UK schools – the inequality machine

UK schools – the inequality machine

A few months ago there was a lot of noise in the educational world about the Harvard Business Review’s publication of UK research into types of school leadership. It featured on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ and there was a flurry of debate on twitter and in Schools Week. People identified with the call for more ‘architect leaders’ — those who invest in the sustained improvement of learning and school culture, and who look beyond their school walls to have an impact in the wider community served by schools.

For Innovation Unit there is a deeper significance to the research. We are convinced that there are multiple imperatives — global, economic, social and equity imperatives — to go beyond the improvement rhetoric and to begin the process of reimagining and redesigning what we mean by ‘school’. And, for that to happen, a certain kind of leadership will be required. We will need the qualities, capabilities and characteristics of architect leaders who can go beyond school turnaround and take on fundamental school redesign.

The research

The research says that currently we are recognising the wrong qualities in leaders — with that recognition being signalled by salary levels and public approbation in the form of knighthoods and gongs. The researchers (Alex Hill, Liz Mellon, Ben Laker and Jules Goddard) generated five archetypes from their study of 411 Academy leaders. They are:

  • Surgeons — who focus on test scores and cauterise underachievement
  • Soldiers — who are task-focused and cost-cutting
  • Accountants — who grow revenue, increasing students and income sources
  • Philosophers — who focus on values and the debate about good teaching
  • Architects — who progressively redesign school and the community it serves.

Using financial savings and student results on test scores as the two primary dimensions of achievement, the research suggests that only the ‘architects’ create long-term and sustainable improvement. They are more strategic and their effects are more enduring, yet they are by far the least recognised group, in salary terms and in public recognition.

The conclusion, of course, is that we need to appoint more architects to our schools.

Now, there may well be some dodgy dimensions to this research, despite its peer-reviewed status. For example, the sample of 411 leaders is inevitably skewed — those 2012 early academy converter heads were, by definition, an a-typical sample, having been relatively early adopters of an aggressive system restructuring policy. Another is the association of school subjects with the archetypes — PE and RE for surgeons; IT and Technology for Soldiers; Mathematics for Accountants; English and Languages for Philosophers; and History and Economics for Architects. (We can assume that this has an empirical validity in the sample, but it doesn’t hold a ring of truth in reality. Many of us will know some stunning long-term leaders and team builders with a PE background, for example, and where on earth are the geographers — a subject that throws up some excellent leaders?)

The truth

However, reservations aside, there is undoubtedly truth in this — truth at two extremes.

At one extreme short-term improvement in results is all too often achieved by leadership ruthlessness — restructuring the organisation; getting rid of a proportion of staff; focusing on Key Stage 4 pupils to the detriment of younger learners; annexing or excluding unwanted students; disproportionately targeting those near the C-D borderline; being tactical about exam entries; putting the most successful staff with high stakes groups; arranging holiday exam-prep sessions…and a range of other similar short-term and ultimately culturally damaging strategies. They shout out to everyone that what matters in this school is ‘our league table position and my career as a leader’. Culturally, this tends to create threat, fear, compliance and internal competition, along with cynicism, disillusionment and resentment.

At the other extreme, we know that long-term growth requires deeper change strategies. Unification around a long-term vision and optimism about its feasibility tend to be supported by capacity-building and enabling strategies; by a culture that liberates the creativity of staff; by  unleashing discretionary energy, and developing collaborative learning norms, both between both teachers and students. Such a culture isn’t focused disproportionately on one type of achievement or particular target groups, but recognises diverse success and values and celebrates all learners equally.

So, whilst there may be some reservations about the characterisations within the research, it is essentially true. We are encouraging, lauding and publicly valuing and rewarding the wrong kinds of leadership for sustainable growth in our schools and system.

From leadership for sustainability to leadership for school redesign

It makes sense that organisational architects, those that build for the medium term and grow for the long-term, will create sustainable improvement cultures. This is welcome. The truth is, though, that we need even more than this.

Our system needs leader architects who can redesign schools for the future.

Ken Robinson has a message, said repeatedly and in multiple compelling ways: “Education doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be transformed”. Those who have seen the case for change made in the award-winning film “Most Likely to Succeed” will know what this means. The stark message of the film is that our 100+ year-old model of schooling and learning needs to change, and change dramatically, if we are to serve young people well for the future and if we are to tackle the equity and achievement gap. (Despite more than 100 years of trying, the existing model has patently failed to get even close to doing this.  If you doubt that, just note the linear relationship between family income and educational outcomes shown by the image for this blog post!)


And let’s be clear, this equity and social justice dimension really matters — and it matters in the UK particularly because we have some of the most dramatic equity gaps in the world. It is an irresistible priority morally, of course, but it also matters socially and economically, too. Our schools still remain the only entity in our modern world that has institutionalised a fixed notion of ‘ability’. We talk about ‘able’ and ‘less able’ children in a way that would be utterly unacceptable in the adult world and which is wrong.  We even group learning by spurious notions of ‘ability’ — notions which are, in effect, little more than socio-economic pre-determinants, but ones which then go on to become institutionalised determinants. As Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High recently said: “The more narrowly we define intelligence, the more broadly we define what is not deemed intelligent”.

One last perspective on this theme. More than 3 million adults have successfully graduated from the Open University since it enrolled its first students in 1971.  Most of these new graduates had been failed by their school experience.  Many of them previously thought they were ‘less able’ learners. And what is more, not one established university believed it could work  – not a university for which you required no prior qualification levels, or where you could personalise your own unitary pathways and modalities, or be assessed when you were ready. But it did work, and it has liberated the potential of millions.  And yet the schooling system has learned nothing from this precedent.

So, the simple message of this piece is that our schools need to be reimagined and redesigned —  and, if this is to happen, we need architect leaders who can both reinvent and sustain the model.

Why do we need leader architects in this context?

Such a learning transformation will of course require significant changes to the way we conventionally structure the curriculum, the way teachers teach, and the way students are assessed. However, for a school leader trying to redesign their school, these are secondary effects. There have been many experiments, projects and pilots over the years that have developed new approaches, and many have benefitted students and convinced teachers. What is remarkable is that most of these new ideas have not been sustained.  They have not spread within schools or between schools; the practice hasn’t deepened with time; and the ownership of the practice hasn’t transferred beyond the innovators or transformed the deep structures of school.

The fact is that the impact of these new ideas was limited because they didn’t go hand in hand with a systematic redesign of the school as an organisation. When we learn that at High Tech High there is an hour of collaborative adult learning every morning before students arrive; or that teachers do not teach 28 students on their own, but 56 students together, in half-day units; or that all projects (Project Based Learning is the dominant norm) are critiqued by other teachers before being introduced to students …. then we know that something significant in the organisational norms is different. And it is changes to organisational architecture — the culture, the structure, and the organisation of time across the whole school — that make possible the design, delivery and refinement of more engaging learning opportunities for students.

Change of this depth requires strong and bold and committed and sustained leadership. It requires school leaders prepared to rethink some of the conventional norms in school culture, who are prepared to reimagine the structures that staff, students and parents have grown used to, and are prepared to change the way the timetable and the school year has governed people’s lives for many generations.

This kind of change requires what the research calls ‘architect leaders’.

A moral from this tale

The research on leadership styles is welcome and has a resonance of truth. If we want sustainable school improvement, the qualities of the organisational architect need to be held in higher regard. That much is obvious.

However, as stated at the outset — and as as set out in the case for change in “Most Likely to Succeed” — there are utterly compelling reasons for taking seriously the need to reimagine and redesign schools. Indeed there are multiple examples around the world where this is already happening. If it is truly to happen here, in the UK, then we will need bold and ambitious leader architects to pave the way.

This research is both timely and relevant. And it may also be more profound and more prophetic than the writers imagined.


Flogging Dead Horses

Flogging Dead Horses

The system needs new school models.

Those who have now seen “Most Likely to Succeed”, or read the blog post about it here, will understand the dramatic tone of the title to this post.

The bottom line is THIS:

Our model of schooling is more than 100 years old and has barely changed in that time…

The rest of society – our industrial practices, technology, the media we use, our leisure activities, the global scope of our world, communication systems – has undergone a revolution…

There has been a similar revolution of opportunities for and modalities of adult education.  Since the 1960s, the Open University has demonstrated that virtually every adult is capable of degree level study, given the right modalities of learning and modes of assessment.  More than 3 million people, most failed by their schooling have passed OU degrees…

The original purpose of school – designed to sort and sift; to separate sheep and goats – is now redundant.  We need 100% of students to be skilled and capable citizens able to contribute positive agency to both their economic and social world…

Our UK government (and others around the world) are flogging the dead horse of the out of date school model, when it is patently incapable of responding to the challenges set out above.

So what is wrong with this particular dead horse? 

How much space do you have?

The worst of it is that there are some arguably redundant, or even debilitating features that just don’t get questioned. So let’s ask just 10 of those questions.

  1. Why, for example, do we still have age-cohorting?  It certainly isn’t because we believe that all students mature and progress at the same rates.  Watch rehearsals for a school production or a concert if you wonder about mixed-age learning
  2. Why have we retained so exclusively the subject-based curriculum, when no tasks in the real world segregate knowledge or its applications in that way?
  3. Why are schools designed into corridors and classroom spaces – such that it makes teaching the most isolated and un-stimulating professional practice?
  4. Why do we assess all students at the same time, rather when they are ready to demonstrate mastery (think music grades, or driving test, or sports coaching awards, or Open University modules, or PhD dissertations)?
  5. Why do schools set homework, when they already have students in school for 35 hours a week – and when the world outside school is rich in opportunities for self-initiated learning?
  6. Why do most schools have 25 one-hour lessons – when nobody believes that it is a unit that is enabling of deep or applied learning?
  7. Why is the assessment outcome that matters still an exam written on pen and paper and marked by anonymous paid markers – when teachers know students and their capabilities from five years of engagement with them?
  8. Does speaking matter?  Do so-called hard skills matter? Do so-called soft skills? Does making and doing matter?  If so, why are none of these things given high currency?
  9. Why do we persist with the corrosive language and practice of ‘ability’ groupings.  Schools are the only places where it is deemed appropriate to name people ‘low ability or ‘less able’.
  10. A contentious one.  Given that schools are centres of learning, why are the adult learning norms  and practices in most of our school so abysmally poor?

You don’t have to agree with everything

Of course, a few of these questions may confront expectations.  There may be some that seem outrageous – although they don’t, of course, to me!  However, there is a simple truth.  We know that capability is multi-faceted and that human potential is such that virtually all adults are capable of high-level learning and complex task accomplishment.  We also know that the existing model of school has consistently failed to enable all students to be successful, or to close the equity gap between those from advantaged backgrounds and those who are not.

And it isn’t the fault of the students (many of whom go on in adulthood to achieve remarkably beyond their schools’ predictions).  It is the fault of the model of schooling – and no amount of Ofsted inspection, or examination rigour, or teacher performance management, or academisation can make a model that is out-of-date fit for our times.

It is flogging a dead horse.

So, what seems to be desperately needed in our system is an innovation strategy that will encourage the design and establishment of some new school models.  They have had this in the States since the New American Schools initiative in the early 1990s, as described here (and as represented in Grant Lichtman and Jolina Clément’s graphic that heads up this post).  Where is the UK’s new school model innovation strategy?

Rethinking MATs – Reimagining School

Rethinking MATs – Reimagining School

The focus of this MAT piece is High Tech High, case study school in “Most Likely to Succeed”. If you have seen the film, you will almost certainly want to read more….

Reimagining school

Before getting started, it is worth stressing one key way in which all the highly successful, collectively governed ‘new school model’ groups in the States differ profoundly from the prevalent UK MAT models. (Accepting that they are not technically MATs at all!) It is that they all began with an ambitious and successful new school design – a serious attempt to realise in practice an aspirational set of design principles; to create a model of school different from the past and suitable for the current century; to major on learner engagement, passion and agency; to aspire to beautiful work, learning of service to the world; to have as a non-negotiable focus success for all students.

Then they grew the ‘MAT’ and created a community of practice around their model – a professional learning community of schools, adults and young people united by values, aspirations and purposes based on their shared design principles

This is quintessentially how High Tech High was formed and grew.

High Tech High viewed as a MAT

So, High Tech High in San Diego is our MAT of choice – even though ‘MAT’ is not at all how it perceives itself. It is currently a coalition of 13 small charter schools (think academies or free schools) in San Diego administered under one governance arrangement, led by a Chief Executive, one of the co-founders, Larry Rosenstock, with Rob Riordan as Director of Learning (Emperor of Rigour is his official title). Collectively, HTH offers a K-12 (all-through) locality provision, completely comprehensive of San Diego. This is how it describes itself:

High Tech High operates thirteen schools in San Diego County: four elementary schools, four middle schools, and five high schools. All of these schools serve a diverse, lottery-selected student population; all embody the High Tech High design principles:

  • Personalization
  • Adult world connection
  • Common intellectual mission
  • Teacher as designer.

It is the world’s best MAT not because of its measurable outcomes (which are astonishing), but for the depth and originality and consistency of its practices. However, to make the point, three measurable features would be: (i) its collective ambition (non-negotiable success for all students, defined as 100% College and University entrance entitlement);   (ii) the extent of achievement in this ambition, 98%, plus 85% of all free school meal students completing  university degrees; and (iii) its levels of student engagement and teacher learning – if you have watched “MLTS”, you will know what this means.

There are a number of central architectural features (things that hold all 13 schools together) that are each significant in their own right, but which are even more powerful in combination. They are grouped below in a relatively arbitrary but hopefully helpful way.

Shared beliefs and expectations

HTH schools are all bound together by the four design principles – which act as a common cultural and organisational architecture and as a shared form of mutual accountability. There is much that could be written about each of these, but this is not the place.

Staff across the 13 schools buy in to what they call a ‘shared intellectual mission’. Think of this as a MAT-wide sustained action enquiry: a collective commitment to learning their way forward towards success with their school design and with the achievement of equitable outcomes for all students. This shared intellectual mission is a collaborative, challenging and sustained endeavour, and it leads to the accumulation and refinement of a publicly available body of practice – just as happens in medecine.

They have a framework of non-negotiable values. For example, no ’tracking’ (grouping by presumptions of ability) is one example. Others would be: ‘teaching is a team sport’; build from teacher and student passions; leadership comes from the classroom; expect everyone to be exceptional, and have processes that enable everyone to be exceptional.

They take collective responsibility for the success of all students – and are collectively accountable for the totality of the MAT’s achievements.  They pool outcomes across the schools, for example – 13 schools, but one High Tech High data set.

A community of teachers working together as a community of practice

One of the features oh High Tech High schools is that they share common adult learning time. School begins at 9.00 am for students but 8.00 am for staff. That hour before school is dedicated to collaborative planning, the study of lessons, critique of work and collaborative professional enquiry and learning of a variety of forms.

Teachers teach colloboratively (50+ students shared between two teachers) because ‘teaching is a team sport’, and this happens in collaborative settings (spaces that facilitate fluidity of movement). They plan in their cross-disciplinary pairs and all projects are additionally reviewed and critiqued collaboratively by a wider group of staff. This is very powerful and serves multiple functions. For example, it quality assures all project designs; it adds value by drawing on the ideas of a wider group of staff; it makes the designs explicit and shared more widely.

All all staff have their own digital portfolio, and are expected to make their project designs and resources visible and open source, so ideas and practices travel – both within the HTH community of schools and also more widely with the profession at large. Professional knowledge and artefacts at HTH are also public materials.

The teachers develop and apply common learning protocols to their work, both in their own learning and in their teaching. These learning protocols are founded on the assumption that quality learning does not happen by accident, but that it has to be scaffolded by defined processes and behaviours. They support collaborative work, create shared learning expectations, ensure parity of contribution and act as a form of mutual accountability. Across the MAT, teachers would all be familiar with the use of these protocols.

HTH within the wider local ecosystem

The language associated with learning at HTH would include aspirations to be ‘authentic’, to source ‘real-world’ applications and to give students ‘agency’ in the world. It is unsurprising, therefore that it is deeply integrated into (and permeable to) its local community in multiple ways. Larry Rosenstock has long railed against school as ‘the citadel on the hill’. This permeability works two ways:

  • Incoming – they use external expertise to critique and refine their practice; they are wide open to researchers and documentary film-makers; parents are active partners and attend all exhibitions and student learning conferences; the projects students do usually involve community experts, both in the process and the assessment of the exhibitions
  • Outgoing – from an early age, the projects that students undertake are designed to make contributions to the wider San Diego community – campaigns to increase blood donorship; exhibitions in public spaces; published environmental studies of the local coastline; campaigns to improve local amenities; studies of immigration patterns – always with a civic audience and purpose. Students also undertake extensive internships (which is community located learning, not work experience).

As indicated above, the MAT is highly permeable to learning from outside. They have more than 2,000 visitors a year coming in to critique their work – visitors are expected to do so. They make the network of HTH schools a site of study in multiple ways. They deploy their staff to work in places from which they will learn, both within the States and internationally. (Innovation Unit has had six HTH staff secondees working on programmes in UK schools, including two new schools: School 21 and XP School.)

Features that can only be achieved as a MAT

The 13 schools create a large canvas for teacher learning – one large professional learning community; one community of practice.  HTH also moves or deploys teachers between schools – utilising capability and expertise in the collective interests of all students, rather than the narrow interests of the individual school.

They have publication streams, celebrating and sharing across the MAT, but also for use within their programmes (they run MOOCs, for example) and in service of their commitment to making professional knowledge public. ‘Unboxed’ is a professional journal that ‘reifies’ the practices of teachers from across the schools.

Leadership is deployed similarly. You cannot be the principal of a HTH school unless you have been a teacher there.  They grow their own leadership capability and manage their own leadership succession.  

High Tech High has established a Graduate School of Education – the only school-based graduate school in the States, and something that would simply not be feasible without the scale of the operation. It can deliver both beginning teacher credentials (managing their own supply of philosophically committed recruits) and their own Masters degrees, for which teachers engage in action research on behalf of the MAT community.  The Grad school also acts as a knowledge management hub because:

  • It enables their practices to be codified within teacher learning and leadership development programmes for adult learning purposes
  • It allows them to train and induct and quality assure most of their own beginning teachers
  • By encouraging all their staff to undertake action research Masters there, they ensure reconnection with the knowledge base; they constantly interrogate their practices through research activity; and they are constantly adding to the MATs leadership quotient
  • Action research as part of these Masters programmes feeds back into the collective knowledge-base
  • The graduate school accepts none-HTH participants from San Diego, requiring the induction of new people (a key feature of COP theory) and to be externally challenged by them (a key feature of HTH’s commitment to peer critique).


Three thoughts. The first is that not very much here has been made of some of the distinctive features of pedagogical practice and student learning at HTH – interdisciplinary learning; project-based designs; public exhibition of work; peer critique and multiple drafting; digital portfolios; internships; student-led conferences. These are some of the more innovative characteristics of a HTH school, but this article is about the MAT-ness of their work together not pedagogy. Another set of MAT schools, implementing most of the MAT features above, could focus on a different set of pedagogical practices.

The second is this. Hopefully, this article might be of interest to those whose mental model of MAT has been informed by the dominant prevailing orthodoxies, yet who have more progressive aspirations. If that sounds a bit patronising, what is meant is that the current debate has locked us into a perception of MATs as a structural innovation. This short piece is making the point that progressive school-to-school collaboration is a process thing; a design-led thing; an ambition thing; a learning thing. Above and beyond anything else, a MAT can be a potential context for collaborative professional learning around high ambitions.

The third is potentially even more exciting. Few can (except in rare cases) build up a MAT from a single new school model as HTH did. School 21 can. XP School can. Most of us, though, have to start with our already established schools. However, this government has committed to 500 new Free Schools during this parliament.

What ambitious MATs are able to do is to create together a new Free School, informed by their shared design principles and aspirations for future schooling and learning.

This can be a laboratory for MAT learning; a prototype for all the schools; a subject of collective study and activity – a concrete operational illustration of what is possible – such that it begins to inform and inspire developments across the entire MAT.  If anyone is interested, the Innovation Unit would love to help.

“Most Likely To Succeed”

“Most Likely To Succeed”

Innovation Unit has recently hosted a number of screenings of the documentary film “Most Likely to Succeed”. It is impossible to overstate the profound impact that it has had on each audience.  You can watch a trailer here:

It is worth sharing some of the concept and content of the film.

Over 120 years ago, education underwent a dramatic transformation as the iconic one-room schoolhouse evolved into an effective universal system that produced an unmatched workforce tailored for the demands of the 20th Century. Astonishingly, despite seismic changes to society, including changes to employment patterns, the world economy, and information systems, education remains substantially the same – classrooms, lessons, subjects, age-cohorts, age-related tests, etc etc.  As traditional white-collar jobs begin to disappear, the film suggests that this same system is potentially producing chronic levels of unemployment among graduates in the 21st Century.  It has failed to tackle the 21st Century equity challenge and it has failed to adapt to the dramatically transformed life and work needs of today’s young people.

The film follows students into the classrooms of High Tech High, an innovative all-age group of 13 schools in San Diego which has evolved a dramatically different model of schooling and learning. There, over the course of a school year, two groups of ninth graders are followed taking on ambitious, project-based learning challenges that develop a range of personal and applied skills as well as offering access to deep content knowledge. “Most Likely to Succeed” points to a transformation in learning that may hold a key to success for millions of young people – and our nation – as we grapple with the ramifications of rapid advances in technology, automation and growing levels of economic inequality.  More profoundly, it powerfully reveals the transformative potential of this project-based approach to the lives and self-image of the students and to the professional efficacy of the staff.

After the viewings, the people who attended engage in informal conversation or workshop activity – dependent on the nature of the event.  And here’s the thing.  No-one wants to depart or to end the conversation.  There is, time after time, a level of animation and involvement and energy and passion for action that is utterly unique (in my experience).  It isn’t that everyone agrees with all aspects of the film.  They don’t.  In fact, some of the film’s propositions are extremely challenging – depth of learning not breadth of coverage; none-interventionist teaching; projects that endure for months; interdisciplinary rather than subject-based approaches; teachers free to teach whatever they wish, inspired by their passions….and many more.  However, the drift of the film, its central proposition, its compelling message, seems to be universally accepted.

That compelling message is that the model of schooling needs to change, and change dramatically, if we are to serve young people well for the future and if we are to tackle the equity and achievement gap (which, despite more than 100 years of trying, the current model has patently failed to do).

This second theme, the one about equity and social justice,  matters – and it matters in the UK even more than is exposed in ‘MLTS’.  School remains the only entity in our modern world that has institutionalised the notion of ‘ability’.  We talk about ‘able’ and ‘less able’ children in a way that would be utterly unacceptable in the adult world.  We even group learning by spurious notions of ‘ability’ – notions which are, in effect, little more than socio-economic pre-determinants.  But ones which then go on to become determinants!

High Tech High only has one grade – grade A.  They expect every learner to achieve an A, and it is the responsibility of every other student to support them to get it. Their ‘classrooms’ are interdependent communities of learners.  If this sounds glib, the principle success indicator they set themselves 12 years ago when the first school opened (with the same fully comprehensive intake they still have) is that every student – that is 100% of student, regardless of background or prior achievement history – should be able to progress to college and university.  A dozen years later 98% of their students fulfil this – and 85% of their free school meals students complete degrees.

By any standard these are astonishing results – and they don’t even begin to represent the breadth and depth of achievement of students at High Tech High.  But they will give some insight into why there is such energy at the end of each showing.  People agree with the proposition: our models of schooling and learning need to change, and they were awed by the evidence of what has already been achieved at High Tech High.

This, then, is both the scale of the challenge and the essence of a solution.  School has to change and we have clear evidence that this is possible – possible, even, beyond our UK imaginings. We are locked into a time warp, with a mental model of ‘school’ that is debilitating, but we can also do something about it.  We can redesign ‘school’.  And the ‘we’ starts with the people in the room minded to do so after each showing, and then the people that they gather on the way afterwards.

As Margaret Mead so tellingly said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

So, Innovation Unit is endeavouring to build some energy across our system around these ideas.  And if you are reading this and are enthused, then you can contact us to host a screening, together with a workshop or debate.  Afterwards, all you then have to do is join with some other thoughtful and committed enthusiasts, and we might together change the school experience for our young people.

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility

Introduction – two quick stories to start this piece.

I was watching the Rio Olympics when I first wrote this, struck by the success of some of the South African representatives – the athletes, the rugby team – the majority of whom were black.  I worked in South Africa immediately post-apartheid.  At the time, liberal paternalists would have said then that talented young black sports players were spotted and helped to break through in the old system.  And, of course, the odd one or two did. However, 20+ years on and there is a torrent of talent coming through.  That potential talent was always there, of course, but without equality of opportunity (and it still isn’t perfect, of course) only the selected and favoured minority made it through.

That previous minority reminds me of the few working class kids who used to get into grammar schools in the UK (and still do where grammars persist), or the even smaller number granted assisted places to independent and direct grant schools.  They represented a ‘privileged’ minority rather than any belief system about the potential amongst the many that all could succeed.

Which leads to the second story, from those same years working in Cape Town.  On one occasion a colleague and I were driving to a primary school in Khayelitsha, the largest settlement or township in the Western Cape (below).  It is a complete paradox – an ocean of poverty and limited opportunity, and at the same time it can be one of the most vibrant and inspiring of places. Anyway, we got lost.  Three times we stopped to ask the way from children who were playing on the dirt roads – and who should almost certainly have been in school.  Three times we were directed in English by delighted children aged maybe 8, 9 or 10 years old.  As we moved on, my colleague, Philippa, said to me: “You realise, don’t you, that they were all directing us in their third language?”

We were in one of the poorest places in the world and the children are able to speak three languages fluently.  The first epiphany is this.  Can every child be a successful learner?  Of course they can.  The second insight relates to HOW they learn three languages – in their community; with and from their peers; for real purposes; in order to do things that matter.

Grammar schools and social mobility

My parents both had unfulfilled educational histories.

My father left school at the age of 14.  He attended a grammar school in York, but the tedium of a 7 mile cycle ride each way couldn’t compete with the attraction of work on the farm.  So that was that.  My mother attended Leeds Girls High School, but her mother was a widow and couldn’t afford university fees, so a job as a secretary followed school.

Married just before the war, by the time my sister and I were young children my father had a corner shop on a back-to-back estate in Kirkstall, Leeds.  He wanted to work for himself and provide a better life for his family.  My mother wanted her children to have the opportunities that she missed out on.  Standard stuff, really, and my sister predictably breezed the 11+ and went on to Leeds Girls High School and became a teacher.  I was much less academically inclined and so, faced with the prospect of one child in a grammar and the other a secondary modern, I was sent for private tuition in the evenings.  Lots and lots of it – that I, of course, resented because I wanted to be playing touch rugby or football on the recreation ground with my mates.

Anyway, I passed.  Probably grudging about not transferring to secondary school with my mates. I definitely hated the school. Later became the first in my family ever to graduate. We were one of only two families on the estate whose children attended grammars. But that’s not the story. The story is the 1960s UK equivalent of the Khayelitsha experience.

Once I had donned my blazer and cap and travelled the two bus journeys each way to the grammar school (they didn’t build grammars near back-to-back estates) my mates from primary school dissolved away.  Why not?  I went to a posh school – and my parents didn’t really want me contaminated by low aspirations.

But I knew something.  I was no brighter, smarter, more intelligent, or more talented than my former mates who went off to the secondary modern and who probably still think now that they ‘weren’t very clever’.  The schooling system said I was brighter, but it wasn’t true.  I knew that.  And that same knowledge, that sense of the waste of human potential, has informed the rest of my working life, really.

There are those who would say that this story exemplifies social mobility through the grammar school system.  But it doesn’t, and I was witness to that.  It’s the total opposite of that.  It shows that one random family was able to be offered a pathway to opportunity, but that (and this is the thing) the mass of others, the other 95+% of youngsters with just as much human and intellectual and practical potential were left behind, just like the hundreds of South African athletes in the old SA mentioned earlier.

Post graduation I became a teacher in a comprehensive school (a former grammar school that ‘banded’ the children!) and, ultimately, a comprehensive school headteacher.  The joy of the work has always been about transforming life chances for young people – trying to demonstrate tangibly that every student can achieve the metaphorical equivalent of speaking three languages.  Teachers are in the saving lives business.

And a reflection from all this? We have changed from a selective to a comprehensive school system and, in doing so, literally millions of children have had their life chances and self-esteem and social mobility and image of themselves as learners transformed.  But we still haven’t shaken off the legacy of those old grammar school days. There is still a widespread belief about ‘able’ and ‘less able’, and that some schools are better equipped to transform life chances and social mobility than others.

And that mindset leads to this.  School remains the only entity in our modern world that has institutionalised such a one-dimensional notion of ‘ability’.  We talk about ‘able’ and ‘less able’ children in a way that would be utterly unacceptable in the adult world.  And there are luddites who still want to promote a false educational apartheid, to partition schools by this spurious notion of ‘ability’ – a fallacy which is, in effect, little more than a socio-economic determinant.  Schools just should not be about labelling and limiting potential.

It takes me back to the South African athletes now liberated to express a talent that was previously suppressed by partitioned opportunity, and to the children in Khayelitsha who all spoke three languages because they learned them together in the real world for real purposes and not behind a desk in a classroom.  And it leaves me with two conclusions:

  1. Any suggestions of reverting to a system of educational apartheid is morally unacceptable in a liberal democracy.  It is nothing less than a denial of human potential.
  2. Our comprehensive school system still needs a massive overhaul (a school redesign imperative) in order to create learning contexts within which all youngsters are able to express their talents and leave fit for the 21st century.





Designing New Schools

Designing New Schools

Recent blog posts have been marking out some stepping stones towards new school designs:

  • How might Innovation Unit build a movement around innovation in school design – using ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ as a springboard?
  • What can we learn from the best school-to-school collaboratives internationally that might inform the design of ambitious MATs?
  • Why does a healthy education system require an intentional innovation strategy focused on new models of schooling and learning?
  • Might our seemingly unpropitious times be exactly the right time for such innovation?

This post introduces two further more practical pieces of the jigsaw:

  1. The launch of a School Design Lab intended to support new schools to create designs to fit their ambitions and purposes.  Or for existing schools to transform themselves through intentional redesign.
  2. An account of an interview with Rob Riordan, co-author of “The New Urban High School”, and co-designer with Larry Rosenstock of High Tech High.

The School Design Lab can be researched further from the web site using the link above.  It has been developed with schools and projects in New York, Sierra Leone and the UK – and is prototyping a school of the future for the Qatar Foundation.  Its core purpose, though, is to support new schools and existing schools in the UK to reimagine both school design and student learning.  As stated in the last post in this series:

Our model of schooling is more than 100 years old and way, way, way out of date.  It’s a model that has failed to achieve equitable outcomes, or to address socio-economic disadvantage, or to engage the potentially disengaged learner (or to engage most learners, for that matter). Nor has it provided teachers with an intellectually challenging profession, or excited and involved parents about the experience of their children.  Effectively, this means that innovation has become limited to new ways of delivering the 60 minute subject-based lesson!

So that’s the first part.  Really short.

The second piece is longer and well worth reading.  Richard Donnelly has pioneered REAL Projects work at UCL Academy in London and was recently awarded a Churchill Fellowship to visit and study innovative new school models in the States. As a component of that visit, he has interviewed Rob Riordan and written about it here as one in a series of illuminating  posts describing the schools and his learning along the way.  Richard has given permission to feature that interview here – and it is A PROFOUND READ.


Richard Donnelly @travelgeordie

Rob Riordan is co-founder of High Tech High, San Diego and President Emeritus of HTH Graduate School of Education.

Me: As a teacher who wants to practice project based learning, how can you make it work under the constraints of exams?

Rob: One way that I look at it is that when we’re in a class that is focused on important content, our aim ought to be, in my view, for students to in some way transform the content.  That it not be simply transmitted as inert knowledge, because if it’s inert it’s going to disappear pretty quickly.  I mean within a couple of weeks after the exam.

So if we’re interested in retention of important pieces of the content or significant meanings from the content, then it needs to be transformed in some way.

Alfred North Whitehead wrote about this 100 years ago.  He said that inert knowledge is not enough, and he also said, along the lines of the ancients, we should educate for the development of dispositions in the 20th century. Sadly, we have been reduced to teaching subjects.  So, the question for someone who is on an exam course is that those courses are about content but they should also be about the development of dispositions.  It’s a question about how do we balance the two. How do we ensure that our students are developing and growing around those dispositions of critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration and so forth?

Me: Where there is high accountability, it is easier for a teacher to teach to the test, how do we overcome this?  

Rob: It’s a leap of faith in a way to say: ‘I can be more effective and my students will do better on exams if I engage in a pedagogy that is more likely to result in retention.’  I would also say that we are also under some of the same kind of constraints in this country (USA) around this testing mania that we’ve been living with for last 20 years or so and, ultimately, at some point the pressure calls for resistance.  It can be possible to at least explore ways in which to engage in a pedagogy that leads to transformation, even with exams and so forth.  But, tellingly, the reverse side of the question is: where is the evidence that our current pedagogy is the most effective way of preparing kids for the exams and more than the exams?  

Me: I have seen some wonderful work at HTH and Big Picture – the internship programme for example.

Rob: Larry Rosenstock and I worked in Cambridge, Mass for many years and I was his internship guy.  So we did internships with the kids and I would go out on sites and teach humanities with the kids.  It was basically a writing based exploration of their experience in the internship.  But internship stuff is really powerful stuff, life changing for kids.

MeWhat would you say are the 3 most important ‘must dos’ of designing a new school?  

Rob: I think it’s important to begin with is a conversation about teaching and learning and what is really significant about it, and how our new school might, in its faculty (staff) and its programmes, be a place where significant learning is happening all the time.  One can do that with a planning group simply by asking people to reflect on a period in which people really learned something in their own school experience or outside school and share those accounts, then extract from those accounts the elements of significant learning.  Then say: what kind of programme will we need to for it to be like this most of the time? The programme would probably involve things that talk about having the new school be a place where students have access to important audiences for their work; a place where students are engaged in work that connects with the community; a place where students are known well by faculty (staff) – which certainly would have implications for the timetable; and a place where everyone has standing, students and teachers, as members of the community.  Those are elements of significant learning and you can begin the design from there.

So, number one would be to engage in conversations about learning and the kind of learning environment we want to have.  When we opened HTH this led us to insist that we would not separate out kids by perceived ability and that we were going to have an untracked (un-setted) learning environment for all our kids.  A second outcome is that it becomes really important to have a robust learning environment for the adults. So how is that going to happen? The way that happens here is that our teachers arrive at school an hour before the kids every day and engage in learning activities together.

Me: I’m blown away by the level of social capital there is at HTH. I attended a tuning and noticed a whole community of practice. 

Rob: That was one of our design principles from the very beginning.

Me: I can see many benefits of your flat structure but what are the drawbacks?  

Rob: That is a good question. I tend to think more of the benefits and think of the drawbacks being in traditional hierarchical arrangement.  One drawback might be that sometimes it might be hard to know where authority rests and so it becomes an organisational task to figure out how decisions are both arrived at and implemented.  It is really important to figure out how informally and formally we are going to engage in governance, how we decide and, once we have decided to do something, who is going to do it. That needs a lot of attention because the hierarchy isn’t going to decide it for you.  On the other hand there are so many benefits. The big benefit of being horizontal is that everyone has standing.

From the very beginning we also knew that we didn’t want to isolate new teachers from veteran teachers in the way that many schools do.  We want new teachers to be engaged with veteran teachers on the dilemmas of practice that they all face, and those dilemmas for us are triggered by our commitment to equity and diversity.  We embrace this problem as opposed to when you separate them out, and the pernicious effect of separating kids out by perceived ability – which often is a mis-perception of ability.

Me: What would you say to a traditional senior leader with fixed values on disciplinary knowledge? How do you mitigate the mentality of teachers who have ingrained values on the transmission of knowledge?  

Rob: The teacher selection process is vitally important, so raises the question as to what you are looking for.  Changing ones leadership approach is a very difficult process and requires a couple of different things.  One is to try to engineer a change in context so that people can see things in a new way. This can be done through simulations or through initial meetings where the leadership is distributed or rotated.  Meetings where there are group norms (or protocols) around how the group operates, ones which include equal sharing of the air and stuff like that also helps.  It’s a long process.  It involves deep conversations about what we want as a school. If we’re after significant learning that may imply a change in practice and what does that imply for teachers, and then how as a leader might one foster such a robust learning community.

You can’t mandate an adult learning community; you have to build it through consensual processes and processes of dialogue.  Dialogical leadership is what we need to aspire to. How we get there is a challenge, though, especially from a background where it is seen as critical and effective to assume a hierarchical position.  There are lots of leaders who could not function at HTH but who are very good leaders in other contexts.  It’s a matter of matching as well, you wouldn’t want to bring in a good hierarchical, charismatic guy and ask him to shift the way he deals with things and lead us at HTH, it’s not going to work.

Me: So the second part of the question for example was about a teacher having a passion about their subject, e.g. History, and feeling students need to have certain aspects of Historical knowledge.  

Rob: What follows is kind of a joke, in a way, so it’s not serious – but it is.

Every year we ask our directors in a meeting to think about their own teachers and to rank them on a four point scale:  4 is someone who is indispensable; 3 is someone who is a really solid contributor; a 2 is someone who is growing; and a 1 is someone who the place would be better off without.  No names, nothing like that, but what does your staff look like, how many 3s do you have and so forth.  In one meeting, as a joke, I said: “Well in terms of the History teachers, if you’re a 4 your students are making History, if you’re a 3 your students are doing History, in other words being Historians, if you’re a 2 your students are learning History, if you’re a 1 you are History.”

Someone who is really passionate about content, that’s a really good quality that can lead us to interesting projects with kids because kids can get swept along with teacher passion. If the passion is only about the content and not about the process of doing History then we get into trouble a bit.  We want teachers who are interested in engaging students as Historians, doing oral History etc.  There is another way of looking at it.  When we bring in candidates for a position, they teach demonstration lessons.  What I’m looking for is someone who wants to know what and how kids think, as opposed to someone who has some content that he/she wants to transmit. The lesson with a bit of content and a bit of a quiz or test at the end, that teacher is not going to work well at HTH.  If we find a teacher who engages kids in conversation, maybe doesn’t have a lot of classroom management skills, whatever, we hire for attitude and train for skills.

Secondly, for building a new school, it’s critical for the adults to work together well in order to create a healthy environment and also to model that for kids.  When we are hiring, we will bring in 40 teachers on a day and at the end of the day put them in groups of four around tables.  We give them a provocative text to read and say: “Your job as a small group here is to understand the text more deeply and share the air.”  We rotate into the empty chairs and listen to the conversations. It is really important for us for our teachers to be good collaborators.  We have had some competent teachers but with little relationship skill or agency with colleagues, who were disruptive early on in the school. They were not rehired.


MeWhat does your title mean, emperor of rigour?  And what does rigour look like in PBL?

Rob: I had a position here before I became Dean of the Graduate School of Education. I was a roving critical friend.  I taught for 25 years.  I was in classrooms all the time, talking about what I saw and then doing video and that kind of work to take to the directors to raise questions – not just about how we teach but also how we talk about teaching. So, as a roving critical friend nobody reported to me, I didn’t report to anybody, and at one point some conversation said ‘well what is your title?’ So I said ‘Emperor of Rigour’, Emperor because it’s kind of an eyebrow raiser around the notion that people have around hierarchy.  We are very flat so if it’s hierarchy you’re expecting then I’m the emperor.  It was just a joke in a way.  I wanted to engage people in discussions about rigour and that rigour is not about complexity of content, or volume of content.  It’s about the decisions students make moment to moment, to go deeper.  It’s a process issue, not a content issue.  My rules for rigour are:

  • No rigour without engagement
  • No rigour without ownership
  • No rigour without exemplars
  • No rigour without audiences
  • No rigour without purpose
  • No rigour without dreams
  • No rigour without courage
  • No rigour without fun.

I think these are the pre-conditions for rigorous work.  That’s why I call myself ‘emperor of rigour’, because I want to engage people in what it means.

MeIn the UK our students have an exercise book where all their notes are written.  Some teachers will spend an inordinate amount of time marking and giving feedback, www’s ebi’s etc.  Students might then be expected to ‘follow up’ on the feedback with a green pen.  How do you think students should write and how should feedback be given?  

Rob:  I certainly think that students should have thorough and thoughtful feedback on their work. I think also that we are trying to develop self-directed learners, reflective learners.  We are trying to enhance students’ metacognitive capacities and that comes about through practice.  If we’re doing learning 2.0, why would we want to assess it using the means of assessment 1.0 and what would assessment 2.0 look like?  It’s about reflection and dialogue.  It doesn’t mean kids never write essays, but when we talk about our learning environment and the learning kids are doing, its important to us that we engage in dialogical assessment.

I encourage people to let the assessment start with a statement by the student and to let the assessment not only include the performance of the student but also the context in which that performance took place.   The first item on the assessment sheet, a student led comment, should be ‘What in this experience worked well for you and what didn’t work well?  And then tell us about your performance, what was your best work, what your strengths were, what your needs are etc’.  Students write that up and then the teacher responds and agrees, disagrees, adds other comments that the student hadn’t considered. In some cases here, that document goes to parents, through and the parents are invited to comment.  It’s a cycle of dialogue that is initiated by the student.  That’s my thought on how we might get to thorough and thoughtful feedback but in a dialogical mode that fosters self-direction.

Me: Along your journey of starting HTH would there be anything you would have done differently or any mistakes you have made?

I think of it less in terms of mistakes and more in choices and roads taken which meant that other roads were not taken.  One choice we made early on in the interests of an equitable environment was that we would do age grading.  I taught for many years in which we did not group kids in that way and I would have 9th and 12th graders in the same classroom and could not have imagined teaching in another way.  Sometimes I’d have 9th graders who were quicker or more experienced in some respects than some of the 12th graders.  We did age grading here but one way to get rid of this is to have an elective system where students choose courses.  However, we felt that if students chose courses then they would self-segregate and that males would take courses in mainly tech etc.  We decided we were going to have Humanities 1,2,3,4 and all the students were going to take them.  We would move choice inside the courses.  What it meant was that we didn’t do as much as we might have around cross-age learning.

I’m happy with our choice around all of our students doing internships in 11th grade.  We chose this because, especially for students whose parents had not gone to university, it is in the internship that they realise that they want to and need to go to college.  Working alongside a mentor they realise they need to go to college to achieve that position. When the mentor says it, that’s when it sinks in.  Internships are better college prep than college prep.  Plus, for first generation kids it is at this age that they are beginning to form their adult world networks that more affluent kids already have.  The internship is a way for those kids to form connections. Their mentor will write recommendations for them into university, they are going to connect them to other job possibilities and so on.  The decision to do internships was the right decision, but we did not structure them in the way we might have.  It took us a long time. We originally did it two afternoons a week and the kids were not coming back saying their lives had been changed.  If they went on a two-week trip to Ecuador, they would come back and tell us about it.  We were not getting that kind of testimony and we realised, about 7 years in, we needed to make the internships an immersion.  So we changed it to 3 weeks or 4 weeks where the kid goes to the workplace and doesn’t come to school.  Now we are getting that testimony because the kids are there, experiencing it. We hold mentor luncheons about work and life in the adult world and how to align with the kind of questions we ask them.  Students also create a project and expectation of some serious and significant work out of the internship and also have a 1-1 mentor.


Why the UK Needs New School Models

Why the UK Needs New School Models

The United States has more than 100,000 schools, so it’s not surprising that it has some of the worst and the best school practices in the world.  A key point, though, is that the best are best by design.  Let’s emphasise that.  The best of the American schools are by a mile some of the most interesting in the world.  They are worth learning from – and this is not surprising, because they were designed for this purpose.

There is a recent innovation history in the States of supporting new school designs.

In 1984 the Coalition of Essential Schools was set up following publication of Ted Sizer’s book ‘Horace’s Compromise’.  It began as a network of 12 schools and as of 2016 had more than 600, connecting under the banner of ‘common principles for uncommon schools’. Basically, it represented the start of the US whole school reform or redesign movement, with each model tending to be based upon a set of shared design principles. As an example, the Coalition’s principles include:

  • Less is more – depth over coverage 
  • Personalisation – built on profound knowledge of learners
  • Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
  • Assessment based on demonstration of mastery and real tasks. 

In 1991 the New American Schools initiative was launched.  Its intention was to stimulate the development and implementation of transformative whole school designs.  It was intended to break free of a paradigm that simply improves the existing model, or that bolts onto it new programmes.  It supported school design teams (educators, business people, researchers) to create potentially transformative new school designs with the scope to be scaled.  Of course, not all were successful, but some proved to be seminally influential – such as Expeditionary Learning, Co-NECT Schools, ATLAS Schools or Roots and Wings.  Even more successful was the establishment of the precedent of new school design and the practice of individual and collective evaluation of designs.

Fast forward to 2000 and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had a big idea about how to fix the problems of American education. They resolved to break up large high schools and turn them into ‘small schools’ – small learning communities of 400 or fewer students. They believed that small high schools would lift graduation rates and student achievement, especially among minority students, because the strong relationships between students and teachers would ensure that learners were profoundly well known.

The foundation spent $2 billion promoting the dissolution of large high schools and the creation of small schools across the nation. Some 2,600 new small high schools opened in 45 states. New York City alone now has more than 200 such schools, with high schools devoted to such themes as leadership, the sports professions, technology, health professions, the media, diversity, peace and social justice.  By 2005, Bill Gates had told the National Governors Association that ‘America’s high schools are obsolete’; that small schools made everything ‘relevant’, through hands-on activities and new pedagogical approaches.

Were all these schools successful?  Of course they weren’t.  However, the small-high-schools programme funded the growth of the Big Picture high schools, founded by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor (now 65+ Big Picture high schools in 18 states and more around the world). These small, personalised high schools, started for drop-out learners, graduate 92 percent of their students on time. Amazing.

Gates also funded the EdVisions network of schools, (getting on for 50 high schools in 12 states). SAT average composite scores for EdVisions schools far exceed the composite average; and over 82% of EdVisions graduates progress to degree programs.  This speaks for itself.

New Tech Network  now has in excess of 150 schools and is a leading design partner for comprehensive school change and innovative learning environments.  They achieve 72% college enrolment and 84% college persistence – and this with a model that transforms existing schools, not just start-ups.  Truly impressive.

The foundation also funded the growth of High Tech High (HTH), now 13 high schools in the San Diego area. 98% of HTH’s graduates have been admitted to college or university, with approximately 80% admitted to four-year programs. About 35% of HTH graduates are first-generation college students, and 85% of their free school meals students complete degrees.  Astonishing.

The high schools in these four school design networks work.  Students in these schools all consistently outperform teenagers in conventionally sized, conventionally structured high schools with comparable demographics.  The system is learning to learn from them and the work has spawned other diffusion organisations – the Buck Institute supports robust models of project-based learning to spread; Bob Pearlman (formerly of NTN) curates a school reform and innovation web space.

There are also some common design features across all these models:

  • All include project-based learning, an engaging and empowering pedagogical model, which requires teachers to collaborative as designers of learning
  • All focus on the centrality of relationships – have ‘advisory’ (where advisory is the soul of the school, symbolising support of students before teaching curriculum)
  • All have powerful and sustained adult learning norms
  • All have pervasive cultural identity and school-level ownership of what matters, including what is assessed and how and by whom it is assessed.

For the UK, the point of this range of US examples is simple.  Healthy systems have to have innovation capacity – a self conscious attempt to design, implement and evaluate potentially paradigm-shifting new models of practice.  Yes, there are real schooling problems in many US States and cities, but the system is healthy and will be fine because it knows where it is heading.  It has great icons from which it can learn – as evidenced in two very current reform movements:  XQ America and Education Reimagined. They build from these iconic innovatory school designs with the intention of fostering a  transformation movement.

We do not (yet) have this tradition in the UK.  And not to have it simply means that we constantly focus on striving to improve the existing school model.  This is a model that is more than 100 years old and way, way, way out of date.  At is a model that has failed to achieve equitable outcomes, or to address socio-economic challenge, or to engage the potentially disengaged learner (or to engage most learners, for that matter).  Nor has it provided teachers with an intellectually challenging profession, or excited and involved parents around the experience of their children.  Effectively, this means that innovation becomes limited to new ways of delivering the 60 minute subject-based lesson!

Innovation Unit has worked with many of those cited above, extensively with High Tech High.  Richly, too, with Big Picture, Expeditionary Learning and New Tech Network, and has learned much from Buck Institute and Bob Pearlman.  We believe it is time to start just such a movement in the UK.  There are four ways we are striving to do this:

  1. In partnership with others (such as School 21 Trust, Eos, Hartsholme Academy, XP School and others) we will celebrate and amplify the few existing models of new practice in the UK
  2. We will seek to infuse the airways with thought-leadership material – generate energy around the ideas, the evidence and the images of practice that mark out a direction of travel.  Valerie Hannon’s recently published book, “Thrive”, provides a compelling rationale and imperative and the IU’s twitter feed, David Price’s and my own will link to relevant materials
  3. Innovation Unit has established a School Design Lab to provide tools, processes and extended support for design of new school models and redesign of existing ones
  4. Innovation Unit is establishing a multi-academy trust (Extraordinary Learning Trust) of innovative new school designs, which will mean three things:
    1. Creating a different kind of MAT – a MAT that builds on the best that is known about school-to-school collaboration (e.g. HTH as a MAT or A Different Kind of MAT Story)
    2. Recruiting a diverse group of start-up primary schools that are already exceptional in relation to a shared set set of design principles – think of the Coalition’s “common principles for uncommon schools” and who will progressively influence the design of the Trust’s new secondary schools
    3. Building a coalition of members, trustees and partners around the work who are eager to support and enable its success.

With regard to the common principles, we believe that these might be the areas around which principles should form:

Slide 1

And our first take on what exactly these principles might be is below.  However, they will be further adapted in partnership with the founding schools and trustees.  The language may change, but the essence will remain – bold and ambitious statements that can distinguish ExL Trust’s diverse school models from those of the past.

If you have journeyed this far, thanks for reading and do make contact with us if you are excited about the proposition.

Slide 2