Oh my word, not another flippin’ blog about progs and trads! I mean seriously? You honestly think this is necessary?


Happy holidays!

Why not relax by engaging in some professional to-and-froing with your twitter brethren about teaching? Sounds like fun, don’t it? And quite often it is. Sometimes – and by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘often’ and by ‘often’ I mean ‘pretty much all the time’ – you could be forgiven for thinking that Twitter is on the blink as your timeline appears to be nothing more than a rehashing of comments you remember reading last holiday, and the holiday before that, and the holiday before that.

Fear not technophobes, your shiny new phone isn’t on the blink. It’s just that us teachers can’t move on from a single subject. For some reason our tiny minds are fixated with discussing the merits and failings of two different approaches to teaching. These approaches, or depending who you follow, theories / philosophies / beliefs / ideologies / disciplines / concepts / dogma / ways of life / only thing that matters / reason to walk across a crowded room in order to punch someone in the face, currently represent – if twitter is to be believed – the only thing that matters in education.

Forget the dire financial situation schools are currently in. Forget the collapse of social care around the country. Forget the increase in social, emotional and mental health problems that we are seeing in every area of our system. Forget the systematic dismantling of local authorities in favour of selective education. Forget the disconnect between key stages in relation to what is ‘expected’ of our pupils and students. Forget the ever-changing goal posts informing us of how better things need to be before we’ve had time to adjust to the last change. Forget the high-stakes system of results and Ofsted that cause panic and frustration when things are perceived to have gone wrong. Forget the pressures all of the above place on leaders, teachers, support staff and children.

None of that really matters.

What really matters is whether you’re a Trad or a Prog.

You should, according to some, know which one you are as knowing which one you are will improve your teaching. (As long you’re the right ‘one’ of course, if not then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start bashing either side or try to stop the debate. I think people thinking stuff is fine. People passionately believing in something is great. Evidence based research is, not exactly a laugh a minute, but can be interesting. Putting across your beliefs with the kind of feverish zeal normally reserved for religious preachers on dodgy cable-tv channels can be mildly disturbing but is seldom damaging. Watching debates on Twitter escalate can be a marvellous way to spend the time whilst you’re waiting for your morning egg to poach.

I love it. I don’t care that much about the trad/prog debate but I enjoy reading about it and sometimes I learn stuff. Only today I read Get Kids Cultured by the only man in the 21st century who can make a toga look both sophisticated and seductive: Martin Robinson. It was a right good read. Not only did I learn what neo-progressivism means but I also learnt that neo-progressives are a bunch of cynical swines obsessed with global capitalisation. It was very interesting and made me feel quietly smug that I too, like Martin, value ‘great art, literature…the humanities…a continual dialogue, a great cultural education’. I know nothing else about the chap but these few hundred words of his made sense and represent what I have tried to promote during my teaching career.

The important word in that last sentence is ‘tried’. Sometimes it’s hard to pull it all off because, well, you know that earlier paragraph where every sentence started with ‘Forget the…’? It’s hard to deliver that richness in education because of all that stuff. All that stuff gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes what you face in the classroom has to be dealt with first. And this isn’t wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal child-centred clap-trap. It’s the reality of being a teacher and working with small but complicated human beings.

I did a teeny-tiny twitter poll recently about what teachers thought about the whole prog/trad thing. 71% of those that responded said they didn’t know what it all meant and didn’t really care either. Since that poll it appears to have been discussed at length on twitter. Opinions were mixed. It was a very badly executed and puerile poll. The divisive nature of such a poll indicates how low some educators are prepared to go to sully professional debate. These 71% are a disgrace to the profession. The fact that these teachers are disengaged with the most important educational issue of our time could indicate that those talking about it must be very dull. Maybe it’s not that important after all. The fact that some people don’t think it’s important proves that it must be important. I could go on…but don’t worry, I won’t.

The most Didau of all the Davids, David Didau, referenced the poll in his recent blog The Great Education Debate saying that it was ‘fascinating’ (thank you, David) and that the outcome could indicate that if teachers ‘aren’t clear about what’s at stake then it’s perhaps no wonder that they’re not willing to ante up.’ He then makes four points about the subject that are very wise and logical. I agree with his sentiments that sometimes teachers disengage with this debate because it can become ‘boringly repetitive’ and ‘ill tempered’.

For me though, another reason why many teachers do not know/engage/care about the prog vs trad saga is that they are too busy with those complicated external factors that threaten to derail children’s learning. There are times, on Twitter, when I feel that these factors are brushed aside as an inconvenience. Dismissed as a symptom of the damage done by those uncaring traditionalists or pampering progressives. It is, of course, always someone else’s fault that children have problems (unless you are a spectacularly bad or unprofessional teacher) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t your job to try and help. That may mean that your preferred teaching approach needs to be suspended as you take the time to create an environment that enables these children to become receptive to your teaching. This is neither a traditionalist nor a progressive approach. It is simply responsible teaching and what most of us do daily. It is the reason, I suspect, that 71% don’t know about or care about the trad/prog debate. They are too busy reflecting in the moment and adapting as necessary to get the job done as best they can. They are also probably too knackered to think that deeply about their philosophical approach to teaching. That isn’t an appalling refusal to engage with educational debate, it’s work-life balance.

I hope those who do manage to find time to ponder the great philosophical quandaries of education continue to share their thoughts on blogs for others to read. I hope discussions continue on Twitter and that they remain animated without being offensive. I hope teachers will always feel able to try out new approaches and share what works and learn from what doesn’t. I also hope that the academic discussions on the merits and failings of traditionalism and progressivism know their place and don’t interfere with teachers’ professional freedoms in the real world. I also hope that Edu-Twitter doesn’t completely disappear up its own backside believing itself to be an executive authority rather than a minority of people thinking stuff. Well, I can hope, can’t I?

See you at the next Twitter poll.

Trolling Con


Welcome to the hippest convention of 2017. The UK’s first single-genre uni-platformed mass event for the introverted edu-nation. The event promises to see tens of edu-bloggers and tweeters gathering in the Shepton Mallet Scout hut to celebrate, and learn even more about, the distinguished art of trolling.

First up, we have a key-note delivered by a distinguished troll who will work the crowd into a frenzy by reading out a choice selection of their most tedious comments. We don’t want to give any spoilers but we’re pretty sure we’ll see some old favourites such as:

@******* thinks what I do is wrong.

Replying to @******* Um, yes you do!

Replying to @******* you implied it by stating the opposite.

Replying to @******* I’m not being abusive, this is how a debate works.

Replying to @******* find me a tweet where I said that.

Replying to @******* that’s not what I meant.

Replying to @******* you clearly don’t understand.

Replying to @******* you’ve proved my point. Goodbye.

Once inside the hut, fans will get the chance to visit all our trolling guests who will be hanging around the place waiting to have their pictures taken with you. Why not ask them to send you a trolling tweet?

Regular insult: £5

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than a left-wing progressive.

Special insult: £10

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than right-wing alt-trad monster.

Sub-tweet £25

Example: So apparently, the person that just paid me for a sub-tweet thinks accepting money to be unpleasant is morally reprehensible. They didn’t mind paying for it though, did they? What a hypocrite.

The main event, of course, is our ‘battle of the trolls’. Gather around your own phone screen and watch a plethora of online arguments begin. Each conversation, sorry, ‘trollersation’ will begin with a seemingly innocent link to a moderate education blog, but will quickly descend into flurry of tedious online abuse. You will be amazed by how long these things can go on for. You will be flabbergasted by the lengths our trolls will go to in order to win. Expect to see a range of out-of-context tweets, from as far back as 2007, being used to make apparently relevant points. Only the dull will survive.

For those who paid for our advanced ticket, you will be able to tune into Troll FM where some our distinguished guests will be providing a commentary to the online trollification. Hear their uninteresting views about why the comments from their friends do not count as abuse. Listen to their analysis about why they are right and how any other viewpoint should be considered as a passive-aggressive attack on them.

The convention will end with the medal ceremony where our most successful trolls of the day will be bestowed with the honour of becoming blocked. Each winner will have their username taken away from them and be given a new duller twitter handle accompanied by an egg profile pic.

But it doesn’t end there….

The after-party is where it really heats up. Follow the hashtag and expose yourself to the truly explicit and hate-fuelled bile that is online trolling. Get caught up in the moment and maybe even dip your own toe into the cesspool. See how much happier you feel when you trade genuine discussion for insults, social graces for pathetic one-upmanship, your real-life sense of worth for online status. Enjoy the dizzying highs that can only be achieved by hounding people for longer than is necessary as you degrade your own professional currency with a trumped up artificial sense of superiority. Take pleasure in the self-perpetuating myth that you are the only one who isn’t afraid to tell the truth. Convince yourself that what you are saying matters.

So, what are you waiting for…get trolling!*


*Obviously, don’t. You idiot.

Paper planes


I don’t know a lot about the increasingly popular ‘no excuses’ rhetoric that is pervading the edu-landscape at the moment. I am sure it doesn’t mean that we just expect children to behave impeccably – no matter what – just because they happen to be on our side of the school gates. I’m sure it doesn’t mean that, should a child behave poorly, they are immediately disciplined with the underlying message being that they should simply understand how to behave better especially now they’ve just been caught out. I’m also sure it doesn’t mean that the longer a teacher has their high expectations in place, the less they feel they must work at ensuring their pupils reach that standard.

I’m sure a ‘no excuses’ culture does not mean any of that, when it’s done properly. I can’t help feeling though, that some people think that’s what it means. I can’t help feeling that there may be some teachers who perceive themselves to be great teachers simply because they have high standards of behaviour. As if having high standards is a silver bullet that shoots out perfectly formed and well behaved children without the teacher having to do anything.

In my experience this has always been the folly of student teachers or NQTs. They get very agitated talking about the children that ‘just won’t’ behave. I’m sure we’ve all had that awkward conversation with students or inexperienced teachers where we’ve had to remind them that they’re the teacher and getting children to behave is, kind of, their job.

I personally have very high standards of behaviour. I did when I was a teacher too. It was exhausting! Sometimes I used to wish that my expectations were lower just so I wouldn’t have to work so hard. I was always slightly envious of those colleagues (and I’ve only met a few) who would moan about the behaviour in their class but who never seemed concerned enough to do anything about it. They must have had it so easy! Instead, there I was, anticipating when, in my next lesson, certain children would find a way to misbehave and trying to work out how I could make sure they didn’t.

As a Head, I have never used the expression ‘no excuses’ to describe an approach to behaviour management. It sounds too ripe for accountability avoidance for my liking. I like high standards. I’m happy to support, and back up, staff when a child has misbehaved. But I must fundamentally believe that they did everything they could to prevent the misbehaviour from happening to do so. I am very sceptical of teachers bringing me a child who has misbehaved ‘repeatedly’ during a lesson or who has completed ‘next to no work at all. I want to ask them: ‘At what point did you step in and try to change it?’ I don’t want to find out that the teacher’s solution to the poor behaviour is simply telling the child to buck up their ideas. I want to hear about how the teacher put something in place to help the child improve?

I want to hear about paper planes.

Paper planes are things I expect every teacher to put in place every day. They should underpin every activity, lesson, visit, event that occurs in the classroom. It’s very simple:

  • Plan
  • Anticipate
  • Provide
  • Evaluate
  • Repeat

In summary, whatever it is you have planned, anticipate who, in your class, you would put money on struggling with it (behaviour wise) and put in place something that will enable them to get through it without falling foul of a telling off. Afterwards, decide if you could realistically put that in place next time and if you think that you could, do so.

This isn’t about lowering your standards for key pupils. This approach isn’t about mollycoddling naughty kids. It allows them to meet your expectations. And, when you think about it, that’s the whole point of the teacher. We think nothing of differentiating work before a lesson, so, why shouldn’t we differentiate for behaviour. I always think about how I used to take my class swimming. I knew which children to sit next to on the coach, who to send into the changing rooms first, which children needed to get out the pool five minutes before everyone else, and of course, the golden rule to ensure we never missed the coach home: no talking until your socks are on. With all this in place, every child – even the boy who got banned from the swimming pool the year previously – could go swimming every week without earning a detention in the process.

Planning Little Actions Normalize Expectations.

A good teacher builds these paper planes to make sure children behave. A lesser teacher sits back and allows children to fall below the required standard, believing themselves to have been carrying out their job description just through having an expectation that they wanted to be met. An effective teacher builds equity into their behaviour management and has, in storage, different paper planes for different situations. Less effective teachers believe that if a child can behave during quiet reading, they will automatically be able to behave during DT. They are outraged that glue guns, saws and screwdrivers often prompts behaviour that requires a little more effort on their part to keep things moving along without incident, fuss or conflict. A decent teacher understands that behaviour management is a part of the job that never stops. A poorer teacher believes that children should just know how to behave, all of the time, and if they don’t it’s their fault rather than their own.

I don’t know about ‘no excuses’. All I know is that, in my experiences, the best teachers develop a 360° awareness of their class’s needs and are therefore able to manage them effectively. Over time, fewer paper planes are needed because the children, not only know what is expected of them, but also know what these expectations feel like. In the end, there is no need for excuses. Not because your pupils are perfect but because teachers and children are both working hard to make the expectations a reality.

Sometimes the paper planes crash and the child misbehaves. When that happens, deal with the fallout and, remembering that you’re the teacher, build another one.