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White lines, don’t do it? Behind the media spin, Spielman’s misquoted comments on behaviour are cause for celebration

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Brace yourself: Tom Brown’s School Days are about to make a comeback. According to recent headlines, Ofsted have indicated they’ll soon be expecting schools to make like Bash Street and get medieval on their classes: 
‘Ofsted backs return to old-school punishments’ thundered the Times. ‘Ofsted boss: give pupils lines, community service and detention for misbehaviour,’ gasped iNews. The Daily Mail, sensing blood in the water, put gas in the tank with ‘Ban phones in schools and bring back old-fashioned punishments like lines and litter picking, Ofsted chief demands,’ and it wasn’t clear if this made them happy it was happening or sad that it didn’t go far enough. 
That was nothing. Half an hour before the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman delivered a keynote speech at the Wellington Festival of Education this week, I appeared on a radio talk show. The host opened with, ‘So, Ofsted wants to bring back old punishments like the cane and the belt. Tom Bennet…

The Rubik’s Cube of school behaviour - why exclusions are needed to make complex systems work

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The Rubik’s Cube of school behaviour - why exclusions are needed to make complex systems work


Boys and girls of a certain age will recall the Rubik’s cube, the craze that, like many others, conquered the world and then vanished forever. Everyone thought they could have a crack at solving it, but few could. Most could get one side completed. But the problem was that when you started on the next, you ended up spoiling the perfection of the first one. The world was full, at one point, of cubes with one side solved, left in frustration in waiting rooms everywhere. 
Schools are like that: complex systems, hard to solve, easy to mess up the bit you got right.There are two problems:
1. You can focus on one aspect- like punctuality, or equipment, or homework, but in a system with finite resources, shifting focus from one thing often means neglecting another. 
2. Another problem is the law of unintended consequences. Sometimes what seems like the right thing to pursue, is only part of a larger pro…

Impressively wrong- why Alfie Kohn’s advice on running rooms is not great

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Enough is enough- it's time to stop taking bad advice about behaviour when children's futures are at stake


Years ago I waited tables in TGI Fridays, where they used to run competitions for staff to see who could sell the most sticky, smoky meat and goldfish bowls of margaritas. Until one day the good times stopped rolling and the managers decreed there would be no more. The reason? One of them had read a book: ‘Punished by rewards’, and claimed that it described how people shouldn’t be incentivised by something so gaudy as an incentive. The author was Alfie Kohn. Years later when I became a teacher I discovered his advice was following me around like eyes on a painting in Scooby Doo. Kohn has become one of the most influential writers in education. His books have found homes in libraries from Beirut to Bearsden. Sadly, rarely have trees been so needlessly pulped.

I frequently hear him described as a behaviour expert. But I find this strange, because surely one of the defining …

How is the evidence revolution going? Some reflections on 4 years of researchED

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At the recent researchED in Haninge Sweden, I closed the conference with a speech that tried to understand where we had got to in evidence informed education, and what the landscape looked like. The following is a summary of that speech:



The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, at least it does in education, where we see teaching full of myths, and poorly evidenced practices and strategies. Why have we succumbed so much to Learning Styles and worse, and why have we found ourselves basing our vital practice on gut feelings, hunches and intuition? I think it’s because misconceptions creep into the spaces where:
we don’t know much about the topic, we like the answers junk science provides, or we’re too busy to find out the facts. How did we get here? Let’s reframe that question. Where did you acquire your ideas about teaching, learning, pedagogy etc? Chances are your answer revolves around: teacher training; memories of your own school experience; your mentor; your early class experiences.

U…