A ‘Built to Last’ Education: A lesson from business?

Having recently finished Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’, on why some companies make the leap and some don’t, I discovered many of his concepts can potentially cross over into an educational setting.

In this post I would  like to highlight one story from the book about Merck, a company that sees its core purpose as a ‘global healthcare leader working to help the world be well’.  I think the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and (hopefully not too many) schools could learn from this story.

Collins states that ‘enduring great companies (schools) don’t exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders (exam results).  Indeed, in a truly great company (school), profits (exam results) become like blood and water to a healthy body: They are absolutely essential for life, but they are not the very point of life’

Collins highlights this theory with a soundbite from  a TIME interview with George Merck II, the CEO of Merck, in August 1952:

‘We try to remember that medicine (education) is for the patients (students)…. It is not for the profits (exam results).  The profits (exam results) follow, and if we have remembered that, they (exam results) have never failed to appear.  The better we have remembered it, the larger (better exam results) they have been’.

In the current educational climate it is important to be realistic; exam results do have a huge bearing on the perceived success of a school.  Good examination results, whether the concept is right or wrong, clear the path for students to get to the next stage of their development, whether that’s a job, an apprenticeship or a place at a college or university.  The vital point here, I feel, is the process by which we achieve good examination results can change dramatically.  It should primarily be led through positive relationships between the student, teacher and parent within a flexible curriculum that promotes authentic engagement by allowing students to discover and pursue their passions, where possible, on a daily basis.  I say, ‘where possible’ because subjects like English and Maths are not everybody’s cup of tea, but students do need a level of competency in both for future success in life.

However, we do not need to teach the test.

The challenging job is figuring out how to do this in YOUR individual school environment.

Although Maths was never my strong point or passion at school or since, I would like to offer the following equation to summarise my feelings on what we should be trying to create for each student in our schools.  We may never fully get there, but we must relentlessly and consistently pursue it:

ENGAGING + (through) EXCTING (learning opportunities) + ENCOURAGEMENT = (students) EXCELLING 

If we do make the above equation our biggest focus in schools on a daily basis, the great exam results, that we’re all under pressure to achieve, should look after themselves AND, more importantly, every student will be leaving school enthused and excited about what their future holds.


Innovation Day: The Gallery & Reflections

Finally, I’ve got round to it!! The school’s Innovation Day I organised and facilitated was nearly a month ago now and I have finally collated some of the students’ creations in this post.  It was very much a team effort with over 15 staff giving up their time to help be a ‘guide from the side’ on the projects.  Basically this meant they only helped if the students asked for it, which by all accounts, they didn’t do much of!

Please check out the video clip above created by two Year 12 students, Oliver Klein and Oliver Cheal which will give you a small glimpse into the day itself. 

The day, as previously explained, was based on Google’s 20% time whereby students decide what to learn, how to learn and who to learn with for an entire school day.  Simply, the 80 students involved (aged 11-15) were captivated by the experience of controlling their own learning and creating their own projects for the day.  They worked solidly for 6 hours, cross pollinating across different projects, ages and abilities where students and the staff assisting were viewed as equals with students organising their own breaks, without being a slave to the industrial bells which signify the end of a learning unit.  All in all, an equally eye opening day for the both the students and staff involved.

A question I have since been asked is ‘Did any students display any disruptive behaviour during the day?’.  The honest answer is NO! Why? I think there were 2 major factors behind this:

1.  Students designed their own learning experience.  This meant they had autonomy over the project and their learning was authentic and closely connected to their interests

2.  We had a public ‘show and tell’ in the school gym at the end of the day with both peers and the Senior Leadership Team in attendance.  I think this gave the students a ‘we must make this brilliant’ attitude

The challenge now of course, is how do we make this type of learning an integral and sustainable part of school’s curriculum? Or as the New York based School of One school intriguingly puts it, how do we create the ‘mass customisation of student learning?’

Below are 4 pictures giving you a taster of just a few of the 30 creations made during Innovation Day:

Manga Artwork

Remote Control Car

Recyclable Eiffel Tower

Jubilee Cup Cakes

I guess Sir Ken Robinson got to the heart of the matter when he said human talent and creativity is incredibly diverse and unique and it is up to us, as educators, to nurture and nourish these individual passions.

For my previous posts on Innovation Day please check here and here

A worthwhile link here is to High Tech High and the Learning Futures joint creation of a Project Based Learning Guide to help any school or educator to introduce meaningful work into their classrooms.  I am not saying this is the sole answer to transforming the student learning experience but I think it could be, along with other authentic learning practices, a vital tool in engaging young people in their education.

For any more information about the organisation of ‘Innovation Day’ at Wilmslow High School please get in contact via a comment on this post, my email (matthewbebbington@hotmail.com) or Twitter (@BebbPEteach)

High Performing Schools: ‘Beyond Outstanding’

Alistair Smith’s ‘High Performers‘ book is a must read for any classroom teacher, middle leader or senior leadership team member looking to take their pedagogy, team or school ‘beyond outstanding’.  It is firmly based in current practice and is based on Smith’s visits to 20 top performing state schools in the UK.


The book shares cutting edge practice that will make you think, and think hard, about your school’s current environment and culture and it emphasises one of my favourite #4wordmottos:

‘Be curious; question everything’

A personal highlight for me was Chapter 18, ‘Challenging: ask the right questions’.  This chapter starts by suggesting ‘hard questions’ to ask about your school in order to avoid coasting and promote positive progression in your school environment.  Here is the list of questions in full:

  1. Are our lessons actually worth behaving for?
  2. Why does our timetable never change? How many different timetables are worth considering in an academic year?
  3. Why does school start at the same time for everyone?
  4. Should specialists take all exam groups?
  5. Would gap year students be a better option than teachers to help with A level support?
  6. Can we create supergroups by combining sets and giving them high quality lectures with follow up support?
  7. What do we do on a regular basis that does not contribute to improving learning? How soon will we abandon such practices?
  8. What’s wrong with mobiles in lessons? Why not introduce them in Year 10?
  9. Should the department have a Facebook account?
  10. Should we all be on Twitter?
  11. Can we put revision tips on YouTube? What about lesson starters?
  12. Do we allow coursework to be submitted that is less than the target grade?
  13. What proportion of PE lessons need a gym? What proportion of science lessons need a lab?
  14. Have we provided parents with a booklet of work  for each subject for when their child says their is no homework?
  15. How useful to a parent is a raw grade or score for effort?
  16. In what ways does a grade for behaviour reflect the students capacity and willingness to learn?
  17. Many schools spend 100 hours per year on registration.  How do we use it?
  18. Why do we do so few lesson observations? 10 observations per year is still only 1% of anyone’s teaching.  Most people can turn it on for an observation but it’s what happens day in day out that counts.
  19. How productive are our assemblies? Why not have learning assemblies or motivational assemblies for different groups in Year 10 and 11?

I have highlighted the questions above that really struck a chord with me (although all of them did!!).  Smith goes onto conclude that:

‘As a matter of course we should be reflecting on our professional practice.  The opportunity to question some of our most cherished practices needs to be positioned as a (key point here) positive collegiate activity otherwise it becomes sniper training for cynics’

It would be interesting to know your thoughts on these questions in your current position and school, whether it be as a classroom teacher, middle leader or SLT member. 

 How often do we honestly reflect on classroom, departmental or whole school practices and traditions?  Do we all get, regardless of our place in the school hierarchy, a say in moving our school forward?  I am fortunate enough to work in a school where the opinion of everyone is highly valued which opens up the door to school development on a continual basis.  I hope you are too!


The Antiques Roadshow Assessment Strategy: The problem with grading…

Come on, let’s be completely honest:  Put your hand up if you watch the Antiques Roadshow for the story behind the ‘old stuff’?  No-one? I thought as much!  Now, who watches it for the price? Yes, yes, as predicted I thought so; you are all culturally shallow and superficial!!

With that bombshell lies the problem with grading student work; you can spend hours giving  your students constructive and specific feedback (the antique’s back story) on where and how to improve their work, however, what’s the first thing they do when they get their work back?  Yep, you’ve guessed it, skip straight to the last page and look for the grade (the antique’s price).

Consequently, if the student is disappointed with their grade they normally have a reacton similar to this poor old Irish gent on the Antiques Roadshow, ‘IS THAT ALL?’

From my experience students tend to focus on the letter at the end of their work rather than the carefully considered feedback throughout.  Does anyone experience something similar?  I would put my house on it!!

So, what’s the solution?  Do we abolish grades altogether and just provide high quality, regular and specific feedback? Or is there a balance to be struck between the two?  Personally, I feel Google Docs could be the answer as it easy to use , with both the teacher and student able to post comments about the work and they are able to have real time conversations if they are logged on at the same time (think Facebook chat).  As well as these features it is also drastically reduces the need to print off 45 versions of the same assignment and any comments that have been posted by the student or the teacher  are printed off on the assignment down the margin.

For more information please check out @jamesmichie’s great 4 part blog post on the use of Google Docs in education.

As ever, thoughts welcome…..


Innovation Day: Student Reflection

After organising the revelation that was ‘Innovation Day’, based on Google 20% time, last Thursday (8th March) at Wilmslow High School I asked the students who participated to give some open and honest feedback to a number of questions via the school’s VLE.

In this post I would like to share with you their responses to this  important question:

‘Has Innovation Day changed your opinion of HOW YOUR LEARNING should happen? Why?

My aim here was to get a glimpse into their mind on how they like their learning to be organised; do they prefer their normal, rigid, traditional 50 minute chunks of lessons or longer periods of project based learning.  Now, I understand the bias these students may have, given they chose to be involved in such a day where they design and execute their own projects, but this was their first opportunity (as far as I am aware) to control what and how they learn for an entire school day.

The students were a complete mixture of abilities (i.e. different sets for Maths, English & Science) with a variety of interests and talents.

So here are their unedited responses:

”I prefer to spend a long time on one project rather than 50 minutes on the same thing so that you can really concentrate on making it perfect”

”It is great to have a whole day to use for something you wouldn’t normally do in school. It is also good to choose when you have break so then if you are stuck with something you could have a break then go back to it”

”I am happy with the normal school times but I think it would be nice if we could have innovation days two or three times a year”

”I do prefer longer time periods opposed to 50 minute lessons because if you do not understand something, you might understand it by the end of the lesson”

”I am happy with just the 50 minute lessons but I would like to change my timetable because I don’t get enough time to do anything fun in art because its only a 20 minute lesson really”

”Yes, because, when you have more time, you dont rush, so you make less mistakes and your finished product is neater”

”Depending on certain projects.  In my opinion, I think some of them should be in longer time periods because if you don’t get it done in time, then there’s not much you can do”

”Yes I do prefer longer projects than 50 minute lessons because nothing compares to the great feeling of success when you finish a long hard project”

”I prefer longer time periods of project based learning because it means you can spend longer planning it, thinking about it and concentrating on it so you can produce a better piece of work at the end of it all”

”Yes, because you feel like there is no pressure (compared to 50 minute lesson)”

And this one, in some detail, from a talented, intelligent yet bored and frustrated Year 10 student.  This, let me assure you, is completely unedited:

”I have always believed the whole idea of GCSEs are terrible, you don’t learn anything, you just do stuff to pass a test.  This is why you get some students getting A*s in Science when, sometimes, they struggle to think for themselves.  GCSE’s are about how much you can regurgitate for an exam; they do not test any actual ability in the subject and often lots of the subject is wrong as it is dumbed down for the low level that GCSE is.  You could get a full A* student who goes into a scientific job, for example at CERN – a high level scientific job, and they would not be able to handle it as they would be treading on new ground, handling new things they had not already revised and some people are so dependant on being told how to think they cannot solve problems and struggle to complete a task without direction.  A better way for exams to be carried out would be mock real life situations in which a student is graded on their performance in that situation and the work they produced in it and by the result they got. This is all because i am frustrated of wanting to learn things and being told that won’t help you pass your GCSEs”.

Hopefully these thoughts (especially the last one) will make you question how your school day is organised.  Should we change it?  Should we have space in the curriculum for personal projects like successful companies Google, 3M and Atlassian have embedded into their culture?  Indeed, if world class companies create time for their employees to experiment, doesn’t it make sense to build time into the school timetable for such opportunities to generate world class students for these world class companies?

This idea seems common sense, but unfortunately, not common practice!

For example, how about on one school day a week students and teachers drop their text books and whiteboard pens to collaborate with each other on projects that excite and create passionate, deep learning on a grand scale? I think this would only have a positive effect on examination results anyway?

It will cause chaos in schools initially with organisation and resources but surely we have to challenge the staus quo and adapt and progress to produce a world class experience for the whole school community. In other words, we should aim to revel in this new found incompetency and co-design these experiences with students, parents and teachers with a clean slate and a fresh perspective.

Because surely, the primary purpose of education is to allow students (and teachers) to discover and pursue their passions….


PS.  I will blog in more detail about what was created on Innovation Day later this week…

New OFSTED tips via @paulginnis

These are direct quotes from tweets made by Paul Ginnis (@paulginnis), author of the ‘Teacher’s Toolkit’; if you have not used this book there will definitely be some teaching and learning guru in your school who has a copy.  It’s a great book to dip in and out for creative ways to engage kids in the classroom.

So here we go:

‘I discussed current inspections with a trustworthy inspector & HMI today. Very encouraging – much less rigid about lessons than I thought’

‘I asked the HMI what he most looked for in a lesson. He said ‘independent learning’ is top of the list. There’s too much spoon-feeding’

(Basically, make them think and think hard with opportunities to discover things for themselves)

 ‘HMI said ‘next is differentiation, which takes many forms. We are looking at the quality of individuals’ learning’

HMI also said lessons that just inch towards NC levels or exam targets will only be good. Outstanding involves a love of learning

‘Learning outcomes need to be clarified at some point, when it’s apropriate. I like it when the students can tell the teacher what they are’

‘The HMI said he starts to get twitchy if the teacher is still talking after 10 minutes into the lesson’.

‘The inspector & HMI stressed that observed lesson segments will be viewed in the context of overall planning and longer term pupil progess’

‘They confirmed that pupil engagement is the key & that plenaries are by no means the only way to make progress explicit

‘The HMI said some lessons contain too much assessment & not enough learning’

Hopefully this is useful information to have and can inform our future planning and delivery of ridiculously outstanding lessons (just like we do on a daily basis anyway!)




What is your perfect lesson structure? Is there one?

What is the best structure for a lesson or sequence of lessons?

If you are reading this post you hopefully buy into the idea that a teacher’s core role in education is to create memorable learning experiences that promote the 3Es; excitement and engagement which leads to students excelling at school and subsequently in life.

Therefore, in lessons, what is the right balance between content, discovery and reflection?  Does it depend on the age, ability, gender or size of the class?

Furthermore, what is the best combination of independent, interdependent and dependent learning to generate the optimum ‘learning mix’?

For the divergent thinkers out there, plenty of questions with many possible solutions; I would love to hear your thoughts…