‘Why challenging high performers is important and what we can do’ By Deborah Eyre

Providing challenge for top performers in the classroom is one of the most difficult and long standing problems in British education. Whilst some schools do really well, they remain the minority.

When it comes to gifted/more able your school is likely to be in one of the following categories:

  • Don’t believe in it and hence make no special provision as a result
  • Have a cohort of students identified as gifted or more able – or a similar term – and offer them special opportunities
  • Systematically and purposefully make advanced learning opportunities available in class and in enrichment, and offer them regularly to all or most students.

Generally most schools in England are in the first or second categories, whilst most of the top performing countries in the OECD league tables are in the third. Interesting!

We know that it is important to society, to the economy and to the individual that we challenge those who find learning easy rather than allow them to underachieve, and mark time whilst others catch up. Yet – we don’t do it because (a) we don’t think it is a priority or (b) we don’t really know how to. Systematically reviewing the literature in 2009[1] it became clear that these are universal problems and found in many countries.

So if we want to do better we have to change how we approach this.

Traditionally, work on the more able/gifted has involved identifying a cohort and making special provision for it, but the research shows this is increasingly problematic.

  • Definitions of giftedness have fragmented over time and vary widely, so when you try to identify students to create a cohort it’s hard to know what you are identifying and hence no reliable identification methods have emerged.
  • Those who are identified are given access to special opportunities and generally benefit. Those who are not in the identified cohort do equally well if given the same opportunities. So why are they not getting them?
  • Gifted cohorts across the world have been found to be biased in favour of the affluent middle class. No matter how hard people try this remains the case. Just like in England.

So if opportunities are the important factor, then creating them is the priority. What do good advanced learning opportunities look like? How can we make them widely available? Key players in this field alongside my own writings are Jo Renzulli, Bruce Shore, Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Albert Zeigler. Look out for their work.

Many teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy yet this is over 50 years old. Fresh approaches have bettered and superseded it. My new organisation High Performance Learning[2] (www.highperformancelearning.co.uk) makes use of these. It focuses on advanced learning and systematically building intelligence using 30 research derived competencies that all successful people demonstrate. These relate to developing cognition and also developing the values, attitudes and attributes that top performers need.

If your school wants to do better, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we confident about what advanced learning looks like?
  • Do we offer it in our school?
  • How regularly and to whom?
  • Could we improve the frequency with which we offer this or even make it part of our DNA?

Recently Sir Michael Wishaw painted a familiar picture of underachievement for the most able in secondary schools – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is getting bullish in his final months as HMCI – suggesting sanctions be applied to schools that consistently fail their brightest children.

Maybe now is the time to focus more directly on advanced learning in your classroom and your school and stop leaving the creation of advanced performers to chance.

Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder, High Performance Learning, and a NET Leading Thinker

[1] Eyre, D. (Ed.) (2009) Major Themes in Gifted Education (4 Volumes). Routledge: London

[2] Eyre, D. (2016) High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School. Routledge: London


THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit http://www.claimyourcollege.org/the-colleges-history/ for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current http://www.claimyourcollege.org/ and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.


To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.

It’s the last drop that makes the glass overflow by Rob Stokoe

It’s an interesting fact that in today’s educational world we think we must appear busy. We feel that we must fill the time we have. Are we too busy or are we victims of accidental priorities?

This constantly busy paradigm continually draws us away from those things we care for the most, our passions, our classrooms, even learning itself. This busy culture can leave us feeling exacerbated, tired, often overwhelmed, dealing with the moment rather than the strategic well-being of ourselves and our schools.

We have a problem, and the curious thing is we not only know about it, we are actually celebrating it. But let’s be honest: the act of being busy is simply overvalued. We need to understand what we are busy about, and remind ourselves that life should never be too busy for the things that matter most to us.

What happened to a world in which we had time to sit with the people we work with and for, and have deliberate, fulfilling conversations about the state of learning in our schools, the well-being of staff and that of every student? When was the last time you had a conversation that slowly unfolded, allowing for and embracing, comfortable silences, time to smile and reflect? When do we take the time to speak from our hearts, to access and to develop our emotional intelligence and that of others?

For over half a century a series of technological innovations have promised to make our lives easier, freeing up greater amounts of leisure time, yet the outcome we face is one where we have more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…. be? We have filled in the gaps. The lines between work and home have become blurred.

We’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy, we are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others to learn and grow. Our reasons for being are different, but I have a feeling that none of us considers that we are here simply to be busy.

These are potentially destructive habits and they can start early. Do we have to drive our students so much that we over-schedule them? Do we offer too many options, measuring progress lesson by lesson, sometimes within lessons, after school activities, too much homework, causing them to stress and to be busy, just as we are? This is not what a creative and meaningful childhood is about. Each of us is a human being, not just a human doing.


  • Take a couple of hours to identify the things you really want to accomplish over the next half term. Reflect on your action plans, acknowledge your progress and plan the next step – and add in dates to reflect upon these new activities.
  • Rather than answer emails first thing, take a walk around your school. Discover the great things that are happening there, take time to think, to engage with your staff and students.
  • Take a risk: turn away from technology, turn it off for set periods during the day. Instead of running back-to-back meetings, put space in your calendar to get important work done, writing things up or even time to take lunch.
  • Create boundaries of time which allow your brain to come up for air.

If we’re going to create a more sustainable work environment, let’s start by talking about how to work smarter, to live in a way that leaves us refreshed, less stressed, strong and able to maintain a strong focus upon what really matters. Don’t let the glass overflow; the contents are too valuable.

Rob Stokoe OBE works internationally as a Headteacher and is a NET Leading Thinker

The Case for Arts in Children’s Lives by Kevin Jones

‘Art is a break for my mind. In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.’

So says one of my twelve-year-olds. But the case for Art is not often made on her terms.

Instead, to persuade policy makers of the value of Art, we talk about money. The creative industries contribute £77bn, 5% of our economy, we cry. Or we paint a picture of children’s productivity. Learning arts subjects improves academic attainment. Children who study an arts subject get better grades. Or we argue for social mobility – students from low income families who take part in the arts are three times more likely to get a degree. Or we talk of democracy – arts students are 20% more likely to vote – or of community – arts students are twice as likely to volunteer.

All these arguments are strong and true.

But they have little to do with children.

We debate whether STEM (Science, Technology and Maths) is the key to our country’s future and we argue that STEM should include the Arts and become STEAM, that the future of our nation’s wealth depends on integrating creativity and technology.

Meanwhile, outside my office a small child twirls around while circling a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ I call to him. ‘I am orbiting,’ he calls back, as if it comes as natural as the leaves to the tree. And why should it not?

In the world of the child, science may well be a dance.

There is a wisdom in the dancing child who does not know that art and science are different – who uses them equally to express his creativity.

We can learn much from him and from all children.

I ask my nine-year-olds why Art is important and the word that comes back often is ‘freedom’: freedom to explore ideas and feelings, freedom to make their own marks.

It is important to have the chance to be creative as it gives you freedom of thought. In Art you can go in any direction you like.

When I’m drawing or painting I feel I can escape to the place that I am drawing.

And they cry ‘freedom’ now because the landscape of childhood has changed.

We are told that one third of children have never climbed a tree, a quarter have never rolled down a hill, a third have no idea how to build a den and almost half have never made a daisy chain. The NSPCC, in 1999, reported that 80% of parents wouldn’t let their child play unsupervised in the park. I guess that figure is even greater now. The distance children are allowed to stray from home is, apparently, 1/9th what it was in 1970. In 1971, the average seven-year-old was making trips to friends or to the shops on her own. By 1990 that freedom was being withheld until the age of ten; in just 19 years children lost three years of freedom. They will have lost more since.

More than ever, we need to create a space for our children to explore themselves and their world, a safe space to take risks and face challenges, a space for their imagination.

I love making sculpture as anything is possible and as you work it opens up ideas in your head

You can express yourself creatively and there is no one who can tell you that you are right or wrong because it’s just the way you see the world

Our children relish their power to make and shape and re-imagine their world. It is, after all, what children are for. But we have shrunk the horizons of childhood and made the most shut in generation of children ever. And shut into their homes and their bedrooms, they are often left free to roam through killing fields in video games or amble into brothels on the internet.

We are told that every two days the internet fills with as much new information as was created between the dawn of time and 2003. Children are bombarded with knowledge.

A nine year old tells me of his heartfelt worries about war, deforestation and global warming. I had no such fears as a child.

More than ever children need time to digest themselves and their world, to question and to challenge – to see things as they are and dream of how they should be.

One tenth of all the photos ever taken were taken last year and the internet bulges with them. Images flow at our children like never before.

Our children need more than ever to learn to read and interrogate the visual world in which they increasingly live, to find space to see feelingly, to see with wonder, to connect and reflect.

Almost half of all 14- and 15-year-olds say they are addicted to the internet. The epidemic rise of ADHD tells us of a world too full of sensory noise. In this noisy, busy, overloaded world, children need time to find rest, to find silence.

As my twelve-year-old says of Art:

In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.

Look at my children at work on their ‘Monet: Inspiration from Nature’ project and you will see emotion recollected in tranquility, a tranquility our children need to find.

National Education Trust

‘Feelings’ is another word that comes back again and again when my nine-year-olds talk about Art.

I can let out my feelings in Art, particularly if I am feeling angry.

If I’m angry I go and find my sketch book and I draw or paint, often with dark colours and it calms me down. My mind focuses on what I am doing and I can block out any worries and then everything feels a bit better.

Mostly, they speak of big feelings, of feelings that threaten to get out of control, when the world of childhood threatens to become too much.

And the world of childhood does indeed threaten to become too much.

We are facing a rise of up to 30% a year in the numbers of children and young people seeking treatment for mental health problems. One in ten 5- to 16-year-olds now has a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. In just the last year, the number of 10- to 14-year-olds treated by the NHS for self-harm rose by 30%. It as though a tsunami of anxiety is flooding the shores of childhood.

In an education that defines who we are by what grades we get, children now feel under more pressure to perform than ever before. They are more anxious about anticipated or perceived failures. They develop very critical inner voices. Assaulted by images of perfection, false wants and fashions, snapchatting their way through virtual relationships with friends known and not so known, or glued to their game boys, it is easy for children to lose touch with themselves, to become unsure of who they are and what they are meant to be, to be overwhelmed.

When the world of childhood threatens to overwhelm, the arts help children to discover and organise their feelings safely, to express them and have some mastery over them. When they paint their seascapes, they give shape and form to their big feelings rather than being inundated by them.

National Education Trust

In their own words, my children talk of Art as a form of containment, of connection, of healing.

Our children still arrive at school as they always did, trailing clouds of glorious creativity, curiosity and wonder and affection.

There will be time enough to talk of their contribution to the economy and productivity and progress. First let us learn from our children. Of the many voices calling for creativity to be at the heart of education, none is as powerful as the voice that comes full of thought and feeling from the beating heart of childhood, telling us what the Arts mean to our children’s lives. Let us listen to that voice and be led by the child orbiting the tree, turning his learning into a dance.

Kevin Jones is Head of St John’s College School, Cambridge and a NET Leading Thinker

A new teaching and learning framework by Keith Grainger

Keith Grainger writes about Garth Hill College’s journey in developing a new teaching and learning framework, and how the thinking behind it and the way in which it is used is more important than the framework itself.

One key principle that guided us in forming a new teaching and learning framework came from an acceptance that pupils progress well over time when teachers execute all of the basics well and provide a strong learning experience, accurately and consistently, day in, day out. Thus, learning and progress over time should determine the quality of teaching provision, not a snapshot lesson observation.

It follows that we should no longer attempt to grade individual lessons, but rather seek substantial evidence of progress and learning over time. Such evidence might include scrutinising pupils’ written work, listening to their views and explanations of their learning, and analysing and reviewing their outcomes in tests and examinations. All things that help us form a truer picture and a more meaningful assessment on the quality of teaching and, importantly, what is going on in the classroom when observers are not there.

Can there be a school leader who has not observed a colleague that ‘pulled it out of the bag’, or at least put a little gilding on the lily, because they knew visitors were coming? For years we have appraised colleagues on the back of one, or at best a few, observations. No longer should this be the case. This ‘cup final’ experience was often stressful, unhelpful (unless your line manager liked your lesson and graded you well – in which case it was at least good for morale if not for professional development), and was sometimes meaningless.

As classroom observers, we seek evidence, but should be under no illusion that we can gather all. The problem with any teaching and learning framework, including our own, is that it is a model. The problem with models is that although they can be useful, models are invariably misleading and can be harmful. For example there can be a tendency to conform to the model, or worse, to what people perceive to be the model. Models also fail to take account of silent evidence or the ‘dark matter’ in the classroom. These are the things that are hard to see, but contribute to the seemingly ‘unfailing luck’ that some teachers appear to have (and our pupils benefit from) with great outcomes year in, year out.

So learning and progress over time is a limiting judgement on the quality of teaching. Whatever ‘judgement’ the observer might be tempted to make in twenty or thirty minutes, this should be secondary to the outcomes of those pupils in that class over a considerable period of time. This more rounded judgement will at least take into account the effect of the silent evidence even if we do not know what that is!

Strip back lesson observations

As well as ending the practice of grading individual lessons, we should consider stripping back the process of observation and freeing colleagues a little from the ponderous and time consuming approach to reporting observations and feedback. This might include immaculately planned and detailed learning review schedules (sometimes issued in advance), pre-arranged observation appointments and grandiose observation report forms. On top of all this, colleagues often struggle to find yet more time for the feedback meeting.

We should question how far this bureaucracy is contributing to school improvement. It may actively discourage classroom observation on occasion – an extra burden of workload in the day-to-day whirlwind of school leadership. Our new College framework no longer requires pre-arranged appointments, form filling or formal feedback sessions (unless you really want to) and this is where our work in trialling ‘spot coaching’ has also come into its own. As a result, we are spending more time observing each other, sharing practice and engaging in meaningful professional dialogue. These things should be an entitlement of every teacher’s working week.

Teaching and learning frameworks should not have regard for basics or ‘non-negotiables’. Such elementary things should be the expectation and anything less unacceptable. Provision cannot be at least good without these ‘givens’. If books are not being marked as they should, if home learning is not being set that adds to the learning, if the teacher’s expectations are low, then these are basic management issues. Excellence should be the standard, and for all colleagues irrespective of career stage. This is a realistic aspiration for colleagues new to the profession when it is backed up with top quality professional mentoring, coaching, support and development.

The best games have a set of rules that you seldom refer to

A good framework is succinct and concise, easily digested by colleagues and, above all, useful. The best games have a set of rules that you seldom need to refer to. Our first College drafts were quite wordy. In mid-development, a senior colleague and I were shown a very fine version of another framework that ran to a little over 40 words. We were suitably embarrassed and put efforts into boiling down our version further still. Our framework is better for it. However, we decided not to edit out the following sentence from the final version: ‘The teacher’s scholarship and habitual willingness to critically engage and reflect on their own teaching practice develops their expertise and craft as a teacher.’ Conveying this vital message to all our colleagues is too important. Learning is the job.

It is not what you have got, but how well you use it.   A useful teaching and learning framework is one thing, but good learning in context enables our colleagues to develop and become great teachers. Teachers need to engage in learning about their practice in the setting in which they actually work, observing and being observed in the classroom. More frequent observation, teaching coaches, lesson observation cameras and spot coaching enable practitioners to stay close to what the Greeks called ‘techne’ – the development of craft.

Spot coaching is a form of specialist coaching. Purposeful feedback provided in the instant gives colleagues the chance to respond there and then. It is developmental and experiential. Through trial and error the chances of moving practice forward increase considerably. It is learning in context.

Do no harm?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of mediocrity in the classroom is for good men and women to do nothing.

Though we recognise that sometimes doing nothing is preferable to doing something potentially harmful, our duty as leaders of learning is a duty first to pupils – to develop others’ practice. We do not want to do something that will make colleagues feel uncomfortable or incompetent in front of the pupils, but you cannot build trust by promising that no one is going to be unsettled. Plenty of colleagues have been hurt under the old way of doing things. Spending more time with each other in the classroom, without judgement, will surely build more trust.

Appeles of Kos, a renowned painter of Ancient Greece, only created the perfect representation of foam drooling from the mouth of the horse he was painting when he threw his cleaning sponge at the painting in disgust at his repeated failed attempts. Appeles also practised every day. I believe that our new teaching and learning framework creates the right conditions for practice, as well as for a little more spontaneity and serendipity – essential traits in the developing practitioner.

We want colleagues to be confident enough to take risks, digress more, throw a few metaphorical sponges in the classroom, including when spurred on by the interventions of colleagues. We want our colleagues to use the job itself as the subject of their learning and professional discovery – an essential guiding principle for the genuine learning organisation. We want our new framework not to help colleagues decide what they are or where they are, but rather what they can become.

Keith Grainger is Principal of Garth Hill College, Bracknell.

Correspondence to k-grainger@garthhillcollege.com

‘Cultural education matters’ by Maggie Atkinson

Schools live and work as ever in exciting times. Darren Henley, Arts Council CEO, launched the Cultural Education Challenge in the late autumn. It seeks to guarantee universal access to arts and culture for all children and young people. He must mean it, or it would not have seen the light of day. The new Artsmark, having been reviewed by schools, is open at http://www.artsmark.org.uk

Cultural education matters. It is defined in the Henley review as opportunities to engage with archaeology, architecture and the built environment, archives, craft, dance, design, digital arts, drama, film, galleries, heritage, libraries, literature, live performance, museums, music, poetry and the visual arts. Pupils need to be doing, not just ‘engaging by receiving’. But there are gaps and inequalities at work.

Social mobility research says only two in five children from poor homes are read to every day, whereas nearly four in five from richer families are. Literacy research tells us those who are read to will then read both first, and more fluently. Children on free school meals are 12% less likely to join after-school clubs than their affluent peers. It follows, surely, that the disadvantages they face, and the inequalities attached to them, are compounded by and compound each other in and beyond education: not least, in young people’s future employment, and lifelong prospects.

Of greater concern in this context is that some disadvantaged communities clearly consider the arts and culture are ‘not for them’. Cultural settings may not reach out well, and some communities are at a loss as to how to reach in. They end up not engaging, especially given they may also have challenges in keeping roofs over heads and food on the table. Arts and culture then become self-selecting spaces. Those already engaged remain their key inhabitants. Those not engaged remain outside.

Addressing such inequality through schools’ work in this area could safeguard our educational, but also both our cultural and social capital. Artistic and cultural education and the development of creativity are rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 29, and particularly 31.). We need education to ensure all children and young people can explore and develop their creativity, learning to engage with the best of arts and culture across the ages. This is about both the accepted ‘greats’, and providing opportunities to build new classics for a new time. Their time.

Achievements in arts subjects transfer to those in others. Music projects like El Sistema in a range of UK cities and towns, or Opera North’s work in classrooms in Leeds, have proven to raise SATs results, attendance, behaviour, commitment and engagement. There are proven meta-cognition and soft skills impacts. Children and young people engaged in cultural learning practise skills for progress in learning throughout the curriculum, and their lives outside school. Brain science tells us every child’s development involves socialisation, and the development of individual passions and interests.

For economically disadvantaged pupils there are even bigger ‘wins.’ Cultural engagement expands the mind and the horizons, enabling children to pursue possibilities through their imaginations, developing their sense of belonging – and contributing – to their world.

Evidence from the Sutton Trust indicates engagement in cultural activities helps bright but disadvantaged students to do well. There is increasing evidence from schools using cultural approaches to learning that these approaches work because they both address the socialisation of the whole child, and show significant adults there is more to that child than first meets the eye.

Tomorrow’s employment market will expect to receive versatile school leavers. 16% of all jobs in London alone are in the creative industries. And the sector is growing at twice the rate of the UK economy. The CBI and the media regularly report employers needing workers who can think creatively. Such findings challenge all engaged in education to prepare young people for fast-moving, competitive environments. Restricting access to arts and culture, in the curriculum or extracurricular activities, and a concentration solely on core subjects, does not help poorer students to gain ground. On the contrary, it holds them back.

The government argues an ‘academic’ education is the best route to closing the gap. Nobody denies the value of maths, English, science, languages, the humanities. They are crucial. But they are only part of a rounded education. The danger is that with an accountability framework heavily weighting the EBAC, and rhetorical language side-lining arts and culture to a place where they become ‘nice to do,’ we restrict students’ capacity to grow. And in case we had forgotten, the Arts are disciplines. Their advanced study is academic, rigorous and demanding. Saying otherwise is both intellectually questionable, and counter evidential.

Schools are vanguards in ensuring children and young people access culture. They are the only settings that reach most children and young people. Schools, not children, must find ways of valuing the arts and culture as crucial pillars supporting a great education. We can’t ask for permission, or wait for non-existent additional funding to come our way.

Doing this, being this brave, will require some leaps of faith. Like all school-toschool collaboration, it will mean both cultural organisations working across schools, and schools working together. It will be about making deliberate choices. Many schools already adopt a cultural approach to support low income pupils. Some can already show extraordinary outcomes from opening up new opportunities, and standing by their choice actively to promote cultural education.

The new Artsmark framework recognises schools’ commitment to cultural education, working with partners. It is also a forum for schools to share expertise and ideas. If schools can gather enough data, surely they can show the DfE how much they value and will sustain arts and culture.

But this is not only a challenge for schools. The cultural sector needs to ask some questions. Why do some schools have few chances to engage? Why are cultural activities overwhelmingly accessed by higher social groups? How can schools work with arts groups to grow the next generation of participants and leaders?

The policy and funding contexts are challenging. That is not new. That being so, the arts sector and schools need – bravely, working together – to build rounded arts and cultural offers, within and beyond the curriculum, through which children’s and young people’s imagination, creativity and rounded achievement can be sustained.

Maggie Atkinson is a NET Leading Thinker and Chair of ‘A New Direction’ www.anewdirection.org.uk

‘New Year 2016’ by Geoff Barton

I can’t claim actually to have known former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Yes, I sat in the audience at some conferences he spoke at. I was on the side-lines at a couple of meetings and a dinner where I glimpsed first-hand his well-known mix of the witty and the unctuous. And he once stepped out of a lift in the unglamorous basement of a west London hotel, pointed at me, and said ‘It’s Geoff Barton, isn’t it?’. Then he turned and walked away.

None of this amounts to knowing Michael Gove.

But when his departure from the Department of Education was announced, back in July 2014, I decided to send him one of my custom CD mixes as an understated farewell gift. As visitors to our school know, I occasionally inflict a compilation of uplifting and sad songs, plus cheesy ‘Geoffy B’ jingles, as part of a desperate throw-back to my childhood ambition to be Radio One’s next breakfast DJ.

Whether my small musical gesture of goodwill ever reached the departing Secretary of State, I have no idea. But the CD wasn’t returned in the post and hasn’t surfaced on eBay.

So, no, I didn’t know Michael Gove. But I did know what he stood for. I knew what his ambitions for schools were. We all did. However strenuously we disagreed with many of the approaches and policies he unleashed, we couldn’t avoid being aware of his overarching belief that education liberates, and that the education world needed to intensify its ambition to liberate those whose backgrounds, family finances or postcode would serve as a limiter on a child’s aspirations.

Now, with the aftermath of the Gove project smouldering gently behind us, we stand gazing out at another year: 2016. And it already looks as if we’re in for one of unprecedented of change in education – just as we were last year and the year before.

We brace ourselves for seismic changes to qualifications at pretty much every level. KS2 tests will be different. GCSEs will be different. A/S and A-levels will be different.

Some of the big beasts of the current educational jungle are due to leave the forest – Glenys Stacey leaves her role overseeing the exams regulator, Ofqual. Sir Michael Wilshaw will step down from Ofsted later in the year.

Meanwhile a new national Schools Commissioner, in the shape of the well respected Sir David Carter, takes up post at a time when there’s a government determination to see every school an academy or free school.

That’s just some of the stuff going on beyond the school gates – the ritualistic machinations beloved of policy nerds and the Twitterati. In reality, most of it will hardly impinge on most of us most of the time. We’ve quite enough to be getting on with in our own schools and classrooms – some of it extra work provoked by the relentless thrashing-about by a government that too often confuses change with improvement; and some of it simply the ever-intensifying workload felt by all who work in an education system which is being flogged to its limits.

Which brings us to our current Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, the person who oversees that system.

I have never met Ms Morgan. But, in contrast with Mr Gove, I have no idea what she stands for. Apart from occasional exhortations on building character (a good thing, we gather) or teaching children that our roots are as a Christian nation (pretty unarguable), I’m not sure what we could ascribe to our Education Secretary as a defining philosophy, vision, or non-negotiable point of principle.

Sure – there’s a new Education Act in the offing. This may provide something of a route-map. But so far it’s sounding as if the only actual ambition is to make a reality of the Prime Minister’s determination to see every school in England an academy.

And in my book that’s hardly a vision. Instead it’s a lot of structural tinkering built on a decidedly unproven assumption that academies are by definition better than the kind of schools which in most countries would be seen as the norm – local community schools.

So if academisation really is the big idea, no wonder we feel deflated. It misses the point that what matters most in education is, quite simply, the quality of teaching and learning.

And, as the Scripture tells us, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’.

Which is why I’m determined to keep ignoring all those who think my job is anything to do with academy conversion, takeovers of other schools, business plans and boards of directors. It’s all a huge distraction from the important stuff.

I’m convinced that my role is simply to create a culture where we can recruit more great teachers, help them develop, make sure they can learn from each other, and leave them in peace to do their best to build the skills and knowledge of the next generation of young people.

For that, we owe it to our teachers to enable them to focus on the classroom whilst as school leaders we protect them from the swirling madness of external initiatives and political wacky wheezes.

So a key part of our role in the coming year, I’d suggest, is maintaining the confidence to do what matters most in our schools, for our students, for our communities, and not to let ourselves be distracted by anything that isn’t going to help a teacher in our school to teach better or a student to learn more effectively.

How compellingly simple, principled and unarguable is that?

Let’s make 2016 the year of great teaching.

Geoff Barton is Headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, and a NET Leading Thinker.