Lessons from New York schools

by Sarah Seleznyov, Director of London South Teaching School Alliance.

From 11-13 March 2020, I was lucky enough to be invited to go to New York to look at innovative schools as part of a funded study trip with Big Education and the Big Leadership Programme. The programme looks at how as leaders, we might rethink education so that it takes a more expansive view of learning, continuing to ensure academic achievement, whilst also developing the whole person, and teaching creativity and problem solving. This series of blogs is about the practices I saw and how they might inspire education in UK schools.

Lesson 1: Social and emotional learning as an enabler for pupils from challenging backgrounds

How do we teach our pupils to cope with what lies beyond the school gates, as well as what lies within it? How do we support them to handle the real-life situations they face outside school, and the challenges they might experience once they are no longer pupils at the school, so that their lives are safe, fulfilling and successful? This is the challenge that the Urban Assembly Academy for Future Leaders set out to tackle.

Three years ago the Urban Assembly Academy for Future Leaders was a failing state school, with one of the highest ‘incident rates’ in New York City, one step away from being designated as a ‘dangerous school’. The pupils at this school for 12 to 15 year olds have tough lives: 96% live below the poverty level, 43% have special needs and many live in shelters (homeless accommodation). It was difficult for students to manage their own emotions and remain resilient in the face of the multiple daily challenges they faced both within and beyond the school. 

When Principal Gates arrived, he had a plan. He believed that the introduction of a comprehensive programme of social and emotional learning could not only help turn the school around, but enable the pupils to thrive as learners and help them navigate the tricky situations they faced in the community. He described how the state school curriculum could not provide students with the learning, cultural and social capital they need to thrive in a high performing college, but that if they had developed the relevant social and emotional skills, such as resilience and self-management, they would stay the course. He wanted to ‘make sure they have a foot in the door, and a space in the room’.

The school introduced daily social and emotional lessons of 30 minutes, led by teachers from all subjects, in which teachers would pose scenarios, explore pupils’ initial responses to these strategies and then offer them a range of alternative perspectives on those scenarios. Through the scenarios and reflective discussions, teachers teach pupils the vocabulary and a set of associated strategies such as self-regulation, perseverance, resilience to help them consider alternative pathways, pathways that will keep them safe, and help them progress and achieve their life goals. Over time, many teachers began to incorporate the vocabulary and the strategies from these discrete lessons into day-to-day subject teaching, seeing a real impact on learning attitudes, behaviours and achievement. 

Teaching was complimented with a measurement tool: the Devereu Student Strengths Assessment tool (DESSA) was used to measure students’ progress in social and emotional aspects of learning, and thanks to pleas from teachers, acted as a formative tool for students. Strengths were co-identified by teachers and students, so as to take into account aspects visible both at school and at home, and areas for development were mutually agreed. These agreed targets would inform teachers’ planning for future social and emotional lessons.

Since the introduction of this new curriculum, there has been an 80% reduction in major incidents in the first year, and a 60% reduction in the second year. This year there have only been six incidents, and none of them dangerous. Thanks to improved learning behaviours and attitudes, the school has been able to introduce a much more challenging curriculum. Test scores have risen and future tracking shows improved success at high school.

We heard from two students at the school who were able to talk articulately about the impact this approach had had on them personally. They handled the language of emotional intelligence competently and confidently, describing how they had learned the importance of self-regulation, of reaching out for help, of being resilient in the face of failures. The school they said ‘doesn’t sugar coat what life is like’ but recognises that: ‘emotions are powerful and can be wild cards if you can’t control them – sometimes you can end up doing things you didn’t want to do’.

They described how pupils taught their peers to use the skills of emotional regulation, helping improve self-management and pupil-to-pupil relationships collaboratively. They even described trying to teach the skills to younger siblings: ‘I guess you could call it like a spider web’.

The Principal and Vice Principal also explained how their leadership enabled this approach to embed and be successful. They saw themselves as enablers, removing obstacles from teachers that might stop them teaching effectively, and devolving power to teachers as leaders, developing teacher autonomy and giving them ownership of learning. A system of quality assurance avoided naming and judging teachers, instead providing overall feedback and suggestions for improvements. Teachers worked collaboratively to develop their own practice in Professional Learning Communities, tackling problems of practice that mattered to them and their classes. Senior leaders were not on call to remove pupils with challenging behaviours, but constantly moved in and out of lessons to spot and praise good learning behaviours, and to help pupils manage emotional outbursts before they affected learning. 

A focus on teacher autonomy, and a model of leader as servant, whose key role is to remove the obstacles that prevent teachers from being their best selves, aligns perfectly with a curriculum focus on the development of emotional intelligence. And an eco-system like that makes a big difference to the achievement, well-being and personal lives of pupils and teachers.

Why does England exclude so many pupils?

A recent article highlights the huge discrepancy between exclusions data for England and Scotland and tries to work out why the gap is so huge.

The article notes that almost 98% of pupils permanently excluded in the UK in 2016-17 were from schools in England. Contrast this with Scotland whose rates of permanent exclusion are consistently lower, reaching a ‘historic low’ in 2014-15 when only five students were permanently excluded. The tables below (page 1145) show the different trajectories for the two nations:

  2012/13 (% of school population) 2016/17 (% of school population)
England 267,520 (3.51) 381,865 (4.76)
Wales 13,879 (3.00) 16,907 (3.67)
Scotland 21,934 (3.27) 18,376 (2.68)
N Ireland 5,772 (1.81) 6,805 (2.14)

Figure 2. Total numbers of instances of recorded non-permanent exclusions

Figure 3. Non-permanent exclusions across the UK as a percentage of the school population of state-funded primary,secondary and special schools

The article suggests that one reason for the discrepancy between English and Scottish exclusion rates might be the two nations’ different policy approaches to exclusions. Scotland’s Included, Engaged and Involved strategy takes a long-term approach to prevention and early intervention, with a heavy focus on helping school staff build positive relationships with at-risk pupils. In this policy, exclusion is a last resort:

The overarching aim of this guidance is to support schools, communities and their partners to keep all children and young people fully included, engaged and involved in their education; and, to improve outcomes for all Scotland’s children and young people with a particular focus on those who are at risk of exclusion. (Scottish Government, 2017, p.7)

There is a strong emphasis on developing an understanding of the impact of an exclusion on the life chances of pupils who may already be disadvantaged in terms of deprivation, special needs or other challenging home circumstances. Schools are advised to use restorative and nurturing practices, to consider teaching and learning approaches and to work with other support agencies to try and keep pupils in school.

The paper contrasts this approach to that of England, which it describes as ‘much more punitive in tone’ (p.1149). The article notes that England’s Advice For Headteachers does not explore alternatives to exclusion and focuses largely on descriptions of punishments, powers to challenge pupils and strategies like isolation and seclusion. These two very different approaches were corroborated by interviews with stakeholders from the two nations. 

This difference in approaches is visible in current online debates about behaviour management, which are often presented as extremes.  Some advocate punitive zero tolerance behaviour policies which others point out may fail to enable students to become self-motivated adults.  Still others argue for nurturing environments which adapt to accommodate students’ needs, and this is countered with the argument that these may let those with the most challenging behaviours off the hook. There are not many educators arguing for a middle ground. 

One much-debated strategy is the use of exclusion rooms and isolation booths which are both celebrated as successful support mechanisms for struggling students and derided as punitive solutions which do little more than remove the problem student from their entitlement to an education. A second recent article takes a more measured view of this approach. It describes an in-school seclusion unit in a school in London, which is set up as a sanction for students with challenging behaviours, but actually functions as a place of care and nurture for internally excluded students. The article attributes this to the caring approach of the lead member of staff in the unit who seeks to build relationships, to understand and to find caring solutions, rather than to punish. 

The article shows that the use of exclusion rooms and isolation booths is not the factor that decides how challenging behaviours should be tackled – it’s the human being in the room that makes the difference. And if a student receiving a sanction is cared for by the right member of staff, at the moment of the exclusion, it can make a real difference to the student’s response, and more gently and efficiently support re-integration into the classroom.

This seems to confirm the importance of Scotland’s focus on relationships, a focus which really has changed the lives of many troubled students. For these struggling students, it’s the person, not the place nor the policy that matters.

Barker, J., 2019. ‘Who cares?’Gender, care and secondary schooling:‘Accidental findings’ from a seclusion unit. British Educational Research Journal45(6), pp.1279-1294.

McCluskey, G., Cole, T., Daniels, H., Thompson, I. and Tawell, A., 2019. Exclusion from school in Scotland and across the UK: Contrasts and questions. British Educational Research Journal45(6), pp.1140-1159.

Emotions Matter-Building emotional intelligence in children

Michael Eggleton, Deputy Head at Charles Dickens and leader of the Improving Mental Health programme talks about how his school has tackled this pressing problem.

We have all seen the statistics and even had first-hand experiences of supporting children with mental health concerns. More and more emphasis has been put on schools to be the first responders in supporting children’s mental health. Often schools are encouraged to attend specific courses such Mental Health First Aider trainer, which certainly raises the profile of mental health and helps staff recognise signs, but doesn’t necessarily give all staff the skills to support mental health in a systemic and proactive way. The recent EEF report on Social And Emotional Learning talks about the importance of whole school approaches to supporting children’s mental health, levelling the playing field for all and not just waiting for signs to appear.  Like many senior leaders, I have had the challenging task of finding an approach that will work for the school. Often this is a minefield, as there are many companies selling different approaches, all of which claim to improve mental health, and some of which have small if not non-existent evidence bases but a cult following.

What is RULER?

Our journey began in 2016, where I read about an evidence based approach called RULER in the new scientist. At the time, RULER had been around for 30 years and had extensive longitudinal study demonstrating its impact in thousands of schools across the United States of America. RULER was created by Dr Marc Brackett, a professor at the Anchors of Emotional Intelligence at Yale University.  His studies have shown that RULER schools improve emotional intelligence, reduce anxiety and mental health problems, improve attainment and reduces burnout and stress for staff. RULER is now used in primary, secondary, further educational establishments and even businesses in the United States.

RULER is based upon four main tools that help children regulate and understand their emotions. Most importantly, RULER is underpinned by the vigorous and explicit teaching of emotional vocabulary. Children are taught to unpick how they are feeling and to use a bank of strategies to regulate their emotions in the short term in order to achieve long term happiness. RULER does not expect one tool or theory to support every child, but understands that each child is unique.

RULER tools and how they work

The first tool is called the Charter. Children create a whole class or school agreement for how they wish to feel each day. For example, the children may want to feel listened to, respected, happy, safe… The class can then agree ways in which they can all help to make this a reality and what will happen if someone doesn’t live up to the Charter. The children are encouraged to demonstrate forgiveness but also to hold others to account. The aim is to create a climate of respect and to really show that feelings do matter.

The next tool is the Mood Meter. The Y axis represents energy levels and the X axis shows how pleasant the emotion is. Children are taught to plot their emotions on the mood meter, knowing that there is no such thing as a negative emotion. The teacher then spends time using a language progression scheme to teach the individual emotions. Research has found that children have very few words to describe their emotions and rely on the obvious words to describe more complex emotions. As a result, children can neither regulate nor describe their emotions in order to access appropriate support. If you can name it, you can tame it!

The third tool is Meta Moments. The children are taught a memorable routine to help them stay calm when things don’t go right and the science behind the emotions they might be feeling.  The routines give them a range of regulation strategies, including scaling, positive self-talk, mindfulness and many more.

Lastly, if something does go wrong, how do you fix it? The children are taught a RULER version of restorative justice called the Blueprint in which children reflect on their own emotions and their ability to regulate whilst developing empathy.

On our RULER journey, we have found that tweaks have needed to be made in order to make some of the language UK-friendly.  The school has created a scheme of work, language progression list, assessment and booklets for the children based upon the RULER tools. The booklets include proven strategies to support pupils’ long term happiness. These resources have helped all staff teach social and emotional lessons to a high standard using this evidence based approach.

Over the last four years, we have noticed a huge reduction in the number of CAMHS referrals, teachers report that children can articulate and accurately describe their emotions, there are less barriers to learning within the class and behaviour has improved substantially.  We have shared our adapted version of RULER across the UK and internationally.

Want to support mental health and emotional wellbeing in your own school?  Find out more about RULER at Charles Dickens Research School or join Michael’s Improving Mental Health programme for senior leaders.

Get rid of tests? Which ones?

Primary schools reacted with caution to news that Labour wants to scrap SATs and abolish the new Reception baseline test.  Whilst many agreed with their description of a “regime of extreme pressure testing”, we also wondered if this blanket statement really demonstrated Labour’s understanding of what is wrong with primary testing.

Labour wants a “more flexible and practical” primary assessment system to replace the existing tests, but hasn’t provided any detail on what that system might look like.  So here’s a manifesto for changes to the test that really will make a difference to primary schools:

  1. Get rid of the tests that don’t add value to teaching and learning

Wyse explains how an over-emphasis on grammar hinders a pupil’s ability to take control of their learning style and leaves them unable to explore the process of writing.  A huge body of research shows that teaching grammar as a discrete skill separate to the writing process not only makes no positive difference to writing, but can also demotivate struggling writers.  Teaching grammar through reading and applying it in writing is valuable, but teaching it as a set of discrete and separate testable skills is pointless.  So first, drop the SPAG test.

Phonics is an important skill to support learning to read, and primary teachers recognise its value.  However, primary practitioners know that reading is a more complex process than simply decoding.  We have all seen confident readers fail the phonics screening as they try to ‘make sense’ of the nonsense words.  This is an important reading skill: we want children coming across a word that makes no sense to find a way to give it meaning, that’s what real readers do when phonics doesn’t work.  And in the context of the English language, phonics frequently doesn’t work.  If the nonsense words were removed and it became a low stakes internal test, primary teachers would probably want to continue using it, but as a high stakes predictor of future reading skills, the phonics screening is pointless.

It’s a similar story for the new times tables test.  Primary teachers have been administering their own low stakes times tables tests for years, and have always valued the rote learning of multiplication facts.  But is it important enough to be a statutory test?  Just like phonics, pupils’ ability to memorise times tables facts isn’t a predictor of mathematical achievement. It isn’t even a predictor of pupils’ ability to successfully understand multiplication and use it to solve problems.  Another pointless test.

2. Reduce test-induced pressure on teachers and avoid ‘labelling’ pupils

We know from the vast body of research evidence on feedback, mindsets and motivation that grading or scoring can be damaging to confidence and future learning, both for low and high achievers.  And yet, our testing regime persists in attempting to ‘label’ pupils according to their test outcomes, and in holding teachers to account for these scores.  When a teacher’s job is on the line, and there is a challenging cohort of pupils, it’s difficult not to transfer the pressure you feel onto the pupils in your care. 

There is a marked difference in pupils’ responses to KS1 and KS2 testing.  Teachers know that the KS1 tests only provide a snapshot of pupils’ learning.  Teacher assessments, moderated by test data, provide a much more realistic picture of pupils’ achievement.  I would imagine that if KS2 tests operated in the same way, both pupils and teachers would feel less stress.  And if this synergy between tests and teacher assessments were truly embraced, the number of tests could be significantly reduced and their administration made much less stressful.  Why not just one Reading paper and one Mathematics paper at each Key Stage?   Why not remove the time limit for the papers, allowing teachers to judge when pupils have done as much as is reasonable for their learning level?

Unfortunately, the new Reception baseline test looks set to replicate the problems tests currently create at KS1 and KS2.  Rather than looking to assess children across the broad range of areas of learning and development which we know act as predictors of future academic success, they take a narrow focus on easy-to-measure skills such as numeracy and literacy. This narrowing of focus is something Ofsted have now recognised as historically damaging to the KS1 and KS2 curricula in many schools.  High stakes tests like these don’t function as formative tests, but as ways to label very young pupils and constraints to teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, hence placing stress on teachers, pupils and parents.

If we really trusted teachers as highly trained professionals – and why wouldn’t we? – we would significantly reduce the number of high stakes tests in primary schools, selecting the bare minimum (those that matter) and combining them with teacher judgement to produce a rounded picture of pupil attainment.  Let’s hope Labour understand that.

The widening gap between special and mainstream

It is with interest that we read that Damien Hinds has decided to seek the views of schools on whether special needs funding should be reformed to make it “more effective”.  The DFE want to know whether the funding system “could better reflect the changing nature of need”, and whether cash can be “distributed more effectively”.

For those of us working in schools, it’s not really about needs changing, nor about effective distribution of funds.  Needs are not changing, they are growing.  Autism is a good example of this challenge.  We are better than ever before at diagnosing autism and understanding that pupils with autism need special provision.  Numbers of pupils with autism requiring extra support and/or an EHCP are therefore increasing quickly.  Put simply, the more we train teachers and SENDCos, the better they are at diagnosis, and the more pupils with SEND we have in our schools.  And it’s not just teachers: parents are also increasingly savvy about recognising their children’s needs and asking for the help their children deserve.

At the same time, funds for SEND in schools are decreasing.  Last month think tank IPPR North reported that funding for pupils with SEND has been slashed by 17 per cent in just three years.  We in London see the same trend.  When budgets are tight (and they are!), staffing is reduced.  When staffing is reduced, support for our most vulnerable learners is affected most of all.  SEND pupils bear the brunt of the budget crisis schools are facing.

What does this look like on the ground?  Here at the alliance, we are noting a surge of interest in programmes to support teachers managing the needs of SEND pupils, like our UCL Institute of Education autism programme, and our Leading a Mentally Healthy School programme.  Teachers want to know how best to support the much wider range of needs they are having to manage within the classroom.  Teachers wanting to learn how best to meet the needs of SEND pupils has to be a good thing, right?  Well, yes… but we know that these pupils need specialist help and more manpower than a single classteacher can provide, despite their best intentions. 

So what we see is an ever-widening gap between the offer of mainstream and special schools.  What should be a fine distinction, offering real choice to parents, is becoming a huge chasm, reducing parental choice and making special schools seem like the only choice for an increasing number of SEND pupils. 

Rob Webster notes that the projected increase in the secondary school population of 376,000 young people by 2023 will equate to at least 45,300 extra pupils with SEND, or around 15 pupils per secondary school nationally. At the same time, he notes an 11% reduction in the number of secondary schools with a SEND unit between January 2017 and January 2018.  This is a problem that is going to grow unless we can tackle it very soon.

So by all means, let’s look at SEND funding.  Let’s look at its impact on parental choice, teacher workload and stress, and most of all on the lives of young people with SEND who are caught in a perfect storm.

Curriculum complications

There have been some interesting developments in the curriculum debate recently. There is general agreement that it is time for the accountability framework to end its heavy focus on attainment, given that a significant body of evidence now shows that it is much more challenging to enable pupils from deprived backgrounds to attain in line with their more affluent peers. This has meant a growing divide between schools teaching in challenging circumstances and those in more advantaged areas, and led quite rightly to the idea of the ‘coasting’ school which relies on its privileged intake to guarantee attainment above the national average.

It has been reassuring to read in Ofsted’s excellent curriculum research report that a judgement of curriculum quality is not correlated with deprivation, and that, although linked with attainment, a quality curriculum is not a guarantee of strong attainment, and vice versa. Finally, a judgement that seems to be able to be fairly applied regardless of a school’s intake!

So all seems rosy – so far. And yet, many challenges remain if we are to move towards a robust understanding of curriculum excellence as part of the accountability framework for schools. Arthur Chapman rightly raises the artificial separation of curriculum and pedagogy in recent debates as problematic. He says that subject disciplines ‘have form as well as body’: each discipline has a form of enquiry or process of reasoning through which it can be handled and understood. He warns of the dangers of separating the debate about pedagogy from the debate about curriculum: ‘form without body is spectral; equally, however, body without form will, inevitably, fall apart’

And it would seem that in primary schools at least, the DfE are in agreement. For some years now, primary headteachers have experienced quite stringent guidance not only on what to teach but also how to teach it, through synthetic phonics, to mastery mathematics, to the teaching of grammar.

Chapman reminds us that teaching and learning is a much more messy process than the artificial separation of curriculum in this public debate might suggest. In fact, the messiness Chapman describes is unpicked in Ofsted’s research project, which begins with 25 indicators of curriculum quality, uses a number of different statistical analyses to identify those which are the most important and ends up with a shorter list but no definitive answer.

Similarly, John White questions whether schools really do have the power to create their own powerful curricula when the English education system allows ministers to dictate a detailed National Curriculum with a definite political slant. The National Curriculum he refers to is Gove’s 2013 ‘essential knowledge’ which must underpin the curriculum design of the majority of English state schools. Like Chapman, White sees such strict control of curriculum content as affecting pedagogy: a curriculum of ‘essential knowledge’ requires a pedagogy of ‘knowledge acquisition’. This explains the current popularity of strategies like direct instruction and scripted lessons, to the detriment of constructivist approaches to learning which have considerable research evidence behind them.

Ofsted’s curriculum research reveals that the narrowing of the curriculum is a particular problem in primary schools. It is here that accountability measures and an accompanying prescriptive approach to the teaching of reading, writing and maths have led schools who may well have preferred to take a ‘broad and balanced’ approach to curriculum design, to focus much of their time and attention on English and maths.

Headteachers must be wary of following the pull of the debate to the detriment of what they see and know to be powerful learning: it is important to consider pedagogy when planning the curriculum. And it is equally important for headteachers to hold on to what they truly believe an ambitious and powerful curriculum should look like, regardless of the dictats of the National Curriculum and the straitjacket of accountability. Not an easy task but an important one!

If you are interested in hearing more about the curriculum debate, join us for our speaker event in March and/or come along to our practical curriculum workshops.

Accountability: evolution or revolution?

At our recent event, Sean Harford, National Director for Education at Ofsted set out the proposed changes to future inspections, with an increased focus on curriculum as part of a single judgement on Quality of Education, encompassing previous judgements on Teaching, Learning and Assessment and Outcomes. He described this as ‘evolution, not revolution’, a journey towards a fuller and more balanced judgement of schools and their success.

Why does changing our accountability system matter? The key concerns here are teacher workload and teaching quality.

The Varkey Foundation survey found that British teachers are working the longest hours per week after New Zealand, Singapore and Chile. When the public were asked to estimate teachers’ weekly workload, they guessed 45.9 hours per week: the actual figure is 50.9, one whole school day more per week. There is however, a growing understanding of the challenges of being a teacher. In 2013, 26% of the general public said they would encourage their children to become teachers, and this is now down to 23%. We are losing teachers at the top, through early retirement or burnout, and at the bottom, since the number of those applying to become teachers is dropping. In London, we are also losing them in the middle, since they cannot afford to live in the city. Many of our schools lose teachers permanently because they move out of London altogether, or temporarily because they go to teach in an international school in order to save up for a deposit on a home in London.

Teacher vacancies since 2010: Teacher recruitment and retention in England, House of Commons Briefing, December 2018

The DfE have recognised the need to reduce teacher workload, and have so far focused on planning, marking, assessment and data collection. Their original promise to ‘move to a simpler system of accountability, where schools feel supported not restrained’ has to be one of the causal factors behind the changes to the Ofsted framework. Do these changes go far enough to rescue our broken system and are they really going to support the development of a quality teaching workforce?

Clearly the renewed focus on curriculum, instead of teaching to the test through a narrowed focus on English and maths in primary and early starts to GCSEs in secondary, should enable a better learning experience for pupils. And Ofsted’s own evidence has revealed that this may advantage schools teaching more deprived intakes: in their own pilot, more schools in the most deprived communities (69%) scored in the top three bands for their curriculum (3, 4 and 5) than those in the least deprived communities (62%).

But let’s also look at what Ofsted are NOT changing. The grading of schools will not change despite the educations system’s call for its removal since, in Sean’s own words, ‘neither parents nor politicians want it to’. One of our panellists Jan Shadick, Regional Director for United Learning raised this as a problematic issue: we know from research that, when you mark children’s work and grade it, they do not read the associated feedback. Those with lower grades give up and those with higher grades become complacent. We know that Ofsted believes it is inappropriate to grade individual lessons based on observations, and we know from our own experiences that this process can be as demotivating and problematic as giving pupils grades. Why then is it deemed appropriate to continue to grade schools?

Nick Brook, Deputy General Secretary of NAHT is among the many who have called for the Outstanding grade to be replaced. Our experience in Southwark confirms the NAHT’s findings: exemption from inspection is confusing and unhelpful to parents; new headteachers who have taken over ‘Outstanding’ schools report that the historical badge can create resistance to change among staff.

Sean also claimed that ‘Requires Improvement’ simply means that there are some improvements to be made and that there is capacity within the school to make these improvements. I asked headteachers from schools currently judged to be RI in Southwark what they thought about this comment after the event. They thought this comment was naïve and complacent: they have experienced the negative backlash from parents and the intense pressure on staff that an RI judgement can bring.

We all understand the need for schools to be held accountable, the need for schools who are not providing an education of sufficient quality to raise their game. But for those schools who are judged to be Good and Outstanding, the most effective form of accountability is horizontal not vertical – ‘schools explaining and justifying their idea of ‘quality’ and the means to achieve it to those directly involved’ (Visser, 2015: 21). This is the most powerful form of accountability – collective accountability – and Matt Davis from the Education Development Trust advocated achieving this through accredited systems of peer review. We run a highly successful programme of Peer Review here in Southwark, and that’s exactly what it does: it holds schools to account, whilst driving school improvement without the need for judgements and labels. The focus is on exploring evidence, raising questions and driving action which will make a difference.

The punitive nature of our current accountability system is the key trigger for teacher workload and problems with recruitment and retention. Top down accountability causes:

‘Increased emotional pressures and stress…; increased pace and intensification of work; and changed social relationships… increased, sometimes intentional competition between teachers and departments… concomitant decline in the sociability of school life… an increase in paperwork, systems maintenance and report production and the use of these to generate performative and comparative information systems; an increase in surveillance of teachers’ work and outputs; a developing gap in values, purpose and perspective, between senior staff, with their primary concern for balancing the budget, recruitment, public relations and impression management, and reaching staff, whose primary concern is with curriculum coverage, classroom control, students’ needs and record keeping’ (Kneyber, 2015: 41)

So, as Nick Hunt said, ‘what we really want from Ofsted is revolution, not evolution’. Get rid of unhelpful grade labels and help us to hold each other to account: this is what will really motivate teachers and make the profession both appealing and enduring.

You can read more about newer and better forms of accountability in Flip the System by Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber.