An up and down day at the PiXL Club.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 23.32.30

“We love great teaching, we aspire to excellence in classrooms, we want the very best practice, but we also want the best outcomes and unfortunately it is not sufficient to say that one leads automatically to the other. For us it is not either great teaching or thorough preparation for examinations but both the one and the other.”  Sir John Rowling, Chair, PiXL, PiXLis March 2016

On Tuesday I attended a PiXL meeting for the first time.  This followed an invitation that arose after I’d expressed concern about PiXL’s support for mass entry for the ECDL – see the comments in this post.  Many of my colleagues in Essex were PiXL converts and it was interesting to see a lot of them at this gathering; the home of arch-pragmatism and no-nonsense realism.

Billed as a meeting, it felt more like a convention or a rally with 1500+ followers packed into the Westminster Central Hall, upstairs and downstairs.  Sir John gave a big forceful message: it was all about collaboration and collective power; he gave a fairly strong pitch for reasons to join pixledge – the why start on your own when you could join a 450 strong network of schools who’ve already signed up?  I like the look of PiXLEdge; it delivers the PDP element of the National Bacc model I’ve been promoting and I’m impressed that it has taken off so well.  All schools should have something like it – so why not just join it? A message that made sense to me.  Sir John described the first gathering of 22 Heads in 2003 and how they’d never imagined reaching the scale PiXL has grown to. It’s a remarkable story. PiXL schools are no longer  members of a niche club. According to one speaker, they are the biggest educational organisation in the UK – and perhaps even the world.  Strong, the PiXL message is.  If you create demand for something people need and want, they will come. (College of Teachers take note!)

The introduction had a Billy Graham quality to it – but then I’m someone who leaves a shop if a sales assistant tries to help me.  To be fair, preaching to the converted is standard issue for any members’ club – affirmation is important and certainly Sir John’s people were happy to be there; he’s regarded as a bit of a legend.  In any case, the evangelical tone changed swiftly after the intro. Within 15 minutes, we are into an hour-long stretch of direct, practical, no-nonsense info geared towards securing success within the mechanics of the system. I found the pragmatic geekiness of it refreshing – and in sharp contrast to the first couple of hours of the ASCL conference where I was underwhelmed by the non-specific urgings to join the march towards a school-led system and become a heart-leader.

Here’s a flavour of what I wrote in my notes:

P8 strategy: We need to do better than other people – that was pretty much a direct message. It’s a contest.  The boost for getting top grades is huge. Our interventions should focus there; at least we need to recognise a leap from C to B or B to A counts for more than a D to C conversion. The  reminder that points for a C go down in 2017 was depressing but also a reality check.  What a big old mess P8 is, I thought.  How did we get to this? But still, a big C/D borderline cohort like I’ve got presents a challenge in the P8 stakes so it’s no use putting our heads in the sand. I was listening.

A repeated PiXL refrain is about diagnosis and therapy. Their tools help with both and the consensus is that this is the great value of joining up – to gain access to the resources. Huddle, the online repository of goodies, is referred to continually.

On Science, a big play was made for ‘walking talking marks’  – resources that deliver narrated mark schemes to help teachers and students see what examiners are looking for.  We were reminded that science controlled assessment counts 25% and this is the biggest element within our control. So best control it! There was an advert for another diagnostic test tool; booster packs, therapy resources; a reminder to set up the right intervention groups.

I learned about the PiXL RSL. A ‘raising standards leader’ which is a key role in member schools.  The speaker suggested that the RSL often had a close link with Heads of maths and English but often had more problematic links with Heads of science; conversations often muddied by issues of curriculum complexity rather than performance and attainment.  The message was: go in tomorrow and talk to your Head of science.  The immediacy was striking. You never go to conferences were people say ‘do this tomorrow’; PiXL is very focused on the micro – the gritty stuff.

The Maths speaker promoted the PiXL maths app.  It is used in 1000 schools. It has a gap analysis tool; provides feed forward tests; a tracking board showing where students are. There is positive feedback from students.  It sounds worth a try for sure.

Chris Edwards gave a speedy round-up of some general tips: the idea of a pre-mortem to pre-empt problems in the exam run-up; eliciting confidential feedback from students about their learning: ‘I wish my teacher knew…..’  which had yielded some interesting insights. He suggested that getting students to be familiar with the exam hall was useful (with a 360 camera!) and using an image of the exam hall wall as a backdrop for visualisation techniques in class?! I couldn’t tell if this was entirely serious.  He promoted the well-known PiXL favourite, the walking talking mock, especially the day before the maths exam; getting parents to write encouraging letters to their children; giving out free water and fruit – from Sainsburys? – on exam days; the importance of a positivity on exam days. There was a plug for an app called My Teenmind and for the role of his school’s Well-being centre to provide a space to tackle anxiety disorders.  Nice idea; I’m taking that one on.

Phil Stock was there. To me, Phil would lend credibility and rigour to any club so I was pleased to see him. He offered five strategies to improve independent study: Quizzing; Spacing; Elaboration; Chunking (learning as jigsaw pieces that link) and Metacognitive strategies.  At his school their recommended strategies have focused on where to study; what order to study in; how to study; checking progress – how am I getting on  – and the need to focus on weaknesses.  It all made sense to me; I liked how explicit they had been with students about the study process.

The first half was wrapped up with a talk from 2008 Beijing Olympic 100m finalist  Jeanette Kwakye who talked about peaking at the right time and the need for coaches to give positive reinforcement  an not to pass on the pressure.  Then a Year 10 pianist played an extraordinary piece of music – it was astoundingly good.

So, at the break, I was feeling very upbeat. I’d picked up some ideas; I could see that our exam preparation process could well be supported by a raft of additional strategies that would help our students to be ready to do their best on the day.  I thought – I’m in. This is all really helpful; sign me up.

But the second half was a bit different….

To begin with we were told about PiXL classrooms –  to be launched at a meeting in May.  The idea is that PiXL is going beyond the exam machinery into actual lessons.  The goal is to develop practical resources for teachers, looking through the lens of reducing workload.  Sounds like a natural extension of  PiXL thinking.  I can see PiXL prefixes mushrooming  in coming years – as the strength of the branding weaves its way across the system.

And then my heart started to sink.  I have no wish to disparage this hugely popular organisation or the people who love it; I’m just reporting my feelings about this particular aspect of the message. It could be me that’s got it all wrong:

There was a section on Progress 8 buckets and the things schools can do to maximise scores; I found it disturbing and depressing; like we’re all trapped in a machine that’s out of control.  It seems to be an explicit PiXL goal to maximise P8 for the school’s benefit – pretty much by whatever means necessary – and I found myself feeling increasingly saddened that we’re in a state where this thinking holds sway on such a big scale.  In Bucket 1, for Maths, the main tip was that for students doing Edexcel looking at Grades U-E, it’s better to switch to the Level 1/2 Certificate because of greater stability with grade boundaries? Tactics!  Here we had the first bit of direct system-playing; something I thought we were getting away from.   For English, the key assumption was that PiXL-savvy schools would be doing the CIE English – one last year of Speaking and Listening so make the most of it. The message was to re-do the S&L one final time now before the window closes in April. (or something).  All the reasons that OfQual took S&L out were being reinforced here as far as I could see.  My feeling was  – thank goodness this is nearly over so we’ve got a level playing field next year.

Then there was a section on Bucket 3 tactics. Schools could  offer AS creative writing from AQA . The speaker suggested she’d got good grades worth decent Bucket 3 points in minimal hours.  She was celebrating how many points were given for work of quality that ‘doesn’t blow your socks off’ in a class taught in one hour per fortnight.  The theory is that, if it counts in the system, it counts – regardless of the learning experience.  I’m struggling to believe our system gives value to a course that can be taught in an hour a fortnight on a par with a  whole GCSE like History or Economics.    How much educational value do those AS qualifications really have versus their Progress 8 value? It feels wrong on principle.  But hey, it if counts? I find this depressing; that we’re playing for advantage against each other, amassing credit from an arbitrary algorithm that defines success.  My acid test would be this: If the P8 points were taken away, would you still offer the course?  But that’s not the spirit here. Or, I guess, the reality.

There were more suggestions: the English for ESOL GCSE (which neatly doesn’t have clashing codes with actual English); the ECDL (which neatly doesn’t clash codes with ICT GCSEs); the TCL grade 6 Rock and Pop (which is great because there’s no prerequisite theory exam – i.e. it’s quite easy); and AS Use of Maths.  Another speaker suggested whole-cohort entry for these qualifications was the way to go instead of messing about with small intervention groups. They had modelled whole cohort entry for ECDL and Use of Maths  and found their  P8 would go up by 0.3.   It’s a big win – if that is the main prize. The DFE 2018 document on technical qualifications has a list of other qualifications schools could try.  At some point a speaker actually said something like “this is not gaming; this is not cheating” which made me think that either they were fed up having to defend it or, possibly, deep down, they feared it might be. Either way, it made me feel uneasy.

I’ll get grief for this but, I don’t think we should be choosing qualifications based on their impact on whole-school measures, looking for advantage in the system.  Is ECDL worth having? I’m sure it is in its own right.  But is it equivalent to taking  Physics, History, Art or French GCSE? The fact you can prep for it in three days suggests not. But if it counts it counts, right?  When a huge number of schools are going down this path, it feels that the whole system is being distorted and that can’t be healthy. How many schools would run ECDL if the P8 points were zero but still counted for the students? It feels like just another round of equivalence loop-holes waiting to be exposed and shut-down.  I’d rather not be part of it – but, at the same time, I don’t know for sure that we can afford not to be; we should not be put in that position.  We all need to remember that P8 is not a measure of school effectiveness or the quality of education our students receive.

Before I left I heard a few more words about Maths – how you could increase your pass rate by 10% in 10 weeks by following the weekly plan.  Week 1, make a plan; Week 2, re-do your sets; Week 3…… Week 9, launch your ‘7 days to go’ plan…. and so on. PiXL has turned exam prep into a military operation.   That I can live with; it makes sense – students need to be ready to do themselves justice.  I’m up for all of that.  But, please, do we have to distort the system itself just to gain advantage against each other in this contest? It won’t last.  Surely, it can’t.

Anyway – because the first half was all sensible stuff, we’ve got the forms and we’re joining. £3k? Probably well worth it and we’ll soon find out. It seems to me that, however grand our wider vision is, this machinery is now too big to ignore.  The rules of the game are bigger than we are so we’ll have to play by them.  It doesn’t mean we have to like it.


  1. Hi Tom, it’s human instinct to game a system. The issue is whether you actively encourage everyone to do this collectively. Then you become a new system which in itself is subject to a different type of gaming. And so on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tom. Thank you thank you for this refreshing and honest post! I have heard a lot about PiXL, primarily when SLTs from different schools get together and talk about how to raise attainment. There seems a lot of great stuff that PiXL does but your concerns echo mine. Sadly, this “gaming” of the system that schools engage in which is seemingly encouraged here means that it is even harder to do the right thing for our children. Surely an education that prepares young people for life is more important than a superficial set of school results which doesn’t tell the whole picture? Whilst this continues to happen we will always be playing the same game only using different rules. Like playing a game of rugby league whilst the team opposite are playing by a union code to gain an advantage. Furthermore what is best for the students gets lost in the scrum.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The depressing element for me is the idea that you create great outcomes for young people by quick fixing and gaming.
    Some interventions are always going to be necessary to get some young people who need it over invented lines that encourage gaming.
    This is different from things like the walking talking mocks and the assessment tools which work well and help teachers and students be better prepared for exams.
    Underpinning organisation of ambitious learning that teaches young people and prepares them properly for high stakes tests has to be the main aim surely.
    This seems to be much more of the focus at PiXEL 6th with a focus on shared good practice.
    With the increasing breakup of local support mechanisms organisations that help us share good practice and encourage collaboration are going to play a vital role but should they be selling solutions?


  4. This said it all “I’ll get grief for this but, I don’t think we should be choosing qualifications based on their impact on whole-school measures, looking for advantage in the system”.

    So imagine my surprise when you concluded with a shrug and what sounds like almost resignation to the fact that if you can’t beat the system you may as well join it!

    I do get where you are coming from but I am so sad this is what it has come to in our education system. It seems that for too many schools, say they want the very best for their students, but their decisions of what this is are shaped by doing what will keep their school from being scrutinised by Ofsted rather than what in their heart of hearts constitutes a good education for the young people in their care. Could this be so?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think our exam prep at subject and whole-school level could be more systematic and we want a Well-being centre. Walking talking mock? That’s a maybe. None of the entry tactics though.


  5. The trouble is, will most parents care about or understand a school’s Progress 8 score? Will the media? My guess is that, just like the earlier “value added” measure, it will wither away, as the media will continue to report percentages of students achieving 5 or more GCSEs (including English and maths) at grade 5 or above. Or do you think this will change?


  6. I couldn’t agree more with the line of thinking you are sharing here Tom. I am all for sharing what works but I do find the PiXL model to be one that games the system. It also highlights the growing gap between the schools with resources that can make “big” decisions and those that don’t and therefore can’t. In my school we decided having an ict based qualification was very important for students’ futures so planned to deliver the ECDL until we were presented with the potential cost, it was staggeringly expensive and far too far out of our price range. We settled on doing the Microsoft online certificates, not as well thought of by industry but affordable, provide recognition of key skills and develop a sense of achievement (in my group at least) – but it does not carry and points value.

    I’ve also had feedback from 2 friends recently who have not got leadership roles they were shortlisted for (in different schools) in part because they were not fully on board with the ‘hard’ “thou shalt” edge of PiXL. I believe this to be criminal and a horrible, but potentially understandBle, reaction to the game playing that is going on and the need to out-compete each other rather than do what is in the best interests of our students. The two are not always the same thing.

    Given the adoption of PiXLs strategies across the UK by a great and growing number of schools it makes you consider if this is tantamount to becoming part of an academy chain by the back door.

    Anyway, I’m clearly in need of a walk in the Sunday morning air so will put my soap box away now. Thank, you for sharing your thoughts, I very much appreciate being able to read your reflections and using them to shape my own practice as a leader.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An excellent comment that I have just seen after posting mine. I don’t wish to sound too sychophantic but as a teacher I am glad there are still leaders like you and Tom in the system and I wish you both and your fellow “educators” all the best.


  7. Thanks for this very detailed reflection Tom; it reminds me of a similar experience.

    I went on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to a PiXL gathering at Westminster Hall two years ago, saw what you saw (except, of course, for completely different content – these ‘PiXL fixes’ are on ever-shifting sand) and returned to school to say ‘No, it’s not for us, let’s take the high ground on this’. I was overruled. Our first cohort say ECDL later that year, and god only knows how much richer their lives are thanks to that enriching experience.

    Since then, the pervasive influence of PiXL now courses through our school like chemotherapy, curing us or our misguided ideals or beliefs in what’s best for the children. The thought of them not considering interfering with classroom teaching is truly terrifying: let’s do away with ‘timewasting’ nonsense like enquiry, like reading for pleasure, like fun.

    I wish PiXL didn’t exist. But it does, so I’ll have to live with it. Within days of joining you’ll wish it didn’t exist either. But your joining, so you’ll have to live with yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Penny has captured my general feeling after reading the blogpost. I am a teacher not a middle or school leader. I am a teacher leader.

    I have been out of the state system for a few years and until today I had never heard of PiXL.I was astonished to see that there is a large and growing group of schools, ganging up to play the system in a systematic way and all in public view. I am not a fan of RCTs as I believe they operate in a similar way to PiXL, in that they try to identify what is beneficial to the population as a whole which may not be better for individuals. I am happy to accept that this is wrong if anyone wishes to explain why.

    PiXL appears to be very similar. School performance is about groups and not individuals, about results for the sake of the school and not the individual.

    As a teacher I teach my specialist subject(s) to the best of my ability. I teach my students so they will know what I know and more. I teach my students the core concepts of my specialism withe the assumption that the specification does the same.I am not a slave to the spec. I teach my students to address familiar and unfamiliar problems. I try to teach them so that they have a deep understanding that they will then apply to any problem they will find.

    Tom Peters once explained that if a firm cares for it’s customers and watches costs, profits will take care of themselves. I believe the same is true for students. Teach them well to apply their knowledge and results will follow.

    So, while I have one eye on the spec and another on the exam, assessing progress against the two just proves to them how good they really are.

    All the evidence I have shows that I am a good teacher. I would not work in a school that has as part of it’s mission to increase P8 by 0.3%, modelled or unmodelled for the sake of school improvement.I would love to see some of the assumptions contained in their model.

    If we go much further down this path we will have a system that resembles that found in the US with administrators dreaming up nutty targets and methods and then pressuring teachers to de-professionalise and teach from the script, all the time telling us that it is in the best interests of the poor kids. The rich kids will continue to have a decent education.

    I see your joining this group as an indication that the slippery slope might be an inevitable one given government education policy, funding for the state system and the UKs changing position on the world stage.

    I will watch it from the sidelines with great interest.


  9. My experience of PiXL for the last three years is that the sales pitch is great and I got a real buzz off it during those meetings. I really felt we were all on board and doing right by the kids. But then reality bites: kids see their photos on the ‘progress’ board comparing themselves to one another; high stakes tests every four weeks in Y11, set movements based on scores only, grade stickers on the front of books which include MTGs. PiXL in my view have never addressed the real problems of motivation, disaffection and disengagement in mathematics and dare I say, trying to get children enjoying the mathematics learning. Staff are reliant on test and comparing performance. There is no pedagogy unless you count the MathsWatch worksheet countdown to exams in Y11. My problem is that I believe teachers should be doing all we can to reduce the competition in education and make it about doing your personal best. What worries me is that this strategy of always focusing on exams and competition floods down through the year groups as the best way to teach. I’ve even experienced teachers displaying ranked (effort) grades on their powerpoints in classes. I could go on. At the moment the schools maths and English grades are increasing. But for me, the mantra of ‘Do Whatever It Takes’ has a negative side.


  10. I have a suspicion that subject to scrutiny (i.e. data analysis), PiXL actually doesn’t ‘work’ for schools, let alone students (i.e. that by not being in PiXL you might actually do better). Combined with other reservations, this nagging doubt has led to my school not joining up this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When all schools are in Academy MATs will you as a Head Teacher be able to choose whether to implement PiXL or not? When the CEO’s £400,000 salary depends on results it will be the PiXL way or the highway. It is a rare example of positive feedback (rather like a bomb going off) and I can’t see how it can be stopped under the current structures. Even “good” people will be forced down this road. If they don’t comply the CEO will find someone who will. And with no parent governors left, there will be fewer people arguing the opposite.
    To add to this the professional associations like ADCL seem to have abandoned any attempt at moral leadership or indeed any form of leadership.


  12. Take the buts that work for you. At least you are fully aware of what some schools are doing.The maths app is worth having.My students find it useful.


  13. Like you, Tom, joined PiXL this year. Very sceptical but wanted to see what it was about. We will remain in it next year. Taking up the subject specific resources but not buying into all the gaming aspects and not doing EDCL, etc… Our adviser is useful as are the meetings with her but mostly we say to her, “No we won’t be doing that.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was a bit disturbed by some of the PiXL advice about exams, such as playing music, as this actually contravenes the exams regulations and wouldn’t be allowed anyway. It seems that they ought to at least run some of this stuff past the JCQ for approval before advocating it at events.


  14. The system of evaluating school performance changes all the time. It will change again, possibly at an increasing rate – I would expect Dfe to be tracking what organisations like PiXL are up to, and to monitor Social Media (as we know they do). When schools end up constantly looking for ways to gain (at the whole school level) by making their students do stuff they wouldn’t normally do, or decide to put less effort into some students because even if they do well it won’t advantage the school, we have a problem. PiXL sounds like a nightmare (and I guess the organisation is already lobbying the Dfe, and forming business relationships with educational publishers and the like), dragging schools down a selfish path where the individual students really don’t count. We can do better than this.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Interested in people’s definition of “gaming.” Like you’ve never chosen a syllabus that gives your students the best chance of passing ?


    • But isn’t PiXL more about gaming to improve whole school ratings, rather than looking at what might best improve prospects for individual students? In other words, PiXL believes in encouraging students to do any qualification which boosts the school’s Progress 8 score, irrespective of whether the qualification enhances the overall education that the student receives, or opens up doors for them which might otherwise remain closed?


  16. Any large organisation can expect scrutiny and criticism – that comes with the territory. In the interests of informed debate however, might I suggest that those with negative views on PiXL might consider the following questions ?

    1. Have you a full and balanced view of the full range of activity that PiXL undertakes ? The ground-breaking work on character ? Its debating project led by Geoff Barton ? Its long history of work within PRUs ?

    Or – is your opinion characterised by promotion of a few courses such as that current focus of attention : ECDL ?

    2. What do you consider to be contained within the definition of “gaming ?” One critic suggested this shortlist :

    a) Discussing what might come up in exams.

    b) Not teaching all the syllabus to focus on likely exam topics.

    c) Focusing help on “borderline” pupils.

    d) Encouraging pupils to memorise mark schemes.

    e) Choosing qualifications to improve place in school league tables.

    f) Entering pupils early for exams to allow resits.

    g) Switching to an ‘easier’ exam board.

    h) Telling pupils to use revision guides not textbooks.

    i) Encouraging pupils to rote-learn answers.

    j) Giving hints to pupils during controlled assessment.

    Now some of this is incorrect if intended to apply to PiXL – b, c, h notably – and some like j is illegal. But – if we included all of these suggestions in the gaming definition – have you ever “gamed ?”

    3. Have you considered why PiXL has grown to a membership of 1500 ? Might it be the withdrawal of LA subject and school improvement advisors from the last century ? Have most MATs replaced that expertise ? I would suggest “no.” Clearly PiXL is meeting a need.

    4. All courses recommended by PiXL come from a heavily-edited government-approved list of qualifications. Achievement in these is measured by the government-composed index Progress 8. Progress 8 is the prime measure by which RSCs and Ofsted hold schools to account. Can you blame a Headteacher for being keen to maximise Progress 8 in that environment ?

    5. And anyway – who loses out ? In a regime where students are being shepherded down the narrow EBacc route, schools need more options for allowing a wider range of students to benefit from qualification success – from the government list, remember.

    6. In a world where struggling Headteachers are asked to supply action plans by the LA, RSC, Ofsted and sometimes the academy chain, many Heads appreciate the visit of a PiXL associate whose only agenda is to ask : “how can I help ?” Followed 90 minutes later by “oh, and by the way – before I go, how are you doing ? You look a bit tired …”

    Little wonder that PiXL’s growing ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Point 6 is the reason it is growing, I guess. You make some valid points about the interpretation of gaming. But I would argue that choosing an “easier” board in a particular exam for a particular student or group of students, in order to maximise students’ individual grades (with the school’s overall results improving as a consequence of this), is somewhat different from what PiXL seems to advocate. PiXL appears to suggest starting with Progress 8 as a measure, then looking at your cohort of students to discuss strategically how you would boost the school’s Progress 8 score from that particular cohort. The tail wags the dog, so to speak. You would probably say that nowhere does PiXL advocate this, yet how else would you interpret the conference sessions on Progress 8 buckets as reported in the blog?


      • Hello Fish – where does your PiXL information come from ? Are you speaking from direct experience ?


  17. There were several parts of PiXL which made me very uncomfortable, the strategic entries was one, entering students for both GCSE and iGCSE or switching specifications at short notice. These always struck me as being more for the benefit of league tables than the pupils. Being told not to bother with those at E grade or below also struck me as wrong.
    However an aspect which rarely gets mentioned is the impact on the teachers. The focus on putting the most experienced staff on the exam groups led to those teachers having 3 or even 4 GCSE groups with all the associated workload. The ‘walking talking mock’ had a suggested marking turnaround of the next day. I queried the workload and reality of marking 250 exams overnight and was told that if we cared about the pupils we’d do it, being given the example of one school where the teachers slept at school to do it.
    Although PiXL has many positives it may be no coincidence that several of our department left teaching, or chose to teach outside the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The BCS Level 2 ECDL Certificate in IT Application skills has been designed specifically for schools. We do not condone any school running BCS Level 2 ECDL Certificate in IT Application skills over a 3 day period and do not believe that this qualification can be taught in 3 days.

    Schools do tailor it to fit with their timetable and curriculum programme. The majority of students taking the qualification are in Year 10 and Year 11 and they complete it over a 12 or 24 month period. Some schools do run intensive revision sessions, as they do for any other subject prior to exams, building on core knowledge already developed over a long period.

    IT skills are broadly used across schools in many subjects and ECDL can be used to build on and enhance any pre-existing IT skills the student has. For example, we have seen it being used with Year 9 students to achieve their first qualification which the schools believe helps prepare students for Key Stage 4, taking advantage of the skills they learn in all their other examination subjects:

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Tom,

    It has been a while since I have engaged with you but I still keep my hand in as a school governor as I still love learning. I could write forever on that one!!!! I have left schools for now after 15 years of trying to be a little but better every day. Now back in business (it will be 2 years in september) I can honestly say that the definition of integrity and gaming is a difficult one to ignore. “Playing the game” is what everyone does from the moment you sell a product, create a vision or journey, convince then to buy into an idea, compete with fairly dubious practices from other global companies, ensure you meet your performance targets, negotiate a more favourable deal. In a nutshell create leverage. And what schools are now forced to do is to create leverage for themselves.

    As schools morph into MATs, amalgamate through circumstance and whatever new ideological position that is thought up gaming will become standard. It is the DNA of business. It is the core spine of a free market and it should not surprise anyone that conservative values create this undelying ethos.

    And you are correct. ECDL is gaming the system. AS levels might be. But let’s not blame the Heads and Schools. Ofqual and comparability is the issue. Progress 8, value add, game 10, pie in the sky league table?!!! Turn any system into a complex list of variables and working out the few that give you the small marginal gains to a greater end result is inevitable. Just discussing the makeup of a progress measure and dissecting it shows that we are all in the game.

    I miss the kids… the challenge and the joy. But the conflict to ensure good visible brand and sometimes sacrificing the correct thing was always hard. It is much easier in business. People are honest. They openly play the game.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I don’t see it as a false dichotomy. We are all in the process of grade getting from student level, subject level through to whole school. If students get opportunities to succeed then this cascades across their entire examination course experience. Wether BTEC, IGCSE or ECDL or even ASCreative writing students get a chance to get grades and corresponding self belief. I have direct experience of wrapping BTEC around an academic core and seeing the school’s self belief grow. The school also gets to “feel good” about its performance and this permeates everywhere within it and it’s community.

    Many schools need to be seen as successful through GCSE performance and cannot afford the luxury of not grade getting. It’s a competitive market! It’s easy for some to question this or even sneer but community self belief and getting away from RI or SM – intrinsically linked for many schools in challenging circumstance – is critical in the early stages of transforming a school.

    Pixl is all about playing the system for all its worth. There is nothing wrong with that within a wider context of a balanced curriculum, a breadth of experience and good teaching. Let’s not forget our private friends play the game all too well for the benefit of the most affluent. You could argue a whole moral construct for Pixl game playing.


    • “Pixl is all about playing the system for all its worth” You don’t find that just a bit depressing? That’s the attitude that corrupted speaking and listening. I’ll ask Sir John if he agrees when we meet next week.


      • You either see it as depressing or the consequence of the rules that are set by our political masters. If you need to boost a schools performance and that of its students when in challenging circumstance then you play the game. You don’t cheat or corrupt but you do exploit opportunity. Students win and your school gains breathing space and also the confidence to tackle the real issue of improving learning. Remove league tables and Ofsted data led judgments and the need goes away. I suspect any individual view of the Pixl approach to “grade getting” is shaped by the schools you have worked within and their individual contexts. Philosophically it is depressing but in the two contexts within which I have worked it has also been a pragmatic solution to effecting some quick wins to support longer term change. Philosophical concern needed to put on the back burner for a period of time. Where I would begin to agree is that you also have to have a developing academic curriculum for all, a plan for improving learning and a leadership drive built on firm moral constructs.

        Ps we have taken the scheme of learning idea and have developed it even further in line with earlier posts. I appreciate the time you must invest to share your thinking. Your posts on behaviour have also been useful as I seek to navigate a similar course of action.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. This is what I’ve experienced time and time again and I don’t like the cult like atmosphere and skullduggery!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s