5 Small Steps Towards Education’s Holy Grail

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the holy grail in education is ‘better for less’. Improving our offer but at a lower per-pupil cost. The current schooling model is very expensive: schools can expect between 60% and 80% of their revenue to be taken up by staff costs, with each pupil costing as much as £10,000 in staffing and other operating costs. And we wonder why academies and maintained schools are struggling!

If we want to lower these costs, we need to get our best teachers in front of a lot more pupils. That’s the key: teachers still spend too much time with a few classes of 20-30, and on low level admin tasks for which they are both overqualified and overpaid. As a result they are not being used efficiently.

Through writing this blog I have met a number of people who recognise the above as being one of the major challenges we face. Here are some of the ideas that have come out of recent discussions (often over lots of overpriced cappuccino).

1. Crowdsource talent

Every school has a pool of talented teachers. What schools should be doing is giving these teachers the time and training to record lessons, and creating banks of resources that a number of schools can access.

This could be augmented by teachers being online at key times to either take webinars, or to offer support through forums. If schools worked together there could be slots both during the school day and in the evenings / at weekends for pupils to log on and learn from a much larger bank of excellent educators than only those in their school. We are already seeing this happening with YouTube, but it’s still quite unstructured and random.

2. Create spaces for recording professional media

Anyone who has recorded a screencast will know that it’s challenging to do at home. Schools should create recording spaces, with whiteboards, decent quality webcams, and professional mics, and give teachers the time to create online resources. A couple of hours of recording high quality lessons will pay for itself quickly.

3. Train teachers in how to move online

Teachers also need to be trained in how to create these resources. Nothing turns kids off more than a one hour ramble with no clear structure. Teaching face to face and leading a webinar are different skills. Teachers should be taught these skills or they won’t take the plunge.

4. Embrace opportunities to work with trainees, interns, and apprentices

Whilst there are clear dangers in expecting underqualified staff to do the delivery, if schools combine face to face with online learning, the supervision and care of pupils as they navigate their learning can be supported by those who themselves are learning on the job.

Is there any reason why, as schools are redesigned, there cannot be spaces where one hundred or more pupils can be taught by one teacher supported by 4 or 5 graduate trainees or apprentices? If we are worried about ‘classroom control’, surely one trainee teacher on their own with thirty children has as much potential for mishap as a larger group supported by more adults?

Take a look at Cebra Architects’ Smart School design. Couldn’t you see a structure like this working well in such a space? These new learning spaces focus on community: on groups coming together to learn from one another. Expert teachers could teach more children, supported by lower paid trainees or even parents who want to give something back. This is the true meaning of collaboration.

5. Reduce the number of senior staff by using technology to quality assure

In a previous post I suggested that the role of the deputy will change in the years to come. As pupil progress is more closely monitored through learning analytics, fewer deputies will be needed to ‘keep an eye’ on teachers.

What we will instead see are a greater number of superstar teachers taking on the mentorship of new recruits as well as having greater reach through online platforms. The old AST model was ineffective: these excellent teachers simply replaced teaching in their own schools for teaching in struggling schools, and had marginal impact on the quality of others’ teaching. There will now be routes for those who don’t want to move into leadership: there should be nothing wrong with monetising this expertise and passion and in so doing give excellence the opportunity to have much greater reach.


None of these is a quick fix. Education is in a difficult place right now and it will take a combination of these and more to help us turn the corner. What is encouraging, through speaking with so many talented people on this subject, is that we all want the same thing. Let’s work together to make it happen.

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