Cyber security lessons offered to schools in England (BBC)

Schoolchildren in England will be offered lessons in cyber security in a bid to find the experts of the future to defend the UK from attacks.

It is hoped 5,700 pupils aged 14 and over will spend up to four hours a week on the subject in a five-year pilot.

Classroom and online teaching, “real-world challenges” and work experience will be made available from September.

A Commons committee last week warned that a skills shortage was undermining confidence in the UK’s cyber defences.

The risk that criminals or foreign powers might hack into critical UK computer systems is now ranked as one of the top four threats to national security.

‘Cutting-edge skills’

Russia in particular is suspected of planning sustained attacks on Western targets.

Cyber security is a fast-growing industry, employing 58,000 experts, the government says, but the Public Accounts Committee has warned it is proving difficult to recruit people with the right skills.

UK’s cyber security defences questioned

Russian hacks ‘aim to destabilise the West’

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is providing £20m for the lessons, which will be designed to fit around pupils’ current courses and exams.

Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: “This forward-thinking programme will see thousands of the best and brightest young minds given the opportunity to learn cutting-edge cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies.

‘Pipeline of talent’

“We are determined to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future and these extra-curricular clubs will help identify and inspire future talent.”

The government is already providing university funding and work placements for promising students.

An apprenticeship scheme has also begun to support key employers to train and recruit young people aged 16 or over who have a “natural flair for problem-solving” and are “passionate about technology”.

Steve Elder, 20, who is a cyber security apprentice with BT, told BBC Radio 5 Live that educating young people about the risks and vulnerabilities of the cyber security world would help the UK prepare for the future.

He added: “Getting young people involved and getting them taught from a young age will allow them – even in their home environment – to protect themselves, before it has to come to people at a specialist level.”

Finger on computer keyboardImage copyrightPA

Mr Hancock told the BBC he wanted to ensure the UK “had the pipeline of talent” it would need.

Cyber security expert Brian Lord, a former deputy director at GCHQ, told BBC Breakfast that the scheme was an “essential initiative” to recruit more people into the profession.

He added: “There is perception that cyber security is all about techno geeks who have long hair, glasses, wear heavy metal t-shirts and drink red bull.

“There are those, and they do an extraordinarily good job. But there is a whole range of other activities… that can appeal to a wide cross section of children, graduates and apprentices, and at the moment they don’t know what [is on] offer.

“The more exposure [children] can get [the more it will] prepare them for a future career and, as that generation needs to understand how to be safe online, you get a double benefit.”


New research reveals a three year attainment gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers (IoE

New research reveals a three year attainment gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

9 February 2017

Bright but poor pupils lag behind their bright but better-off classmates by around two years and eight months in maths, science and reading, according to new research by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

The research, conducted by Dr John Jerrim on behalf of the Sutton Trust, reveals that the attainment gaps within the most able 10% of pupils are even bigger for girls than they are for boys, standing at about three years in science and reading.

School boy taking test

Dr Jerrim analysed the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess UK schools’ performance for the top 10% of pupils. The results show that socio-economic gaps between high achieving pupils are significant throughout much of the developed world.

While England’s highest achievers score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading, bright pupils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland perform, on average, worse. Wales performs particularly poorly, with only the highest achievers in Chile, Turkey and Mexico getting lower scores in reading and maths. The mathematics skills of highly able pupils in Scotland have also declined since 2009.

The socio-economic gap in science for bright girls in England is equivalent to three years of schooling, eight months greater than that for boys, while for reading the three year gap is nine months greater than that for boys. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with a gap of around 2 years and 9 months for both girls and boys.

Dr Jerrim said:

“While England’s brightest pupils score around average in international tests – and better in science – this analysis shows that there are some very big socio-economic gaps in attainment between the brightest pupils from poor and better-off homes. There are also some very big challenges in Scotland and Wales highlighted by the research.”

To address the gaps identified by today’s report, the Sutton Trust is calling on the government to establish a highly able fund to support the prospects of high attainers in comprehensive schools.

The Trust believes that ring-fenced funding, where high-potential pupils are tracked and monitored, would help to improve social mobility by widening access to top jobs and universities.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“It is staggering that at age 16 bright but poor pupils lag behind their rich classmates by almost 3 years.  This results in a huge waste of talent which is why we at the Sutton Trust are calling on government to establish a Highly Able Fund.

“High potential pupils would be monitored and given specific support.  This would improve social mobility at the top by widening access to leading universities and to top jobs.”

Related links


Schools call on MPs to fight ‘grossly unfair’ Progress 8 (Schools Week)

School leaders want MPs to fight the government’s “grossly unfair and discriminatory” Progress 8 measure that will award three times more points to pupils moving between top grades than those at the bottom of the scale.

But sources close to the government insist the method is designed to protect rather than punish schools with lower-attaining pupils, and that the unequal weighting is in place as part of transitional arrangements.

Progress 8 was created as the headline indicator of school performance in 2016, and used to determine if a school was above a floor standard or was “coasting”.

For pupils sitting exams in 2016, the measure was calculated using a one point per grade rise – for example an A was worth 7 and a B worth 6; a G grade worth 1 and an F worth 2.

But from next year pupils jumping from a grade B to an A will be awarded 1.5 points extra, while the difference between a G grade and F will get just 0.5. All other grades will be separated by a score of 1.

From next year pupils jumping from a grade B to an A will be awarded 1.5 points extra

Frank Norris, director of the Co-operative Academies Trust, believes the changes will encourage schools to concentrate on high-achievers.

He asked all staff in his eight primary and secondary academies in Leeds, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent to write to their local MPs to fight the measure.

“The proposed changes are based on the flawed thinking that it is much harder for a student to move from a grade B to an A rather than from grade G to F,” he said. “They are probably discriminatory because they imply it is less important and worthwhile for lower-attaining students to achieve as well as they can.”

Patsy Kane, head of Levenshulme high school in Manchester, added: “If we take this model, and apply the principles to a full cohort, it is straightforward to see that a school with a more able intake will be at an advantage in terms of the points that can be accrued.”

But Tim Leunig, a chief analyst at the Department for Education (DfE), defended the move last year at a conference held by the National Association of Secondary Moderns.

Tim Leunig

He said the unequal weighting was necessary to protect schools with more pupils at the lower end of the attainment range. Given that grade boundaries here are often separated by only a few marks, pupils can easily slip downwards, which could cost the school a whole progress point.

Limiting the points between the two grades meant schools gained less for moving pupils upwards, but were also punished less if pupils slipped down.

Likewise, grammar schools would be punished more severely if a projected A-grade pupil got a B.

“Given the bit that matters is whether or not your Progress 8 is more than -0.5, we have reduced how far those with more pupils at the lower end will drop if grades are missed,” he added.

The difference in weighting will only be in place while the schools system moves from a graded to a fully numerical exams system in 2019, with grades 1-9 replacing G-A*.

Dr Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, said the temporary unequal weighting was necessary, but the new measures would be “a challenge” for schools with more challenging intakes.


Schools can raise girls’ aspirations by partnering with businesses

Schools can raise girls’ aspirations by partnering with businesses (Guardian)

The absence of aspiration and understanding of opportunities that I see in some students from disadvantaged backgrounds – especially girls – is something I want to address directly. I believe the answer to the lack of female leaders within our society and businesses could partly lie with us in education, and we have found partnerships with the business community leads to stronger results.

At both our academies, Whalley Range high school and Levenshulme high school for girls, we have been lucky enough to be involved in the Inspiring Girls programme – part of a Business in the Community initiative with Alliance Manchester Business School. Almost 100 young women from six high schools across Manchester have graduated from the programme this year. We were particularly keen to get involved because it was an initiative that focused its efforts on encouraging girls of secondary school age to prepare for their futures.

International Women’s Day in March last year marked the start of our year 9 students taking part. One of the activities included in the programme was a day of workshops hosted at the business school. The day allowed the girls to get an insight into university life, and life as a woman in business.

After a welcome by the head of the business school, professor Fiona Devine, the students joined a range of optional workshops such as creative thinking, influencing people and personal branding, which were delivered by senior staff at the school. They then gathered together in the main lecture theatre to hear the life and career stories of women working in construction, finance, academia and pharmacy, which encouraged them to think about the paths available to them. They had the opportunity to ask questions to understand the challenges which had been faced and overcome by the speakers.

Sana Rafiq, one of the students who attended, says: “I really enjoyed meeting several women at the conference and listening to their stories. These stories really inspired me because I got to know a lot about them and how they became the women they are now. In particular, the struggles they faced – how they faced these and still reached their goals.”


Just one day of mentoring was extremely valuable to my students, and allowed them to think and plan for the future. The girls were bubbling with enthusiasm throughout the day, which spilled over into their conversations back at school. The main things that seemed to surprised them was the amount of opportunities and the level of job satisfaction in the construction industry, as well as the fact that a number of the speakers had been the first in their family to go to university. The theme of working hard and with determination to achieve your dream was a prevalent one.

Throughout the initiative I have seen a marked improvement in the students’ approach to work and their confidence in and outside of the classroom. We have been involved in various other workshops within the programme with students from year 7 all the way up to year 11. In year 7, for example, a wide range of women come into school and share their career route. The business school now provides regular speakers for this day. This particular day, however, seemed to have a profound effect and one that was commented on by staff in school and parents.

Jackie Fahey, deputy head teacher at Whalley Range, says: “[It] allowed the students to engage with some inspiring women, meet and work together with other young people and develop their employability skills.” Best of all, Fahey says, was that “the feedback from the students was incredibly positive and they said that it was an event that they would remember for a long time”.

It is essential for young people to meet individuals from outside their direct peer and family group – the value in this is huge. In particular, for the students, it can direct them to a path they didn’t even know existed. But it also benefits those in the business world who choose to get involved in initiatives like these, who have told us that they leave with a feeling of satisfaction and increased sense of purpose through this positive work with young women. This may then influence their own future career choices.

I do feel that the business community and education community has a responsibility to engage in these relationships, to embrace potential and drive forward our future leaders to truly blossom.


Mother shares image of crying daughter to highlight impact of teaching staff striking at school with special needs children (Telegraph)

Mother shares image of crying daughter to highlight impact of teaching staff striking at school with special needs children (Telegraph)

Charlotte Gunn says her daughter Katie was distraught after strike action lead to chaos at her school in Derby 
Charlotte Gunn says her daughter Katie was distraught after strike action lead to chaos at her school in Derby  CREDIT: EUGENE HENDERSON


Afrustrated mother has posted an image of her distraught teenage daughter on social media in order to highlight the impact that strikes by school support staff are having on pupils.

Charlotte Gunn took the picture of her 15-year-old daughter, Katie-Ann Boyle, after finding her in tears when she arrived to collect her from school.

Angered by the situation, she has blamed staff and Derby council  for prolonging ongoing industrial action and failing to consider the harmful effect they are having; her daughter Katie has special needs.

Mrs Gunn said that Katie and other pupils’ “can’t handle” the disruption caused by the strikes,  urging staff to bring the six-month dispute to an end out of consideration for the students.

Katie-Ann Boyle dressed in her uniform for St Andrew's School
Katie-Ann Boyle dressed in her uniform for St Andrew’s School CREDIT: EUGENE HENDERSON

Mrs Gunn shared the picture on Facebook along with a message stating that teaching assistants are the “backbone” of special-needs education.

The strikes – which involved teaching assistants, caretakers, lunchtime supervisors and administration staff – have been taken place since last July.

Some of the strikes have been for half days or lunchtimes but on Tuesday they staged a full day of action, which will be repeated until Thursday –  leading to classroom closures.

Parents, mainly of children with special needs whose schools have been hit the hardest by the action, protested outside the council’s headquarters last week over the continuing strikes.

The row has become increasingly bitter and despite both sides indicating they are willing to return to the negotiating table, there is no sign of an end to the row.

Our special-needs children rely on their teaching assistants – they are the backbone of special needs schooling.Charlotte Gunn

The council claims it will cost £4 million to meet the union’s demands and it unable to meet Unison’s demands, having had it’s lower offer of £1.1 million turned down by the union already.

Commenting, Mrs Gunn said:  “Collecting my daughter from school to be confronted with her in this state because she can’t handle the disruption to her routine. Our special-needs children rely on their teaching assistants – they are the backbone of special needs schooling.

“Without them many needs of our children can’t be met. According to the council the strikes are having little or no effect. Try telling that to my child, I’ve had to comfort the entire way home because she can’t understand what is happening.

“I guess the strikes just don’t affect the schools that matter. But my daughter’s education counts, too, maybe not to Ranjait Banwait [leader of Derby City Council] but to her and us it’s her future.”

Mrs Gunn with Katie and her other two children at home
Mrs Gunn with Katie and her other two children at home

The 33-year-old said in sharing the photo of Katie-Ann, who has a range of complex needs which include severe learning difficulties, she is giving her daughter a voice because she is not able to speak for herself.

“Because of her special needs she cannot cope with having no routine,” she said. All I can do is support the teaching assistants as much as possible by sharing the stories,” she said.

A spokesman for Derby City Council said: “The leader of Derby City Council has never said that the current industrial dispute is having little or no impact on children and families.

“We share the upset of the children and parents, and ask Unison to end this action so we can sit down together and work out a resolution.”



Millennials who chose an apprenticeship over university are just as happy with their lives (IoE)

Millennials who chose an apprenticeship over university are just as happy with their lives

26 January 2017

Twenty-somethings who pursued vocational training rather than university report being just as satisfied with their lives, according to new research.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine examined information on more than 9,500 young people living in England, who were born in 1989-90 and are being followed by a study called Next Steps. They found that there was no ‘right way’ to transition into adult life. Instead, young people followed a range of viable paths after completing compulsory schooling at age 16.

Mechanic female

Forty-five per cent of young people went into higher education, and a similar proportion – 42 per cent – entered the labour market.

Just over a third moved quickly into work after finishing school, with some continuing their studies for a limited period of time before doing so. Roughly 6 per cent pursued vocational training before getting a job.

At age 20, the young people were asked how satisfied they were with how their lives had turned out so far. There were no significant differences between those at university, those in apprenticeships or those in work.

Nearly 13 per cent of young people spent prolonged periods of time not in education, employment or training (NEET) after they finished school. They were the least satisfied with their lives at age 20.

The authors suggested that work may offer an opportunity to feel valued, to belong and to make a contribution for young people who do not go to university. However, if young people struggle to find meaningful and challenging work, it can be detrimental to their wellbeing.

Young people’s paths took a different turn if they faced multiple socioeconomic risks, including growing up in a family where the parents had little education, the gross household income was less than £10,400 per year, or where none of the parents were working.

At age 14, young people facing the most risks had slightly lower expectations of going to university, and less confidence in their academic ability than their more privileged peers. They also tended to be less engaged with school at this age.

By the time they finished school, young people from disadvantaged families were more likely than their better-off peers to go straight into work, or to end up being NEET. Moreover, living in a deprived neighbourhood increased the likelihood of going into vocational training instead of higher education.

Interestingly, disadvantaged young people were at higher risk of being NEET if they felt they were very academically able. This was true regardless of how well they had actually done at school. The authors suggested this might point to a ‘dark’ side of high self-confidence for young people who struggle to overcome the constraints of their upbringing.

Disadvantaged young people who had expected to apply to university tended to stay on at school at least for a short period of time after age 16, before ultimately going into work. The authors suggested that despite the young people’s academic aspirations, the pressure of their circumstances may have compelled them to get a job before pursuing a degree.

“It is encouraging that young people who find a viable career path after leaving school are just as happy with their lives regardless of whether they go on to university, an apprenticeship or work. This suggests there isn’t just one way to successfully transition into adulthood,” said Professor Ingrid Schoon, the study’s lead author.

“We must make sure that there are equal opportunities for young people who do not pursue higher education immediately after completing secondary education – this includes good quality vocational training and local labour market opportunities, particularly in the most deprived neighbourhoods.”

A socio-ecological model of agency: the role of structure and agency in shaping education and employment transitions in England’ by Ingrid Schoon and Mark Lyons-Amos will be published in Longitudinal and Life Course Studies on 26 January 2017. Embargoed copies of the paper are available to journalists upon request.


New project explores how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning (IoE)

New project explores how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning

20 January 2017

A new project led by Professor Rose Luckin, UCL Knowledge Lab, will explore how online jokes improve digital literacy and learning skills amongst young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK and the Philippines.

The project will draw attention to the ambiguity of language and facilitate comprehension of non-literal meanings, which are often encapsulated in jokes. There will be a specific focus on jokes that have a double meaning, for example: “Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work” or “Why don’t leopards escape from the zoo? Because they are always spotted.”

For Professor Luckin, this double meaning encourages valuable discussion around language: “The jokes teach the learners that language is so much more than just decoding letters. Jokes are a great place to start because they help the learners to visualise the scenarios and, most importantly, show that exploring meaning is fun.”

Happy school children

Dr Kaśka Porayska-Pomsta, who will also be working on the project, said:

“The focus on non-literal meanings in teaching and learning comprehension is often ignored. As such, it misses an opportunity for developing children’s understanding of layers in linguistic expression as well as, in the context of English as a second language, opportunities for exploring cultural similarities and differences in the way that humour is expressed.

“Furthermore, and equally important, is the fact that humour is a fantastic motivator for children, so the subject matter itself is intended to turn a routine and often boring experience of learning a language into something that children enjoy and want to do. So in this project, as well as helping children understand jokes in English, we will be paying attention to the cultural and motivational aspects of the experience that the focus on jokes may engender.”

The two year project will start in April and is the first collaboration between the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Both countries will work with learners aged 11-12 years old and will use jokes that relate to their own cultures.

The project will aim to increase the learners’ reading comprehension and digital skills through explaining the different ways in which digital technologies and media can be used. These skills are essential, particularly as children transition from primary to secondary school, where such skills, if well-developed can help them to progress.

Speaking of the project, Professor Luckin said:

“After being introduced to the power of jokes and language ambiguity by my colleague Dr Nicola Yuill nearly 20 years ago, I have been fascinated by the way that language ambiguity as expressed through jokes, varies across different cultures.

“Jokes engage children in wonderful discussions about language and humour as they explain what is funny to each other. I’m looking forward to finding out what Filipino children find funny in comparison to UK children, and vice versa. I’d like to understand the extent to which humour can be used on an international scale, and how best humour can support language comprehension with the aid of digital technology.

“We can use voice, image, video and text to help learners share and talk about what they find funny and we can connect learners globally. Young learners love sharing pictures and videos that are important to them using applications such as Instagram, so we will use their love of these activities to help them learn by scaffolding their learning through our own Artificially Intelligent (AI) application that takes #jokegram to a new level for learning.”

The project draws on Professor Luckin’s past collaboration with Dr Yuill at Sussex University, which revealed a clear link between a learner’s understanding of the ambiguity in riddles and the development of language comprehension. The project also builds on Professor Luckin’s work around digital technologies and AI, which has demonstrated that computers can effectively structure and support collaborative discussion.

The funding was awarded by the British Council’s Newton Fund Institutional Links, which provides grants for the development of research and innovation collaborations between the UK and partner countries.


MAT league tables 2016: Over half of trusts “significantly below average”, and 5 other findings (Schools Week)

More than half of established multi-academy trusts fell “significantly below” the average for pupil progress, with a host of the country’s largest trusts among the worst performers at secondary level.

The government has today published its multi-academy trust (MAT) performance league tables, based on 2016 exam results.

The analysis is based on key stage 2 and key stage 4 exam results, and only includes trusts running at least three schools and which have been established for three or more years.

The results of special and alternative provision schools in trusts are not included in the figures.

The release follows the first MAT league tables, based on 2015 performance, published last year.

Schools Week has pulled out the top findings. (And do make sure to read to number 6 – that’s the one that made us say ‘wow’).

Source – http://schoolsweek.co.uk/mat-league-table-2016-over-half-of-trusts-significantly-below-average-and-5-other-findings/

Best performers at Key Stage 4:



City of London Corporation

Diocese of London

Diocese of Westminster Academy Trust

Outwood Grange


Best performers at Key Stage 2:


Outwood Grange

The Central Learning Partnership Trust

Tudhoe Learning Trust

Worst performers at Key Stage 4 (in alphabetical order):

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)

CfBT Education Trust


Grace Foundation

Greenwood Academies Trust

Learning Schools Trust

Ormiston Academies Trust

Stoke-on-Trent College

The Midland Academies Trust


Woodard Academies Trust


Worst performers at Key Stage 2:

Blyth Quays Trust

Ninestiles Academy Trust

The Education Fellowship Trust


Schools Week – http://schoolsweek.co.uk/mat-league-table-2016-over-half-of-trusts-significantly-below-average-and-5-other-findings/


Ofsted’s blog: Ofsted publishes its latest Annual Report (TES)

The highlights of 2015/16

Ofsted publishes its Annual Report around this time each year and on 1 December the final Annual Report of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s tenure was laid before Parliament. In it he talks about the changes over the last five years since he became Chief Inspector and of an education and skills system that has improved considerably in that time.

This year’s report is based on the evidence from almost 25,000 inspections of schools, colleges and providers of early years and further education and skills. Here are a few of the highlights.

Secondary schools – a persisting geographical divide

Once more the North and the Midlands is faring less well. Last year there were many more good secondary schools in the South and East of England. This year that gap has widened slightly – the North and Midlands are dropping further behind the rest of the country with more than a quarter of secondaries still not good enough. In every region they’re falling below the national level on every major measure: Progress 8, Attainment 8 and achievement of the English Baccalaureate.

The knock-on effect of this is that pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities, along with the most able children, are particularly affected. These regions also have the largest proportion of schools with leadership problems. Nearly three quarters of secondary schools judged inadequate for leadership were in the North and Midlands.

Early years performing well

In the early years it’s better news. Continuing a six year rise, 91% of primary schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are now good and outstanding. As a result there’s a more level playing field for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Sir Michael Wilshaw summed this up, “For children under the age of 11, truly high standards have almost been achieved. Over the age of 11, there is still much to be done.” He reflected on the past five years and said there has been ‘considerable change for the better’.

The proportion of good and outstanding nurseries and pre-schools is now almost identical in the least and most deprived areas. And in 2016 over two thirds of young children reached the government’s ‘good level of development’, compared with just over a half in 2013.

Post school

The further education and skills sector isn’t performing so well. In 2015/16 the overall performance of general further education (FE) colleges continued to decline. There are good and outstanding colleges. However, for the second year in a row, the proportion has fallen from 77% in 2014 to 71% in 2015.

General FE colleges are still struggling to meet all of the requirements of the study programmes for 16- to 19-year-olds. And half the colleges inspected this year didn’t demonstrate good leadership and management.

When it comes to apprenticeships there are some signs of improvement in the quality of what’s on offer. Schools are doing more to raise awareness of apprenticeships as an option. And as a result, there’s greater demand for high-quality apprenticeships, particularly at level 3. However, the supply doesn’t meet this demand, which is widely acknowledged and government recognises that reforming the skills system is one of the most important challenges we face as a country.

Offenders’ needs not met

The least successful aspect of our education and skills system this year, by a wide margin, is prisons and young offender institutions. Sixty–five per cent of prisons have learning, skills and work activities that aren’t good enough.

In reading, for example, many prisoners only have primary-level abilities. When it comes to English and mathematics, the number of successfully completed courses was nine percentage points lower than four years ago.

A litmus test for the work ahead

This year’s Annual Report reflects some improvements and continuing challenges. Sir Michael Wilshaw commented, “Our education system has always served some very well, but access to an excellent education has long been a dividing line in this country. In some parts of our education and skills system, this is now changing.

“For the youngest children, we are now closer than we have ever been to an education system where your family background or where you live does not necessarily determine the quality of teaching you receive or the outcomes you achieve.

“Our education system is not yet world class, but some aspects are much closer than they have ever been.

“It would be wrong to look at this picture and conclude we need a radical rethink. The solutions are within our grasp – and they depend on learning from some of the remarkable improvements of the past few years.”


The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School

The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School

The strength of a nation’s economy and the vitality of its society depend on the quality of its schools. So why does the UK still lag behind its peers, despite investing more than them? The 2012 OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study showed the UK invested the 8th largest amount out of 34 OECD countries, but only came 19th in mathematics, 14th in science and 16th in reading.

To try to answer this question, we studied the changes made by 411 leaders of UK academies. Our findings suggest that it’s because we’re appointing, rewarding, and recognizing the wrong leaders. (A UK academy is a publicly funded school or group of schools. One school can acquire others to form a group, which shares resources, making investment easier and cuts less painful. Academies have devolved decision-making powers enabling them to bypass local government.) We interviewed these 411 leaders, as well as those who work for them, analyzed their education, background, and experience and recorded their actions and impact using 64 investment variables and 24 performance measures over seven years.

We found five types of leaders, but only one that was truly effective. We also found that the most effective leaders were the least well-known, least rewarded, and least recognized; although they did a great job, the results took time to show, allowing them to be overlooked. Yet they were the only ones who built a school where exam results continued to improve long after they’d left. If more of them can be identified, developed, and appointed, we believe the whole education system will improve.

Five Types of Leader

Studying such a large number of leaders who all faced similar challenges with similar options in organizations that are regulated, measured, and documented in the same way enabled us to directly compare what they did, why they did it, and the impact they had. We also analyzed their backgrounds, values, behaviors, actions, and impact both during their tenure (typically two to three years) and in the three years after they left.

We found leaders who talk a good game, but have no impact; leaders who make everything look great while they’re there, but everything falls apart after they leave; and leaders who improve the schools’ long-term financial performance, but exam results stay the same. And then there is the rarer, far more effective leader, who quietly redesigns the school and transforms the community it serves.

The Five Types in Detail

Surgeons cut and redirect, focusing on test scores.

The first group of leaders we call surgeons. They are both decisive and incisive. They quickly identify what’s not working and redirect resources to the most pressing problem — how to improve this year’s exam results. By background, they are usually Physical Education or Religious Studies teachers (85% in our study) who have a high profile, both inside and outside their school. They believe schools fail because students are not performing and, if they remove the poor performers and make the rest work harder, then performance will improve. “We can’t help everyone”, one Surgeon explained.

They’ve always enjoyed winning and strongly believe that you win if you’re fit, train hard, and have the right attitude. They often arrive with a reputation for being able to turn around a school quickly, as they’ve done this many times before in their career. They’re tough, disciplined leaders who believe that their job is to get the school back in shape fast with new rules and hard work.  They focus on investing in the oldest students as these students are the ones about to take their exams; from a Surgeon’s perspective, these students’ exam scores are an immediate problem – and they haven’t got time to look at anything else. To quickly boost exam scores, they typically remove poor performing students, cut out non-essential activities, move the best teachers to the final year, reduce class sizes, and increase revision (e.g., test prep).

Unsurprisingly, examination results improve dramatically in the one or two years they’re at the school (although revenue falls as they remove poor performing students). However, these examination results don’t last. After the Surgeon leaves, exam scores fall back to where they started, mainly because younger students have been ignored and underresourced for the previous two years. It’s impossible to close this gap, no matter how hard everyone tries. Some parents claim it’s because the new leader isn’t strong or decisive like the old one, but the teachers know it’s the result of two years of cuts without any investment. In the meantime, buoyed up by an undeserved reputation, the Surgeon has moved on to their next patient.

Soldiers trim and tighten, focusing on the bottom line.

Soldiers like efficiency and order. They hate waste and believe schools get into trouble because they’re fat, lazy, and wasting public money. By background they are normally Information Technology or Chemistry teachers (95% in our study), who have often moved out of the classroom to manage support staff early in their career. They tend to see running a school as similar to managing a large IT project and believe if they focus on costs and deadlines, the rest will take care of itself.

They’re tenacious, cost-cutting, and task-focused leaders who believe they need to trim back every ounce of fat and make people work harder. “If you cut resources, people have to change!” one Soldier said. They typically cut support staff and non-essential activities, automate processes, and start using cheaper suppliers. This sends a shock wave through the school, as staff are told they’re lucky to have a job and need to start working harder. Soldiers usually have a high profile inside their schools, but are less well known in the general public because they’re so internally focused and because they don’t increase test scores.

Financial performance quickly improves as costs fall, but exam results remain the same and morale dips as staff fear for their jobs. However, as soon as the Soldier departs, costs bounce back to where they were. Teachers and support staff are exhausted and demotivated from working in a climate of fear and uncertainty and the cuts that were made are too deep to sustain. Investment can’t be delayed any longer and new staff is recruited so the school can start to breathe again. As the Soldier moves on to their next mission, the processes they leave behind start to loosen and costs increase.

Accountants invest and grow, focusing on the top line.

Accountants try to grow their schools out of trouble. They are resourceful, systematic, and revenue-focused leaders who frequently taught Mathematics (78% in our study), so they have a good head for figures and a good sense of where extra revenue can be found. They believe schools get into trouble because they’re small and weak. “If we’re bigger, we’ll be stronger” as one Accountant said. They invest to increase revenue and make the school stronger.

They are creative financiers who immediately look for new revenue sources, such as acquiring a primary school or developing non-teaching offerings using the school’s facilities for out-of-hours gym memberships, meetings, and conferences. They improve the school’s long-term financial performance and let teachers work out where to spend the extra resources.

Revenue increases dramatically during their tenure, but examination results remain the same as this is not their focus. Financial performance continues improving after they leave as revenues keep growing and costs start consolidating, but exam results hardly change.

Philosophers debate and discuss, focusing on values.

Philosophers are passionate about teaching and love debating the merits of alternative approaches. They are normally English or Language teachers (89% in our study), adept with words, and often come from a family of teachers. They believe schools fail because they’re not teaching their students properly. They think of themselves as experienced teachers, rather than as leaders.

They spend as much of their time as possible with other teachers debating and discussing alternative teaching methods. They’re somewhat elitist (although they’d never admit it) and believe teachers are far more important than the people who support them or the students they teach.

Teachers are very excited when the Philosopher first arrives, as she or he tells them how important their work is and how much value they add to society. They start going on trips to observe other teachers and invite teachers to their school, to share ideas and approaches. But fundamentally, nothing changes. Students carry on misbehaving, parents are still not engaged, and performance – both financial and examination results – stays the same. When asked why performance hasn’t improved, the Philosopher says, “These things take time. Teaching is an art and it can’t be transformed overnight.”

In the two to three years the Philosopher leads the school, teachers become increasingly frustrated as they’re still having to manage poor behavior and fill out forms. There are no significant improvements during the Philosopher’s tenure and performance — both examination results and financial — coasts or declines after they leave.

Architects redesign and transform, focusing on long-term impact.

Architects are the only leaders with any real long-term impact, as they quietly redesign the school and transform the community it serves. They typically studied History or Economics at university (68% in our study) and acquired an understanding of how past leaders created the societies and economies we live in today. They didn’t set out to be teachers, but decided to initially work in industry (rather than education) as they like to “get things done rather than sit around drinking coffee” as one Architect explained.

Although they were successful in industry (normally working there for 10 to 15 years), they wanted to have a greater impact on society. So they looked around for a different career and discovered teaching. They’re insightful, humble and visionary leaders who believe schools fail because they’re poorly designed, or do not serve (and thus are not supported by) their local community.

They believe it takes time to improve a school and, therefore, take a long-term view of what they need to do. “After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as another Architect said. They redesign the school to create the right environment for its teachers and the right school for its community. Typically, they start by acquiring or setting up a primary school so they can teach students from a younger age, to give them more time to have an impact and embed positive behaviors earlier on. (In the UK, a secondary school can take over a primary school as long as the government agrees to this. This results in them combining their accounts, assets and liabilities; and enables them to share resources between the schools.)

They also improve their future opportunities by, for example, setting up a sixth form to help more of them get into university. They then improve student behavior (by moving poorly behaved students into a separate pathway), increase revenue (by developing non-teaching offerings) and improve teaching and leadership (by introducing coaching, mentoring and development programs). They also collaborate with local organizations to bring students’ attention to the opportunities around them and arrange trips abroad to open their eyes to other cultures.

In short, they take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, its stakeholders, the community it serves, and its role in society. In many ways, they combine the best parts of the other leaders, but they make these changes in a different sequence and for different reasons — to transform students and communities. For example, both Accountants and Architects also acquire a primary school early on. However, Accountants do this to increase revenue, but Architects do this to this so they can have more impact (by teaching students from an earlier age).

Performance is slow to improve as the Architects spend most of their initial time and energy engaging with the local community and building the right environment inside the school. But then examination results start improving in the third year of their tenure and continue improving long after they’ve left. They are visionary, unsung heroes. Stewards, rather than leaders, who are more concerned with the legacy they leave than how things look whilst they’re there.

Who Gets Recognized and Rewarded

Perversely, although the Architects are the only leaders who improve long-term examination results, they are the ones we least reward, least recognize and rarely appoint.

Instead, we honor and reward Surgeons for dramatically increasing examination results during their tenure, even though these improvements cannot be sustained. In our study, 38% of the 68 Surgeons we identified had been knighted by the Queen, 24% had received a CBE, MBE or OBE and they are typically paid 50% more than the other leaders. However, we fail to see are the long-term problems created by simply excluding poor performing students and focusing resources on improving immediate examination results. In some cases it took schools four years to recover from these changes, with up to $2 million paid to consultants to help clear up the mess.

The Philosophers were the most publicly recognized leaders in our study, with 30 per cent of the 161 we identified receiving a CBE, MBE or OBE from the Queen and 43% appointed as National Leaders of Education, to establish best practice and guide other leaders. They are also the most frequently appointed, 82% of leaders if our sample of 411 leaders is representative of the total UK educational system. However, they were the worst performing leaders in our study, both during and after their tenure. Although they talk passionately about the importance of good teaching and get everyone excited, they don’t actually change anything and their schools either coast or decline.

Even the Soldiers and Accountants who only focus on financial performance receive more public recognition than the Architects (30 and 27% received a CBE, MBE or OBE respectively) and, along with Philosophers, are paid typically 20% more than the Architects.

Meanwhile, the Architects who quietly redesign their schools and transform their communities, go unnoticed. Is this because the improvements can’t be seen until late in their tenure or after they’ve left? Or is it because they’re outsiders who’ve not worked in education their entire career and see things differently? As one Philosopher exclaimed, “You can’t run a school unless you’ve taught for 20 years!” This clearly isn’t true.

Is it because they’re leaders first and teachers second? In a profession that prioritizes teaching and often thinks schools can’t, or shouldn’t, be managed. Or is it because they don’t publicize what they’re doing and quietly get on with the job in hand? As one Architect explained, “Schools can’t be run on personality alone. I want mine to keep improving long after I’ve gone.” Or, as another simply put it, “No one should notice when I leave the room.”

Finding More Architects

Our findings suggest the Architects have the most positive long-term impact on exam results (on average, 15 to 23% higher than other leaders). Other research has found a 50% increase in exam results leads to between a 0.7% and 1.5% increase in gross domestic product (GDP), as better educated students are more knowledgable, more innovative and earn more money.

If our findings are representative of the whole UK educational system and the relationships between exam results and GDP is consistent with previous studies, then finding and developing more Architects to make them 50% of all school leaders would increase the UK’s schools’ performance by 9.68% and its GDP by between $3.8 billion and $7.6 billion.

How can we appoint more Architects? We also need an educational system that identifies, appoints, rewards, and recognizes them. One of the simplest ways to do this would be to change how we measure their impact.

Currently, we compare schools, and their leaders, by looking at the percentage of students achieving at least grade C in five or more subjects and the level of spend per student. However, these measures do not show how the leaders achieve these results or the value they add to society. For example, they might have cut the number of students to improve the percent with five or more grade Cs, or delayed critical long-term investments to reduce this year’s expenditure. Equally, spend-per-head gives us no view of the surplus they’ve grown to be reinvested in the future. And, crucially, we ignore what happens after the leader leaves.

Instead, we would recommend assessing a leader’s social and economic impact both during and after their tenure using new measures. Measuring and comparing the actual number of students graduating with a grade C in five or more subjects (rather than just the percentage) and the total budget surplus they create (rather than their spend per student) would be one place to start. This would help surgeons be seen as expensive cutters (not transformational leaders) who reduce the school’s social impact and create long-term issues. Philosophers would be seen as ineffectual debaters (not inspirational leaders) who talk a good game, but have no impact. Soldiers would be recognized as temporary cost-cutters and Accountants as good long-term financial investors, with neither significantly improving student outcomes.

By contrast, the Architects would be highlighted as the transformational leaders they are and could then receive the recognition they deserve. As one Architect explained, “My measure of success is — are parents complaining more? And are we issuing fewer anti-social behavior orders (ASBOs) within our local community? If so, then parents are engaging more with the school and our community is improving.”

Surely, this is the kind of strategic, transformational and inclusive thinking we need, if we want to actually improve results.

Alex Hill is a Co-Founder and Director of The Centre for High Performance, an Associate Professor at Kingston University and a Visiting Professor at a number of universities around the world. He previously worked at the University of Oxford and spent ten years in various divisions of the Smiths Group, a large engineering multinational. Twitter: @cfhperformance

Liz Mellon is the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board for the Duke Corporate Education journal, Dialogue. She was previously the Indian Regional Managing Director at Duke CE, a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and spent twelve years in the Department of Trade and Industry. Twitter: @lizmellonduke

Ben Laker is a Co-Founder and Director of The Centre for High Performance, a Lecturer at Kingston University and a Visiting Professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy. He previously spent ten years as a turnaround consultant. Twitter: @drbenlaker

Jules Goddard is a  Co-Founder and Director of The Centre for High Performance, a Lecturer at Kingston University and a Visiting Professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy. He previously spent ten years as a turnaround consultant. Twitter: @drbenlaker

Source: HBR