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Blinks: High quality reviews and training
Blinks: High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

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.

For the past several years, my own thinking and writing about excellent schools and colleges around the world has focused on their 'deliberate restlessness'.

Toto Wolff puts this feature differently. He calls it 'prevailing scepticism'. Wolff is the unassuming boss of the Mercedes Formula 1 Team who have won an impressive 87 of the last 118 Grand Prix.

He made his fortune in finance and tech start-ups before investing in Williams F1. He joined Mercedes in 2013 and revels in the ethic of teamwork. He talks of an array of experts that Mercedes has available: mindfulness trainers, nutritionists, doctors and so on. Wolff says he hunts for success in the depths of the human psyche: 'I take the greatest enjoyment and purpose by giving my people an environment where they can thrive'.

School and college leaders frequently reach for comparisons with and inspiration from the world of sport. Matthew Syed is widely known for his book 'Bounce' - and his 10,000 hours of purposeful table tennis practice with friends and a coach in a modest garage, leading later to victories on a world-stage.

'Legacy' by James Kerr interrogates and champions the secrets of the All Blacks and their legendary team spirit. Ed Smith's 'Luck' covers a range of sports and analyses what-ifs, probability and those factors which lie within and beyond the athlete's control. Smith concludes that 'luck is what happens to me that is outside my control'.

Much can be learned by education leaders about marginal gains, strategy and motivation from a wide range of sports. What I find singularly compelling about Wolff's arena is that, as he observes, it takes a team of 200+ dedicated workers to put champion drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas on the track.

As in schools and colleges, it is the Formula 1 back-room staff who are as important as those we watch in awe changing a set of wet tyres in 3.2 seconds. For every Mercedes team member we see in action beside the track in Bahrain or Singapore or Monaco, there are three back at HQ in Brackley. For every computer screen track-side, there are a dozen in the factory.

I have defined excellent schools and colleges as ones which 'deliver superior performance and have a high impact over a sustained period of time'. Amongst the many ways in which they practise 'excellence as standard', these organisations display five special characteristics.
  1. There is an unequivocal sense that a 'we' not an 'I' culture prevails.
  2. Leaders are very focused on eliminating in-school variation.
  3. A never-too-late mentality is coupled with a sense of urgency at the right time.
  4. Timely communication of the highest quality pervades.
  5. Leaders know that innovation lies both within and outside the organisation.
The Mercedes team's progress and achievements over the past six seasons are rooted in a similar cocktail applied to Formula 1 racing. Just watch this from Ferrari (Mercedes's principal competitor) if you need persuading:
Formula 1 Pit Stops 1950 & Today

So - the New Year resolution is: practise prevailing scepticism. If you practise it already, just touch the professional refresh tab for this new decade.

Further reading

Bounce by Matthew Syed
Legacy by James Kerr
Luck by Ed Smith
The Restless School by Roy Blatchford

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


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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