Save money by using standardized lesson plans, says schools minister. But is there a conflict of interest in his recommendation?

Janet Downs's picture
“We all know that teachers spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans rather than focusing on how well they deliver those lessons. This is a complete waste of time,”

Schools minister, Lord Nash, to the Independent Academies Association, October 2014

The answer, Lord Nash says, is for schools to use standardized lesson plans so they can spend more time ‘delivering lessons’.

Perhaps Lord Nash isn’t aware most schools have timetables – the time spent delivering lessons is limited to the time allocated. Using a standardized lesson plan won’t make a 40 minute maths lesson any longer (Note to Nash: teachers prepare lessons before not during lessons).

But using standardized lessons, especially if mandatory within school chains, will prevent teachers matching their lessons to their pupils. It’s no use ploughing through standardized lesson plans if they’re too difficult, too easy or unfit for purpose. The ‘patented’ standardized curriculum from Mosaica purchased by schools run by Aurora Academies Trust, an offshoot of Mosaica, for example, was criticised by Ofsted. The Learning Schools Trust, which uses ‘KED pedagogies’ developed by for-profit Swedish firm Kunskapsskolan in its academies, has recently been stopped from taking on more schools after three of its four academies were judged Requires Improvement or worse (the fourth hadn’t been inspected when the trust was halted).

Standardized lessons, of course, could be delivered by unqualified personnel. This would contribute to the savings Lord Nash says schools will have to make as education funding is squeezed – unqualified ‘teachers’ are cheaper.

But the promotion of standardized lesson plans raises the question where the plans will come from: cui bono – who profits? Eager publishers will, no doubt, be salivating at the chance to persuade schools to purchase their pre-formed lessons.

Perhaps Lord Nash’s enthusiasm for standardized lessons plans is inspired by his association with Future Academies. Schools in the Future Academies chain follow a uniform curriculum inspired by E D Hirsch in the United States. This UK Core Curriculum, much promoted by ex-education secretary Michael Gove and ex-schools minister Liz Truss, is available from Future Academies TCC (The Curriculum Centre).

Could there be a conflict of interest here when a minister recommends using the type of materials published by an academy chain with links to the minister?


Did you know History starts with the Romans? That’s because, according to Book 1 in the UK Core Curriculum series (co-authored by Annaliese Briggs, the short-lived head of Pimlico Free School, sponsored by Future Academies), it was the Romans who wrote things down. The authors must have forgotten about Herodotus and Thucydides. Peter Wilby, interviewing Dr David Green of Civitas (which also sells the UK Core Curriculum books), found the final book contained incorrect information such as Bolivians speaking Portuguese. If these books are supposed to impart essential knowledge, then it’s surely essential the knowledge is correct.
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Andy V's picture
Mon, 13/10/2014 - 18:29

It strikes me that the advice from Lord Nash has clear potential to place those following it at risk of criticism by and falling short off the expectation of progress and achievement for all embedded in the Ofsted Section 5 Inspection Handbook (see chapters on L&M and T&L). To reinforce what Janet has said, an off-the-shelf standardised lesson plan strategy limits colleagues in tailoring their coverage and delivery to meet the needs of the learners in their teaching groups. I've yet to find a set of off-the-shelf lessons that cater for mixed ability groups or that contain the range and style of delivery activities colleagues prefer to use.

A teacher report style summary of Lord Nash's proposal might go along the following lines: more research required, the work lacks substance and reflects a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 14/10/2014 - 07:03

Andy - Lord Nash's recommendation also contradicts his Government's alleged love of autonomy (there's no freedom if teachers have to deliver lesson plans handed down from a chain's head office) or innovation (there's no room for that, either).

It's as I suspected all along: they create a prison and call it freedom.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 14/10/2014 - 08:09

Alternatively, it's a matter of over prescription underpinned by budgetary considerations which create a teaching by numbers scenario. The one size fits all approach that reveals the conveyor belt nature of school chain operation - they become factories with no scope or room for innovation in meeting the needs of pupils across the ability / capability range.

FJM's picture
Fri, 17/10/2014 - 21:59

Who uses lesson plans any way, in the sense of something with detailed timings and so on being written down, apart from NQTs? I know what I am going to teach and how I am going to do it but ignore the lesson plans provided in my department, which are designed for someone with no experience or imagination.. I look at what they need to know, understand, explain etc and take it from there. A couple of lines in my diary is enough. Lord Nash doesn't know what he is talking about.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 08:54

FJM - I entirely agree with the spirit of your post. I remember from the bad days of the KS3 Initiative, a pupil once telling me that I hadn't written the 'Lesson Objectives' on the blackboard at the start of my lesson.

However I feel you are lucky to be working in a school where you are not much more closely directed.

There is no doubt that the trend for some years has been for teachers to be increasingly regarded as 'content delivery operatives'. This is just one symptom of the march of behaviourism in our schools caused by the the high stakes exam result mentality, driven by marketisation, that I am always banging on about.

FJM's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 09:11

I asked one of my classes if they wanted the objectives on the board and they scoffed. I am beginning to realise that I have been lucky to teach in five schools which have given heir staff great autonomy. Wilshaw, from what he has said, has given the impression that he approves of such an approach and does not agree with being prescriptive. If the cat catches mice, who cares if i's black or white? (Thanks for that, Deng Xao Ping).

Brian's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 10:42

I love the irony of someone celebrating 'staff autonomy' while sneering at any teacher who wishes to use learning objectives in a lesson.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 09:45

FJM - The problem with such objectives is that they apply only to relatively low level learning. They apply to things like remembering facts or procedures. They become problematic with skills - eg 'to be able to make a decent mortice and tenon joint'. (I passed GCE Woodwork' in 1963 and after 5 years woodwork lessons trying I still couldn't do it). I suppose if skills and knowledge are broken down into small enough chunks and steps these could be objectified in lessons. But this is how 'training' works. It is pure behaviourism.

It is also a recipe for tedium for all concerned.

Getting students to understand and internalise hard concepts is qualitatively different because it is developmental and each stage in the necessary development may be different for each learner. This is as true for English literature and history as it is for science. Sometimes in science it is quite effective for students to be led through a number of experiences such that 'getting it' appears to them to 'come by accident'.

Andy's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 11:18

This divergence into Learning Objectives (LO) is interesting and serves to underscore my believe that some colleagues misperceive what a LO is and confuse them with success criteria, tasks and learning outcomes. This scenario should never have arisen because of the WALT and WILF framework. Put more succinctly, a LO should always be led by a cognitive verb e.g.:

Today we will determine how ...
In this lesson we will compare and contrast ...

The aim of the LO was to help pupils access the lesson and know the purpose of the lesson.

I am with Brian on this topic in terms of giving freedom to colleagues to teach in a way they use their practitioner strengths and knowledge of the class group. This is reinforced by the successful lobbying of Ofsted by professional associations (e.g. ASCL, NAHT) to reinforce the fact that Ofsted can neither ask for lesson plans nor promote or recommend a preferred pedagogy. Thus if a colleague who understands LO v success criteria and/or tasks and/or outcomes wishes to use LOs then all power to their elbow.

Brian's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 14:25

Agree 100% Andy.

Andy's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 14:33

If only my spelling and grammar were up to par! :-(

Line 1 - "believe" should read 'belief'

Line 8 - "in a way they use" should read 'in such a way that they'


Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 10:23

The sort of standardised 'lesson plans' described by Janet in her post have the following characteristic that she mentions.

'Standardised lessons, of course, could be delivered by unqualified personnel. This would contribute to the savings Lord Nash says schools will have to make as education funding is squeezed – unqualified ‘teachers’ are cheaper.'

There is no way that unqualified personnel could deliver the WALT and WILF approach, which is a million miles from what was required in the KS3 roll-out, which sought to impose the (largely illusory) gains of the 1990s National Literacy and Numeracy strategies onto KS3 and secondary teachers that were judged by both the government and OfSTED at the time to be 'lagging behind' the 'best practice' established by government diktat in the primaries.

We appear to be entering into an era where 'government diktat' is being replaced by 'Academy chain diktat'.

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), part of the Royal Society, was later extremely critical and concluded as follows.

'Teachers should feel free to decide what works best and tailor their teaching to pupils' needs rather than be restricted by government guidelines'.

Much more strident criticism was to follow.

Part II - 'Voodoo Teaching' - of Tom Bennett's book 'Teacher Proof' (2013), Routledge, has an excellent chapter on this entitled, 'The Holy Trinity of the Three Part Lesson'.

WALT and WILF are developments in the best tradition of teachers' being in control of pedagogy. Andy is right to draw attention to the Chief Inspector's support for this, which will not make him any more popular with those elements in the DfE and wider pro-privatisation elements in the Conservative Party that are currently having another go at destabilising him because of his continuing commitment to inspecting Academies and Free Schools on the same basis as all other schools.

Andy's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 10:49

Before this goes off at a tangent it is worth revisiting the earlier comments wherein I roundly declaimed the use of standardised lesson plans. The lesson plans that Janet's top thread covers are those that form part of a programme of study. That is to say, they are not a school based template for lesson planning (e.g. the three part lesson). No, these are detailed lesson plans’ covering what each lesson has to deliver to complete the programme of study. They are straightjackets that leave little or no scope for a teacher to take account of individual pupil or different class-group needs: strengths or weakness. The Lord Nash style lesson plans are an example of off-the-shelf curricular programmes of study focused on each subject by year group and in sequence with a prescribed curriculum. It also needs to be said that this style of curriculum delivery planning has been available in the education marketplace for a very long time and certainly pre-dates the KS3 strategy.

For clarity, when I referred to colleagues who don't know the difference between LOs and success criteria, tasks or intended outcomes, I was not alluding to unqualified teachers but QTS teaching colleagues. I've lost count of the number of fully qualified teachers - old and new - who used all the former as if they were interchangeable, which they most clearly are not (and never have been).

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