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High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

Obstetrics for Schools

'Obstetrics for Schools' by Rachel Macfarlane is published this month. This is an extract from my Foreword to the book.

'A guide to eliminating failure and ensuring the safe delivery of all learners' runs the beguiling sub-title of this compelling book. Let's set this proper ambition for all learners first, in an international context, and second, within a UK perspective.

International

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has run its PISA tests 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. The rankings are based on samples of pupils in each country. For 2018:
  • in reading, the UK was 14th, up from 22nd in the previous tests
  • in science, the UK was 14th, up from 15th
  • in maths, the UK was 18th, up from 27th.
So what is the UK not doing that the 'top table' are? I met recently a group of undergraduates studying education at the University of Reading. Many come from the countries which feature at the top of the PISA league.

They argue strongly that culture trumps systems, that the esteem in which the teacher is held in their societies is the determining factor alongside the value placed on education by parents. These undergraduates spoke eloquently about the expectations which all teachers have that all children will succeed.

The UK will not feature in the top PISA ranks in the coming decades unless there is a seismic shift in how our society values education and teachers. And in how the profession works with government to challenge the accepted orthodoxy that failure for a third is baked into our system.

UK

In 2019 I chaired the independent commission titled 'The Forgotten Third' set up by the Association of School and College Leaders. Every August in this country we celebrate as a time-honoured ritual the achievements of our higher attaining students. Local newspapers picture them jumping for joy.

But there's another story. Every year there are many, many thousands of students who fall short of a grade 4 'pass' in English and maths at age sixteen - and this after 12 years of compulsory schooling. Their chances of progression are diminished in further study, future careers and, ultimately, in life.

What is perhaps not widely understood is that this rate of attrition, this forgotten third, happens year in and year out because it is built into the way our exam system works. In the poignant words of one student: 'it seems a third of us have to fail for two-thirds to pass'.

The long tail of under-achievement continues to cast a shadow over UK education today. It is not a necessity but a political choice. System change is needed - and quickly. Indeed, examination reform with GCSE may come - and sooner than we imagine in an era of disruption in which the extraordinary becomes the commonplace, at a faster and faster rate.

Obstetrics for Schools is rooted in an historical perspective, namely that the infant mortality accepted in the Victorian era has been almost eliminated today. Why, the author asks, can the same not be true in education? Why cannot all learners succeed?

In the same way that today's physicians have harnessed the best science and their considerable skills to bring forth safely just about every new-born, why cannot this generation of skilled teachers, steeped in strong research as never before, deliver comparably good educational achievements for children and young people?

Rachel Macfarlane's radical, evidence-led narrative contests that with the highest of expectations and different ways of doing, the current school system can deliver top outcomes for almost all students.

She may be right. History is against her. The future may be with her.

Obstetrics for Schools: A guide to eliminating failure and ensuring the safe delivery of all learners

Listen to Rachael Macfarlane on the Rethinking Education podcast


Obstetrics for Schools (May 2021)

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


Inner and outer tears
Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, was at the epicentre of the 2008 financial crash. He reflected recently on the global banking system's response, concluding that all the lessons of crisis management were applied. Humility. Responsibility. Resilience. Solidarity.
Inner and outer tears (April 2021)

Chronos and kairos
The ancient Greeks had two understandings of time, chronos and kairos. Both are important, but the latter rarely gets the attention it warrants. It deserves to now.
Chronos and kairos (March 2021)

Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change
In 1960, in a divided system, 20% of young people went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off in terms of examination success. In fact only 16% of sixteen year-olds achieved five O-level passes.
Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change (February 2021)

Reading: the golden key
Reading is the golden key to accessing the school curriculum and a lifetime's opportunities.
Yet in our wealthy nation, with its long history of free education, we still have one in four of our 11 year-olds not meeting expected national standards in reading - and a similar percentage not achieving a grade 4 in English GCSE.
Reading: the golden key (January 2021)

Accelerating the arches
I opened my January 2020 monthly column with these words:
'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.'
In common with most futurologists, I was correct and incorrect in equal measure. While 2020 has certainly been unpredictable, a pandemic is not something most of us had thought about before. The 2011 movie 'Contagion' was possibly the closest we had come to viewing a life-changing global plague.
Accelerating the arches (December 2020)

Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue
The August roller coaster of students' emotions, not to mention those of their families and teachers, upon receipt of GCSE and A level results, is an annual reminder that the present systems are faltering.
Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue (November 2020)

Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too
When our environment changes we must adapt to survive. Across private, public and not-for-profit sectors, boards and executives are busy rethinking.
  • What do we keep?
  • What do we ditch?
  • What do we refresh?
Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too (November 2020)

The habit of collaboration
David Laws in government put down a marker from a Ministerial perspective about the absence in practice of a developed school system.
Secondary headteachers in East Sussex have been practising the school-led system for a while now. Through trial, error, resilience - and a deep commitment to the values of working together - they have established a pioneering and proven model which others might wish to learn from. The habit of collaboration is real.
The habit of collaboration (October 2020)

There is much promise in classrooms
It's the stuff of popular magazines. Interview a famous person about their childhood influences, their treasured moments and possessions, their faith, their biggest extravagance, who and what they find most irritating.
There is much promise in classrooms (September 2020)

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'.
The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)

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, local authorities, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board and the children's communication charity I CAN.

Roy was Founding CEO (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust and of www.netacademies.net. 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. He spent three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

Roy is an international trainer and conference speaker on language, school improvement, curriculum development, leadership and governance. 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). He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third'.

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 sits on the advisory boards of the Education Policy Institute and the Centre for UK Prosperity, and is a founding trustee of www.qlearningnepal.com

Chat with Ms. Lesley Warburton, Mr. Roy Blatchford CBE and Mr. Mike Cheeseman from Q-Learning Nepal.


Roy is the author/editor of over 150 books. He was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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