Whither Integrity…

When we set out to establish a post-faith based values 12 years ago, we didn’t seek to lose contact with the best of Christianity or indeed other faiths and belief systems. We used the whole community as a ‘sorting hat’ out of which came a mix of concepts, ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ that needed further honing.

Responsibility for ourselves, Respect for others, Loyalty to our school and Integrity above all. The strap-line shortens this further:VALUES strip
The current headlines, for both historic reasons and current breaking news don’t bode well for our society, it would seem, highlighting that ‘thought leaders’ in England act in every but showing Integrity.

The above are just 4 from Thursday (28 June) news and they each tell a different story, core though to the message is the straightforward lack of integrity shown therein. The reader can work three of them out, though the 4th headline, on teacher numbers, might take a little more figuring.  Anyone seeking to recruit teachers in most areas of the country face a bleak prospect, because there simply are not enough to go around. In part, though no-one ever says it, there is a ‘good news’ spin on this. Across the world, it seems that the English curriculum, with a very good deal of help from the British Council, is one of our great world export winners, with over 400 English curriculum schools opening abroad every year.  English curriculum schools require at least some English qualified teachers, so we have a significant ‘Brain Drain’ abroad.  In addition, there are thousands of International Baccalaureate schools abroad (over 1500 in the US alone). By way of example, check out the Council; of International Schools https://www.cois.org which has over 1300 such institutions in its membership.

The ‘Bad News’ is that qualified teachers face a limited shelf-life in state schools, worn out after only 5 years of service, as this article from the Independent from February 2017 makes clear:

“Government recruitment targets have been missed in the majority of subjects, including physics (by 19 per cent) and mathematics (by 16 per cent). Design and Technology only reached 41 per cent of its recruitment target this year.

Meanwhile we’re shedding existing teachers from our schools at record rates: 10,000 departed the profession between 2010 and 2015, and the pace of that loss is speeding up as disillusionment grows. Another £3bn cut to budgets is anticipated in the coming years – likely to be confirmed in Philip Hammond’s Budget next month – meaning that spending will reduce by 8 per cent per secondary pupil within the next three years.

In short, there simply aren’t enough teachers to educate our young people and it’s a crisis that is entirely politically manufactured.”

Here is Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders on the matter: “The government spent too long in a state of denial about this situation and, having finally woken up to the problem, has simply not done enough to address it. Teacher workload is a major factor and has been driven largely by an endless series of government reforms which are still working their way through the system. This has to be a salutary lesson for the future in ensuring that reforms are managed in a better way. ”

I precis the rest of the ‘Independent article’: “In 2014, half of teachers said they were considering leaving the profession. At that point, …they were also being insulted each morning on the radio, in the press or in parliament by the then Education Secretary Michael Gove …spent his days inventing some very creative names for teachers: “the blob”, the “enemies of promise”, “soft bigots” with “low expectations”.


Teachers aren’t uniquely sensitive creatures; they are experts in their field and, by voting with their feet and leaving their vocation, they are sending a warning to the Government that something is seriously wrong. And it’s easy to discover what, because they have been talking about it openly for years, unreasonable workload, the apparent ignorance from the Government of what teachers are actually trying to achieve, the forced academisation programme, which gives businesses influence over young people; the truly chilling effect of year-on-year pay freezes (the clue’s in the name);…”

…and my words now, and an almost unbelievable lack of integrity by 2 of the elected ministers at the helm. Whenever they speak, be they the Secretary of State or his minister Nick Gibb, they will state black is white, or worse still ‘soft soap’ their audience with ‘possibilities and maybes’ and then rely on the DfE teleprinter to email out ‘computer says no’.  If 16 year olds fail to gain a level 4/C grade (higher tier pass) in their Maths and English, they are required to resit the subjects until they gain a higher tier pass in the same GCSE or they leave education at age 18. As soon as this was ‘required’ (by Michael Gove – 2013, you could have guessed of course), the challenge became obvious – ‘where on earth would all the extra teachers come from?’

Our current Secretary of State has once again been pressed on this matter this spring, ‘promised he would  look at it’ and … eventually, when quizzed by Parliament’s Education Select Committee on Wednesday, Dominic Grieve broke the news:


So that’s that then – having been presented with all the evidence by as many of the education-based pressure groups, colleges, employers and so forth, that there simply are not enough English and Maths teachers around, and that ‘any way’ this is the wrong exam to test Adult literacy and numeracy by, the Honourable Member of Parliament for Beaconsfield fobs everyone off with hopeful words and then announces in parliament this somewhat ambiguous way of stating, ‘no change’.

Apart from this ‘rant’, what might the long suffering reader take from this post?  Within schools throughout the country, we have educators of principle highlighting the need for education above all to embrace ‘integrity’. It’s a much used word, indeed some Universities such as Surrey are under the scrutiny for offering 1st’s a little too cheaply it seems (41%) – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40654933. In my opinion, we can use Integrity where we see it as a ‘torch’ to shine on situations that clearly lack it is a virtue. And that will be a good thing for all.



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It’s time to take a broader view on selection…why choosing only the most able for medical school is serving General Practice so badly.

Since starting headship, I have 37 generations of pupils leave secondary age at 16, fired up for Sixth Form or the world of college and work. My experience will be little different than that shown by longer term research data – the life chances and success of my former pupils are much more likely to be determined by their character traits and family background, than they will be by A levels and undergraduate degree. Of greater concern is that the majority of our children have multiple talents and interests, so the fact that the most able may sign up for medical school does not mean they are planning to commit themselves to a Doctor’s life for the next 4 decades. They, like so many of their peers also fancy themselves as entrepreneurs, authors, sports stars, musicians, or perhaps planning a gap year or decade off before they commit to the next steps in their lives, such as children, permanent partnerships, retirement and so on, perhaps emigration even?

Telegraph GPs headline

At the time of writing, over 400+ English curriculum schools are opening per annum beyond the United Kingdom, so it’s no surprise to learn that loads of teachers here in the UK are choosing to use their internationally recognised qualification to fund travel and new experiences elsewhere in the world. Back in 1978, having done 2 years at Claires Court and a new convert to skiing, I applied to work in Switzerland for a year or so. Before anything could materialise, my pathway promotion happened here, so I deferred my interest…and continue so to do.

teachers off abroad

Any, back to applications for medical school. This year, of the handful of applicants we have for medical school, all are at the very highest end of the ability range and the same expectations are true for them as they are for all the others shortly to depart for higher education; beyond their first degree lies the ‘University of Life’ and it’s about time that we found a way of opening up the first 3 years of medical school so that so many more students can pursue the possibility of GP-dom, rather than restrict this to only those that are being ‘spat’ out of hospitals after 10 years.

The one thing that many of the most able share in common is a short attention span for the things that come easy, and many don’t actually have the social listening manner that goes down so well with both GPs and career teachers. Patience is a virtue, often learned over a period of time by those who know they are rather more the ‘tortoise’ than the ‘hare’ in the ‘rat’ race. Indeed as a centre for the training of teachers, it’s interesting to note that some of our most committed teachers have been late entries to teaching or who have enjoyed a career-break away from education doing something new and life-affirming.

GP recruitment OECD

I kid you not when I suggest that our schools are awash with really wonderful 18 year olds who would give their eye-teeth to have a go at a career in medicine, but because their GCSEs are not 6A* or better, have no chance of even being considered for Medical school. Many of these will go on to satisfying careers as leading professionals in maths, engineering, the sciences, natural or applied, be that for brewing, buildings, engineering, food, psychology, rockets, sports or telephony; in short great students capable of Masters and PhDs, but way too stupid (it is suggested) to be in General Practice advising patients, families and the community in matters of private and public health (if UCAS requirements for Medicine are to be met).

I like the comparisons between education and medicine for this reason. You can’t really get to specialise at Doctorate level and beyond in education without doing 2 years in the classroom. It’s rather odd that in medicine, you can’t enter General Practice until you have completed 5/6 years at Uni, 2 years on clinical rotations and then 3 years of vocational training. There is every chance that after 10 years of such a slog, all who really want to work in the community and exercise their communication and collaboration skills have been excised out of the system. In my view, it’s time for the General Medical Council to take a fresh look at the pathways into medicine. It is quite ludicrous that Italy can provide all but 3% or so of their medical specialists from their own schools and colleges, but we feel it is OK to go plunder so many developing countries of their best doctors, whilst keeping the selection for the profession so ridiculously elite here in the UK.

Added Tuesday 26 June: Leading UK doctor highlights significant gaps between EU and Europe. https://dailym.ai/2Kha97j

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7 years down the line – “We told you so!”

BBC screenshot

Over the past 7 years on the JamesWilding.blog, I have raised a number of sensitive issues, one of which was the permissions parents have chosen to give to their children with regards to the use of mobile phones.

Here’s me back in May 2011 – https://jameswilding.blog/2011/05/23/what-on-earth-is-going-on/

“The thing we do know as teachers is that we would not give our children mobile phones under secondary school age – and most of us find it incomprehensible that children much younger are permitted to have so much contact with their microwaves – see here from the horror movie – http://youtu.be/V94shlqPlSI.”

Alternatively, here I am writing 2 years later in 2013 –   https://jameswilding.blog/2013/05/31/education-is-a-big-yawn/

Screenshot 2013

23ff5-1507803264540At the start of the Autumn term, I introduced  the work of the Learning Scientists, lead by Dr Megan Sumeracki, and Dr Yana Weinstein, both Cognitive Psychological Scientists over the pond at Rhode Island College, Providence and University of Massachusetts Lowell to both the Academic Faculty and the wider school community. We commenced use their work to inform explicitly the teaching of the “Six Strategies for Effective Learning”, and we follow their advice pretty closely. Last October I posted in a blog entitled “another-fine-mess-you-could-be-leading-us-into-but-we-dont-have-to-follow” that the learning Scientists are as strident as I about the use of mobile phones – you can see that in their blog post entitled: “Separation From Your Cellphone Boosts Your Cognitive Capacity”

I really don’t mind that the Eton Head, Simon Henderson gets some air time in June 2018 reminding parents they should be brave and take their children’s phones of them at night time. Dear Reader, if you are around a dinner table or at a garden party or indeed anywhere else where the significant media are present, please highlight to them that there is one school principal at least in England that speaks with purpose and informed by science on these matters and does so over a significant period of time. To that end, I share with you a picture of myself in a previous incarnation as Henry VIII, captured digitally at our playing fields in Taplow, circa 1533, shortly after his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  OK, actually the picture was taken last Friday during our reincarnation of the late Medieval period for Year 7, a whole day spent outdoors with the technology of the age rather than of the modern day.  I suspect no-one missed their phones too much!!!


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“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

So far, it has been a good summer term, all being equal. The weather has been sufficiently kind to us on the good days, for us not to mind about the wet ones. Work for all in education has remained blisteringly busy, managing as we are the enormous planned changes in the English public examination curriculum which are currently underway, and have perhaps one more full year of added load for those in the secondary phase.

More generally, I remain somewhat dumbfounded by the growing turmoil in public services and utilities. I can only be delighted that I walk to work rather than rely upon train services, that I am healthy in mind and body as well as accident free (touch wood) don’t need access to health services (emergency or otherwise), and that the streets around where I live seem for the moment safe to walk around.

However, whatever the state of my dumbfoundedness, I wake every day with a sense of optimistic purpose, urged on by G.K’s famous quote to create some wonder in the community which I serve. Whatever the in-tray has winking at me, I do know I need to create something anew or quality assure something old, so that curiosity about learning and skill acquisition remains to the forefront in our school.

Obviously a lot is borrowed from elsewhere; whoever knew 10 years ago that social media could be used to entertain and inform as well as it does, or that any of us can live-stream events for the distant viewer. Bringing G suite tools on board in 2013 provides us then with a new set with which to manipulate our digital environment, and their near-universal take-up means we can watch (for example) the National Schools Rowing championships live on Youtube, something that the terrestrial broadcasters would never bother with.

One of the major events I coordinated this week was the ISA London West Athletics championships at Thames Valley Stadium, Eton College.  As I write, back-stage peeps are putting the final touches on the results sheets; for the first time we ran a photo-finish for the track events, which is just as well, for without such we could not have possibly known that the Claires Court U17 relay side had pipped ACS Egham by 0.01 second for the Gold medal? Who’d have thought a school champs would have such sophisticated technology made available for them? There certainly was no argument when the respective team coaches watched the video replay, with CC’s Byron Ewing dipping his chest at the precise moment!

What a wonder that was, indeed!


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A culture of research v sabbatical leave

Dateline: Friday 4 May 2018

Problem: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in England

Headline: Teachers to be offered year’s paid sabbatical to improve retention

Guardian headline

I won’t be the only head/teacher listening to the news headlines or indeed reading these proposals in print that was perplexed by this announcement by our new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds.  As ever, it does seem as though Mr Hinds needed to have some ‘good news’ to present at the start of the Teachers’ conference season, partly because that is expected of any Prime Minister or Secretary of State when they are speaking to a large public audience. What the Rt Hon MP could not do is stand up in front of committed educationalists and say ‘All’s well, carry on’, because of course within the government’s educational estate, there are some significant long term problems, that no matter what government has tried to tweak, are legacy outcomes from previous failed initiatives and can’t be resolved with ‘gimicky’ headlines such as this.

I agree that schools need to be learning institutions for the staff as well as the children, and that can only happen if the staff have the opportunity to study and learn whilst on the job.  That ‘opportunity’ is about ‘time’ and that ‘time’ is bought by giving teachers sufficient non-contact hours from classes, and ensuring that the work overflow from contact-time does not consume all the available extra. However, as we all know, the school culture must be set around self-improvement and developing others, not just about creating schemes of work, marking, writing reports and data entry/analysis, otherwise the additional energy will be wasted on ‘spinning the hamster’ wheel, not generating new ideas and improving opportunities for all.

When the decision was made during Michael Gove’s tenure as Education Secretary to change every teaching programme in every school in England from Reception to Year 13 5 years ago, and to change every mode of assessment that went with that, it sent the teaching faculty here and every where else to be honest into a flat spin. As an private school, we can choose to be independent of much that central government force-feeds its own schools, but we could not avoid the change for all secondary examinations that are now mid flow. A level grades have not changed, but the subjects have been made harder, so achieving those grades more difficult, demanding an increase in knowledge retention and skill deployment. GCSEs have had the same ‘toughening-up’, with the added dimension of a complete change in nomenclature (numbers over grades, e.g. 4=C) and a switch from criterion-lead marking (a C means the pupils can do this, that and the other) to % cohort classification (63% of pupils will get a level 4 or above).  The latter approach is simply inappropriate and unfair; why does setting an arbitrary bar and %cut mean our pupils who clear the bar will be more capable than before?

What has also been of real import in the state sector is that teacher load has also been increased in terms of class size, with teachers increasingly used to facing classes in excess of 30 at almost all levels below age 16. Some 20 years ago the decision was made to support the teachers in the state sector through the additional employment of teaching assistants and learning support assistants, who now number perhaps 40% of a school’s teaching faculty. As a professional teacher, having additional adults in your room may in one way ease the load, but in plenty of other dimensions decreases the efficiency of the teacher because they have even more variables and liaison activities with which to engage. As austerity measures have rolled out in recent years, numbers of support works have declined, class sizes have increased further, all of which seems to cause the perfect storm of poor teacher retention and the concomitant low teacher recruitment.

LSA Business ReviewOur industry is well used to Secretaries of State coming up with Golden ticket solutions that will noticeably improve teacher retention. Claires Court has not introduced performance-related pay for example, now rolled out in every state school at great expense of time and effort. Because it ‘works’ in ‘business’, Michael Gove and his DfE apparatchiks felt PRP should be rolled out for all teachers as well, back in 2014, suggesting that it would reward the best teachers, encourage teacher recruitment and retention.  Guess what; it dramatically increased teacher and management work load without any benefit to the pupils, and after 4 years, we have the researchers from LSE making it clear that PRP per se does not work- https://www.tes.com/news/performance-related-pay-ineffective-schools-study-finds. Surprise, surprise, the Human Resource Management tool that works best in schools with teachers is the same as for pupils, intense provision of teaching and training.

None of the pressures in the last paras have affected my staff here, because we are completely confident that the pupil:teacher ratios we run are the best in the long term for both pupil progress and achievement and teacher’s well being. Whilst all the research indicates that dropping class size from 33 to 28 gives rise to no difference for pupil outcomes, cutting the class size by half and doubling the non-contact time for teachers actually does make the difference an educational  community needs to thrive. And those are our metrics: class size wherever possible 20 or less and teacher non-contact time at 20% as opposed to at best 10% in public service. If you do the mathematics on that =+0.5 day per week additional non-contact time over a period of 10 years will of course mean a teacher has been given the equivalent of a year of additional work space for personal endeavour, time for research, enquiry, ‘career’ resighting and additional professional qualifications. And in addition, that’s not just given to staff because they have made a really good case for it, but to every teachers, because they need it.

In our research-led community over the past 6 years, with the time to be curious and make enquiry, we have been able to build and embed the Learning Essentials, the use of G Suite and other digital tools, introduce mindfulness and other core thinking tools to support children and adults at work and even have many staff taking part in a mental health induction training programme.  We have increased the number of staff involved in staff development and training this spring/summer. Currently we have 28 teachers in training and 4 working towards Masters qualification, we’ve won the right to manage the provision of apprenticeships under our own training regime, and we have have remarkable initiatives such as ‘Girls on Board’ and ‘The Learning Scientists’ underway helping us retain our pathfinder and trail-blazer ambitions.

Giving teachers a year off at the end of 10 years might work for a very few, nice to have etc. but in no way is it going to lead to the resuscitation and renewal of interest in teaching in the state sector that Mr Hinds suggests. For 90% of teaching staff that is going to be in the future anyway, years ahead down the line. What they needed to hear was the following:

  1. The team around the child includes teaches, parents, health and care personnel. The critical staff shortage is affecting all 3 professional groups, and the £5 million  would be far better spent putting school nurses and police liaison officers back in place, with clear pathways for additional support available at a much earlier stage to ‘nip problems’ in the bud, linking health and care much more closely to school and family.
  2. Children can only learn the behaviours and skills we want them to acquire if they are taught them; society cannot surround them with fast food and instant entertainment, and wonder why we are generating a new generation with a propensity for obesity and short attention spans. Rather than ‘pass the buck’, government should re-invest in the community education programmes we need to support adult education in their local communities.
  3. It was Margaret Thatcher who said “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families”. Sadly, we are reaping what she sowed; learning from the likes of Finland, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand, where educational outcomes for all are so much higher, we need all schools to be valued for what they bring to their local community and kept integral to the planning for the success of the whole community, not just the easy bits.

And of course if we cannot afford these strategies in all schools and communities, bring them back into play in the communities where deprivation is most acute. Such choices take wisdom and conviction; here’s hoping after a false start, Damian Hinds shows a better set of heels next conference time.


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Lessons from History – what learning looks like some 100 years on.

Last weekend, 40 boys and girls from Year 10 spent 2 days on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. It’s difficult to emphasise just what an important experience this is for any person, in part because the lies from their leaders, the sheer waste of life and the impartial injustice to all are so starkly evident. Their visit included:

  • visiting the UEFA memorial battlefield site of the famous Xmas 1914 fraternisation between Tommy and the Boche, where Christmas gifts were exchanged and we lost on penalties to the Germans in umpteen impromptu games of football;
  • sitting in the Hooge crater area, learning about the bravery of the 175th Tunnelling company whose gallery excavations covered 58m, where they exploded 2 huge bombs to literally undermine the enemy;
  • conducting a headstone survey at Tyne Cot cemetery, the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces – this is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War, and the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world;
  • following the lives of some known individuals of the First World war period through the ‘In Flanders’ Field‘ museum;
  • attending the Last Post ceremony (our 4 in the last quartet) and laying a wreath in respect for all the fallen, including those former pupils of Maidenhead College, whose names are on the Menin Gate where the service takes place;
  • visiting the trenches and exploring the use of military equipment at the Passchendaele Museum;
  • contrasting commonwealth war memorials with those of the German allies at Langemark cemetery;
  • appreciating and understanding the horror of a gas attack at the advanced field dressing station at Essex farm;
  • visiting the Lijssenthoek military hospital site at Poperinge, learning more about Triage, battlefield dressings and the care of the wounded during this period, whilst also appreciating that so many other nationalities lost their lives in and shortly the Great War.

Throughout the 2 days, we were accompanied by Warrant Officer Richie Parsons, now a territorial medical officer but accompanying school trips to add detailed factual accuracy and exemplar kit demonstrations at our many stops over the 2 days. Below you can see some a collage given a sense of our learning experience over the 2 days.

Ypres Collage 2018

Ypres Collage 2018b

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It’s been a long time coming, this end-of-winter-2017/18.

For those very few that await my weekly blog, they’ll have noticed that it went missing this Lent 2018. That’s not to suggest the choice was not deliberate, it’s just that the good Christian in me always reminds me that you are not supposed to wear your sackcloth-and-ashes and moan about them, merely to suffer in silence. Well, now that we are past Maundy Thursday, I can confirm that not only did I stop my blog but I stopped my ‘beer’ as well. After a very genuine 40 days in the desert plus an additional no-beer-on-Sundays-rule, I can say I feel very pleased with myself, and for 2 reasons:

  1. I can take a season of not writing and not drinking without much pain, … and secondly
  2. I no longer feel the need for beer.

However, it’s time to restart the blog, and this Easter break has seen the re-emergence of the ‘Woodpecker’ press, keen to dig out any little soundbite and amplify it to spread doom, gloom and disenchantment.  Try this headline from a recent teachers’ conference, amplified by most of the nationals “Private school parents think they are ‘buying’ exam success for their children, teachers’ leader says”.

The Teacher’s leader mentioned, Dr Mary Bousted of the ATL certainly does not lead me, and the quotes she attributes to teachers are not ones I hear in my staff room. Education is its own industry, regarded by central government as sitting alongside Care and Health. Parents pay tuition fees to my school for an educational offer that includes tuition in core academic areas but in addition education of the ‘whole’ child.  Our offer does include smaller class size, an extended teaching day, additional extra-curricular activities and other imaginative and often innovative ways of bringing learning to life and making it relevant for the pupils we serve.

Of course, parents will have very high expectations of us to provide as promised, and that’s wholly reasonable.  But parents who join Claires Court buy into an offer of aims, values and accountability that often means their children won’t be tested to the hilt and unnecessarily examined. Our pupils will not take part in the Standardised Assessment tests (SATs) that state school pupils are required to take aged 7 and 11, and have to do so for over a decade. At secondary level, our pupils are not given ‘notional’ floor standards against which their progress as learners is measured year on year to age 16, as their state counterparts are given. This statistical exercise, against which children and then used by DfE and Ofsted to determine whether the school has been successful as an institution, or whether it is ‘coasting’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ embraces a toxic methodology which our sector has not only discounted but actually cannot play any part in, even if we wished.

Anyway back to the headline, what on earth is anyone to gain from making public some private grief shared, as if it were evidence of national discord? Answer, it fits the national press narrative to spread division and gloom, a mood that can only be changed by clicking on the adverts that surround the story.  Try it yourself with the Daily Telegraph on-line story – in my case it directs me to buy Gin from Lidl, find perfect ‘powder’ for skiing, check whether I qualify for PPI and … a link to another article set to spread despondency amongst parents choosing private school, entitled “Eccentric, overpriced and entitled: the former High Master of St Paul’s on how Britain’s public schools must change.” The Daily Mail version invites me to take a punt with the Euro lottery, take out a new mortagage or…well, you choose, I couldn’t possibly.

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