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High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

The Pygmalion effect

In a recorded end-of-term message to her colleagues one headteacher spoke powerfully: 'Let not Covid-19 define the past academic year. So much else has been achieved in our school'.

She was so right. From September 2019 to March 2020, the richness of school life continued apace across the nation - and many of the July newsletters I have read evidence that in abundance. A number of schools have deliberately produced – in various formats for students, staff and parents - Voices & Images 2020 by way of a reminder that the academic year was not just about online learning.

In contrast, working my way through some newsletters to parents, one could be forgiven for thinking that in September schools will feel like one-way sterilised mazes to marshal the 'year bubbles'. It is not schools as we know them. It is force majeure. In communities where the virus has hit hardest reorganising the school day, teaching rooms and timetables is understandable.

In 1963 a young psychologist named Bob Rosenthal conducted an experiment in which his assistants placed rats in mazes, and then timed how long it took them to find the exit. They were housed in two cages: one for the smartest rats and one for the also-rans.

The assistants were not surprised to find that the smart rats solved the mazes more quickly. But Rosenthal was surprised because he knew the truth that both cages contained ordinary lab rats. He eventually concluded that the secret ingredient was the expectations of his assistants who treated the smart rats with care and the also-rans with disdain.

Rosenthal coined the phrase ‘the Pygmalion effect’ named after the Greek myth of a sculptor who fell in love with the statue he had carved.

When we expect the best, we get the best.

Yet defeating Covid-19 is going to take more than expecting the best of how we as social animals behave. A vaccine from Oxford or somewhere on the globe looks the only long-term solution. Meanwhile, the proper goal of school leaders is to enable children and young people to resume regular schooling while protecting their more vulnerable teachers.

This aim coincides with government initiatives to slim the population before a so-called ‘second wave’ occurs.

Obesity and its associated diseases disproportionately affect lower socio-economic groups. According to government statistics, in the UK twice as many 11 year-old boys from the poorest fifth of the population are as obese as in the richest fifth. Black and South Asian 11 year-olds are getting bigger at a faster rate than white children.

As with other aspects of the social mobility and ‘levelling up’ agenda, there is an urgent health gap to be closed. And schools are uniquely well placed to lead on the health agenda.

Whatever else schools may be putting in place for September, the more innovative have planned learning which is significantly outdoor focused. These activities, skilfully and safely orchestrated in year groups, include:
  • start-of-the-day registration taken as an extended outdoor keep-fit session
  • longer breaktimes and lunchtimes to include fun walks/jogs around the playgrounds and fields
  • increased time allocated to PE
  • lessons held in outdoor areas, including in recently installed mini-marquees
  • Forest School and environmental studies sessions lengthened
  • more outdoor/applied learning within the core subjects
  • ‘learning through landscape’ courses for pupils (part of PSHE), held outdoors
In practice in September the above list is surely set to expand, and will open up previously unimagined outdoor learning opportunities. Ofsted will write reports about it.

The healthy school will be the one which experiences no Covid-19 spikes and enforced closures, and in which it is safe for teachers to teach and students to study. Minimising indoor contact and maximising fresh air, natural light and exercise are what creative schools will be focused upon when the new term opens.

One headteacher I work with has his staff united behind a simple and sensible mantra for the autumn: Business as usual, outdoors when we can, rigorous hygiene.

When we expect the best, we get the best.



Roy Blatchford's recent books are 'The Three Minute Leader' and ‘The Forgotten Third’, published by John Catt Education.

The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)


Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


Resetting the dial: focus on the gains
A quote from Lenin which was circulating in the early weeks of the lockdown - ‘There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen’ - seems as apposite now as it was in late March.
Resetting the dial: focus on the gains (July 2020)

School's in - but not as we know it
In Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story A Sound of Thunder, set in 2055, the character Eckels travels back in time. He is instructed firmly by the trip organisers Time Safari Inc. to stay on the levitated path and touch nothing. Inadvertently he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly. Returning to the present, the world has changed.
School's in - but not as we know it (June 2020)

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?
As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
I never looked back.
Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)


Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)


Roy Blatchford CBE

Roy Blatchford is founder of www.blinks.education - working with schools, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He has spent the past three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third', and currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board.

Roy was Founding Director (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust. Previously he served as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI) in England, with national responsibilities for school improvement and for the inspection of outstanding schools.

He has extensive experience of writing inspection frameworks, nationally and internationally, and has reviewed over 1000 schools and colleges in Europe, USA, Middle East and India.

For 30 years Roy has been an international trainer and conference speaker on English and literacy, school improvement, leadership and curriculum development. He has been an adviser to various UK governments, including Deputy Chair of the DfE Teachers Standards Review (2011) and of the Headteachers Standards Review (2014).

Roy began his teaching career in London, moving to be Principal of schools in Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes. He is Visiting Fellow at Reading University, was a visiting university professor in the USA, and is co-founder of the Mumbai-based education foundation Adhyayan. He is the author/editor of over 150 books.

Roy was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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