An Alternative Good School Checklist

I stumbled across this thought provoking post on Twitter via @ThatIanGilbert who heads up the  education company Independent Thinking who provide an array of learning opportunities for teachers through conferences, seminars & their ‘Little Book of…’ series.  These books are definitely worth investing in and can be purchased for around a fiver on Amazon.

Here is the list in full:

”Fed up with people/MPs/the Press saying ‘That’s a good school’ and basing their judgement entirely upon exam results? Here’s a 24-point (and counting) ‘good school’ checklist that focuses on a picture bigger than just the exam results.

  1. Do children enjoy going there?
  2. Do teachers enjoy working there?
  3. Are all children challenged by the work?
  4. Do the children develop competencies as well as grades?
  5. Do the children learn skills as well as facts?
  6. Are morals and values focused on and exhibited daily by all members of the school community?
  7. Is there an inclusive atmosphere where all children are valued for who they are and what they bring?
  8. Are key issues like bullying and other social and emotional aspects of school life discussed and addressed in a positive, open way?
  9. Is the ability to think for themselves encouraged and developed in all children?
  10. Does the school have a sense of fun?
  11. Are aspects like wonder, curiosity, adventure, bravery, resilience actively encouraged and celebrated?
  12. Are the teachers open to new ideas and keen to do things with – and not to – the learners?
  13. Does the school keep up to date with new advances in learning and technology?
  14. Are high expectations of the children matched by high expectations of the staff?
  15. Is the headteacher visible?
  16. Are children taught that being their best doesn’t have to involve being better than others?
  17. Is the unexpected welcomed?
  18. Do children get to think about, interact with and seek to change life outside of the school walls?
  19. Is the school aware that learning is something that children can do at any time, anywhere and only part of it needs to be within the school walls?
  20. Does the school community extend beyond the school walls?
  21. Do the lessons incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and possibilities?
  22. Do the children have the opportunity to be responsible for something and take decisions that make a difference?
  23. Does the lady on reception smile at visitors?
  24. Are the results sufficient enough to allow all children to go to the next stage of their life, whatever that may be?

Are there any other things you would add to this checklist?  We at Wilmslow High School would love to hear from you!

David Price: why do we need innovation in education?

Although David’s post below resonates with me personally, I feel that Wilmslow High School’s teaching community is continually striving to innovate both in the classroom and structurally, where our collective aim is to become a national beacon of world class learning for both our students and teachers where we are:

  • Open to new learning possibilties for both students and teachers
  • Willing to risk short term failures in our teaching practice for long term, high quality teaching practice (Fail better!)
  • Always willing to find ways to share great practice between our local, natioinal and international teaching communities (this website being one of those ways!)

A great lesson I took away from Tim Harford’s book, ‘Adapt: why success always starts with failure’ sits neatly with why we should be innovating in education at every opportunity. Harford suggests the 3 Palchinsky Principles are shaped to encourage stronger innovation, better leadership and more effective policies:

1. Variation – seek out new ideas and try new ideas

2. Survivability – when trying something new do it on a scale where failure is survivable

3. Selection – seek out feedback and learn from mistakes as you go along, avoid an instinctive reaction of denial

(Peter Palchinsky was a Russian mining engineer who was imprisoned and executed by Stalin’s government in 1929 after many years of dissent against the human cost of the top-down command and control approach to industrialisation in Soviet Russia).

David’s post generated many questions when I first read it; how many teaching and learning experiments are currently active in your school?  Are there too few or too many? Are YOU experimenting in your classroom? If you are, do have the time, opportunity or platform to share these experiments with your fellow teachers in your school, region or country?

Here is David’s post in full – please enjoy:

Ron Canuel, CEO of the CEA (Canadian Education Association) recently asked ‘why do we need innovation in education?’ I’m on the board of the CEA,’s professional magazine, so I have to declare an interest in blogging about this. But it’s a perfectly valid, if surprising, question to ask. Surprising, because it’s hard to imagine captains of industry asking themselves ‘do we need more innovaion in (say) manufacturing? Or medicine, or technology?  But it’s valid to ask, because so few education innovations seem to stick, and scale-up. The ‘game changers’ rarely seem to change the game.

Ron, himself, gives one good reason for the comparative lack of innovation: that accountability frameworks don’t recognise innovation as a yardstick to be measured. So, education systems tend to value compliance , conformity, even complacency, above experimentation.

He’s right, of course, though just because we’re not being rewarded for innovation, is insufficient reason not to do it. Educators have a moral purpose – to strive to find the best learning for each individual in their care – and that should always trump keeping governments off our backs. That takes courage, of course, and school leaders, especially the less experienced ones, need time to build their courage. A Head Teacher of a highly innovative school in England, was taking a bunch of visitors around the school this week. He was asked ‘what progress have you made this year against the targets from the last OFSTED (our national inspections agency) visit?’ ‘None’, came the reply to a confused silence. ‘We haven’t tried to – it’s not important’. If only we had more school leaders who showed such determination not to be blown off-course by the constantly shifting winds of government. School leaders have a lot more autonomy than they often claim to have. But because it’s  such a tough job, it’s sometimes frankly easier to work to the targets and priorities someone else has set for you, and blame them when it doesn’t work.

There are, however, another couple of explanations for the lack of innovation.

First, there’s the dreaded ‘guinea-pig’ syndrome, where any attempt to try something new is met with ‘so you’re going to use these children as guinea-pigs in your experiment, are you?’  I’m baffled by this reaction (and parents and politicians are equally guilty here) for two reasons: First, how many medical breakthroughs would we have missed if people had refused to take part in clinical trials? More accurately, it’s not the patients who are refusing the clinical trial. Kids generally enjoy being part of a new initiative. It’s the guardians of their interests who resist.

Second,  there’s the ‘not-invented here-syndrome’ . Most of the truly exciting innovations in education are trialled on the ‘terminally ill’: the students for whom nothing seems to be working.  But the treatment would work just as well on other students. The CEA have recently rewarded one such initiative: The Oasis Skateboard Factory. This is an alternative school in Toronto for kids for whom mainstream schooling just doesn’t work. I urge you to take a little time to watch it. Listen to Craig, the founder of the school, and listen to the students. And then tell me, what is it about this innovation that wouldn’t work in mainstream schooling?

It’s such a compelling argument for offering some kids (if not most) a more authentic, project and enterprise-based approach to learning. My experience of showing new models of learning to educators, or policy makers, usually gets the same reaction Ron Canuel refers to: ‘that’s interesting, but it wouldn’t work in our school’. When the Musical Futures model I helped develop was drawing attention from schools in other countries, I did the politically correct thing by saying that cultural contexts would need different approaches, and that student outcomes would probably be different. But, inside I was thinking, ‘kids are not that different all over the world, so this should work just the same, wherever you are’. The reality has been just that. In seven countries the impact on kids is pretty much the same, wherever you go, for the reasons stated so elequently in the Oasis video.

I’ve been researching business models of innovation for the book I’m writing, and it’s fascinating to observe the ‘innovation gap’ which blocks change. Sometimes it’s structural/cultural – disciplinary silos, circling the waggons with’professional standards’ (most innovations come from outside), specialists viewing attempts to change their established ways as implied criticism). Sometimes it’s managerial – CEOs of innovative companies (think Steve Jobs) spend twice as much time personally involved in innovation, than their counterparts in less innovative companies. You have to model the change you wish to see.

So, there are some long-standing reasons why innovation gets blocked, or fails to transfer. But these aren’t as insurmountable as we often proclaim, and we can’t let them get in the way. As to the orginal question being posed, here are my five top reasons why we need innovation in education:

1. Because student outcomes are flatlining in countries where the ‘do more, work harder’ dictat,  combined with market-driven approaches from governments, drove innovation out of the sector and replaced it with fear. We need some new ideas.

2. Because, as educators, we’re in direct competition with the learning young people access socially, informally – and, right now, we’re coming off second best.

3. Because we need to constantly engage in respectful, challenging, professional discourse about our practice (and we need to spend rather less time providing pointless information to satisfy demands for accountability)

4. Because children, far from considering themselves ‘guinea pigs’ actually enjoy being part of something new. They well understand that being part of an innovation that doesn’t ultimately work isn’t going to have a critical effect on their education – not least because of (2) above. But the critical point is ‘being part of’, being active co-designers of learning innovations.

5. Because the one-size model of schooling never did fit all students, and it certainly won’t now. The school of the future needs to be an amalgamation of many different learning models, which students and teachers can try out to find what works best for them.

But what are yours? Please let me know your reasons for demanding more innovation in eudcation, and let CEA know here.

David Price tweets from @DavidPriceOBE

You can find his fascianting blog here:

  • David is an experienced education consultant, project manager, strategic adviser and public speaker. After working in the music industry, he became involved in education in 1991, lecturing in adult, further, and higher education. In 1994 he helped establish Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, where he was Director of Learning for 7 years
  • Since then, he has led national projects in arts and education in the UK (most notably the innovative Musical Futures and Learning Futures projects for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation) and advised companies, third-sector organisations and government departments internationally. His public speaking work has taken him all over the UK and Europe, Australia, New Zealand, USA and China

Helen Birchill’s review of “Oops! Helping Children to Learn by Accident”

Review of  “Oops! Helping children to learn accidentally” by Hywel Roberts and Ian Gilbert

If you are one of those teachers who likes to be creative in the classroom but sometimes worries that you might be considered a little eccentric by your colleagues, or you are just trying to break out of the mould or extend your repertoire to avoid ‘death by power-point’, then this is the book for you.  An inspirational (and short!) read, this encourages you to seize opportunities and embrace radical ideas. The book is full of anecdotes and practical suggestions. It has very useful appendices (eg ‘ 10 sites to inspire you to hook into stuff’)

In particular, Roberts and Gilbert turn their RAVE curriculum (Relevant, Academic, Vocational and Educational) into the BRAVE (Buzzin!)  They promote the idea of making lessons relevant as a key to success.  This is something we can all learn from.  Also, sharing our experiences with students is rewarding and promotes effective engagement.

I took this on recently in my own lessons in the following way:

  • Why did it take so long to abolish slavery in the 18th/19th Centuries?

I ‘hooked’ students in by asking them to think of stories they were aware of in the news. How were they aware? How could they have been made aware? (BBM; Twitter; Facebook; The News at Ten! (admitted by one student only because he was waiting for Match of the Day!); etc ) This led to a discussion of how different the channels of communication were in the 1800s and enabled us to begin to understand how the Abolitionists campaigned to end the slave trade.

  • How far was corruption within the monasteries and convents a factor in why Henry VIII closed them down?

Students could better understand why Henry used this as an excuse by considering  a local feature of the landscape which is of value to them.  They chose The Carrs, a local outdoor area in Wilmslow. We were able to discuss how they would feel if it was taken away by the local council in the interests of saving money.  How could the local council  ‘soften the blow’ so as not to upset so many of the local people?  By suggesting it was a health hazard? Suggesting it was no longer utilised? etc

Both lessons worked really well and the students remarked on how they went really quickly. Time flies when…

In terms of sharing experiences, what better way than telling them about some of your own?  In Geography, that climb up Mount Etna or being caught up in an earthquake, or the fish you saw with a ring pull around its neck…

Go on! Get  thinking of how you can make your lessons relevant to the students. Share some of your own experiences/ memories  with them and see how you get on. It’s good for the students to know that we are all human…

Helen Birchilll


Questioning – Top Ten Strategies via @HuntingEnglish

  • This brilliant post has been kindly shared by Alex Quigley a subject leader of English at Huntington School in York.
  • You can find his outstanding blog at
  • He tweets from @HuntingEnglish….get following him now for some great ideas to use in your classroom

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”Albert Einstein

Questioning is the very cornerstone of philosophy and education, ever since Socrates ( in our Western tradition) decided to annoy pretty much everyone by critiquing and harrying people with questions – it has been central to our development of thinking and our capacity to learn. Indeed, it is so integral to all that we do that it is often overlooked when developing pedagogy – but it as crucial to teaching as air is to breathing. We must ask: do we need to give questioning the thought and planning time something so essential to learning obviously deserves? Do we need to consciously teach students to ask good questions and not just answer them? How do we create a ‘culture of inquiry’ in our classroom that open minds and provokes truly independent thought?

Most research indicates that as much as 80% of classroom questioning is based on low order, factual recall questions. What we must do is put questioning back to the core of our pedagogy and planning – we need to create is a climate of enquiry and engagement in high quality, high order questioning if formative progress is to be identified effectively. We need to carefully formulate questions with precision, as well as targeting the right questions with the right students. One key issue is that we teach in a ‘answer focused culture’ – students await to be spoon fed answers; they await the secrets to an exam that is typically closed to any breadth of thinking (many of our exams are awful – the English Literature AS level exam appears to have reduced the greatest literature known to man down to a reductive shopping list!). The entire system we work within appears to reinforce a close-minded ‘answers culture’; inquisitiveness, time to explore and think are rail-roaded into a one track exam system. Controlled assessment after controlled assessment – judgement after stultifying judgement. Yet, we can change the system from the inside: we can make our schools and classrooms a world within a world – one where we maximise creativity by encouraging the asking of good, thoughtful questions; one where we crucially foster a culture of enquiry. In a culture of enquiry, questions are no longer the domain of the ignorant; a tool to trip up the teacher – they become dynamic – more about critical involvement, stretching knowledge and enriching understanding.

Effective questioning is key because it makes the thinking visible: it identifies prior knowledge; reasoning ability and the specific degree of student understanding – therefore it is the ultimate guide for formative progress. It allows for flexible adaptations in the learning and the righting of misconceptions – it can be the key #marginalgain in any given lesson in terms of time, but it is often the key hinge point between students making progress. My top ten list is roughly organised by transitions within a lesson: beginning with 1 to 4 being questioning that initiates the learning process; 5 and 7 being core questioning techniques to develop the learning; and finally 8 to 10 being questioning strategies that are evaluative in nature:

1. Key Questions as Learning Objectives: what better way to foster a culture of inquiry than to spark the whole shooting match off with a big question that gets students thinking critically about what they are going to learn? By asking a big question you can initiate thinking and group discussion that immediate engages students in their prospective learning. By framing it as a question, it can raise motivation, as students feel like they have invested choice in their learning – and by getting students to subsequently formulate the learning objective they really begin to think about the nuances of what they are to learn and why.

2. ‘If this is the answer…what is the question?’


Taken from ‘Mock the Week’, this simple little technique sparks the inquisitiveness within students – just by quickly reversing the standard question and answer dichotomy it can deepen their thinking. It could be a relatively closed answer, like ’3.14159265359′ (the numerical value of pi); or something more open and abstract, like ‘religion’ (a potential powder-keg that one!). They can be given the idea by showing a short clip of ‘Mock the Week from’ on YouTube – but I would advise you to vet the video carefully first!

3. Thunks – These little gems are great to initiate deeper thinking, with seemingly simple questions opening up a complex array of higher order thinking. Thunks, such as: “If I ask if I can steal your pen and you say yes, is that stealing?” Or “Can I ever step on the same beach twice?” are great fun and thoughtful starters. These clever questions (see Ian Gilbert’s excellent ‘Little a book of Thunks‘ or the website: ) can simply be used to spark thinking or dialogue, or they can be more targeted towards the topic or subject at hand. As the students become familiar with thunking (they really enjoy it in my experience) they can begin to formulate their own thunks – a great way to get them to think about higher order, open questioning.

4. ‘Just One More Question…’ (said in the style of Columbo!): Given any topic or subject, they have to work collaboratively in groups to create an array of quality questions. They can then be given a series of challenging question stems to broaden their range of questions, using the following: What if…?; Suppose we knew…?; What would change if…? Suppose we knew…? If they write the questions on post it notes then they can be collated and saved – with the teacher returning to them further thrown the learning line. As the topic develops students can add ‘just one more question’, as well as answering the initial questions as their understanding grows. By following this method you can continue to foster the crucial culture of inquiry in the classroom – encouraging questions as a matter of course. Generating a range of such questions is a great way to initiate a topic, as it helps highlight miscomprehension immediately; it can foster collaboration and it can give the teacher precise and immediate formative feedback to shape their subsequent planning for the topic.

5. Socratic questioning and Socratic Circles – The old dog really can teach us new tricks! Socrates himself believed that questioning was at the root of all learning – and it is hard to disagree. The six steps of Socratic questioning creates a critical atmosphere that probes thinking and once more gets the students questioning in a structured way. There are six main categories:

Q1. Get your students to clarify their thinking, for instance: “Why do you say that?” ….“Could you explain that further?” Q2. Challenging students about assumptions, for instance: “Is this always the case? Why do you think that this assumption holds here?” Q3. Evidence as a basis for argument, questions such as: “Why do you say that?” or “Is there reason to doubt this evidence?” Q4. Viewpoints and perspectives, this challenges the students to investigate other ways of looking at the same issue, for example: “What is the counter argument for…?” or Can/did anyone see this another way?” Q5. Implications and consequences, given that actions have consequences, this is an area ripe for questioning, for instance: “But if that happened, what else would result?” or “How does… affect ….?” By investigating this, students may analyse more carefully before jumping to an opinion Q6. Question the question, just when students think they have a valid answer this is where you can tip them back into the pit: “Why do you think I asked that question?” or “Why was that question important?”

I like to exemplify the probing nature of Socratic questioning with the attack dog of relentless questions – Jeremy Paxman – and his logical stripping down of Michael Howard!

I am thankful to @dailydenouement for the following document that presents a really clear set of instructions to document the Socratic circles strategy: This approach is a fantastic way to structure dialogue and to involve all students in exploring and developing their arguments. It creates a variety of roles and stimulates collaborative thinking and learning. Once more, it is another way to get students to reflect upon the very quality of the questions and not just the answers, with the critique of students from the outer circle.

6. Pose-pause-bounce-pounce – This is a brilliantly simple but very important strategy. The thinking time at the ‘pause’ point is crucial – there is a great deal of evidence about how the quality of responses, and the confidence levels of students, is raised by even a short amount of thinking time. The ‘bounce’ is also crucial in that, once again, students are expected to constructively build upon the ideas of one another, which gives the teacher the crucial formative assessment information required. I will hand you over to Dylan William and his excellent explanation of the strategy and the importance of quality questioning:

7. Hinge point questions –  This simple but effective question approach does what it says on the tin, but in terms of progress, planning using hinge point questions can be pivotal for formative assessment. These questions really are crucial to identifying formative progress. These can be relatively closed questions, such as in this History exemplar question: In which year did World War Two begin? A: 1919 B: 1938 C: 1939 D: 1940 This allows for a very swift hinge point diagnosis of student progress. But, you can deepen the thinking by asking a ‘Why’ question about the origins of World War Two. You can ask students to orally explain their rationale, or you can add further complexity by having two ‘right’ answers to a question. Regardless of the strategy, again the precision of the question is key to the answer, and the subsequent direction of the learning. Too often teachers plough on regardless to meet the demands of their brilliant lesson plan, when all the formative assessment shouts at them (sometimes literally!) to move in another direction. We should not be frightened by going back steps to consolidate the learning – repetition is at the heart of acquiring knowledge – and without knowledge, skills become meaningless. Like the Green Cross Code tells us, we need to ‘stop, look and listen’ to the quality of the question, and the quality of the answer, before we go anywhere.

8. Question continuum – The continuum involves the students first devising questions, in pairs or groups, on any given topic or idea. Then the continuum is created very visibly, either on the whiteboard, or more semi-permanently on a display board (great to resume the strategy in future lessons) – with student questions being on post it notes for added flexibility. The horizontal axis would represent the ‘Interest Level’ generated by each question – that is how likely the question is to inspire new thinking and new possibilities, and simply the interest level it generates from the group. Then the vertical axis could be flexible in a variety of ways, should you wish to include a vertical axis. The vertical axis could represent ‘Complexity‘ (from ‘closed factual questions’ to ‘open, conceptual questions’) – that is how far the question would deepen their understanding and generate complex thinking. Students could feedback their opinions, shaped by the teacher, to identify the best questions – which then could be the subject of further exploration. Having the questions very visible means you can also flexibly rearrange, such as selecting the ‘best’ nine questions and creating a new ‘diamond nine’ formation. As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

9. Questioning monitor: Once more, this technique constructively involves students in the evaluation and reflection of the questioning process – fostering my now well worn refrain of creating a culture of enquiry. A monitor, or a pair of monitors, would be given the responsibility to track and monitor the frequency of questions: teacher and student – open or closed: factual or conceptual. You can have them monitor for a given task, or relate more cumulative research by undertaking the monitoring over a week or two of lessons. By exploring the evidence you are signalling to the students that you value evidence, and you are diagnosing the quality of your questioning, and that of the students. You will then have the evidence to know whether you really do have a culture of enquiry – and if not, it illuminates some of the steps you need to take to develop one. The activity sends very powerful messages to students about how highly your value quality questioning.

10. The Question Wall (a design upgrade for a well-used technique) Many educationalists have put forward sound reasons for using a question wall, or a learning wall. The ‘Question Continuum’ clearly overlaps with regards to pedagogy with a question wall, so I would be wary of trying both concurrently with groups, as it could potentially confuse them. The ‘Question Wall’ in this instance is a working space for students to communicate questions about their learning. By giving students post it notes and asking them to commit questions to writing typically eliminates those questions that reflect a sense of ‘learnt helplessness’ – the ‘how does you spell such and such’, when they have a dictionary on their table; or, ‘what do we have to do’, in response to your lengthy and erudite explanation you have only just imparted! The question wall helps foster independence and, once more, makes the students think a little more about their questions. To add a level of nuance to the wall, consider creating simple quadrants with simple labels: students can be advised that closed questions are placed on the left of the wall, whereas more open questions are placed progressively to the right hand side. A vertical axis could indicate the timer he student would expect was needed for explanation: placing questions that need a high degree of support, and therefore time, higher up the wall than those shorter, typically more closed questions. This simple visual representation of their questions allows the teacher to make a quick visual judgement about what questions they have time to address, or may want to prioritise. It helpfully indicates the level of ‘stuckness’ of the student, which is important feedback.

*Note: You may have noticed that the vast majority of these techniques require, or could benefit from, the use of post it notes. I am a supreme convert of the humble post it! We have just invested in stacks of the larger post its (they are broader than the usual) to ensure they work more effectively as tools for the above strategies and more.

Added Extras:

Schools across the world are taking the basics of questioning and learning and making outstanding progress happen, with high order critical at the heart of learning. Other countries, like China, are hunting down education systems that foster a ‘culture of inquiry’ so that they can create their own system that helps create creative and critical thinkers. With this pursuit in mind, I found this interesting case study about project based learning in schools in Jerusalem, with their ‘Communities of Thinking’. There are some great questions to be found here at the root of some really interesting pedagogy:

Lookout for Learning Quiz

You need to open 2 Lookout for Learning web pages

  • On one web page you will conduct your research for the quiz
  • On the second web page you will click on the link below for the quiz so you can answer the questions (same method as signing up for WHS’s Learning Conference)

Here is the link for our quiz:

Happy exploring & good luck to everyone!