Europejski – The Synopsis


Europejski – The man who would be President of Poland has a past that is catching up with him. A literary novel set during and after the Cold War. The novel explores troubling questions of when it is right to withhold the truth, and when deception is justified by the greater good.

Tom is an Irish student spending the year in a Warsaw university. It is called ‘the Red Fortress’ because it is favoured by the sons and daughters of Poland’s Communist Party. Tom meets and gradually falls in love with Gosia, a doctor’s daughter from Gdansk. His other friends include Aleks (who prints an anti-government newspaper from the basement of their student house) and Michalski (the handsome, enigmatic leader of the banned students’ union). They bond over vodka and a guitar and together they protest for their rights. A demonstration outside a theatre is broken up by the brutal riot police, a favourite teacher is arrested, a riot is caught on BBC cameras and rumours are spread that a protestor has been killed. The friends take their protest to the office of their nemesis, the Vice-Rector Wilk, where they take him hostage for three days. Meanwhile, strikes have been taking place across the country and the television news carries reports that Soviet forces are exercising on the border. As their supplies run low, Michalski must negotiate for their demands. Their occupation is ended as the security service – the dreaded SB – storm the office and assault Michalski. To prevent further violence he calls off the strike.


The friends are expelled from the university. Michalski is sent into exile and Tom is deported home, but not before both are separately held in the Europejski, the swanky Warsaw hotel. There, his diplomatic handler Spiro arranges for Tom to have one final meeting with his girlfriend, Gosia. It is a meeting both have waited months for. She arrives late.

Eleven years on, it is the eve of the millennium. Tom is a BBC announcer in London. He receives a letter from Marek, a boy from Gdansk who says he is Tom’s son. Tom must return again to Poland. Michalski has also returned: he has made his fortune in the West and is now campaigning to become his country’s president. By law he must make a lustration – a full declaration of his past dealings with the Communist authorities. Aleks, now a leading journalist, is concerned that hidden aspects of his friend’s student past will surface. Ewa, a talented reporter on his paper, has been investigating and rapidly the story unravels. The reports of Soviet invasion were a hoax, engineered by rogue ministers in the Kremlin and Warsaw, intended to force an end to the strikes. While pretending to negotiate, Michalski had plotted with the SB to break the occupation; his injuries were accidental. Should Aleks hide the truth of this from voters if it means the better man can still win? But not all truths can be explained away. The lustration has already revealed that Gosia was a spy: she befriended Tom to get close to Michalski. Ewa discovers that she died mysteriously, shortly after giving birth to Marek, the boy who calls Tom his father. This revelation need not harm Michalski politically. But Tom alone knows a different truth: he is not the father; Michalski is. The future of the Polish presidency therefore lies in Tom’s hands. On the morning of the first day of the new millennium, Tom wanders lost in the unfamiliar streets of Warsaw, these truths come to light and finally he boards the train to Gdansk, where Marek is waiting for him.



Headlines are poor proxies for research.

So here goes. The other day Laura McInerney  at ResearchEd Blackpool posted on Twitter this much-repeated list of ‘Poor Proxies for Learning’, asking How many of these are you guilty of thinking will equal learning?

I replied

I have disliked this list for some time. A teacher who achieves these in their class IS doing a fine job. And, if not individually, in combination these will be good proxies for learning. Leaders should not be criticised for wanting to see them.

You can see some of the replies and thoughts on“>proxies for learning here. Of course, I understand Rob Coe’s point that busy or engaged or motivated students, or ordered classrooms, or ones where the course is covered are not the same thing as learning, but I worry about the reactions of some teachers and school leaders seeing this list.

  • It sneers at teachers who strive to achieve exactly the things which are on this list.
  • It implies that these conditions are not worth striving for.
  • It may lead some teachers and school leaders to downgrade the achievement of these conditions.
  • It encourages the despairing conclusion that we cannot ever know that learning has taken place until public exams results are in – and that only those matter.

I know I have substituted the word ‘conditions’ for ‘proxies’. I know that this means I am guilty of a category error, where I mistake the difference between a prerequisite for a thing and the thing itself. But consider the position of the teacher teaching a class, or a school leader watching the lesson. When I was teaching (I remember it well – it was not long ago), I would have been delighted if I ever managed to cover the full content of a curriculum, when that curriculum kept changing and growing. If I ever motivated all of my students so that they were interested in what I was saying and engaged in what I wanted them to do, I would have chalked that up as a stunning success. There were very many times when my classroom was not ordered or calm, so I was definitely happy when it was. More to the point, I know that my students did learn better when they were engaged in busy, well-ordered lessons. It took me several hard years to achieve lessons like those on a consistent basis. And, when it became my role to help other teachers, it took much energy on my part (and much more on theirs) to achieve something like those conditions in their lessons.

School leaders should strive for those conditions in their schools. I mean, imagine if they did not. I know that it is not the intention of those who produce and reproduce the proxies list to suggest that they are (all) undesirable, but I do fear that that is how they are interpreted.

Those who publish research on well-visited platforms have a duty to consider the consequences of misinterpretation, and to at least try not to cause it. Some recent EEF reports have been headlined in a way that I feel is irresponsible. For example, what is a school leader to make of this?

New EEF trial results: ‘light-touch’ approaches to research unlikely to impact pupil outcomes

Will they see the ‘light touch’ and think, erm… that’s exactly what I do? For most schools, to be engaged in research and to seek to be informed by research often is a light-touch exercise. They trawl through their twitter feed late at night, look for some promising blogs to read, maybe look to make something more of the connections they have with a local university. Surely to goodness, these are activities to be encouraged. It is not encouraging to learn from an EEF sub-editor that it is unlikely to impact pupil outcomes. Worse still, it might lead some leaders to conclude that that journal club they have running is a waste of time. They should have read the report, of course, and added their own emphasis (as I have here):

While the evaluators from the University of Bristol found no evidence that the programme led to improvements in reading outcomes for ten and eleven year olds, the findings suggests that there may be a relationship between how engaged teachers are with research, and the attainment of their pupils. There was also some evidence that being in a Research Learning Community increased teachers’ engagement with research.

And perhaps they ought also to have read EEF Senior Researcher Jonathan Sharples’ blog . In it, he concludes that the light-touch research approaches described in the report were indeed worthwhile, and he references the 2016 EPPI review.

Importantly, in addition to reviewing different mechanisms to mobilise evidence, they also looked at the behavioural requirements that were necessary for those various approaches to have an impact. This included having:

  1. opportunities to engage with the interventions
  2. the motivations to do so, and
  3. the skills and capabilities to understand and use the outputs.

Dig down far enough into the EEF website and there is everything there the teacher and leader needs to be well-informed. Bravo. However, how many teachers and leaders crack their spade on the hard crust of the top line?


Headlines are poor proxies for research.



Why I am writing Europejski

Warsaw 1987

Author’s photo, Warsaw c1987, taken from the Palace of Culture

I am not sure about the compulsion to write. Many authors, when asked why they do it, reply that they write because they have to, or words to that effect. Are they addicted to it? Does their body require it? Perhaps I am missing out on something. Perhaps the reason I have written so little, and so unsuccessfully, is because they have something I have not got.

But I do write. I do it every day. I didn’t use to. For almost all of my adult life I was a teacher, who wrote lesson plans and reports and comments on students’ work, but little that would be termed creative. I did write a novel, and it took me 16 years: that’s how long a novel takes when you are a full-time teacher. For most of those years I wasn’t writing at all, although the story was always nagging away in the background. I would say, that novel did have to be written: it was the only way I could shrug it off.

Perhaps that’s what the compulsion to write actually is: a shrugging off. Once the idea has entered the head, the only way of dispelling it is to write it out. Write it out on the screen, write it out of the system. That feels true in my case. The novel I am currently writing (for now, I am calling it Europejski) has sat inside me in various forms for thirty years. I did try to write it out once before, in a novella I called Outsidelines. I failed to get it published – and re-reading it now, I see why – but it served its purpose at the time. The ideas I was grappling with then were dealt with and I could move on. The fact that I have returned to the core of those ideas only goes to show that ‘shrugging off’ might be an incomplete action. The idea may be mightier than the pen.

‘The idea’. That makes it sound like a complete thing. It also makes it sound important, original, essential. I wish it were so! My idea is probably none of those things and it certainly is not complete. Mine is shape-shifting, irregular and of a state somewhere between a gas and a solid. It is here right in front of me, but it’s also over there in a yet-unrecovered memory. Writing it out, then, is also an attempt to give it a form, to fix it. The form it takes must be the best possible representation of the original idea. That’s the job of the writer. That’s what I must do.

What’s my idea, and where did it come from? Europejski is a spy story and a political intrigue. It deals with a group of student friends in Warsaw in the late 1980s, one of whom is Irish; ten years later they are forced to confront again what they did as youths, and the implications this may have for the country. This is the form my novel is taking, and the idea of it. It is about trust when it is tested, and about the kinds of love that endure. Or, rather, that’s what I want it to be about – that’s how I want the thoughts in my head to take shape.

How these thoughts got into my head could also be a novel, if I wanted this to be autobiographical. Europejski is not my experience, but my experience has made me knowledgeable of the events I describe and invent. I first went to Poland in 1986 and returned every year until I moved to live there for three years in the early 1990s. I had a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, Marcus Wheeler, who nurtured my historical and cultural interests in the country. I had friends at the Warsaw university at the centre of the novel, some of whom are my great friends still. There were political demonstrations among students and others at the times I describe, and the pivotal moment I have filched from an historical source. I have invented nearly every character, but inevitably for a novel set in a real place amongst real events there are people I name who did exist, and I have made them do things they never did. That’s one of the troubling definitions of fiction: it tells lies in order to get at the truth. I am not a character in the novel; no one I know personally is. I stretched my imagination far enough to embrace students, their families and teachers, some journalists, and a spy and her government controller. I have navigated between three cities across two timeframes.

Nowadays my full-time job is not teaching, so I can write every day. Every day I try to fix the idea to the page. Every day I fail a little. But I am shrugging it off.

We can rebuild it

As I write this, I note that Dr Rebecca Allen’s Caroline Benn memorial speech on teacher workload has received 60 Retweets and 107 Likes on Twitter. If you haven’t read it, do. Even if you are overburdened with your own workload.

Citing DiMaggio and Powell, Allen explains the isomorphic pressures which have resulted in schools becoming more alike, and how this has contributed to increased expectations on teachers. She points two fingers: one at reforms of Ofsted; the other at increased school funding under Labour. These are classic cases of unintended consequences, for I recall the little cheers we uttered when we heard the inspectors would come in smaller teams, and when we realized for once that we had a government that believed in investing in public services.

What went wrong?

Smaller teams and shorter notice meant that headteachers became a sort of chief inspector-in-residence. Schools engaged in continuous self-evaluation, so that they would be in a permanent state of Ofsted readiness. Heads looked across their boroughs at other schools to see how they had survived inspection, and concluded that they must do the same. They already had data on summative outcomes for pupils, and they already had a box full of policies, but – when asked to describe the quality of teaching and learning – how could they do that? They did what we often do when stuck for an answer for quality: they reached for quantity. They increased the frequency of data drops, the amount of marking, the numbers of boxes to be ticked on a lesson plan. They did this (I stress), not because they were bad people, but because they were good people being asked to do something they could not do. How many outstanding teachers do you have? What is the proportion of outstanding lessons taught in your school? These are Alice in Wonderland questions, particularly when we agree that we have not agreed on what outstanding actually is.

If ‘small Ofsted / big SEF’ was the cause of the change, a rapid increase in schools’ spending was the means, says Allen. Leadership teams mushroomed, and rather than let their hands be idle they were put to work on gathering, sifting and analysing all this data, inventing interventions and trackers to shift the data, and creating performance management systems  to hold staff to account for the data they had themselves fed in. This part of Allen’s speech makes for uncomfortable reading for some of us: this is the part that Ofsted did not force on us, the part we (i.e. those of us who were SLT) inflicted on ourselves (i.e. those of us teaching the lessons). How often did I demand information from colleagues in a certain format, by a strict deadline, for a purpose clear only to myself? How often did I conduct learning walks from which I learned little, and after which I shared even less? How many weights did I add to the wrong side of the work/life scales?

I don’t think Allen mentioned it, but I would point a finger at a third culprit here: analytics technology. We can now know how many homeworks the music teacher set last term, and at what point in the week year 11 students are more likely to access it online. We can now identify eight different types of disruptive behavior, and say which ones are favoured by the white boys, or the Greek girls, or the summer-born. We can now measure the rate of progress of every child, in every year, in every subject at any point in time. We can because, as with the Six Million Dollar Man, ‘we have the technology’. And, because we can, we must. And, because we do, we also have to do something with all the data we collect. We have to address the underperformance of the music teacher not setting the right amount of homework, and of all of those teachers (that is all of them) who have students not making the progress the flight path demands. We have to – we tell ourselves – because, if we have this knowledge and do nothing about it, we are letting down the students, the school and the profession.

bionic woman 3

We can rebuild it. Allen makes her own important suggestions about slowing the rate of curriculum change and rethinking teacher contracts. I make my own. With Amanda Spielman in charge, Ofsted have made many encouraging noises about investigating the consequences of their existence – the messages they communicate to schools about the sorts of things they ought to prioritise, for example. Justine Greening at the DfE has published excellent guidance on increasing flexible working. These follow reports and the poster on reducing teacher workload. I cannot fault this messaging, and I note also that the Department is tendering for bids through the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund to address workload. They recognise the problem, but I am not sure they yet recognise the causes of the problem. These are undoubtedly the twin devils of external and internal accountability. We can address the inadvertent pressures school leaders apply to their staffs, and we can congratulate those who are ‘brave’ enough to run their schools as if Ofsted were not there. But, so long as Ofsted is there, there is a limit to how far that courage can take us. I doubt we will ever arrive at the day when the top line of an inspection report reads: ‘This is a great school because it ignores everything we say.’ School leaders do load too much on the backs of teachers, but they do so because of the load which is on them. Ofsted, were it to follow its own logic, would not just stop grading individual lessons: they would stop grading schools. Then, perhaps, schools could get back to the business for which they were built.


Digital natives still need teachers

Digital Natives

Whether as enthusiastic natives or reluctant luddites, we all inhabit a digital world. A teacher will be woken by her phone. Over breakfast a smartphone app will remind her that she is to collect homework today, to be uploaded to cloud storage. She has exchanged lesson ideas with colleagues online and jazzed up lesson four with video clips downloaded from the internet. Every afternoon she places her lessons on the school’s VLE, so her students can access them from home. Before she goes home she updates her students’ progress on the data tracking system; it informs her that her summer-born students are falling behind. That evening she joins a discussion on that topic on Twitter and finds a link to an academic paper. Before she goes to sleep she thinks to add the link for the benefit of others in her online research community. One hopes she has remembered to switch all her devices to flight mode as she turns off her light.

She knows her students will not have done. The media look under the bed covers and find teenagers messaging other teenagers, sharing files and photos, trading insults and not sleeping. Before breakfast (if he eats breakfast) on of them will already have played a computer game with his online friends and earned credits for the next level. The homework app on his phone pings. That’s fine because the thirty minute bus ride is long enough for him to find, cut and paste a nearly relevant article and submit it to his class’s secure storage area. He will sit at the back of his classroom, shielding his eyes from the sun, unable to make out the content on the interactive whiteboard. He prefers his art teacher, who lets him listen to the music he has streamed to his phone.


The above picture will not be recognized by everyone. Technology, and how teachers and students interact with it, is subject to much variability. It is a matter of space and time. There are countries, then there are jurisdictions within countries, then schools within those, and classrooms within schools, all using technology to varying extents and evolving all the while.

Different school leaders have made different decisions. Often with dedicated external funding, some schools have invested heavily in hardware, software and staff training. In 2010 the UK’s Home Access Grant made 270,000 grants to low income families in England to buy laptops with internet access. In 2014, ‘The Year of Code’, the UK government supported the training of teachers in coding with £500,000 of match funding, to coincide with its introduction to the national curriculum (apparently the first G20 country to do so). There are online solutions for everything from recording classroom observations to awarding student incentives, from teachers’ annual appraisal to staff recruitment. There is plenty available. What is in shorter supply is evidence that any of it makes much difference.

A summary of the debate: the impact of technology use in schools

Nesta, the innovation charity, reported that UK schools had spent more than £1 billion in the five years to 2012 on digital technology. ‘The education sector has invested heavily in digital technology; but this investment has not yet resulted in the radical improvements to learning experiences or educational attainment.’ (Luckin et al. 2012, p.8). Higgins et al (2012) conducted their meta-analysis of forty years of research evidence for the impact of technology in the UK and internationally, saying it ‘consistently identifies positive benefits.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3) However, studies linking ‘the provision and use of technology with attainment tend to find consistent but small positive associations with educational outcomes.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3). And the studies do not find a causal link.

“It seems probable that more effective schools and teachers are more likely to use digital technologies effectively than other schools. We need to know more about where and how it is used to greatest effect, then investigate to see if this information can be used to help improve learning in other contexts. We do not know if it is the use of technology that is making the difference.” (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

Higgins et al state that interventions using technology aimed at improvements in student attainment are slightly less effective than other non-technology-based approaches, such as peer tutoring and effective feedback. The authors acknowledge the difficulties in understanding and applying the research evidence, given the rapidly changing nature of the technology and the conflicting need to wait to see the evidence emerging. Nevertheless they conclude that ‘it is not whether technology is used (or not) which makes the difference, but how well the technology is used to support teaching and learning.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

It is all down to the teaching. This is a more measured response to the claims made by Bennett and colleagues that ‘a sense of impending crisis pervades the debate.’ (Bennett et al. 2008, p.1) They refer to the ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ first encountered by Marc Prensky.

“…these young people are said to have been immersed in technology all their lives, imbuing them with sophisticated technological skills and learning preferences for which traditional education is unprepared. Grand claims are being made about the nature of this generational change and about the urgent necessity for educational reform in response.” (Bennett et al. 2008, p.1)

They note that the debate – about how students may learn differently in the twenty-first century – is poorly-informed by research or theory, and amounts to a ‘moral panic’.


Bennett et al could have been writing about the reporting of a study commissioned by the security software firm Kaspersky Lab. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company engaged in cybersecurity, they maintain that ‘[d]igital technologies are not just transforming the way we live and work; they are changing the way we think, learn, behave – and remember.’ (The rise and impact of digital amnesia 2015, p.4) This was translated by BBC online into ‘Digital dependence “eroding human memory”’ (Coughlan 2015). The Kaspersky study – of 6000 adults in UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries, conducted by Opinion Matters – investigated the growing tendency among adults to search online before attempting to recall information. Adults in the UK were least likely to recall their partner’s phone number, with the (presumably more romantic) Italians being most mindful. ‘Moral panic’ might be an apt term too for Paul Kirschner (2015). The Distinguished Professor from the Open University of the Netherlands notes the shallow information processing of those who read intensively online, how the nonlinearity of hyperlinked text requires ‘extra non-productive cognitive effort’, reducing ‘the cognitive resources available to the reader for deep learning and efficient memory consolidation’. He continues:

“In other words, there might really be the case that the result of this digital immersion is that how these children think and process information makes it difficult for them to excel academically, but NOT because of outdated teaching methods in schools but rather due to the possible changes in their brain functioning that impede learning.” (Author’s italics) (Kirschner, 2015)

Kirschner blames the text-type; the OECD thinks it lies in the teaching. Their 2015 report found that countries’ PISA rankings for reading, mathematics and science were impervious to heavy spending on technology for education. The digital divide will be better crossed when every child reaches a basic proficiency in reading and maths; access to high-tech equipment is not the issue. More is not better.

“Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.” (Students, Computers and Learning 2015)

OECD education director Andreas Schleicher (2015) and Luckin et al. (2012) both make similar points about the continuing role of the teacher. Schleicher, offering his analysis of the OECD report cited above, says that one interpretation is that:

“…schools have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st Century technologies to 20th Century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter. Educators who want to ensure that students become smarter than a smartphone need to think harder about the pedagogies they are using to teach them.” (Schleicher 2015)

Luckin and colleagues (2012) predict that the digital devices will keep flowing into schools and homes, but, after all the money that has been spent, we need to ‘make better use of what we’ve got’. They argue:

“We need to change the mindset amongst teachers and learners: from a ‘plug and play’ approach where digital tools are used, often in isolation, for a single learning activity; to one of ‘think and link’ where those tools are used in conjunction with other resources where appropriate, for a variety of learning activities. Teachers have always been highly creative, creating a wide range of resources for learners. As new technologies become increasingly prevalent, they will increasingly need to be able to digitally ‘stick and glue’.” (Luckin et al. 2012, p.62)

As Higgins and colleagues remind us: ‘It is …the pedagogy of the application of technology in the classroom which is important: the how rather than the what. This is the crucial lesson emerging from the research.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

Future direction of technology use

As Schleicher (2015) says, ‘Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.’  It seems a safe prediction that access to technology will expand, even if the concomitant improvements in knowledge remain disappointing. Not everyone is pessimistic about the prospects, however. One might expect the chief marketing officer of an LMS to espouse the joys of hypertext. Renny Monaghan claims:

“…teachers and administrators have begun to embrace the idea of creating a personalized learning experience for students. Instead of teaching a subject at one speed to an entire class, technology allows us to reach students individually at a speed and pace that’s right for them, and then scale that experience as appropriate.” (Monaghan 2015)

She envisages a ‘real-time analytics’, drawing down student data from ‘the full learning ecosystem’, allowing adjustments to be made at the level of the individual. This might be termed ‘the small curriculum’, where teaching can be truly personalised in classrooms – or anywhere else the learning management system can penetrate. It consorts with ‘big data’: the mining of huge sets of data (such as England’s National Pupil Database) for nuggets of new knowledge of ‘what works’ in schools. This calls to mind Higgins’ six myths:

Myth 1: New technologies are being developed all of the time; the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.

Myth 2: Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net’ generation – they learn differently from older people.

Myth 3: Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet. Today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.

Myth 4: Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.

Myth 5: The Everest Fallacy: we must use technology because it is there!

Myth 6: The ‘More is Better’ Fallacy.  (Higgins et al. 2012, p. 20-21)


His list is perhaps the product of a mind unencumbered by the need to market what he writes about.

Alongside Higgins’ six myths might sit Luckin et al’s ‘two key errors’. These frequently occur when trying to make gains in education from technology.

“Collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. [Original emphasis.] This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. If we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation.” (Luckin et al. 2012, p.64)


Digital technology is all around us. It is convenient, ever-present and often designed in formats which are engaging to the point of addiction. It pervades our schools, from its security systems to its timetables. It connects every member to the school community, and it connects the school to the wider educational community beyond. It is expensive but it is making a difference, at least a little; or at least where technology is being used in moderation there are moderate gains. There may be losses too, as young people, trying to cope with the interruptions in digital texts (and the interruptions from their other devices), fail to learn deeply or even to commit things to memory at all. So, teachers still matter. With some concerted professional development in ways to align the technology to genuine learning goals, teachers could make an even greater difference.


A version of this blogpost originally appeared in Earley, P. and T. Greany (2017) ‘School Leadership and Education System Reform’, Bloomsbury.




Bennett, S., K. Maton, L. Kervin (2008), ‘The “digital natives” debate: A critical review of the evidence’, British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (5).

Berry, J. (2015), ‘Using social networking for professional development’, Professional Development Today 17 (2), 60-64

Coughlan, S. (2015),‘Digital dependence “eroding human memory”’ BBC Education & Family. Available from <> [9 October 2015].

Higgins, S., Z. Xiao and M. Katsipataki (2012) ‘The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Educational Endowment Foundation’, Durham University. Available from <> [14 November 2015].

Kirschner, P. (2015), ‘The Disturbing Facts about Digital Natives’.  20 October. Paul Kirschner: Blog. Available from <> [14 November 2015].

Luckin, R., B. Bligh, A. Manches, S. Ainsworth, C. Crook and R. Noss (2012) ‘Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education’, Nesta. Available from <> [14 November 2015].

Monaghan, R. (2015), ‘Education Technology is Nothing – without People’, EdTech Digest, 17 August. Available from <> [14 November 2015].

OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.

Schleicher, A. (2015), ‘School technology struggles to make an impact’. BBC Business, 15 September. Available from <> [17 September 2015].

‘The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia: Why we need to protect what we no longer remember’ (2015), Kaspersky Lab. Available from <> [15 November 2015].




#Lower case r, upper case ED, 17

ResearchEd17 could be forgiven for being a bit self-conscious: in recent weeks it has been spoken of less favourably, had its grassroots raked over, its biases heat-mapped. Sure enough, when I arrived (like a marathon runner along Cheering Lane), it was clear that the cheering crowds had stayed away.

total gridlock ‘Total Gridlock’

There was barely a complimentary canvas bag in sight. Was TB defeatED? Was his love affair with geeks in the staffroom and policy wonkers in the anglosphere endED? Had his hash been tagged for the last time?


It turns out that Chobham Academy, in the shadow of the Queen Elizabeth stadium, is larger than the average comp: they hosted the 2012 volleyball in their foyer – which is where we found the hordes and their canvas bags. Tom was in pink, Helene was handing out raffle tickets to win lunches, and all was right with the world. Someone (we blamed the Harris peeps) forgot the free pens, but we are high starters with 21st Century skills happy to photograb speakers’ slides and live-tweet our research. Our only concern was failing phone-battery power. #WorkingOutHowToMakeADyingPhoneWork.

I have engaged with ResearchED on many previous occasions, but this was the first time I got to engage in ResearchED. If you have never done it, you should, it’s miles better than sitting on the floor all day, and you get to rub shoulders with famous people and Nick Gibb. And you get to start the day in the speakers’ lounge, this year styled as the training room. I limbered up there with my fellow presenter James Mannion and teachers from the City of London School.


Imagine if all the boxers from the undercard were put in the same dressing room: it’s just like that. Your competitors (those you suspect will draw a bigger crowd) are in there, as are real live people who misleadingly look nothing like their Gravatar. I’m represented to the online world by a three year old drawing by my daughter, who at the time loved me enough to ignore my greying hair. In short, there is little small talk in the speakers’ room; just people doing some research before it’s their turn to present.

You would get fit working in this school. It’s designed like one of those spiralling coin boxes that entertain you as you give your old euros to charity. I joined Lisa Pettifer for a lap on the second floor. ‘Is M213 this way, Lisa?’ ‘Just keep on walking, Mark, and it soon will be.’ Jonny Peacock and Christine Ohuruogu go to school here. Sensible presenters like Christian Bokhove wear t-shirts with penguins on them. He told us that spinach does not contain lodes of iron, that the myth apparently occurred during the Great Decimal Point shift, that that too is a myth traceable to the Readers’ Digest, which may or may not be available in the Netherlands. And the moral of his tale was: don’t pretend that you know stuff really well unless you really do; try a little nuance when discussing cognitive psychology on twitter. I will try my best, Christian, but it’s in my nature…

‘Mark Quinn et al’ were giving their talk on practitioner enquiry during session 3. Six of us at the front, going for the prize of Those Most Likely to Outnumber Their Audience. Tom helped us out by scheduling against us Sherrington, Christodoulou, Weston, Jones, Creaby, Davenport, and Hood and Fletcher-Wood… et al. Well, I don’t know how many flocked to the gurus this year but we were very happy with our little turnout. Everyone had a seat, they could join in on the chat, and I could pick out old colleagues Barbara Terziyski and Vivienne Porritt.

ResearchEd17 There are more people just out of shot.

We were making the case for the gnomes of the research garden, teachers carrying out the sort of micro-research that tests out the grand theories without ever being reported. Nick wanted to know if his year 8 had a growth mindset, and if they did did it show up in achievement and effort data. (They did, and it did not.) Joe, the head of RE, has an ontological interest in creativity: he wanted to know what his students thought about it and where they would like to see more of it. Richard wanted his year 11s to be more reflective about their work, had a hunch that peer feedback would help him get there, and found that it did. The great thing about ResearchED is that it showcases some of the disciplined enquiries that real teachers are conducting, but even if ResearchED did not exist these teachers would still be gnomically enquiring away.

Amanda Spielman finished my day. That’s great because she is passionate about workload, so much so that Ofsted will ask headteachers how they are reducing it. She is also passionate about research and will turn the inspectorate’s attention that way increasingly. I asked her if she would research the impact Ofsted have on workload, and act on the results. I can imagine headteachers replying to Sean Harford’s questionnaire by saying they tell their staff to ignore Ofsted. Ofsted could write a best practice review of all of those schools that ignore them. That would be great, because lots more schools would read Ofsted’s how-to guide to ignoring Ofsted. Spielman might pull her hair out at that unintended consequence. One to watch.



PD: The Final Frontier

Having recently taken up a full-time post at UCL IOE London Centre for Leadership in Learning I spent much of the past month visiting schools and meeting the people doing the job I have just stopped doing. Professional Development Leads are uber-geeks of the staffroom. They are intensely interested in teaching and learning, and in PD that leads to better teaching and learning. They boldly go where no PD lead has gone before, expanding the frontiers within their school and across their partnerships.

The LCLL’s Professional Development Quality Mark initially provides a framework for schools to self-evaluate themselves against four Aspects and four Strands, as shown here:


A school will assess itself as ‘Gold’ if they feel that they have embedded their vision, culture, policy and best value principles within each aspect. The verifier’s role then – during a half-day visit – is to find the evidence to support that assessment. We want to know if the leadership of PD is present and understood at all levels, and does not just stop with the person with that in their job title. We are looking for examples of staff development practices which are innovative, research-informed and which reach the whole staff and make a difference to them and to the children they are there for. And we want the PDQM to encourage and reward ever stronger partnerships between schools.

Two Golden Examples (and one Platinum)

Kaizen Primary school, Newham

Kaizen is a small primary school with a big imagination. It is a lead school for the Trust and the Teaching School Alliance it sits within; several of its leaders are seconded to work with its partnership schools. It is hard to do justice here to the breadth and depth of their development activity, so I will limit myself to just a few examples.

Kaizen grow leaders, for themselves and for other schools. Colleagues join the leadership team as ‘trainee headteachers’. The Head of School for Teaching and Learning said: ‘It’s an opportunity to cut their teeth. It’s all part of our succession plan to grow leaders for the school and the trust.’ Three have left in the past 5 years to head other schools. ‘That’s part of our success,’ she says.

Performance Management operates in most schools as a review/target-setting meeting near the beginning of the year, perhaps with an interim assessment thrown in at the middle of the year, with lesson observations and pupil progress used to measure the achievement of objectives and standards. Not so at Kaizen. Eight to twelve times a year they use their Professional Improvement Planning (PIP) Exploration Book. The Head of School said: ‘It is self-directed as much as possible. The Exploration book advertises opportunities and expectations. We want to explore practice, not assess it.’ PIP – applying also to support staff – additionally embraces bi-weekly PIP meetings, and weekly professional dialogues, which means there is a constant conversation about professional learning. In addition, they have access to a Professional Development Reflection Interview and benefit from leadership coaching provided by an external professional coach.

All teachers – from School Direct trainees upwards – work towards ‘Teaching Plans’, which are focused targets around quality first teaching to meet the needs of pupils, prompts for how to achieve them and identification of where support can be expected. The Teaching Plans fit within the scope of the Kaizen Directory, a ‘help guide for self-development.’ It includes action plan frames and ‘how to’ guides. These ‘Teaching Plans’ ensure that every classroom is engaged in the business of improving the quality of teaching all of the time.

Kaizen brings its school improvement plan to life through internal research enquiry. All classroom staff, working in Teacher/support staff teams, contribute through the year to the Learning Bulletin, which captures the mini action research and practice of colleagues around an area of pedagogy.


Enfield County School, Enfield

The PD programme is characterised by research-informed approaches to pedagogy and professional development leadership. One of their inset days is divided across 5 Teaching and Learning Breakfasts (TLBs). The PD lead had recruited four ‘expert teachers’ to run 5 workshop groups (each focussing on an aspect of outstanding learning, such as flipped learning, growth mindset, pupil-led learning), which meet for 2 sessions. ‘Bridging tasks’ between sessions ensure that professional learning translates into professional development. The workshops are repeated once in the year, and again twice the next year, so that every teacher will experience every workshop. The 5th TLB each year brings everyone to the hall, and tries to draw together the strands of the workshops. This year they realised that oracy was the theme that overarched the others. The PD Lead insured the event was research-informed, sharing insights from the work of Professor Neil MercerJames Mannion and School 21.

The PD lead summed up his philosophy for PD leadership: ‘We must be contextual, without being inward-looking. We must be current, new and fresh, but building on what we have learned over the years.’

 Enfield County School teachers, enjoying their Teaching and Learning Breakfast.


Burntwood School, Wandsworth

Burntwood is one of the first to achieve Quality Mark Platinum, and it is no wonder. Its policy states: ‘Burntwood is committed to providing the best educational experience possible within its means for all of its students. This is only likely to be achieved if staff – teachers and support staff – are given planned opportunities for personal and professional development.’

And they do mean all their staff. The headteacher told us: ‘We want a learning community where everyone has access to professional development. Not just the senior team, or the teachers, or even just our own employees. For example, we insist that our catering contractor must offer training for their own staff.’

All teaching and learning staff are involved in action research. The CPD Leadership folder states: ‘All staff are required to use up to one lesson a week of their non-contact time to take part in educational research leading to school improvement.’

In 2015-16 this took the form of book groups; in 2016-17 it was Lesson Study. They began in the first half-term in cross-curricular groups studying a Professional Development text/ principles of Lesson Study. Thereafter they moved to faculty groupings for deeper investigation. The PD lead told us: ‘The Head of the Maths department organised action research in the department which was one factor leading to improved results. The PE staff found they got much improved homework after studying options in their book group.’

All of the staff interviewed spoke highly of the Book Club/ Lesson Study action research they have done, and could point to impact. E.g. one head of year worked with a group of difficult year 10 girls to write and deliver a CPD plan for how to deal with behaviour like theirs. ‘This is the sort of micro-level, fine-grained feedback which there is time for in this school,’ he said.


One expectation of PDQM is that professional development leads from Gold schools receive their own training to become verifiers for the quality mark. Visiting other schools – ‘exploring new worlds’ – should be built into the annual performance management of every PD lead. There is so much to learn from others doing similar work elsewhere.