Skip to main content

It's the teaching quality, stupid.

I've been following the debates on academies and free schools with interest. Labour's academy policy, hugely expanded with frenetic gusto by Michael Gove, and supplemented with free schools, is predicated on the huge assumption that school autonomy is a route to higher pupil achievement.

I have always been a bit suspicious about that claim, even though international evidence (OECD - PISA) has detected a correlation between achievement and educational systems which allow for autonomy..

What we know for certain is that it's teaching quality, above all else, which determines pupil's attainment.* The focus should be totally on that. If it could be demonstrated that school autonomy increases teaching quality, then a strong case could be made for it. There appears to be some evidence that chains of independent academies have had some success in raising standards, for example the Harris chain in London. The idea is this: if one school is doing well, get it to share its practice with others and they will all get better. Maybe there is something in this, but only if it is an improvement in teaching which is bringing about the improvement. Interestingly the key factor here is collaboration rather than autonomy. Would not well-run local authorities be able to foster collaboration?

As Dylan Wiliam and others have argued, you cannot change your teaching force or improve teaching overnight and changing a school's status does little to raise achievement in itself. So sharing best practice is the secret. This can be done across schools and within them by setting up, for example, teaching and learning communities. I have witnessed this first hand and seen how, even in a high-achieving school, marginal improvements can be made in teacher motivation and practice. Collaboration, staff development, motivation and good leadership to create a disciplined and positive environment must be key.

Most of the schools which have recently become academies have done so for perceived financial gain. It remains to be seen whether they will gain in the long term. Most have probably changed little and we won't know for some time whether academy or free school status has brought about raised standards.

I taught for many years in a school which chose to remain under local authority control. Through effective leadership and excellent teaching it has striven to improve year on year. I cannot see how academy status would have made any difference. School autonomy on its own does not raise standards.

The conspiracy theorist in me would say that for many years Conservative politicians have wanted to divorce schools from local authorities and finally they have, in part, achieved it, thanks to an over-enthusiastic education secretary and a silent opposition whose views are unformulated. I hope that the other half of secondary schools and the vast majority of primary schools which are still maintained, keep their current status.



Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.


An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.

Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …