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Moron in a Hurry

20 January 2018
On Thursday last week, I wrote a new Blog, #MasteryFail, as an appetiser for a speech I will giving at #MathsConf8 this coming Saturday. I used the blog to highlight my long term support for a mastery model of schooling.  At #MathsConf8, I will discuss the origins of a mastery approach and the weight of evidence to support its efficacy.  I have been speaking and writing about mastery for decades now and find it heartening this way of operating teaching in schools is having a new renaissance.  Following my speech at the conference, I will release a new blog, Teaching for Mastery, in which I go into great detail about what it is, how it can be implemented and why, if embedded properly, the impact can be incredible.

Unfortunately, as with pretty much all education approaches, the renaissance of mastery has also brought with it much confusion.  So, #MasteryFail was a blog targeted at debunking some of the myths flying around at the moment.  If mastery is to have impact in England's schools, then stamping out poor practice early is going to be all important.  I did not expect the blog to be in any way controversial.

I was rather surprised, therefore, to find myself and my company being attacked in public through Tweets from one of the 35 Maths Hubs.


I have serious misgivings about the Maths Hubs programme, which I have written about in the past.  As someone with a lot of experience in designing, operationalising and measuring the impact of national and international education reform programmes and services, I do not believe the model of the Maths Hubs programme will bring success.  It is deeply flawed, as I described in a previous blog.  However, and this is the important bit, I will do anything I can to support and promote any project or individual working to improve maths education.  The Hubs programme may well be flawed by design, but the individual Hubs themselves are full of great people doing great work.  So, although I believe the programme to represent poor value for taxpayer money and unlikely to have positive system-wide impact, I recognise the excellent work happening in many regions across England by those (majority) of Hubs using the opportunity to make a difference.

On balance, I believe when considering the work of all 35 Hubs, they are doing more good than harm.  So they get my support.  We have promoted the Hubs at every MathsConf and given them access to our delegates.  Without fail, those Hubs that have engaged with us have made a great contribution to the events and their input has been highly valued.  I appreciate the hard work and desire to help maths education that is palpable from the individual Hub staff that I have met.

However, the quality of provision across the network of Hubs varies wildly.  I am hoping that this is teething trouble as the network becomes embedded, but find it concerning, in such a small group of just 35 operational centres, the national coordinating body, NCETM, has failed to ensure a standardisation of quality.

On Friday morning, as we were coping with a rather awful break in at our offices, I noticed on Twitter this Tweet:
Someone, though I don't know who because they Tweet anonymously under the Hub account, decided to launch a public personal attack on me by branding me a hypocrite.  This was in response to a Tweet from David Weston, I was not copied in on the Tweet and did not know the criticism had been made.
I only spotted the Tweet because David responded to say he did not see any hypocrisy in my writing a blog promoting mastery and also selling mastery CPD.  David kindly included me in the thread, so I was made aware of the Maths Hub LDN Thames statement.  David is the most non-partisan, balanced, objective person I have ever met in the education world.  I would suggest his judgement is sound.
I thought this was a rather remarkable accusation.  I re-read my own blog and wondered why on earth I would be accused of being hypocritical.  The blog clearly portrayed my support for what the evidence says about an effective mastery approach.
The Man on the Clapham Omnibus is the hypothetical ordinary, reasonable person English law uses to test whether or not a person has acted reasonably.  The Man on the Clapham Omnibus is fairly well educated and bright.  I use him here to make this statement:  I think it would be reasonable to assume The Man on the Clapham Omnibus would have to conclude someone accusing me of hypocrisy must have come to that accusation in one of only two ways:
  1. The accuser read the blog, decided the content contained therein was critical or contradictory of my own CPD provision referred to in the Tweet.
  2. The accuser had not read the blog and made the statement without being suitably informed to do so.
If 1. applies, then the anonymous accuser appears to be suggesting those things I am criticising in the blog, such as the statement "we do mastery on Tuesdays" are in fact practices they deem to be good practice.  Is the Maths Hub seriously suggesting this is what mastery is?
Or, the accuser could be saying the CPD provision we roll out across the country promotes "we do mastery on Tuesdays".  Is the accuser seriously suggesting my company does this?  Perhaps the accuser might wish to ask themselves what on earth they know about our provision.  Have they attended our mastery course?  Do they have any idea of the delegate feedback?
Both of the above seem too absurd to be the case, so I therefore believe that The Man on the Clapham Omnibus could only conclude that the accuser had not bothered to read the blog at the point of publishing this public Tweet.
Several other Twitter users also came to this conclusion.
A couple of hours later, the person behind the name calling said on Twitter they had read the blog.  Having applied the test of The Man on the Clapham Omnibus to the evidence, I am not able to believe they had.
So, my assumption is the person calling me a hypocrite did not have any substantive evidence at all to support their slur.
Meanwhile, many Twitter users were discussing my blog and praising what had been written.
But the anonymous Tweeter representing both the Maths Hubs and the Harris Federation of schools did not stop with this one, false, accusation.  Instead, the following Tweets also appeared in their timeline in response to several teachers who had written positive Tweets about my blog:

I would suggest the content and tone of these Tweets clearly communicates the anonymous person behind the Maths Hub LDN Thames Twitter account believes I am anti- rather than pro-mastery approaches.  Yet, my blog is explicit in its praise and support of mastery models for schooling.  Once again, I suggest that The Man on the Clapham Omnibus would reasonably conclude the Maths Hub LDN Thames tweeter could not possibly have read the blog and arrived at that sentiment.
I would also suggest, even though I accept tone is hard to discern on Twitter, The Man on the Clapham Omnibus would read these messages as critical of me and my company.
In English courts, another hypothetical person exists called A Moron in a Hurry.  The Moron in a Hurry is used to test cases of 'passing off'.  If, given branding, a Moron in a Hurry would reasonably believe one product was the same as another, then passing off has occurred.
I suggest, given the iconography, branding, links to well known names, a national centre and government, the Maths Hubs would reasonably be considered by a Moron in a Hurry to be an expert and official authority on mathematics education and policy.
It is reasonable, then, to state teachers will accept the judgements of a Maths Hub on the quality of provision of a maths CPD provider.  I suggest, therefore, the Maths Hub LDN Thames did seek to cause my company a commercial disadvantage and loss of earnings, since teachers reading their Twitter timeline would reasonably believe I, and by connection, my company, have been hypocritical and either do not support mastery or promote poor practices.  Furthermore, the apparent tone would be interpreted at critical.
I would like to ask the anonymous poster some questions:
  • have you ever built a company?
  • have you ever used your personal, private money to fund a start-up?
  • do you know the feeling of telling your family year after year  having no income is worth the sacrifice because improving maths education is such a worthwhile cause?
  • do you understand, for a company to succeed, its provision has to be of such high quality that customers keep returning?
Seeking to cause unwarranted harm to a small company working hard to improve maths education (not supported by any government funds) seems entirely unprofessional.  Even more so when one considers the Maths Hubs exist for the purpose of raising standards in maths education - which part of this mission would be supported by damaging the reach of reputation of a high quality CPD provider?
The Maths Hub LDN Thames author appears adamant I am "anti-mastery".  How, then, would they explain away the fact we have trained over 2500 schools over the last year alone, including dozens of local, small group mastery sessions and our annual National Mathematics Education Symposium, which this year focussed on mastery and included talks in support of mastery from me, John Mason, Tony Gardiner and Jeremy Hodgen among others?
Surely the only conclusion The Man on the Clapham Omnibus can arrive at is the person who wrote those Tweets was not in possession of the relevant facts and the Tweets were ill-informed, subjective comments from the individual hidden behind the Maths Hub LDN Thames Twitter account.
The Tweets also repeatedly focus on the fee that we charge for our mastery course.  The Man on the Clapham Omnibus, I suggest, would read this as a criticism of the amount we charge.  Let me ask the anonymous poster these questions:
  • what do you know about our provision and what is included in the fee?  Do you, for example, know the fee includes access to a multimillion pound teaching platform and free access to three national conferences per year?
  • how much do you think high quality CPD provision costs?
I believe the secret Tweeter knows very little about our provision and even less about the feedback we get from delegates about value for money.
On the issue of how much CPD provision costs, I wonder if the person behind the Maths Hub LDN Thames account perhaps believes CPD should be free?  Would they think this because they, falsely, believe the mastery CPD they provide is free?
As every maths CPD provider in the country knows, the Maths Hubs are major commercial competitors.  I have no issue with competition, it is what drives quality when the playing field is level.
There is a bizarre misconception the Maths Hub provision is somehow free.  It isn't.  It is paid for by every tax payer in the country.  I would simply ask this: would the Hubs survive if, instead of giving money to 35 Hubs, the same money was instead given directly to schools so they could decide where to spend it?  This would mean every school in the country receiving over £2000 to spend on its own maths CPD.  Where would they choose to spend it?  I believe my company would continue to have the honour of providing high quality CPD to large numbers of schools in such a scenario.  Would schools choose the Hubs?  Some would - I, for one, would happily pay for CPD from the GLOW hub, for example (and many others too).  Would Maths Hub LDN Thames continue to provide CPD? How much would it charge if it had to pay, from delegate fees alone, for staff, venues, admin, PR, marketing, travel, follow up surveys, postage, premises and everything else a normal provider has to carry without a state handout?
What was the purpose of repeating in every Tweet how much we charge for a particular course (which, by the way is only £95 for our member schools) - was the Hub Tweeter trying to suggest there is something wrong with schools deciding on their own CPD provider and paying a fee commensurate with the services they receive?
As the Moron in a Hurry would assume the Hubs are both an authoritative and official voice on maths education, he would also be duly swayed by their communications.
Hubs are passing off as a statutory authority.
Should a Hub use such a perception to try to squash CPD providers it does not like?
Earlier, I mentioned I have concerns around the Hubs programme (despite my admiration for some of the Hubs and individuals).  Now a couple of years in to the programme, I am deeply concerned by the fact some Hubs are behaving in a way likely to undermine the entire programme.
I think it is reasonable to suggest this string of Tweets sought to undermine the work that I do and, even more worryingly, smacked of a lack of confidence in the Hubs own position.  A confident authority does not need to wield its power to try to stifle dissenting voices - it instead espouses its beliefs, assured of the quality and evidence behind those beliefs.  Yet here we are, with a Hub effectively trying to bully a maths CPD provider.  The Hub person has made assumptions about my beliefs and appears to have decided: this person does not agree with what I want them to think, so they need to be rubbished.
My entire working life has been and is dedicated to improving mathematics education - this has been my mission for decades.  I support and promote Hubs where I can, I have supported and promoted the NCETM where I have been able to.  But it saddens me there are some people working in these structures who do not understand how to operate professionally.  Over the last couple of years, I have met teachers in different parts of the country who have told me a Maths Hub or NCETM representative has told them not to engage with our CPD provision.  How desperately sad and how desperately damaging to those majority of Hubs who are doing a great job.
I have also heard, including in a Twitter discussion following these Tweets, from schools who have been chastised by Maths Hub staff for daring to disagree or criticise.  When a Maths Hub is ringing the head teacher of a respected maths teacher to discipline them for making comments they don't agree with then there is something wrong to the core of that programme.
The NCETM is dear to my heart.  I spent years of my life helping to build the Centre, but alas alas for some time now, the conclusion I have had to reach is that it is doing more harm than good.
Perhaps the DfE agree with this, given that the NCETM contract has been abolished after 10 years of successful operation.  What on earth went so badly wrong?
The NCETM has a coordinating role in the Maths Hub programme.  I asked the NCETM to provide me with its view on a Maths Hub trying to damage the reputation of a maths CPD provider, but no reply was forthcoming.
I asked the Maths Hub to apologise for the string of Tweets it posted and was met with the anodyne response "I wanted to prompt debate not cause offence.  Sorry."
A mature and confident response, which I would have made if the boot was on the other foot, would be "The Tweets I posted were ill informed.  I retract what was written and offer the Maths Hub's apology for any negative impact to you or your business."
Would The Man on the Clapham Omnibus view the Tweets as wanting to prompt debate?  I suggest not.
The decision to continue funding the Maths Hub programme for the next couple of years has already been taken, with £45 million assigned to continue the work of the Hubs and a new national centre.  That is where we are, no turning back, so what we all, in maths education, must do is to try to get the most positive system-wide impact from that taxpayer's money as we can.
If the Hubs are to be more successful, there needs to be a move away from the Ministry of Truth approach adopted by some.  The new national centre and the Hubs must not try to bully or force a narrow view of mathematics education onto teachers or CPD providers.  Mastery, as the central tenet of the centre and Hubs, must not be allowed to continue to descend to the level of a passing fad or superficial diktat.
There are schools, right now, engaged in practice that will harm children because they have been misled about mastery.  This needs to be undone.  The PR war needs to be won.
Mastery is not yours to own, national centre or Hubs.  It has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around long after the Hubs programme comes to an end.  Engage with the research and don't try to attempt to redefine it - doing so, will only lead to diluting its impact.
Recently, the NCETM has been rebranding mastery as Asian Mastery.
Jesus fucking wept.  Stop it.  Step back for a moment and try to see why you are now doing more harm than good.

This kind of Orwellian attempt to control language is absurd.  One can't just redefine a long standing, well researched model of schooling by giving it a new name and hoping nobody notices it has been bastardised to the point of losing its efficacy.
I will continue to support - and provide free space and PR for - the Maths Hubs at MathsConfs (at my own cost, gosh aren't we nasty commercial beasts) because within the 35, the overwhelming majority are doing good, helping maths teachers and therefore get my respect.  But I also hope all of the Hubs can engage in debate rather than bullying and intimidating tactics.  The work they are doing is deeply flawed in places and could be so much better - why not have the open discussion and try to bring the profession with you?  Believe me, that would be so much more effective than being an unthinking mouthpiece for the Ministry of Truth (or whatever they call the new national centre).