My random thoughts, musings, rants and stories will appear here over time.

Where is your mathematical bar?

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 14 February 2016.

There are many things in education, which seem taboo to discuss, of great importance when considering how to realistically improve the quality of classroom practice.

The most effective teachers are those with highly developed, subject specific pedagogical and didactical knowledge and skills, combined with excellent subject content knowledge.

A Response to Nick Gibb

on Monday, 07 December 2015.

This morning, The Guardian published a piece by Schools Minister, Nick Gibb (the full text can be found here), which seeks to shut down debate by calling those who argue with the central assertion, racist.

Of course, the words are carefully chosen to avoid such a harsh word, but Nick writes ‘Those who try to dismiss their methods using crude national stereotypes’ and accuses anyone who demurs of ‘narrow-mindedness’.


on Sunday, 27 September 2015.

I have long known that the answer to improving an education system is to fill it with teachers who are determined to never stop learning. Teachers who are intellects, who question and challenge, teachers who do not accept the words of fools and instead insist on an evidence informed approach to classroom practice.


21st Century Learning

Written by Mark McCourt on Saturday, 30 May 2015.

The children in our schools today will face a world unknown to us. The careers they will follow, the lives they will lead, and the decisions they will take can’t possibly be imagined.

Schools must prepare children for this new, unimaginable world. We need to ensure our education system is reformed so that it is equipping our children for the future they will face, not the futures that we faced.

50 Million

Written by Mark McCourt on Friday, 24 April 2015.

Ok, apologies for the self-congratulatory tone of this blog, but I'm really rather proud of Emaths.

In February 2004, I was giving a speech to a conference of teachers. There I was pontificating on the benefits of collaboration: how we, the 350,000 maths teachers in England are stronger together. That if we could network and share resources and ideas, the system really could improve. I talked about the need for a one-stop-shop, a place where any teacher could add their resources and find support materials.

As the speech went on in my usual evangelical manner, a delegate stood up in yelled – and I mean really yelled – at me "why don't you just do something about it?"

Some things I would change...

Written by Mark McCourt on Friday, 03 April 2015.

Just a random stream of thoughts as I sit in a cold railway station trying to get home...

The People I Respect in Education.

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 29 March 2015.

2015 is the year that Marty McFly arrives in a future of hoverboards, self-drying jackets and pizzas that come as tiny dried tablets.

Robert Zemeckis is a clever chap. When writing the Back to the Future movies, he chose the years 1955, 1985 and 2015. This is not just on the off chance.

A thirty year gap does of course play right for the intergenerational conundrums which befall the hapless McFly family, but thirty years is important for a more important reason. To sell movies (and boy, did that franchise sell), the writer needs to tap into something in an audience – a familiarity, a connection, an emotion. Setting the first movie in 1985 and 1955 is so easy because, effectively, they are the same year.

Hubs, Mastery and other passing fads... (and the Stepford Teachers)

Written by Mark McCourt on Wednesday, 26 November 2014.

I am increasingly concerned of late that the profession seems utterly oblivious to the fact that we are sleepwalking into becoming unthinking drones. Rather than trusting the profession and those who know a great deal about teaching and learning in mathematics, the DfE, and particularly Nick Gibb, are determined to implement their own vision of mathematics education. Teachers seem beaten, seem tired or (so much worse) seem to capitulate because they think Nanny knows best.

The Rising Meritocracy

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 02 November 2014.

Here's a thought: wouldn't it be nice if each head teacher was brighter and more enlightened than their deputy, each deputy more so than their assistants, each assistant than each head of department, and each head of department worthy of respect by each teacher they lead.

Brainwashed Teachers

Written by Mark McCourt on Saturday, 01 November 2014.

Words were repeated time and time again as though deviation from the script was forbidden – perhaps Big Brother was listening. 'Progress', 'Plenary', 'Inquiry', 'Fun', 'Outstanding', 'Kinesthetic'... and on and on it went. I could have played National Strategies Bullshit Bingo and got a Full House every time.

Progressive vs Traditionalist vs Professional

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 09 February 2014.

A couple of decades ago, I found myself standing at a bar in a downtrodden pub on the outskirts of Derry, Northern Ireland. There had been no Good Friday Agreement and the Troubles were still very much alive and real. Not a great place for an Englishman to be whiling away the hours, but the friend I had agreed to meet and who lived locally had failed to show. So there I was, supping a jar, minding my own business.

A hand fell on my shoulder and a voice from behind asked "are you Catholic?"


Non-Specialists Judging Lessons is Wrong

Written by Mark McCourt on Sunday, 17 November 2013.

The past 15 years or so have convinced me more and more that discovering learning through classroom observation is incredibly difficult and nuanced. I am a mathematics specialist, but have inspected lessons of all subjects. My first ever inspection was a PE lesson – the kids were trampolining. All jolly good fun, but I didn’t have a clue whether or not the 12 year olds were bouncing at a height and with an aplomb suitable to their age.

An Ofsted Outstanding Mathematics Lesson

on Thursday, 04 July 2013.

I have this little theory.  The Ofsted criteria is not responsible for most of the dumbed down teaching that I see when I visit schools.  In fact, it is far more likely to be the head teacher's screwed up interpretation of some course they went on 5 years ago.  So I continually see the same old things.

But why can't schooling be better than that?  Why can't we re-instill some intellect?

The Ofsted criteria isn't stopping us.

Below is the criteria for outstanding, alongside what I typically see when inspecting or visiting schools.

But it doesn't have to be this way... why can't the bar be a whole lot higher?  Here are some suggestions:


The Education World is full of Dicks

Written by Mark McCourt on Tuesday, 25 June 2013.

Let me make this perfectly clear, I am not one of those people who think that you must have been a teacher to be allowed to talk about teaching and education. Indeed, some of my senior staff had never taught, yet were incredibly insightful about teaching and learning.

But, in the same way that I think politicians really should have had a real job (preferably a few real jobs) before becoming an MP, I believe that to set the direction of education does require an in depth knowledge of its workings.

The Office Staff

on Wednesday, 12 June 2013.

Too many teachers seem to forget that schools are not staffed purely by teachers. Often, in a large secondary school, the teaching staff are actually outnumbered by all those other members of staff who make the school what it is: caretakers, dinnerladies, cleaners, lab technicians, IT support, playground supervisors, teaching assistants, reprographics, art and technology technicians, the staff room tea lady, and the school office staff.

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