issue. The MLM is the conduit (⬅️been trying to wedge that into a blog for ages).

The MLM feeds back to SLT and/or the Head regularly on a standing agenda item.

Depending on the size of the school the teaching load of the MLM will vary. For meetings and second meetings it will be a lighter than average assistant head timetable. In some schools I would argue that this role could be so important to embed effective systems that the person may not teach at all.

Why this job?

I think this job is unique as it addressing some of the common issues that potentially weaken a school’s progress.

  • It is consistent. Every ML has the same experience
  • It is supportive. The ML can share worries and concerns.
  • It is developmental. The MLM can spot the needs of the ML and can advise 
  • It’s efficient. Everything is done in an hour or less a fortnight.
  • It regulates accountability. Everyone knows where they are and what’s expected. No surprises.
  • It gives a clear overview of where the school is progress in but also where it needs support and development.
  • It inducts new middle leaders. They know what they need to do and have the support that often doesn’t exist.

Potential issues

It totally relies on one person. Where they’re good it’ll be great, if not the system will collapse. They need to be able to balance accountability with support. If the MLs aren’t comfortable then issues will arise. If the person is I’ll or absent for a length of time it will need a plan b.

So, if you want to regulate and ensure that line management is effective, consider this model….then give me a call.

Do we want students that show pride in their work or that follow school policy?


Or both? Does your school ‘book’ policy tell students the accepted format of their books?

I avoided using ‘independent learners’ in the blog title because I’m not specifically talking about learning, just part of the process involved in it, which you might argue IS learning but I want to specifically reference presentation here.

This year I’ve been considering how much we expect students to do as they’re told in terms of presentation and organisation, to the extent they do it because they’ve been told to do it, instead of seeing value in why they do it.

Last year I had a Twitter discussion about whether students should write the date on their work. Does it really matter? I’m guessing 99% of them do it because they’ve been told to do it, not because they can see how it may benefit them. Which leads to the question, if it doesn’t benefit them then should we be making them do it?

Another example is underlining titles. I have a specific stamper that says ‘underline your title’; it’s regularly used. 

Are we developing students that see the value of organisation or students that just do as they’re told?

This links into our new attitude to learning this year that tries to encourage and celebrate students becoming independent. I spent time thinking what our ‘top’ criteria ‘looks like’ and came up with this:


Bullets 1,2,3 and 9 can be linked to presentation. I want my students not to do what I’ve told them because I’ve told them to, but do it because it was appropriate in that situation and makes them proud of their work.

I’ve been trialling some simple ideas with this:

  • I tell them what the content of their notes will be and they choose the format. Often suggesting a few formats but ultimately it is their choice, their decision as to how they are going to present it best.
  • Giving sets of highlighters out. It somehow encourages them to think more about any words they might highlight or subheadings to stand out
  • Asking them when homework is handed in ‘who thinks they have an exceptional piece of work?’. I then share these. They can all instantly see why these pieces are exceptionally presented and students have taken ‘more than’ the minimum time completing the presentation. (I’m not ignoring content here but the focus of the blog is presentation)
  • My GCSE classes have folders. I think this is great training for when they do post-16 courses. They won’t be given an exercise book. More than likely they’ll pop down to Tesco and get a folder and notepad. I have taught them how to file and organise their work. Now I don’t even need to bother. They know how it works and they want it to be organised. They even ask to take it home to ‘sort’ it. They want it to be great, not for me but for themselves. 

So my challenge is this, a student presented a piece of work in a highly organised manner, highlighting subheadings and writing notes in the margin. But she didn’t underline her title. 

Do I get out my ‘underline your title’ stamper (and in so, following school marking policy) or accept that maybe she doesn’t need to?


Using research to design a revision session


Having blogged on how we should ditch revision or at least some of the ways that it is organised, I was reminded of this excellent post called ‘no more highlighting‘.

I thought about how I might steal and adapt this into a set structured revision lesson. I’ve personally always found ‘revision’ lessons difficult as they seem to lack structure and students don’t always see where they’re going.

The lesson includes two important techniques that the research indicates as effective; testing & quick repetition of content (see Ebbinghaus forgetting curve).

Here is the lesson structure:

revision plan lesson

Note: This structure starts properly after 2 lessons 


In one lesson, 3 topics will be referred to but each topic will also be covered in 3 lessons. The idea is that covering the content over 3 lessons in a row but in a different format, one being recalling/testing will help with remembering it.

This gives ‘revision’ lessons structure so students know what will happen but also provides them a structure for their own revision at home.

It is also great for people that have lost of classes as it doesn’t require any marking of the questions as this is always completed in the next lesson. This can vary between self and peer marking using the exam mark scheme.

Once students are used to the structure they will get used to how they need to behave and think in the content section as this will be the one in which needs to be remembered instantly in the ‘transformation’ section.

I have created a brief selection of possible ‘transformation’ teachinques for students to choose from. I don’t care how they do it, as long as it:

  • Covers ALL the content
  • Is completed in the time given
  • Makes sense so that anyone could use it to understand the content

This means there isn’t time for colouring or spending time making booklets. I will tell them if they wish to use these techniques they must arrive with pre-made booklets ready to fill; it’s not a colouring & cutting out lesson.

I’m going to use this with my year 11s this year. I will blog in the summer on how effective I think it was.







Ditch revision. Teach it well.


Today during my form time silent reading I read this .

It’s not the first thing I’ve read about spaced learning or interleaving but it got me thinking again about how subjects structure their GCSE course.

Option 1 – Should we race through content to leave lots of time for ‘revision’?

Or Option 2 – take time over topics with little/no time for revision?

Or Option 3 – plan the content following the spaced learning model?

I’ve long been a hater of the word ‘revision’, mostly because it usually means ‘groans’ from students and doing extra work e.g extra revision session after school or God forbid in the holidays. 

Most teachers and students don’t actually know what effective revision is and people confuse learning something you didn’t know with going over something you already know; both seemed to be classed as ‘revision’.

If you as a teacher are relying on a student doing a large amount of ‘revising’ to remember things are you doing them a disservice in now you’ve taught them?

Why don’t we ditch revision and focus on embedding learning in a more logical, structured way? And if you think that option 3 would take longer than the other two options, might this prove otherwise?

I know that there are teachers/schools that are working on a spaced learning model and those that ban all ‘revision’ sessions out of lesson time but reading this has reminded me of how effective it might be to choose option 3. 

In particular this diagram was interesting: 

It made me think about the length of the gap to leave between the spacing. The forgetting curve (Ebbinghaus 1885) that has been shared many times shows how repetition early on impacts memory but this reminds us that widely spaced repetition is also important;getting students to recall in the next couple of lessons and then using widely spaced repetition in a longer time frame.

This is the time of year where leaders and year 11 teachers suddenly start to feel an urgency around year 11s’ learning. But is it actually too late? Revision sessions that ‘catch up’ to learn unlearnt content may be a waste of time. The best use of time would be to ‘test test test’ but for some it’s not seen as revision. Too many people don’t check the learning at the point something is taught; leaving it to the last couple of months probably won’t work. 

This model (option 3) requires the hard work to be done throughout key stage 4. What are you doing NOW for year 9/10 GCSE students that means they can remember, long term? Do you know what they remember since September? 

So, if we design our GCSE course to the greatest benefit for long term memory, can we ditch anything ever referred to as ‘revision’ including Easter revision and ‘catch up sessions’ and just call it ‘effective learning’? Or is your school too scared not to do these things?  There’s a fine line focussing on real learning and focussing on making ourselves feel better by ‘doing’ something.

Why don’t schools nail behaviour?


In most schools I know of, there seems to always be a lack of organisation in the behavioural system. Bearing in mind behaviour is one of the largest factors in school success and teacher well being..

Why don’t schools nail behaviour?

I’ll explain what I mean by a behaviour system. A behaviour system is something that means that wherever certain behaviours are exhibited by a student there is a clear, published process that is somehow ‘documented’ and with a specific consequence or consequences.

The important aspects are:

  • Everyone knows that if X happens, then Y happens. It’s published, visible and referred to.
  • Everyone follows the system (and if not professional discussions are had). No-one has their own rules in their classroom.
  • Any exceptions are made clear under the lines of fairness not equality
  • The ‘paperwork’ or e-paperwork are manageable, useful, make sense and don’t seriously increase  the workload to the extent that it’s easier to ignore the behaviour than deal with it.
  • If paper/forms/report cards are used they are clear,minimal,published to all, link into the whole school system and most importantly there is an easily accessible supply around the school, available at all times.
  • There are clear stages where a range of people may be involved (in 99% of cases) but each stage must be completed satisfactorily before the next kicks in.
  • The system covers all aspects of school policy where action needs to be taken e.g if school policy is no mobile phones, the system must have a clear consequence of using a mobile phone

It seems so simple yet so many schools fail to do a number of these.

In the schools I worked with that are struggling these core systems are missing and it comes down to individual teachers to create their own system. It works for them but doesn’t contribute to whole school successful behaviour management.

In schools that don’t encounter much negative behaviour without a clear system, things fall apart when it’s needed.

So, if a simple system can seriously impact the day-to-day life of a teacher, why don’t schools do it?