Best Practice

Raising the quality of teaching

Sharing your ‘butterfly’ practices, prioritising behaviour management and practising evidence-led CPD were listed as key to raising the quality teaching during a “Tweet-Up” debate featuring Sir TIm Brighouse and Professor Dylan Wiliam among other experts

Sir Tim Brighouse, Professor Dylan Wiliam and Professor Ben Levin were among the experts who this week offered schools, and politicians, their advice on how we should continue to raise teaching quality in our schools.

The three world-renowned educationalists formed part of a panel of six speakers who offered both system-wide and school-specific solutions during a Tweet-Up online debate.

A Tweet-Up sees a number of keynote speakers delivering 140-second addresses (to match the 140 characters of a Tweet) and debating questions with the audience. The audience, in turn, is encouraged to tweet from the debate, with those following proceedings on Twitter also contributing to the discussions.

The event, which took place on Tuesday (February 5), was hosted by the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) and backed by SecEd and the Policy Exchange. It took place in front of an audience at the British Council offices in central London, and was streamed online and reported live on Twitter.

Speaking before the debate, Pete Henshaw, editor of SecEd, said it was not for politicians to lead this debate and called on the profession to ensure it sets the agenda.

He said: “While we do have governments of the day and they do important work, I think it is for the profession to lead this debate about how we raise quality, how we develop pedagogy, new approaches, assessment techniques, etc.

“It’s not a five-year term political thing, it’s not something that can be solved with one policy decision, for me it’s an ongoing development and it’s for teachers to lead that.”

Other keynote speakers included Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, Chris Holmwood, principal of the Leadership and Training Centre at Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes, and Tom Bennett, a teacher, author and behaviour expert.

SecEd's Twitter feed, @SecEd_Education, was among those reporting live from the event, which ran under the hashtag “#betterteaching”.

Here follows highlights from the six keynote addresses, including links to the online videos of each 140-second speech, as well as a summary of the Twitter feedback from the event.

Sir Tim Brighouse

Renowned educationalist Sir Tim Brighouse, quoting American researcher Professor Judith Little, said that you can tell when you are in an outstanding school when four factors are visible.

He went on to list them: “Teachers talk about teaching, teachers observe each other’s practice, teachers plan, organise and evaluate their work together rather than separately, and that teachers teach each other.”

He continued: “One of the reasons I like that is that you can immediately see ways in which you could make it more likely that teachers talk about teaching.”

Sir Tim then encouraged schools to focus on activities that were low effort but high impact, describing them as “butterflies”.

Examples he gave included rotating staff meetings around different classrooms with the host at the start describing the room layout and displays, or discussing other teaching techniques and approaches.

He also said that with modern technology teachers could observe their own lessons and then when viewing them back, decide whether they want to share them with a coach.

Sir Tim said the role of coaching was vital and suggested that more schools could send teachers out in small groups to learn from colleagues in other schools.

He said: “If this were widespread practice, if people were to attend to their butterflies and remember Judith Little the outcome in terms of teacher morale and teacher satisfaction (would be positive).

“And isn’t it dreadful, Ofsted does all these reports, we’re all agreed that professional development is the vital ingredient, but I defy you to find any Ofsted report on a school that is outstanding that describes its professional development programme. Absolutely extraordinary.”

Watch Sir Tim’s Tweet-Up address at:

Professor Dylan Wiliam

Professor Dylan Wiliam, in a video address, said that because high-performing countries like Finland and Singapore have very high bars for entry into the teaching profession, other countries feel they must follow suit.

However, he continued: “They fail to take the lesson from Ireland which has arguably an even more selective recruitment into teacher education and has a system that performs no better than our own. So getting the brightest is not a sufficient condition and it may not even be necessary.”

Prof Wiliam urged the education system to lose its focus on recruiting the brightest and to instead “work with the teachers we have already got – the love the one you’re with strategy”.

He explained: “This is absolutely the right way to go because of recent research on the nature of expertise. Research shows that general aptitude predicts how well you will do a job for the first few years of doing it. For most cognitive jobs, people who are smarter do them better to begin with.

“But what is interesting is that as you get more and more experienced the predictive power of IQ falls away. IQ predicts how well you can do a job at the beginning, but it says nothing about how well you can do a job if you practice.”

Prof Wiliam said that research shows that expertise only comes after 10 years of deliberate practice. However, he said that most teachers only improve in the first two or three years because they simply have to in order to stay afloat.

He continued: “But once you get basic mastery of your classroom routines the environment stops making you better. You cope and therefore the only teachers who continue to improve beyond that point are the ones who push themselves to be better.”

He said this was an optimistic message which shows that most teachers are not getting to the level of expertise that they are capable of.

“If we can create cultures in our schools where teachers embrace the idea of continual improvement, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what our schools can achieve. There is no limit to what our teachers can achieve if we support them in the right way.”

Watch Prof Wiliam’s Tweet-Up address at:

Professor Ben Levin, University of Toronto

Professor Ben Levin is credited with transforming the Ontario education system in Canada during his previous position as the region’s deputy education minister.

Contributing a video address to the Tweet-up, Prof Levin discussed what he called the two most critical things to improving teaching.

“The first is to improve professional learning. We know a lot about how to do good professional development, we don’t use most of what we know every day. Certainly it is about a lot more than CPD days and events, it’s about how this learning is integrated into the life of the school.

“The second is to use knowledge of teaching to make teaching a research-informed practice in the way that other professions do. In this way, teachers would use the best available knowledge about what constitutes best practice.

“Not at a generic level but at a level of detail that says this is what we know about engaging students, teaching reading, working with diverse learners, students with various kinds of disabilities.”

He added: “Teachers collectively would own those ideas and make them the foundation of their practice.”

Watch Prof Levin’s Tweet-Up address at

Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity which works to break the link between family income and education achievement.

As such, its chief executive Dr Kevan Collins focused on the role of teacher development in improving outcomes for these children.

He said: “Being the best teacher you can be matters, it matters the most for children who have the most to learn or who come from homes that face disadvantage.”

He said that the current system was too inconsistent in meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, but added: “Our best schools are making a huge difference and that starts and finishes with the quality of teaching.

“You don’t have to be sick to get better and our teaching can always improve. Much of what we know about good teaching and better learning is not made available to teachers.”

The EEF works to identify what is effective when it comes to tackling educational disadvantage. It is also working with the TDT to provide access to evidence-led professional development for teachers.

Dr Collins continued: “Working with the TDT to combine what we learn with the professional opportunities for teachers to develop is the perfect marriage. Knowing is essential but not sufficient. We need to put evidence to work.”

He said that the Pupil Premium is a “terrific opportunity” to target resources, but added: “We know that money alone is not enough. We need to know how to harness evidence, support and challenge teachers to review and improve their practice, to create a reliable system delivering quality and excellence for all.”

Watch Dr Collins’ Tweet-Up address at

Chris Holmwood, principal, Leadership and Training Centre, Shenley Brook End School

SecEd editorial board member and head of the recently opened Leadership and Training Centre at Shenley Brook End in Milton Keynes, Chris Holmwood, came armed with props – including a blow-up planet earth and a ruler.

He said: “High quality teaching and learning is about creating a world of aspiration. It’s about developing young people’s confidence, skills, knowledge and curiosity and equipping them to explore the world and to make sense of it, to be able to collaborate and compete within it.

“For this to become true we need a culture that supports this aspiration, we need to move beyond what is felt to be manageable and measureable and to suppress the wish to control the climate.”

Using the ruler and the inflatable globe as a metaphor, Mr Holmwood said the desire to measure everything using a rigid system comes at the expense of this aspiration.

He demonstrated how the easiest way to measure the round globe with the flat ruler was to “flatten the earth a little” by deflating it. “But this diminishes aspiration,” he added.

He said a commitment to growing a world of high quality teaching and learning needed confidence and trust in the profession.

He added that the new Teaching School programme was “exciting” and that these schools should use their expertise to support improvements to teaching and learning, and to “facilitate peer-led innovation based on research within the classroom”.

Watch Mr Holmwood’s Tweet-Up address at

Tom Bennett, teacher, author and behaviour expert

Behaviour was at the core of Tom Bennett’s presentation and he said that many teachers are inexperienced when it comes to managing poor behaviour.

He explained: “The single biggest thing that could improve education in most countries is to improve the training that teachers receive when it comes to behaviour management.”

Mr Bennett said that in every school is two schools – one where the experienced staff know the children and there is a relationship and high levels of trust.

He continued: “And then there is the school of the supply teacher, the new teacher, the teacher who never really learned how to handle behaviour but learned how to keep their mouth shut about behaviour – who learned how to do nothing.

“That’s why I call it the elephant in the classroom, because it’s the thing that very few people still talk about as being significant in education.”

Mr Bennett suggested two solutions. He said better training for behaviour management across the board was key and that current provision, no matter what the training route, was “patchy”.

He added: “Second, schools need to own up to their responsibilities. Almost every school needs to make behaviour items 1, 2 and 3 on every agenda and ask themselves ‘is this good enough?’”

He argued that this is key to social mobility too, as often the students who come from fractured, dysfunctional backgrounds need this structure more than most.

“It might be the only place in the world where they get structure, where they get boundaries with compassion,” he added.

Watch Mr Bennett’s Tweet-Up address at

How Twitter reacted to the debate…

Schools need to develop a model which encourages teachers to think professionally about CPD. Responsibility is the key (@hotscot99)

Commitment to CPD is a state of mind and has to be 'in the water' – part of the ethos of the school (@jillberry102)

Differentiated CPD when ran in house (we don’t teach all the kids the same thing). And managers who can walk the talk (@sylviashelly)

Learn from ITT observation and feedback, must be developmental, as developing apprenticeship model. Peer to peer issues? (@ChrisChivers2)

As always, Tim (Brighouse's) butterflies are inspired, 'cos it's about learning. Plus the power of coaching. Go Tim! (@PhilPfromSC)

#BetterTeaching will only happen if class sizes are reduced. It's not rocket science, that one (@Super_Work)

#BetterTeaching driven by the best teachers, improving outcomes at all levels for all students, not ticking target boxes for politicians (@Sloanedu)

Peer and self-assessment, precise differentiation, engaging learning that's fun, EI and flawless behaviour management (@The_FutureTeach)

Students taking more responsibility in peer coaching, plus self-assessment so they are fully involved in assessing their progress (@johng_efc)

Always make sure the children spot connections in their work. See patterns, know how to interpret them. Best way to learn (@EducatedTeacher)

More support and time to allow us to develop better relationships with our students (@JimmyNicolson)

There needs to be time invested into planning CPD & time given to staff to make it truly effective, worthwhile & inspiring! (@SlatRS_Classics)

Teacher training. Professional development. Let teachers inspire other teachers. We all got into this to create and innovate (@danielpching)

What is the potential for sabbaticals and secondments for improving and reflecting on own teaching? (@jtoop)

Team-teaching, coaching central role for all leaders, identify colleagues & schools you can learn from and see their lessons (@judeenright)

Further information

You can still contribute to the debate on Twitter under the hashtag #betterteaching. For more information on the Teacher Development Trust, visit

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