Review by Stephen Lockyer

Primary teacher

28 Mar 2021, 5:00


10 things schools get wrong (and how we can get them right)

By Jared Cooney Horvath and David Bott


John Catt Educational




7 Dec 2020

Stephen Lockyer turns the tables on a listicle book that offers few practical solutions and very little hope


10 Things This Book Gets Wrong. (Number 7 will shock you!)


  1. Now I’ve used this book’s strategy of a clickbait title, let’s dig a little further beyond the cover.
  2. The book is clearly a cathartic exercise for its authors, who analyse ten aspects of schooling they evidently find frustrating as researchers. They would perhaps have done better to look at ten things most detrimental to progress and achievement and work back from there. Because, ultimately, taking weak potshots at minor peeves like Daylight Savings Time (No, seriously!) seems a little trite given the yawning chasm of inequality exposed by the pandemic.
  3. Announcing that teachers, not researchers, are best placed to say what works makes for a strong start, which is quickly followed by these researchers aiming an irony shotgun to the foot. No teachers are consulted for the remainder of the chapters of this research-led book. It isn’t even clear the problems it deals with were even identified in schools.
  4. In a further volley from the irony blunderbuss, 10 things schools gets wrong adheres to the truism that no 2021 educational research book can be printed without giving ‘growth mindsets’ a good kicking. Horvath and Bott’s has to be one of the strongest, carefully dissecting how complex findings within narrow contexts can be diced into tweet-worthy soundbites and citing Carol Dweck’s own tweets as contributing to the hyperbole. For those keen on attacking how research can be wrecked, this chapter is a goldmine.
  5. Both authors stem from Australia, but make many references to the UK and US education systems. And aside from their extended rant on ‘purpose’ in Chapter 10, many of their examples derive from comparisons to other fields. But while there is a strong argument for comparative studies of and in education, some appreciation for the importance of context might’ve been nice. Without it, this book should come with some sort of warning.
  6. The References and Further Reading section is one page – a link to their online bibliography. This is a brilliantly simple publishing innovation, especially for avid readers who discover four fifths of the way through a book that it suddenly concludes. If this catches on, I’ll no longer start non-fiction books by appending a post-it note where the book actually ends.
  7. That being said, readers will need a lot of faith in the authors’ reference points. One statistic in particular punctured mine. The writers state that the average UK school spends £400,000 a year on IT. “That seems generous,” I thought. So I dug down, only to find the figure comes from a website for… you guessed it, an edtech company.
  8. References aside, many of the book’s arguments are convincing. But my sage nodding along was rudely and regularly interrupted by heartfelt but pointless end-of-chapter summaries. “This is wrong! We know it’s wrong, but the education juggernaut is driving too fast for us to slow it down,” these sections scream. Homework is the perfect example. The authors demonstrate that it is completely ineffective, but their concluding paragraph amounts to 300 words in lieu of a shrug emoticon. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  9. If you are really keen to scream into the abyss, I’d recommend the chapter on school organisation – the number of days, the start time of school, how long lessons are… The arguments against each are laid out well, with the solution being, ‘but it’s so ingrained, we can’t really change anything about it.’ It felt like the equivalent of a medical questionnaire that confirms your condition is terminal. We might not be able to change anything, but give us some hope, please!
  10. 10 things schools get wrong made me want to make changes. But it also left me feeling like the tiniest of cogs in the most enormous of machines. It’s hopelessly idealistic to think we might get a prequel called 10 things schools get right. But I’d be very happy with a sequel, 10 Things schools got wrong but sorted out in a way you can copy or adapt this year.

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