Top 10 Schools Week expert explainers of 2016

At Schools Week we like to tackle complicated topics by getting people who really understand them to explain them to the rest of us.

It seems our readers enjoy this, too, as many of our most popular expert columns this year followed the “explainer” format.

In case you missed them, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular expert explainers from 2016. So here’s the top 10, reflecting what our readers were most curious about (or baffled by) in 2016.

10. What is the NUT strike about and will it make a difference?

Remember the NUT teacher strike, back in July? (It was easy to miss, scheduled on the same day as the key stage 2 results were announced and shortly after the PM had resigned and the entire political establishment was in chaos.) Howard Stevenson from the University of Nottingham explains what the strike was about and whether it was likely to actually change anything.

9. South Asian – or ‘Shanghai’ – mastery maths, explained

Mastery in maths became something of a buzz-concept in 2016, and occupies places 9 and 7 on our most-read list. Mark Boylan here explains the differences between the Shanghai method and schools in England. Boylan led a Sheffield Hallam University team evaluating the primary part of the Shanghai teacher exchange, which involved teachers from 48 schools visiting Shanghai in 2014/15 and hosting Shanghai teachers back in their own schools, so he knows a thing or two about it.

8. The 24 recommendations in the Regional Schools Commissioner report – and what they really mean

It’s hard to remember those days, back in early 2016, when no one was really clear what regional schools commissioners were for. This seminal report from the Education Select Committee (as it was then known) recommended ways in which their role should be clarified, which Laura McInerney kindly condensed into 24 manageable bullet points.

7. What is teaching for mastery in maths?

Continuing a theme, Charlie Stripp, Director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, explains how teaching for mastery can enable all pupils (with only a tiny proportion of exceptions) to succeed in maths. Stripp, who is almost evangelical in his fervour, gives tips on finding the “sweet spot” of teaching in a maths classroom.

6. The ‘Workload Principles’: A one-page guide to the most useful parts of the workload reports

The long-awaited report into reducing teacher workload was finally published in March. Here’s a handy summary, so you can check if you’re implementing the 5 principles of planning, or keeping your marking “meaningful, manageable and motivating”…

5. ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ White Paper: What are the actual policies?

For a few months, Nicky Morgan’s white paper was essential reading for anyone in education. Unless you read Schools Week, in which case you could simply download this handy cheat-sheet. It was all relegated to the rubbish bin of history once Justine Greening took over at the DfE, of course, but we’ve left it on the list, for the sake of historical accuracy, and nostalgia.

4. How useful are the KS2 maths SATs test results?

The aim of the new key stage 2 curriculum was to raise the standard of maths, but how can we tell whether it has achieved that goal? Anne Watson, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Oxford, explains.

3. ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ – what it means for schools

Changes to statutory guidance on ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ came into effect in September 2016, requiring schools to make huge changes in how they monitor pupils’ online safety – not only on school computers but also mobile devices. Mark Orchison explained what this means for schools.

2. The Progress 8 measure explained

Back in July, David Blow was a big hit among data nerds and school leaders alike, with his explanation of “buckets”, attainment 8, progress 8 and why not changing your entry policy meant your school’s EBacc3 score would likely drop. (He then gave an update in November, once the scores were out, which is also worth a read.)

1. What is an academy? (And other questions about converting schools)

Our most popular explainer of 2016 was on (surprise, surprise!) academisation. Is this effectively equivalent to privatisation of schools, does the national curriculum no longer exist and how come the CEOs of academy trusts are being paid such high amounts? These are just some of the questions Laura McInerney tackled in March.

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