Life without levels | With opportunity comes responsibility


It is probably true that: “The removal of levels from the curriculum creates an amazing opportunity to redefine success and progress for children…and to reshape teaching (and assessment)” It is also true that poor thinking or planning of a new curriculum could lead to the promotion of mediocrity and the inching over thresholds or jumping through false hoops that hang in the air… and ultimately results in slower progress that has a detrimental impact on learning and progress.

From September 2014 levels have been removed from the curriculum (except Y2 and Y6). Tim Oates provides a good case fro their removal:  Whilst a number of schools have chosen not to jump and retain levels, a brave few have jumped to new approaches. It would be fair to say that Primaries are ahead of the game in their thinking in this new world (the compulsion to act has been greater).

Which begs the question what should be considered in the new world without levels?

The following attempts to offer a set of What if… comments that underline the new opportunities that are presenting themselves and how a set of key principles can be applied to seize this opportunity. It is clear that this will play out differently across 3-19 (we must however anchor our approaches around the same principles).

What if we saw the move away from levels as an opportunity not to just re-do/rethink assessment and how we track progress?, but instead asked the question what should teaching look like in a post level world? This initially shifts debate toward pedagogy and away from how do we replace numbers/levels/labels. It is proving very easy to shift to a system that simply reframes levels and replaces with grades for example.

What if we considered the age related standard that children should reach each year. What if this is clearly located around what would be the expected standard of a child in terms of knowledge, skills, understanding, application, conceptual awareness and mis-conceptions?

What if the age related standards are clearly communicated on single sheets that show the specific areas – not dissimilar to PiXL Covey table or PLC grids…a DTT approach. What if deliberate practice approach is then used in lessons and intervention to close gaps.

What if we then further embed ideas around Blooms and SOLO taxonomy? That “by age” we were very clear about what is expected (what competences children need to know or be able to do?)…and that this provides the framework for depth, teaching, questioning etc. as it already does in many classrooms.


What if the achievement of these age related standards were delivered through a Mastery approach – such that teaching was given the time and focus (and teachers the permission) to secure the age related standards…and that this was non-negotiable.

What if we were able to teach to depth around these age related standards because the necessity to cover lots of content is removed. What if there was a real stickiness around redrafting and re-doing, such that children were challenged to do their best work and this enabled students to achieve age related standards.

More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.


What if we did not seek breadth and reduced the burden on teachers; freeing them from the need to skim and teach at pace.


What if we made a far greater investment in developing (continuing to develop) teacher subject, conceptual (and mis-conceptual) and pedagogical understanding.

What if instead of using KS3 as the basis for performing in GCSE exams that we asked what do we need student to be able to do and know, so that they are set up to perform well at GCSE and in the rest of their lives?

What if this is firmly located around a growth mindset model (Dweck) – where an anything is possible  – what if it was the absolute expectation that children had to meet the standards. …ensuring, of course, that we do not set the bar too low.


“People with Growth Mindsets and who show GRIT achieve more when they engage in deliberative practice … it is this practice that achieve marginal gains (Steve Peters), inching toward excellence.”

In Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, students, parents, teachers and the public at large tend to share the belief that all students are capable of achieving high standards. (BBC news)

And yet, results from Pisa tests show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries. (BBC news)

What if we focused more on the journey; on the “near win” (Sarah Evans)

“The pursuit of mastery is an ever onward almost.” … “Grit is not just simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again.”(Sarah Evans)

What if that when children achieved the standard for their age the focus shifted to greater depth (not breadth) moving to the top of Blooms and across SOLO taxonomy and not moving to the set of age-related targets.

What if all of this also sought the ethic of excellence, because…


“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)


What if this seeking excellence required an unswerving expectation that all teachers were  purposeful, deliberate and precise around formative feedback and that this was within tasks and lessons and not bolted on.


What if we judged the quality of feedback much more on the quality of what students produce and less on ticks or comments or forced dialogue in books.

What if we described progress not in terms of levels but is terms of a child’s progress in line with age related standards. Perhaps the conversation at parents evening becomes much more powerful and useful: compare “your child is below what would be expected at this age, we need to focus on…” “with your child is a 4a to move to a 4b we need to focus on…” Levels can mean little to (parents and students).

What if we are very aware that there is a real danger that we could teach to the middle and even bottom with this approach and that we should embed from the beginning the ability to challenge children to depth to ensure that those on steep progress trajectories continue to accelerate improvement.

What if parents evening was a discussion not about a series of letter or numbers, but real clarity about what is expected by this age and a rich discussion around the students work (in books), oracy, knowledge and practical skill.

What if summative assessment remained a key part of preparing and testing students. That this could test against age related standards and also indicate present GCSE grade and given professional judgement and trajectory the most likely grade at end of KS4. Keeping an end in mind.

What if the curriculum was interleaved so that the age related standards are re-visited to embed and secure new knowledge and understanding?


Maybe then we would have a curriculum and teaching that:

  • was purposeful, deliberate, formative, to depth…
  • sought to move all children through age-related standards… and these raised the bar…
  • used a mastery approach, a growth mindset and an ethic of excellence focus to expect much from every child…
  • is really focused to depth on the things that mattered…
  • enabled teachers to not race or skim content, but to focus on quality outcomes…
  • invested heavily in formative assessment…
  • measured progress on security of the age related standards…
  • used evidence to show progress not movement between random numbers…
  • reported formatively to secure next steps…
  • was not hung up on numbers or grades…
  • used summative benchmarking to quality assure and formatively develop teaching and children.

And finally all of this requires time, thought and professionalism. Teacher and team ownership is crucial and particularly the setting of appropriately challenging and well communicated age related standards the detail really matters, because this is worth getting right.


Strategic leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery

bring light

It is probably true that:  When we describe and aim for a preferred future, understand what matters (what has impact) and when we are fanatically disciplined and deliberate in delivering the few (one) things that really matter…we bring new light to what life might be. and achieve unusually well.

So, what if we were better at balancing three things?

  • Our ability, based on the WHY, to describe the future, the destination, the dream? – to set sights on an extraordinary end point?
  • Our understanding of what matters, what makes the difference, what achieves impact?
  • Our fanatical discipline to deliberately focus upon and deliver the One Thing(s) that align with our dream and matter most.

It is at the intersection of these three things that we have the chance to accelerate improvement by:

  • Aligning strategy toward our dream, ambition, destination or preferred future.
  • Focusing on the few areas that have impact (our positive deviant practices)
  • AND maintain the fanatic discipline to deliberately deliver our preferred future.


Or we might consider that when we have a focused strategy that aligns to our dream and when we are fanatically disciplined and deliberate in the delivery of the few (one) things that make a difference (have impact) we achieve unusual improvement over time


What if: We start by finding our organisation’s WHY? and seek to describe a preferred future … maybe then we can point to the destination and follow strategies that align and accelerate towards that dream.

“Inspired leaders, organisations and teams find their deepest purpose – their ‘why?’ – and attract followers through shared values, vision and belief.” “this has the ability to transform the fortunes of a group or enterprise – activating individuals, providing a cultural glue, guiding behaviours and creating an overall sense of purpose and personal connection.” (James Kerr, Legacy, 2013)


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” “All organisations Start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.”  (Simon Sinek)

Simon Sinek has been very influential in ensuring that the basis of strategic planning and the focus of work is located around the moral purpose – the why. His golden circle has framed an approach, language and strategic focus. Sinek identifies that human motivation is emotionally linked, meaning that when people start with why (the moral purpose) this secures early emotional buy in. Just as Martin Luther King composed the “I have a dream” speech and described the future and not the “I have a plan…first we…” speech (taken from Sinek), school leaders have a responsibility to describe the desired future or destination.

Emotional connection is also crucial:

“People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking, than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.” (Kotter)

Question: How far have you/your organisation identified the WHY – how well is the moral purpose communicated/shared? How often is it articulated? is it taken for granted? is it a comfort blanket or even an excuse when improvement is slow?

What if: we then used the WHY to describe a preferred future (a dream) and ensure that urgency is in the system to drive toward the end?

John West-Burnham highlights the importance of describing a preferred future.

“Successful and credible leaders are able to tell compelling and credible stories about the future – they are leaders to the extent that people accept and value the future they describe. – In the 1970s Shell developed an approach that required identification of preferred scenarios…that are essentially descriptions of a preferred future.” (John West-Burnham, 2012)

If leaders create compelling stories of the future (a dream), attach meaning to them and embed the why, they have the chance of connecting peers with purpose (Fullan). Such ownership allows change and strategic improvement to be owned at a greater depth within the organisation. Tim Brighouse describes how schools are on journeys and that the best schools ask where they want to be and take small steps on a journey toward that goal.

“What we can do and what the best schools do already – is ask where they would like to be in five years time and what steps they will take to get there” … ” the best schools accumulate these small steps and describe themselves as being on a journey.” (Tim Brighouse)

What if: we ensured that there is an appropriate level of urgency in the system.

There is little point in having a compelling dream unless there is in-built urgency (often beyond that provided by the WHY). John Kotter uses the word urgency to emphasize the need for a heightened sense of focus, readiness to act and determination.

Kotter’s urgency describes the force that is released when people feel a quest, a purpose, that their work is meaningful and has a greater purpose than themselves. It is not to be confused with panic or knee-jerk leadership that is reactionary. This is the type of urgency that inspires and moves people to action.

Great leaders understand that generating and highlighting urgency is important as it creates forward motion.

(Jim Collins)

Great organisation often need to generate urgency. For Academies, a poor set of results or pending Ofsted, for example, should not be the driver for the required urgency…neither should it be knee-jerk, reactionary responses to temporal problems or transient political directives. Great organisations are naturally urgent – the moral purpose is deep, the preferred future is compelling, the strategic focus aligns to the need to improve – there is a deliberate and discipline pursuit of what matters. It is this that generates and embeds the urgency in the system.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough-time.” (Leonard Bernstein)

Ken Segall, in Insanely Simple (2012): “Though it may defy logic, the easiest way to screw up a project is to give it too much time – enough time for people to rethink, revise, have second thoughts, invite others into the project, get more opinions, conduct tests, etc…you invite overthinking…only when people are kept in constant motion do they stay focused with the right kind of intensity…keeping the team in motion is what gets you there.” (describing project management at Apple)

What if: Based on the why, the described future and the built in urgency…we are able to focus down to the one Thing(s)? based on what matters and what makes a difference – those positively deviant, hedgehog ideas and core practices that have impact?

“What is the ONE THING that you need to do, such that by doing it, everything else is either easier or not required.” (Gary Keller, The One Thing)

…because not everything matters equally.

How often do we ask this question? based on where we need to get to what do we need to do in a years time, a months time, next week, tomorrow….what is the one thing that needs to happen now, such that everything else is easier or not required? Keller describes that if we are to tip our preferred future (dream) domino then we need to set a series of dominoes back to the present…the job then is to realise the one thing that now has to happen to tip the very first domino that is uniquely aligned to the dream future.

The One Thing needs to also have further qualities:

  1. It needs to have impact (more than any other strategy/focus) – be a positive deviant – and this requires measurement of impact and deep questioning.
    • In all that we do there are things that have real impact, things that appear to have impact (but are proxies) and things that have limited impact. Finding the one thing that really makes a difference requires evaluation and measurement. The aim is to identify the positively deviant practices, often referred to as bright spots (Heaths). Beware fads, trends, promising innovation or popular approaches – it is impact that counts – things do not matter equally.
    • Our perception of what is possible is obstructed by historic assumptions about what is possible – they stop us considering game-changing innovations. Clever questioning has the ability to unlock possibilities and the true impact of approaches (Barber).
  2. It needs to be what you have to be the best in the world at (hedgehog concept).
    • The hedgehog concept represents the intersect of three circles: what you can be (need to be) the best in the world at, what you are deeply passionate about and what best drives your improvement/outcomes (Collins). Just like a hedgehog is excellent at One Thing (rolling into a ball for protection) – the key to success often lies in the ability to be the best in the world at one thing – it is amazing how this makes you better at other stuff and how wide the influence of this one thing travels.
  3. It is absolutely at the core of what you/your organisation is about. – aligned to the dream and reflects the brutal truth of your present performance.
    • “have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Collins)
  4. It needs to be sticky and timeless. This is Collin’s Fly-wheel.
    • Success and improvement resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. This is not temporal innovation or reaction this is a systemic focus on the thing that matters most.

Of course the key is to simplify to those strategies that matter most … it is unlikely to be one thing…but it might be three things that matter (not 20) and these need to be sticky, and aligned to the dream. Great organisations KISS (keep it simple stupid).

“Simplicity is power, whether it’s used by individuals or organisations. The question is, do you have the insight and skills to turn this power into your own advantage?” Ken Segall (2012)

What if:  we are fanatically focused on deliberately delivering the thing(s) that matters.

Delivery never sleeps.” (Barber)

Collins writes, “discipline, in essence, is consistency of action – consistency with values (why), consistency of method, consistency over time. True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards and long term aspirations (dream). …having the inner strength to do what ever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.” (Collins)

Great organisations balance this unswerving fanatical focus on delivery with an agility that enables innovation around what counts. This is not about jumping, adopting new ideas, this is about being the best in the world at what matters most. Kotter identifies the need to balance the hierarchy required in great organisations to turn the flywheel with the agility to to free individuals to connect and innovate around what counts (below). Firing bullets before cannonballs (Collins). And there in lies the contradiction – to be great you focus on the things that really matter, that are sticky, that are timeless – whilst maintaining the innovative agility necessary to stay ahead, to be leading edge, to path find.


Maybe then: more organisations would be strategically led through:

  • A strong WHY and moral purpose – communicated and compelling.
  • A clear DREAM of the future described at 1 month, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years …2040?
  • An URGENCY that is embedded in the organisation from a deep moral purpose, the compelling preferred future and the aligned deliberate strategic focus.
  • A clarity down to the ONE THING(S) that matter, that have impact – the positive deviant practices, the hedgehog, that address the brutal truth and are sticky and timeless.
  • A FANATIC DISCIPLINE to deliberately deliver the few things that matter. Such that change is sticky.
  • An AGILITY that allows the organisation to innovate in these core things that matter. Firing bullets before cannonballs.

And Finally: none of the above sustains improvement or change unless…

“our actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.” (J.Q. Adams)


“Leaders inspire others to take charge … they guide us through the journey.” (adapted, Simon Sinek)


“leaders create the choice architecture in an organisation to free individuals, to lead the way to the preferred future (dream). Building on a foundation of strong values and principles,  a compelling purpose, great capacity is released to do something great.” (adapted, Seth Godin)

Judge teaching over time not over 20 minutes

Progress over time

Whilst Ofsted highlight …”120. The judgement on the quality of teaching must take account of evidence of pupils’ learning and progress over time,” many schools rely heavily on brief 20 minute observations to judge the quality of teaching. This emphasises performance over systematic long term teaching impact on progress. The former encourages observation tricks and hoop-jumping the latter focuses on habits and approaches that sustain progress for each child over time.

Supporting teachers to move from Requiring Improvement to Good is often achieved by insisting on a number of non-negotiables. Teachers seek and are supported to tick-off a series of aspects of teaching and learning; they perform a 20 minute section of a lesson by tumbling and jumping between different teaching and learning strategies and approaches to ensure that they tick enough of the criteria to get them over the Good line. The consequence is that observations are high-stakes with Teachers performing a range of tricks that often hamper learning and rarely support the conditions required for students to make good or better progress over time. Teachers then carry the label of their last 20 min observation. Improving teaching needs to move much more toward rewarding teaching that has strong habits that typically create learning conditions that enable students to consistently make good progress.

jumpy progress

Student progress is not linear over time. Students make progress when the conditions are right and when they make breakthroughs in their learning (progress is more catastrophic than uniform). The blue line highlights a better description of progress over time (accepting that there will also be ‘dips’ in learning along this blue line). When teaching is good/outstanding it secures jumps in students progress because the teacher habits and typicality of approach maintains conditions for learning that promote and provoke students to make progress more often. The vertical line provides a representation of a lesson observation, scaled larger than reality, but nevertheless highlighting the tiny sample of a students journey measured by observation. We also then extrapolate the judgements made in this lesson and make the assumption that this represents a teachers performance across all of their classes all of the time … it doesn’t.

The bar below highlights how small a sample the 20 minute observation represents compared the learning over time. This sample is very likely to be unrepresentative and  hide the typicality and actual quality and effectiveness of teaching. This also only shows one class; if we place 6-8 more blue bars alongside then the sample size becomes even more unrepresentative (or ridiculous). We can be guilty of placing far to much emphasis on the 20min observed sample and place too little weight on the evidence of progress over time or use the conditions, habits and practices to extrapolate progress into the future. If we agree that what matters is the typical quality of teaching and the ability of that teaching to genererate good progress or better over time then we should look beyond the 20 minute observation to seek evidence of progress over time. We should also consider how the conditions for learning in the observation can be extrapolated (with care) to assess the likely progress of students into the future.

obs in time

We have made too much of progress in a lesson or part lesson. We have not helped ourselves at times by using phrases like, “do the students know or can they do something that they could not at the start of the observation.” In feedback we are often susceptible to making it clear to teachers that we are judging the lesson (20mins) and not them as a teacher. The reality is that measurable progress for students is unlikely in 20 minutes, but that it is possible to examine and judge the conditions present in the lesson that give us reassurance that students have, are and will make at least good progress over time…are they getting a good deal?

The first bar below shows how dominant the sample observation can be on grading a lesson and by extension the teacher that delivered the lesson. Where we weight the judgement heavily on what is observed it tempts a teacher performance; a mad rush to run through a range of strategies that are often detailed on the observation form. The consequence is the teachers teach a lot, students are busy and often bewildered, moved-on, and asked to show how much progress they think they have made. The punctuation in the lesson through questioning, AFL, modeling, peer assessment, paired work, group work, four minutes of writing…. Tick boxes on the form, but in quick combination reduce the conditions required to secure progress over time. Far better to judge the typicality of teaching and therefore the effectiveness of teaching by considering a range of evidence.


If we are to reward typicality of teaching and teaching that generates good or better progress over time then the weighting of our evidence should use a range of sources. The evidence from the observation of the teaching should provide an insight into the conditions that are typical for the students over time. Much more emphasis should be placed on evidence from students, their books, evidence from panning (backwards and forwards) and the data/outcomes for this class.

With the emphasis on rewarding and promoting teaching that secures progress over time then perhaps feedback and judgements should highlight typically good or typically outstanding or typically requiring improvement or typically inadequate as more appropriate judgements on the quality of teaching. The importance of progress over time to a judgement is highlighted in this table…


This rewards those teachers that work hard, have good habits and the professional ability to generate that conditions in a classroom that secure good or better progress over time. This means that we should have stickier judgements for individual teachers. The first bar below highlights the range of grades that could be achieved in an academic year by a single teacher due to the high stakes nature of 20 minute observations (the observation providing a label to be carried by that teacher until the next observation). Where the emphasis is more around typicality then judgements are stickier and more reflective of the typical quality of teaching (shown by bar two). This will have the effect of polarising teaching judgements. Where teaching uses effective approaches and habits that secure progress over time the evidence will always be in books, in the planning, in the student voice, the routines, shown in the quality of feedback, in the purpose and meaningfulness of the learning journey…where this happens good and outstanding teaching becomes securer over time. Where the opposite is true, where teachers rely on the performance, mark less, plan less, have less purpose and less focus on the journey and the outcomes the typicality of teaching will require improvement…and that is likely to be true for all classes … and we are back to the importance of habits that sustain student progress over time.judgements

What would observation criteria that emphasised the importance of progress over time look like? Here is an example that places progress over time as the key determinant on the typical quality of teaching. Below this are an indication of the approaches that would contribute towards securing the conditions required for securing progress over time…

lesson obs

The form, therefore, indicates areas that may be observed that are more likely to support good progress over time. These are not prescribed or essential, neither are they a set of tick boxes to be checked to determine the grade. When the key determining judgement is progress over time, the 20 minute lesson observation is no longer a performance or does it necessitate the teacher jumping through hoops. Whilst the lesson could be all singing and all dancing it could also be students sat silently redrafting a piece of work for 20 minutes or performing or engaged in a piece of art etc. This approach frees teachers to not change practice under observation; secure in the knowledge that the observer is measuring progress secured over time not the number of tricks and hoops-jumped in 20 minutes.

Prescribe adequacy, unleash greatness…

All of which links to the trendy ideas around moving from tight to loose. To get to good it is often about being tight; using non-negotiables to raise the bar. To move through typically good to typically outstanding it is about loosening or unleashing greatness. You do this because teaching is a craft not a science; the ability to facilitate 30 teenagers often of mixed ability to make good progress requires an awareness, a professionalism and ability to keep all students progressing. Sometimes that is about engaging, inspiring, provoking responses and sometimes that is learning vocabulary, a spelling test, redrafting, testing, feeding back, being diagnostic and closing gaps. The best person to judge this interplay is the teacher. We need to recognise this and use observation to judge teaching impact over time and not on how many boxes a performer ticked in 20 minutes. This should empower teachers who then have greater freedom and…

  • Purpose (secure student progress to give them a better chance in life)
  • Autonomy (you decide how you secure student progress)
  • Mastery (it is a craft not a science, be creative and innovative – seek mastery in teaching to drive progress) (Dan Pink)

Where a teacher has taken on a class, from another teacher or at the start of the year there needs to be a shift in the emphasis placed on the different parts of the evidence. An early judgement on typicality would extrapolate the observed conditions, judge the likely impact of habits, use teacher planning and dialogue to consider the likely typicality and impact of teaching over time…and re-visit later to judge impact. The longer the teacher has a class the more the emphasis will shift to actual measurable progress over time from their starting point with the class.

As we reward progress over time (making it a determining judgement)  we need to increasingly compare actual (external) outcomes with our typical gradings of teaching. There has been a poor relationship between the quality of teaching judged through lesson observation compared to actual outcomes of the students; class performance often does not stack up well against observation data. A focus on progress over time should generate a greater link between the judgements on typicality teaching and student outcome. 

So ticking tricks in 20 minutes is mis-leading and does not focus on what matters. What matters is that students receive typically good and outstanding teaching every lesson so that they make progress over time. Those teachers that create the conditions for progress more often should be rewarded, for it is the impact of this teaching that supports students to make progress over time that counts. The freeing/loosening nature of this view on teaching and rationalising the part that observation has to play in judging teaching releases professionals to teach anyway they choose, without ticking any prescribed boxes, so long as students make progress over time and this is reflected in a triangulation of evidence then teaching is typically good and outstanding and these judgements are stickier….and that feels right.

April, 2014

Creating the conditions for over-performance


“The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.” (Gove, 2013)

Simon Cowell said: “I didn’t work hard when I was at school. I left at 16 and I didn’t have any qualifications. I was useless. The secret is to be useless at school and then get lucky.” Gove responded: “This is an irresponsible and stupid thing to say. Teachers strive every day to ensure children understand the importance of learning, hard work and discipline. Simon Cowell’s comments undermine their efforts. The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.”

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ he describes the importance of opportunity and circumstance in becoming successful, “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Gladwell)  – the contrast with Cowell is that opportunity is one part of the success equation. Opportunity is nothing without Grit or the “persistence, doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” (Gadwell)

A short insight into outliers, 10,000 hours and what makes people successful is provided in this interview of Gladwell: – it ends with Gladwell urging, “society to build institutions that provide opportunities to work hard.” …it is opportunity that is seized that creates success not chance or luck or talent alone.

David Beckham provides an excellent example. Whilst at Man Utd Under 15 Academy, he spent every school holiday in Manchester. Like many other successful individuals Beckham had four things, opportunity, competition from like-minded individuals, GRIT and deliberate practice…he writes:

The incredible thing about that generation of lads, who came into the youth team (1. opportunity) with me in 1991, is that they were committed to hard training, as I ever was. We couldn’t get enough of it. Gary and Phil Neville had a Dad whose basic motto was ‘give everything and you will reap the rewards.’ At the end of practice, while most of the older lads were sitting in the canteen with their feet up, Gary was still pounding the ball against the wall… I already had a strong work ethic because of my family background (rise review – background counts four times more than school attended)Practice was like second nature. But with these guys (the Nevilles, Giggsy, Nicky Butt, Scholsey) (2. competition from like-minded individuals) I knew I had to take it to another level, to put in the extra shifts, to leave nothing to chance. We had to show commitment like never before…and that is exactly what we did. (3. GRIT)”…The more we practiced the better we became. Soon we were overtaking the older boys who were realising, a little to late, that they had taken things to easy…It wasn’t just the quantity of practice, it was the incredible focus on quality. (4. deliberative practice)” (David Beckham, 2013)

Even with opportunity, only effort and commitment over time (GRIT) combined with practice that is …”intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.”  (Malcolm Gladwell) … will allow individuals to succeed, to become over-performers based on their context and background and to be outliers.

Creating these conditions will allow individuals (and groups) to over-perform and become Outliers;

  1. Opportunity (getting teaching and learning right – teaching that is… intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious?
  2. Competition from like-minded individuals (Peer groups, ethos, language, aspiration, pastoral support, House system?) – growing an epidemic of strong work ethic.
  3. GRIT (an ethos of possibility for all through effort) Outliers focus on long term goals, ignoring short-term distractions. – they are unswervingly future-focused.
  4. Deliberative practise approach… learn-revise-test-feedback-learn…marginal gains increasingly creating outliers compared to starting points.

bell curve

Whilst in the world of celebrity the role of luck maybe high; we live in a world that requires a series of conditions to exist and an attitude and approach that enables individuals to succeed. Education and schools are increasingly providing, supporting and developing these enabling conditions and opportunity … indeed we cannot afford not to secure over-performance, to buck-the-trend and to create the conditions that increase the occurrence  of OUTLIERS.

“To build a better education system we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks, context and arbitrary advantages that determine success…with a system that provides opportunities and the conditions for all to feel success.” (Malcolm Gladwell, adapted)