Guest post: Sir Tim Brighouse – Collecting ‘butterflies’ of good school practice

Learning Exchange Curriculum Conference IMG_2251 Sir Tim Brighouse

Following his keynote speech at the 2013 Learning Exchange Curriculum Conference, Sir Tim Brighouse has kindly written this guest post for us…

My favourite sport – collecting ‘butterflies’ of good school practice – derives from chaos theory which is best illustrated by an example:  that if sufficient butterflies whirr their wings in the Amazonian rain forests, then it can set off a chain of climate change that eventually can cause a tornado in the United States.

Put another way butterflies ideally are small actions which can have huge impact.

David Hargreaves the educational researcher, summed it up as High Impact/Low Effort interventions in schools. So in order to start a North Somerset Collection of Butterflies I set out some examples collected from schools elsewhere and which I spoke about at the Weston Super Mare conference.

You all discussed these and others and the agreement was that I would send Andrea this and you would translate it to some electronic/digital site with additions so it became the base for sharing ideas that work among schools. It was clear that there is no shortage of butterflies in the North Somerset Partnership of Schools. Butterflies thrive in your climate!

Thank you for making me so welcome at the conference.

Butterfly One

Tea with the Head


A primary school head decided that she wanted to encourage writing and to really get to know all her children. She first of all shared the idea with her staff and confirmed that they liked the idea. Then came the implementation of the idea. It involved her writing cards inviting three pupils to have tea and biscuits with her at break times on Tuesdays and Thursdays from September to Easter. That way she got through 120 pupils having ‘tea and biscuits’ with her. She follows up, as a result of skilful questioning and listening, with notes to the class teachers and a note home letting the parent or carer know of the occasion and how good it had been to talk with their child and what she had learned about their progress.

Comment on Impact

It turned out to be an easy way to build parental confidence, trust and involvement. She said that since the class teacher knew in advance who was attending, it enabled them to have a discussion about each child so there was less chance of any child being so quiet that they are missed – the sort of children we sometimes call ‘invisible’. She soon asked invitees to bring their best piece of work at the end of the day when she had had tea and to tell her quietly as well what they found most difficult so that she and the class teacher could help.

Butterfly Two

Hosting a staff meeting


Staff meetings are rotated round the classrooms and whoever’s classroom it is, acts as host. The first item on every staff agenda is the host explaining how she likes to arrange the room and the intention behind the display she has on the walls. She is required to say what she thinks is the next step in improving the display and how she  intends to involve the pupils in carrying out some of the tasks towards improvement.

Comment on impact

This is a widely used ‘butterfly’ and in most cases leads to a much greater awareness of the potential of display as a subliminal educator as well as re-enforcing the practice of pupils having tasks to do as part of developing their sense of responsibility. Certainly the school involved in  reports that it has ensured that the tone of the staff meeting was set in the sense that staff were talking about teaching and learning from the word go.

We agreed there are variations to this theme, all designed to make sure meetings are an opportunity to discuss teaching, learning and assessment. So the variations of the same butterfly include butterflies four five and six below. Another might be all choosing to mark the same piece of children’s work and share the outcomes.

Butterfly Three

Improving transition from Year group to Year group


Each autumn, in November, teachers spend a day with their former year group. For example the Year 2 teacher spends the day in the classroom of the Year 3 teacher who is teaching the children she taught the year before. The purpose is that the Year 2 teacher goes round and looks at the work and talks to the youngster she taught the year before in order to improve continuity of learning and to try to make sure that the new teacher sis aware of say three children whose progress is pleasantly surprising her and three children whose progress might not be all she had hoped.

Comment on impact

The school claims that this practice has various outcomes. First it causes teachers to talk more to each other about ’levels of progress’ and spotting those children for whom the transition from one year to the next has coincided or caused a ‘pause’ in learning. It has also led to teachers getting children to take work to ‘show’ to their former teacher and to increase dialogue both about rates of progress and those children who may be most at risk of falling behind.

Butterfly Four

Improving staff knowledge of ‘new’ children’s literature: an agenda item at staff meetings


One of the phenomena of today’s age is the burgeoning of children’s books. It is immensely difficult for the teachers to keep up with what is available.

One school helps crack that issue by having as a standing item on staff meeting agendas ‘New Books’. At each meeting teachers take it in turns to describe a ‘new’ book they have used with their class and give it a rating. The deal is that another teacher either in the year above or the year below then commits to use it at some point in the year and report back.

Comment on impact

The school claims that over the course of the year staff more easily keep up with what has been published and that the impact towards discussion being about ‘teaching and learning’ rather than transactional business is significant.

Butterfly Five

Sharing good practice


A school firmly believed in the maxim that ‘the biggest and most underused resource teachers have is each other’. But they also realised that they had to do something more than merely exhort colleagues to share good ideas. So they formally introduced, as a mater of policy, ‘Sharing good practice’ as the first item on the agenda of every staff meeting.

In rotation one teacher at each staff meeting present on some aspect of ‘better’ practice they have tried. The slots are short, a maximum of 10 minutes and the presenter is encouraged to be as interactive with their peers as they would be with their children..

Many of the presentations were subsequently published in the staff bulletin and put on the CPD section of the e-learning platform.

Comment on impact:

The impact is very powerful indeed. Staff come away from meetings with practical ideas they can use in their lessons the next day and it has proved an excellent way of initiating collaborative working arrangements.

It is particularly high leverage in terms of staff development and the improvement of learning and teaching.

Butterfly seven

The book wizard


A primary head anxious to promote reading and children having a burning enthusiasm, established that there was a character in the school called the ‘Book Wizard’. To see the displays at the school leaves you in no doubt about how the ‘Book Wizard’ must have been established in their imagination. The school also was at pains to try to find out or to stimulate every child by year 4 or 5 having an ‘enthusiasm’ or burning interest in their lives. Then they would buy a book and make sure it was a really good one, create a message from the ‘Book Wizard’ personal to the child, then take it and wrap it in brown paper and send it through the post to the child’s home.


One can imagine the thrill at home when the parcel arrives. It’s an interesting and appealing butterfly but perhaps less influential on the whole school than some of the others?

Butterfly eight:

Headteacher for the day


Among one of the most interesting practice we came across was a Junior school where it had what was a ‘Head Teacher for a Day’ scheme as part of ‘Children’s Day’ each year. It involved six pupil candidates from year 6 putting themselves up for election two weeks before local council elections. Each had to publish manifestos and attend a kind of ‘hustings’ for questions and answers in front of staff and pupils. Voting takes place on local-election day: all staff are eligible to vote along with all pupils, other than those who are late. The winner is announced and becomes ‘Head Teacher for the Day’. Aided by a cabinet of fellow pupils, he/she sets out proposals for the day for consultation with staff and pupils. The ‘Head Teacher for the Day’ must take the ‘praise assembly’, when he or she gives out ‘Achievement of the Week’ awards. The ‘Head Teacher for the Day’ and the cabinet have tea with their favourite members of staff and prepare a newsletter for parents about their experience as head teacher. The day usually ends with a talent session.


From such a story, it’s possible to imagine all sorts of new usage of involving pupils. It might even be a topic for the School Improvement Group to discuss?

Read more about the Curriculum Conference and watch a short summary video at: Everything has a beginning – The Learning Exchange Curriculum Conference 2013

Please share with your network....
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone
Primary Heads Meeting & Heads/Chairs of Governors' Briefing 17th Jan 2014
Everything has a beginning - The Learning Exchange Curriculum Conference 2013