Matt Bromley’s Blog

When is a blog not a blog? Blog: noun (informal) an online journal. Contraction of: web-log. This isn’t really a blog; it’s a repository, an archive of everything I write for various newspapers, magazines, websites, newsletters and books. Occasionally, I’ll feel inspired to write something exclusively for these pages, too.

Selected blogs…

NEW! Feedback – the mark of success

Although feedback is an important part of teaching, not all types of feedback are of equal value and feedback is not in itself a panacea or indeed a proxy for good teaching. In this seven-part series, I argue that our obsession with feedback has led to unhealthy and unsustainable levels of teacher workload which, in turn, have adversely affected teacher retention. I argue that we should be pragmatic, weighing energy versus impact – in other words, we should balance the amount of time and effort a strategy takes a teacher to employ with the academic gains it produces for pupils, investing in those strategies that lead to the biggest impact for the lowest investment of energy.  I argue that schools should abandon “one-size-fits-all” assessment policies and strike a better balance between consistency and autonomy. And I  argue that better isn’t always synonymous with more – in fact, feedback is made more effective if we do less of it but do it more strategically. Let’s start by examining the issue of teacher workload… READ MORE: PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN

NEW! How to motivate students 

When I first started exercising a couple of years ago, following a bout of ill-health, I could muster but 15 minutes’ half-hearted jogging on a treadmill while watching trash television before collapsing, coughing and spluttering, to the floor. Until, that is, I had an idea. What I did next not only helped me conquer my natural phobia of physical activity, it also taught me a lesson about motivation – a secret that I believe can help unlock the potential of our most reluctant, difficult-to-reach pupils… READ MORE: PART ONE | PART TWO

NEW! Top 10 tips for stimulating the sensory memory

NEW! Top 10 tips for gaining the attention of working memory

NEW! Top 10 tips for improving retrieval from long-term memory


Closing the vocabulary gap

If you’re a high ability pupil from a low income home (and, therefore, a low social class), you’re not going to do as well in school and in later life as a low ability pupil from a higher income home and higher social class. In other words, it is social class and wealth – not ability – that defines a pupil’s educational outcomes and their future life chances. But why should this be?… READ MORE

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Leadership and staff retention (Part 5)

If our schools are to succeed, school leaders must secure a rich supply of qualified, high-quality teachers, and – once they’ve entered the classroom – they must invest in them professionally and make them feel valued in order to ensure that, once they enter the profession, they remain in it.  Indeed, this is exactly what the best education systems in the world do. Take, for example, Finland… READ MORE

Leadership and staff retention (Part 4)

I am lucky enough, in the course of my working week, to visit a lot of schools and I’ve become attuned to this dynamic. In the best schools, I can sense – almost immediately upon walking through the gates – the love and care that children and adults feel towards one another. In the best schools, the staffroom remains a hub of the school – it is busy with staff sharing and listening; off-loading and laughing. Conversely, in the least successful schools, the staffroom is either non-existent or deserted; instead, staff work in departmental silos or, worse, alone in their classrooms. In the best schools, the canteen and corridors are calm, friendly places – respected and kept clean by everyone. People are polite, greeting you with a smile; and they are purposeful, focused on learning and teaching… READ MORE

Leadership and staff retention (Part 3)

School leaders should think hard about staff recruitment in order to ensure they hire the best people, then they should work hard to ensure those staff stay by making people feel valued and rewarded, and – perhaps more importantly – making sure they are developed professionally. In this article I will share some tips for improving the organisational effectiveness of schools and explore ways of increasing teachers’ intrinsic motivation so that their job satisfaction and wellbeing improves… READ MORE

Supply teachers: Make a success of your CPD

Supply teachers have a duty to keep their professional knowledge up-to-date and, as such, should access regular CPD. It may be possible to join in with school-based CPD such as INSET days and twilight training while you’re on a placement but you should not limit yourself to these ad hoc opportunities. Your CPD is your responsibility. And there are plenty of opportunities for you to engage in more informal, personalised professional development… READ MORE

Leadership and staff retention (Part 2)

In a paper pithily entitled Organisational Blueprints for Success in High-Tech Start-Ups: Lessons from the Stanford Project on Emerging Companies (by James N Baron and Michael T Hannan, published in the California Management Review in 2002), the authors proposed five different models of organisational structure: the star model, the engineering model, the commitment model, the bureaucratic model, and the autocratic model… READ MORE

How to achieve a work life balance

It is important that leaders retain perspective and lead healthy lifestyles if they are to cope with the demands of the job and achieve longevity. The term ‘work-life balance’ is frequently used but, in my experience, rarely understood. Leaders accept that it is healthy to have a life outside of work but rarely acknowledge that this is also a sign of increased effectiveness. Too many people think that keeping sensible working hours is a sign of laziness or is symptomatic of a lack of commitment. Some people measure a leader’s ability by how early his or her car pulls into the car park and by what time of night it drives away again. Nothing could be further from the truth… READ PART 1 | PART 2

Leadership and staff retention (Part 1)

“The strength of a nation’s economy and the vitality of its society depend on the quality of its schools.”  So begins a report by the Centre for High Performance (published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017) on what it takes to be a successful school leader… READ MORE

Supply teaching: Top tips for a successful placement

Being a supply teacher is tough. At times it can feel like you’re spinning plates and, if you’re not careful, it starts to resemble a Greek wedding. One trick to keeping all those plates spinning is to break down what can be a complex, multi-faceted job into each of its constituent parts, to deconstruct the whole and identify its components, then reconstruct it again one piece at a time. In practice, this might mean creating a checklist of short-term, manageable tasks. To help you get started writing your own checklist, here are five top tasks you might want to tick off as soon as you start a new supply job… READ MORE

The four qualities of great leaders

Great teaching is a nuanced, complex art form. And we refer to it as “teaching practice” for a reason – we are forever practising, forever striving towards excellence and expertise. And yet we will never master it. But great teachers never tire of trying new things, of taking risks. They experiment and evaluate; they try and reflect.

For a teacher to be consistently and sustainably great, however, they need to work in a school or college where there is also great leadership. Great leaders, you see, create the conditions in which teachers can thrive; they build a culture in which risk-taking is encouraged and in which teachers are freed from any unnecessary burdens to focus on teaching. This is not to say that great leaders afford their teachers complete autonomy. Indeed, great leaders create a framework in which all their colleagues are assured of providing the highest quality of teaching, learning and assessment and do so consistently… READ MORE

The six realms of school leadership

There are many ways in which we could define and perhaps even measure the effectiveness of a school leader but I think it is reasonable and indeed practical to meld the myriad activities in which leaders are required to engage into six categories. These six realms of school leadership are as follows: 1. Setting a vision for the future, 2. Being a lead teacher, 3. Working with and developing others, 4. Leading the organisation, 5. Managing the team, and 6. Developing external links. Each school and each school leader will have a different interpretation of what the six realms mean to him or her in practice but here is my summary… READ MORE

Supply teachers – your legal duties

When you think of a teacher’s legal obligations, you tend to think in terms of child protection and safeguarding. So, although a supply teacher’s legal duties extend beyond this realm, it is a good place to start… READ MORE

A lesson plan is not a planned lesson

This article is about planned lessons not lesson plans. I do not advocate spending your evenings and weekends writing detailed pro forma. Life’s too short and you need to strike a work/life balance if you’re to survive your probation. Although a lesson plan may help you in your NQT year (a written plan can be something to lean on in the hurly burly of the classroom), having a lesson plan does not equate to teaching a well-planned lesson… READ MORE

The open loop – improving feedback 

To help pupils learn, we need to provide them with plentiful opportunities to practise, receive feedback, reflect, and then act upon that feedback. This is called the open loop because it spins endlessly: practice, feedback, reflection; practice, feedback, reflection; ad infinitum. Every skill can be improved and perfected by performing it repeatedly but not all forms of practice are equal. We learn most effectively when we engage in what Anders Ericsson calls “purposeful practice”. Purposeful practice is about struggling in certain targeted ways – placing artificial barriers in the way of pupils’ success in order to make it harder for them to learn something initially. In other words, we slow our pupils’ learning down and force them to make mistakes because this will ensure they operate at the very edge of their abilities… READ MORE

The learning process – 10-part series for SecEd magazine

What is learning? It’s a simple question, isn’t it? And surely, as teachers, our understanding of what we do – the act of teaching – is contingent on having first developed a fundamental understanding of what we are paid to produce – learning. After all, we wouldn’t attempt to assemble a flat-packed cabinet without first looking at a picture of the finished product and without then following step-by-step instructions that take us from flat-pack to fully assembled furniture. In short, if pedagogy is a process whereby teaching is the input and learning is the output, then we need to know what the output should look like in order to decide what raw components to use and in what sequence to put them together… READ MORE

The problem with the Key Stage 3 curriculum

It’s not difficult to understand why school leaders prioritise Key Stages 4 and 5 over Key Stage 3 because this is where external accountability sits and it takes a brave, perhaps foolish, headteacher to focus on Key Stage 3 at the possible expense of – in the short-term at least – GCSE and A Level outcomes. But putting all your eggs in one GCSE basket – including starting Key Stage 4 in Year 9 and using GCSE assessment criteria from Year 7 – is clearly short-sighted and makes a mockery of Key Stage 3. Key Stage 3 must not be regarded as a poor relation to Key Stage 4 for this will only prove to be a vicious cycle… READ MORE

How to deal with an Ofsted invasion 

An Ofsted base room is the beating heart of any college inspection. It is the nerve centre (as well as a centre of nerves); it is the war room from which battles are planned and troops are sent forth; and it is the barracks to which loyal soldiers return, war-weary, to be debriefed and readied for their next attack. Get the base room right and half the battle is fought and won… READ MORE

Why I wrote Making Key Stage 3 Count

I started writing the first edition of my book, Making Key Stage 3 Count, in the summer of 2015 – having, over the previous decade, first as a teacher then as a school leader, become increasingly convinced that pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 got a rough deal from our education system. But life and work got in the way and I was forced to put the book on the back-burner. In the autumn of that year, however, Ofsted published a report called ‘Key Stage 3: The Wasted Years?’ which had me scrambling for my manuscript… READ MORE

Welcome to the greatest job in the world. Yes, teaching is tough. It involves long days and lots of stress. It is emotionally and physically draining. In the days when I taught a full timetable, after five lessons back to back in an inner-city comp – punctuated only by bus and break duties, and running a lunchtime club and after-school detention – I was absolutely spent. I had to ingest wine intravenously whilst lying comatose on the carpet, mumbling about WALT and WILF. WTF. It was not pretty… READ MORE

La rentrée – make going back to school as easy as ABC…

The French have a term for it: la rentrée. If you ever visit France in August you’ll probably find it closed. Schools and clubs are what they call en congé; the government is in recess; and many businesses will have shut down for the summer too. As colleagues, family members and friends go their separate ways for the holidays, they depart uttering the special valediction “à la rentrée”, which can be loosely translated as “see you in September”. So far so familiar, you might argue. After all, we too wind down for the six weeks of summer. But, for the French, ‘the return’ in September – la rentrée – is much more than a ‘back to work’ ritual: it marks an entire country’s return to normality after a long summer break. It’s not only a time for children and teachers to go back to school as it is in the UK, but also for most adults to return to work, and for people to see their family and friends again, and begin attending clubs and teams once more. La rentrée, therefore, refers to returning home and getting back to reality, to a normal way of life. It means abandoning the carefree attitude and easy way of life that became a signature mark of the summer months and, instead, stitching yourself back into a starched shirt and tie, shackling yourself to a nine-to-five existence again… READ MORE

The rise and fall of the robots

I love technology but I’m not what you’d call an early adopter. I use technology when it can make my life easier and more efficient but, when a new gadget comes to market, I wait patiently for it to be tried and tested, and then – perhaps my biggest motivator – for it to come down in price before committing to a purchase. The same principle applies to other realms of my life, too, such as clothes and music where I can hardly – without a sarcastic lilt – be described as ‘on trend’. I’m not so much a la mode as a la commode… READ MORE

Closing the literacy gap

In their 2012 report ‘Moving English Forward’, Ofsted said that “There can be no more important subject than English in the school curriculum.” Why? Because, they said, “English is a pre-eminent world language, it is at the heart of our culture and it is the language medium in which most of our pupils think and communicate. [As such,] literacy skills are crucial to pupils’ learning in other subjects across the curriculum.” READ MORE

The importance of reading fluency 

I’ve recently discovered Instapaper, an app which collates reading material – newspaper articles and webpages, say – and converts them into audio so that I can listen to them on my daily dog walks. Text-to-speech technology allows me to ‘read’ articles, research papers and blogs whilst on the move, thus helping me to catch up on the backlog and ease my guilt somewhat. But there’s a problem… READPART 1 | PART 2

A leap of faith – a year of self-employment 

LinkedIn lit up this week. Unbeknown to me, I’d reached a ‘work anniversary’. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I set up shop as an education consultant, trainer and writer. You know what they say: those who can, do; those you can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, become education consultants. I’ve certainly met a few snake-oil salesmen in my time; ex-school leaders who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in twenty years but insist on telling practitioners how to teach. I was determined not to do that… READ MORE

Bridging the gap between school and college study

Last year I wrote a book on transition but, like most literature on this subject, it focused on pupils’ transfer from primary to secondary school, as well as between the various years and key stages of compulsory schooling. However, whilst working with FE colleges across the country, it’s struck me just how important the transition from school to FE is and how unprepared students are for this change… READ MORE

Transforming a failing school

Although genuine, sustainable school improvement is a slow, incremental process, time is often in short supply. The unrelenting cycle of inspection can put huge pressure on school principals and senior teams to demonstrate rapidly rising standards. What, then, is the secret to turning around an underperforming school in a relatively short space of time, whilst laying down the foundations for sustainable improvement? …READ MORE

School funding crisis? What crisis?

School leaders are facing the biggest challenge of their professional lives: they’re simultaneously trying to balance the books amid a national funding crisis and provide the resources required to bolster teaching and learning and improve outcomes for learners. According to the National Audit Office schools face an 8 per cent real-terms cut worth £3 billion by 2020. And what is the government’s  response? Ministers insist, mantra-like, that school investment stanks at a record £40bn. But to say that school investment is at a record high is to make a mockery of the figures… READ MORE

Teacher explanations and modelling

Amid a focus on active learning approaches whereby students take the lead in the classroom and teachers act as mere facilitators, the art of quality teacher explanations – sometimes called “direct instruction” – has been, if not exactly lost, then denigrated and devalued. But here’s the unfashionable truth, the elephant in the room, the secret hidden in plain sight: the most effective, expedient way for students to learn is for the teacher – that educated, experienced, expert at the front of the room – to tell them, then show them, what they need to know. Rather than designing convoluted ways of enabling a student to “discover” new knowledge for him or herself, perhaps as a result of engaging in a range of group activities, teachers should take the shortest, simplest path: they should just tell them then show them what they need to know. In short, we should make effective use of teacher explanations (telling) and modelling (showing)… READ MORE

How to demonstrate the impact of Pupil Premium funding

One in four children in the UK grows up in poverty. The attainment gap between rich and poor is detectable from as early as 22 months and continues to widen throughout the education system. Children from the lowest-income homes are half as likely to get five good GCSEs and go on to higher education as the national average. White working-class pupils (particularly boys) are among the lowest performers. The link between poverty and attainment is multi-racial. The effective use of pupil premium (PP) funding is an essential aid in closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers. Schools need to ensure that they are making the best use of the school’s money and demonstrating its impact on pupil outcomes. The progress of every pupil who is in receipt of the funding should be monitored and interventions should be put into place in a timely manner as soon as their progress falters. Schools need to be sure that those interventions are the most effective strategies they can use and offer the best value for money for the public purse… READ MORE

Libraries gave us power

I left primary and started middle school aged nine unable to construct a written sentence. It was only thanks to my burgeoning love of books – plus the dedicated, determined – if not scary – teacher who pushed and pushed me hard – that I first caught up and then overtook most of my peers. Books were my saviour and my escape.  Books provided me with a ladder of social mobility.  Books educated me in life and love.  Books were my passport to world travel.  Books were the haute cuisine on which I dined, the elixir from which I sought succour… READ MORE

What makes an effective exam post-mortem?

Exam analysis meetings go by many names, most of them aptly funereal in tone, such as ‘post-mortems’ or ‘rapid improvement panels’ (RIPs). One by one, middle and senior leaders step forward, heads bowed reverently, to get a grilling from a grim reaper in the guise of academy sponsors, school governors and headteachers who form part of the post-exam review panel. The primary purpose of these meetings is to interrogate a school’s summative performance data, celebrating success where it occurs (recognising departmental improvements as well as individual accomplishments) and questioning under-performance or significant deviations from predicated outcomes in the hope that the same mistakes can be avoided next year… READ MORE

How do you learn the tricks of the teaching trade?

I bought a Border Collie pup recently and, at eight weeks, have just begun training her. I don’t want to sound disparaging but the experience has reminded me a lot of my NQT year: it is full of highs and lows. Sometimes the good advice I read in books and online works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes things go my way, sometimes they do not. Sometimes I am the very picture of patience and calm, sometimes I bop her on the nose and shout at her and then feel utterly remorseful when she stares at me with her puppy-dog eyes (never has that phrase meant so much). Sometimes Meg is obedient and attentive, quick to pick things up and respond; sometimes she is tired, hungry, naughty, bored, distracted, incontinent, and noisy. Sometimes I am the best teacher and she is the best student, sometimes we are neither of us these things… READ MORE