Structural problems, Birmingham and beyond

Claire Stewart-Hall, a contact on Twitter, invited a number of us to say more on … (in my case) structural racism. Here is my response, contextualised within my current  and recent work on education and wider community concerns.

‪Using Birmingham as a case study, the problem goes back, at least to the 1950s, when all communities were to be treated exactly the same. This meant those who were behind stayed behind. ‬Many of the inequalities were perpetuated further and became more entrenched. The city was also the site of the Birmingham Immigration Control Association, which was behind the first racist immigration legislation (1962) and the later ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Powell. 

Black children were labelled ‘educationally subnormal’ (Bernard Coard) and disproportionately excluded from school. Pakistani children were assumed (until 1991) to be doing quite well (Swann Report 1985) because they were categorised as Asian (with the better achieving Indian children). They (me as one of them) also experienced a form of ‘bussing’ (ref two Immigrant Reception Centres). 

Positive Action strategies were put in place (mainly for Black children) which made some difference but then they were abandoned as we entered the colourblind period, from around the turn of the century and especially with the Coalition government. 

Not forgetting the largest of the underachievers, the White Working Class, who have been with us forever except latterly it mattered more. There was little particular focus on them nationally and locally. Hardly anyone was speaking up for them so I (an immigrant) got the job (ref my work in the noughties including the report taken to Parliament on 19 May 2009. If the government had not changed the following year who knows what might have happened). What is the current situation of underachievement amongst poor whites I wonder?

Beyond education, the city sleepwalked into segregation with its racist housing policies, where the newly arriving postwar migrants were welcomed for their labour but not as neighbours (Sivanandan). 

As I pointed out (Dear Birmingham 2013) the largest of the minorities, the Pakistanis, are driving taxis and working in other low paid jobs. The City Council is yet to achieve its employment target it set for them 20 years ago. Every year over 1000 Pakistani children leave school without the benchmark qualifications (ref my PhD-based book 2018). 

There are two main cities; the nonreligious (which includes the white leaders and managers) and the religious (Muslim). In the early 1980s, Danielle Joly had advised that the city needed to find a place for Muslims. That is yet to happen. Meanwhile, since 2011, Muslims have been the largest pupil religious group in the schools. DWP pointed out that Birmingham will become the first Muslim-majority city in Europe. That is looking very possible if we look at Muslim children in schools, the largest pupil religious group since 2011.

More generally, the city leadership continues to be ‘hideously white’ (ref Greg Dyke). Schools (with their colonial model) are even more distant from their (minority) communities and the trust level is even lower than in the pre-Trojan Horse period (ref Tim Boyes’ presentation to the DfE 2010). My prediction of a second Trojan Horse has already come true. How long before we have Trojan Horse III?

So, what of our future? The city/‘county’ needs a diverse, religiously literate leadership. The super-diversity is bound to give rise to discord (some to do with past injustices) for which we will need bridge-builders (ref my work with the West Midland’s Mayor). We need ongoing peace but that is not possible without reconciliation and forgiveness amongst communities (ref my work with the Bishop of Birmingham’s Peace and Reconciliation Group). As the city becomes a minority-majority community, it will need to be inclusive of all of its 200 communities, especially the larger groups ie White and Pakistanis. 

Javed Iqbal 1961-2018

It’s a sad day. Javed Iqbal has left us, hopefully to go to a better place, without pain and sickness.

I have fond memories of Javed. I met him only twice. The second occasion was when he interviewed me at The Drum, after I wrote my book, Dear Birmingham. My one regret is that I did not get to know him better while he was still with us. I hope to make up for it however I can.

A few years ago Javed and I were included in a heritage project ‘Four Fathers’ which had been set up by Faisal Hussain. Listening to the interview is a good start in getting to know something of the person Javed was.

In addition, the following entry on Facebook, by Mukhtar Dar, who had brought us together also provides a glimpse into Javed’s life.

1961 – 2018
My dear Comrade & friend

It is with deep sadness that I heard of the passing of my dear friend and comrade Javed Iqbal. Javed had fought cancer over the last year and a half with the same fighting spirit that he had, throughout his life, fought injustice. He was courageous, dignified, compassionate and focused – this is why I will miss him and love him always.

It was in 1981, on a coach, heading towards Leeds to demonstrate in support of the Bradford 12, that I first met Javed. We exchanged views, he was learned, thoughtful and incredibly humble – we had so much in common. We both came to England at the age of 11, with our mothers to join our fathers who worked in the steel smelting foundries of the northern cities – our political awaking in the 80s was forged out of the anti-racist struggles in the belly of the beast and we understood the need to connect and support the struggles of our peoples back home in Pakistan.

Javed was born in Mirpur, Kashmir, he was a member of UK’s Militant Tendency and The Jadojehad group (The Struggle) in Pakistan; he returned to Pakistan in 85 and spent several years helping to build the movement. He was instrumental in forming the Labour Party Pakistan and worked closely with Dr Lal Khan’s Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. As a Marxist socialist he worked tirelessly for the socialist transformation of Pakistan and supported the worldwide struggles of workers, peasants, women and the downtrodden oppressed peoples and minorities.

I was fortunate along with my comrades to have worked with Javed as members of the Birmingham based South Asian Alliance. Javed’s easygoing chilled-out demeanour along with his welcoming smile made him the natural choice for hosting and chairing many of our events. Amongst the many of the events that he helped to organise and chair included the Faiz Ahmed Faiz Centenary symposium in 2011, the international conference on the 150th anniversary of the 1857 uprising, the 70th anniversary of Partition with international speakers, as well as many meetings with invited guest speakers from Pakistan, he was also the longstanding chairperson of the Asian Resource Centre.

Javed engaged and brought together socialists from across the ideological divides, Trotskyites, Marxist Leninists, Maoists, liberals, believers and non believers, he was a humble organiser, a movement builder and not an egotistical limelight seeker, he brought us together when we fell out and knocked our heads together to focus on the bigger picture, he was fondly described by our women comrades as a gentleman and a feminist and to us all he was ‘Yaraan da Yaar’.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Javed’s wife Miriam, his daughter, his family, his comrades and his friends – we salute you with Lal Salaam comrade Javed!

This article by Lal Khan in Asian Marxist Review gives an insight into the political activism of Javed Iqbal.

Here is the above article in Urdu.

Is it important to have teachers from the same ethnic background as the pupils?

Is it important to have teachers from the same background as the pupils?

Following the recent decision to throw out the Trojan Horse case, I posted a link, on Facebook, to an article I had published on responsive education (for Pakistani children). In the article I wrote about the importance of employing a diverse teaching workforce; one that reflects the ethnic make up of the pupils. Upon reading the article one of my ‘Friends’ responded with the following comment:
I’ve never bought into this idea that in order for our children to be successful in education, we need teachers, headteachers from our own background. In many ways it can be counter-productive.

The comment triggered the response that follows.

To have or not to have ethnically representative teaching workforce?

Over the past six years, and many more years before that, I have thought about this question. As well as reading everything I came across I decided to undertake my own research. So I explored the question with folks I interviewed and who completed my questionnaire. This young people (especially from the Pakistani community), their parents and teachers.

The vast array of previously published literature was supportive of the idea that schools should indeed employ a teaching workforce that reflects the ethnicity of their pupils. The overarching argument is that a workforce that is representative of the people it serves is more likely to help ensure that the interests of all groups are considered in the decision-making and the policy making process becomes more inclusive. This is based on the theory of ‘representative bureaucracy’ (Bradbury & Kellough, 2011). Such bureaucracies are said to be beneficial to ethnic minorities (Eckhard, 2014), racial minorities (Selden 1997; Sowa & Selden, 2003) and in educational contexts (Pitts 2005). Based on Spivak’s work (1988), there is also the question of whether the minority people (such as Pakistanis) have a right to be represented as teachers and decision makers.

Within the field of education, researchers and policymakers have accepted that the workforce should be diverse and should reflect the ethnic diversity of society. Minority teachers are said to provide role models (Quiocho & Rios, 2000), act as cultural brokers (Irvine, 1989), cultural experts (Ross, 2001; Basit & Santoro, 2012). For Howard (2010), minority teachers fulfilled the role of advocate for minority students. They are able to act as a ‘bridge’ between, and ‘translators’ of, minority and dominant cultures (Irvine (1989), a function which had been identified by Abbas (2004). In his Birmingham-based research he had found working class Asian parents particularly in favour of having Asian teachers.

Minority teachers are said to have the potential to bridge the ever-widening divide between minority pupils and their mainly white teachers (Magaldi et al. 2016). They can, if given the space and opportunity, bring a more authentic perspective based on their own lived experience and firsthand knowledge. Through their counterstorying they can interrupt (white) majoritarian narratives, “defined as a mindset of positions, perceived wisdoms, and shared cultural understandings brought to the discussion of race” (Fránquiz et al. 2011, p282).

For Kohli and Pizarro (2016) minority teachers are likely to have a heightened awareness of educational injustice and racism while Ross (2001) pointed out that they are better at challenging racism; given they might have been its victim, they are more likely to understand some of its subtleties and nuances. He and Howard (2010) supported the concept of ‘inclusive diversity’, where it is not so much important for, say, Pakistani students to be taught directly by Pakistani or Muslim teachers but more an indirect benefit; by having them on the staff, to see them around the school and have occasional contact with them. Teachers are said to do much more than teach content; they also personify content (Howard, 2010). They provide a model of what it is like to be an educated person; something for the young people to aspire to:

If we want students to believe that they themselves might one day be … mentors, guides and educated people, then we need them to see diverse examples of such people, including at least one who looks like they, the students, look (Kennedy, 1991, p2).

Stewart et al. (1989) also supported the ‘role model’ argument. “Black teachers can have a special impact on Black students simply by being in the classroom. A Black teacher serves as a role model for Black students, thereby exposing Black students to other Black individuals who have been successful” (p143). For Steele and Aronson (1995), the presence of same-race teachers may reduce “stereotype threats” and boost minority students’ confidence, esteem, and enthusiasm. Such a threat is said to occur when a student perceives that s/he could be viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype and lowers academic engagement and performance as a result.

Roch and Pitts (2012) pointed out that where schools’ workforce was representative of their communities there was a positive influence on minority students’ performance. Eckhard (2014) pointed out that where there is a bureaucratic drift i.e. there is a lack of bureaucratic representation, policies are not effective. The problem here can be even more profound where the majority-background bureaucrats are prejudiced against minorities. Arshad et al. (2004) reported that minority students appreciated having teachers from their own ethnic group, expecting them to better understand the students and assist them to feel more comfortable. Warikoo (2004) pointed to there being a better connection between teachers and pupils from the same ethnic background arising out of their common cultural background and the teachers’ heightened understanding of the students’ family and cultural context as well as parental interactions with the school.

The attainment level of minority students is said to be helped by the presence of teachers from their own background (Weiher, 2000). Egalite et al. (2015) asserted that an absence of teachers from their own ethnic group can lead to a lack of shared values, dispositions, and symbols which might undermine classroom learning and teacher-student interactions. They also supported the idea of ethnic minority teachers serving as role models and being uniquely positioned to act as advocates and cultural translators for ethnic minority students. They concluded that same-race teachers made a particular difference for their students’ attainment. Their findings confirmed Dee’s (2005) research who had found that same-race teachers made a difference to students’ attainment. He spoke of ‘passive’ teacher effects which were triggered by a teacher’s identity, not by explicit teacher behaviours.

Basit and Santoro (2012) also supported the employment of minority teachers in schools serving multi-cultural populations. They found these teachers fulfilled important roles related to the heritage of the minority ethnic students. Many of them were appointed because of their ethnicity and knowledge about languages and their potential to develop sound home–school relationships. The teachers found that their particular expertise was often drawn upon by their colleagues who lacked the necessary cultural understanding. The minority teachers were able to foster home–school relationships for minority parents who otherwise had little contact with their children’s schools. The researchers concluded that minority ethnic teachers had significant contributions to make to the schooling of minority ethnic students because of their knowledge about their students’ cultural practices, religions and home lives.

The likelihood of discontinuity between minority children and their schools is lessened where the school employs teachers from minority background (Klopfenstein, 2005). These teachers are more able to provide the ‘cultural congruence’ for the students and match their home and school environments. For Howard (2010), minority teachers helped minority students to adjust to the lack of synchrony between home and school culture and made “connections between their own backgrounds and school systems, which are commonly founded on the values and norms of the dominant culture” (p4).

For Delpit (1995) the argument was not so much that teachers must be of the students’ ethnic group but that efforts should be made for the teaching workforce to be diverse. Carrington (2002) had described this as an inclusive form of representation: “for teachers who share the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of our increasingly diverse student bodies may serve, along with parents and other community members, to provide insights that might otherwise remain hidden” (p181).

A word of caution needs to be stated here, so to not present minority teachers as the perfect solution. They may have the potential to make a certain specialist contribution but their limitations need to be acknowledged, one of which refers to the concept ‘internalised racism’ (Padilla, 2001). This is where minorities adopt majority White perspectives and come to accept their own communities as inferior. For Speight (2007), such a process “refers to the acceptance, by marginalized racial populations, of the negative societal beliefs and stereotypes about themselves” (p129). Having lived in the UK since childhood, I have some understanding and experience of internalised racism. Kohli (2014) has suggested that there should be opportunities, through ITT and CPD, for minority teachers to unpack their internalised racism.

Local teachers can also play an important role in schools. Most schools have a small number of such teachers and support staff who are from the local community. Even if they no longer live there, they will have been raised there and will maintain contact with friends, former neighbours, and relatives in the area. They may have a unique understanding of the school’s cultural and social context and may be able to act as a bridge between the school and its wider community. Such staff usually share common ethnic, religious and cultural identities which provide a foundation on which school-community partnerships can be constructed (Reed, 2009). Reed also spoke of “commuter teachers”, who only come into the neighbourhood to work and as soon as they finish, they get into their cars and leave the area. They maybe at the school for many years but may never go outside its gate. They, therefore, maybe unlikely to understand what it is like to live in the locality, let alone understand the community’s resources. Local teachers may be better equipped for the task of delivering, what Flynn et al. (2009) defined as ‘place-based’ education. For them, “using the place as content is a viable means for increasing student achievement, increasing community involvement…” (p137).

See also: ‘National and local responses to teacher diversity’ and ‘Birmingham research on the importance of teacher diversity’

The article has drawn extensively on the PhD thesis: British Pakistani boys in Birmingham schools: education and the role of religion by Karamat Iqbal (2017

Dr Karamat Iqbal

Abbas, T. (2004). The education of British South Asians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Arshad, R.., Diniz, F., Kelly, E., O’Hara, P., Sharp, S. and Syed, R. (2004). Minority ethnic pupils’ experiences of school in Scotland. Scottish Executive: Education Department.

Basit, T. & Santoro, N. (2012). Playing the role of ‘cultural expert’: teachers of ethnic difference in Britain and Australia. Oxford Review of Education 37(1) 37-52.

Bradbury, M. & Kellough, J. (2011). Representative bureaucracy: assessing the evidence on active representation. The American Review of Public Administration 4(2), 157-167.

Carrington, B. (2002). Ethnicity, ‘Role Models’ and Teaching. Journal of Research in Education 12(1) 40-49.

Dee, T. (2005). A Teacher like me: Does race, ethnicity, or gender matter? The American Economic Review; 95(2) 158- 165.

Delpit, Lisa. Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press. 1995.

Eckhard, S. (2014). Bureaucratic representation and ethnic bureaucratic drift: A case study of United Nations minority policy implementation in Kosovo. American Review of Public Administration 44(5) 600–621.

Egalite, A., Kisida, B. and Winters, M. (2015). Representation in the classroom: The effect of own-race teachers on student achievement. Economics of Education Review 45: 44-52.

Flynn, J., Kemp, A., & Perez, D. (2009). You can’t teach where you don’t know. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue 12(1&2) 137-151.

Howard, J. (2010). The value of ethnic diversity in the teaching profession: A New Zealand case study. International Journal of Education 2(1) 1-22.

Irvine, J. (1989). Beyond role models: An examination of cultural influences on the pedagogical perspectives of Black teachers. Peabody Journal of Education, 66(4) 51-63

Kennedy, M. (1991). Policy issues in teacher education. Phi Delta Kappan 72(9) 1-12.

Klopfenstein, K. (2005). Beyond test scores: The impact of Black teacher role models on rigorous math taking. Contemporary Economic Policy, 23(3) 416-428.

Kohli, R. (2014). Unpacking internalized racism: teachers of colour striving for racially just classrooms. Race Ethnicity and Education 17(3) 367-387.

Kohli, R. and Pizarro, M. Fighting to educate our own: teachers of color, relational accountability, and the struggle for social justice. Equity & Excellence in Education 49(1) 72-84.

Magaldi, D., Conway, T. & Trub, L. (2016). “I’m here for a reason”: minority teachers bridging many divides in urban education. Race Ethnicity and Education.

Padilla, L. (2001). “But you’re not a dirty Mexican: internalized oppression, Latinos & law”. Texas Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy 7: 59-133.

Pitts, D. 2005). Diversity, representation, and performance: evidence about race and ethnicity in public organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 15: 615-631.

Quiocho, A. & Rios, F. (2000). The power of their presence: minority group teachers and schooling. Review of Educational Research 70(4) 485-528.

Reed, W. (2009). The bridge is built: the role of local teachers in an urban elementary school. The School Community Journal, 19(1)59-75.

Roch, C. & Pitts, D. (2012). Differing effects of representative bureaucracy in Charter Schools and traditional public schools. The American Review of Public Administration 42(3) 282–302.

Ross, A. (2001). Towards a representative profession: teachers from the ethnic minorities – conference paper. London Metropolitan University.

Selden, S. (1997). Representative bureaucracy – examining the linkage between passive and active representation in the farmers home administration. American Review of Public Administration 27(1) 22-42.

Sowa, J. & Selden, S. (2003). Administrative discretion and active representation: an expansion of the theory of representative bureaucracy. Public Administration Review 63(6) 700-710.

Speight, S. (2007). Internalized racism. The Counseling Psychologist 35(1) 126-134.

Spivak, G. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds) Marxism and the interpretation of culture. London: Macmillan.

Stewart, J., Meier, K. and England, R. (1989). In quest of role models: Change in Black teacher representation in urban school districts, 1968-1986. The Journal of Negro Education, 58(2) 140-152

Warikoo, N. (2004). Race and the teacher-student relationship: interpersonal connections between West Indian students and their teachers in a New York City high school. Race Ethnicity and Education 7(2) 135-147.

Weiher, G. (2000). Minority student achievement: passive representation and social context in schools. The Journal of Politics 62(3) 886-895.

Pakistani boys’ education in Birmingham schools

Pakistani children make-up a quarter of Birmingham’s age 5-16? school population and will soon become its largest ethnic group. A large number of these students leave the local schools each year without achieving the benchmark qualifications of 5 or more GCSE grades A*-C or equivalent. You are fudging the issue here. You need to grasp the nettle that proportionately Pakistani pupils do not appear to underachieve greatly, quote ther %5AC for them and for White British, but say your the concern is because of the large numbers of students.

The issue of ethnic minority underachievement in England has been acknowledged since the 1970s (Swann 1985). However, much of the focus has been on Black Caribbean children (Gillborn 2008; Strand, 2012). Consequently, information about the particular achievement of Pakistani pupils continues to be sparse (Gillborn and Gipps 1996, Hamashita 2007). Not strictly true, all national data is broken down by full ethnic group – maybe the focus on their attainment has been less though.

Using a mixed-methods approach, my research was conducted in three diverse Birmingham state secondary schools called community, academy and grammar (NB you need to state this to link with the figure onteachers you quote later). The study explored Pakistani student and parental attitudes to education. Also investigated were importance of religion and meaning of education. Data were gathered about teacher understanding of the heritage of Pakistani boys as well as the make-up of the teaching workforce.

Findings showed that education was highly valued by parents and the boys. Amongst the 40 boys and their parents interviewed, there were over one hundred references to the word ‘respect’; respect for education and school teachers. Religion was equally considered as important. To be educated meant achieving good grades in national qualifications and to have become a fully rounded human being, based on the multi-dimensional concept of education within Islam, which includes knowledge (ilm), development (tarbiyya) and Islamic ethics (tadib) (Yasin and Jani, 2013). The teachers interviewed were found to have ‘tabloid knowledge’ (Bloom, 2011) of Pakistani heritage and the pupils’ religion. Consequently, the boys’ school and home lives could be considered ‘separate worlds’ (Coles, 2004). A related issue was the serious shortage of Pakistani teachers in the schools investigated – Community, 8%; Academy, 3.8% and Grammar 0.6% respectively.

The boys spent much of their time after school learning the Quran and about Islam, something many had done throughout their school lives. This took them away from completing their homework and participation in extra-curricular activities. The latter also meant the boys were not able to spend informal time in the company of their non-Pakistani peers, with clear implications for community cohesion. Many of the boys, especially those from poorer families, also reported not having anyone to turn to for help with their homework.

The policy implications of the research are clear (well they are not actually “clear”N they are very arguable and contested – many would say it is not the duty of a secular education system to provide religious instruction for any faith group), especially for areas such as Birmingham. There was considerable support amongst the boys for what they learnt at the mosques to be taught at school. Parents similarly supported this idea and suggested that one way to accommodate this would be through an extended school day (Cummings, 2007). This could also be a way also to provide the boys with appropriately supervised opportunities for completing their homework, with time to spare for ‘downtime’ activities.

There is a need to reduce the time the boys devoted to Islamic religious instruction, by delivering the content more effectively and efficiently and through increased accommodation of Pakistani and Muslim heritage within the school curriculum. The time thus freed could be used for completing homework and participating in extracurricular activities. The schools need to employ more Pakistani teachers and to equip their staff with knowledge of Pakistani and Islamic heritage in order to help bridge the school and home lives of the boys.

Bloom, A. 2011. The teachers with a tabloid grasp of Islam. Times Educational Supplement. 16 September.
Coles, M. 2004. Education and Islam: a new strategic approach. Race Equality Teaching.
Cummings, C. et al. 2007. Evaluation of the full Service extended Schools Initiative. London. DCSF.
Gillborn, D. & Gipps, C. 1996. Recent research on the achievements of ethnic minority pupils London. Ofsted.
Gillborn, D. 2008. Racism and education – coincidence or conspiracy? London. Routledge.
Hamashita, M. 2007. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: The Educational Performance of Pakistani Muslims Journal of History for the Public (4) 77-94
Strand, S. (2012). The White British-Black Caribbean achievement gap: Tests, tiers and teacher expectations. British Educational Research Journal, 38, (1), 75-101.
Swann Report. 1985. Education for all. London. HMSO.
Yasin, R.F, Jani, M.S.2013. Islamic Education: The philosophy, aim and main features. International Journal of Education and Research. 1 (10)

DEAR BIRMINGHAM – Launch events and press and media coverage

  1. Unity FM: pre-publication phone interview, 12 March 2013
  2. BBC Asian Network, Massala Show: pre-publication interview 17 March 2013
  3. Unity FM – post publication studio interview and discussion 30 March 2013


  1. Radio WM, The Carl Chin Show: studio interview 2 June 2013 
  2. Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre: launch 11 June 2013
  3. Jericho Foundation: launch 26 June 2013
  4. GEM magazine: ‘Little GEMs’ June 2013
  5.  GEM magazine: full feature July 2013
  6. House of Commons: Seminar September 2013

To be confirmed

  1. Newman University: Seminar
  2. North Birmingham school: Seminar
  3. Sunday Mercury feature
  4. Birmingham Hospital Radio Network

Improving from WithIn: A Rationale for a New Approach to School Improvement

Today I had the privilege of visiting a new headteacher, 5 weeks into headship. I observed his joy and excitement in anticipating the challenge of what lies ahead. We got into a conversation about how to get under the skin of a school and community, its complexity and richness. How do you change a culture and take the school on to where it now needs to go? We acknowledged that there is no one model or process that provides the answers and that leadership and school improvement is multi-faceted. Consequently each leader needs to skilfully choose the right tools, processes and initiatives as they respond to the particular dynamics they face.

So with all the rich resources at the disposal of the 21st Century Head with the plethora of guidance, research papers, programmes, NLE’s, SIP’s available, how does this new headteacher  steer his course and find where to start?

As an educationalist I too have wondered if there is too much out there, do we get lost in the depth and breadth and complexity of it. Or can we draw together the strands of wisdom from existing practice and thinking and produce a simple model that combines these strands in a logical format. Improving from WithIn is a model for school improvement that seeks to do just that; present a logical model which is flexible enough to tailor to different contexts but that contains key dimensions and an underpinning philosophy to guide the leader.

Improving from WithIn came about from considering the new Ofsted framework and the challenge of producing learning experiences that are both motivating and engaging and during which progress is made. What support do teachers need to do that consistently and how do leaders invest in developing that same motivation and engagement for the teachers? Teachers who are motivated and engaged are far more likely to be able to motivate and engage their pupils.

Underpinning Philosophies

I believe the journey begins with identifying your philosophy of education. I have noticed that there are 2 prevailing underpinning philosophies of education, the first that children are empty vessels and as educators we pour in knowledge and fill them up, the second that children come with huge potential and existing strengths and preferences, here our job is to draw out of them those unique gifts and facilitate their learning and development. They are, of course, not mutually exclusive but if, like me you favour the second this will have implications about the job of a teacher.

The next fundamental consideration relates to what do we know and believe about how adults learn and improve their performance. Here, there are two key theorists that have shaped my thinking. Firstly Richard Boyatzis work on Intentional Change Theory. Boyatzis argues that for adults to make change that is sustained they need to be motivated and that motivation is created by a pull towards an ideal. His model provides a series of discoveries that support the individual in achieving change.

The second is Daniel Pink. In his book Drive, Pink argues that when you take basic human needs out of the equation, there are 3 key drivers that motivate us; autonomy, mastery and purpose.  These motivators are intrinsic and more effective than extrinsic ones such as money or negative forces, the threat of punishment.

These theories along with the wisdom gleaned from the discipline of coaching and the emerging field of positive psychology demand that we reconsider how we lead school improvement. School improvement cannot be ‘done to’ but needs to harness the energy of intrinsic motivation within its community and be driven by its members. Leaders need to create the climate within which motivation and engagement are likely outcomes for the adults as well as the children.

The Improving from WithIn Model

The 6 dimensions provide a logical way of approaching school improvement applying this thinking.


Starting with Alignment, the task of clarifying the core mission, developing a vision and identifying the values so that all practice can be aligned is the foundation on which to build.

Climate Creation

The climate is created by consistency of adult behaviours (firstly leadership behaviours) Consistency of behaviour becomes, ‘the way we do things round here’ or the ethos of the school. Members of the school community continually receive unconscious messages about how they should behave from the norms they observe around them. In relation to school improvement, how critical it is that those norms create the ‘pull’ Boyatzis refers to.

Copyright Forward Partnership 2012

Leading Change

How do leaders bring about change so that the community is pulled towards the ideal and not demotivated by external drivers? Leading change is well researched but to do it well requires effective leadership skills and behaviours. Shaping adult behaviours to create that positive climate will demand self-awareness, honesty and an ability to reflect on and adapt one’s own leadership behaviours accordingly. In order to do this well many leaders need a safe sounding board or coach to confide in.


We now come to the ‘outcomes’ side of the model.


Innovation when truly effective arises out of a desire to make things better, to solve problems or to master new skills. It is a creative process which needs to be owned by the innovator. It is often a cycle that requires experimentation, trial and error, revision and refining. Despite the prescription education has experienced teaching remains a creative profession; in an environment where fear of failure or blame is eliminated teachers are free to innovate and take risks.


Encouraging intrinsic motivators or developing the ‘pull’ will mean changing the narrative that drives the school. Do the stories told in staff meetings or on teacher days reinforce the perception of ‘done to’ or do they harness the drives of autonomy and mastery that Pink refers to?  One way companies are doing this is described in Drive, the concept of ‘FedEx Day’s. Developed by the Australian company Atlassian, workers are given a day to work on anything they want to, as long as it is not part of their regular job. The next day they have to report back to their colleagues with what they have created. What would happen if teacher days were like this and what would be achieved?


On such days would teachers lose themselves and become so engaged in their non-commissioned work that they achieved the state of ‘flow’ or ‘completely focussed motivation’ (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ) Having experienced such engagement, what learning or higher level of performance might result. Just take a look at twitter and see how many teachers are engaged in passionate debate about their work or look to number voluntarily sharing their resources and ideas via the TES. There is evidence of an engaged profession. How well does the school encourage this engagement, or celebrate the climate of meaningful purpose along with behaviours associated by going the extra mile and a generosity of spirit that arise from it.

And finally, what of the new headteacher who inherits a school in crisis, for whom there is so much that has to be done quickly. Pacesetting, authoritative and sometimes coercive leadership styles seem the obvious way to begin? Just a word of caution, how many of the teachers in those schools have been de skilled and lost their professional self-confidence by negative messages and differing advice from external experts? Whilst it might be appealing to believe that the only way to improve the school is to refer to extrinsic drivers, the latest Ofsted framework or targets; it is worth considering the impact of extrinsic drivers on motivation and understanding that compliance is not real and embedded change.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not what we do that needs to change but how we do it. The spirit that lies behind what we do needs challenging. We also need to develop a strong belief in the profession to find its own solutions. Improving from WithIn offers a model for school improvement which requires a different approach and leaders who are brave enough to loose the reins and let the creativity and resourcefulness of their staff flourish.

Sue Iqbal © Improving from WithIn October 2012



Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, (2009)

Richard Boyatzis, Intentional Change Theory, Richard E. Boyatzis, (2006) “An overview of intentional change from a complexity perspective”, Journal of Management Development,

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, (1990)