Why, why, why …. !?!

Here’s a story for you …. a boy enjoyed helping his mum cook the Sunday roast every week, he loved the senses, the smells, the textures and spending time one to one with his mum, chatting and asking questions.   He noticed every time mum cooked a chicken, she would carefully remove the legs and the wings before basting and putting it in the baking tray.   One week he asked, “Why do you remove the legs and the wings?”  Mum said that it was what she learnt from her mother.   And so, the mum asked her mother why, who in turn had to ask her mother and so on.   Eventually it turned out that great, great grandmother had a small oven and baking tray that was not big enough for the chicken!   This pattern of behaviour was passed down generations without anyone asking the question, “Why are we doing it this way?” 

Do you feel like that sometimes, or have you fallen into the trap of just accepting that we must do it the way we do?   Similarly, in my Deputy Headship role the staff ran the same reading intervention programme that had been running for nearly 10 years.   No one had asked the key questions about the underlying pedagogy, the impact on pupils’ progress or even how it all started.   You can guess, we discovered it started with good intentions for a particular child and certainly was a popular time of nurture for pupils, but it definitely did not have any evidence base or appear to improve outcomes.  I was not very popular for asking the ‘what, how and why’ questions.

I am often asked by schools to come in train them on how to carry out ‘deep dives’ (English school colleagues will immediately know why this requested!)   It’s a cry for help or reassurance that they will do well when OFTSTED apply their methodology to inspection.   I always say NO but reply with ‘what is the thinking behind the methodology?’   It’s not about jumping through another hoop, it’s far deeper thinking than that (“Rubbish!” I hear you shout through the page.  Here is the Research base underpinning the thinking behind the deep dive methodology )  Essentially, it’s about metacognition and theory around memory recall and ability to generalise knowledge to new situations.   Have you grasped the research behind this and discussed the evidence based arguments for or against the research OFSTED has referred to?  Now might be a good time to give yourself and your staff permission to breathe and read.  

Know the ‘what, the how and the why’ behind everything you ask staff to do and help them to understand the ‘the what, the how and the why’ behind each element of their ‘workload.’   Most of us will feel energised and willing when we are motivated by clear understanding and potential impact on improving the lives of our children. 

Remember, #TMOS (True Measures of Success).   #whathowwhy .  Let us know what your top tips for building evidence based work load practices into your school culture.  Here are mine:


Go through the school calendar and list all the tasks you and your staff are doing over each term.   Add in the list of things you do that you have not been asked to.  It will be a long list!    Sift out the list into three categories

[a] things we get value from and perhaps we enjoy.  Give these things priority (START, re-start)

[b] things that do not bear the fruit you thought (Stop doing these things)

[c] things that you are not sure about but need to reflect on. find the evidence base or impact statements, (Re-think)


Do not assume that because something makes sense to you that it is clearly understood or communicated well.  You may not be as good at communicating as you might think!   A classic example includes the use of published schemes (e.g. the recently approved Phonics schemes from the DfE, which by the way are NON-STATUTORY 😊)  They key as above is understanding the methodology.  If teachers are simply delivering by script and rote rather than with clear professional understanding of the evidence and pedagogy, then the impact may be limited and not allow teachers to make pedagogical decisions about any adaptations that may be needed to meet the need of key pupils.  For example, did you know that SATPIN is not necessarily the best evidence base order in which to teach the sounds?   Well how do I know that?  Where is my evidence base?   What are the implications of that for pupils with dyslexia?  Do you see?  


Yes, I said it!   No more hours debating how sports day should be organised!   I jest slightly, but seriously, I did replace staff meetings once in favour of SEMINARS.   I asked each teacher in turn to read an article, book or research paper and to plan an interactive task to teach their colleagues what they had discovered.  Teachers were then asked to try something new in their classroom practice each week as a result of what had been discussed.   I cannot put into enough words how much positivity and energy this put into meetings and classroom practice as a result.   And this was at a time in the 90s when I was introducing the use of target setting into our curriculum plans.   Learning about ‘Inside the Black Box’ research paper allowed to make sensible and professional decisions about what target setting meant to pupils rather than aimlessly putting National Curriculum levels after each pupil’s name.   The net result is that pupils made what we now describe as accelerated progress.  The teaching pedagogy aligned with the evidence base not just policy from on high. 

Please get in touch and share your top tips for reclaiming our what, how and why. #TMOS

Till next month … and have a good Easter break everyone!


Published by teamadl

We are a multi-agency team of specialists, created to capacity-build and serve with integrity, the needs of children, young people with SEND through a person-centred approach and support for the family / carers. Our mission statement is 'Developing People, Growing Organisations & Strengthening Localities'

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