Why I read it – I’d seen a couple of talks by Sam Strickland, and follow him on Twitter, where he voices his views about school culture with clarity. I initially pegged him as ‘no nonsense’ – a Headteacher with high expectations of students’ behaviour, attitude and respect; given that I worked in a school with similarly high standards in this area, I nodded along wholeheartedly. But the term ‘no nonsense’ has woeful shortcomings, especially to describe Sam, who is principled, thoughtful and extremely knowledgeable. Sam had spoken at length on Twitter about school transformation and getting culture right, and Education Exposed gave me the chance to see some of his other views and passions regarding how to run a brilliant school.
The book describes itself as a ‘dip in, dip out’ guide to school improvement, with self-contained chapters ranging from leadership, behaviour, curriculum, and workload.
I’d describe Education Exposed as concise. It’s light in the hand. Strickland spares us lengthy anecdotes, charts, or preaching, and instead provides clear, precise explanations of his beliefs. To quote Sum 41, it’s all killer, no filler. Every idea is rooted in something tangible; you won’t find yourself reading three pages until you get to the actionables.
Each chapter begins with a list of common misconceptions, which I found thought provoking and useful, followed by the key reflections.
- Behaviour should be taught like a subject – you should read this chapter for yourself, but in summary, Strickland points out that some Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses neglect full behaviour training, and this often continues throughout our careers. Students need routines, clear expectations, and to have those expectations regularly explained and followed through. Leaders need to set the tone for behavioural expectations, all day every day, setting the right culture, and reframing the notion that poor behaviour is the fault of classroom teachers.
- Teachers are the experts – let them teach – we need to invest in teachers and their development as much as possible. They are experts in their subject, excellent practitioners with pedagogical knowledge, and they need to be treated as such. I’ve merged a few chapters together with this takeaway, but Strickland dedicates a chapter to workload, and how we can release teachers from unnecessary tasks so that they can focus on being the best teachers they can for our children. In short, value teachers!
- Subject knowledge is king and curriculum is God – these are Strickland’s choice of words, and demonstrate how strongly he feels about the importance of designing and implementing the curriculum. He advocates a knowledge-rich curriculum, and brings together ideas from experts about the nature of excellent curriculum: its knowledge focus, links between topics, and having a beginning, middle and end. When I started teaching, I felt I was trained in tasks. ‘Which tasks are you doing?’ ‘Have you thought about your task variety?’ But Strickland’s chapters focus us on how to plan our curriculum and lessons for learning and knowledge acquisition.
‘We permit what we promote, and we promote what we permit’
I’ve always used the phrase ‘what we accept becomes acceptable’, but I like Sam’s even more. As a leader, it’s so important to focus on what we want to promote among students and staff, and how we enable that. But we have to walk to the walk, too. Whatever we allow to happen in our schools, be it turning a blind eye to uniform infractions or allowing sub-par culture among staff, becomes acceptable to others. Then it becomes the norm. Whichever values we communicate and promote, we must then put the time into carrying out.
The final chapter is called ‘All aboard the training bus’, and examines staff development. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last couple of years, and I’m sure Sam left it until last for a reason. He proposes that we invest in subject knowledge (and with it, co-planning and collaboration), the human and social capital of the staff as a whole, and that we support staff as much as possible during their development journey.
This book is about raising standards in schools so that the children get the best possible deal, and is filled with ideas about how we implement high expectations, routines, and don’t waiver from our values. But at the heart of everything Sam writes is a commitment to looking after our staff, and committing to their wellbeing and development.
Question and reflect
- As leaders, do we recognise that ‘we permit what we promote, and we promote what we permit’, and constantly focus on whether we are upholding the values that we communicate?
- Sam splits his book into the important components of a brilliant school. Do we spend an equal share of our efforts on culture, behaviour, curriculum, staff development? Which of these areas do we potentially spend less time on?
- Sam’s views are thoughtful, considered, and based on experience; they are also forthright and clear. If someone asked us about our school, would we be able to articulate our values and beliefs with the same clarity? If not, why not?
Read this if…
You want to reflect on the key ingredients of a purposeful and thriving school
You are a leader and you want to learn from a headteacher with clear views and actionable ideas
Order from the publisher here