Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Pivotal Role of School Middle Leaders in Setting and Maintaining Standards

A presentation given as part of Developing Middle Leaders INSET at Ranches Primary School, Dubai on Thursday 25th August 2016

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Independent School Medallists at the Rio Olympics 2016

Independent Schools continue to make a significant contribution to British Sport (28% of Team GB for Rio 2016 come from Independent Schools) - this is something that we should celebrate. 
The final statistics in detail:
  • 62 women have won medals for Team GB (2 won two medals), 22 of whom were educated at a UK independent school – 35% 
  • 73 men have won medals for Team GB (1 won 3 medals, 5 won 2 medals), 20 of whom were educated at UK independent schools (2 won 2 medals) – 27% 
  • 135 competitors have won medals for Team GB, 42 of whom were educated at UK independent schools – 31% 
Congratulations to the following former pupils of Independent Schools who have won medals for Team GB at the Rio Games:

Gold Medals:
  • Cycling
    • Katie Archibald (Glasgow Academy) Team Pursuit (WR)
  • Equestrian
    • Nick Skelton (Bablake) Individual Showjumping
  • Hockey
    • Crista Cullen (Oakham) 
    • Alex Danson (Farnborough Hill) 
    • Maddie Hinch (King's, Taunton) 
    • Shona McCallin (Repton)
    • Lily Owsley (Clifton College) 
    • Sam Queck (Birkenhead High - then GSA)
    • Susannah Townsend (Sutton Valence) 
    • Georgie Twigg (Repton) 
    • Nicola White (Oldham Hulme Grammar)
  • Rowing
    • Helen Glover (Millfield) Coxless Pair 
    • Heather Stanning (Gordonstoun) Coxless Pair
    • Constantine Louloudis (Eton)  Coxless Four
    • George Nash (Winchester)  Coxless Four
    • Tom Ransley (King's Canterbury) Eight
    • William Satch (Shiplake) Eight
    • Andrew Triggs-Hodge (Belmont Grosvenor) Eight
    • Phelan Hill (Bedford) Eight
  • Sailing
    • Hannah Mills (Howell's, Llandaff) 470
  • Triathlon
    • Alistair Brownlee (Bradford Grammar)
Silver Medals
  • Canoeing
    • David Florence (Stewarts Melville) C2
  • Equestrian
    • Fiona Bigwood (Croydon High) Team Dressage
    • Karl Hester (Elizabeth College, Guernsey) Team Dressage
  • Rowing
    • Victoria Thornley (Rydal Penrhos) Double Sculls
    • Olivia Carnegie-Brown (Queen Anne's Caversham) Eight
    • Katie Greves (Headington) Eight
    • Frances Houghton (King's Canterbury) Eight
    • Polly Swann (George Heriot's) Eight
    • Zoe de Toledo (St Paul's) Eight
  • Rugby Sevens
    • Dan Bibby (Kirkham Grammar) 
    • Alex Davis (QEH Bristol) 
    • Ollie Lindsay Hague (Millfield) 
    • Tom Mitchell (Worth) 
    • James Rodwell (Berkhamsted)
    • Marcus Watson (St George's Weybridge) 
  • Swimming
    • James Guy (Millfield) 4x200m Freestyle Relay
    • Duncan Scott (Strathallan) 4x200m Freestyle Relay
    • James Guy (Millfield) 4x100m Medley Relay
    • Duncan Scott (Strathallan) 4x100m Medley Relay
  • Triathlon
    • Jonathan Brownlee (Bradford Grammar)
Bronze Medals
  • Athletics
    • Emily Diamond (Bristol Grammar) 4x400m Relay
  • Diving
    • Tom Daley (Plymouth College) Synchronised 10m Platform
  • Gymanastics
    • Amy Tinkler (Durham High) Floor [NB current pupil]

Looking Back to London 2012
My thanks to Georgina Belcher at the ISC for helping me with identifying the former schools of TeamGB.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Sport, the Nature v Nurture Debate and Luck - A fresh look at fortune by Ed Smith

Luck by Ed Smith is an eclectic discussion of, well, luck (there's a clue in the title - Ed) and its associated concepts of chance, fate, randomness, risk and fortune. 
The narrative draws on insights from the ancient Greeks, history, economics and anthropology; illustrated with anecdotes and examples from everyday life and, unsurprisingly (given it's a book written by a former England batsman turned Times columnist) from sport.  

Nature v Nurture
The most interesting part of the book is an exploration of the nature-nurture debate in relation to sport. In many ways it is a much-needed counterblast to the current orthodoxy that there is no such thing as talent (pace Matthew Syed's Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell Outliersand that we all have the potential to be champions if only we put in the 10,000 hours. 
In discussing nurture, Smith argues that there isn't a level playing field, highlighting the difference in opportunity that that comes with an independent education compared to one in the state system. (He doubts whether he would have opened for England had he not had the undoubted privilege of honing his cricketing talent as a boy at Tonbridge). This is supported by further analysis of the backgrounds of England's rugby and cricket sides and of Team GB. 
Beyond these advantages, Smith accepts that top sportsmen and women need to put in the hours, but that there is still an element beyond our control (= luck). 
Roger Federer and Usain Bolt don't train any harder than their rivals - the differentiating factors come down to innate advantages (= talent). 
In fact Smith predicts that days of the top sportsman (generic) who succeed because of hard work alone (e.g. Ivan Lendl) are numbered. His argument is simple but persuasive: today there are no secrets that bring the sporting elite a competitive advantage (diet, training methods, coaching, tactics, facilities etc) - these are all universal. Thus, the only differentiator at the highest level is innate talent. 
Ceteris paribus talent will triumph. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel - Key Points

Make it Stick is a book about effective learning strategies, It is based on the latest findings of various research studies into how Cognitive Psychology can best be applied to Education and is written by experts in this field.
The central thesis of this book is that the most effective learning strategies are simple but often counter-intuitive. The key points can be summarised as follows:
  1. Learning requires effort: some kinds of difficulties ("desirable difficulties") during learning help to make the learning stronger and better remembered;  When learning is easy, it is often superficial and soon forgotten. Don't confuse fluency/familiarity with learning
  2. Learning is better when you wrestle with new problems before being given the solution, rather than the other way round.
  3. Retrival practice (= self-quizzing) - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory - makes learning stick. This can be best done by regular testing as part of the learning process either in class or individually. Thus testing is formative - a means to the end - which is learning. 
  4. Practice that is spaced out, interleaved with other learning and varied produces better mastery, longer retention and greater versatility. Cramming and chunking are NOT effective learning methods.
  5. Mastery moves from knowledge to know-how. When learning, distill the underlying principles, look for patterns, make connections. "Knowledge is not know-how until you understanding the underlying principles at work and can fit them together into a structure larger than the sum of the parts." (p.158)
Interestingly, the authors criticise pandering to individual learning styles:
"We acknowledge that everyone has learning preferences, but we are not persuaded that you learn better when the manner of instruction fits those preferences." (p.132)
Departing from the main theme of the book, there is an interesting chapter (7) on how to 'Increase your Abilities', which explains neuroplasticity and how IQ can be improved, before launching into a number of memory techniques.
The final chapter (8) distills out the book's principles with tip for different user groups: students, life-longer learners, teachers and trainers.
Make it Stick is an important book for students (of all ages) and teachers alike (particularly in the secondary and tertiary age phases). It challenges many traditional methods of learning and does so with a weight of research behind it. Schools would do well to take on board its central points. Teachers might like to review their schemes of work considering how they will incorporate more testing, spaced interleaved and varied learning into their programmes.
For more information go to, where there is an chapter by chapter summary of the book.

I must say that I found the book's (somewhat apologetic/defensive) tone and style intensely irritating throughout. It was a dry read and it was repetitive - I can only think that the authors decided to model the concept of "desirable difficulty" and "spaced learning"! 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Great Degeneration: how Institutions decay and Economies die by Niall Ferguson - Summary of key points

Niall Ferguson is a prophet of our time. His great strength as an historian is that he applies the lessons of the past to comment on the present and to warn about the future.
In the The Great Degeneration Ferguson sets out to discuss the state of our political, economic, legal and social institutions by opening up what he calls four 'long-sealed black boxes': 'democracy', 'capitalism', 'the rule of law' and 'civil society' (p.11). Each of these four themes originally formed a Radio 4 Reith Lecture in 2011 and now form a chapter of the book (Links to the Reith Lectures can be found at the end of this article).

Chapter One: The Human Hive
Ferguson, revisiting some of the arguments in his excellent book Civilisation: the West and the Rest, sets out to explain the 'great divergence' after 1500 whereby Western civilisation fares so much better than other civilisations. His answer is that institutional evolution is the key to understanding Western ascendancy: it was Western institutions and in particular 'the rule of law' is what made the difference. He argues that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the 1689 Bill of Rights was a turning point that laid the foundations for the subsequent economic developments of agricultural improvement, imperial expansion and industrial revolution (p.32-3).
Turning to the present, Ferguson argues that excessive public debts are a symptom of the breakdown of what Edmund Burke called 'the partnership between the generations'. For Ferguson a great malaise of modern society is that Governments around the world have allowed public debt to grow out of control allowing 'the current generation of voters to live at the expense of those at yet too young to vote or as yet unborn' (p.41).

Chapter Two: The Darwinian Economy
Reflecting on the causes and lessons of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, Ferguson argues that over-complicated financial regulation was a key factor. Characteristically, he provides historical insights by reference to Walter Bagehot's Lombard Street published in 1873, which reflected on the financial crises and legislation of the nineteenth century. He concludes by arguing for a return to 'Bagehot's world where individual prudence - rather than mere compliance - precisely because the authorities were powerful and the crucial rules unwritten' (p.77); and that rogue bankers should be incarcerated pour encourager les autres. The chapter would be a useful addition to a reading list for anyone preparing for a university interview in Economics or Banking and Finance.

Chapter Three: The Landscape of Law
Ferguson argues that 'the Rule of Law' is fundamentally good because of the material consequences that it brings, particularly because it is conducive to economic growth. The key to this important aspect of the Rule of Law is the ability of societies to develop effective, low-cost enforcement on contracts; but history tells us that the problem is getting the enforcers (often the state) not to abuse their powers. Ferguson argues that, viewed historically, the English system of Common Law 'was superior in performing the twin roles of contract enforcement and coercion constraint to all other systems (French, German, Scandinavian and Chinese). This is because English common law systems offer greater protection for investors and creditors, and thus people in these systems are more willing to invest and lend money. It is the flexibility of common laws systems that make them superior. He cites two judicial appeal summations to make his point:
"Common law adapts itself by a perpetual process of growth to the perpetual roll of the tide of circumstances as society advances."  (Danzig, 'Hadley v Baxendale', p.277)
"In the course of deciding the case before him he [the judge] may, on occasion, develop the common law in the perceived interests of justice."  (Lord Goff in Kleinwort Benson v Lincoln City Council, 1999)
Ferguson then identifies four present threats to 'the Rule of Law':
  1. How far our civil liberties have been eroded by the national security state ("a choice between habeas corpus and hundreds of corpses"?! p.97);
  2. The intrusion of European Law, with its civil law character, into the English legal system;
  3. The growing complexity of statute law;
  4. The mounting cost of the law.
The consequence particularly of these complexities and cost is that societies become less competitive economically. Citing the Oxford Developmental Economist, Paul Collier, Ferguson argues that there are four steps which developing nations wishing to establish 'The Rule of Law' need to put in place:
  1. reduce violence
  2. protect property rights
  3. impose institutional checks on government
  4. prevent corruption.
Ferguson concludes the chapter by arguing that the present malaise in the West is because there has been a shift from 'The Rule of Law' to 'The Rule of Lawyers' -  where rather than using the law to make a better society, lawyers are using the law to their own ends.
The chapter would be a useful addition to a reading list for anyone preparing for a university interview in Law.

Chapter Four: Civil and Uncivil Societies
Ferguson here argues that reform of our society must come, not from public institutions, but from the the citizens of civil societies working independent of the state. He tracks the decline in membership of voluntary associations both in US and the UK and argues that it is these institutions that are the key to a civil society because they foster a sense of corporate responsibility among individual citizens, rather than relying on the state to solve society's ills. Indeed he goes so far as to argue that some of the finest institutions in the world are independent of governments, in particular, the Independent School sector and the top universities.
Ferguson's solution to the ills of the modern West, is that we all need to get more involved in society:
"True citizenship is not just about voting, earning and staying on the right side of the law. It is also about participating in the 'troop'." (p.132)
In the final chapter, Ferguson looks to a future of increased urbanization and mega-cities with a degree of optimism. His argument is that the net benefits of urbanization are conditioned by the institutional frameworks within which cities operate.
"Where there is effective representative government, where there is a dynamic market economy, where the rule of law is upheld and where civil society is independent of the state, the benefits of a dense population overwhelm the costs." (p.142)
This is an excellent little book (it is only 152 pages) and will take a couple of hours to read and many more to digest. It is very accessible - add it to the list of books your pupils should read before leaving school.

LINKS: The Reith Lectures 2012: The Rule of Law and Its Enemies
  1. The Human Hive - Ferguson argues that institutions determine the success or failure of nations.
  2. The Darwinian Economy - Ferguson reflects on the causes and lessons of the global financial crisis.
  3. The Landscape of the Law - Ferguson asks if different systems of law are key to economic success.
  4. Civil and Uncivil Societies - Ferguson asks what constitutes a vibrant and independent civil society.
These can be downloaded as MP3 podcasts from here.

Friday, 15 July 2016

That's not how we do it here! by John Kotter & Holger Rathgeber - Book Review

That's not how we do it here! is a fable which addresses the issue of how organisations and the individuals within them can respond to the present phenomenon of constant change. Whereas their previous fable, Our Iceberg is Melting, tackled the issue of how to lead change in a crisis situation, illustrating Kotter's eight step process for Leading Change; this book builds on Kotter's work in Accelerate XLR8. The essence of Kotter's argument here is that that established hierarchical managerial structures do not provide the agility for organisations to respond sufficiently quickly to the demands of the ever changing world of modern business. 
The fable is set in a Meerkat colony in the Kalahari Desert. 
  1. Kotter first presents us with an established colony which has rigid leadership and management structures which are tried and tested and have seen the colony thrive in the past; and where innovative ideas are greeted with "That's not how we do it here!". However the colony is incapable of responding to the new challenges that a changing environment brings (drought, attacks by vultures).
  2. Kotter then presents us with a "Start-up" Meerkat colony where there is shared vision and shared ownership. Meerkats are given the licence to explore new ideas and to solve problems creatively. However, this colony hits problems when it grows to a size where there is a loss of accountability and a lack of the discipline that allows larger organisations to operate.
  3. Finally, Kotter presents us with his model which has features of both the established and the start-up models, thus allowing complex organisations to operate in changing environments.
At the heart of Kotter's approach is a different way of looking at the relationship between leadership and management. Organisational size and complexity demands management ; technological and other forces demand leadership. The modern era demands an approach that has the best of traditional leadership and management models. He illustrates this in the following grid:
  1. Most organisations are in the bottom right quadrant: 'well run but bureaucratic and unable to change quickly'; 
  2. Start up organisation are in the top left quadrant: 'Innovative, adaptive and energetic, but chaotic.
  3. Kotter's model is in the top right quadrant, 'Well run and Innovative, adaptive and energetic.'
This book only touches on Kotter's theory in this respect and readers would be well advised to invest in  Accelerate XLR8 for deeper insight.
Once again this is a hugely accessible book which enables leaders to help their organisations understand why there is a need for change and paints a clear picture of what that better organisation might look like once that change has come.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Using Appraisal to Drive School Performance - Presentation

A presentation given to the Education Experts Conference in Dubai on Monday 30th May, 2016.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Management Teams - Why they succeed or fail by Meredith Belbin - Key Points

Belbin is a name that has become synonymous with the profiling of teams and thus it is no surprise that Meredith Belbin's Management Teams - Why they succeed or fail has become a seminal text.  Here are a few key points:
Methodology: Belbin's conclusions were based initially on research in putting teams together for management exercises at Henley Management College in the 1970s and 1980s Teams were put together by the research team on the basis of a range of psychometric tests. These teams were then tested by their performance in business game simulations where success was measured in terms of the overall profit which the team generated in the course of the exercise. Having developed a theoretical model in the Henley test-bed, Belbin subsequently put his ideas in practice in a range of industries.
Team Roles: Belbin identifies key roles within teams.  These are usefully summarised by Belbin in a very useful summary sheet, a full size version of which appears at the end of this blogpost and which can be downloaded from Belbin's website here.
Summary of Conclusions
The contributing factors to Successful Teams were:
  1. The attributes of the person in the Chair;
  2. The Existence of a good 'Plant' (the creative, imaginative, free-thinking role);
  3. A spread in mental abilities;
  4. A spread in personal attributes laying the foundation for different Team Role capabilities;
  5. A distribution in the responsibilities of members to match their different capabilities;
  6. An adjustment to the realization of balance.
The contributing factors to Unsuccessful Teams were:
  1. Characterised by an over-emphasis on a particular ability or Team Role;
  2. Individuals took on a role that was not suited to their personalities;
  3. When key roles were required,but never filled.
The role of Intelligence: Interestingly teams with very high intelligence (Belbin calls these 'Apollo Teams') were very rarely successful - so you 'can beat bright'; conversely teams where there was no one with high intelligence were almost always doomed to failure.
Team Leadership: Characteristics
  1. The most effective team leaders were not the highest scorers in mental ability;
  2. The most effective team leaders followed the 'Co-ordinator' profile (see team role sheet below)
  3. 'Shapers' (a less calm, more driven Team Role profile) were successful at times;
  4. Different leadership attributes were required to lead an 'Apollo team' of experts.
Personality Attributes of the Successful Chairmen (p.49-50)
  1. A trusting nature;
  2. A strong basic dominance (that to some extent counter-balanced their accepting nature)
  3. A strong and morally based commitment to external goals and objectives;
  4. Calm and Unflappable in face of controversy
  5. Geared towards practical realism;
  6. Possessed of a basic self-discipline;
  7. Naturally enthusiastic;
  8. Prone to detachment and distance in social relations.
Team Size:
  1. The bigger the group, the greater the pressure to conformity;
  2. Teams of 6 are often optimum
"A team of six could offer a broad range of technical skills and Team Roles so that a company could achieve, if its composition was favourable, a high degree of balance." p.113

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sleeping with your SmartPhone by Leslie Perlow - Book Review

This book is not about managing SmartPhone usage; it is about the steps that an organisation can take to improve the efficiency of how teams work, one by-product of which was that employees achieved a better work-life balance.
On one level it is the heart-warming story of how it took a Harvard Business School professor to get a group of highly paid workaholic consultants (Boston Consulting Group BCG) to turn their undoubted organisational talents inwards to achieve the simple goal of having one 'predictable night off' a week.
In essence there were two components to the 'Predictable Time Off' (PTO) project:
  1. A collective goal of Predictable Time Off
  2. Space for Structured Dialogue
Interestingly, the primary value of the PTO project was not that the employees ended up with more quality free-time (although in most cases that did happen), rather that the process itself set up a dialogue within the teams that in time fostered a mindset that challenged the status quo - challenging long-established ways of doing things and exploring new ones. The PTO process was a vehicle to change the culture of the organisation by opening up new methods of communication within project teams. PTO was an indirect way "to get people to challenge their beliefs about what the work requires as well as to cause people to actually make changes to how they do their work." (p.129).
Reflecting on the four years of the project, the author writes,
"What we have done at BCG is break the cycle of responsiveness and create a new system where all the components are now congruent around a new culture focused on getting the work done in ways that minimise the bad intensity and maximize individual's control." p.203
As one BCG partner summed it up,
"The value of PTO is in fighting that assumption that work-life balance and effective case teams are mutually exclusive. Because they are not." p.205
The obvious problem with this research project is that it is based around an acknowledged extreme of organisational behaviour where working away from home four nights a week is their form of norm, so people working in gentler contexts will have to translate accordingly.

This is an interesting and necessary piece of research. However, the book is in the overly repetitive style characteristic of many American business books, taking a simple message and story and milking it for all it's worth to the point that it justifies publication as a book, rather than as a pamphlet or magazine article.
Rather than buying the book I recommend that you read Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter's  article, 'Making Time Off Predictable—and Required' Harvard Business Review (October, 2009); and Leslie Perlow's excellent TED talk, Thriving in an overconnected world

Monday, 4 April 2016

Bill Walsh Lessons in Leadership Part Two: An example of what not to do

Whilst The Score Takes Care of Itself has some excellent insights for leaders, the Bill Walsh story is also a cautionary tale, for it highlights the pitfalls of "Hero Leadership".

Pitfall No.1:  Inability to Delegate
Bill Walsh had an excellent knowledge of his industry, he had served his apprenticeship with some of the best and had had opportunity to develop his leadership style as Head Coach at Stanford. He was a perfectionist and this was his fatal flaw. As Head Coach and General Manager he took overall control of the whole organisation both on and off the field. He knew everyone's job, he had defined everyone's job, he set the standards for everyone's job, and believed that he could do everyone's job better than them (which may have been true) but ultimately it led to him 'burning out'.
"Somehow in my mind I believed that I as the best qualified to do almost every job, especially when it came to the offensive part of our game, In one sense, it stemmed from confidence; I was absolutely sure that if I did the job it would not get screwed up. Well that can only take you so far. Pretty soon you're on overload while very talented people in the organization are being underultilized. 
There were others, too, on my staff who are able and willing to take on more responsibilities. They were willing; I was reluctant, even unwilling - unable is perhaps more accurate.
Well that kind of thinking can only take you so far. Eventually you are working seven days a week, sixteen hours a day, with little good sleep, eating poorly, and dealing with all kind of forces."  (p.212-3)
Leaders need to look after themselves and one of the ways they can do this is by putting trust in the talented team that they have around them.. They need to use the capacity gained to take time away from the nitty gritty of work. to be able to reflect and to develop time on the ball (see blogpost).

Pitfall No.2: Perfectionism - knowing when to let things go
Bill Walsh strove for perfection - he loved what he calls the "puzzle of perfection". His analysis of the team's performance in when they beat Miami 38-16 to win their second Super Bowl (XIX) is a case in point (p.190-92): Walsh describes this as a "the closest I've ever come to coaching a perfect game", yet Walsh continues "two events marred it for me to this very day" and proceeds to deliver a detailed post-mortem on the two imperfect plays of the game.
Here lies the paradox that makes great leaders: leaders necessarily focus on things that go wrong because these are the areas for improvement; but the leaders who are able to sustain high levels of leadership need to learn when to let things go. Bill Walsh didn't and he allowed his perfectionism and attention detail to shift from being a creative to a destructive force.

Pitfall No.3:  Allowing Winning to become "Not-failing" - The Challenge of Sustained Success
No one expected the San Francisco 49ers to win Super Bowl XVI, a year after they had had one of the worst records in the league. However, with success came raised expectations and this only increased further when the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX four years later. Fear of failure drove Walsh to the point where victory was not enough - it simply became a form of not-losing. Walsh's advice with the benefit of hindsight was:
Avoid the destructive temptation to define yourself as a person by the won-lost record, the "score," however you define it. Don't equate your "won-lost record" with your self-worth. (p.225-6)
Walsh cautions against a world where executives cannot celebrate success because they are immediately preparing to win the next battle.

Pitfall No.4: Not Managing Up" - Not managing Expectations
Part of Walsh's problem in his latter years is that he did not "manage up" well. He allowed the owner of the club to have unrealistic expectations and set unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable, targets (a Super Bowl every year).  This was a major contributory factor to his burn out and early retirement.

The section where Walsh talks about the relationship with his owner (p.220-21) chimed with me. Throughout my 14 years of school leadership in the UK the most debilitating part of the job was managing expectations of Governors. In particular, there was always a constituency on the Board who, within minutes of my announcing record results for the nth consecutive year, shifted from momentary praise to laying out their expectations for even better results the following year. 
Over the years, I have realized that an important part of the role of a leader is to manage the expectations of key stakeholders (particularly, parents and Governors), Most of all, I have come to understand that I have a responsibility both to the staff, to the senior team, to the organisation and to myself to protect ourselves from short-term demands from Governors. Burnt out school leaders and staff do not bring about sustained school improvement - School Board members around the world and the British Government take note.