The Jonah Complex: Why We Are Afraid Of Being Brilliant

 
The ‘lack of wanting to be clever’ problem is something anyone working in classrooms will encounter.
One of the things I learned to ask disaffected students was: what would you have to sacrifice if you suddenly did really well, academically speaking?
This is how the conversation usually went:

  • Me: I’m guessing you don’t really want to get an A because it wouldn’t suit something about yourself, right?
  • Kid: What? No.
  • Me: Really? Only none of the friends I see you with are in the top set, and you seem to like chatting more than working, so… why would you work? If you work won’t you lose your friends and your ability to chat?
  • Kid: Are you trying to, like, reverse-mind me or sumfin?
  • Me; No! [I genuinely wasn’t] I’m just wondering what things you would have to give up to do well at school and if I can see why it might not be worth it.

After the goading I would step back and let the student figure it out for themselves a bit. Sometimes I would lead the way in discussing what’s scary about being even just “a bit more clever” than they currently are.
I was brought to this technique by a little-known theory of Abraham Maslow’s called “The Jonah Complex”. It is first mentioned in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, and explains why humans who want to be brilliant also find the idea terrifying:
Jonah Complex
(The excerpt is taken from The Farther Reaches of Human Nature – a brilliant book which I cannot recommend enough).
Maslow continues by pointing out that if we do the best possible, we (a) are stuck out on our own, because being at the top entails being lonely, and (b) are only able to move down afterwards. How terrifying! How utterly awful! To spend one’s life at the top is to be afraid that at any moment you can tumble. This would be too much for most people to cope with, let alone our hormonally-charged teenage students. Hence, many of them spend their life fighting to stay away from being brilliant, fearing that if they should reach their potential it will only make them lonely and stressed.
As an example of how common this fear is, Maslow would ask his university students: “Who is going to write the next great psychology textbook?” No-one would ever admit to it.
But then he would say something which I think is one of the most important phrases in all of life:

If not you, then who?

I’ve used this phrase a lot with kids. “I’ll never get into Oxford”, they would say. “Well someone has to,” I would respond, “why not you?”. [Same goes for being prime minister, taking a person they fancy to the prom, getting a top mark on coursework….I mean, someone has to. Why not them?].  Of course, we don’t always get what we want. Not everyone can do these things. But Maslow would also tell his students that if they purposely plan to be terrible (or not be prime minister, etc) then they won’t somehow escape misery. That’s not how playing it safe works. Like Jonah, they will run away only to find themselves scooped up and asked to face other challenges. But by taking the path of least resistance they’ll now be less prepared for the challenge and without a shot at achieving their dream. He ends by pointing out that while we cannot avoid unhappiness, we can learn to be less scared of brilliance.
That sounds a bit sappy, I know. But The Jonah Complex is a real thing in our classrooms and I’m not above a bit of cheesy sloganeering if it helps students overcome achievement-fear. So, to that end, I have produced the following meme. Feel free to download and stick on your classroom wall. Stick it on all four of them if you can.
And always remember to ask that kid who is about to give up in despair: “If not you, then who?”
MemeCenter_1390879954031_184
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Update: DfE start repopulating TBNP site

After my earlier blog post outlining the mysterious disappearance of the DfE’s Targeted Basic Need Programme website, two key things happened.
One – Adrian Short found a cached version of the original TBNP website 
https://twitter.com/adrianshort/status/428108259103232000
And here it is. See its many shiny links!:
TBNP old
Seeing the page again made me notice the datestamp. 12 December 2013. Remember that.
Then, a second thing happened:


Hurray! [Though I’m a bit perplexed about why anyone had ever thought there were changes to the programme itself?!]
The suggestion from within was that this was an “error” caused by the cleaning up of the website ready for the transition to the absolutely terrible GOV.UK website. This might well be true, but it’s hard to tell. Let’s just hope this all-too-convenient error doesn’t become a trend.
One thing did strike me as odd though. This is what the barren TBNP website looked like yesterday.
TBNPNote its date stamp. 26 July 2013.
If you were “clearing up” a website why would you choose to go back to a prior version (26 July) rather than just stick with the one you just had (12 December)? Beats me. Maybe this is the proof it really was a cock-up.
But, there’s one more thing…
Today’s site is better. There are now more links giving info about the process:
TBNP new
BUT – several documents still haven’t made it across. Particularly those related to the application process. (They are the PDF links you can see in the right hand bar of the first image above).
I assume these documents are still making their way across in this comedy of website errors. Let’s hope they make it safely and don’t get lost a second time.

Why did the DfE delete the Targeted Basic Need Programme website?

Given that the Department for Education have asked for a Tribunal to keep free school information a secret, you might think they are in the habit of hiding things. But I’m generally an optimistic soul, and I don’t think that. Not least because the majority of people I meet in edu-policy are thoughtful, and interesting, and trying to do the right thing.
But then stuff comes along that makes it hard to keep such optimism up. Take, for example, the DfE’s sudden deletion of all the pages on the Targeted Basic Need Programme (TBNP).
What is the TBNP?
david laws
 Last year David Laws announced £820m of funds for building new schools. Laws had to do this because the country has a lot of young people and not enough school spaces. The Free Schools policy, where any interested group can apply to open a school, has filled some places, but not many, because the areas where people tend to apply are not always the ones which have the most desperate shortages.
Back when the government were getting a kicking over the money spent on Free Schools, it intrigued me they didn’t defend themselves by talking more about the Targeted Basic Need Programme. After all, it was the policy to solve the places shortage. So I investigated.
What did the TBNP involve? And how is it different to people opening Free Schools?
Before 2010 local authorities were commonly involved in school openings. When the Coalition took over, they put Central Government in charge. Applicants now wanting to a school applied to the DfE, attended interview, and if successful were then granted funds for a school.
The TBNP Programme is different. Because certain places really needed new schools but weren’t getting free school applicants, a call was put out to local councils asking them to say how many school places they needed and bid for schools to fulfill the need. (Either an extension of an existing one, or a new school altogether). The government then examined the submissions and doled out IOUs to the deserving, “Here you go Thurrock, we grant you x million to open a school”. To get the money the local authority then ran a competition for a provider to open and run the school. The council could select from a list of approved academy groups, or they could get a new group approved. Once the local authority decided its preference for a provider it had to send those preferences to the DfE who would check them over, and either grant funds for the school (and the preferred provider) or say “Hmmmm…NO. We think you should have THIS provider instead”. How often this switch happened is one of the things I am most interested in finding out.
.
Can an interested person read about the Local Authority competitions?
Well, they could – in the past. For example, Rotherham had their tender documents online in December. But they’ve now mysteriously disappeared.
Rotehrham
Luckily, I still have a copy .

.

Does the DfE website inform people about the programme?
Again, it used to. The site was packed with helpful info. I know this because I wrote an email on the 8th January in which I linked to two pages of it (and referred to several others). One of the pages linked to a pdf manual of the process, the other linked to the forms councils completed:

targeted basic need email

.

And the DfE have taken all this information down?

Seemingly so. When I went looking for information yesterday, this was all I could find:

TBNP

An  £820m policy. Two sentences.

.

What about the “Connected to this” sidebar promising more info?

Yeah. It brings you back here.

TBNP

.

What about the links from the email? To the pdf manual and the paperwork? Do those still work?

Hahaha. No.

TBNP

.

So either I am missing something OR, in the past two weeks all the publicly accessible information about this policy has disappeared.

.

Why does this matter?

For a few reasons. First, £820m quid is not a small amount of money. But if anyone in the public wants to read about the policy, or scrutinise the money’s use, or learn from the TBNP, they are now a bit screwed.

Two, I always worry when the processes for selecting companies to run schools are not transparent. The more the process is hidden away the more likely you are to get fraud, nepotism and dodgy backdoor dealings. That Parliament is later today debating a Free School fraud case where a Conservative Party Vice Chair was making money from the school’s existence should make us all the more anxious to get school procurement matters out into the open (and clear good names that may be unfairly unsullied).

Finally, the law is quite clear that citizens have the right to see government information unless there is good reason not. The law makes this assumption for the same reason we invigilate exam halls. If people know the gaze might fall on them they tend to behave.

I don’t care why this information has disappeared. I do want it to come back.  Ideally with full disclosure of the application process and the bids also (one can dream). Going down the FOI route again will be super-boring, but entirely doable. Let’s hope instead, with characteristic optimism restored, that we will all be spared such a palava.

Update: see what happened next! 

What Academies should and shouldn't do with their cash….

After the recent Guardian story about academies paying millions of pounds to private firms for educational services there has been a surge of interest in the way schools are spending taxpayer money. It is important to remember that academies are not alone in spending tax-cash with private firms. Every school will buy items from private companies – whether stationery, or textbooks, or computers. What matters much more in the case of academies is who the money goes to and whether or not there is a dodgy link between the people operating the school and the people they are paying out to.
For example, as the Guardian article notes:

Grace Academy, which runs three schools in the Midlands and was set up by the Tory donor Lord Edmiston, has paid more than £1m either directly to or through companies owned or controlled by Edmiston, trustees’ relatives and to members of the board of trustees.

This is more problematic than your local school handing a hundred quid to whsmith for post-it notes because it suggests that decisions on how money was spent might have been based on nepotism rather than the best interests of students.
Of course, the academy founders could rightly argue that monies paid to family members did represent the best use of cash. To prove this, they should be meeting the standards described by Edward Timpson in a recent Parliamentary Question answer:

Ed Timpson Answer

So, if journalists really wish to see what is going on with academy expenditure they need to look and see if (a) the processes for procuring items/services were competitive, and (b) if  amounts paid were above market rate. If academies are not following the processes as outlined by Timpson then there is a problem.
In fact, it is worth all of us in education taking note and keeping an eye on this. Being a teacher soon tells you that people tend to behave better when they know a monitoring eye is watching.

Subject Associations should approach government about EBacc inclusion

One of the most annoying policies of the past few years was the “EBacc”, a list of subjects the government put together as a league table measure, with the aim of encouraging students to take these preferred subjects. The list was annoying because the subjects included made little sense (see why here). What was further annoying was that it felt fixed from the start. Gove was mentioning this particular mix of subjects before he even got into power and though there were warnings that subjects such as RE, or drama and music, might see their numbers go down, these pleas were roundly ignored. The EBacc subjects seemed immutable.
But in today’s speech by Michael Gove at BETT he mentioned that Computer Science was added to the EBacc mix. Gove argued that this was done because the subject was shown to be “sufficiently rigorous”.
This raises a question: How did computer science show it was sufficiently rigorous? For a start, computer science is predominantly coursework assessed (60%); something the Secretary of State has repeatedly criticised in other subject. Also, who looked over the grounds on which it was rigorous? Were other subjects given the same shot?
When pondering this on Twitter, I was tweeted by @OdysseanProject, an account manned by Dom Cummings, the soon-to-depart Special Advisor to Michael Gove. He wrote:
https://twitter.com/OdysseanProject/status/426060674738180096
So, there’s the answer. No-one else tried. Hence, if RE, or Drama, or Music, or Psychology want in to the EBacc it appears that what you have to do is approach the DfE and show rigour. Who do you approach? How? In what guise? None of that is clear. But if I was the head of a Subject Association for a non-Ebacc subject I know what the first job on tomorrow’s To-Do List would be….

What Happened at the TouchPaper Problem Party?

Saturday was the scene of the first ever TouchPaper Problem Party, and it was amazing. It was, quite literally, a super fun nerdy education party!
The story of its genesis is remarkably simple. A few months after I gave a talk at the ResearchEd conference in which I laid out 7 questions that I thought were important for education, Dr Becky Allen contacted me with a tantalising idea: What if we put a bunch of up-for-it people in a room who wanted to answer these questions, and then gave them access to research, wifi, and some coffee?  What do you think would happen?
I had no idea. But it sounded like a lot of fun to find out. 
Skip forward five months and we found ourselves stood in a room at the Institute of Education, on a rainy Saturday surrounded by 43 people geared up and ready to THINK. Having selected one of the 7 TouchPaper Questions to work on, teams were split across six tables (we ended up missing out problem 1 in the end) and each team had an intrepid facilitator pre-selected to help the group walk through their paces.

This is what thinking looks like
This is what thinking looks like

It was nerve-wracking waiting for people to arrive. Yet once we got going the atmosphere was party-like. People were excitable, introducing themselves, exclaiming they had not seen each other for a long time, or only ever spoken online, or explaining that they had read blogs for years but had never stepped into the Twitter or blogging fray themselves.
Crazily though, people really didn’t know what was going to happen. Though facilitators were selected for their great teaching skills the whole thing was quite experimental, with each group being told they just had to think “and present something back at 3 o’clock”. To assure everyone that I knew this was a bit weird I made the group repeat a mantra that got me through teaching several times: “Remember: it’s not brave, if you’re not scared” .
Furthermore, Becky and I consoled ourselves with thinking that if nothing else happened in the day we would at least answer the question of what happens if you stick a bunch of motivated edu-nerds in a room and ask them to answer hard questions.
As it happens, the answer to that question is: Amazing things.
What we found by 3pm
After several hours of thinking, discussing, arguing, writing, dancing, or whatever else facilitators demanded, groups fed back their thoughts on each problem.
Here is my quick summary of notes, though I fully expect the groups to roll their eyes at the shadow of deep thought I am presenting here:
Group 2 – “How can one invoke in a class the emotional state most productive for: (a) prosocial behaviour, (b) evaluative thinking, (c) memorization, (d) creation?”
We heart research design
We heart research design

Eleanor Bernades and Katharine Vincent did an incredible job of marshalling their team throughout the day.
The group presented a proposal for a study in which students would be tested for physiological indicators of mood. [The group didn’t mention the Gates watches, but several US schools are already using technology to do something like this]. By seeing how students respond physiologically to different types of stimuli it would be possible to see if there are pronounced changes, and also to track what impact this has on learning. If you had a large enough sample size, and got students to do enough different tasks it might be possible to see what sort of stimuli is best for what types of activity.
A second group also considered how student mood can be manipulated for creativity, including creating introspection, calmness and divergent thinking.
There are, of course, ethical issues to consider with this question. However the fact the group got to such a clear research design was pretty impressive, and it should be possible now for groups to plan to implement this kind of research design and actually track what the impacts of different stimuli are, if they can get hold of the technology.
Group 3 – If a child needs to remember 20 chunks of knowledge from one lesson to the next, what is the most effective homework to set?
This group grew! Originally one of the smaller crowds, by the time the day began Kris Boulton was leading 8 intrepid Problemeteers – the biggest of all groups.
Undeterred, Kris’ presentation outlined the key assumption taken by the group through the day and laid forth several hypotheses about what a good homework for memorisation would include. These were:

  • It should focus on recall, repetition and be planned strategically
  • It should focus on knowledge that is progressively more difficult
  • Task variation may be more important
  • The aim of the task should be to revise already learned things, not take in new knowledge

However, there was a killer blow. David Thomas, a member of the group, pointed to research that showed that if you are trying to get students to remember things in the long-term, there can be a downside to having them retrieve information too soon. So if a student has to remember things over a short period, and keeps going back to them, they are not having to dig around in their long-term brain and find the information. Because they are not getting used to ‘finding’ information that hasn’t been looked at for a while, it could be that homeworks which have students regularly re-visit materials might actually do damage to the memorisation of it. BOOM! 
So, there is more yet to be figured out on this issue but it shows that the path to the answer might not be quite what we think.
Group 4 – What determines the complexity of a concept?
Michael Slavinsky, a man far cleverer than me, already had his group fired up to answer one of the most difficult TouchPaper Questions by provoking debate on this blog and by

I went a bit woozy when Alex got his tech out...
I went a bit woozy when Alex got his tech out…

discussing on his own blog. This group not only blew my mind when I went and sat near them (at one point Alex Weatherall was explaining about dependencies, i.e. concepts that need to be taught before other concepts in science so that students have maximum understanding, and all I could think was, “This is above my pay grade” and scarpered, quickly, before anyone asked me for an opinion).
However, the heavy thinking of the day led to a really clear presentation in which Michael explained how concepts might be given a “complexity value” based on:

  • Linguistic complexity – for example, are the words used abstract or concrete nouns, or domain specific
  • Logic complexity – conditionality of statements, level of inference
  • Intuitive Feel – are there multiple ideas that seem to contradict one another, or go against perceived wisdom

The group then began to think about the complexity of transfer. So, once a concept has a “complexity value” is there also something about the backgrounds of teachers or students that make it particularly difficult to transfer the concept from the teacher’s mind to the students. For example, if a student struggles with language then the weighting of linguistic complexity may matter more.
This was a fascinating start for a complicated area, but made me start to think about the possibility of curriculum ideas having “complexity values” which would enable us to see how difficult each concept is and could also feed into the work on recreating assessment “levels” which I know many schools are now doing, [Michael has also blogged some initial thoughts from the day here – go read!].
Group 5 – What are the necessary and sufficient conditions under which students will enter a classroom and most speedily engage in productive problem-solving?

Defining the problem. Literally.
Defining the problem. Literally.

Harry Fletcher-Wood’s group were enthused throughout the day, always looking as if thinking about the really hard stuff was what they were born to do! It was quite cheering.
In their presentation Harry gave 8 necessary conditions for entering a classroom but he said them very quickly so I don’t have them written down. Harry – can you blog them soon please?!
He also suggested coming up with a tool whereby teachers would suggest 20 techniques for ensuring these 8 conditions, which could then be tested and commented upon by practitioners for their usefulness. This sounds brilliant. I would like to see this happen and exist somewhere online. MAKE IT HAPPEN HFW.
Group 6 – What rule best predicts teacher ‘behaviour’ ratings of pupils?
For various reasons this ended up being a very small group but it was led by David Weston, CEO of the Teacher Development Trust, and in conjunction with Loic Menzies and 2014-01-18 15.54.28Anna Trethewey of LKMCo. Treating themselves as the G&T group they decided they could have it stitched up by lunchtime, but the reality was more complex. After a quick start the afternoon required much more thought, but what they presented back was pretty amazing.
In order to work out how a teacher will rate a students’ behaviour they argued that there are ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors which play into whether or not a students’ behaviour is deemed acceptable or unacceptable. Each teacher, at any moment in time, will hold a series of values (internal) about what is acceptable or unacceptable and these will be influence by external factors (e.g. what the student did, how able you are to deal with it) and this creates a calculation about any behaviour’s acceptability.
When a teacher is asked to create a behaviour grade and record it online there is an ‘aggregation’ of memories about students’ behaviour and whether it has been acceptable or unacceptable. This is affected by things including, but not limited to: recency effects (recent behaviour outweighs past behaviour), very memorable behaviours, whether a teacher has kept formal records of behaviour and uses those to inform their aggregation process.
This was then drawn into a complicated-looking formulae (by David and Loic), and re-explained for those frightened of maths by Anna (an English teacher, natch).
What was impressive is the level of detail by which it would be possible to start testing the idea. For example, is there a difference in the way that people rate behaviour if they keep records than if they don’t? Also, a question arises about the types of values that would cause a teacher to say a behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. [The team did start to delineate these, but they can blog about it for themselves]. If we know this then we can think about why there might be inconsistent treatment of behaviours in different classrooms, what this means to students, and how it could be overcome.
Group 7 – What is the optimal number of times for a student to (a) read, (b) hear, or (c) say information aloud if they are to retain for 1, 3, & 6 month intervals?
Led by the accomplished Helene Galdin-O’Shea, group 7 had the most difficult time because it had the question phrased most problematically by me. For the other 6 questions I’m willing to fight my corner (and sometimes did) so that people don’t change the wording. But there were (are) issues with 7 that came to the forefront.
As Helene pointed out, however, there is a simple answer to this question: quiz, quiz, quiz. By having students retrieve and recall information at different times over a period2014-01-18 12.10.03 you can improve their memory of certain information. How the quizzes should be done, however, might be important – for example, do they encourage students to remember what things mean, what sort of cues can help with retrieval, how do you space the quizzes for maximum effect.
To that end Joe Kirby suggested 3 questions that need to be answered to break open this problem a little more:

  1. What frequency and interval should information be recalled so that students remember it best?
  2. What is the best order for content to be presented in so it is best remembered?, and
  3. Which type of quizzes are best for memory? (e.g. short answer, multiple choice, etc).

Some of these questions overlap with other TouchPaper Problems. E.g. frequency and interval were mentioned by Group 3 on homework memorisation. The order that content should be presented in was mentioned by Group 4 on the complexity of concepts. But this is good! An aim of the problems was to start breaking into the general principles needed to understand learning. That some overlaps are rising up suggests to me that we are getting to the core parts of what good learning is.
Conclusion and next steps?
The quality of the day was entirely down to the quality of thinking and the boundless energy brought by participants. Becky and I spent much of the day beaming at how cool it was to see so many people so involved in really difficult stuff all related to classroom practice (rather than annoying abstract discussions you can spend way too much time on in academia and policymaking).
The conclusions were fascinating and prompt further thought. We asked people at the end to say what they wanted to see happen next. Overwhelmingly people want to carry on thinking, maybe working with their group, and consider ways of getting more time to think.
We are excited about the idea of doing more. Michael Slavinsky, facilitator of Group 4, has already started thinking about ways the TouchPapers might be used at the next ResearchEd and Becky and I will put our heads together to think what might be best to do next and will let you all know once we have a plan. (Your feedback on that has been invaluable, thank you!)
In the meantime do keep thinking, blogging, discussing, and get in touch if you have any ideas for taking things forward. But most importantly I hope you went back to your work, wherever it was, more inspired and re-energised about the potential of answering hard questions that really matter for teaching. That’s the truly important stuff.

FEEEDBACK!
FEEEDBACK!

TouchPaper Problem #7 – Memorising information (for up to 6 months)

This is the seventh blogpost expanding on the TouchPaper Problems first discussed at #Researched2013 and due to be tackled at the first TouchPaper Problem Party.

Question #7 – What is the optimal number of times for a student to (a) read, (b) hear, or (c) say information aloud if they are to retain for 1, 3, & 6 month intervals?

Of all  the TouchPaper Problems I’ll admit this is the most populist. It somewhat derives from the debates by Joe Kirby, over at PragmaticEducation, and his quest to have students be masters of knowledge. The blogs themselves derive from a broader debate about the importance of knowledge in education (sometimes seen as being in opposition to skils, but really – let’s not get into that).

Joe writes a lot about the concept of mastery, and while I don’t wish to reduce it too much, a big part of that is remembering content. I can understand why Joe thinks this important. Having taught students in examined subjects, I never had the luxury of thinking “weeellll…. even if my students don’t remember what we did, they had a nice time, and I think they are motivated towards x now, so they will come back to it in the future”. Instead, I used to think “aaaaagh – I taught you the central nervous system last November and now you don’t remember it?! Yes, I know it’s May and that’s a long time ago, but you neeeed this…” And so on and so on.

Hence, I got to thinking. How often must students interact with a concept before they retain it? Is there a magic formulae by which I can get students to repeat a word 6 times, write it 10 and play it once, loudly, on a youtube vid once which will then mean they never forget?

I suspect there isn’t, and yet…

If we unpack this question there is the possibility of getting some rules of thumb out of it, not least because memory has been a very frequently studied area of psychology. Now, answers here may depend on what someone is learning. Perhaps it is easy to memorise ten french words but really difficult to remember how an author symbolises melancholy. Maybe I can say outloud certain things, but need to see others. And is there a difference in the time between learning and remembering? I purposely picked 1, 3 and 6 months in the problem because they are all, quite firmly, in the long-term memory box. If you are memorising something at 1 month then it must be in your long-term memory. But I pondered if there might be a difference (equally there might not) and if we could find out what it is that may save us all the many drawn-out summer revision classes where we beat ourselves and our charges up for not remembering what we did last September.

We can but hope.

What's Next For The Free Schools #FOI Battle?

Yesterday’s response to my Guardian article about battling the DfE to release secret Free School applications was overwhelming and unexpected. Given that I constantly talk up the kindness of people on social media, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was quite something to be inundated with tweets, DMs and emails offering support, encouragement and even funding. It was also quite astonishing to sit and read 200+ positive Guardian comments. Really, it was beyond expectation.
So, what next?
(1)    Offers of support – To the many people who offered their help with the appeal paperwork, thank you deeply. It is useful to know I can ask for your advice on technical definitions and what counts as evidence, etc, etc. However, beyond the admin, the most important thing was that so many people sent supportive messages of any kind. Such engagement exemplifies the ICO’s judgement that this issue matters to the public. Supportive voices also remind politicians that transparency matters and that the public do care about it. The sooner politicians realise that winning at the ballot box is not the end of democratic accountability the better off we will all be.
(2)    Offers of funding for a barrister – While very generous and appreciated, at present the plan is for me to represent myself.  The system is supposedly designed so that a lay person can represent themselves. If self-representation is how it is supposed to go, then it’s important to see how realistic that is. Not everyone who may find themselves in my situation will be in a position to write a national newspaper column and get such kind offers. So I’m currently planning to self-represent because (a) it shouldn’t disadvantage me, and (b) I think it is important the government are forced to see what this is – an appeal against a citizen’s request, and not hide behind a façade of barristers.
(3)    Please don’t ask me about the DfE’s reasons for Appeal – I was criticized yesterday for not talking more about why the DfE does not want to give the information. As proceedings are underway I cannot talk about the reasons for appeal or second guess further judgements. I can only really talk about what has happened up to the point of appeal. It’s a fine rope to walk, and I don’t want to find myself in a situation where 15 months of patience is destroyed because I overstep some ill-defined lines. So, please, forgive me if I am occasionally evasive on details, it will most likely be for this reason.
(4)    Show your love to the real FOI ‘heroes’ – There’s something very satisfying about having a timeline full of people calling you brave. But, really, I ended up in this situation by accident. The real heroes of FOI are the consistent and quiet campaigners, like Rodney Breen and Phil Bradshaw (who wrote on my blogs), and @bainesy1969 and @FOIman (who have tweeted advice & retweeted my cause), the British Humanist Association (who went through a similar rigmarole to get an initial list of free school applicants), the people who run whatdotheyknow.com (a website where you can make FOIs) and a crowd of others who’ve stayed out of the limelight but have been absolutely invaluable. Without experienced people like these giving time to newbies like me, I would never have learned about the FOI Act and its process. As I see it, even if this Tribunal falls apart, I am now able to campaign more effectively across education because of what they taught me. They are seriously important, and the ones who are truly deserving of praise.
Finally, I want to reiterate that I asked for these application forms and decision letters because I want to learn from them, not because I mistrust the government (though they’re really not helping me with this). I am a teacher by trade – it is in me to want to assess, to work out where things went wrong, and give feedback on how it can be better in the future. But we can only do that if the information is available for scrutiny.
Right, thanks again folks for all your continued support. It is time, now, to get back to the paperwork.

What Michael Gove Could Learn From The Lion King

Tomorrow’s Guardian is carrying a feature-length story about my FOI battle with the Department for Education. It’s the first time I’ve written about the process in full, though I’m currently unable to talk too much about the Tribunal appeal.
There’s one point about Free School transparency, though, that keeps being raised by the government and by free school supporters that needs to be addressed up front. I am constantly hearing that “the process has got better” in later years, as if this somehow excuses early incompetence. Fact is, we can’t be sure the process has got better because we don’t know what it involved in the first cohorts, and there’s still no transparency on decisions or applications even now.
However, even if we accept that decisions are now better, this doesn’t render that which went before unimportant. Every time I hear the argument that we should dismiss mistakes because they were “in the past”, I am reminded of the Lion King who, in the clip below, sounds an awful lot like Gove reflecting on the Free Schools policy. Leaders can hide from the past, or learn from them. I’m a teacher. Gove should know which side of that dilemma I am on.