Review by James Murphy

School partnerships director, Thinking Reading

11 Jul 2020, 6:00


James Murphy’s top edu blogs of the week, 6 July 2020

This week’s top blogs are all about resisting the pressures of the moment and keeping the main thing the main thing

Education is, as we all know, a vast and endlessly complicated subject. One of the main reasons for the deluge of blogs in recent years is that there is much to write about – from many points of view.

Perhaps because of the ongoing health crisis and its related economic, political and cultural shocks, a theme seems to be emerging across the blogosphere that could be summed up as: keep the main thing, the main thing.


Five things new school leaders need to know


David Didau encourages school leaders to concentrate on one thing above all others: “The primary role of school leadership is to remove extraneous demands on teachers so that they can focus on planning and teaching the very best curriculum possible.” Everything else, he argues, must operate in harmony with this rule. It’s a tall ask when there are so many pressures and agendas for school leaders to deal with – but it is worth reflecting on whether anything matters as much as enabling teachers to teach well.


A year at The Totteridge Academy: the things I’ve learnt


Adam Boxer takes up a similar theme as he reflects on a year in his new position as a head of science at an academy in north London. The lessons he draws from his time are practical, concrete and very much to stripping away the extraneous, and focusing and what is really important. Underlying the whole piece is a clear sense of why things are, or are not, done: “Everything I’m asked to do is meaningful and has purpose.”


Equity in the English classroom


Zoe Enser shares a powerful set of concerns for teachers that are particularly important in the context of “recovery” as schools (hopefully) re-open in September. Though we see a great deal of disadvantage in our schools, we need to deal with our students as individuals, rather than assign them blanket labels that can lead us to deliver what we think they ought to have, rather than what they really need. There is a great deal more to explore in her blog, which is nuanced, detailed and practical.


How school leaders can best support pupils to regain lost learning


Much misdirection of teacher and student effort could be saved by pondering on the points that Rob Coe raises here. Writing as an associate of the Education Endowment Foundation, he outlines the assessment issues that schools will face after the summer. It is not possible to teach students until we know what they have forgotten, remembered, misremembered, practised or ignored. And it is not possible to assess these things in a meaningful way unless we use formative assessment wisely: to identify the various components of the skills and knowledge we want them to have, and to use assessment methods that will show most clearly what has been acquired and what may be missing.


The hidden lives of learners and me


Finally, Alex Quigley reflects on the impact of Graham Nuthall’s research, detailed in The Hidden Lives of Learners. I am a former student of Nuthall, so there was a familiar resonance with Quigley’s realisation that classrooms are complex places full of individuals with different learning histories and different agendas.

That realisation, which seems so obvious once it has arrived, is then followed by seeing that the teacher’s job is to work out, somehow, what is going on in those young minds – a task that requires much rethinking about how classrooms, assessment and learning work. As much as anyone, Nuthall learned to keep the main thing as the main thing. I hope that in the turbulent days ahead, we can do the same.

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