E. Coli and Quality First Teaching

There has been an outbreak of the E. coli bacterium at the Bella Sophia restaurant.

The local hospital has reported that patients being treated for the bug fall into two “key groups”: babies and the elderly.

Public health officials have called for the restaurant to improve on this situation. The restaurant owners are considering a few options. One is to collect data when orders are taken and to cook the food for twice as long as normal for those customers who are over the age of 65.  Another strategy is preparing food for babies using specially sterilised utensils.

Wait, what? This would be crazy. But I think this is what we often do when we look at closing the gap for underachieving groups in our classrooms.

I’m not going to get into interpreting noise as signal, that’s been done exquisitely elsewhere. I’ll assume we’ve got a group, such as boys, that is significantly over-represented in poor attainment and that that representation is not mirrored in, say their CAT scores. In other words, it looks like they are under-achieving.

Too many schools rush to cater better for these boys, by using STRATEGIES. Planning lots of shorter activities, building matey relationships and making the lessons about football are all strategies I’ve heard.  What’s wrong with these interventions isn’t just that they’re “dumbing down” and perpetuating that “soft bigotry of low expectations” – although lots of them are those things. The most fundamental problem is that they are tinkering at the edges of something that is much much bigger. They are like spraying highchairs with Dettol in the Bella Sophia restaurant.

What the restaurant needs to do of course is sort out the hygiene in its whole operation. It doesn’t need to change what it does for the key groups. It needs to change what it is doing at its core. Elderly people and babies aren’t getting ill because the restaurant isn’t catering properly for their unique needs. They’re getting ill because they are more susceptible to the problem to which everyone is being exposed: the E. coli.

“Quality First Teaching” is an abomination of a term in my opinion. It doesn’t even make any sense really. Yet it is an incredibly important concept. At my school, we use QFT as our first intervention. If a lesson isn’t bang on, some students will make up for that deficit, through prior knowledge, independent study, or some other means. But some other students won’t. Often the students who won’t, fall more than proportionately in one group, like boys, or disadvantaged, or whatever. At my school, we don’t go fiddling round with the delivery of our subject to make it somehow match the interests of a pupil premium child. (What?) We make sure that first, our teaching is of great quality. We don’t allow low-level disruption. It’s the enemy of great education and when it is allowed, some groups can be more vulnerable to it. We explicitly teach the foundational knowledge needed in our subjects because if we don’t, some groups will not be as well equipped to compensate. We get our curriculum and our classroom culture right because if it’s wrong then that will disadvantage students who can’t patch up the holes themselves.

So if you’re looking at key groups, to close the gap, diminish the difference and all the rest of it, that’s my recommendation: Look for Quality Teaching, First.

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