Factfulness and our Brilliant Schools

3 July 2018

A colleague of mine from the dim and distant past used to remark that the one thing about terms is that they always end.  With the sun and temperature of the last few weeks rising to unseasonably reliable heights, the belief that a long, hot, lazy summer is around the corner seems more than justified.

During the exam season, we had the pleasure of the story from American researchers who could demonstrate that students did worse in their examinations when the weather was warmer.  Most research about the exam season published during the exam season, feels unhelpful.  I am sure that there are kernels of truth, but timing is everything.

I am not aware of any research into the activities of teachers during the summer break.  Whilst travel and rest are high up on the agenda, my suspicion is that we consume more books during that period than almost any other time of the year.  I am certainly guilty of this.  Immersing yourself in another world simply seems entirely appropriate.

I have one book on my shelf that is ready for that purpose, Factfulness by Hans Rosling.  I have yet to do more than scan through it, but the premise of the book is intriguing.  The back cover defines the word Factfulness as ‘the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.’  So far, so good.  We are, after all, aiming for an educational world that can use evidence to determine its actions.

Rosling goes further than this.  By using a questionnaire about the conditions of the world, he is able to demonstrate that our general understanding and impression of the world in which we live is very poor.  A chimpanzee guessing at random will give better answers to questions about the state of the world than most groups of educated, informed people.  In short, the world is in a much better state than we imagine it to be.

I was reminded of this when listening to a talk given by a Guardian journalist, John Harris, to a group of headteachers from Somerset.  The evidence of the divisions in society that he had collected from touring the country were compelling.  As a perspective of life in Britain in 2018, it reflected much of that which we feel in schools, notably the lack of wider support and assistance for some of the most vulnerable groups in our country.

And yet we have another story to tell, another ‘truth’ that is also alive and well and backed by considerable evidence.  The simplest way I describe this is that our comprehensive schools are brilliant.  Brilliant at the breadth of knowledge they provision students; brilliant at not giving up on students; brilliant in establishing an egalitarian environment where you are rewarded for what you do, not who you are; brilliant at creating brilliance whatever funding we receive.

Our schools are data-rich, professional learning communities.  They are hugely knowledgeable of student needs and personal circumstances.  They work for their communities and enrich lives way beyond the school gate.  Such stories need to be told.

What does it mean, therefore, to have ‘factfulness’ in an educational sense for British schools in 2018?  We would hope that it means staff are engaged in research, understand what others have learnt and are skilled in applying it where it is needed.  However, I also believe that it means standing back and looking at the big picture and reflecting on the extraordinarily positive experience most children gain.

I hope that you all enjoy a wonderful and fulfilling summer break, whatever you read.

Mark Woodlock
Headteacher, The Blue School



Posted on 3 July 2018
Posted in: Blog

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