Beyond the plateau….

Released today this report defines the best way to close the gaps between disadvantaged children and their wealthier peers. This report puts forward the case for a new institution – an Institute for Advanced Teaching – that will offer transformative, incentivised professional development for teachers beyond their initial training, and build a movement of expert educators who together can ensure that all children receive an excellent education. Definitely something to watch and learn from. Tim.


beyond-the-plateau_summary_July2016  or click the photo below to see the full website.

Beyond the plateau

Principles of Effective Teaching


Teachers are always being offered lists of principles, axioms, tenets, precepts – the magic beans of teaching.  We’re desperate to make sense of it all – to make something very complicated, simple and easy to grasp.  Whether it’s  the #5minplan series from @TeacherToolkit or something like my own Lesson Observation Checklist, there’s a demand for handy ready-reckoners of one form or another.

This diagram from Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison’s Every Lesson Counts, is a rare example of where this has been done well – not least because they’ve got a whole chapter in the book to support each of the ideas summed up neatly here:


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The work by Barak Rosenshine, compiling ten golden nuggets from research, is another good example.  Helpfully, there’s a fair degree of overlap.


This week I encountered two more lists.  One came from NCSL, a document written by Chris Husbands and Jo Pearce: What makes great pedagogy: Nine claims from research.   It’s well worth a read.

Another was by James Ko for  CfBT: Effective Teaching: A review of research and evidence.  It’s interesting for its discussion of how we can make the judgements in the first place.  There is also a list of features of effective teaching and ineffective teaching.

With all these lists flying around, I thought I’d write my own set of principles. Here’s what I came up with.  Not written in stone….perhaps just in dry-wipe pen on a mini-whiteboard, pending some actual research.

12 Principles for Effective Teaching 

1. Behaviour is the bedrock – but not the purpose.    You establish what you establish (Bill Rogers) – is one of the most important ideas described in my Bill Rogers Top 1o.  If you want behaviour of a certain standard, you need to establish it directly and explicitly.  If you tolerate anything less, you establish that as the norm.  Working on behaviour is the first, most critical element in teaching effectively.  However, it’s not the ultimate goal.  It’s helpful to remember that the behaviour needs to be good so that you can teach and students can learn.

2. Know your stuff – it matters: the material, the nature of  the assessment, the expected answers.  Expert teachers know their subjects, continually study them,  know how questions will be set and what the answers should be. This requires time and effort to be spent keeping up to-date.  Never underestimate the importance of this or overestimate your knowledge of the exam spec.

3. Know your students  – it makes a difference: names, prior data, SEN/EAL status… Names? Obviously – but surprising how hard this can be when you teach a lot of classes.  For the data, a quick glance at the spreadsheet isn’t enough.  You need to really know.  I recommend making a data-annotated seating plan or differentiation guide of some kind to get the data off the page and into your head, working its way into your interactions in the classroom.

4. Tool them up – it’s powerful to provide all the resources students need to learn independently.  It’s horrible teaching when you are the only resource; when you (or your absence) become a barrier between a student and their learning.  Ideally students should have the books, guidance, questions, specifications and model answers at their disposal so they can be self-reliant to the greatest extent.  This is particularly true for exam classes.  Not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.

5. Teach to the Top. Pitch it up: this is the route to success. A golden rule.  Everyone is aiming for the same, high level – it’s just that some find it harder to reach. Don’t confuse scaffolding with setting lower goals.  As soon as you hold back the top end in the hope of giving time for others to catch up, you’re putting a lid on someone’s achievement and that’s unacceptable.

6. Teach for memory as well as for understanding.  It’s all too easy to think students have got it sorted, during a lesson.  Students have the capacity to perform, reproduce, recycle – using short-term recall and well-developed blagging strategies (such as copying from their friends.)  You can’t assume anything has been learned unless, some time later, the students can show they’ve retained their understanding and knowledge.  They need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice.

7. Plan long: know the big picture and then plan lesson sequences before you worry about each lesson.  Lessons are messy; you need to be responsive – agile. Learning is a long-term process, not a short-term one.  It’s important, therefore, to plan accordingly, taking account of the distribution of content over time.  A lesson is then just the next part of a learning sequence that you adjust as you go along.  I almost never plan lessons; I just know where I am in the sequence that has already been planned.

8. Mark lean; the best feedback is immediate and focused. Feedback is important – otherwise how would any student ever know whether they’ve learned anything? How would you know how well you’ve taught anything? But marking is a specific form of feedback with limitations; its impact diminishes with the time elapsed since the work was done and with the overall volume of feedback relative to a student’s capacity to engage.  It’s a classic paradox: the students who have the greatest needs are the least able to engage with marking comments.  Marking lean means being highly selective, planning for every comment to be actioned – otherwise you’re wasting time you just don’t have.

9. Drive Exam success: know the spec, do lots of exam practice and DRIVE. Drive is an intangible quality some teachers have in abundance but others lack.  It implies a sense of urgency, intensity and focus around exam preparation – tightly focusing the learning around key content, exam techniques and specifications details.  Assuming we want students to get the best grades they can, this is necessary.  It’s not a ‘necessary evil’ – I haven’t got time for that kind of thinking.  Exams are part of life and they help students to get their act together to actually learn things!

10. Plan groupings: Two – Good; Three or more – Bad.  Pair discussion gets everyone involved but, in groups with three or more, at least one person is a passenger. It’s painful and annoying to see teachers toss out questions to a whole class hoping someone will answer, accepting the one and only response, once again, from Miss Keen.  Paired questions resolves lots of issues (read this if you need persuading).  However, big groups are rarely helpful in most learning situations. Handle with care – someone will be hanging back, not learning much. It’s a virtual certainty.

11. Get some balance 1. Over time, a series of lessons, you need a mix of Mode A teaching (straight, rigorous cycle of explain, model, practice, feedback) and Mode B teaching (awe and wonder inputs, open-ended explorations, hands on practicals, off-piste spontaneity).  I’d suggest no less than 80% Mode A for most subjects but you need some Mode B for you and for your students to enjoy and embrace the whole process.  Now, obviously, I’ve completely made this up without any evidence. It’s my gut feeling.  Take that for what it is. Or leave it! Or adjust the percentages.

12. Get some balance 2. You can always improve; you can always do more – but there’s also only so much impact you can have; only so much you can do.   We are all accountable for doing our jobs well, for trying our best to teach well, for pursuing our continued professional learning with vigour and determination and for going an extra mile to support students in any way we can.  And then we go home – with our heads held high and a clear conscience.  The rest is up to them and their families.  This matters – not just for us, but for our students too as how else will they learn to stand tall with the world at their feet.

Making Every Lesson count

Making every lesson count – how it came about, why it matters and how we do it

An extract from the CPD course at Durington High School – lots in here and I think it will help frame some of our work next year. Let me know what you think. Tim


Today we hosted the inaugural ‘Making every lesson count conference’ at Durrington.  I started my presentation by outlining three things that were instrumental in the development of the book:

This, alongside much between discussion between myself and Andy about the day to day practice of some of the best teachers we have worked with, resulted in the development of the six principles that are the focus of the book:


This has become our teaching and learning policy at Durrington – it seems to work for a number of reasons.

“Tight but loose”



Robert Plant once attributed the success of Led Zeppelin to their ‘tight but loose’ approach.  Tight, because they were all fantastic musicians in their own right, with a shared idea about the sound they wanted to create.  Loose, because they were allowed to express themselves creatively as individuals.

We take the same approach with our teachers – the message is clear.  Embed the 6 principles into your teaching, but do it in a way that suits your teaching style.  Giving teachers this creativity and freedom has been liberating for them.

“Common Language”


It has given us a common language when we talk about teaching.  We know what we are talking about, when we talk about modelling, practice etc.  This creates a rich discussion about pedagogy within and between subjects.

“Meaningful for all”


The principles apply to all subjects – so have meaning and purpose across the school.  Whilst we will of course implement them differently across different subjects, the ideas and the thinking underlying them is the same.  This means that we are all pulling in the same direction as teachers and because of this, students are getting a consistent approach across their lessons e.g. high levels of challenge; probing questions; time to engage with deliberate practice etc.

“Less is more”


I’ve written before about why Brazil is such a great footballing nation.  One factor is that they play ‘futsal’.  This is a much smaller version of the game – the ball is smaller, as is the pitch, goals etc.  This requires the players to refine the basic skills of the game – so they focus on what matters.  The six principles do the same i.e. they focus the professional learning of teachers on the things that contribute to great teaching.  So during appraisal meetings for example, all teachers discuss which of the principles they want to focus on and develop.

This leads on to the next aspect of the presentation.  How do we structure the professional learning at Durrington, to allow teachers to grow and develop?  What we try to achieve is a professional learning ‘menu’ that allows a culture like the one often described by Tim Brighouse to flourish:

tm16brig4We do this by offering a layered approach to professional learning.


There are a range of optional and regular activities, that staff can engage with at a level that suits them.  This encourages staff to talk about teaching in an informal and collaborative way.  Many of the activities e.g. 15 minute forums, blog of the week, research bulletins etc, will be based around the six principles.


Recently we are placing the focus of our professional learning, much more within the context of subjects – great teachers are great at teaching their subject.  We have done this, this year with the ‘Subject Pedagogy Development Sessions’, which have been successful.  However, next year we are planning to take this a stage further with the ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’. This will facilitate regular, subject focused CPD that will have a direct impact in the classroom throughout the year.  We think this is going to be a key development in the next stage of our teaching and learning work.


Teachers are busy people, so need some support with organising personalised professional learning that is specific to their needs.  Furthermore in a big school, if they want to develop an aspect of their teaching e.g. questioning, by observing a colleague, they might not know who to observe to see best practice in this area.  So every term, they are given a form to complete to request support with planning a particular CPD activity.  We then help them to organise this.  The form looks like this:






Finally we try to ensure that there is a range of support/development programmes in place for colleagues in different stages of their career.


We are often asked how we know the ‘6 principle approach to teaching’ and our professional learning programme is making a difference?  Like all things in education, it is very difficult to claim a direct link, as there are so many variables involved.  However, the following suggests that something must be working:

  • A sustained improvement in exam outcomes:


  • Our whole school attendance is strong.
  • We have been regularly oversubscribed in recent years – with cohorts of 330.
  • We retain our new staff.
  • Most importantly, our students show us in so many ways that they are confident, resilient, hard-working and very nice young people.


Andy then went on to discuss each of the six principles in detail:

 And finally, a new review on Amazon today sums up the spirit of the book perfectly!