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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Michaela and Time: You Can Only Spend It Once

These are a few more reflections on David Didau’s (@LearningSpy) recent post, Michaela School: Route One Schooling.  The post made me think for many hours.  A great outcome from five minutes reading.

My first set of thoughts is in the post Michaela and Behaviour: Reflections from Afar which focussed on the tension between effectiveness and justice in behaviour policies and dealing with the most challenging students across a locality.

Photo Credit: openDemocracy via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: openDemocracy via Flickr cc

Michaela School: Route One …

Michaela have assembled a fiercely passionate team committed to making a difference in the lives of the children they teach. It’s not perfect, but never have I visited a school where the vision so closely aligns with the reality. The amount of thought, care and, yes, love, put into their school will surely make it a success.

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

This single minded approach takes some nerve and the school immediately endeared itself to me when I read, They’ve also refused to compromise on ‘what Ofsted want”. They’ve come to terms with the fact that inspectors will almost certainly hate what they do.”  It reminded me of Tom Sherrington’s (@headguruteacher) great tweet along the lines, “If Ofsted didn’t exist what would you do?  Do it anyway.”

Matching Vision & Action

“Knowledge is Power”, is the strap line for Michaela School.  I think if I said to Twitter, Discuss, it would explode into a frenzied, bitter argument over whether there is a causal link between knowledge and power, what type of knowledge and what type of power and how this affects a person’s life and the society we live in.  There is a perfectly coherent argument to be made that background, connections and affluence all impact on power.  So the debate can go on but what interested me was David’s comment on the powerful alignment between vision and reality.  Would anyone say the same if they visited any of the academies within our Trust?  What about your school or academy?

Many visions, including ones I’ve written, can be like mother’s love and apple pie. There’s not much to disagree with and just about everything is covered.   It is the appropriateness of the vision allied to the extent to which it becomes a lived reality that really matters note to self.

Michaela School: Route One …

Because behaviour is perfect and because teaching sequences have all been planned out in advance, teachers just need to teach … There is no variance in lesson quality. They may well be variance in teacher quality but this is largely irrelevant: children’s experience of lessons is consistent, predictable and coordinated. There are no weak links. Or if there are, pupils are unaware of them.

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

DD Response

There are a few sweeping statements above but David has pre-empted the obvious challenge with his comment on the previous post which is fair enough.


The bit I focussed on was, “teaching sequences have all been planned out in advance”The whole issue of planning, more specifically collaborative planning, not simply as a way of producing schemes of learning but also as professional learning is of interest to me.  I’ve been working with a schema for the planning process which has been part of professional development for a number of groups, primary and secondary, across the Trust.  It is part Leverage Leadership, part Trivium, part experience and probably part other things which are now buried in my subconscious.

Flow Diagram of Lesson Planning

It will form part of a series of days training next half term for leaders across the Trust.  It is an element of our approach to Data & Feedback Informed Teaching, rooted in Data Driven Instruction, but with some adaptations to suit our way of working and current strengths.  If we believe this is the best approach for our children and teachers then we need to go for it full on.  Calendars are currently being reviewed to use Thursday afternoon weekly CPD time to provide the time and space for this to happen at St. Mary’s.  Christ the King and St. Cuthbert’s are also looking at how they will provide time for staff.  Collaborative planning is a powerful form of professional development but is time intensive.   I’m trying to think of a quick acronym for Data & Feedback Informed Teaching: D-FIT, F-DIT and FD-IT have crossed my mind but can all be misinterpreted and misused.  Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.

Michaela School: Route One …

… “display work is lovely,” the time it takes for students to make it and teachers to put it up just isn’t worth the cost. So there’s no student work on display …

Students' Art Work on Display in St. Mary's Entrance Foyer.  Is display powerful in some subjects?

Students’ Art Work on Display in St. Mary’s Entrance Foyer. Is display powerful in some subjects?

… At Michaela teachers do not mark books. Ever … Although their books go unmarked, children get plenty of feedback. Classwork is regularly quizzed using a very slick bespoke system which allows teachers to immediately see where children have weaknesses and allows them to intervene. On top of that, children complete an extended assignment four times a year which is summatively assessed. Good examples are dissected under the visualiser and whole class feedback is delivered from the front …

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

In the post, Joe Kirby, Assistant Head Teacher, comments that “individual written feedback isn’t renewable” and proposes an alternative way the time could be used by a teacher.  Whilst I think there are some increasingly good ideas to efficiently deliver individual feedback, yellow box marking being one of my current favourites, the point is very powerfully made.  You can only spend time once.  Schools, leaders and teachers all try to do too much and we keep doing a lot of things badly rather than doing a few high impact things very well.

Doing Less Better

I’ve used this graphic a lot recently to try to emphasise the do less better mantra which I believe would help many schools improve.  Too often we run around looking like we are improving things, to satisfy various masters, when the impact on outcomes is negligible or could have been achieved more easily.  Whether or not I agree with Michaela School’s analysis of marking isn’t my main reflection point.  The point I took away was, “What am I going to stop doing?”  The process of abandonment is really difficult partly because we’ve never really practised it in education.

You Can Only Spend Time Once; Spend it Wisely

It is the consistency of purpose, cohesiveness of priorities and single mindedness that most struck me about the Michaela School approach.  It may be worth adopting this as the core reflection and then adapting the particulars to what is consistent with your vision and values and what works in your own context.  More than ever we need brave schools to do what is right for their own children and the children in the local family of schools.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my reflections are in no way a criticism of Michaela School which I have never visited nor David whose blog post made me think and think hard.  Again, I apologise in advance if I have misinterpreted the post or made any factual inaccuracies about the school.  I’m more than happy to be corrected.

As a final thought this sounded wonderful:

Over lunch I was quizzed articulately about what I did for a living, how I voted, whether I thought nuclear weapons were a good thing and what I was currently reading. The children served each other, cleared the table and went about the serious business of eating a meal which was so much more than merely consuming food.

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

The social learning contained within these few sentences about the art of conversation, the importance of service and the breaking of bread together seems one to aspire to.

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4 thoughts on “Michaela and Time: You Can Only Spend It Once

  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Posted by heatherfblog | May 17, 2015, 8:19 am
  2. Great post. I am about to become acting head of geography so loved the ideas about planning curriculum. You could call your acronym FEED-IT. Which is what you are doing
    Thanks, paul

    Posted by Paul dearing | June 28, 2015, 10:13 pm


  1. Pingback: Is the “Michaela way” really just gaming the system dressed up as ideology? | Education: the sacred and the profane - May 17, 2015

  2. Pingback: Starting at Michaela | mathagogy - October 8, 2016

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